The canal tunnel at Hugh's Bridge, Lilleshall on the Donnington Wood Canal has been attracting the attention of Club members for a number of years.
Yet apart from a brief foray into the tunnel in the 1960s by David Adams (who didn’t reach the end) nothing much has happened. On the evening of July 4th this year, this situation was rectified when a dozen Club members paid a visit with a view to (hopefully) reaching the shafts at the end of this "shaft and tunnel" system.
Stuart Tyrer received a certain amount of good natured 'mickey-taking' when he kitted up in full diving gear - even more so when he stood in the entrance and it barely covered his flippers!
The tunnel portal with 'Incline Cottages' in the background. The Donnington Wood Canal is behind the building.
Stuart kitting up in full diving gear.
But, he had the last laugh after donning his diving gear and entering the tunnel the others with him (Evan, Tony and Andy) rapidly discovered that the water in the tunnel was much deeper than they thought. The land owners have put a barrier across the entrance to make the canal a garden feature, increasing the depth of water inside the tunnel.
As they moved into the tunnel Evan and Tony tried holding onto Neal's inflatable dingy while Stuart towed them along. However, after about 30m with progress proving very slow, Stuart left the dingy behind and pushed on to the end. He managed to get a couple of views of the filled shafts with his video camera, which showed there was no way onwards.
When the team came out measurements where made up the incline to work out where the shafts might be. Two spots were identified with trees growing out of them as the likely locations either side of the track along the former towpath.
Andy Harris watches as Stuart tows Evan and Tony away !
Evan (left) and Tony (right) clinging onto the dingy, with Stuart’s light receding into the distance.
Heading: Approx. 150 degrees.
Distance to shafts/collapse: 60m (measured by dive line)
Water: 5 to 6 feet deep.
Considering it is over 200 years since it was last used the tunnel is in very good condition.
Brick lined from the portal it passes into an unlined section about 30m inbye, before reaching what appears to be 2 infilled shafts, one on the South side of the tunnel the other straight ahead.
In 1765 the Earl Gower and Company started construction of the first canal in Shropshire (completed by 1768) from collieries at Donnington Wood 5½ miles eastwards past Muxton and Lilleshall Abbey to a wharf at Pave Lane near Newport. A couple of years later a 2 mile long branch canal with 3 short arms was built to connect limestone quarries and works at Lilleshall and Pitchcroft with the main line.
As the branch canal was at a lower level than the main line (42 feet/13m) the connection between the two was made at Hugh’s Bridge by a tunnel with twin shafts, on the bank of the main line. Cranes were used to lower coal in box-shaped containers down one shaft, while raising lighter containers of lime or limestone in the other.
By 1797 an inclined plane 123 yards (112.5m) long had replaced the shaft tunnel system.
The branch canal and incline were abandoned about 1878-79, probably when the Lilleshall Limeworks closed. It is the tunnel of the shaft-tunnel system that the Club investigated in July this year.
Recovering the slightly deflated dingy from the tunnel.
Artefacts found by the land owners while working in the garden. They appear to be part of a pulley wheel and the metal 'hook' end of a boat hook.
The canal is also known as the Marquis of Stafford’s or the Duke of Sutherland’s Canal, but generally the Donnington Wood.
The canal was built by John Earl Gower (brother-in-law to the famous canal builder Francis, 4th Duke of Bridgewater) he was created first Marquis of Stafford in 1786. His eldest son, who became the second Marquis of Stafford in 1803 was created Duke of Sutherland in 1833.