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Saturday 27 February 2021

More wood for charcoal than coal for iron these days.

 Last October we were coming up to the end of out time on the canals for the year and were near the bottom of the Stourbridge Canal when we set off for another day.

Like all the best October days there was a special light and the sun was shining but still a little chill in the air. All it really needed was more brown and gold leaves on the floor and the smell of wood smoke in the air. The bottom end of this canal is quiet and pretty.

We were soon at the Stourton Locks, the first gives a lovely view for the gardens of the houses below it. The second ducks under the main road.

The third and fourth are in a lovely setting and with the junction being a little below makes a great spot for a bit of gongozzling. 

I have often wondered if folk really need signposts on the canals? There are not that many turnings or junctions so you wont have to put up with 'third on the left and the second right after the pub' stuff, never mind that most seem to go about glued to their phones these days anyway, on the GPS etc.

The aqueduct over the River Stour may not appear to be  over a major watercourse but can be a torrent in winter. Just by here is also the confluence with the Smestow Brook that the canal follows closely for a good period. The land that you can see is part of the Prestwood Estate. The house can not be seen from the canal, or at least I haven't, but it was an old established estate that belonged to the Lords of Dudley Castle until the 1550's. It was then sold to Sir John Lyttelton and then eventually sold on to Thomas Foley, the iron master. He settled it on to his son Philip. He rebuilt the house and the family lived there for the next 250 years. It was sold out of the family in the 1920's and became a tuberculosis sanatorium and later an old folks home with 40 beds. The other buildings around the main hose also seemed to have been converted to the same and are now under one management.

Just before the next lock is Gothersley Round House remains. 

The Smestow Brook valley was the location of many forges from Medieval times as there was a copious supply of charcoal.  Smestow used to be spelled Smestall untilthe 1800's and comes from the Anglo Saxon for 'Place of the Smiths'. The brook was the power for waterwheels and there seems to have been an iron works here since the mid 1650's rather than just a small forge. At this time it was part of the Foley Iron Empire. It developed further once Dud Dudley a great name for the illegitimate son of the 5th Baron of Dudley) had started the process of smelting iron using coal/coke rather than charcoal which was in short supply. It increased further when the Staffs. And Worcs. canal was built as the movement of coal limestone and iron ore and the finished products were much easier, so cheaper.

Gothersley Iron Works in 1903 showing the Round House by the canal.

In 1825 they were still puddling iron as they advertised for an overseer. It was to let as a wire rod mill a few years later but it stated that it could still be used for the charcoal iron trade and had a complete train for sheet metal and mechanical guide iron trade. (Does this mean rails for the railways, the first of which opened in 1825?). It was sold in 1833 and seems to be predominately a sheet iron producer. In 1838 a workman was killed by a piece of the flywheel that shattered and hit him in the head. The inquest found that the flywheel had been in poor repair for a while. Does this indicate that the upkeep of the works was not as it should be? The flywheel features in another incident in 1851 when a youth, who was employed to oil parts of machinery that were only accessible by somebody small, went missing. It was thought by the other men there that he had been sent on an errand by the foreman as happened. After four hours a search was made and he was eventually found at the bottom of the flywheel bit in a puddle of cold water. The flywheel was stopped and he was recovered, and found to be unconscious. This was very fortunate as if he had tried to escape the pit he would have been crushed by the wheel. He had had a part of his clothing snagged in some machinery and flung into the pit. He was recovering, so had obviously survived. In 1853 Joseph Maybury went bankrupt working the iron works at Gothersley, but it was still working as a sheet metal mill in 1877. In 1888 a woman was committed for stealing watercress from the mill pond where it had been planted as another source of income. Once more in 1890 the works was up for sale again. The wheel was described as a 25 HP breast driven water wheel with a fly and speed wheel. A sheet iron rolling train was there along with shears and moulding out and annealing furnace warehouse and other buildings.. It seems that it became redundant not too long after this and on the OS map of 1921 there is no trace of the works at all.

These are the remains of the Round House in 1989. 
It was built around 1805 and was for the wharfinger to live in to watch over the works wharf on the canal. As can be seen on the map above attached to the right hand side of the tower was another building that added to the accommodation. It must have been a busy place at one time as the Smestow Brook was so important that when James Brindley drew up the canal route he was prevented from interrupting the flow of the Brook and meant that he had to carry it it over the canal at Dunstall, Bridge 63. In Victoria's reign there were still 30 water wheels operating on the brook. The round house continued to be lived in after the works closed and up until the 1920's when it was left to decay. It was the site of nefarious acts so in the end it was made safe and the base left as a sort of picnic area.

The delight of this canal is enhanced by the regular outcrops of the sandstone of the area and after Gothersley Lock is Rocky Lock, well named

Next comes Greensforge Lock which reveals in the name past industry. There is also a chance to see one of the old mills on the other side of the Brook. We stopped for water but didn't stay for a visit to the Navigation pub that has been here for a few hundred years.  We stopped the other side of Hinksford Lock where ther is a pumping station that access the aquifer of the sandstone to provide water for Bilston when built.

Wednesday 24 February 2021

A Boatmans Life.

 We had a lovely walk around the Buckpool and Fens reserves and ponds on a nice day and then we set off the next day to head down the Stourbidge locks.

The top locks is just by Leys Junction and between here and the next lock, on the offside, a new industry was set up at the end of the 1800's. Well new to the area, and taking advantage of the clays found in the coal seams around the area. This was the making of encaustic wall and floor tiles, that were the archetype Victorian tiles

At Lock 3 it looks like there should have been a wharf over by the road to the left of this photo, but I can see no evidence of one on old maps. That is despite there being Nagersfield old Colliery and the later  Nagersfield Brickworks just beyond. It would have been very convenient for a loading berth.

I'm pretty sure this is Lock 4.

And I have obviously gone back after preping the next lock to close up after the boat. The Samson and Lion Pub is just over on the right.

In September 1924 the body of Noah Webb was recovered from the canal near Lock 5. Noah was 62 but there was nothing unusual about finding bodies in the canal, from new born babies to aged folk, as the papers were full of suicides, murders and accidents. Hundreds and hundreds found their way into the canals. This is possibly why, as a child, my Mum always emphasised the dangers of the canal. What made this stand out was the fact that Noah was a well known boatman and had been born on a narrow boat and lived only about 200 yards away, so was the last person you would think would have ended up in the canal. He had been born in 1862 the eldest son of a boatman. They were living ashore in Ledbury, Herefordshire, so must have worked the Hereford and Gloucester Canal and River Severn.

By 1871 Henry and his with Eliza (from Tewksbury) were to be found on a narrow boat on Crescent Wharf, which was just by what is now Cambrian Wharf at the top of the Farmer's Bridge locks.  He was called a Master so I assume they owned it. Their boats name was the 'Henry and Anne', the names of their 2nd and third children. I expect that they must have another boat named 'Noah' too! By the next census Noah was a boatman, at 18 but his father was publican in Lower Delph. In 1880 Henry had six boats but through bad luck and bad trade he lost them all and got into debt. He seems to have been fiddled by the trusted person he used to wind up his affairs and he still owed money in 1888. He appears to have sold his boats to a man called Humphries,  In 1881 he was the publican at the Britannia beer house with his wife and seven children. It was in Lower Delph and he remained there 1878 until 1882. In 1885 he was working for Humphries but on ruinous terms as he went to work for him as boatman but on terms that he should pay for any repairs! In 1891 he was on a boat called 'Staffordshire' moored at Eton? It definitely says on the canal so maybe this was on the Slough Arm. He had his wife and four of his children, two sons 12 and 8 and two daughters 19 and 14, as well as a Mate called William West.

In 1881 Noah was 18 at home at the Brittania, but written as a boatman. In 1883 he married Emma Hollies in Dudley. In 1891 we find Noah on a boat called 'Samuel' moored at Silvertown, West Ham, London. This is part of the Royal Docks estate and was probably there for a cargo of sugar. He just had a Mate with him, Thomas Parsons age 16. Meanwhile his wife and six children were at home at the Delph waiting for him. By 1901 they had taken a beer house, The Stores, in 1900, but Noah was still heading off on the boats, so was probably just to give his wife something to do! As if she needed anything else to do with all the children. The first pub was opened in an old shed to serve the navvies that constructed the new locks that opened in 1858 and was found close by the bottom of the flight. It was knocked down in 1938 and a new pub built called the tenth lock. In turn that has been demolished this year and bungalows are to be built on the site. Eventually they had 13, of which 9 survived. However between 1905 and 1911 Emma died and Noah is found at the Stores still but also as a boatman. There were still 8 children at home. 

I think that Noah may have been the first steerer of the steam narrow boat 'Vulcan' that worked between Birmingham and London as a fly boat working general cargo in 1908. He would be working to Fellows Morton and Clayton account at that time. Noah seems to have started to make his way with his haulage business by 1911 as his eldest son was a horse driver at 25, next a boatman on the canal next another horse driver and another working on the boats. It was said that at one time he owned 40 horses and nearly as many boats. He seemed to be a regular on the run to London and was a recommended carrier by the Stourbridge Canal Co. In 1912 he was fined 2s 6d for contravening the Canal Boat Act. One of his boats was found at Tipton not having a Registration Certificate,  not supplied with a water can and no bilge pump. Noah Webb, in his defense, stated that normally this boat would have been on the London run, and would then be fitted with all this equipment but presently it was going to Cannock for coal and as the men did not live aboard it he did not think it necessary. He also ran a carting business in the area, coal and slack from pits to wharves mainly. He seems to have been a bit of a character as he was fined for being drunk in his own pub, and was lucky to keep the licence! He was also found guilty of cruelty to his horses and in 1911 was fined £5 and the cost of putting a horse down. The fine was high as he had been caught several times. He also lost a horse in an unusual way as it was swallowed up in a 25' x 8' x 6' hole that appeared due to subsidence near his pub. It fell and broke its neck, so was buried where it lay. 

I glimpse at the trials of a boat owner were revealed in a court case of 1911. Noah Webb had given Joseph Adams £7 10s on a Friday to take a pair of boats and two horses to London and back, with his wife and two men. He heard rumours and headed to Birmingham to find the two boats and everything other than the steerer! He then went his home and when questioned vaguely stated that he got off the boat and 'lost' the money so couldn't continue. Noah then gave him a further 30s and told him he had to start the trip on Saturday morning. Noah checked the next day and he was still there so he employed somebody else at £6 to take the boats. In court Noah stated that he could make £1 a day from his boats. He was claiming £10 from Adams. The Court granted him the £10 but at 10s per fortnight. Four months later he was back in court as he had only received 7s and Adams was given 40 days in prison as well as the 10s per two weeks.

Over his life in the area Noah Webb was documented as pulling at least 2 bodies out of the canal and now it was his turn to end up there. He had been to the pub to pay his 'club' money but everybody styated he was sober when he left in the evening. He was greeted by passers by a couple of times but ended up in the canal about 200 yards from his home. It just goes to show we all need to take care on locks and by the canal.

We are now down to Locks 9 and 10. These two are as close as you can get to been a staircase pair, but they do have a tiny pound between them. There are great views down the cut to Dadford's Shed and the Red House bottle kiln.

Looking back at the pair of locks 9 and 10.

Known as Dadford's shed it was a transhipment shed for the basin alongside. Dadford was the builder of the canal.

There are still several glass cones surviving in the area, but this one at Redhouse Glassworks is the best preserved at the old Stuart Crystal works/museum. Over the road is the Whitehouse Glassworks museum, and there were several more works in the area.

The old flour mill a little past the glass cone would have been a source of traffic for the canal judging by the warehouse doors in the centre of the building. It has now been converted to flats.

At Wordsley Junction we continued straight on. The trip down the arm to the Bonded Warehouse and Stourbridge is well worth it, but no time on this voyage.

Helen heading off without me! Just a little past the bridge is a small aqueduct over the River Stour. We didn't go much further and found a length of piling with a view across to New Wood.

Saturday 20 February 2021

Brick by Fire Brick.

 We set off the next day in light mizzle with the forecast set to brighten up somewhat and we didn't have far to go on this October day in 2020

We were soon at the top of the Delph Locks. The lock behind was on the original site but as you can see the old route veered off to the left. After the old flight closed the arm still served lime kilns and a saw mill. The locks in the flight in view were opened in 1858 and make a lovely run up or down. I always say on the blog when we pass this way, that if they were out in the country somewhere flocks of tourists would be gongoozling but hardly a soul saw us pass. Admittedly it wasn't ideal weather for it.

In November 1880 the top lock, behind me in this picture, was the scene of a lock rage incident. Samuel Hollis was coming up the flight and was approaching the top lock with his hand Thomas Bates. At the same time Joseph Foster and his mate Charles Wells were approaching from the top! There was the inevitable dispute about who would take the lock, but it couldn't be resolved and Hollis opened the top p[addles and Foster the bottom ones. And the argument continued. Meanwhile the pound with the timber yard on, Roberts and Cooper Co. filled and eventually flooded the yard. Mr. Cooper sped up to sort it out, but Hollis said it's nothing to do with me 'he opened the bottom paddles'. And of course Foster said it was nothing to do with , 'he opened the top paddles!'. In the end one of the yard workers found a windlass and closed the paddles. They were taken to court for wasting BCN water. The maximum fine was £5, but they were fined 25s plus costs each.

The old stables is now used for the volunteers etc. I'm not sure why there would be a stables along the flight, but then again why now! It seems to have been builot around WWI. There was a toll house below lock No.4 until the same time when it moved to next to the top lock.
In 1863 there was another case of lock rage that didn't end well. William Knibbs was on his way up at No.5 lock. John Male, the Nine Locks Lock Keeper was with him. Cornelius Wood was from a boat descending and was sent down by his steerer to ready the lock but had to return with the bad news. The steerer was David Allport stormed down demanding the reason why he wasn't given the lock. As he passed William, who was sitting on the lock beam, he gave his a push and he fell in the lock. The water was 15' down and 5' deep. They fished him out pretty quickly but he was found to be dead. He was put on a cart and taken to his house Rock's Hill which was close by the bottom of the flight. A subsequent autopsy found that he had drowned but had received a blow on the back of the head that must have knocked him out. Allport was eventually taken to Stafford Assizes and in March 1864 found guilty of manslaughter. The jury said there should be leniency though and he was given 6 months hard labour.

I love the waterfall by-washes that really roar in wet weather. You can clearly see the route of the old locks to the right.

At the bottom of the flight are these two arms. They accessed the Delph Firebrick factory. The second arm wasn't built until after WW1. On the other bank was a gas works.

This area of Brierley Hill seems to specialise in the production of Firebricks. The clay for these was one of the seams that was below the coal mines of the area. So although the coal may have been worked out the pits still provided the clay. Behind these offside moorings can be seen old brick ovens of part of a subsidiary of the Brettell Lane Works

The main Brettel Lane Works were accessed from the canal via a wide arm that left the canal here. They were owned by George King Harrison, a self made Victorian. He was born not far away at Coalbournebrook, Amblecote, and was put into banking at the Stourbridge and Kidderminster Bank by his father. However he soon got into commerce with his cousin William King Perrens when they took over existing fire clay works in Lye. They extended and modernised and bought others in Cradley and Wilencote that came with coal mines too. In 1866 they took on a small firebrick works on Brettell Lane and then purchased old pits at Nagersfield and Hawbush close by. They rebuilt the Brettell Lane plant and made it the finest fire clay factory in the area. An electric tramway was built from the Nagersfield pit, to the north, to the new plant. In 1875 Perrens retired and GKH continued to run the business until a couple of year before he died in 1906.

Fire Bricks being loaded.

The basin to the Brettell Lane works can be seen bottom right with the factory and kilns around them, along with the tramway going under Brettell Lane and heading to the top left corner and Nagersfield.

This monument is next to the canal on Brythill Drive that is just past the Brettell Road Bridge. As well as the numerous fire brick works here about just by the bridge there was also an iron and steel plant, and on the off side was a chain and anchor works. Maybe this is what the anvil represents on the top. This is on the disused  colliery on the bend just above Brettell Lane bridge in the map above.

We were soon at Leys Junction and for the first time turned right up the Fens Branch to have a look see. An adventure.

I haven't witnessed lock rage on quite the above scale, but it has been mighty close to fisticuffs several times. I always try to remember that most people on the canals are reasonable folk, but the odd idiot who thinks the world revolves round them is not worth losing your cool over. Just think of the first case in this blog!

Monday 15 February 2021

Bye Bye Brum.

 After another great stay in Birmingham our schedule meant that we had to move on. It turned out that we did a fair bit longer than we had planned.

The New Main could found to be boring as it is wide and fairly straight and very rarely has any distant views, if any. However there is plenty to see along the way, and once you have plied the route a few times it is easy to tick off the miles as you pass them. Here we have passed the Winson Green Soho Loop and the Soho factory site, and Smethwick Junction and are just passing the toll bar and gauging dock just before the Engine Arm aqueduct that carries water for the system from Rotton Park Reservoir. It is a shame that the greenery has been allowed to grow on the toll island is it will only damage the brick work.

This photo shows why the canals are often styled a green lung or corridor as the greenery cuts off the bustling city beyond, cuts out much of the noise and pollution and brings in the birds and mammals that you can hear and spot as you travel along. The Smethwick pump house is just round the corner.

Having passed through the Galton tunnel and under the majestic Galton Bridge you pass through the cutting by Chance's glassworks and soon pass under the old main line on the Steward Aqueduct. Then is the modernist view of the M5 motorway with its feet planted in the canal and futuristic advertising screen  above.

At Dudley Port Junction we turned left into the Netherton Branch. On the turn  off the New Main Line was the old Groveland Colliery that was disused soon after the canal was cut through to the tunnel. On the right are the toll cottages and in the middle  of the canal can be seen the toll island. The bridge in front is the Tividale Aqueduct where the old Main Line crosses over and on the left was the Hullbridge Colliery.

The Netherton Tunnel was the last large tunnel to be built on the canal system and it was built for two way traffic with a towpath on each side. It was desperately required because of the bottleneck caused by the Dudley Canal Tunnel. This was a single way tunnel, with not towpath and with only about 6' height above the water. Legging through could take 3 and 12 hours and sometimes days when the water levels were low. All boats had to raise up three locks to approach the Dudley Tunnel and then drop down three to regain the canal system again, been very wasteful of water.

In 1855 an Act of Parliament was sought to construct a canal between the New Main Line and the Dudley Canal of 21/2 miles with a tunnel under the Rowley Hills of 3020 yds long. the Canal would be 27' wide. This was largely made possible by the facility of the London and Northwestern Railway Co guaranteeing the investment at 4%. They had done the same in 1884 to the sum of £2 million and had never needed to use it as the dividend paid had always been above this. This time they would ensure that the investment of £200,000 was covered. They considered that to improve the Dudley Tunnel would be £1000,000, but they may as well have a new tunnel built to modern standards. The original estimates were that to drive the tunnel would be £170,000, to purchase the required land would be £12,000, and sundry other costs£56,000. The Act gave them permission to impose a toll of 4d a ton of cargo through the tunnel until the construction was paid for. The required Parliamentary Acts were quickly acquired and by October tenders were being sought for construction of the canal and tunnel.

The first sod was cut by Lord Ward who was a major landowner in the area with mines and pits galore. (Most sources seem to give the date of turning the first sod as 31st December for some reason, but the report was in the paper on 29th and as can be seen below the spade used was inscribed with 28th December). In fact at the start he had been against the construction as it would affect his lands, but had been won over by the fact that his businesses would prosper due to the great amount of trade and cheaper freight charges. It was thought that the freight on the carriage of coal would reduce by 1s 6d per ton once the tunnel and canal was completed. He was presented with a spade inscribed with 'Presented to the Right. Hon. Lord Ward for purpose of turning the first sod of the new canal and tunnel to be called Netherton Tunnel on Friday 28th December 1855'. On the reverse it said ' Sir. George Nicholls. KCB Chairman, Messrs. Walker, Cooper and Bringes, Engineers and Mr. George Meakins, Contractor.. After the initial ceremony they company of 300/400 adjourned to a pavilion near the Oakum site, where Lord Ward gave a lengthy speech about the history of the iron trade of the area, it gowth being linked with the growth of the canal and rail systems, and admitted that he was anti the tunnel and canal at first but was one over by the benefits to trade to be brought about by it. Sir Nicholls responded and invited Lord Ward to again dine with them in two years time when the canal was to be completed. They then left to attend a meal at the Dudley Arms Hotel where 200 sat down and following the meal and after the Loyal toasts had many speeches starting to the landlords and Lord Ward, the Iron and coal masters, the engineers and many any more. In fact the 'party' did not break up until the small hours!

Construction started at both ends and seventeen shafts dug down from the surface between 160 and 200 ft apart. The land above the tunnel was changed for ever by the spoil brought up from the tunneling. The tunneling was dangerous and nine were killed and eighteen seriously injured. Five died by being hit by skips falling down the shafts. One time the foreman was rising up the shaft from below when a skip, which I take to be a small rail wagon for moving the spoil, fell down the shaft and struck him in the lifting tub!. It was felt that these numbers were acceptable at the time. The number of men employed at the site also brought problems for the local community due to the drinking, violence and thievery that went on. They must have also brought money to the economy though. By November 1857 the BCN realised that they would need to raise more capital as they were over running the budget.  A further £25,000 was required to purchase old mines and £10,000 more for other land. There was also the cost of obtaining the new Act to increase the funding at £10,000. A further £30,000 was required for the cutting of the tunnel and the rest was required to by the interest on the loans until the new canal started earning money.With the construction of the tunnel trouble had been found with the geology of the district as well as the hillside being riddled with old mine workings. Practically they found that they needed to line the tunnel for three quarters of its length and massive buttresses at the entrances. However they only had 470 yards left of tunneling. They required a further £100,000 of capital and again the LNW Railway gave security on the full amount.

The construction missed the original delivery date of December 1857 and by February 1858 they were expecting to be completed by early summer that year. It was eventually on Friday 20th August 1858 that the canal and tunnel were ceremonially opened. The BCN officials and some invited guests boarded seven narrow boats at Broad Street and with much fanfare and with banners and flags flying they departed sailed to Dudley Port. Here they paused to take on more guest that had arrived via the train. They then proceeded through the tunnel, the banks of the new canal being thronged by the workers. The passage took 24 mins and once at the other end Sir Nicholls stood stood at the bow of his boat and raised the toast to the success of the tunnel. The captains of the boats then uncorked their large stock of good wine and other refreshments and there was general merriment to return the toast. After a brief  stop they continued down the canal. As well as the opening of the Netherton Branch Canal and Tunnel the party were off to celebrate the opening of the Two Lock Line that provided a short cut on the Dudley Canal, missing out the Blowers Green lock and shortening the distance for through boats. Having dropped down the two locks they continued to The Delph where another opening was to take place. This was the newly constructed flight of six locks that descended to the level of the Stourbridge Canal. The top and bottom locks remained but the original middle seven were reduce to six. From the top of the flight they boats then turned and headed for the Park Head Locks at the mouth of the Dudley Canal. Here they left on foot for the Dudley Hotel once again. Two hundred again sat down to a banquet and many more were treated to an excellent repast on the seven boats that were moored at the Lodge Farm Reservoir.

In the beginning the tunnel was lit by Gas light. The cost of installation was to be over £37 and it was estimated that it would consume a million cu ft of gas a year. It was later lit by electricity and this photo must have been taken then unless lit for a special occasion. The electricity was generated by a little hydroelectric plant that took water from the Old Main Line at Tividale Aqueduct near the northern portal. The power house was a little brick building on the toll island. I'm not sure when it was left unlit, probably since the 1950's, but you only have the light of seven ventilation shafts of the seventeen that are left open now.

By September that year there were 1000 boats passing through the tunnel every day but the next year it was revealed that the takings from the new tunnel did not cover the interest on the loan, short by £1000 to £1500, but the BCN continued to pay a dividend over over 5% as trade over the whole system grew due to the through trade created. Following the completion we have an insight into the items used in the construction of the canal and tunnel as various sales were held for surplus equipment. In March 1858 George Meakin had for sale 20 short legged superior and powerful cart horses and all their harness and a year after the completion he had horizontal engines and their boilers, 6 mortar pans with rollers and shafts etc, 3 flat colliery chains 200 yds long 6" iron pump, 1 horse mortar mill, one pug mill, circular saw bench with blades, 16" lathe, 60 wrought iron skips, 40 wooden skips and 50 pit trolleys. It shows what a large enterprise it had to be, and what good profit Meakin must have made to auction off this equipment at the inevitable loss from when he purchased them!

Just two of the original 17 construction/ventilation shafts of the Netherton Tunnel. I feel a walk coming on next time we pass to find them all.. On the left is one in the middle of a roundabout in Tividale and the other is in housing on Packwood Road.

It is two way working but still if on your own the length of the tunnel means that sometimes you lose concentration and need all the width! The tow paths are gated. Indeed in 1933 people who wandered in to the tunnel were fined for cycling in the tunnel, but I suppose they only lock the gates when they are working on one side or another as it would be a long way to go back if you got half way! The tunnel has had various repairs and at on time it was closed due to vapour and 'fug' from phosphorus. It seems that there was a ghostly light emitted by the gas too. It was being dumped in an old pit nearby so whether it leaked out of the boats, or through the ground I'm not sure.

The tunnel access come in from the top right corner and this map of 1884 shows just how busy and industrial the area would have been and was also a crossroads with the Dudley canal No.2 Canal heading off to the bottom right, through the Lappal Tunnel and joining the Worcester and Birmingham Canal. The Dudley No.1 Canal heads off down at the bottom to join up with the Stourbridge Canal and to the top left is an arm to more pits and works. The Bumble Hole loop was part of the old canal before the new, and straight, tunnel access cut it off.

We were considering stopping at windmill End, but decided to carry on after stopping to top up with water, despite the rain.

Brewin's Tunnel was dug in 1838 and passed through an igneous intrusion. It caused a bottle neck to boats so in 1858 it was opened up with just the high level bridge left. This would be one of the construction sites that the boats carrying the dignitaries from the opening of the the Netherton Tunnel would have seen on their trip.

There was plenty of room at the Waterfront near Merryhill so availed ourselves. There was a trip to the shopping, one to the Batham's brew house and the following day a cooked breakfast at the Wetherspoon's opposite. Always a pleasure to stop here. My mouth has started watering at the thought of a pint of Batham's now!!

Monday 8 February 2021

Birmingham Ship Canal Schemes.

 We love Birmingham and we love to have a look around the ever changing city. We also always have a meal out at the Barajee Restaurant overlooking Worcester Bar.

The Centenary Square in front of the Library was acquired a reflecting pool and a tram station, all in preparation for the Commonwealth Games

The demolition of the Brutalist designed Library has opened up the area for new projects and this is part of the result. It is to be hoped that following the pandemic things pick up in the area.

Chamberlain Square has also be opened with better access to the monument and views of the Museum Art Gallery and the Town Hall.

I had never stopped to lock at the needle in St. Phillips Gardens before but the monument is to Col. Fred Gustavus Burnaby who was a National Hero from the early 1880's. He joined the army and was famous for being able to leap over a snooker table from a standing start and for being able to carry a donkey under each arm! He was able to get along with all ranks too. He left the army for a life of adventure and spying, before rejoining and being sent to relieve the siege on Khartoum and General Gordan. He was too late and was killed when he dashed out of his defensive square to rescue a soldier. The monument was raised in 1885.

St. Phillips Cathedral is not perhaps the size and grandeur that one may expect from the Nations second city but although small is perfectly formed.

Just across the road in Colmore Row is the Old William Spurrier building erected in 1873. The business traded in gold and silver and perfected the art of silver plating too.

Down New Street are many fine buildings. This one was known as Popes Corner as the block was owned by Pope's a printer, stationer and later of all things office equipment.

The 6 tonne bronze statue made by Laurence Broderick was erected in 2003 and is one of the ten best pieces of public art in the world. Dressed for Breast Awareness Week here.

As all boaters know Birmingham is on a hill from what ever direction you approach it. In the late 1800's commerce had boomed and the powers that be were feeling that trade in the future could be stymied by the high cost of freight exports and imports. The railways were thought to be taking advantage of the situation by charging high rates. Business and the Council sort ways to continue the boom and a plans for ships canals came into the public sphere.

Over the years there have been many schemes put forward to try to bring freight charges down for the manufacturers of the Midlands There was plans for a ship canal from Birmingham to Ipswich via Cambridge, Bedford and Northampton where vessels were to be towed by locomotives at 55 mph, but the main schemes were to Birmingham from the Severn, Trent and Weaver along with a one from London. In the later 1800’s Canal Fever had up-scaled. The Suez Canal had opened in 1869/70, the construction of the Panama Canal started in 1881 and a start was made on the Kiel Canal in 1887. There were also plans for a canal across the Malaysian Peninsula and in 1894 one to cross Ireland. Even closer to home the Manchester Ship Canal got underway in 1887. In Birmingham a route from the town to London that would take boats on 120 ton was planned at a cost of £1 million in 1885. There was also a plan to use sea water in a ship canal using newly patented anti centrifugal pumps. The advantages of sea air in the Midlands along with sea bathing seemed to be the main points of benefit along with the saving of £50,000 in freight for brings shrimps to Birmingham! However the first scheme that reached any detail was the route between Birmingham and the Bristol Channel. This would require deepening the River Severn from 7 to 9 ft allowing 400t vessels to Worcester using the Sharpness and Gloucester Canal, and then improving the Worcester and Birmingham to take 150 to 200 ton vessels. The 58 locks on the route would be reduced to 13 and 30+ locks at Tardebigge being replaced by an inclined plane. The cost estimate was £600,000 and would carry 410,000 tons of cargo from Bristol alone. Bevere Lock between Worcester and the Droitwich Barge Canal would also need lengthening before the Droitwich link to the Severn would become a cheaper option. Following presentations to the Chambers of Commerce in the towns and cities that could take advantage of the possibilities provided by a ship canal were all for the project. The Birmingham Council however were more sanguine about it. As they would be expected to help finance the canal they set up a committee to look into every aspect of a ship canal. In 1887 they decided to send a questionnaire to businesses to ascertain requirements etc. The wooing of councils and businesses continued with invited quests having a full tour of the route from Sharpness to Worcester and along the canal. The estimate also continued to grow, now reaching £2 million.

Other schemes became emboldened to come out into the light. A London to Birmingham route was put forward, with the improving of the present canals, and also to provide an outlet to the sea at the Humber via the Rivers Thame and Trent. The canal would be from Birmingham/Aston to Minworth, Curdworth, Coleshill, Kingsbury, Tamworth Polesworth and to Burton on Trent where the River Trent Navigation would be used. By March 1888 the Birmingham Council sub committee was ready to report their findings. They found that the areas exports presently went via the following ports; Liverpool 43%, London 40%, Hull 10%, Severn 3%, S. Wales 3% and others 1%. The list for imports was Liverpool 24%, London 19%, Hull 17%, Severn 25%, S. Wales 8% and others 7%. Their conclusion was that Liverpool as an outlet would be more worthwhile promoting. In addition the route to Liverpool would give direct access to around 1 million people (1881) and 1/3 million more close enough to the route to provide markets for goods. The scheme to Liverpool had been fleshed out a little and they expected a 250t powered barge towing another of 300t would transit in 18 hours. The Severn route fought back by stating that the greatest savings in freight would be on the bulk imports that came through the Severn and the scheme could be made cheaper by just improving the Worcester/Birmingham section of the route.The lobbying continued for the two main contenders, to the Severn and to Liverpool and further details were released. The favoured route to Liverpool would be Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Penkridge, Stafford and then missing out the loop to Haywood a new canal to join the Trent and Mersey at Aston Lock near Stone and then on to Stoke on Trent hence to join the River Weaver at Winsford. The canal would be 72’ wide and the banks would be concreted to a depth of 9’. This would allow faster speed of travel, around 8 or 9 mph, and still prevent erosion. For both schemes the elephant in the room was funding. Birmingham Council were so worried about a break on development of business by the stranglehold of high freight charges levied by the railway companies that they went to Parliament to enquire about the Council be able to purchase a canal, old or new. The outcome was not favourable. This then meant that to finance a new scheme capital would have to come from private sources. This was not thought of to be too much of a problem as it was estimated that at least £30 million a year was being invested in the USA. However the Severn Scheme were finding it difficult to raise the £30,000 to obtain an Act of Parliament for the venture by selling 3000 shares at £10 each.

Not a very clear picture of the elevations of the canal from Liverpool on the left, to Birmingham on the right.

As time passed estimates continued to rise from £3 million to £4 million by July 1890, and this was the year the plans for the Welland Canal to get to the Great Lakes in North America, to pass around Niagra Falls, were revealed. The argument was that just one canal in Birmingham carried 7.3 million tons of cargo a year and 1.5 million between Birmingham and Liverpool never mind the trade of around 100,000 tons a week from North Staffordshire plus about 1000 ton a week of salt from the district to Birmingham. They were proposing to charge around 4s/ton as the freight. Currently they said the charge for the carriage of scrap iron was 10s per ton! They estimated two and a half years to complete the construction and having to purchase 1200 acres of land. The cost of the canal alone would be £2.8 million. As with all canals there were worries about having enough water. This was countered by the fact that many of the locks would be done away with and boat lifts similar to Anderton would be used, so saving water. They also suggested that water could be pumped up from the Liverpool end and the area around Stoke on Trent had a large catchment area with an average rainfall of 38” a year. They estimated 26” of which could be usable so providing 468 million tons of water. This was at a time in 1891 when Birmingham was deciding where it could access a good water supply from as the town had outgrown its bore hole supply. It was hoped that they would hold off making a decision until the Liverpool Ship Canal question was answered. Ultimately they decided to bring water from the Elan Valley in Wales.

As the Ship canals for Birmingham were first mooted to bring about lower freight charges they also stimulated other developments. The Established Trent and Mersey Canal Co. fought against the newcomer by announcing improvements on their route. The scheme to the Severn had not been dropped although they were down scaling the plan. It fact several vessels had been constructed by the Water Transport Company to run from South Wales ports and even one run of a 71’ long 7’ wide boat that carried a cargo of Belgian mixed freight from Cardiff to Birmingham without transhipment! The trip took 32 hours and she had to anchor over low tides. Now they had a vision to only widen the Worcester and Birmingham Canal to 60’ wide and 8’ deep. The Tardebigge locks would be replaced with a hydraulic lift raising boats 100 ft in 6 mins.. The scheme would cost around £600,000. There was an added extra to extend the Sharpness Canal to the south so that the Severn could be accessed at all states of tide, rather than just high water. It was at the end of 1893 that the Manchester Ship Canal was fully opened. It had taken six years to construct and cost £15 million.

By the turn of the Century nothing had happened. Neither scheme had raised sufficient money to even take the scheme to the Parliamentary Committee that decided whether it could go forward to a full hearing. Periodically over the next decade or so each scheme was resurrected but money was always the stumbling block. In 1906 there were attempts to have the canals Nationalised, or at least to ensure that the Central Government would put money into the pot to get any venture going and sustain it until it could start earning for itself. Once again it was also called upon them to allow local authorities to invest in a similar way. However by now the example of the Manchester Ship Canal had shown that investors did not make any money, but the scheme was a success as it brought wealth in general to the area. This would seem to point to investment by local government to be a good idea. In 1920 once again the Severn Scheme was promoted with the idea of Diglis Basin in Worcester, or Stourport, been a transhipment port from the 400 ton vessels to 100t vessels on a new canal. In 1925 the Liverpool scheme was also brought out of the box. Now the existing canal would be improved from Birmingham to Wolverhampton, a new canal cut down to Aldersley Junction and then improve the Staffs and Worcester Canal to Baswich Near Stafford where a new canal would shorten the route to Aston Lock south of Stone then to Middlewich and the Weaver. An alternative was also talked of. Birmingham to Tamworth, Fradley and to Haywood Junction but this would miss out the valuable Wolverhampton/Black Country trade.. The first was estimated at a cost of £6.6 million and the second £6.8 million. The plan was for 100t craft at 5 ft draft that could pass to Liverpool without transhipment with locks enlarged to take a tug and butty. There would be 24 lifts instead of 92 locks and the journey would take about 40 hours.. Still nothing happened. Even in WWII the Severn scheme was brought out again but with the same results.

In 1974 there was talk of expanding freight on the canal system, as there has been constantly. I often wonder what life would be like on the system now if either of these schemes had taken place. When on the South Yorkshire Canals and the ‘Exol Pride’ comes down the cut it is an ‘event’. Imagine that this was happening at every lock/lift and mooring place. Then think of the same on the other canals that may be affected by schemes such as the above! The frailties of the waterways have also been shown by the newly acquired barge traffic from Goole to Leeds having to come to s top for several months due to the breach in the Aire and Calder at Cowich. Mind you it may reduce the number of leisure boats on the system that would maybe be a plus for those that were left.