WALSALL CANAL (Broadwaters Extension)
The Walsall Canal is slightly confusing in that it has not always been called the Walsall Canal and for many years it didn’t go anywhere near Walsall. Its early history is tied in with Birmingham & Fazeley Canal and even more distant waterways such as the Coventry, Oxford and Trent & Mersey canals…
1782 A canal was proposed which would connect the Wednesbury coal fields just north of Birmingham to the Coventry Canal. The Trent & Mersey, Oxford and Coventry canal companies fully supported the proposal as the new route would also be used to complete an unfinished portion of the Coventry Canal which was preventing a through route from Manchester to London. However, the neighbouring Birmingham Canal company bitterly opposed the scheme as it already had a lucrative coal carrying business in Wednesbury using its own Wednesbury Canal. To counter the new proposals the Birmingham company began to promote a new route of their own into northern Wednesbury. This new line would connect with the Wednesbury Canal at Ryders Green and run north west for about 3 miles. As well as a main line it would also include 8 short branches and numerous basins.
1783 Major battles were fought in Parliament between the Birmingham Canal Company and those who wished to build the new canal. In the endthe Birmingham company won and they agreed to build a route connecting Wednesbury to Fazeley. This included a canal from Ryders Green heading north west to the north side of Wednesbury. The line was to be known as the Broadwaters Extension. Work began immediately though I do not have information on who the surveyor or engineer was. John Smeaton was employed to build the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal and other Birmingham Canal improvements so he may well have been employed here too? There is no doubt that the contractor was John Pinkerton.
1785 One of the stranger branches on the Broadwaters Extension was the Ocker Hill Tunnel Branch. This was only about ¾ a mile long though the final ¼ of a mile past under Ocker Hill in a tunnel. The tunnel was never navigable but was used as a feeder to the Ocker Hill Branch of Brindley’s Birmingham Canal. Later pumps were installed to help feed water through the tunnel, eventually there were 6 of these pumps and it has been said that they created such a strong current that horses sometimes found it impossible to pull boats off the branch!
1785 The Broadwaters Extension was due for opening when it was found that some of the work had not been done properly. John Pinkerton was told he must put the problems right and would not be paid until all work was completed to the satisfaction of the company.
The 3 mile long Broadwaters Extension was finally opened. It left the Wednesbury Canal at Ryders Green, travelling down a flight of 8 locks to Great Bridge. It then headed generally north west to a point just north east of Moxley.
The new canal proved to be a fantastic success, so much so that major congestion problems arose at Ryders Green Locks and at Spon Lane on the Birmingham Canal main line, resulting in a whole section of the Birmingham Canal being rebuilt.
1792 An Act of Parliament was passed allowing a new company to build a canal from Wolverhampton to Great Wyrley. This was not a great problem to the Birmingham company until the new Wyrley & Essington company announced an extension which would run to Walsall. At the same time other individuals began to plan a waterway from Darlaston (near the northern end of the Broadwaters Extension) to Walsall. This would then link into the new Wyrley & Essington Canal.
1793 The Birmingham company put forward a plan to build a canal from the end of their Broadwaters Extension to Darlaston where it would meet the newly proposed line to Walsall. The company also proposed a second new line which would run from the Broadwaters Extension to Wolverhampton. This, of course, was done to provide direct competition to the new Wyrley & Essington Canal.
1794 The people behind the proposed canal from Darlaston to Walsall made an agreement whereby the whole line from the end of the Broadwaters Extension to Walsall would be built by the Birmingham company. In addition, it was agreed that the new line would not connect with the Wyrley & Essington Canal but would link to the Birmingham Canal instead. The Act of Parliament was past on April 17th and work began on what was to be known as the Walsall Canal.
1798 The Bradley Hall Branch was opened while the Walsall Canal was still being built. The branch was ½ a mile long with 3 locks. It connected to the main line close to point where the new canal began, it had originally been planned as one of the branches off the original Broadwaters Canal in 1785 but it had not been built.
1799 The new canal was fully opened from Moxley. It wound around for about 4 miles to Walsall town centre. On route it past many new branches and basins. Eventually the whole line from Ryders Green to Walsall become known as the Walsall canal.
1800 The Gospel Oak Branch opened to the north of Ocker Hill. This was originally to have been the connection from the Walsall Canal to the Birmingham Canal though the plan was held off for many years and was eventually dropped altogether. Thus the branch never got further than its first ½ mile.
1805 The tunnel on the Ocker Hill Tunnel Branch had to be completely rebuilt when the original tunnel became unstable due to subsidence. The canal company purchased the mines below the new tunnel to prevent the problem occurring again.
1809 The Toll End Branch, to the south of Ocker Hill, was extended to meet the Tipton Green Branch of the Birmingham Canal. This was the first through-route between the Walsall and Birmingham main lines.
1830 The Anson Branch was opened to serve the Bentley Collieries and Bentley limestone quarry. The branch was actually started twice. The first starting point was at Bughole Bridge though after the first few hundred yards were cut the line was abandoned and the branch was restarted about ½ a mile further east.
1841 The Birmingham Canal Company (by now renamed BCN) had recently bought the rival Wyrley & Essington Canal. With competition out of the way there was now no reason to prevent a connection between the Walsall Canal and their newest acquisition. The first link was named the Walsall Branch Canal, it was just ½ a mile long from Walsall town centre up through 8 locks to Birchills where it joined the Walsall Arm of the Wyrley & Essington Canal. The second link was much longer, known as the Bentley Canal it ran for about 3 miles with 10 locks between Darlaston on the Anson Branch and Wednesfield on the Wyrley & Essington Canal.
1844 The Tame Valley Canal was opened with a junction in Wednesbury on the Walsall Canal. The Tame Valley Canal was built to ease congestion at Farmers Bridge Locks in Birmingham city centre. It created a short-cut from the Walsall Canal to the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal at Salford Junction (to the north east of Birmingham city centre).
1849 The Bradley Hall (or Bradley Locks) Branch was extended by ½ mile through 6 new locks to connect with Brindley’s original Birmingham main line (by now known as the Wednesbury Oak Loop). For several decades after this the Walsall Canal continued to be one of the busiest in the country. However, by the turn of the century trade began to decline due to railway competition and better road carriage.The decline continued through both World wars and by the time the canal was nationalised in 1948 traffic was becoming very scarce indeed.
1957 The government produced a report which graded all the canals in Britain into different categories depending on their commercial usefulness. Many miles of the BCN were put into the lowest grade – fit only for closing down. Among these were dozens of arms and branches including the Bentley Canal and Bradley Locks Branch. These were officially closed and abandoned in 1961. The main line of the Walsall Canal survived at this stage because it still saw a small amount of coal carriage, especially around Walsall town wharf.
1968 A new Transport Act was passed which re-categorised all of the waterways under government control. Commercial traffic on the Walsall Canal had now ceased and pleasure craft had no interest in visiting Walsall so the route was classified as a “remainder” waterway. This meant it could be closed, sold and built on. However, somewhat amazingly, the whole of the main line survived in one piece and was never actually closed.
1986 Walsall Town Arm had to be closed to navigation following what was reported as “underground geological problems”, (I presume this meant mining subsidence). Some time later Walsall Council made plans to redevelop the town wharf. This, however, did not include water as the arm was to be drained, filled in and built on. These plans came to an abrupt end when historic limestone caverns were discovered close to the canal. In fact, one cavern was found to run just beneath the arm. With redevelopment cancelled the town arm was left intact but unused. Many old canal buildings, which themselves were of historic value, were left to decay, speeded along by vandalism.
1994 Although the Walsall Canal was neglected for many years, both in terms of poor maintenance from BW and lack of use by holiday makers, it was not forgotten by local canal enthusiasts. Pressure eventually forced BW into maintaining and repairing stretches of the route despite the canal still being classified as a “remainder” waterway. In particular the lock flight leading up to the Wyrley & Essington Canal in Walsall was repaired and the area around it was cleaned up. Sadly, towards the end of the year an arson attack on the grade 2 listed top lock toll office caused £60,000 worth of damage.
1995 The Walsall Canal ran through areas dense with industry and when a lot of this industry died or moved away the canal was often left passing through derelict buildings and wasteland. The local councils had noticed the success of canal side regeneration in other areas (such as Birmingham city centre) and this led to a number of redevelopment schemes. In Walsall town centre new plans were put together to redevelop the area around the town arm and this time they included a fully functional canal. Meanwhile, at Wednesbury a huge parkland was to be built under the rather sorry name of the Automotive Component Park. This was the former Patent Shaft steel works which was to be completely redeveloped with landscaped parkland and waterway walks along a new towpath. The canal itself was to be made into a central “feature” of the scheme.
1996 Despite the excellent work in Walsall town centre and the efforts of BW, boats were still failing to successfully pass right through the Walsall Canal. When the IWA staged a cruise along the canal most of the boats failed to make the passage due to debris lurking in the waterway. Most of the rubbish was put there by local people who don’t seem to realise that they pay their council tax in order to fund the council to take away unwanted household items without charge! Worse still was the amount of rubbish deposited by local companies who’s businesses lined the canal banks. On the cruise the IWA found submerged motorbikes, ropes, steel wire, carpets, mattresses and much much more. It was reported in the local press that one boat even came across a submerged car. The boat was lifted clean out of the water onto the top of the vehicle and back down into the water “with a great splash”.
Later in the year the canal press published more news of cars in the Walsall Canal though this time the “dumping” was accidental. Waterways World picked the story up from an Internet canal news group. It reported that 3 elderly persons hurtled down an embankment in their Ford Escort and crashed into the cut. Somebody must have been smiling on them because there was actually a narrow boat passing by at the time.The crew hauled the pensioners out of the water just moments before their car sank. One news group member, Martin Ludgate, cynically said “I’m surprised they found enough depth to sink a dinky toy, let alone a Ford Escort”!
1997 A concerted effort for publicity and awareness began. With the Walsall Town Arm development close to completion it was important that the rest of the canal should be made fully navigable to allow boats to reach the arm. The first stage of publicity was a weekend of rubbish removal! The Waterway Recovery Group organised a volunteer weekend in which hundreds of tons of rubbish were removed. BW provided lorries, skips, grapples and a dredger (among other things) and a 2½ mile stretch from the M6 bridge to Darlaston Road bridge was cleared. Later in the year a national campaign event was held on the canal with 30 boats in attendance. This time all the boats made the full journey and reached the town wharf. “Treasure Hunts” were organised for boat crews and walkers and an informal barbecue was held on the town arm during the evening.
Also during 1997 a new British Waterways office was opened on the Ocker Hill Branch of the Walsall Canal. The arm, like many others, had stood unmaintained for many years but redevelopment of the area transformed the arm into a popular walk. As part of the scheme a nature reserve was created around the neighbouring marl pool and residential boat facilities (showers, wash rooms etc.) were constructed.
Visit the BCN Society website http://www.bcn-society.co.uk/
The Walsall Canal begins at Ryders Green Junction where it leaves the Wednesbury Canal and heads north west for 7 miles to Walsall town centre. The first 3 miles was originally known as the Broadwaters Extension, this pre-dated (by about 15 years) the final 4 miles which was known as the Walsall Canal. The name “Broadwaters” comes from the colliery where the original Broadwaters Extension terminated. This was situated just north east of Moxley. In time the whole canal became known as the Walsall Canal.
Immediately after Ryders Green Junction the Walsall Canal drops down through 8 narrow locks, 7 of them in one straight flight within 600 yards. Between locks 4 and 5 is an old guillotine gate over a disused arm into the old Nelson Iron Foundry basin. The junction and lock flight can be found on Ryders Green Road (B4149).
The bottom lock is about ¼ of a mile below the main flight, it can be accessed from Brickhouse Lane. Directly above the lock the canal crosses the small River Tame while directly below the lock it reaches a winding hole which was once the junction of the Haines Branch. This headed south west through the streets of Great Bridge. Directly opposite to the entrance onto the Haines Branch is a basin which used to be Great Bridge railway interchange. It was one of the last such transhipment yards to survive, still in use in the 1960’s. Today it is still in water and still contains a number of sunken boats. As the main line continues north westerly it passes under Hemphole Bridge (Eagle Lane) and then passes a former junction on the east side which once led to the Danks Branch.
Within about 300 yards of the Danks Branch the main line passes another junction, this time on the west side near Beever Road. This was Toll End Junction where the Toll End Branch began. This opened around the same time as the Broadwaters Extension though it was later extended and became the Toll End Communication which connected with both Telford’s Birmingham main line and Brindley’s original main line via the Tipton Green Branch. For a full description of this branch see the Birmingham Canal Navigations Route.
Less than 400 yards further north the main line reaches the entrance to the Ocker Hill Tunnel Branch.
Traditional cast iron bridges cross the Walsall Canal main line just a few yards further north as it reaches Doe Bank Junction, the entrance of the Tame Valley Canal. This “modern” canal strides off dead-straight with towpaths on both sides in north easterly direction. The new Black Country Spine Road now crosses the Tame Valley Canal right beside the junction. Access to the junction is best achieved by walking from the Ocker Hill Tunnel Branch.
Within ¾ of a mile (while passing many industrial sites) the Walsall Canal passes the site of Leabrook Basins, another canal/railway interchange. Directly opposite these basins is the junction onto the Gospel Oak Branch.
Another 300 yards north west brings the canal to the entrance of an arm which went east into the Patent Shaft Steel Works. This was the Monway Arm which opened in 1812 and survived until the 1960’s. It was then wiped out by open cast mining. The whole area where the Patent Shaft Works stood has recently been the subject of a massive regeneration which includes canal side walks (among other things). The steel works site was on Hollyhead Road (A41) but I am not sure about current day access due to the construction of the new Black Country Spine Road.
Just ¼ of a mile further along the main line is yet another disused arm, at Moorcroft Junction the Bradley Locks Branch began.
Just north of Moorcroft Junction, on the opposite side of the Walsall Canal main line, is Broadwaters Junction where the Broadwaters Arm headed north east. Originally this was the final stretch of the Broadwaters Extension main line but when the main line was extended to Walsall this became a short arm terminating at Broadwaters Colliery.The arm was just a few hundred yards long and has long since been obliterated. A trading estate now sits on its site.
On the main line just beyond the entrance to the Broadwaters Arm was Moxley Stop. I am unsure whether an actual stop lock existed here – though I expect one did. This was the point where the original WalsallCanal began its 4 mile journey through Darlaston to Walsall.
For the next 1½ miles (past Moxley and Rough Hay) the Walsall Canal takes an uninspired journey through reclaimed industrial land as it curves right until heading generally eastwards. On the curve it passes the former entrance to the Bilston Branch which headed west for about 400 yards, it then connected with a tramway. The branch was opened in 1803, disused in the 1920’s and abandoned in 1953. Until recently the whole branch (now filled in) could be walked via a public footpath but the new Spine Road now crosses the branch immediately after its junction, therefore I do not have up to date information on access to the branch. Its entrance was situated just north of Baggott Bridge on Heathfield Lane.
A little further north, as the Walsall Canal continues to curve around to the north east, was the entrance to the Willenhall Branch. This ¼ of a mile branch opened and closed at the same time as the Bilston Branch and can also be followed on foot. Access is from George Rose Park which runs along the opposite bank of the main line. A footbridge takes a path across the main line to the southern ½ of the branch. However, the new Spine Road is here too and appears to have gone right across the northern tip of what was left of the branch. North of here the branch has long since been filled in and used as a rubbish tip. On the main line at Darlaston there used to be an electrically operated lift bridge over the canal. This was part of a private road in the grounds of a factory, the bridge was removed in 1983. Beyond Bughole Bridge (which carries The Crescent – a very straight road considering its name) the Walsall Canal bends around to head south east for a while. Near Bughole Bridge a branch was begun by the BCN company around 1830. It was planned to be the start of the Anson Branch though the route of the branch was later changed and the short length already completed became a basin. Later it became the first railway interchange basin on the BCN. More recently the land belongs to the Rubery Owen factory and the basin has been filled in. As the canal snakes eastwards around the Darlaston Green area it goes under Forster’s bridge and over an aqueduct crossing a railway. Immediately after the aqueduct a disused branch forks off to the left (north east). This is where the Anson Branch once left the main line and although it is now truncated at the junction by a flood bank, the Birmingham A-Z street map shows that the branch is still in water for about 1¼ miles. It led to the Bentley Canal which in turn connected (via 10 locks) to the Wyrley & Essington Canal.
Back on the Walsall Canal main line, past the Anson Branch Junction, the canal is now on an embankment and it soon crosses James Bridge Aqueduct, dated 1797, which crosses Bentley Mill Way and the still small River Tame. There are good views from the embankment of the surrounding urban and industrial areas. Just beyond the M6 motorway an office block spans right across the canal.
Briefly the route runs right alongside Darlaston Road (A4038) but then it curls away to the north east under Peck Road (A4148) and into Walsall town centre. Walsall Junction is where the link to the Wyrley & Essington Canal begins heading straight north while the original main line curves east to its terminus in the town centre. This is the area which is currently undergoing a complete redevelopment.
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WALSALL TOWN ARM
Near the entrance of the town arm, on its north bank, there used to be a substantial wharf. A covered loading area used to straddle a short inlet and old canal buildings stand close by. These were completely derelict before the redevelopment began, hopefully they will be fully restored. They contained a metal workshop and a saddlery (among other things). Opposite the wharf, on the south bank, the towpath used to contain rail lines which carried trucks to an adjacent engineering works. Further along, on the north bank, were more short inlets into wharves and factories. At the end of the arm there used to be a car park on the north side of the basin though this was later grassed over and more recently has been the centre of the redevelopment. On the south side of the basin are some buildings which have already been restored. These include a small warehouse and the wharfinger’s cottage and office. When completely redeveloped this area will be an excellent place to visit and an exciting new destination for pleasure boats.
WALSALL BRANCH CANAL
The link up to the Wyrley & Essington Canal is known as the Walsall Branch Canal. It travels straight north, climbing up through 8 locks in just ½ a mile. These are surrounded by tall buildings including Albion Flour Mill dated 1849 which has a covered loading bay. At the top of the locks is Thomas’ Wharf, the toll office which was damaged by fire in 1994, a canal house and the old Boatman’s Rest which now houses the Birchills Canal Museum. The branch then bends slightly and heads north west, under the arch of Reynolds bridge, and on to Birchills Junction on the Wyrley & Essington Canal.
This branch opened in 1833 to serve the Pumphouse Colliery, Denbigh Hall Colliery, Cophall Colliery and a brick works. South of the former junction on the main line the branch has been built on, the GWR bridge has gone but Haines Bridge survives on Great Bridge Street (A4035). In 1995, after taking a wrong turn on route to Ryders Green, I came across part of the Haines Branch on Sheepwash Lane. Although it has been severed in places the branch was full of water and looked as navigable as some of the main lines on the BCN! The bridge on Sheepwash Lane used to be a turnover bridge but now it is a modern concrete structure. Just beyond the bridge there used to be an aqueduct over the small River Tame though this has now been demolished. South of here the line has been filled in.
The Danks Branch has been blocked off from its junction with the main line and is now crossed almost immediately by the new Black Country Spine Road. East of the new road the branch is crossed by a railway (formerly a LNWR line) and then it runs parallel on the north side of Bagnall Street for a few hundred yards. It then turns north but as it does so there is a junction with a short arm heading south. This was built to serve Brickhouse Pit. To the north the branch is blocked by a car park but this has not been built on the canal bed. It is actually on a platform laid about a foot over the water! Beyond the car park the railway crosses again but the canal has long since gone from the far side. It used to continue north for about 200 yards and then turn north east and immediately meet the Tame Valley Canal. Danks Branch was opened at about the same time as the original Broadwaters Extension. It was built to serve Goldshill Colliery at Golds Green (near the site of the platform car park). In 1844 it was extended to link with the newly built Tame Valley Canal.
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OCKER HILL TUNNEL BRANCH
This branch once included 6 pumping engines and a tunnel which fed water across to the Wednesbury Oak Loop – part of the original Birmingham main line. The branch was built in 1785, the tunnel ran under Ocker Hill for about 400 yards in a north westerly direction. It connected with the Ocker Hill Branch on the far side.
The tunnel had to be rebuilt in 1805 due to subsidence. Water was pumped from the branch until the 1950’s, following this the tunnel was blocked up but the branch was kept open as it supplied cooling water to Ocker Hill Power Station until 1980. Because of this the branch was never built on and it survives today.
The tunnel was never navigable but the branch was for ½ a mile up to the tunnel mouth. The branch is now navigable for just ¼ of a mile andis said to be an “oasis” among industry and dereliction! It has a pretty cricket ground alongside and the whole area was redeveloped very recently. It now includes a new BW office and a nature reserve and will soon include residential house boats. The branch can be accessed from Bayley’s Lane off Toll End Road (A461) and the whole branch can be seen from the back of the Waggon & Horses pub on Toll End Road. The pub overlooks the branch from above the tunnel mouth.
GOSPEL OAK BRANCH
This branch leaves the main line in a south westerly direction, it is still in water for about ½ a mile ending at Gospel Oak Road (A4037).It was opened in 1800 and was planned as the first connection to the Birmingham main line (Wednesbury Oak Loop) though the plan was held off for years and eventually dropped in favour of the Toll End Communication (see above). The line of the branch is clearly marked in the Birmingham A-Z street map though Richard Chester-Browne, in “The Other Sixty Miles”, says all but the first 200 yards of the route has been filled in. However, he says that access to the canal bed can be gained from Farmer Way which crosses the route. The bed is now a footpath.
The branch used to run through a quarry but Quarry Wharf has long since vanished, buried under a housing estate. The branch was abandoned in 1954 but was kept open and used as a feeder for a while after this.
BRADLEY LOCKS BRANCH
This branch was opened in 1798, a year before the full Walsall Canal was completed. It headed south west for ½ a mile, through 3 locks, to Bradley Hall. In 1849 it was extended by a further ½ mile through 6 more locks to connect with the original Birmingham main line (Wednesbury Oak Loop). The branch was closed in 1961 along with the eastern end of the Wednesbury Oak Loop. The junction of this branch can be reached from Southern Way off Hollyhead Road (A41) assuming the new Spine Road still allows this. The first 500 yards or so are still in water – green, weedy water.
The first (bottom) lock, number 9 of 9, is situated just below the railway which was once a GWR line. The lock is said to be intact but in poor condition. Immediately above the lock a short arm heads north east back under the railway. This was in water in the 1970’s but has now been filled in. Lock 8 follows quickly with Lock 7 just a few yards above it. Lock 8 is in a similar state to Lock 9 while I have no news of Lock 7. It was situated close to Bradley Bridge on Great Bridge Road (A4098) though the bridge has gone and the road now crosses over on an embankment. West of the road the branch is filled in but its line can be followed.It continued south west to a point now designated as a public open space on Turton Road. On route it past 6 more locks, all of which have been filled in but their positions are easily recognisable by the 6 sharp rises in the ground level as the former route heads west. Just below the first lock (No.6) an arm led south for a few hundred yards into Willingworth Colliery but this has been obliterated by houses. Its course was close to that of Elizabeth Walk. At the public open space on Turton Road the branch met Brindley’s Birmingham main line. By the time the branch was completed to here the main line had been superseded by Telford’s new canal and this section was relegated to a branch loop. Nevertheless, it was well used enough for the company to build an embankment avoiding a meander around the public open space. It is on this embankment that the Bradley Locks Branch made a junction onto the Wednesbury Oak Loop. (See the Birmingham Canal Navigations Route for more details of this loop).
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The Anson Branch was re-routed in 1830 having originally been planned to start at Bughole Bridge (see above). It was built to serve Reedswood Colliery though it also served a quarry and a power station in its time. The southern end of this dead-straight waterway was still navigable until the early 1980’s and it probably still could be if it was un-blocked at its junction with main line. The reason for it being blocked off was because of underground fires which threatened the stability of the land.
Within about 300 yards the branch reaches the River Tame but for once an aqueduct has survived fully intact – even holding water. It is an impressive aqueduct too, crossing the river on a fine single arch. About 200 yards further north east the branch reaches the junction with the Bentley Canal and then Bentley Mill Bridge (on Bentley Mill Way) crosses over. This bridge was restored to navigable height in 1978 but apparently this simply encouraged rubbish to be dumped from it! The whole line of the canal was subsequently dredged though I have no information on how many (if any) pleasure boats ventured along the branch.
Beyond the bridge the canal has now been filled in and within 200 yards it disappears into a culvert beneath the M6 embankment. The culvert was not the usual tiny pipe but was actually navigable though only BWB work boats were allowed to enter. Normal narrow boats would have been slightly too wide to fit through – good planning, or what?? The M6 has blocked more of the canal than it normally would because the crossing includes the slip roads and roundabout of junction 10. Before the motorway was built Wolverhampton Road (A454) used to cross the branch on Bradford Bridge. The branch’s line reappears on the north east side of junction 10 and is immediately crossed by Anson Bridge (Bloxwich Lane). The channel is still watered – well almost, its more mud and weeds than water but at least it can still be seen.
On the west bank are a number of works buildings and warehouses. These have been built on what used to be Pouk Hill Wharf. A tramway used to run west from here through a tunnel to a nearby quarry, nothing remains. About 300 yards further north east is Reedswood Bridge on Bentley Lane. To the north of the bridge the canal used to form a basin and the water here was used for cooling by the former Birchills Power Station. Today the branch ends here alongside Reedswood Park though it used to curve slightly left and continue on to Reedswood Colliery a short distance to the north west.
On the Anson Branch, around 600 yards north east of the junction with the main line, was another junction on the west bank. This was where the Bentley Canal once headed off west towards the Wyrley & Essington Canal. Bentley Mill Way crosses the Anson Branch just north of the junction. The Bentley Canal opened in 1843 to create a connection after the BCN had purchased the Wyrley & Essington Canal. It was 3½ miles long with 10 locks and survived intact until 1961 when its eastern half was closed. The Bentley Canal left the Anson Branch beside Bentley Mill Way and headed north west. There is no trace of this end of the canal on current street maps but its line appears as a dotted track in the middle of the cemetery on the south side of Wolverhampton Road (A454).The track passes under this road at what was County Bridge but is now an embankment.
Beyond the former main road bridge the route can be walked as it continues north west between housing estates, Durham Avenue crosses its path at Farm Bridge. The dry canal then passes under another embankment on Clarke’s Lane (A462). Beyond here was the first of the 10 locks on the canal, the first 4 of which were called the Sandbeds Flight. The first 2 locks (No.10 & No.9) have gone without trace but the former lock cottage is still lived in. Lock 9 was beneath a railway bridge though, like the canal, the railway has also long since been disused.
West of the former Sandbeds Bridge (Charles Street), the line continues as a dotted path on the Birmingham A-Z though there is actually a factory built on the canal in this section. This is where the top two (Locks 8 & 7) of the Sandbeds Flight were situated but no trace remains. The route can be seen again at Spring Bank Bridge (Sharesacre Street) though there is no official access due to more industry (some now derelict) on the canal bed to the west. At Monmer Bridge (Monmer Lane) access to the former canal bed can be gained with a grassed over stretch heading west for nearly ½ a mile past the site of Dingle Bridge to Fibbersley Bridge on the road called Fibbersley (B4484).
West of here the canal was navigable (in theory) until recent years. It is shown in water on the 1992 Birmingham A-Z though I fear the whole stretch of the remaining 1½ miles to the junction with the Wyrley & Essington Canal in Wednesfield has now completely gone. This includes the 6 Wednesfield Locks which were dug up in 1996. This is such a sad loss, to think that even in this age of restoration and recreation, parts of historic waterways are still being obliterated. About 800 yards west of Fibbersley Bridge the Bentley Canal used to be accessible from Merrill’s Hall Lane. The bottom of the 6 Wednesfield Locks was just west of Merrill’s Bridge. Neachell’s Lane, Well Lane and Backhouse Lane also led to the canal with locks near to each of these bridges. This whole stretch has been removed and has since been built on. The junction with the Wyrley & Essington Canal can still be seen. A cast iron towpath bridge crosses an opening directly opposite New Cross Hospital on Wolverhampton Road (A4124). The “opening” is only a few feet in length, the only remaining stretch of the western end of the Bentley Canal.