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Forum Home > Blackcountry Factual History. > Black Country Canals.

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Canals.


The old saying goes, that we have more Canals in our region, than they do in Venice. You will of course, ( and it may upset a few die-hard Blackcountry folk ) have to include Birmingham in that statement. Indeed, if it were not for the foresight of the Birmingham Merchants, there would have been no Canals.



There was only one reason, when it was planned in the 1760s, for it to be built, the faster transport of the raw materials, required to fuel the Towns growing industry. The main area of Coal production at the time, were the shallow Mines of Wednesbury, and Tipton, which spewed forth both coal and Ironstone, and from Dudley, a vast supply of Limestone. This first Canal, was opened in 1768, and almost immediately, there sprang up alongside it's route, dozens of Ironworks and foundries, which in turn required ever more quantities of coal, and the sinking of many more Mines. The Industrial revolution didn't just arrive in the region. it exploded into life, in the form of thousands of furnaces which lit up the night sky. It bought great wealth with it as well, but not, sadly, for the majority of the inhabitants. Samuel Galton, a Birmingham gunmaker ( and a famous name in the annals of the region ) was one of the first to invest in this new venture, personaly owning, 13 one hundred pound shares, with his family owning a further 8 shares. In 1768, £2,100  was a vast fortune to many, but it seems, just a bit of loose change to the Galtons. Around 1773, work began on an extension to the Birmingham Canal, from Stourbridge, to The  Delph, ( Brierley Hill ) was built by the Stourbridge Canal Company. The section from Brierley Hill was called the Dudley Canal, and opened in 1776. ( The legging tunnel, from Parkhead, to complete the route, was not finished until 1793 ) Both of these canals were financialy very successful, the tolls and charges bought in vast wealth for the shareholders.



The first divdends of the Birmingham Canal Company, were paid just 6 years after it opened, and by 1778, had risen to £9 a share, netting Samuel Galton, £117. He was on the Board of Directors until 1799, and his, and his families shares, continued to pay good returns. Now that's what I would call a sound investment. There followed a steady growth in milage, as first  the Engine Branch, in Smethwick, (1789) was added, then the " Curley Wyrley ", a local name for The Essington and Wyrley Canal, which was started in 1792, from Horsley Fields, Wolverhampton, and finally finished at Cannock, in 1863. The Dudley No.2 was started in 1798, to join the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, via the Lappel Tunnel, the longest, at 3,785 yards. in the region. On the route from Birmingham to Wednesbury, both James Brindley, ( the Engineer who built it ) and John Smeaton, ( who was called in to improve the complicated and time consuming Lock systems on both sides of Smethwick ) had failed to make much impact. It was left to that great engineer Thomas Telford to sort out the problem, which he did, in spectacular style, in the 1820s. His new canal, ( in places 40 feet wide) started at Gas Street Basin, Birmingham, and went all the way through to Wolverhampton, via a massive undertaking at Smethwick which has lasted to this day. For anyone unfamilar with his work, it consisted of a deep cutting, almost 2 miles long, built with nothing more sophisticated than picks, shovels, and wheel barrows. He designed a bridge to carry the other canal, ( the Engine Branch ) over it, and a magnificent bridge, ( the largest Iron bridge in the World ) made by the Horsley Iron Works, at Tipton. ( For those with an interest, there is an almost identical bridge, again by Telford, over the River Severn, at Holt Fleet, Worcestershire. ) At the peak of canal transport, The Birmingham Canal Navigation Company, carried over 8 million tons of freight a year, a feat not equaled, by any other local canal in the British Isles. Now there's something to be really proud of. There are a few Canal pictures in the Gallery.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

July 1, 2012 at 11:41 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

One of the last Canals to be constructed in the Black Country, was the eight and half mile length known as The Tame Vally Canal.  It began a the juction with the Walsall canal at Ocker Hill, Tipton, and swung roughly south east, following the river through Great Barr, Perry Barr, and Aston, when it terminated where The Gravelly Hill Interchange is now located. Permission was granted in 1839, and it opened in 1844, although by now, the railway had been operating for some time. The canal completed the loop which circled the area.The Engineer was James Walker, and he was faced with several difficult problems. In it's short length, it comprises, quite a few bridges, and no less than 8 Viaducts, 7 of which still remain to this day. It also included a wharf for the Hampstead Colliery, which was added later. From the Tower Hill Bridge, on the Walsall Road, there are 13 locks, in three flights, 7, 3, and another 3, which lower's the canal 106 feet.



The canal features a rare site in the region, twin towpaths, and today it both crosses and goes under the M.5 Motorway and under the M.6 three times. Because most of the money to build it came from the industrialist's of Birmingham, the Toll Island was located at the busy Birmingham end. Not one's to lose sight of their investments were the old Brummies. If you fancy a narrow boat trip, it's a very scenic route, the old Lock Keepers Cottage at the top flight is still standing and well looked after.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

May 31, 2013 at 2:40 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

The Dudley Canal, Line No.2, was opened in 1798, and was designed to be the southern loop, giving access to both Birmingham and Worcester, via it's junction at Selly Oak. Started in 1794, from Parkhead, ( Netherton ) it had a stroke of bad luck, when the Engineer in charge, Joseph Clowes, died that same year. William Underhill was put in control, but as well as a few serious financial problems he had to contend with, there was the state of the ground that he would have to tunnel through, For tunnel he would have too, for the money precluded building the loop overland. Soft sand, Marl, and water were the problems, three things that would eventually see the tunnel closed, and the canal left, as they say, high and dry. Two tunnels were required, one under Gorsty Hill, Old Hill, and the other at Lappal ( now Lapel ), 3,785 yards long, almost a mile and a quarter of sheer torture. For a start, it required the construction of 30 shafts, each sunk to the proposed level of the canal, the Navies digging in both directions until the little tunnels met. The earth subsided with the weight of the brickworks, until, at completion the tunnel was just 7 feet 6 inches wide, and barely 6 feet high in places. Due to financial constaints no tow path had been built, so it would be, like the other Dudley Tunnel at Parkhead, A Legging Tunnel. It took about 4 hours to leg a laden boat weighing approximatly 25 tons through the tunnel, and it was not a financial success. There was a serious collapse in 1801, 1805, and many more until 1917, when the money for repairs ran out, and the Company finally threw in the towel. Like the Railway line, which ran in roughly the same direction, it was never a very economic venture. Local folklore has it that Coal mining was responsible for the many collapses, but in truth, there were never any mines near the tunnel, the nature of the ground itself was the problem, and when mention of restoring the tunnel was recently raised, the Consulting Engineers advised against it. The present navigable stretch of the No.2 line ends, at Hawne Basin, a place, It has been suggested that William Underhill may have wished he had stopped at as well.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

July 9, 2014 at 3:49 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Following the thread of the Lapal Tunnel, and a few questions that have been asked via the Contact Us page. here's what came up. The tunnel may not have been all that the shareholders hoped for, but some, who lived within a short distance of the Canal, certainly were not complaining. On 20 acres of farm land just off Spies Lane, an enterprising young man, Amos Grove, turned his hand to breeding Horses. Strong sturdy horses mind, for he bred them for use as Canal animals, to tow the boats. He also had a smaller base at Moor Street, a tiny hamlet at the junction of Lapal Lane and Lye Close Lane, not far from the tunnel entrance. This allowed the larger carriers to feed and water the animals, or exchange them for fresh ones, which could then be taken down Clapgate Lane and Stonehouse Lane, to the other end of the tunnel. Or indeed, the other way round, all of which earned Mr Grove a decent living. In the meantime, one of my relatives, a Canal Company Labourer, ( and part time legger ) together with a professional legger, one William Hemus, earned a few bob walking on the roof and sides of the tunnel. This must have been exhausting, for the journey took almost 4 hours, and most men worked almost 17 hours a day. William Hemus was born around 1816, possibly in Alvechurch, for he was an very experienced canal man. There were some cottages at the Halesowen end of the tunnel, one occupied in the 1850s by William Fletcher, whose official title was, Keeper of the Tunnel. He was of course responsible for all the traffic that went through, and the maintenance of the structure itself. You will find a mention of one of his sons, Richard Fletcher, in the Topic, Australia Bound, for he had been a very naughty boy. Next door, lived one of the Canal Companies Engineers, David Fisher, whose main job it seems, was making sure the pumping engine was in good order, for operating the system that sent extra water through the tunnel, to speed up the passage of the boats. ( The time when it was in use, was cut from 4, to 2 hours. ) John Cutler, who farmed the 100 acres of Manor Farm, wasn't slow off the mark either. I have already said, that the farmland around here wasn't of the best, and most had to supplement their incomes in other ways. Setting the family, and their men, to making nails was one way, but Mr Cutler was an energetic man. He became not only a farmer, but a Boatman as well, and not content with this, he also set his hand to making, and selling Beer. His choosen spot was a house actually on the canal bank, just off Manor Lane, now called The Black Horse.


As for a couple of questions regarding the old Farms of the area, Bogs Farm comprised  65 acres, which for many years, was owned by William Pritchett and his family, several of his 6 children all being Nailers as well. Howley Grange Farm, bigger at 102 acres, was owned by Richard Farmer, who employed, on a seasonal basis, up to 6 men and 2 boys. The largest farm in this tiny corner of the old Manor of Halesowen, was Lapal Farm, the one nearest the tunnel mouth, and covered just over 150 acres. Farmed by William Wright, it remained in the family hands for a great many years, and being close to Amos Grove and his little horse venture, supplied feed and bedding for the comfort of the horses.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

July 17, 2014 at 3:43 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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