I was walking down the Irwell one day and spotted some outfalls in the riverbank. A bit of research showed they were probably related to the Wet Earth Colliery, a site that started the extraction of coal from the Irwell Valley Fault in 1740. One of the reasons this site was important was the involvement of James Brindley. The eminent canal engineer was contacted in 1750 to advise on how to drain the workings that had flooded soon after their construction.

Brindley orchestrated the construction of several tunnels and structures related to this task and several parts can still be seen today.

I met with TheLoki to explore a tunnel that was used to bring water from a weir on the Irwell further upstream. Upon entering we found ourselves in a small tunnel which had been pick driven through the soft sandstone, a few meters later we passed under some iron supports and the tunnel opened up to about 8ft. A diverting wall had been built to send any water on to the outfall, orginially flows would have continued down the tunnel into an inverted siphon. This tunnel under the river was one of Brindley's innovative solutions to deliver flows to a waterwheel on the other side which gave power to dewater the mine.

Unfortunately the tunnel was terminated by a brick wall, probably put in when the Ringley Sewage Works was built as the tunnel would have gone straight underneath.

On the opposite side of the river the upcast sump can just be made out through a metal door. A channel leads off from this and continues off towards the wheelhouse.

The colliery closed in 1928 and became derelict. It started to become unearthed again in 1990 when Alan Davies, Museum Officer at Salford Mining Museum, formed the Wet Earth Colliery Exploration Group.

The wheelhouse is a 30ft+ deep brick lined chamber that sits next to the pit shaft. It had filled in since the colliery closed, a combined effort from the exploration group and funding from Salford Council lead to it being excavated and a spiral staircase installed. The wooden waterwheel is long gone, a water turbine replaced it in later years but this now lies out of site underwater.

Down in a loading basin lies a penstock arch, this was rebuilt in 1990 and leads to a tunnel to the wheelhouse. TheLoki nipped up for a quick look.

A system of tunnels that provided drainage to the Irwell connected the wheelpit, loading basin and pit shaft. They received the most attention by the exploration group who had found silted up tunnels on the riverbank and spent months digging them out and exploring. An excellent pdf, "Diary of Exploration Volume 1" by Mark David Wright, details the exploration and is well worth a read. Link

The Manchester Evening News published a fear mongering article about safety in February 1997 and the Coal Authority sealed the tunnels up. I was curious if the tunnels were still inaccessible 17years later so set down the riverbank to find them.

The main tunnel has a locked metal door, a small hole allows the inside to be seen, the tools used by the exploration group discarded inside.

Many other adits line the banks of the river around the area. All of which are grilled and most backed up with sediment.

It's a shame this site has been left to rot after the initial investment to start clearing it, several areas such as a turbine house on the riverbank have gone past the point of saving. What could have been an asset to tourism for Salford Council is instead left as a monument to bureaucratic shortsightedness.

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