Coalport town lies predominantly on the north bank of the River Severn; on the south side is Jackfield. Coalport was planned as a canal /river interchange and a complete ‘new town’ by ironmaster William Reynolds, who between 1788 and 1796 built warehouses, workshops, factories and workers accommodation in Coalport. He also directed the construction of the Shropshire Canal, linking the East Shropshire coalfield with the River Severn – the terminus being Coalport Wharf between the Brewery Inn and Coalport Bridge. Coalport at this time was much larger than it is today.
The right of the picture is the historic Coalport Canal which runs from the river past the Coalport China Works, the Tar Tunnel leading to the bitumen and coal mines, and up the Hay Inclined Plane, where it continues towards Blists Hill town where it terminates. Currently, much of the stretch between Blists Hill and the Hay Inclined Plane is overgrown and impassable.
The Hay Inclined Plane over which the bridge in the picture crosses, enabled canal barges and narrowboats to be transferred from the bottom of the Severn Gorge to the top, up a 1 in 4 gradient on wheeled cradles, operated by a team of just four men. It was the equivalent of 27 canal locks and could transport six barges per hour in this fashion, an operation that would have taken over three hours using a traditional lock system. The canal was eventually superseded by rail transport and fell into neglect, silting up and becoming overgrown and was infilled in the 1920’s. It wasn’t until the late 1970’s that it was partially restored, with further restoration in the 1990’s.
Miners struck a gushing spring of natural bitumen, a black treacle-like substance, when digging the Tar Tunnel in 1787, probably in connection with the nearby coal mine workings. It was a great curiosity in the 18th century and bitumen still oozes from the wall today. Its chief commercial use at the time was to treat and weatherproof ropes and caulk wooden ships, but small amounts were processed and bottled as a remedy for rheumatism.