|Date||30 August 2012|
|Location||Ironbridge Gorge Museums, Coalport, Telford||SJ 69417 02578; 52.62009°N, 2.45318°W|
In 1786, local Quaker ironmaster William Reynolds had plans to build an underground canal to transport coal from the mines at Blists Hill to the River Severn at Coalport. The following year, workers digging the tunnel encountered a spring of natural bitumen about 300 yards in. Although the tunnel was continued to around 1000 yards, Reynolds abandoned the idea of building a canal, concentrating instead on exploiting this natural resource. Holes were cut into the tunnel walls to collect the tar in wells and initially the sticky black fluid flowed in copious amounts, with over 1000 gallons per week being extracted for several years. Most of the bitumen was boiled up to make pitch for use as a preservative for wood. As the supply later dwindled, so too did the actual demand for the product. By the 1840s, production had come to an end and soon after a house was built over the tunnel entrance.
In 1792, the Hay Inclined Plane was completed. This connected the Shropshire and Coalport canals, thereby providing the transport link between the Blists Hill mines and the River Severn that Reynold’s project would have given.
The tunnel was still used by the mines for drainage and ventilation until the 1930s, and during the Second World War it served as an air raid shelter. It was rediscovered by the Shropshire Mining Club in 1965. Today it is open to the public as an attraction run by the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. Visitors can access the first 100 yards of the tunnel, up to a locked iron gate, and bitumen can still be seen seeping out from the brick-lines walls.