Thursday, 30 November 2017

Gower Branch Canal

The Gower Branch Canal is a fairly late addition to the canal network and is only about 0.8km long.

The canal links the Birmingham New and Old Main Lines near Tividale and allowed easier access between the Old Main Line and the Netherton tunnel without having to make long detours.

Opened: 1836
Route: Tividale, Sandwell
Distance: 0.8km
Status: Complete
The canal was authorised as part of the Birmingham Canal Act of 1768 however was not completed until 1836. It connects to the New Main Line at Albion Junction and is pretty straight up to Brades Hall Junction and the Old Main Line. The Gower Branch Canal has four locks to handle to height difference between the two canals, three of them being at Brades Hall Junction and two are a staircase lock. These are connected locks where leaving one lock enters you into the next.
Looking towards Brades Hall Junction

The canal is pretty straight

Brades Lock

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Nightingale Arm, Cromford Canal

The Nightingale or Leawood Arm of the Cromford Canal was built by Peter Nightingale (the great-uncle of Florence) to reach his cotton mills and lead smelters [1]. The arm, which opened in 1802, reached Lea Wharf, later extending to Lea Mills before being cut back due to disputes over water rights. The arm was in use up into the 1930s but fell into disuse and was closed like the rest of the canal during the Second World War.

At the junction of the arm and main canal stands Aqueduct Cottage built for the lockkeeper who looked after the lock at the entrance to the arm. The cottage was lived in until 1970 [2] but unoccupied fell victim to neglect and vandalism and is now a ruin.

[1] Hugh Potter, The Cromford Canal (Tempus, 2003) p. 106
[2] Ibid. p. 27

Friday, 24 November 2017

Fradley Junction

Fradley Junction in Staffordshire is where the Coventry Canal and Trent & Mersey Canals meet. The junction, which was opened in 1790, was an important one for canal trade due to the Trent & Mersey's strategic links with two major rivers and also with the Coventry Canal offering access to the Thames via the Oxford Canal. Nowadays the importance of the junction is for leisure users of the canals. A nature reserve is adjacent to the junction.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Aberystwyth Lifeboat Station

Aberystwyth Lifeboat Station was established in 1861, though a lifeboat had been supported in the town since 1843. In 1861 a branch of the RNLI was established and the first boat RNLB Evelyn Wood was launched for the first time. This was a ten oared self-righting lifeboat and has been followed by seven other conventional all-weather lifeboats.

Since 1964 Aberystwyth has had inshore lifeboats only after the last conventional boat was withdrawn and indeed Aberystwyth was the first RNLI station to receive an inshore boat. These can travel in shallower water than conventional boats and thus are more useful in places where most call-outs might be to holidaymakers or boaters in trouble. The current lifeboat, which has been in service since 2008, is the Spirit of Friendship, an Atlantic 85. This has twin 115hp engines that gives it a top speed of 35 knots and carries a crew of 4, it is equipped with radar and direction finding VHF [1]. The station also has a smaller Arancia A-78 rescue craft.

Aberystwyth can be a busy station, in 2014 the lifeboats were called out 41 times. Over the years the crews have been honoured for gallantry 13 times. The RNLI is a charity that could not exist without donations, please visit their website and support this vital service which has saved so many lives.
[1] Nicholas Leach and Tony Denton, Lifeboat Directory (Ships in Focus, 2013) p. 139

Monday, 20 November 2017

Earlswood Lakes

On the border between the modern West Midlands region and Warwickshire are Earlswood Lakes. These were man-made reservoirs built in 1820 to provide water for the then-new Stratford-upon-Avon canal. Although the lakes were built to provide water (and still do to the canal) they quickly became a popular leisure destination especially for residents of Birmingham. The Lakes railway station was built in the early 1900s for these visitors.
Earlswood Lakes

Canal feeder

Friday, 17 November 2017

Grosvenor Road

Grosvenor Road crosses the lock entrance to the Grosvenor Canal off the Thames [1]. Once the Grosvenor stretched up to where Victoria station is but now is just a glorified pond stretching a 100m or so.

[1] P.A.L. Vine, London to Portsmouth Waterway (Middleton Press, 1994) p. 14

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

The case of the Birmingham Ship Canal

Birmingham is famously supposed to have more canals than Venice (albeit over a wider area) but the Second City lacks easy access to the sea by larger vessels. In the 1880s there were a number of schemes to enlarge some of the canals linking Birmingham to the major rivers of the country to create a ship canal that could allow vessels in the 200-300 ton range (depending on the scheme) to sail into the wharves in the heart of the city.

The scheme which probably came closest to getting the go-ahead was a link to the river Severn near Worcester by enlarging the Worcester and Birmingham Canal [1]. The scheme envisaged going through Droitwich (so presumably the Droitwich Canal would also have been enlarged). The Birmingham City Council formed a Ship Canal Enquiry Committee to look into the scheme which would have allowed vessels up to 200 tons right into the city. The cost of the scheme was estimated at £2 million (which these days would be hundreds of millions).
Barge on the Severn at Worcester
However in 1888 the Council declined to going ahead with the scheme and disbanded the committee, citing that it was outside of their municipal concerns [2]. By now the canals were being surpassed by the railways and there were also worries that the railways would undercut the new canal (which would be a considerable engineering and financial undertaking) making it economically unviable.

This wasn't the only scheme however, a number of the city's great and good also proposed a ship canal scheme linking Birmingham to the river Mersey [3]. This canal, which would have allowed ships up to 300 tons along it would have linked Birmingham to the Weaver Navigation Canal and then through to the Mersey, Liverpool and the sea. This canal would have been nearly 20m wide and over 3m deep and would have passed through South Staffordshire, the Potteries and Cheshire [4]. However this scheme (which would have cost a mere £1.6 million) also came to naught as did a scheme to link Birmingham to the Thames [5].

By the late 1890s canals were beginning to be seen as a bit old hat as the railway network continued to grow and few if any canal schemes were in development anywhere. In many ways it is a shame none of the ship canal schemes came to fruition. Ships up to 300 tons would be much larger than anything that usually chugs alomh through the canals at Birmingham's heart. The Edwardian steamer TSS Earnslaw perhaps can give us an idea of the sort of boat we could have expected making it up to Birmingham in the early 1900s (although it would be slightly oversize at 330t). The canal schemes came to nothing though may have inspired this song...

Photo (c) trakesht at Wikipedia

[1] Charles Anthony Vince MA, History of the Corporation of Birmingham Vol 3 1885-1899 (Cornish:Birmingham, 1902), p. 365
[2] Vince, p. 368
[3] Birmingham and Liverpool Ship Canal (Pamphlet, 1888), p. 5
[4] Birmingham Daily Gazette 6th July 1888
[5] Birmingham and Liverpool Ship Canal, p. 17

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Dapdune Wharf

Dapdune Wharf in Guildford was the Wey Navigation's main boatyard and has been in use since the 17th century [1]. The wharf is still in use to support boating activities on this waterway.

[1] P.A.L. Vine, Surrey Waterways (Middleton Press, 1987) p. 86

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Three lifeboats at Gloucester

Three preserved lifeboats at Gloucester Docks on the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal.
RNLB Richard Vernon and Mary Garforth of Leeds was built in 1957 and served at Angle and Whitlow until 1988 when she was retired and sold [1].

RNLB Dorothy and Philip Constant was built in 1962 and also served as a lifeboat until 1988, being stationed at Shoreham, Oban and Relief [2].

RNLB Robert Patton (later renamed The Always Ready) is the oldest of the trio dating from 1933. It served at Runswick until 1954 until being sold. First the boat served as a pilot at Sharpness Docks before entering private ownership [3].

[1] Nicholas Leach and Tony Denton, Lifeboat Directory (Ships in Focus, 2013) p. 72
[2] Ibid p. 78
[3] Ibid p. 43

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Barrel roofed cottages of the Stratford Canal

Unique to the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal are a number of barrel roofed cottages [1]. These were built for the lock keepers or lengthsmen of the canal in the early 19th century.

While the Stratford Canal was under construction in the late 18th century (work began in 1793) the British economy ran into trouble due to the pressures of the Napoleonic War, work on the canal was suspended for a number of years before resuming in about 1809 [2].

Land owner William James helped save the canal project and came up with a number of ideas to save costs in order to complete the Southern section of the canal to reach Stratford. One of the ways to save money was on these lock keepers cottages. They were simply built single storey rectangular buildings with the "barrel" roof made from a series of arches more akin to a bridge than a house. Six were built on the stretch of the canal between Lapworth and Yarningale Common.
Bucket Lock Cottage near Yarningale Aqueduct

Another view of Bucket Lock Cottage

Barrel roof cottage at Kingswood
[1] Ray Shill, West Midland Canals Through Time: Severn, Avon & Birmingham (Amberley, 2012) 
[2] J.R Ward, The Finance of Canal Building in Eighteenth-Century England (Oxford University Press, 1974) p. 49

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Cromford Canal

The Cromford Canal was built in Derbyshire to connect Cromford with the Erewash Canal at Langley Mill.

Opened: 1794
Route: Cromford - Langley Mill, Derbyshire
Distance: 23.3km
Status: Partially watered, some canal bed lost
Work began on receiving an Act of Parliament in 1789. However the building of the canal did not run smoothly. The contractors walked out in 1790 due to issues with costs. The original engineer William Jessop underestimated how much the canal would cost to complete.

William Outram took over the project and took it to completion, but the canal proved a complicated and difficult affair involving the building of a number of tunnels and aqueducts. The first parts of the canal (on the Pinxton Arm) opened in 1792 but delays and difficulties with construction elsewhere such as at the Butterley Tunnel meant that the canal didn't reach Cromford until 1794 [1]. The Nightingale (also known as the Leawood) Arm which was built by Florence's great-uncle opened in 1802 [2]. The Cromford & High Peak Railway opened in 1831 connecting to the canal at High Peak Junction giving the canal a boost allowing trade up to Manchester.

In the end the canal cost twice as much as originally envisaged but it was a financial success. The canal carried limestone, coal, lead and iron ore among other cargos. By the 1840s the canal was carrying over 300,000 tons of cargo a year but as with all of the canals the coming of the railways eventually eclipsed it and by the late 1880s cargo has dropped to less than 50,000 tons. The canal was bought by the Midland and London North Western Railways and was used for local traffic.
The canal was largely abandoned in the early 20th century with some parts of it being lost due to subsidence such as at Butterley and road building [3]. The canal was officially abandoned in 1944.

Only a short stub at Langley Mill where it joined the Erewash and Nottingham Canals remained. However restoration efforts began in the 1970s with the towpath restored from Cromford to Ambergate and some navigation possible, though at the moment only the stretch from Cromford to the Leawood Pump House (around 2km) is fully watered and navigable. The canal retains some water as far as Ambergate.
Lawn Bridge near Cromford

Cromford Wharf

Towpath Swing Bridge at Leawood, current limit of navigation

Gregory Tunnel near Whatstandwell

Langley Mill Boat Yard

[1] Hugh Potter, The Cromford Canal (Tempus, 2003) p. 11
[2] Ibid. p. 106 
[3] Ibid. p. 67

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Welcome to the Waterways History blog

Welcome to the Waterways History blog. On this blog I will explore the rich history and heritage of Britain's many canals, rivers and coastlines. Sometimes just a captioned photo, other times a full article. I will aim update every week at least a couple of times. I am based in the Midlands so there will be a regional bias though will also cover London and beyond. The themes will be varied, maybe a canal history one day, and an article on lifeboats the other.

I have had a great interest in Britain's waterways for a long time and often explore them. I am particularly interested in the architecture of the waterways and their interaction with other forms of transport and commerce.

All content, unless otherwise stated is original and is copyright Kris Davies.