Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal History
The Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal is now better known as the southern part of the Shropshire Union Canal. To get a full background on this over all route I recommend you first read the file on the Chester Canal.
The Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal was one of the last to be built, it was created to join the Chester Canal to the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal and thereby allow a much shorter journey between Birmingham and Liverpool. For instance, the new route would cut 14 miles and 30 locks off the existing route via the Trent and Mersey Canal. The new canal was also to be a very “modern” waterway which would be a much wider, straighter and faster route than the alternatives, most of which were built some 50 years earlier.
The Act of Parliament was passed and construction began immediately. The very experienced (and famous) Thomas Telford returned in his old age to Shropshire where his canal days had begun. However, technology had moved in great leaps and bounds since the days of the nearby Ellesmere Canal and Shrewsbury Canal.
The Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal was to be a “highway” compared to the previous “country lanes”, it was to stride straight across valleys on high embankments and dig deep into hills to keep it on one level for the majority of its route.
The Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal was built as a trunk route, being late on the scene and having such high banks and deep cuttings it did not have the potential of earlier waterways to develop trade along its banks, it also did not run through any major towns or industrial areas.
Therefore, its owners decided to look for ways to bring in more money once the canal was up and running.
To the west was the rich industrial centre around Coalbrookdale, Coalport and Shrewsbury. In this area there were already numerous canals but they had no way of getting out into the main waterways network.
The Birmingham & Liverpool company approached the owner of the nearest of these waterways, the Duke of Sutherland, and proposed to make a link from the main line at Gnosall to the head of the Duke’s Donnington Wood Canal at Pave Lane, south of Newport. The Duke refused point blank, his family had enjoyed a lucrative income from transhipment of goods at Pave Lane for around 60 years and he wasn’t about to chance losing it.
The company then approached the Shrewsbury Canal who were only too pleased to have a connection with the main network – because of the position of the proposed junction, at Wappenshall, the Shrewsbury Canal would be able to charge tolls on every boat coming in and out of the East Shropshire Network. And so, the Act of Parliament was granted and work began on the connection which would be known as the Newport Branch and would start at Norbury on the main line.
Creating an innovative route like the Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal was not without its difficulties. In fact, the building of one of the huge embankments proved to be Telford’s only unsolved problem. Sadly, he died before the canal was completed, while trying to cure recurring land slips at Shelmore Bank. In fact the problems on the bank weren’t solved until several years after his death. Another annoyance to Telford had been the reluctance of major land owners to allow the canal to follow its straight course. Twice he had to curve around the land owned by stubborn objectors. Local rivalries also played their usual part in the construction of the new route. To get from Birmingham to Liverpool the company had to link with the Ellesmere & Chester Canal in the north and the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal in the south. There were no problems with the Ellesmere & Chester company as they saw the link as a massive bonus but the Staffordshire & Worcestershire company certainly did not. It announced that very hefty tolls would be charged for use of the ½ mile stretch where boats would cross over from the new Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal onto the Birmingham Canal. The Birmingham & Liverpool Junction company looked into ways of creating a flyover where their canal would be lifted up at its southern end, cross the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal and join the Birmingham Canal at some point on the Wolverhampton flight. In the end this was not necessary as the Staffordshire & Worcestershire company dropped its high charges and the ½ mile of the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal between Aldersley Junction & Autherley Junction was used as part of the route between Birmingham & Liverpool.
The Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal opened throughout its whole route 10 years after it had begun. The problems at Shelmore had caused many delays and Thomas Telford had died before the opening. In the early years following its opening, the Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal worked very closely with canals that linked with it, namely the Ellesmere & Chester Canal and the Shrewsbury Canal. By doing this they were all able to preserve their profits and keep the railways at bay.
The Birmingham & Liverpool Junction company joined forces with the Ellesmere & Chester company to form one large partnership.
The whole of the Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal became part of the Shropshire Union Railways & Canal Company. Whereas this sounds like a take-over, in fact it wasn’t. The Ellesmere & Chester and Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal Company had the good sense to choose a better name! But while doing so they also became a “railway” company. Soon afterwards they sold out to a “real” railway – London & North Western.