Birmingham Canal Navigation History
The Birmingham Canal Navigation’s are made up of a number of main lines as well as hundreds of arms, branches and basins. It is a complicated matter to put all these into an orderly history. It is even harder to describe their routes in a straight forward manner.
Note: This section covers the history of the Birmingham Canal and the Birmingham Canal Company (who later became the BCN Company). Also included are details of the history of the Wednesbury Canal and Titford Canal.
The associated Routes section describes the route of the Birmingham Canal main lines and its many branches and loops. For other canals within the BCN please go to the Birmingham Canal Navigations index.
James Brindley (while in the early stages of building the Trent & Mersey Canal and Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal) was invited to survey a line to connect Birmingham to his “Grand Cross” – the growing inland waterways system. This would be the first ever artificial tributary to an artificial waterway!
An Act was passed for the Birmingham Canal Company to build a narrow line from the city northwards to the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal just north of Wolverhampton. This would enable Birmingham to link with Manchester and Liverpool in the north and Gloucester, Bristol and the sea to the south. The ever busier James Brindley was appointed as engineer with Robert Whitworth and Samuel Simcock as his assistants.
The route was to start in Birmingham town centre at a basin in Newhall Street near Paradise Row. From here the route was to travel south west for about a mile and then head (generally) north west towards Smethwick. It would be far from straight however, almost looping back on itself in parts as it followed contours and passed close to new factories and foundries.
At Smethwick 6 locks would take it up to the short 490 feet summit level, at Spon Lane 3 locks would bring it back down to 470 feet and from there it was to wind its way to Wolverhampton via Oldbury and Tipton. Just north of Tipton it would once again take to the contours in a large curly loop around Coseley Hill.
From Coseley it was to take a relatively straight course into Wolverhampton. On the north side of the town it would make its long drop down through 20 locks (with one more added later) to the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal at Aldersley Junction. Numerous branches and arms were to be built along the route.
The first portion of the Birmingham Canal to be opened was from Birmingham to Spon Lane. A branch was also completed from Spon Lane to the coal fields at Wednesbury. Later, when the rest of the main line was completed, this branch became known as the Wednesbury Canal – now called the Wednesbury Old Canal.
The Birmingham Canal was fully opened with a total main line length of 22½ miles. The whole route past by many coal fields and it was these that soon made the canal company rich. The canal also helped the transformation of cottage industries, turning them into much larger businesses in factories and foundries which were built along the canal. This is where the world’s industrial revolution began in earnest, a direct result of James Brindley’s Birmingham Canal. Sadly however, Brindley died during 1772 aged just 55.
A new canal was proposed which would connect the Wednesbury coal fields just north of Birmingham to the Coventry Canal. The Birmingham Canal Company bitterly opposed the scheme while the Trent & Mersey, Oxford and Coventry companies fully supported it because it would be used to complete an unfinished portion of the Coventry Canal which was preventing a through route from Manchester to London. This rare multi-canal effort was to be known as the Coleshill Agreement.
Major battles were fought in Parliament with the companies involved in the Coleshill Agreement on one side and the nearby Birmingham Canal Company (which feared major losses in its coal carrying business) on the other side. In the end the powerful Birmingham company won the fight and they took over the Coleshill Agreement. They started work on a line heading north eastwards down through 23 locks from Birmingham centre to Fazeley. Thus the new line was to be named the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal and the company took on the new name of “The Birmingham and Birmingham & Fazeley Canal Company”!
The Birmingham company became the most prosperous in the history of British inland waterways but they were also very greedy and forever sought to monopolise the local canal system. They were also known to pay themselves hefty dividends while letting the business run up massive debts. At intervals they would liquidate the company and charge a massive sum of money on each share. The shareholder could pay up or have the amount deducted from the interest due on his dividends.Thus the debts would be paid off – until the next time! However, if the Birmingham company (or B&B&FCC) had got its own way, the BCN as we know it would not exist because the company opposed every new scheme that came along in their area.
The Dudley Canal company sought an Act of Parliament to allow the construction of an extension from their terminus at Blowers Green in Dudley to the Birmingham Canal at Tipton. The link would have to include a long tunnel under Dudley but it would provide a short cut route from Birmingham to the River Severn, bypassing much of the Birmingham Canal. This time the Birmingham company lost the fight and the Dudley Tunnel Act was granted though the Birmingham company made it clear that in opposition to the new link they would charge incredibly high tolls for use of the new junction at Tipton.
Trade in and out of Birmingham was becoming so successful that bottlenecks were occurring on Brindley’s narrow winding summit level. John Smeaton (who was also working for the company on the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal) was called in to solve the traffic jam problems. The canal was “modernised” with the complete removal of the summit level at Smethwick. The 3 top locks at the east end of the summit were taken away and a brand new cutting (up to 46 feet deep) was created. Alongside the remaining 3 Smethwick locks Smeaton built 3 duplicate locks to aid two-way traffic. At the west end of the summit level (at Spon Lane) the 3 locks on the main line were removed creating a completely new summit level now stretching all the way from Smethwick to the top of the Wolverhampton flight.
The Birmingham & Fazeley Canal was fully opened allowing a through route from Wednesbury as planned in the Coleshill agreement.This also created a new through route all the way from Birmingham to Oxford and London.
An Act was sought by a new company who wanted to build a canalwhich would run from Birmingham town centre to Worcester where it would join the River Severn. The Act was once again strongly opposed by the Birmingham company which saw its trade from Birmingham to the south being completely wiped out by this new route which would be some 20 miles shorter than the Birmingham Canal route via Wolverhampton and would even knock 11 miles off the “short cut” route currently being built by the Dudley Canal through Dudley Tunnel.
However, the Birmingham company lost its fight against the new canal and an Act was granted. The Worcester & Birmingham Canal was begun with its terminus only yards away from the Birmingham Canal but the Birmingham company would not allow a link to be made on the grounds that they would suffer too much water loss. However, the real reason was obviously the fear of losing trade and money – with a little bit of sour grapes thrown in after their defeat in Parliament.
This prevention of a link, known as “Worcester Bar”, would stop Worcester traffic from reaching the northern sides of Birmingham. If carriers wished to avoid the long journey around Wolverhampton or Dudley they would have to pay the Birmingham company for transhipment of their goods at Worcester Bar.However, it was some years before the Birmingham Canal had any real worries about loss of trade to the Worcester & Birmingham Canal as the new route did not open fully until well into the next century.
The Dudley Canal company saw Worcester Bar as a great opportunity to cash in. They sought an Act to build a bypass from the Worcester & Birmingham Canal just south of Birmingham to their existing canal at Dudley. The new canal would run right through the prosperous Netherton coal fields and would allow their traffic to reach Birmingham without having to venture onto the Birmingham Canal at all.
The high tolls at Tipton would be avoided though the new bypass would mean that Dudley Tunnel (which was nearing completion) would be used a lot less than originally planned. However, another long tunnel (Lappal) would also be needed on their new line through to the Worcester & Birmingham Canal. Not surprisingly the Birmingham company opposed this venture bitterly and even proposed to build their own branch into the coal fields of Netherton. Once again they lost the fight and the Act was granted to the Dudley company. Work began on the new cut which would be known as the Dudley No.2 Canal.
Dudley Tunnel opened on the Dudley Canal, opening up the short-cut route from the Birmingham Canal to the River Severn. The Birmingham company had always opposed any such link onto its own canal and as promised it began to charge incredibly high tolls for the use of Tipton Junction.
The Birmingham and Birmingham & Fazeley Canal Company (B&B&FCC) had the good sense to change its name to BCN which, of course, stood for Birmingham Canal Navigations.
Another new canal opened creating another short cut (and yet more competition for the BCN). This one ran from the Birmingham main line in Wolverhampton to Huddlesford on the Coventry Canal via Walsall. This was run by the Wyrley & Essington Canal Company and the new route meant boats could get from Wolverhampton to the Coventry Canal without having to travel through Birmingham. There is no mention of opposition to this route from the BCN but I’m sure there will have been plenty. The Wyrley & Essington route was personally backed by Prime Minister William Pitt so maybe the BCN company thought better of objecting too strongly. They were certainly concerned about the new route however because they soon began to build a canal of their own into the Walsall area.
The Dudley No.2 Canal opened (in direct competition to the BCN) connecting the Worcester & Birmingham Canal (which was still under construction) to the Dudley main line. Although the direct through route from Birmingham to Worcester was still some way off, it was now possible to reach Birmingham town centre from the River Severn without using the BCN. This was done via the Stourbridge, Dudley, Dudley No.2 and the northern end of the Worcester & Birmingham.
The Walsall Canal (owned by the BCN) opened from the Wednesbury Canal at Ryders Green Junction, winding around for about 8 miles to the centre of Walsall. This was built by the BCN to create direct competition for the new Wyrley & Essington Canal which already passed through Walsall. No connection was made between the two waterways at this stage.
Also in 1799 another new canal opened in the Birmingham area. This was the Birmingham & Warwick Canal which ultimately created part of a new route to London. It linked with the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal near Birmingham town centre. The prospect of a new short-cut to London was apparently met with no opposition from the BCN.
1809 – Tipton Green & Toll End Communication Canal
The BCN company opened a new connection between its Walsall Canal and its Birmingham main line. This joined the Tipton Green (or Cotterill Colliery Branch) on the main line to the Toll End Branch on the Walsall Canal. The new link was named the Tipton Green & Toll End Communication Canal.
See the Tipton Green and Toll End Communication Route
New wharves were added in central Birmingham just off Cambrian Wharf near the end of the line. These were known as Gibson’s Basins (situated close to Baskerville Road). To reach the basins the canal had to pass through a tunnel under The Crescent situated close to the present day Brindley Drive.
The Worcester & Birmingham Canal was finally opened throughout after more than 20 years of construction. Years which had seen bitter rivalry though strangely – or maybe sensibly – the BCN agreed to remove “Worcester Bar” in the centre of Birmingham and the connection was made between the Worcester & Birmingham Canal and the BCN in Birmingham town centre.
This created competition for the Dudley No.2 Canal which had been capitalising on the “no through route” in Birmingham since 1798. Traffic could now reach the Severn without having to use Dudley Tunnel or the claustrophobic Lappal Tunnel. It also meant a lot less traffic used the Birmingham Canal main line as the long route around Wolverhampton could at last be avoided as well.
The Birmingham Canal continued to thrive however, local traffic was still carrying coal throughout the BCN network and it is difficult to see why the company continually opposed every new connection. One would have thought that the more connections there were, more boats would be entering the BCN and more tolls would be collected.
The Birmingham company built a bypass to avoid a long loop around the town of Oldbury. A new section was built which was a little over ¼ of a mile long though it cut out over a mile through the town.The old loop stayed in use, serving the town, until the 1950’s.
An Act of Parliament was passed for a new route which was to be called the Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal. Construction began immediately though the intention was not to reach either of the cities that gave it its name. It was to be a link which was to run from the Chester Canal to the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal very close to the junction with the Birmingham Canal. This would allow passage in an almost straight line from Birmingham to the Mersey, Thomas Telford was to be Chief Engineer.
For once the BCN company was very keen on a new canal in its area.However, the only lengthy part of the new through-route which would not be straight and broad was the Birmingham Canal itself. To aid navigation of the new route to Liverpool the BCN company had their original Birmingham Canal main line surveyed by Thomas Telford with a view to converting it into a broad waterway. Telford wasn’t very complimentary of Brindley’s great work or Smeaton’s improvements. He said the canal was little better than a crooked ditch with hardly any sight of a towpath.
Rather than modernise this ancient line he proposed a completely new canal with very few bends, a wide passage and towpaths on both sides – a real motorway of a canal. His ideas were accepted and work began. The new line would run at a much lower level than Brindley’s original Birmingham Canal, it would also be much straighter and much more direct as it cut out many loops around hills and valleys.
Through Wolverhampton Brindley’s line was still to be used but north of Tipton Brindley had built his canal around Coseley Hill on a 5 mile round trip! Telford bypassed this loop by building Coseley Tunnel which is said to be the prototype of the much larger Netherton Tunnel which came later.
From Tipton Telford created a brand new line running virtually straight all the way to Birmingham. To make the new line as straight and flat as possible Telford used the new “cut & fill” method which took the canal across embankments and through deep cuttings. He cut straight across Brindley’s numerous meandering loops though a lot of Brindley’s original line was kept open, often running right alongside Telford’s new line. Telford also had to build new road bridges and aqueducts on his new line. One of these was a huge road bridge known as Galton Viaduct, it was the largest single span bridge in the world when it opened. It also crossed the largest man made cutting in the world at that time.
A new section was added to Brindley’s Wednesbury Canal near West Bromwich. The new Ridgeacre Branch was ¾ of a mile long. Two other long arms were built off it soon after it opened.
The new main line opened throughout, cutting over 7 miles off Brindley’s original route. Following the creation of the new main line there were 3 main levels on the BCN – the Walsall Level at 408 feet, the Birmingham Level (Telford’s canal) at 453 feet and the Wolverhampton Level (Brindley’s canal) at 473 feet.
1837 – Titford Canal
The BCN company built the Titford Canal at Oldbury. This was primarily built as a feeder to serve Spon Lane Locks though it turned into one of the country’s busiest waterways. Dozens of arms and branches were created off the main route with many mines and large factories being served. Later the Tat Bank Branch was added to carry water to Rotten Park Reservoir near Birmingham.
See the Titford Canal Route
The BCN company, which already had a virtual monopoly of all the waterways in the Black Country, became even stronger when it bought the Wyrley & Essington Canal and its connections. Straight away they built 2 connecting lines between the Wyrley & Essington and the Walsall Canal. These were the Bentley Canal and a short link in the centre of Walsall.
At about this time the railways began to invade but the BCN stood strong and this new form of transport which was succeeding all over the country found it impossible to succeed in Birmingham. The BCN continued to hang on to its monopoly of cargo carrying but the railway threat was ever present with proposals to build lines near the canal being continually put forward.
The London & Birmingham Railway Company proposed a “joint venture” with the BCN to build a track between Birmingham and Wolverhampton. Surprisingly, the canal company agreed and the line was built following the Birmingham Canal along the whole of its route.This saw the end of independence for the BCN, a surprising and sudden end to such a long and prosperous monopoly.However, rather than kill the BCN off, the canal network actually continued to grow under joint railway/canal management.
The agreement with the railways allowed the BCN to keep control of itself unless (or until) it could no longer pay out a dividend. In the early years of the agreement there was no fear of this happening as the company made healthy profits each year. It was the railway who “needed” the partnership the most as Birmingham (unlike most other areas) was not geared up for railway use. Nearly all factories and foundries were tightly squeezed together by the side of the large canal system. There was simply no room for railways so the canal network, rather than running into decline in the way many other railway owned waterways did, was kept alive and very busy.
While most canals around the country were suffering from loss of trade, on the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal it was over-use which was giving the company major headaches. Farmers Bridge flight in the centre of Birmingham caused a constant problem through congestion, even duplicate locks all the way down the flight did not solve the long tailbacks.
The BCN decided the best action was a bypass which would miss out the centre of town all together. The route they decided upon travelled from the Walsall Canal right across the north of Birmingham (which was now a major city of ever growing proportions) to the Warwick & Birmingham (or Grand Junction) Canal. This new route crossed the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal at Salford Park and was made up of two “modern” waterways, the Tame Valley Canal which linked into the Walsall Canal and (just to confuse matters) the Birmingham & Warwick Junction Canal which linked into the Warwick & Birmingham Canal to the east of the city.
The railway/BCN agreement greatly effected the neighbouring Dudley Canal badly so its company agreed to amalgamate with – and become part of – the BCN. However, the Dudley Canal’s long standing partner, the Stourbridge Canal, stayed independent of both the BCN and the railways.
The Rushall Canal was opened by the BCN company. It left the new Tame Valley Canal at Rushall Junction, near Grove Vale. It ran north east for about 2 miles to the Daw End Branch of the Wyrley & Essington Canal and was created to aid the carriage of coal from the prosperous Cannock Mines in the north of the BCN area.
The Bradley Locks Branch was created to connect the Walsall Canal to the Wednesbury Oak Loop (Brindley’s original line around Coseley Hill). Other portions of the loop were improved with short embankments being built to cut off long convoluted sections.
The BCN company made many improvements to its system, especially on the Dudley Canal. This included the building of Netherton Tunnel which was built to supersede the narrow and congested Dudley Tunnel. Netherton was built on a grand scale, wide enough for two boats to pass and with towpaths along each side. Gas lights were provided along its whole length as it travelled for 3,000 yards under Netherton Hill and joined Telford’s main line at Dudley Port Junction.Netherton was by far the best canal tunnel ever built – and the last.It was built some 20 years after the death of Thomas Telford but was built to the same specifications as the Coseley Tunnel which is on Telford’s new main line north of Tipton.
The agreement with the railways which kept the BCN in control of its own network came to an end when the BCN began to make losses. As soon as this happened the railway company (London & North Western) took control. The reasons for the loss of profits were numerous but the major factor was the decline in coal as the Black Country mines were becoming exhausted. Also, new factories etc. were not being built on the congested sites around the canals but along new roads and near to the railways. The railway company did not seek to close down the canal network, they kept it alive and made many more improvements. By 1898, when the last branch was added, there were 216 locks in 159 miles of canal on the BCN. It is a well repeated fact that the Birmingham Canal Navigations contain more miles of waterway than Venice.
Newhall Basin, Brindley’s original Birmingham Canal terminus in central Birmingham, was closed. By this time the centre of the city was well served by roads and railways.
During the early parts of 20th century the BCN continued to hold its own against all other forms of transport though the World Wars and the decline of Black Country coal slowly but surely reduced the canal’s trade.
Gibsons Branch and its extensive basins in the centre of Birmingham were closed after 116 years in use. Later Baskerville House and the Birmingham Repertory Theatre were built on its course. As the decades past by more and more arms and basins were closed and abandoned as the businesses that used them either closed or moved on. All the same, the BCN was still carrying over a million tons during the 1950’s.
Coal carriage ended on the BCN leaving only a small amount of other trade on the canal. By this time a small amount of pleasure craft had begun to use the Birmingham main line and Birmingham & Fazeley Canal.
One hundred years after the railways had taken full control the BCN was still alive and kicking – but only just. The infamous 1968 Transport Act listed only the Birmingham new main line and the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal as “cruiseways”, the rest were to become “remainder” waterways which could be closed down and filled in. Immediately the Birmingham Canal Navigations Society (BCNS) was set up. Among their achievements over the years was the prevention of closure of Hockley Port Basin on the Soho Loop of Brindley’s old main line. The “port” (a former railway interchange) is now a secure night time mooring basin. During the 1970’s they also fought for the reopening of the Titford Canal and restored it’s 6 locks. The society are still going strong today with over 600 members.
Around the same time a newly formed Dudley Canal society was also hard at work saving that canal (and Dudley Tunnel in particular) from being closed and abandoned. For full details of their efforts see the Dudley Canal file.
The last commercial traffic on the Birmingham main line travelled from Oldbury to Dudley Port (carrying chemical waste).
One of the BCNS’ early successes was the restoration of part of the Wednesbury Canal which had been unused for several years. With help from Sandwell Council (after much pressure from many bodies) the canal was made fully navigable from Pudding Green on Telford’s main line to the end of the Ridgeacre Branch near Black Lake.
There was much despair amongst BCN enthusiasts when a new bypass (The Black Country Spine Road) was announced. The road was to wipe out most of Brindley’s Wednesbury Canal and block the navigable Ridgeacre Branch. No amount of protest could stop this from happening and the Ridgeacre Branch was officially closed on November 9th. Since then the severed section has been maintained by “Groundwork Black Country”, they have even received lottery funding to help “keep up the good work”. How sad that such money was not available to canal restorers just a few years earlier!
English Heritage “discovered” the decaying Chillington Canal/railway Interchange basin in Wolverhampton. Although in a poor state, the interchange is the only surviving basin of its type.Towards the end of the year – and much to its current owners annoyance – the interchange was listed as a Grade 2 building. Both the old (Brindley/Smeaton) main line and the newer (Telford) main line of the Birmingham Canal are still used today although these days they are exclusively used by holidaymakers.
The canal is flanked by industrial history, especially on the old loops near Birmingham city centre. Cast iron aqueducts, pumping stations and the historic Galton Bridge can all still be seen. At Spon Lane flight are the 2 oldest locks still working in Britain, these were originally part of the Wednesbury Canal and now form a link between the old main line and the new. Despite the 1968 Transport Act, about two thirds of the original network remain open for pleasure boats, great efforts have been (and are still being) made by local councils to create linear walks and recreation parks along the canals.
In central Birmingham the canal area has been greatly improved with derelict buildings demolished and the whole canal-scape redeveloped. This included the famous Gas Street Basin where improvements have not been met with enthusiasm by all canal traditionalists but it has done much to encourage new businesses along the canal and to bring tourists to an area of Birmingham that was previously something of an embarrassment.
Hotels, restaurants, pubs, conference centres and many other facilities now line the canal where once only derelict warehouses could be seen. In fact, the area around Worcester Bar and Gas Street has won numerous international awards for its imaginative redevelopment. Some parts of the BCN have not been so lucky and have been completely wiped out, others survive but are very derelict. Many sections remain in water though not necessarily navigable and some are now detached from the main network but all are guaranteed a place in history as they are all directly responsible for causing the Industrial Revolution and thus the creation of the modern world as we know it.
Birmingham Canal Navigation Route
The Birmingham Canal is somewhat confusing to describe. It is made up of one rather convoluted route (built by James Brindley and John Smeaton) from Wolverhampton to Birmingham and one much straighter route (built by Thomas Telford) from Tipton to Birmingham.
Some parts of the Brindley route now form long loops, some of which are navigable, some are dead ends and some have been filled in. On top of this there are dozens of branch lines, some of which are just dead end arms, some are long links to other canals and some are other canals in their own right. I have tried my best to keep the following descriptions simple but it was not always possible!
An armchair canal detective and a more adventurous walker/driver will be able to follow my descriptions using the Birmingham A-Z street map. My copy of the map was published in 1992 – newer copies may differ. Richard Chester-Browne released a book named “The Other Sixty Miles” in the early 1980’s, it has since been updated.It describes the lost waterways of the BCN in very good detail. Sadly its maps are not easy to follow without other more detailed maps but I highly recommend this book to anybody wishing to explore the BCN. It can be bought from the BCNS (the canal society).
Note: This section covers the route of the Birmingham Canal main lines and its many branches and loops including the Titford Canal whilst the Wednesbury Canal Route description has it’s own its page. For other sections of the BCN please go to the Birmingham Canal Navigations index.
Birmingham Canal Main Lines
On the north west side of Wolverhampton the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal heads from north east to south west on its journey from the Trent & Mersey Canal to the River Severn at Stourport. At Aldersley Junction the Birmingham Canal begins, heading south east towards the centre of Wolverhampton. Aldersley Junction is surprisingly rural and is isolated from major roads. The best way to gain access to the junction is from further up the Wolverhampton Flight (see below).
Twenty One locks climb up the north side of Wolverhampton for about 1½ miles as the Birmingham Canal snakes its way up to the “Wolverhampton Level”. The flight starts totally rural with trees all around and no sign whatsoever of houses or industry. Alongside locks 19, 18 & 17, on the south side of the canal, is Wolverhampton race course and just above lock 17 is the high main line railway viaduct. Houses appear just after the railway and it is here, on Jones Road, that the best access to the lower part of the flight can be gained. Industry, busy roads and railways are all around now while the canal steadily climbs, curving south as it does so.
Numerous roads cross the flight as the canal enters central Wolverhampton. The area near the top of the flight is not a pretty sight but interesting all the same. Railway arches, stinking factories and derelict land were all around in 1995. Just above the top lock is the new Broad Street Bridge which carries the A4124 to Wednesfield. This replaced an original structure during road widening in the 1970’s, the original bridge still stands over a canal however, now part of Canal Street in the Black Country Museum at Tipton.
Even this old bridge was not part of the original Birmingham Canal. It was actually on a newer line which was built when Wolverhampton High Level Railway Station was built. Brindley’s original canal line past through what is now platform one! Wolverhampton town centre is just to the west of Broad Street on the far side of the ring road. In fact the canal’s route was realigned slightly in the 1970’s to accommodate the new road system.
The Birmingham Canal travels generally south east while the Wyrley & Essington Canal leaves from Horseley Fields Junction and starts its curly journey eastwards past Walsall and Lichfield. Near the junction on the Birmingham main line is an old basin now used for moorings. The road called Horseley Fields (A454) crosses just south of the junction. As the main line travels south easterly out of Wolverhampton it passes an area once full of arms and basins and on the east side is Chillington Wharf (or Wolverhampton Steel Wharf).
This former railway interchange basin is just to the north of Bilston Road (A41). The site gained a Grade 2 listing in 1995 because it is the only interchange of its kind to have survived. Originally the basin belonged to a steel works but the railway company who owned the canal bought up the land when the works closed. Today the basin still contains its covered interchange “sheds” and its railway sidings.
In the Lanesfield area the Birmingham Canal shows its true original Brindley style as it winds around on the contours of the land. It is mostly hidden away from the general public around here as it passes between old and new industrial sites and under railway bridges.
A number of short branches left the main line in this area to serve iron works, steel works and furnaces. One such arm can still be seen to the west of the main line near Springvale Foundry on Spring Road (A4126).This was the Parkfields Basin which served the Manor Iron Works but also continued west under the main road and connected to a tramway which led to Parkfield Colliery.
At what is now Deepfields Junction the original Birmingham Canal turned north eastwards to follow the contours of the land around Coseley Hill.This became known as the Wednesbury Oak Loop.
Thomas Telford’s new main line (built in 1827) travels straight through the hill via Coseley Tunnel just south of the junction. The tunnel cuts over 5 miles off Brindley’s old route. Deepfields Junction is on Anchor Lane, just north off Anchor Road (A463). Telford’s Coseley Tunnel goes right under the centre Coseley, the north portal is to the north of Tunnel Street (B4483).
Brindley’s old main line
Factory Junction in Tipton is where Telford’s new Birmingham Canal main line really gets under way. The junction is situated just 500 yards south east of the former Bloomfield Junction and is accessed from Factory Road just off Bloomfield Road (A4037) near the centre of Tipton. While the new main line (described below) heads off to the east, Brindley’s older main line turns southwards then curves left and right to pass a former junction beside Elliot’s Road. This was the Tipton Green Branch.
The infamous Tipton Junction is reached about ¼ of a mile south east of the Tipton Green Branch. Tipton Junction is where the Birmingham Canal company charged extortionist tolls to boats which came off the rival Dudley Canal.
The Dudley Tunnel Branch leaves Tipton Junction heading south west, Dudley Road (A4037) crosses this branch just south of the junction but walking along it is not permitted beyond New Birmingham Road (A4123). This is because the branch enters the grounds of the Black Country Museum beyond this bridge. About 200 yards further along, the branch enters Dudley Tunnel.
On the main line just to the south east of Tipton Junction is Lord Ward’s private canal. This leaves the main line and runs parallel to the Dudley Tunnel Branch for just a few hundred yards. This short branch predates the Tunnel, it ran to lime kilns which, like the branch itself, are also now part of the Black Country Museum.
In the museum, Canal Street is carried over Lord Ward’s canal by the bridge which used to cross the Birmingham main line at the top of the Wolverhampton Flight at Broad Street. From Tipton Junction the old main line runs (slightly less than straight) parallel to the new main line though the two are some 800 yards apart with streets, a main road and a park between them.
The road called Dudley Port (A461) crosses over the top of the old main line but then (confusingly) passes under the new line despite the new line being the lower of the two canals. About 600 yards south east of the road called Dudley Port is Tividale Aqueduct which crosses the Netherton Branch. This branch links the new main line to the Dudley Canal via Netherton Tunnel. The north portal of the Tunnel is just one hundred yards south of the aqueduct. Groveland Road crosses the old line and Tipton Road (A457) crosses the Netherton Branch close to the aqueduct.
About ¾ of a mile south east of Tividale Aqueduct the old Birmingham Main Line arrives at Bradeshall Junction. A two lock staircase and one single lock take the Gower Branch north east from the old main line down to the new main line. The link is less than 800 yards long and can be accessed from Lower City Road and Dudley Road East (A457). Beyond Bradeshall Junction the old main line curves further away from the new as it passes through Brades Village and into Oldbury. Today it continues south eastwards on the southern side of Oldbury town centre but this line did not exist until 1820. Before its construction the main line took on a long meander which became known as the Oldbury Loop.
Before passing under Seven Stars Road the old main line passes the entrance of Long Basin (beside Allen’s Boatyard). This was actually an arm which stretched for some distance towards the south serving a brick works as well as Velentia and Highfield Collieries.
The canal then bends around to face north east with the M5 motorway dead ahead, standing high up on concrete stilts. Just before the motorway there is a small reservoir on the south side followed immediately by and old arm heading south. This was the Houghton Branch, much better known as the Chemical Arm. This was owned jointly by a number of companies including Chance & Hunt, London Ironworks Co and Albright & Wilson. It was the last place to see regular commercial traffic on the BCN with cargoes of phosphorous waste being carried to a tip at Bradeshall until 1969.
The arm, now on private land belonging to Albright & Wilson, had two parallel channels almost like a dual-carriageway. Only one of the channels has survived though bridges on the arm still have double arches.
Within another few yards on the old main line, completely covered by the motorway, is Oldbury Junction. Here the navigable Titford Canal leaves heading up 6 locks into Langley.
Back on the Birmingham Canal old main line the stretch north of Oldbury Junction must surely rival any for the award of must un-scenic waterway on earth! For the next 1½ miles the canal runs beneath the M5 showing (if nothing else) that Brindley knew the best route when he saw it!
Just north of Birmingham Road (A457) the canal peaks out from under the motorway on a slight meander but it soon dives back into the gloom. It soon crosses another waterway, much wider and straighter.This is Telford’s new main line which has arrived here somewhat easier than the old main line has…
Telford’s new main line
Back at Tipton Telford’s new main line leaves Factory Junction heading east, 3 locks take it down to what is known as the “Birmingham Level”.Below the locks there is a small basin with shops nearby. The line then bends slightly and heads directly south east, wide and straight with towpaths on both sides. Within a few hundred yards it comes to Watery Lane Junction which today is not a junction at all. This is where the Tipton Green Branch (see above) used to cross the main line.
Within another ¾ of a mile the new main line used to pass another junction. This was the Dixon’s Branch which headed north east for about a mile.
Just to the south east of the Dixon’s Branch junction Telford’s main line crosses Park Lane and the road called Dudley Port (A461) on aqueducts. Less than 600 yards further east is Dudley Port Junction.Here the Netherton Branch heads south west for about ½ a mile to Netherton Tunnel. The old Birmingham main line crosses the newer Netherton Branch on Tividale Aqueduct just a matter of yards before the tunnel entrance. Netherton Tunnel is approximately 2 miles long, it connects with the Dudley No.2 Canal at its southern end. (See the Dudley Canal for more information).
A little over ½ a mile further south east the straight new main line comes to yet another junction. This is Albion Junction which was actually a cross roads. The Gower Branch (still navigable and described above) heads south west to join the old main line while the Dunkirk Arm headed north west for about 400 yards. Although this arm is now dry, its embankment can be seen. The end of this line was on Dunkirk Avenue opposite Newtown School.
The new main line stays on its straight course from Albion Junction to Pudding Green Junction just over 600 yards further south east. In this stretch there used to be the Union (or Rowey) Branch. This never connected with the new main line but was connected to the Wednesbury Canal to the north. When Telford built his new line this branch became severed though some sections continued on in isolation and were not abandoned until 1955. All traces of the Union Branch have now gone but it was situated on Oldbury Road Industrial Estate (B4166). A road through the works on the south side of the railway appears to take exactly the same shape as the branch and may therefore be its former bed or towpath?
The Wednesbury Old Canal now begins at Pudding Green Junction. This canal was built many decades before the new main line and it did not always start here. Originally it continued south and then looped east to Spon Lane Locks but when the new main line was built most of this original line became disused. The loop became known as Izon Old Turn but nothing remains today. However, Izons Lane appears to take exactly the same course as the former canal and could therefore be built on the original canal bed? Pudding Green Junction can be accessed from Albion Road just off Oldbury Road (B4166), the Wednesbury Canal leaves the junction heading north west.
The new main line continues south east for another ¾ of a mile, taking a couple of out of character swerves as it heads for Bromford Junction, another former canal cross roads. The new main line runs south east while to the west a short arm (the Parker Branch) ran along the edge of Broadwell Works. This was built in 1840, was closed around 1936, abandoned in 1953 and is now completely filled in.
To the east off Bromford Junction the remains of the former Wednesbury Canal now provide a link up to the old main line. Three locks climb up in a ½ mile stretch which ends at Spon Lane Junction on the old main line in the gloom under the M5, the lower two of these locks are the oldest working locks in Britain, the top lock was rebuilt in 1986.
As well as the motorway at the top there is plenty of other activity along the short link as it makes its way up to the old main line. A busy scrap yard runs right alongside and factory access bridges cross overhead. While the Spon Lane Locks climb up to the east, Telford’s new main line continues south east and enters a cutting. This is nothing like the picturesque cuttings out in rural countryside however, this is flanked by brick walls and a main line railway.
An even greater indignity befalls the canal when it arrives at the M5. The motorway’s concrete pillars stand right in the middle of the water leaving just enough room for narrow boats to pass by. While passing under the high motorway the new main line also passes under the much lower Stewart Aqueduct which carries Brindley’s old main line across the new. Past here the new main line continues in its brick-lined cutting.
Brindley’s old Birmingham Canal meets the original Wednesbury Canal just north of Stewart Aqueduct. Immediately after the junction the old main line turns east along the summit level created by John Smeaton.Three Brindley locks used to take the canal higher up at this point.T hey were closed in 1789 but if they had still been in use the canal would have been able to run along the hard shoulder of the M5 which has also turned east and still covers the canal.
Today it is hard to picture a canal up there as the motorway is held up on concrete pillars with no sign of an embankment. Brindley’s disused locks were rediscovered in 1969 when the embankment was removed to make way for the motorway. Sadly – but not surprisingly – these historic old locks were immediately demolished.
Spon Lane (A4031) has two bridges stuck together over the old main line. On the east side is the new dual-carriageway but on the west side is a typical old hump backed bridge. It all looks a little silly, if not sad, and one wonders what Brindley and Smeaton would make of their canal if they could see it today. Access to all the above locations; Bromford Junction, Spon Lane Locks, Stewart Aqueduct and Spon Lane Bridge can be gained from Spon Lane (A4031) which crosses both the old and new Birmingham Canals within about 300 yards. Because of this it is easy to create a circular walk passing all the locations described.
The motorway finally swings away to the north and leaves the old main line to breath fresh air – but not for long. Although the old line is much higher than the new at this point, it still finds itself in a deep cutting. This was cut by Smeaton when he lowered Brindley’s original summit level. The cutting marks the start of what is known as Galton Valley. After passing under a high railway bridge and the equally high Roebuck Lane the old main line is sent back into gloom as it enters what looks like a huge concrete pipe.
Above it is the A4252 dual-carriage which was put their in the 1970’s by means of a huge embankment. Although the embankment is something of an eyesore as far as the canal is concerned, it is a structure that any canal engineer would have marvelled at. Access to this stretch of the canal can be gained via Roebuck Lane which is a historic feature in its own right (see below for details). Telford cut his new main line in a deep cutting below the level of the old line. This created the need to build a bridge to take Roebuck Lane over the new cut. Thus Galton Viaduct was built using cast iron and at the time of construction it was the longest single span bridge (crossing the largest man-made earth work) in the world.
The viaduct is now a scheduled ancient monument and is hailed as one of Telford’s finest pieces of work but, unfortunately, modern times have overawed the Galton Viaduct. The A4252 dual-carriageway embankment, built to replace the narrow Roebuck Lane, stands parallel completely spoiling the effect of the magnificent viaduct. Telford may have been one of those to marvel at the new embankment but he may also have been heard to say in anguish – “what have you done”?? Fittingly (or maybe not) the new dual-carriageway is called Telford Way!
The old main line and the new emerge from their respective Telford Way concrete tubes side by side. The two main lines approach Brasshouse Lane, only separated by a steep 20 feet slope. The old line appears to be on an embankment here but strictly speaking it is actually still in Smeaton’s cutting. This was opened out when Telford created his cutting further below.
On the slope between the two canals is Smethwick “New” Pumping Station which was built in 1892 to carry water from the new main line up to the old main line. The building had stood derelict for many years until recently, it has now been restored and is open for guided visits. Just to the north, on Brasshouse Lane, is a recently opened canal heritage centre. It is possible to park at the centre and then walk down to either of the canals. A circular walk can be planned along one of the canals, past the pumping station, through the concrete tube, up onto Roebuck Lane and back along via the other canal.
Over the next ½ mile the two lines become so close that there is only a shear drop from the old line to the new. Telford’s line approaches Smethwick Junction under a fine cast iron aqueduct built by Telford in the 1820’s. This is the Engine Arm Aqueduct which Telford had toconstruct to carry a channel which fed water into the old main line.At the same time he made the channel navigable to allow boats to travel along the feeder for a few hundred yards to various warehouses.
The feeder is known as the Engine Arm because of the steam engine that worked a pumping station which once stood on the arm. The engine was the first to be used on the BCN built by the famous Boulton & Watt steam engine company. It served the old main line for 120 years before being moved to Ocker Hill where it was shown off to the public. In the 1950’s it was finally shut down but it now lives on at the Birmingham Museum of Science & Industry.
The Engine Arm passes under Bridge Street (as do the old and new main lines) and then comes to an end parallel to Rolfe Street. A feed still runs from the arm to Rotten Park (Edgebaston) Reservoir. Part of this feeder runs on an embankment alongside the new main line further south east (see below).
Just to the east of the Engine Arm Aqueduct, on the new main line, is an overgrown and disused toll islandwhile up above the old main line passes the Engine Arm junction and drops down through the 3 Smethwick locks. Once upon a time there were 6 locks in a line here built by James Brindley but when Smeaton lowered the summit level the top 3 locks were abandoned and were later taken away.
Because of traffic congestion Smeaton built a duplicate set of locks alongside the remaining 3. In fact, it is Smeaton’s locks which survive today though the remains of Brindley’s 3 bottom locks (now derelict) can still be seen running parallel just to the north. To the east of the bottom lock is Smethwick Junction where the old line drops down into the new.Access to this area can be gained at the junction of Lewisham Road and Bridge Street in Sandwell.
Heading eastwards Brindley’s old main line now only appears intermittently in the form of meandering loops while Telford’s newer line runs straight (almost literally) into Birmingham city centre.Just beyond Smethwick a number of old wharves and long linear basins used to line the canal or leave it into factories and foundries. These included Woodford Iron Works, Phoenix Works, Cornwall Works and Smethwick Gas Works.
The first Brindley loop was at Avery’s Basin on the north side of the main line. This was much shorter than the loops nearer Birmingham and can probably be better described as a “deviation”. It curved through the Soho Foundry passing wharves belonging to the works. The loop was filled in in 1870 leaving Soho Foundry Basin at the west end and Avery’s Basin at the east.
At this point the main line bends from an easterly direction to south easterly. There are traces of a larger Brindley loop opposite the point where Avery’s Basin emerged, creating a “cross roads”. This loop became known as the Cape Arm Loop.
A navigable stretch of the old main line appears for real once more at Winson Green where it heads off on a 1 mile northern curve, this is the Soho Loop (also known as the Winson Green Loop).
Where the Soho Loop rejoins the new main line there is a canal crossroads. Directly opposite the Soho Loop is the ½ mile Icknield Loop. The new main line continues south easterly, the Icknield Loop rejoins and then, as the main line bends from south east to east, the last of the old main line loops appears. This is Oozells Street Loop which winds around a number of factories in a ¼ mile loop. By the time the Oozells Street Loop rejoins, the new main line is heading north east and is almost in Birmingham city centre. Straight ahead of the Oozells Street Loop is Farmers Bridge Junction, the meeting place of 3 of Britain’s most well known canals.
From the west Telford’s new Birmingham Canal main line has arrived, from the east the Worcester & Birmingham Canal joins the BCN and to the north is the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal. On the junction there now stands a canal roundabout which was built in 1985 to replace the original “Old Turn Island” which had stood nearby. The new National Indoor Arena overlooks the junction and all around there are new buildings and canal walkways.
To the South east is Worcester Bar & Gas Street Basin while Brindley’s original main line continued north to Cambrian Wharf. In the 1970’s Cambrian Wharf this became the first ever inner-city canal side redevelopment. It was built to open up Birmingham’s secret canal world to the general public. It contains some fine old buildings on the towpath and a purpose-built pub on the opposite bank.
At the north east end of the basin the line of the original Birmingham Canal can be seen where it headed towards its terminus in the city centre. Alongside is the top of the 13 Farmers Bridge locks on the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal which was built some 20 years after Brindley’s canal. Access to these areas can be gained (on foot) from King Edward’s Road bridge.
At Cambrian Wharf Brindley’s original main line curved away through what is now Paradise Circus (a busy main road interchange). Half way along this section between Cambrian Wharf and Newhall Basin was a junction and another arm known as the Gibson’s Branch (or Baskerville Branch).
Newhall Basin was at the very end of Brindley’s Birmingham Canal, somewhere near Newhall Street. The line has long since been obliterated beneath Birmingham city centre and the main road, Queensway (A38). The wharves at the end of the line survived until fairly recently but all traces have now gone.
Wednesbury Oak Loop
Brindley’s old main line, which became known as the Wednesbury Oak Loop, is still navigable for half of its original course. After leaving Deepfields Junction it winds around, generally north eastwards, until it reaches Bankfield Road in Bradley. It then curves south under Pothouse Bridge on Loxdale Street (B4163) and comes to a dead end at what is now known as Bradley Stop. The last ¼ of a mile of the navigation is not the original Brindley course. The current straight line was built in 1849 to bypass a looping course just to the east.
Most of this original course has now been built on but the south end of it still exists as part of the BW maintenance yard at the head of navigation. There are some BW offices and workshops at Bradley Stop which can be accessed from Bradley Lane near the former Tup Street bridge. To the south of Bradley lane the canal is now non-existent though part of the course is now used as a works access road. Within a few hundred yards was the Bradley Branch – not to be confused with the Bradley Locks Branch (see below).
The Bradley Branch was a short arm heading east into Bradley Colliery. The former main line can be explored just 400 yards further south where a public open space lies on the north side of Turton Road. In the Birmingham A-Z street map this area has a number of bridges marked though these all stand apparently in the middle of nowhere.
Originally there was a canal loop curling around the western side of the open space. On the west side of the loop was the Hardingsfield Colliery Branch which is now buried beneath buildings on Batmanshill Road. This loop was bypassed by an embankment built in 1849. The embankment can still be seen though there is no sign of the canal. At the south end of the embankment was Bradley Junction where the Bradley Locks Branch headed east to meet the Walsall Canal. (This branch is described in the Walsall Canal file).
Howls Bridge and Partridge Bridge are listed in the A-Z, these were situated at the southern junction of the original loop with the newer embankment bypass. All this area can be accessed on Turton Road. A few hundred yards further south Gospel Oak Bridge takes Wednesbury Oak Road (A4037) over the line of Brindley’s Birmingham Canal. The canal then wound its way around, sometimes almost doubling back on itself but much of this section has been wiped out by Glebefields Estate.
Somewhere in the vicinity of Moat Road was the junction with the western end of the Ocker Hill Branch which was built primarily to feed water into Brindley’s main line though its narrow channel was navigable. It was opened in 1774 and was carried on an embankment heading north east. It was used until 1955 when BWB moved their yard from the far end to Bradley Stop.The whole branch has since been wiped out by Glebefields housing estate though about 100 yards of the embankment has survived at the far eastern end of the 1774 line. In 1785 the branch was extended south east through Ocker Hill Tunnel though this was never used by boats. For more information about the tunnel and its connection with the Walsall Canal see the Walsall Canal File.
The former main line course can walked for the next 1¼ miles. A short distance west of the Ocker Hill junction it headed west under Summerhill Bridge on Upper Church Lane (B4163). This lane can be well used by addicts of derelict canals as it passes over 3 more former branches just to the south. These are the Cotterill Colliery Branch, Toll End Communication and the Dixons Branch (see below for details of each of these).
On the west side of Upper Church Lane there is a linear open space which is the former line of the Birmingham Canal main line. The canal curved south west, crossed a short embankment, past over an aqueduct over what is now Central Avenue and then turned west again. West of Central Avenue it crossed what is now another open space, curving north around Oval Road to what was once Cedar Bridge. The route then curved north west but this section has now been landscaped.
It used to pass under the LNWR line, followed by Bloomfield Road (A4037) and then GWR’s line. To the west of the GWR bridge were Bloomfield Railway Basins which were only filled in in 1967. Although they are clearly marked (in water) on the Birmingham A-Z street map there are (apparently) no remains left.Just west of the basins, at Bloomfield Junction, the Wednesbury Oak Loop came to an end and Brindley’s original Birmingham Canal rejoined Telford’s new short cut about 800 yards to the south of Coseley Tunnel.
Tipton Green & Toll End Communication Route
The Tipton Green Branch headed north east, dropped down through 3 locks and then crossed the new main line on the level. This branch pre-dates the new main line and was built to serve Cotterill Farm Colliery which I believe was situated where Jubilee Park is now. Later the branch was extended and became part of a through-route to the Walsall Canal. The new extension was known as the Toll End Communication. Later still the new main line was built and it crossed the branch at Watery Lane Junction.
The site of the 3 locks between Elliot’s Road and Watery Lane Junction can still be accessed though only the middle lock has any surviving remains. This section was closed in 1960 but the canal’s bed is now a footpath known as Lock Side. Immediately beyond Watery Lane Junction there were 2 more locks and these formed the top 2 in the Toll End Flight. Both have now been filled in, the top one is part of a boat yard and the second is within a builders yard. The main line railway crosses between the two locks and Moat Bridge on Alexander Road (B4517) crosses beside the site of the second lock.
Below the second lock there is no access to the canal as it heads north east on the eastern side of Locarno Road. There was a third lock on this section but like the others it was closed in 1967 and filled in 10 years later. The original branch used to continue straight on under Upper Church Lane (B4163) to Cotterill Farm Colliery but in 1809 a junction was created just before Upper Church Lane. A new line immediately dropped through two locks and then curved under Upper Church Lane to continue the route north eastwards.
This extension, named the Toll End Communication, was in fact a short connection to the Toll End Branch which was already part of the Walsall Canal. The first of the 2 locks on this connection (also the fourth lock in the over all flight) can still be detected (just) but the fifth lock in the flight is now buried under a factory. These were situated on the south side of Upper Church Lane bridge which has survived.
The section beyond Upper Church Lane is the original Toll End Branch built as an arm off the Walsall Canal in 1783. Its course can still be followed across landscaped land from Upper Church Lane for about ¾ of a mile to Bridge Road. On this section were 3 more locks built in 1801 when this end of the branch was extended. The top lock became the sixth in the over all flight from Tipton Green but it was removed in 1890. Locks 7 and 8 have also now vanished beneath the landscaped ground. There are noticeable changes in level across the land but these are not necessarily the sites of the locks. Bridge Road is strange in that the west side has completely gone but the east side is completely intact.
Beyond Bridge Road the branch has been blocked by a works yards. It used to pass under Toll End Road (A461) but the bridge has now been concreted over. East of the former bridge the line has also been filled in but can be detected – there is no access. Within about 300 yards it reached the Walsall Canal at Toll End Junction.
Brindley’s original main line turned north and curved right and left under Cockscroft Bridge on Dudley Road (A457). Oldbury Ringway (A4034) has now taken over the canal’s course as far as the roundabout where the ringway becomes Bromford Road. Just north of the roundabout the canal turned very sharply to the right to curl back to the current old main line in a south easterly direction. Most of the eastern half of the Oldbury Loop can still be traced and is marked as a recreation ground with dotted footpath on the Birmingham A-Z street map.
The path, named Canal Side, passes Poplar Road and curves around under Birmingham Street which was the main A457 before Oldbury Bypass was built. Access ends at Judge Close shortly before the ringway crosses the old canal again.
The route ran close to Seven Stars Road (B4182), its line can be spotted in the car park of a DIY store, the remains of an old railway bridge over the canal can be seen near the exit of the store’s car park. The point where the loop rejoined the old main line is now hard to spot. Its roving bridge has been flattened and the old towpath is fenced off. The junction was just west of (and opposite) the entrance to Allen’s Boatyard between Churchbridge Bridge (A4034) and Seven Stars Bridge (B4182).
Titford Canal Route
Although the Titford Canal does not always receive rave reviews it is one of the most interesting in the country. Near its junction was Thomas Clayton’s wharf. This company were one of the country’s most well known canal carriers and they operated from Oldbury until 1966. Their main cargoes consisted of liquid tar and gas water – not the nicest of cargoes to carry by boat, but certainly profitable. Immediately inside the entrance to the Titford Canal are the 6 locks which take the route up to the highest level currently navigable on the BCN (511 feet).
The flight is properly called Oldbury Locks though they were also known as The Crow, named after Jim Crow who owned an alkali and phosphorous works alongside the flight. Above lock 3 is the blocked off arm into his former works (on the west bank). This arm opened around 1837 but has now been completely wiped out.
The Oldbury Lock Flight has been described as “very handsome”, containing an attractive lock cottage, wooden beams and traditional paddle gear. There are side ponds next to locks 2,3,4 and 5 and all 6 locks come within about 400 yards. At the top lock is a pumping station which is still in use today though the original beam engine has been replaced by an electric one. This is the last pumping station still in use on the BCN.
Tat Bank Road crosses the middle of the flight and Engine Street crosses over just below the top lock. Also just before this lock is a junction where the unnavigable Tat Bank Branch heads off north east for about ½ a mile. This branch is also crossed by Tat Bank Road but it is not a wholly pretty sight. Its whole ½ mile is surrounded by industry culminating in a tube works on the north bank and a chemical works on the south bank. The branch was built as a feeder to Rotten Park Reservoir when the many improvements of 1858 were undertaken. Confusingly this branch was sometimes known as the Spon Lane Branch because the feeder runs under Spon Lane. However, this should not be confused with the Spon Lane Arm and locks on the main line.
Past the top lock of the Oldbury Flight the Titford Canal runs south and then curves south west through the centre of Langley. On route it passes Langley Forge which is still in operation. Uncle Ben’s Bridge passes over at High Street and about 500 yards further south west the canal bends round to head north west, immediately arriving at a junction.
The Causeway Green Branch heads south west under the M5 and then south east to Griffin Industrial Estate. The motorway has obliterated part of the arm but it can be seen near Swan Bridge (Titford Lane). Beyond here it turned south east, under the motorway again and into what is now Griffin Industrial Estate. Its weedy line now ends at a railway embankment though it used to continue a few hundred yards further east to Penncricket Lane (B4169).
The main line of the Titford Canal (known here as the Portway Branch) continues north west for another 400 yards, passing under the M5 and arriving at Titford Pools where the canal widens out into a large pond.J ust to the south is a public open space while Birchfield Lane (A4034) passes by to the west. Birchfield Bridge used to take the canal to the far side of this road though the canal now ends here at Titford Pools.On the far side of the bridge the canals line can be traced on an embankment and through a line of trees near new retail stores. The original canal went much further than this to Churchbridge Colliery. It was then connected to numerous other pits via a tramway. None of this section can be seen today. Although most of the Titford Canal is still navigable it is not renowned for its easy passage.
The Dixon’s Branch was built in the late 1820’s and served both collieries and iron works. It stayed in operation until the 1950’s and was not abandoned until 1965. Its junction can be found today near where a pipe bridge crosses the new main line just west of Park Lane aqueduct. Its junction bridge has gone but a parallel railway bridge survives immediately to the north. The branch’s towpath also survives on the south east bank though the canal itself is filled in. The path comes to an end at Station Street, houses and other buildings have been built on the canal bed to the north.
From Lower Church Lane (B4163) the canal can be seen in water to the north though there is no access from the bridge. Horsley Road is the next crossing point and access can be gained from this bridge – though only in the southern direction. The towpath can be walked back towards Lower Church Lane. The former junctions of the Horseley Colliery Arm (north) and Church Lane Ironworks Arm (south) are on this section but neither of these can be traced today.
To the north of Horseley Road the canal is in water but not accessible.It passes the new Horseley Ironworks and then comes to a dead end in the vicinity Clarke’s Grove.
Cape Arm Loop
The loop ran on the west side of Telford’s main line but its northern end was blocked off at the time of Telford’s improvements. This was done to prevent boats from avoiding Winson Green Stop (a tolling point). The loop subsequently fell into disuse but was later used by a metal works which was built around it. Half way round the loop was a branch which ran south west to the Cape of Good Hope pub.
The last traffic to use the arm was in 1950. Today the loop is not accessible to boats and there is no towpath for walkers. The Engine Arm feeder (which runs parallel to the main line) now blocks both of the loop’s entrances and creates a tunnel over the northern one. A guillotine gate blocks the passage.
The southern part of the arm has been filled in. The arm to the Cape pub has also been filled in despite it being clearly marked (in water) on the Birmingham A-Z. Within the metal works a number of wharves and old buildings survive and there is a landscaped area beside the works canteen. Cranford Street (B4145) crosses this disused loop on a concrete bridge dated (wrongly) 1906. The bridge was actually built shortly before WW2.
This is the only one of the 3 navigable old Brindley loops between here and Birmingham city centre which has a tow path. Half way round the loop is Hockley Port. This now has recreation areas and houseboats within its basins. The “port” is actually an arm formerly known as the Birmingham Heath Branch. This headed north east for about ½ a mile though today it is only about 300 yards in length. It used to pass beneath Lodge Road and Park Road, crossing a railway on an aqueduct.All of this stretch has been wiped out but its whereabouts can be spotted as there is a Wharf Lane off Park Road.
The loop curves right around the grounds of Dudley Road Hospital.Access points can be found at Winson Green Road (A4040), Western Road and Dudley Road (A457). Winson Green Road and Dudley Road also cross Telford’s new line in this area.
This old Brindley loop houses the British Waterways regional offices. Originally it was connected to Rotten Park Reservoir (now called Edgbaston Reservoir) which was built to supply water to the BCN. There is no towpath on this loop but it can be seen twice from bridges on Icknield Port Road (B4126). The reservoir can also be seen from this road.
Oozells Street Loop
There is no towpath on the Oozells Street Loop but its western junction can be seen from St. Vincent Street and it is also crossed by Sheepcote Street. (There is no trace of an Oozells Street). On the loop was the Sherborne Street Wharf which is still in use as a boatyard. Sherborne Street Arm used to head south west to Rolloson’s Coal Wharf but only the junction is now in use (as a covered dock). Sherborne Street bridge still exists though the arm has been filled in on the western side.
Worcester Bar & Gas Street Basin
To the east (on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal) is the site of Worcester Bar. Until recent years the stretch along to Worcester Bar consisted of old warehouses and dereliction, one building even straddled the canal creating a dark tunnel.
In the early 1990’s the whole area was redeveloped and new pubs and restaurants now overlook the canal. Pedestrian walkways have been created with night time lighting. Alongside Worcester Bar is Gas Street Basin, probably the most famous canal basin of them all. Originally it was the terminus of the Worcester and Birmingham Canal until Worcester Bar was lifted and a link was made along to Farmers Bridge Junction.
Alongside Gas Street Basin is the massive modern day Birmingham Convention Centre which opens out onto the canal side. The once secret world of Gas Street Basin has itself been opened out with a popular new pub – the James Brindley – looking out onto the basin. Traditionalists moan bitterly about the transformation of this area but maybe they dream of the working days of the canal and not the squalor it left behind. The current Gas Street Basin is only a small part of the wharves which were once situated in this area.
On the opposite side (south) of today’s basin there were two long linear basins running under Gas Street, Berkley Street and Granville Street – traces can still be seen from these streets. Both basins served the same purpose but they were built on either side of Worcester Bar (now a stop lock) and were owned by the two rival canal companies.
At the north end of Gas Street Basin a flight of steps leads up to Bridge Street where Central TV Studios are now situated. Originally Gas Street Basin continued under Bridge Street into a two-pronged wharf known at first as Brickkiln Piece and later as Old Wharf. The two wharves stretched north eastwards to the back of the impressive BCN company offices on Suffolk Street. The wharves are now lost beneath the TV studios and Suffolk Street is part of the busy A38 Dual-carriageway.
This branch headed south east for a few hundred yards to a number of basins. Within its first hundred yards the arm past through the short Gibson’s Tunnel and then up through Gibson’s Lock.
At the top was a short arm heading south west while the “main line” of the branch turned sharply north east and then south east into Gibson’s Basins. At the south eastern corner was another sharp bend taking the arm south west into Baskerville Basin. None of this branch or the basins have survived.
Brindley Drive now crosses the line of the branch and the Birmingham Repertory Theatre is situated on top of the basins. The best clue to the former whereabouts of the basins is Baskerville Road which ran along their north eastern side. The short tunnel was situated below Baskerville House. It was re-discovered while a car park was being built in 1983 beneath the building. Sadly it was instantly filled in and lost forever.