Tuesday, 10 April 2018

The Dyke, High Wycombe

The Dyke in High Wycombe is an artificial lake created by the flooding of an old road within the former grounds of the Wycombe Abbey School. The Dyke and a wooded area next to it was donated to the Chepping Wycombe Corporation (later the council) by the Marquis of Lincolnshire in 1923. The Dyke is fed by streams and has a separate watercourse to the adjacent river Wye.

Now the Dyke is a haven for nature and also used by pleasure boaters and people enjoying a walk!

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

River Cole (West Midlands)

The West Midlands River Cole flows North West across the Birmingham plateau. The river source is at Hobs Hill near Wythall. The river then crosses across the South East of Birmingham through the likes of Yardley, Chelmsley Wood and Shard End before joining the river Blythe at Coleshill. From the waters join the Tame, Trent and eventually the North Sea at the Humber estuary.

The Cole is a non-navigable waterway though had twelve watermills along it at one stage. It is usually shallow but due to the nature of the clay soil in the area the river is changed quickly by heavy rainfall and can easily flood.

The earliest recorded name of the river from 972AD is Colle which is an old English word for Hazel.
At Shard End

At Wythall (rather swollen by recent heavy rain)

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Canal Restoration

A 1962 Pathe news story on the restoration of the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal. The restoration of this canal in the 1960s was just the start of the regeneration of the inland waterway network we have today.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Scarfields Dingle Aqueduct

Aqueducts come in a variety of sizes, for example the M5 Aqueduct that takes the Tame Valley Canal over the M5 Motorway or the 145m long Edstone aqueduct that takes the Stratford Canal over railway lines. A rather more modest aqueduct is the Scarfields Dingle Aqueduct near Alvechurch. The aqueduct has no apparent road or stream it allows under the canal, there is a rather low walkway and that is it.

In fact the aqueduct was built for a once well-used track between Alvechurch and Droitwich. The track was built for the salt trade and existed from before the Domesday Book, which lists Alvechurch having a number of salt houses supplied by salt from the saline springs at Droitwich. The track was known as Cobley Lane (the aqueduct is sometimes known as Cobley Lane Aqueduct). More about Cobley Lane can be seen here.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Macclesfield Bridge

There are hundreds of bridges that cross Britain's canals and rivers, the names of which are sometimes quite straightforward to understand though others are rather more mysterious. Take Macclesfield Bridge that crosses the Regent's Canal near Regent's Park for example, how did it get this name?

The bridge, which was designed by James Elms in 1829, was in fact named after the Earl of Macclesfield who was the chairman of the Regent's Canal Company at the time. It gained a new name in 1874 when a barge carrying gunpowder exploded under the bridge destroying it. After the bridge was rebuilt bargemen often referred to it as "Blow Up Bridge"! [1]

[1] Michael Essex-Lopresti, Exploring the Regent's Canal (Brewin Books, 2008) p. 51

Sunday, 18 March 2018

River Tame

The River Tame is the main river in the West Midlands, though is a tributary of the mighty Trent. The river's sources are in Oldbury and Willenhall which link up at Bescot and the river then flows East through the North of Birmingham before heading up to Tamworth (which gained its name from the river) and finally joins the Trent at Alrewas and then you eventually reach the North Sea via the Ouse.

The Tame basin is the most urbanised in Britain with 42% of it in built-up areas. This has had a dramatic effect on the river with it becoming notoriously polluted during the Industrial Revolution and was once regarded as one of Britain's dirtiest rivers. Although the river has never been made navigable (although there were proposals in the 19th century to use it and the Trent to link Birmingham to the Humber) it was heavily used for industrial and agricultural processes from as early as the 12th century.

However the nature of the river meant that this was later than in some other areas. A number of water mills were sited along the river in places such as Sandwell, Bromford and Minworth to grind wheat. Later on the power of water was used to drive bellows and hammers. Such was the demand of industry on the river and its feeding streams that there were often disputes between millers over water supply. Some furnaces in places like Hamstead had to be closed down due to insufficient water supply however by the 19th century steam was replacing water wheels as the primary source of power.

Much of the river's early course, especially in its Willenhall and Oldbury Arms have been modified by man. The construction of the motorways also meant that the course of the river had to be changed especially near the Gravelly Hill Interchange (Spaghetti Junction) in Northern Birmingham and near the M5 in Bescot.

More recent remodeling from the 1980s onwards has tried to prevent flooding and also improve the habitat for wildlife. Now much of the river is a haven for wildlife including geese and swans but flows quietly away from much attention as is winds its way through the big city and beyond.
Alongside the Aston Expressway near Spaghetti Junction

At Holford

At Tamworth

W.B. Stephens (Editor). "Economic and Social History: Mills." A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 7: The City of Birmingham (1964): 253-269. British History Online. Web. 19 April 2012. <http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=22970>
Post Office Directory of Birmingham, 1867 p 359
History, Gazetteer & Directory of Warwickshire, 1850 p 84

Charles Anthony Vince, History of the Corporation of Birmingham Vol 3 1885-1899 (Birmingham: Cornish Brothers 1902), p 366

Friday, 16 March 2018

Typhoo Basin

Typhoo Basin is a short arm of the Digbeth Branch Canal in Birmingham which takes it's name from the 1930s built Typhoo Tea factory which used to operate here on Bordesley Street. The basin is not the most welcoming for boaters (and often locked up out of use). However the site may become a high-tech centre for innovation in a £200 million project called STEAMhouse which will be located in the factory. The wharf as well would spruced up and made a lot more welcoming and visitor friendly.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

LV14 Lightship Sula

Lightships are basically mobile lighthouses. They are used in waters where it is impractical/impossible to build a permanent lighthouse. Lightships have been in use around British waters since 1734 and a number are still in use around the coast. These days lightships tend to be unmanned.

A number of older lightships still survive as preserved boats. One of them is Lightship Sula which once served at Spurn Head off the Humber estuary. Sula was decommissioned in 1985 and has had a varied life since in retirement including being the headquarters of a yacht club and an alternative therapies centre. Now it is moored at Gloucester Docks.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Wednesbury Old Canal

The Wednesbury Old Canal is part of the Birmingham Canal Navigations and links the Walsall and Birmingham Main Line Canals. The canal was opened as part of the original Birmingham Canal in 1769. Later canal building replaced part of its stretch especially where it met the later Birmingham New Main Line.

Opened: 1769
Route: West Midlands
Distance: 7.1km
Status: Partially open, some canal bed lost
Like most canals the Wednesbury Old Canal went into decline in the 20th century and was considered abandoned in the 1950s. However parts of it are still available for navigation.

The Ridgacre Branch and the canal from Swan Bridge Junction to the original termination point at Balls Hill Basin are no longer accessible to boats have due to a new road bridge which left insufficient headroom for boats.

The canal is still navigable for over a mile between Pudding Green and Ryder's Green Junctions (and a little beyond the latter).

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Wootton Wawen Aqueduct

Wootton Wawen aqueduct, in the Warwickshire village of Wootton Wawen, is one of three aqueducts on the Southern section of the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal. Like the other two (Yarningale and Edstone) the Wootton Wawen aqueduct is unusual in having the towpath on the same level as the canal bottom.

The aqueduct was erected in 1813 by the Stratford Canal Company and is a cast iron trough with integrated towpath.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

St Katharine Docks

The Thames in London used to have a number of docks, of which St Katharine Docks was just one of them. Located on the North bank of the Thames near Tower Bridge the docks was named after a hospital, St Katharine's by the Tower, which once stood on the site. The whole area was redeveloped in the 1820s with the hospital, thousands of homes (mostly rather poor slums) and other buildings demolished to build the docks area and large warehouses.

The docks opened in 1828 but were not a rousing success, they could not accommodate large ships which hindered their commercial viability though the docks remained busy. St Katharine Docks was one of the first of London's docks to be closed in 1968. The docks became a marina with most of the warehouses demolished (those which still stood - a number had been destroyed in the Second World War). 

The area of St Katharine Docks has now turned full circle with housing once more filling the area - though nowadays the houses are expensive flats not slum houses.

Monday, 26 February 2018

RNLB City of Sheffield

One of the exhibits at the excellent National Emergency Services Museum in Sheffield is a retired Tyne class lifeboat which carries the city's name. Lifeboat 1131 City of Sheffield was built in 1988 at Wright/Souter and served at Whitby, Ramsgate, Hartlepool, Relief and Poole lifeboat stations [1]. It served at Poole for the longest, saving over six hundred and fifty people in fifteen years service before being retired in 2016 [2].

[1] Nicholas Leach and Tony Denton, Lifeboat Directory (Ships in Focus, 2013) p. 105
[2] "RNLI City of Sheffield: Lifeboat which saved 650 people retired" <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-dorset-37940364>

Monday, 19 February 2018

Penarth Marina

Penarth Marina, on the other side of Cardiff Bay from Cardiff, is a prime example of how the waterways have changed from commercial to leisure use. The site was originally Penarth Dock a port which was very busy in the late nineteenth century though slowly declined throughout the twentieth to finally close in 1960.

While some of Penarth Dock's old basins were filled in and lost for continued marine use for housing, some were redeveloped to create a marina for leisure craft that now opens out onto Cardiff Bay. The marina opened in the late 1980s and now has berths for over three hundred small boats.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

North Dock, West India Docks

The West India Docks are three docks on the Isle of Dogs in East London, now part of the Canary Wharf financial district. Once however they were part of a very different kind of trade being an integral part of the thriving London Docklands.

However the docks, as with other traditional docks around the UK went into decline post World War Two as much trade switched to container ships which required purpose built new facilities. By the end of the 1970s most trade has ceased in this part of London and the area was in heavy decline. The area was regenerated in the 1980s to become the shiny commercial and retail hub it is now, although some parts of the docks were lost due to rebuilding (one of the docks was partially lost to become a tube station) most were retained as part of the redevelopment as skyscrapers rose and the old warehouses became apartments and restaurants.

North Dock was once the Import Dock and could contain up to six hundred vessels. There are somewhat less there now but a rather lovely collection of preserved ships all the same.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Bourne End Mill Arm

The Bourne End Mill Arm is a formerly navigable arm off the Grand Union Canal near Hemel Hempstead that served a water powered corn mill at Bourne End. A mill has been on the site since 1289 though the current mill building dates from the nineteenth century. It is now a hotel and restaurant.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Cardiff's Norwegian Church

Like many ports Cardiff was home to communities of overseas merchant seamen, including many Norwegians. Norway has one of the largest merchant fleets in the world in the nineteenth century and Cardiff was a major hub of operations.  To serve the large and growing Nordic community in Cardiff a church was built and consecrated in 1868. The church became the centre of the expatriate community and a place of refuge in times of war including during the Second World War for Norwegians who could not return to their Nazi occupied homeland.

Cardiff was declining as a trade port in the twentieth century, a decline which hastened after the war. The Nordic community in the city thus also declined, the church was eventually closed and deconsecrated in 1974. The church fell into ruin and was threatened with demolition. Luckily the church had been built from iron sheets to allow it to be moved if necessary. This allowed the church to be dismantled and stored in 1987. The church was reassembled in 1992 as part of the redevelopment of Cardiff Bay and is now an arts centre.

One notable member of the expatriate community in Cardiff was Roald Dahl who was born in the city in 1916 and baptised in the church.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Islington Tunnel

Islington Tunnel is 878m long and takes the Regent's Canal under the Angel area of Islington. The tunnel was opened in 1818 and has no towpath. Before canal barges had their own built-in source of power barges had to be legged through the tunnel. This meant that men had to lie on top of the barge and push the barge through the canal with their legs - no doubt quite a tiring job in a 878m long tunnel!

Later on a chain on the canal bed was fitted to haul barges through pulled by a steam tug and later diesel. It went out of use in the 1930s, by then most barges could get through the tunnel without any help.
East end of tunnel

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Corn by canal

A Pathe newsreel on the importance of the canals for inland trade in 1940.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Yarningale Aqueduct

The Southern section of the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal has three aqueducts of which the Yarningale is the first (if you are heading to Stratford from the North, or the last if the other direction of course!)

The very short Yarningale Aqueduct spans the Kingswood Brook near Claverdon and dates from the early 19th century. Yarningale itself is a hamlet of the Claverdon parish.

The original aqueduct was made of wood but it was washed away in 1834 during the flooding of the canal and the nearby Grand Union Canal. A new aqueduct was made from cast iron at Horseley Ironworks and this is the structure that remains today. Like the Edstone and Wootton Wawen aqueducts further down the Stratford canal the Yarningale Aqueduct is unusual in that the bottom of the towpath is level with the bottom of the canal.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Soho Loop

The original Birmingham Main Line stretched from over 36km from Aldersley Junction (Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal) to the centre of Birmingham. The canal opened to traffic in 1769 and was fully open in 1772. However the original line was long and winding as it followed the contours of the land with a number of deviations to give access to the many industries in the area. This was creating bottlenecks along the route.

A much straighter New Main Line was built in the 1820s, opening in 1827. Much of the original main line was kept especially where it gave access to industry, some of the old loops becoming branches of the new main line including the Soho Loop.
The Soho Loop is a 2km section of canal which once had a branch which served Matthew Bolton's Soho Manufactory. The remnant of the Soho Branch is now private moorings. A notable location the Soho Loop passes is Winson Green prison and also Soho railway depot.
Rotton Park Junction, the Soho Loop begins under the bridge

Soho Loop

A pipe bridge

Winson Green junction, the Main Line is beyond

The Soho Branch

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Digbeth Branch Canal

The Digbeth Branch Canal was built in 1799. It is a short stretch of waterway that links the Grand Union Canal at Bordesley Junction to the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal at Aston Junction and hence enables boats on the Grand Union to go through into the city centre. The canal was built as part of the Birmingham Canal Act of 1768.

Opened: 1799
Route: Aston-Bordesley, Birmingham
Distance: 2.4km
Status: Complete
Although only 2.4 km/1.5 miles long the canal is certainly not lacking for features. It has two tunnels, the Ashted and Curzon Street tunnels - the latter carries several of the approach railway lines including the West Coast Main Line into Birmingham New Street over the canal. There are also a number of locks and bridges, plus a wharf and a basin! Its not the most scenic of canal walks it has to be said.
Originally the canal only stretched as far as the Warwick Bar where a stop lock was installed to stop water leaking between the Birmingham Canal Navigations and what became the Grand Union. However these days the canal is counted as continuing onto Bordesley (or Digbeth) Junction.
Aston Junction

BCU's new campus now dominates the skyline behind this lock

Inside Ashted Tunnel

Travelling through Aston Science Park