Wyrley and Essington Canal
The Wyrley & Essington Canal History
The Wyrley & Essington Canal received its Act of Parliament with personal backing from Prime Minister William Pitt. The route was planned to run from Wolverhampton (from a junction on the Birmingham Canal) to a point just south of Great Wyrley. The total length was to be about 12 miles with 5 locks. (Despite the name of the canal, no line was built to Essington at this stage).
While construction was going on the decision was made to create a branch line to Walsall. The branch was to be just 2 miles long, there would be no locks or major works.
The first part of a new canal opened from Wolverhampton to Great Wyrley, within another 12 months it reached Walsall.
The canal was an instant success, so much so that the neighbouring Birmingham Canal Navigations company quickly began to construct a canal of their own into Walsall.
The BCN company were not used to other companies stealing “their” coal!Meanwhile the Wyrley & Essington company decided to extend their canal again.
This would take it from Walsall to Lichfield in the far north eastern corner of the Black Country. The route would then continue on to the Coventry Canal at the tiny village of Huddlesford. The final 7 miles of this 15 mile long extension needed 30 locks to drop the canal down off the Black Country plateau to the level of the Coventry Canal.
The whole of the Wyrley & Essington Canal was fully opened from Wolverhampton to Huddlesford. The through route across the north of the Black Country, bypassing the BCN, was very popular though the Wyrley & Essington Canal was so convoluted it was soon nicknamed the Curly Wyrley!
A branch was built to Sneyd Colliery and Essington Wood on the west side of the Great Wyrley Branch. Because the canal is called the Wyrley & Essington it is usually thought that Essington was a major part of the route and the canal’s success. This is actually far from the truth, not only was the branch built after the rest of the canal but it was never very prosperous. It had 5 locks within the first ¾ of a mile, these took it up to a summit level of 533 feet, the highest point of any canal in the Black Country. Because of this it suffered badly from lack of water supply, the only water the branch had came from a tiny stream and from mines via a pump.
The rival BCN company opened their Walsall Canal from the Wednesbury Canal to Walsall town centre. In fact it terminated very close to the Wyrley & Essington Canal’s Walsall branch though no link was built between the two at this point.
During this year disaster struck the Wyrley & Essington company when the dam on their huge Chasewater Reservoir collapsed. Areas nearby were flooded, farmland was ruined and livestock drowned. The dam was soon rebuilt and the new structure survives to this day.
The Lord Hay’s Branch was opened from Fishley to collieries at Newtown.
The Wyrley & Essington company opened the Daw End Branch from their main line at Brownhills. It was built to serve the lime workings to the east of Walsall and was another typical contour canal, winding around between the surrounding hills.
The unsuccessful Essington Branch was closed and abandoned.
Although the Wyrley & Essington Canal was fairly successful for over 40 years, the company was no match for the mighty BCN who had a virtual monopoly of the waterways in the Black Country.
With railways also becoming an ever bigger threat the Wyrley & Essington company decided to “amalgamate” with the BCN – or more precisely, it sold out and the BCN completely took over. Straight away the BCN built a connecting line between the Walsall Canal and the Walsall branch of the Wyrley & Essington Canal in Walsall town Centre.
A second connection, the Bentley Canal, was built between Wednesfield on the Wyrley & Essington Canal and Darlaston on the Walsall Canal’s Anson Branch. This made a straight short cut, missing out many miles of looping waterway on the Wyrley & Essington Canal. Both links needed lock flights to climb up from Walsall onto the Wyrley & Essington Canal.
Like many other canal companies, but maybe more surprisingly, the BCN amalgamated with a railway company. Rather than kill the canal off however, the BCN actually continued to grow under railway management.
A new link was constructed from the Wyrley & Essington Canal’s Daw End Branch at its terminus near Aldridge (on the east side of Walsall). The new link ran south to the Tame Valley Canal (at Rushall Junction) near Grove Vale, the new link was named the Rushall Canal. The Tame Valley Canal had opened 3 years earlier and was itself a link from the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal to the Walsall Canal.
1863 – Cannock Extension
Another new branch was added, from Pelsall to the coal fields around Cannock Chase. The branch was named the Cannock Extension, it later connected with the Hatherton Branch of the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal which ran through the town of Cannock. These newer canal branches – Tame Valley, Rushall & Cannock – are easily recognisable as “modern” canals because they appear on a map in dead-straight lines as opposed to the incredibly bendy older Wyrley & Essington main line.
For many decades the Wyrley & Essington Canal continued to do well, this was especially due to the success of the Cannock Extension.
However, in the early part of the 1900’s trade began to drop back and by the end of WW2 the canal was making a big loss. Very few boats were using the canal as a through route by this time, most movement being around the western end at Wolverhampton.
See the Cannock Extension Route
Following nationalisation in 1948 seven miles of the main line at its eastern end, from Ogley Junction to Huddlesford, were closed and abandoned due to lack of use and high maintenance costs on the long lock flight. This meant that the Wyrley & Essington Canal was no longer a through route between the Coventry and Birmingham canals.
The Bentley Canal was abandoned, cutting off one of the short cuts from the Wyrley & Essington Canal to the Walsall Canal.
The northern stretches of the Cannock Extension had to be closed due to subsidence. Apparently, 70 boats were left for scrap when the extension was abandoned.
The last coal boat on the Wyrley & Essington Canal made its final journey and commercial carrying ended.
Following the cessation of commercial carrying the Wyrley & Essington Canal’s future was unsure. In the following years the navigable sections became fairly popular as a holiday route though the through route to the Coventry Canal remained closed. A society, now known as the Lichfield & Hatherton Canal Trust, was set up with the aim of restoring the closed section. Many years of fund raising and gaining of local support ensued. However, while the society were in the business of saving the canal, the local councils were only to keen to sell bits off.
During the 1970’s and 1980’s numerous stretches of the abandoned eastern end, the Cannock Extension and other short branches were taken over by private owners. In some cases the canal was simply filled in, in others it was built over and in others it was ploughed up and used as farmland.
The Lichfield & Hatherton Canal Trust received a donation to enable them to purchase private land through which the abandoned stretches of the Wyrley & Essington Canal past. In December restoration began near Lichfield under a scheme named the Darnford Lane Project.
As well as rebuilding old lengths the route would also include the first new stretch of canal to be built on the BCN for around 150 years. As well reconnecting the abandoned main line to the Coventry Canal the trust also started to reconnect the Cannock Extension to the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal via the former Hatherton Branch.
With work still going on as part of the Darnford Lane Project, excavation work was done on Lock 18 at Fosseway Lane. The lock was found to be in good condition and money was donated to restore the lock and the lengths of canal on either side of it.
It was announced that the Lichfield & Hatherton Canal Trust were running the novel idea of a sponsored pile! The scheme was named “Pile ’em in”,allowing the sponsorship (for £15) of a piece of canal bank piling. As an added incentive the sponsored piling was to be personalised. The scheme was a great success, raising over a £1,000 with many yards of piling paid for by the public. Another good fund raiser was the sale of a video which showed the canal’s history and the progress made on restoration so far.
While there was plenty of good news for the Wyrley & Essington Canal, there was also a big dark cloud hanging over the whole restoration. A new relief road was planned which would cross both the Lichfield end of the canal and the Hatherton end. The problem was not that the road would block the canal but that the government were insisting that the Trust pay for the necessary bridges and aqueducts.
With restoration still going on, and funding still in the balance, the Wyrley & Essington story is unfinished. Further details will appear here.
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The Wyrley & Essington Canal Route
The Wyrley & Essington Canal starts at Horseley Fields Junction near the top of the Wolverhampton flight on the Birmingham Canal. The junction can be accessed on foot from the road named Horseley Fields (A454) in Wolverhampton.
The canal’s first few miles are surrounded by houses and industry, numerous busy basins once lined the canal though most of these are now closed and filled in. At Heath Town a large railway bridge – almost a tunnel – crosses the route while another railway emerges from its own tunnel beneath the canal at the same point. Within a mile the canal reaches New Cross where the Bentley Canal once left, heading east from Wednesfield Junction. This junction can be accessed from Wolverhampton Road (A4124) directly opposite New Cross Hospital.
The Bentley Canal is marked on the 1992 Birmingham A-Z street map but, sadly, in 1996 an item in Waterways World magazine reported that the whole canal had recently been wiped out. It headed directly east in a dead-straight line through about half a dozen locks and then continued slightly less straight to the Ansons Branch of the Walsall Canal. For a more complete description of the whole Bentley Canal see the file on the Walsall Canal.
After Wednesfield Junction the Wyrley & Essington Canal’s meandering loops begin as it heads (supposedly) east through a mixture of urban streets, industrial sites, village greens, open spaces and reclaimed mine land. About 3 miles past Wednesfield, at Rough Woods, the main line bends north and runs alongside the M6 to Sneyd Junction. This junction can be accessed to the south of Sneyd Lane (A4124). Near the junction is a “public open space” containing a number of small lakes. To the north is the original main line, later known as the Wyrley Branch which also leads to the Essington Branch.
Back at Sneyd Junction it is clear that the Wyrley Branch was built as the main line. The route to Walsall is via a sharp right turn followed by another within a few yards. As the canal turns south east an arm used to head north for a few yards. This was the Sneyd Branch which served Sneyd Lane Colliery.
The Wyrley & Essington Canal travels more or less south east for almost a mile until Leamore. It then suddenly turns north east but the original line was straight on. This is Birchills Junction where the Walsall branch leaves the main line and travels for a few hundred yards towards the town centre. This navigable branch connects to the Walsall Branch Canal which immediately travels down 8 locks to meet the Walsall Canal main line. Birchills Junction can be accessed from Green Lane (A34) close to the junction with Stephenson Avenue.
To the north of Walsall the main line wriggles around in a generally north easterly direction. On route it passes under Bloxwich Road (B4210) and then squeezes between the urban streets of Coal Pool and Harden. Approaching Gascote the canal bends north west for a mile alongside some slightly greener “open space” areas.
After passing through Little Bloxwich, accessed from Lichfield Road (A4124), the canal curves around to the north east finally free of suburbia with open countryside all around. North of Little Bloxwich the canal reaches a junction where the Lord Hay’s Branch (now disused but still marked in the A-Z) was built travelling west towards Newtown (on the A34). The main line continues to bend around until it faces east and reaches Pelsall Junction where the Cannock Extension begins. Pelsall Junction has no roads close to it but it is a short walk from Norton Road (B4154) or across the parkland at Pelsall Wood.
A few hundred yards east of Pelsall Junction the main line of the Wyrley & Essington Canal passes under Norton Road (B4154) and then bends south east under Lichfield Road (A4124). The canal then turns north east to run parallel to the road, on the turn there used to be a junction with an arm heading south west between the streets of Pelsall.This was the Gilpins Arm.
The main line crosses under the A4124 for a second time at High Bridge.About 600 yards further on it takes a sharp turn south east with another branch, the Slough Arm, continuing straight on to the north east.
Curling about but travelling generally north east the Wyrley & Essington main line passes under Pelsall Road (A4124) for a third time and then turns south east through Brownhills. The town wharf has been turned into a well kept public area beside a supermarket. The old basins can still be seen close to Silver Street. After a further ¼ of a mile the main line curves east, on the bend is Catshill Junction where the Daw End Branch heads south (indirectly) to the east side of Walsall on route to the Tame Valley Canal.
The main line of the Wyrley & Essington Canal leaves Catshill Junction heading east but within ¼ of a mile it bends north. Here there used to be a long arm heading east to Sandhills. The arm has long since been filled in but its line is shown in the Birmingham A-Z as a dotted track. At its eastern end, west off Lichfield Road (A461) is a group of old canal buildings though these are situated on private land.
Less than a mile further on the main line reaches Ogley Junction. Heading north but soon bending west is the Anglesey Branch which was originally built only as a feeder from Chasewater, a large reservoir on the north side of the A5. Ogley Junction can be reached along the Anglesey Branch towpath from Lichfield Road (B4155). An elegant cast iron bridge takes the Anglesey Branch tow path over the main line. The main line used to turn sharply east but sadly the 7 miles or so from here to Huddlesford were abandoned in 1954, most of the line has now been filled in and is mostly on private land.
From Ogley Junction the main line is still navigable for a few yards and is used as moorings for BW maintenance boats. Beyond the moorings was the first lock flight but locks 1 & 2 have been filled in and are now part of the gardens of 2 houses. These houses were formerly lock cottages and were in fact the highest numbered BCN cottages (270 & 271). Richard Chester-Browne (in “The Other Sixty Miles”) says locks 3 & 4 were intact in 1980 but were in the gardens of private houses and therefore a polite knock at the door is needed to ascertain whether they still exist. Lock 5 still exists though it is completely hidden by dense undergrowth. It was situated just west of Warrenhouse Bridge on Barracks Lane. A sign posted path on the far side of the bridge may well be the former towpath but lock 6, which was just a few yards east, has gone without trace.
The outline of the nearby side pond can be made out from the shape of garden fences and lock 7 can just about be recognised from Lichfield road (B4155). The canal curved north to lock 8 which is thought still to be intact though there is no public right of way to it. The canal turned east before reaching Watling Street and its embankment can still be seen from the junction of the A5 and the B4155.
The canal now winds away from public view in a south easterly direction. Its next traceable location is beside the Boat pub on Boat Lane (A461), now a busy dual-carriageway. Before the road was widened Boat Bridge used to stand close to the pub. The raised pavement in front of the pub indicates the original line of the road and a line of tall trees gives away the route of the canal. If – or when – this stretch of canal is restored, the Boat pub may well be a popular mooring point. Dream on.
The canal bed runs parallel to the A461 in a north easterly direction but most of the route has been filled in. Watling Street (A5) crosses over the route about 50 yards east of the A461 roundabout (known as Muckley Corner). The parapet on the north side of the bridge still exists though the south side was removed when the road was widened. To the north of the bridge the canal bed has been taken over by a nursery and is now full of trees. Locks 9, 10 and 11 were on this 400 yard stretch but it is not known if they have been removed or simply filled in.
Beyond the nursery the A461 crosses for a second time as the canal snakes north west and then north east. The bridge is a concrete structure built in the 1920’s. If one is (very) lucky water can sometimes be seen in the canal below. A house called “Canal Cottage” stands close by. Sadly, the canal north of here up to Coppice Lane was filled in by the council in recently years.
Coppice Lane Bridge has now gone and Lock 12, which was just south of the bridge, has been broken into pieces. A straight north easterly section follows beyond Coppice Bridge and the canal holds water though it is very overgrown. The canal crosses an embankment past an old wharf which served a pumping station. Today the canal turns sharp right where the railway (formerly a LNWR line) swings from west to east. The original canal used to go a few yards beyond the railway on a longer loop but it was re-routed when the railway was constructed. Immediately after the right turn the canal line is crossed for the third and last time by the A461.
Pipehill Bridge, a Victorian blue brick structure, still stands. East of the main road the canal twists around to the north east, its course could be followed if only the dense undergrowth could be cleared away. This stretch alternates between embankment and cutting until Wall Lane Bridge. This was the last surviving original bridge on the abandoned stretch of the Wyrley & Essington Canal but it too has now been demolished. North of Wall Lane were locks 13 to 17. Some of these were intact until recent years but all have now completely gone beneath a horse paddock.
Fossway Lane crossed the canal directly below lock 17. Lock 18 was a little further north but had also vanished until recently. In 1996 it was re-excavated and found to be in good condition. Money was donated to restore it and the lengths of canal on either side. The lock cottage beside Fossway Bridge has also survived.
Nearly ½ a mile north east of Fossway Bridge is lock 19, still intact but lock 20, a further 600 yards north east, has vanished. This lock was situated east of Chesterfield Road and immediately before Birmingham Road (A5127). Shires Industrial Estate now stands on the canal between the two roads. On the east side of Birmingham Road the canal was crossed by a railway, it then swung south under Shortbutts Lane and into Lichfield.
Lock 21 was immediately before Shortbutts Lane but it and all of this section has been built on. The lock cottage at lock 21 has survived but there is no public access. South of Shortbutts Lane the canal swung around to head north east. This stretch is now a pleasant walk though the canal is nowhere to be seen. Locks 22 & 23 were here, as was St. John’s Wharf, but all have vanished.
The modern St. John’s Bridge carries St. John’s Street (A51) over the former canal, the site of Gallows Wharf is on the far side.Until recent years some of the wharf buildings survived. The next stretch can be seen from the road as the former canal runs through gardens. Locks 24, 25, & 26 were situated just east of Cricket Lane. A lock cottage stands by the remains of lock 24, the site of lock 25 can be made out but lock 26 has gone.
Lichfield bypass (A38, Britain’s longest trunk road) has blotted out the canal and lock 27. After the dual-carriageway the canal turned left to head north under Freeford Bridge (A51). This section has disappeared under a transport yard. Richard Chester-Browne says a road has been built on the canal from here to Darnford Bridge but it is not marked on my map. Half way along this stretch was lock 28.
Darnford Lane, the minor road to Whittington, is the scene of the start of restoration but as you will have noticed from my description, it will take a lot of work before boats travel along this route to Ogley Junction. It is just over ½ a mile to Cappers Bridge on anther minor road to Whittington, lock 29 was on this section but it has been filled in.
Lock 30 is situated a few yards above Cappers Lane, it is intact complete with gates, a lock cottage stands beside it. From the lock the canal has been dredged and is in water. Cappers Bridge has been flattened but the canal is navigable to the north of it.
The waterway is currently used by Lichfield Cruising Club and is therefore not accessible but within 600 yards Huddlesford Junction is reached and the Wyrley & Essington Canal meets the Coventry Canal, the area around the junction has been fully restored.Huddlesford Junction can be found on the Coventry Canal to the north of Whittington.
The original route of the Wyrley & Essington Canal (as opened in 1795) continued straight north from what is now Sneyd Junction and ran for nearly 5 miles to the south of Great Wyrley. When the main line construction continued eastwards this line became known as the Wyrley Branch. The Wyrley Branch is still clearly marked on the Birmingham A-Z.
Immediately north of Sneyd Junction it entered the bottom lock of 5 on the branch. The lock is still in good condition though it has no gates. The branch then ran under Sneyd Bridge at Sneyd Lane (A4124) with the second lock (No.4) immediately beyond the bridge. Sneyd Bridge is now an embankment, for many years the top end of lock 4 could be seen at the foot of the embankment but this and the next 2 locks (just to the north) have now been buried under the new Vernon Way which was built on the canal’s bed.
This new road curves around Sneyd reservoir which used to feed the canal. Canal houses can still be seen near the reservoir. The feeder can no longer be traced but it ran into the canal just above the top lock which can still be seen just beyond the point where the road bends away to the west. From the top of the 5 Sneyd Locks the Wyrley Branch is still in water though it is very weedy. It passes the site of a basin on the west bankwhich served Hilton Colliery and then it begins to swing round to the east. On the brow of the bend is the junction with the Essington Branch. This left the Wyrley Branch heading north west.
The Wyrley Branch snakes around to head north east at the back of a housing estate. Just before reaching Broad Lane (B4210) it dries up and is now filled in. Broadlane Bridge is now an embankment but the canal’s line can be followed beyond it as the route leaves the West Midlands (formerly Warwickshire) and enters Staffordshire.
Within a few hundred yards a railway (formerly a LNWR line) crosses the route. On the northern side of the railway water reappears in the branch though the channel is more of a mud bath than a canal path. The towpath fairs better however as it has been resurfaced as part of a council improvement scheme. This stretch heads north across open country for about 900 yards, passing a former colliery basin on the west bank half way along and then arriving at an isolated junction.
This is Wyrley Bank Junction where a branch headed north into Great Wyrley (see below). The Wyrley Branch turned east at the junction and continued for just a few hundred yards further to end near Cannock Lodge Colliery. Although this last section appears in the BirminghamA-Z, it has apparently been filled in.
From Wyrley Bank Junction a long branch headed north towards Great Wyrley. Apparently there is some confusion over who originally owned this branch and when. It is possible that it was owned by a local landowner named Henry Vernon until 1829. In 1857 the line was definitely used and named the Wyrley Bank Branch. The first 400 yards or so can be walked up to the embankment carrying Long Lane across the route. Beyond here it was not possible to follow the towpath until recent years when it was cleaned up and reopened by pupils from a local school. For about ½ a mile the canal runs through a cutting, Baker Bridge (in good condition) crosses the route but Landywood Bridge (Landywood Lane) is now an embankment. Beyond here the canal has been completely obliterated by open cast mining.
After about ½ a mile the branch used to pass a junction into an arm which headed directly north for a few yards. This arm is listed in the Birmingham A-Z map as Gilpin’s Basin. North of here the branch is traceable once again as it travels along an embankment. It even has some water in it though this soon disappears. As it curved around to the north east the branch used to be crossed by a wooden lift bridge though this has now been replaced by a fixed steel footbridge. The Wyrley Bank Branch comes to an end on the south side of Dundalk Lane, now a housing estate, but once the site of Wyrley Cannock No.1 Colliery. The centre of Great Wyrley is about a mile further north east.
The Essington Branch left the Wyrley Branch about a mile to the north of Sneyd Junction. It headed north west past Sneyd Colliery and to what is now the A462. The branch opened in 1798 but was never a great success. In 1830 it was abandoned by the Wyrley & Essington company and therefore never even became part of the BCN. Its course can easily be seen in the 1992 Birmingham A-Z, marked as a dotted track from its junction with the Wyrley Branch, heading north west past Sneyd Colliery to Bursnips Road (A462). Up until the 1970’s some of the locks were still visible but more recently they have been covered up under spoil heaps created by open cast mining. The summit pound was the highest on any Black Country canal at 533 feet. If you are ever taking part in a canal trivia quiz and you are told this was the highest point on the “BCN”. You can now argue that it wasn’t as it never actually belonged to the BCN company!
Lord Hay’s Branch
The first access to this branch by road is on Fishley Lane. From the bridge (Fishley No.1) the canal is filled in eastwards towards the main line (about 200 yards away). On the west side of the bridge the canal is better defined and can even be seen in water (sometimes). Sadly the towpath cannot be accessed as it is fenced off but the canal headed west for about 600 yards to the site of Fishley No.2 Bridge.
The next section (about 500 yards long) has now been ploughed over and has disappeared under farmland. Its course is possible to spot because the canal used to form the county boundary and a fence now runs along its course splitting the farmland on either side of the Staffordshire and West Midlands border.
Fishley No.3 Bridge has long since been removed and 200 yards further west Newtown Bridge on Stafford Road (A34) has also completely gone.The A34 is one of the country’s longest trunk roads, it now crosses the former branch on an embankment. On the west side of the embankment the canal used to turn north almost parallel with the main road but none of this stretch has survived. The branch ended close to what is now Newtown Farm, only a matter of a few hundred yards from the end of the Wyrley Branch.
Cannock Extension Route
The first mile or so of the extension is still navigable despite it not being visible on the Birmingham A-Z street map. This is in contrast with other canals which are clearly shown despite having been filled in over 150 years ago!
The extension travels dead-straight, northwards, across Wyrley Common. The end of the navigable line is now at a boatyard in Norton Canes close to Watling Street (A5) but in working days the extension continued north into the coal fields around Cannock Chase. It was the collieries on the extension that brought the Wyrley & Essington Canal its biggest profits. One such colliery was Brownhills, its old basin is situated on the navigable stretch of the Cannock Extension about ½ a mile north of Pelsall Junction, close to the point where Lime Lane (B4154) crosses the waterway. Another mine situated on the Cannock Extension was owned by the father of one of Walsall’s famous sons, Jerome K. Jerome.
There is no bridge under the A5, in fact, the current dual-carriageway passes the head of navigation below the level of the canal. On the north side of the road the canal line has survived though it is currently dry. Sadly, within 200 yards Albutts Road is reached where Nortongreen Bridge has been removed and the canal beyond has been filled in. The next road to cross is Betty’s Lane where Foredrove Bridge has also been removed. North of here an industrial estate has been built on the canal at the point where the route used to curve left, heading north west under Hednesford Road Bridge (B4154).
Within 400 yards Chapel Street is reached where only the west side of Norton Common Bridge has survived and the canal has been transformed into a playing field though the ground level is now higher than the canal bed was. To the north west the canal line is easy to see despite there being no sign of it on the Birmingham A-Z street map. There is no water in the cut, some parts have been flattened, are overgrown and past the site of Badger Bridge it has been ploughed over. Badger Bridge was on Stokes Lane beside the junction of Washbrook Lane.
Within a few hundred yards the Cannock Extension turned south west, Silvester’s Bridge (on Norton Lane) has been removed and beyond it the lumpy ground over farmland makes it hard to believe a straight canal ever past this way. It is nearly a mile south west to the site of Kings Wood Bridge which (like Silvester’s) was only removed in the 1980’s.Immediately after the bridge (just north of the A5) the canal turned north east and within ½ a mile it reached Rumer Hill Junction where the Hatherton Branch of the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal began.This headed west down a flight of 13 locks to Cannock and then on to Hatherton Junction.
North west of Rumer Junction the Cannock Extension continued for another 600 yards and then turned north east. The next section’s course is easy to follow but, sadly, this is only because the Cannock Eastern Bypass now runs along the canal bed! A roundabout on this road where Lichfield Road (A5190) crosses is the site of Leacroft Bridge. The new bypass continues north on what was the canal bed and after about 600 yards it crosses a junction with Hawkes Green Lane. This lane used to pass under the canal at Hawkes Green Aqueduct, demolished when the road was built.
Within another 200 yards the bypass curves north, from here the Birmingham A-Z marks the canal as a dotted line continuing straight on to the north east. At the point where the bypass leaves the canal there used to be a LNWR bridge, in fact, the bypass now uses the railway’s bed as it heads north. On the stretch marked in the A-Z the canal passes under Hemlocks Bridge. Just north of this, on the east bank, was a stable block and a tramway used to run parallel to the canal further east. Within a few hundred yards the canal curved right into Hednesford Basins. This was the terminus of the Cannock Extension, there were two BCN houses here but the basins have now disappeared under the Chaseside Industrial Estate, on Chaseside Drive off Hednesford Road (A460).
As you can tell, most of the Cannock Extension has been wiped out but it has not been forgotten. Today the Lichfield & Hatherton Canal Society are working hard towards its restoration from Rumer Hill Junction to the current head of navigation at Norton Canes. Although hardly distinguishable today, the route was quite spectacular in working days, containing massive brick overflows and high embankments.
The Gilpins Arm was named after the local land owner George Gilpin. The arm is still marked in the Birmingham A-Z, running along the back of St. John’s Road, under Lothians Road and on to Norton Road (B4154) where it appears to end. This whole section is now filled in but can be seen from the road bridges. On Norton Road it can be seen in the garden of Rose Cottage but to the west it has completely disappeared where it curved south and ended on Pelsall Common. Although it is known that the line served Far Newlands Colliery (close to Lothians Road) and Near Newlands Colliery (close to Norton Road) it is not known if it served any particular industry at its southern terminus.
Although the Slough Arm is fairly short, it is actually somewhat complicated. Its total length is now about ¾ of a mile but it was originally only about ¼ of a mile long. The southern end, adjoining the main line, was the first to be closed (during the 1830’s). Later a new mine was sunk to the north and the branch was connected to it by a tramway. Eventually this was replaced by a new stretch of canal which included a lock. This new branch became disused around 1900.
The entrance to the Slough Arm is at The Slough, access to the former junction is best gained by walking along the main line from the bridge on Coppice Side. However, there is little to see at the junction, the bridge which stood over the junction has been bricked up and is said to be unrecognisable as a bridge. Beyond this former bridge the branch is in good condition up to the former lock (about 400 yards). On this stretch there was a wide basin with a covered wharf.
The lock can still be seen though it is quite derelict, beyond it the branch has only a small amount of water in it but then it opens up into a much wider channel. Along this stretch the towpath now forms part of a pleasant wooded walk for about 400 yards to Engine Lane Bridge. This has recently been restored having previously being in danger of falling down. North of Engine Lane the canal is in water for about 100 yards but it then reverts to a narrow passage with just a trickle of water.However, this whole stretch is maintained as a linear park complete with benches. The terminal basins have gone without trace.
Daw End Branch
The Daw End Branch (which was originally known as the Hay Head Branch) was built as an extension to the Wyrley & Essington Canal in 1800. Later it became part of a through route from Birmingham to Cannock, it is still navigable and is fairly well used by pleasure boats. In the first 1¼ mile stretch south of Catshill Junction only 2 road bridges cross the branch. Over to the west are open fields but industry and suburbia are never far away to the east. At the end of this first stretch 3 bridges cross the branch in very quick succession, the first of these is Walsall Wood Bridge carrying High Street (A461).To the south is Aldridge boatyard and marina on the picturesque sounding Brickyard Road!
Over the next ¾ of a mile the route is surprisingly straight as it passes factories on the east bank and a flooded clay pit close to an old basin on the west bank. Just before the end of this south easterly stretch the branch passes Aldridge Wharf close to Green Road. It then turns west, twisting and turning in a long anti-clockwise arc around Daw End. As it does so it passes through Redhouse Industrial Estate.
On the far west edge of the arc it is crossed by Daw End Lane (B4154) at Daw Bridge and then it crosses open land with no road bridges for a further mile. Longwood Junction at the southern end of the branch is situated close to Longwood Bridge which carries Aldridge Road (A454).Here, the Rushall Canal begins, heading south to the Tame Valley Canal.The top 2 of 9 locks are immediately south of the junction and the area around the top lock has been described as “charming”. The Rushall Canal is described in the Tame Valley Canal file.
The original Daw End Branch did not terminate here however. Beyond the junction is an arm stretching south east for about 400 yards, this is now known as the Hay Head Branch though this title was originally given to the whole Daw End Branch. The first few yards are still used as moorings for Longwood Boat Club but beyond Longwood Lane the branch is narrow and shallow. It is very much alive however and is maintained as a nature reserve with a footpath right the way along it. The whole area is very pleasant.
This branch was very successful, carrying coal from the Cannock mines, but the pits have all gone now and the canal is surprisingly pretty and rural. The end of the branch is at Anglesey Wharf close to Pool Road.The line of the branch is slightly different from that originally built as it was realigned when a railway was constructed in the 1850’s. It runs right up to the Chasewater Reservoir which is now popular as a nature area and recreation site. There is a steam railway, amusement park, a sailing centre and other attractions along its banks. Take note of the dam’s valve house which was built in exactly the same style as many of the BCN’s toll houses. A great view can be had from near the valve house with The canal on one side and the reservoir on the other.
Visit the Lichfield and Hatherton Canals Restoration Trust website – lhcrt.org.uk