With many well known and high profile archaeological monument sits easy to think or believe that we know everything to there is know. Stonehenge, though proves that there is always new material to find as archaeological survey techniques and methods advance. Thus when news filtered through in July that a new tunnel had been found at the Worsley Delph end of the Bridgewater Canal my scepticism quickly turned to astonishment once I had got out to site and was faced with a new and major industrial archaeology find.
Renovation works in canal terminus at Worsley are currently being undertaken by Salford City Council, with HLF monies. This is to better interpret the entrance to the canals that serviced the Duke of Bridgewater’s Worsley coal mines form the 1760s to the 1880s. There will also be a new viewing point on the eastern side of the Delph at close to water level so that members of the public can get the feel of this iconic monument of the industrial age. Finally the basin will be dredged of 100 plus years of silt so that the full extent of the waters in front of the mines will be visible once more, along with the sluices to the two canal boat tunnels that enter the north rock face of this enclosed area.
Imagine our surprise, during the archaeological watching brief and survey works as the eastern a side of the Delph was landscape, to see revealed a new brick tunnel in front of which is a previously unrecorded stone quay compete with winch mechanism. These features are not on any of the historic maps nor are they obviously mentioned in the documentary records of the canal (though we shall now have to go back and study these again).
The tunnel runs into the bank for at least 10 meters and there is a smaller side tunnel running south and parallel to The Delph and the canal as it goes underneath the road bridge at the southern end of the site. Both are made from handmade brick and lime mortar. The larger tunnel appears to run to the north of the 18th and 19th century cornmill in this area and is wide enough to take a horse and cart.
What then is going on? Having only just finished the recording process, and with more documentary research to do, any comments at this stage will have to be provisional. the main tunnel appears to be providing road access to the quay along the eastern side of The Delph. This would certainly answer one logistical issue that has always worried me – why was there no road transport access into The Delph itself, which would have made maintenance of the main entrances a lot easier? The role of the second smaller tunnel is at the moment unclear. As is when this arrangement was built and when it went out of use and was backfilled.
Its incredible to think that an industrial monument that is one of the iconic sites of industrialisation has just revealed a major change in its design. How this is now incorporated into the landscaping and viewing platform is a problem that the Council are currently considering, Meanwhile, research into what this means for the management of canal boats and coals at The Delph in the late 18th and 19th century has only just begun.