WET EARTH COLLIERYCLIFTON, MANCHESTER.,UK
Wet Earth Colliery Exploration Group.
The tunnels of Wet Earth.
Around 1989 a number of individuals had started to look at the various tunnel entrances on the banks of the river Irwell at Clifton, with a view to opening some of them up for further exploration. At the time, the entrances were almost completely silted up and entry was not possible in any meaningful way. By 1990, Alan Davies, the curator of the Lancashire Mining Museum, was consulted and within a matter of months, he brought together a group of enthusiasts and formed the Wet Earth Exploration Group who were briefed to delve deeper into the fascinating, if somewhat frustrating, remnants of Wet Earth Colliery.
The main tunnels are marked E, & G and are usually referred to as the "Service" tunnel and the "Tailrace" tunnel respectively. Also shown on the plan are the various shafts on each tunnel.
Over the next eight years, much of the silt and debris blocking the tunnels were removed, all of it being dug out and removed by wheelbarrow! It would be impossible to give complete descriptions of all the tunnels on the Internet and anyone interested in learning about the site in greater detail should contact the Lancashire Mining Museum at Buille Hill Park, Salford, UK (0161 736 1832) where records about the mine and it's tunnels are kept.
There are two major tunnels, the "Tailrace" tunnel and the "Service" tunnel. The exact purpose of the service tunnel is not known but it may have acted as an overflow passage for the tailrace tunnel - and it also acts as an exit for water from the dry dock above.
The Service tunnel.
The entrance is some 8 or 9 feet high and the initial passage remains at this height (this gives you an idea about how much silt had to be removed!). The whole tunnel complex is hand hewn in the sandstone and would have been constructed with only the light from tallow candles.
Within the first thirty yards, are two tunnels in the left hand wall which were used for drainage purposes, one of them being the drainage tunnel for the dry dock above. At the point where the dry dock water met the main tunnel, hand made nails were washed down from the dock above, and have solidified on the floor to a depth of a foot. The tunnel carries on another 20 yards then goes up a step and becomes about 6 foot high - although taller people have to bend their heads in places.
The passage is now fairly straight with the roof varying from a pitched design to a flat surface. This section of the tunnel system is totally dry except for times when the River Irwell is in full flood when it fills to the roof with water. It is hard to imagine that this tunnel was being constructed round about the time of the French Revolution at a period when women and children were working as the norm in coal mining ventures.
After a hundred yards or so, the tunnel changes character considerably, as it nears the Irwell Valley Fault, the strong sandstone giving way to shales which require extra brick support. Only yards before reaching this point, there is an entrance in the left hand wall giving access to the "Square Shaft" with a further tunnel slanting off on the right hand side. The right hand tunnel is still blocked by silt and is unexplored.
The Square shaft is capped at the surface and was probably used in the construction of the tunnels. Rope marks can be seen on the shaft sides. The Square shaft has entrances to both the Service tunnel and to the Tailrace tunnel although the floor of the latter is about 4 feet lower than than the Service tunnels floor.
For the time being we'll carry on along the Service tunnel which now lowers considerably and eventually becomes entirely brick lined. You can see a miners initials carved on the wall around this point. The passage twists and turns as the miners strove to avoid the worst areas of bad rock forming the fault. The photo shows the awkward height and most people breath a sigh of relief when they leave this section. Even after the brick lined section, there is still a fairly low passage which passes through an area of safe yet broken rock. At the end of this short section of passage we come to a junction where four tunnels meet. Straight ahead is a passage which leads deeper into the system, but this part has not yet been fully cleared and tours do not usually visit this part of the workings. On the right hand side is a very low tunnel that you would have to crawl along. At present it goes nowhere interesting!
Our route is down the short left hand tunnel which slants downhill slightly, and has a dry stone packed wall on it's right hand side. After only a few yards and down a step, we find ourselves standing in the main drainage or tailrace tunnel at a point over three quarters of it's way into the tunnel system.
The Tailrace Tunnel.
Rather than turning left and going out, we go right (upstream). In the main drainage passage, the water is about gents wellington boot height - if nobody causes waves it is possible (just) to keep the feet dry! We proceed down another brick lined tunnel but as this section has not yet had all the debris removed, it is not quite such an easy walk as the service tunnel earlier.
The bricks are left behind and the tunnel is more "cave like" at this point, with walls which are far from smooth. We pass by the base of another shaft and soon a small entrance in the left hand wall can be entered for a view of the only coal seam in the system (don't forget, we are not in the mine itself, merely in the drainage tunnels designed by Brindley). After only a few yards the roof of the tunnel lowers, and daylight can be seen ahead from the wheel chamber where the water first enters the drainage tunnels. This entrance is currently sealed with a barred metal gate.
We retrace our steps returning to the point where we first entered the drainage tunnel. This time we go downstream. This section goes right through the Irwell Valley Fault and is tall and brick lined using up to 7 courses of brick to give it strength. At this point, the passage has not been cleared of silt and most of the debris are piled up to one side of the passage, so you may have to squeeze sideways at some points. Soon you will go past a partial roof collapse but it is quite safe to walk under it - quickly.
We are soon back at the other entrance to the Square Shaft in the left hand wall, but we carry straight on and duck down under the lowering roof and go down the main tailrace tunnel. The passage is only low because silt has not yet been cleared from the next 50 yards or so of passage. A miners inscription can be seen on the left hand wall along with a date. Unfortunately the first two digits are missing from the date, so we don't know whether it reads 17**, 18** or (most unlikely) 19**. You can soon stand up straight.
Apart from a couple of very short brick lined sections, this part of the system is once again in solid red sandstone and is tall, wide and airy - with water on the floor. The miners pick marks can be clearly seen, as can some of the small niches in the walls where they would place their tallow candles. The passage goes under another craftsman built shaft, then heads virtually straight for the open air except for a final bend at which point a further tunnel heads off on the right hand side. This side tunnel is still filled to the roof with silt.
And that's your trip down the tunnels at Wet Earth! This brief description merely scratches the surface of what's down there.
At the time of writing you will have to be satisfied with this brief written trip, for the tunnels are currently closed to the public (AND to members of the Wet Earth Exploration Group) for the time being. The underground system is subject to discussions between the Coal Authority (who technically "own" the tunnels), and the City of Salford (who would like to own the tunnels and eventually re-open them to the public). At present everyone involved feels it best to keep out until all legal and safety implications have been sorted out.
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