WET EARTH COLLIERYCLIFTON, MANCHESTER.,UK
Wet Earth Colliery Exploration Group.
An explorers guide.
No 1. The Central Colliery Area. This is an amended version of a printed leaflet published by the Exploration Group. The accompanying map can be found here.
The excavations at Wet Earth Colliery began in 1989. Shortly afterwards the Wet Earth Colliery Exploration Group was formed by the Lancashire Mining Museum at Buille Hill, Salford. This group, now over 20 strong, carried on excavating after the official work finished due to lack of funding, and still meets every Saturday morning (see latest news page).
This leaflet is one of a series to be produced by the group and shows you where the recently excavated features are in relation to the modern paths. The map shows the location of all the major sites. The leaflet and map concentrate purely on the main colliery area. Other leaflets or web pages will deal with other features at Wet Earth.
The modern paths have been overlaid onto a 6in OR plan of 1909 (map is produced here) to show you what other features used to be on site, the foundations for which can still be found if you leave the paths and venture into the jungle planted by the National Coal Board in the late 1960's.
As some features are out on a limb, a set route cannot be recommended but in general set off along the path to the rear of the visitor centre and return via the path through the fields as shown on the plan.
The colliery was demolished around late 1928 to early 1929, but some part demolished buildings still stood for over 20 years after this time. A colliery site never fully loses it's past identity, if only to be recognised by the tell-tale poor growth on landscaped waste tips.
Old colliery sites can be deadly. Old shafts contain very little oxygen and their cappings may not be safe. Don't smoke near old shaft cappings either, as methane gas may be at just the right percentage to give you an explosive surprise!
Keep outside the fences where shafts are situated. Don't enter culverts or tunnels. We can promise you we have been in all of them and if you are really keen we will show you round the best bits - in safety!
Leave the visitor centre by the back path. After about 100m on your left you will see a fenced off area. This surrounds an oval shaft. Probably dating back to the 1720's being oval, we think this worked the Black Seam.
A few meters further on, to your right is the sunken section of the boiler house dating back to around 1900. This contained 10 Lancashire boilers. These fed the steam winding engines at both shafts and also the steam powered compressors in the next building. Steam power arrived at Wet Earth around 1805 when a Newcomen type steam winder was introduced opposite the sunken area where the old stone engine bed stands.
Fletchers Folly Chimney.
Reached via the path around the boiler house, this dates back to 1805 and the arrival of steam power. Worth a diversion to inspect it's ornamental stone and brickwork banding.
Either en-route or on returning, venture into the jungle and try to find the drift-mine ventilation shaft capping and nearby engine beds for it's steam engine. Don't stand on the capping!
Back to the main path head towards the cottages junction. Have a look at the foundations of the Whiteheads home for many generations. A combination of late 18th century stone and late 19th century brick construction. The orchard remains are nearby.
Return to the main path and head to the Loco Shed. In 1896 the colliery purchased Loco Clifton, an 0-4-0 saddle tank by Vulcan Foundry, Newton Le Willows to take coal to the sidings at Robin Hood (near the present day Pilkington works). Look for sleepers amongst the trees. While you are at the loco shed have a look at the canal loading basin just beyond the trees.
Back to the main path, past the information board turn the corner and have a look at the latest shaft collapse! This is a canal overflow shaft which had been filled and which slumped in December 1995. Full depth around 10 meters. The exploration group pass by this shaft in the tunnels they are excavating beneath your feet.
In the trees behind try and spot the fence around the position of the dry dock drain shaft.
Follow the path alongside the trees to the pylon. Beneath it are the foundations of the old weighbridge formerly alongside the railway lines from the screens.
If you fancy exploring, nip into the trees just past the pylon, past the fenced off shaft (down to the canal drainage tunnels) and look for the isolated engine beds. Found them? Easy that one! These were probably for a steam engine at the screening sheds.
Find the edge of the canal loading basin nearby and look for the abutments of the old bridge. This carried tubs of coal across to the screens from the drift (walk down type) mine on the other side, closed in 1912. Behind you and further towards the end of the canal look for the large engine beds and metal tie studs for the drift winding engine. Mind you don't fall in!
Nearby to the drift winding house remains you should spot or fall into the foundations of the coal washery, a must for collieries where coal quality was all important at the turn of the century.
Pass by the "Bandstand" or redundant viewing platform down to the end of the canal to have a look at the Penstock Arch. Water passed through here to the wheelchamber, driving turbines when the wheel was taken out in 1867. Try and spot the main sluice set into the base of the wall to the left and it's beam slot. The tunnels these drained into are being excavated by the Exploration Group. The Arch was restored in 1992. This also was the entrance to a short underground canal which passed by the downcast shaft near the wheelchamber.
Reluctantly leave this exciting area to head round the corner to the wheelchamber. Note the shaft surround brickwork perched higher up. This was the original Wet Earth Colliery shaft and probably dates to around 1720. 100 meters deep (and not filled!)
Nip round to the other side of the wheelchamber and do your best to peer into the 11 meter deep chamber designed by James Brindley around 1750. Due to gas dangers we can't allow you to wander in but if any of the Exploration Group are around we can show you inside. Please don't throw anything in, we may be in there!
Look for the scour mark for the original waterwheel on the far wall. This gives a diameter of 7 meters. A visitor in 1795 described " an immense breastshot wheel" being in place (water hitting it half way down turning it anti clockwise). The girders are later features associated with turbines which replaced the wheel around 1867. If you do some contortions you may glimpse a turbine at the bottom of the chamber at the entrance end. At this end also you will see the water supply tunnel and later header tank for the turbine. The old cast pulley mounted on the wall along with another now lost helped raise or lower the large wood gate to control water entering the chamber.
Note how close the wheelchamber is to the shaft. Water raised up the shaft was sent along a culvert then into the chamber, flowing eventually to the River Irwell, via tunnels which the Exploration Group are excavating.
Leave the wheelchamber and head off into the jungle which contains the fan house remains, excavated by the group in 1994. The fan, a Walker Brothers Indestructible was built in Wigan in 1889 replacing a furnace at the bottom of the shaft nearby. Look where the fan blades rotated (usually contains deep water) also a fan blade lies nearby along with the central boss the blades were attached to. Head back through the fields or via the jungle back to the main path.
Hope you found everything and didn't fall into any holes or ignited any gas. Other leaflets in this series will cover the sites general history and features farther afield which you can discover.
Return to Wet Earth Main Page.