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Tar Tunnel

Coalport, Shropshire

Location Guide

"A part of the World Heritage Site Ironbridge Gorge"

If you approach the tunnel from the tow path of the Shropshire Canal the first thing you will notice is the bridge that crosses the road and then the remains of the Hay Inclined Plane, a system used to take goods from the River Severn below up to the canal at the top of the hill, which today runs through the Blists Hill Victorian Town. You walk up the steps onto the bridge and cross it and then come down the steps on the other side to go behind the house to the entrance.

Access to the tunnel is from a small room where you separate from some cash or show your passport. Then the required placing of hard hats onto ones head, through a doorway into a small museum area before entering the tunnel. Visitors are only accessing the first 100 yards of the tunnel. As you enter the tunnel entrance there are some old tar carrying wagons on your right and the tunnel is lit all the way down to a point where you get to a locked iron gate. As you walk along you will see tar making it's way through the mortar joints of the brick lining, and part way down on the right hand side there are two illuminated tar wells. Beyond the locked gate is a dark pool of black stuff, the tar pool.  At this point, not accessible to visitors, the tunnel opens out to twice its normal width which would have allowed trains of wagons going in opposite directions to pass. After this is an area where the roof has fallen, followed by an unlined section of brilliantly coloured rock. The tunnel then becomes no more than a culvert with an open drainage channel. After taking a peak through the iron gate it is time to turn back and retrace your steps back to the museum and exit. At this point don't forget to leave your hat for the next visitor.

Allow about 15 minutes for your visit inside.

A bit of History

In 1786, a local ironmaster, William Reynolds, started to build a tunnel from a meadow on the banks of the River Severn towards the mine shafts at Blists Hill. The largely brick-lined tunnel was intended to be used for a canal to transport coal from the mines. However after about 300 yards the workmen struck a spring of black sticky stuff (tar), or more correctly, natural bitumen. Reynolds immediately realised the scientific and commercial potential of this discovery and started to exploit the resource he had found. Around 4,500 gallons of bitumen a week were collected at first, and for several years over 1,000 gallons were being extracted, however this reduced to only 10 barrels a year by the 1820ís when finally in the 1840ís it dried up altogether.

The bitumen was collected in wells and transported back outside via wagons and when outside the mouth of the tunnel it was boiled in large cauldrons to convert it into pitch to be used for the preservation of timber. Some was processed for use in lamps or as a varnish, while some was made into 'British Oil', a medicinal preparation for the treatment of rheumatic and skin complaints.

By 1847 the tunnel no longer in use and no more tar to be extracted a house was built over the entrance and afterwards could only be reached through itís cellar, which is the entrance visitors use today.

The Annual Passport. The Ironbridge Museums operate an Annual Ticket and Passport where for one price you can get access to all 10 of their sites with unlimited day time access during normal opening hours, so you can return as often as you like for a whole year. If after 12 months you have still not visited particular sites, you can return at any time in the future to make one free visit to the sites that you've missed. These tickets are sold at all the museums and the visitor information centre in Ironbridge itself or you can buy them in advance by phone. The 2009 prices for the Passport tickets are:

Adult £19.95;  60+ £15.95; Child £12.95 or a family ticket for 2A up to 3C £54.95.

See Larger Image A view down the tunnel See Larger Image Some of the bitumen/tar seeping through

Location: Tar Tunnel. Coalport, Ironbridge, Shropshire

Grid Reference: SJ694025 Ceremonial County: Shropshire

Map Link: Multimap

Aerial photo: multimap

Getting there: Exit J4 of M54. Follow signs for Ironbridge Gorge. Then follow signs for Blists Hill Museums. Continue for about one mile. Park at Coalport China Museum.

Access: Via the tow path along the canal from the Coalport Museum, or along the road from the same point just past the pub. Down by the side of a house and around the back, entrance through what looks like a doorway into a house.
Website: Tar Tunnel
Other Useful Websites:
Email: tic@ironbridge.org.uk
Address: The Tar Tunnel, Coalport, Ironbridge, Telford
Postcode: TF8 7HT Telephone: 01952 884391
Opening Times: April-October 10am-5pm

Charges: Use the Annual Passport as detailed above or for entry to the Tile Museum only prices are: Adult £2.25; 60+ £1.95; Child £1.75

Nearby Locations: Coalport China Museum   and

Hay Inclined Plane    Hay Inclined Plane Gallery

Other Location Pages:

Bedlam Furnaces

Blists Hill Victorian Town

Broseley Pipeworks

Darby Houses


Jackfield Tile Museum  

Iron Bridge and Toll House

Museum of the Gorge Ironbridge

Museum of Iron

Other Relevant Pages:

Living History Section

List of Living History Museums

Living history museums introduction

World Heritage Sites     

World Heritage Sites - Further Information

World Heritage Sites in the UK

Industrial Heritage

Anchor Points and The European Route of Industrial Heritage  

The Industrial Revolutions

Technological Developments in the Industrial Revolution

Transport in the Industrial Revolution 

Further Information on Industrial Heritage 

European Route of Industrial Heritage - UK Sites   




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By: Tracey Park Section: Heritage Section Key:
Page Ref: Tar_Tunnel Topic: Tunnels Last Updated: 10/2009


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