Coalport Tar Tunnel

Tar Tunnel with drainage pipe on the left and wells cut into the tunnel walls

Date

30 August 2012
Location

Ironbridge Gorge Museums, Coalport, Telford

SJ 69417 02578; 52.62009°N, 2.45318°W

Information

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.

Tar Tunnel

Bitumen oozing out from the brick-lined walls

Tar Tunnel

Bitumen

The tunnel fades away into the ‘pitch’ dark in the distance beyond the locked iron gate

The tunnel from the entrance in what was the cellar of the village shop in Coalport

10 thoughts on “Coalport Tar Tunnel

  1. What a fascinating place, something I didn’t know existed. Any idea why you can’t get any further than 100 yards, or is it likely to be a case of more of the same, so no point lighting it?

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    • The overall length is in the region of 1000 yds and apparently the brick lining only goes so far and the tunnel narrows at one section. Having peered through the locked gate though, I get the impression that it quite quickly becomes too messy for your average tourist. There looks to be a fair bit of tar on the floor not too far beyond the gate.

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  2. Pingback: The History of the European Oil and Gas Industry, 1600s-2000s – Brewminate

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