Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Stourbridge Extenston Canal Part 3 - to Standhills

Stourbridge Extension Canal
Part 3 - Bromley Bridge to Standhills
September 2014

The Stourbridge Extension Canal has near legendary status in the annals of lost waterway hunting.  From Bromley Lane Bridge north the pickings get increasingly thin.

Standhills Branch from 1902 OS - Godfrey

For a start they inconveniently built a housing estate in the canal line in the early 1980's, so rather that clambering through one hundred back gardens I opted for the more socially acceptable proxy of walking the adjoining abandoned railway track of which one set of rails is still in place. There was something slightly surreal about walking between the platforms of a long abandoned station (the ones you can see on the picture with the canal to the left.). 

 North of Bromley Bridge 1955

The same area in 2014

It was also very remote with no access point for 1/2 a mile. Having met a very strange chap at Bromley Junction I was glad not to run into any undesirables on this  lonely section.

Eventually you can feel as much as see the railway bending to the right, cutting a corner where the canal drifts away a couple of hundred feet. Its here the Standhills Branch left and obligingly there is an access path into Tunstall Road, which lies on the path of the canal.

Canal Bed at Standhills Branch Junction

The 3/4 mile Standhills Branch snaked north west to within 100 years of the Western Boundary Fault, being built in 1840 when there was no pre existing industrial activity along its route. 

The course of the canal is ill defined, with the entire area being regraded before the estate was built. To track its course you really need a copy of the 1903 OS map and overlay this on the modern A-Z using the few reference points available to you. As far as I can tell it crossed open space between Lapwood Avenue and Vernier Avenue, went beneath Alder Road and then commenced a sweeping 90 degree clockwise arc under the sports field of The Crestwood School. It exited at the north west corner, passing under a bridge which used to carry an extended Ketley Road at Standhills House

Crestwood School sports field - canal exited top right

The bridge was removed to the BCLM for safe keepoing, but photos remain with a constriction date on 1838 cast into the side.

The now demolished bridge on Ketley Lane

It was from here on that I expected I would find a couple of hundred yards of well preserved channel as it wound round the back of the Ketley Brick Works. Sadly, whilst it was there when Langford did his exploration in 1992, and present on the current Google Earth images, I seem to be a year too late! The Brickworks area has just been flattened with an impenetrable fence erected round its perimeter.

The final few hundred yards!

I walked round to Green Lane / Ketley Road and found what appeared to be the canal crossing point. There were even some bricks in the ground which may nave been part of the canal edging but beyond its just featureless public open space with no trace of the terminal basin. its wharves or limekilns, all submerged in waste from the Horton Colliery in the first few years of the 20th century. I guess it means its all under there somewhere.

As was the case at Bromley, the mines were closed by 1880, with Standhills Colliery being briefly reopened during WW2, but by then the canal was long gone.

Ketley Brickworks occupied a busy site at the far end of the canal and latterly the factory element was removed to allow access to the Old Hill (Etruria) Marl which was trucked for processing at the extant brickworks on Dreadnought Road, Tansey Green a little further along the old line of the canal. The site is now being leveled and presumably restored to agriculture and or housing.

With about 2/3rd of the canal line explored you would be forgiven for expecting another couple of posts as we track the route to Stallings  at Gornalwood. Sadly, the fate meted out to the end of the Standhills Branch is repeated along the rest of the course. The once mighty Corbyn's Hall Ironworks and Shutt End Ironworks both died a death and were completely redeveloped at the Pensnett Trading Estate. I could show you photos of First Avenue which lies over the course of the canal, but its all rather depressing and dull with the final basin sitting beneath what is now the Ibstock Brickyard. 

I guess its some compensation that the brick industry which used coal from the canal has survived and thrived, with modern technology managing to dig ever bigger holes  in the ground for clay. What's the guessing that in years to come fuel will be in such short supply that coal shafts are sunk way beyond the Western Boundary Fault, or maybe the area is ripe for a spot of fracking.....

Well, that's it for the Stourbridge Extension.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Stourbridge Extension Canal Part 2 - Bromley Branch

Stourbridge Extension Canal
Part 2 - Bromley Branch
September 2014

The three furlong Bromley Branch canal opened in 1841, a year after the main line and was built, specifically to tap into the surface coalfields which existed right up to the Western Boundary Fault. Up to this point the Thick Coal (30 ft) was about 500 feet below the surface and well within the reach of contemporary mining techniques but beyond the fault line it dips to about 1500ft.

Bromley Branch Canal - OS 1903 - Godfrey Edition

This close to the fault line the strata is confused and broken so the coal measures were unpredictable and prone to running out. This clearly had an impact on the associated collieries which were in some cases quite short lived. 

Canal Trench at Bromley Junction

A note about the Western Boundary Fault. If you have any interest in geology: it runs generally north / south and represents the western edge of the thick coal seam on which this the region built it's prosperity. The absence of accessible coal beyond this line, which extends up to Cannock Chase, resulted in little mining activity along the line of the Staffs and Worcester, and the consequent survival of most of the original built canal structures. By contrast, come up the Stourbridge Canal and review the area between locks 4 and 5 of the Stourbridge16. Higher up there is much evidence of lock sides and bridges being built up to compensate for subsidence, but none lower down.

Canal Wall opposite Bromley Junction

But back to the Bromley Branch. It exited the main line to the west, just above the Stop Lock with a brick roving bridge. There are no remains of the bridge but some well built canal wall is evident opposite. Furthermore, the saucer shaped channel is visible and represents a marked depression as you walk the towpath to Bromley Bridge.

The short waterway served a cluster of collieries including Slaters Hall, Little Meadow, and Coal Leasowes, but all had closed by 1882 by which time the arm had been drained. Coal Leasowes was briefly re opened in the first two decades of the 20th century and the reopened canal is clearly marked in the 1903 OS map of the area (above).

Cinder path following the towpath (canal was on the left)

Unusually for the Stourbridge Extension, the track of the canal is completely accessible with a cinder path pretty much following the line of the towpath. The canal channel occupied the linear space to the north of the path, with the back of the gardens being the far side of the route. A concrete pad extends over the route and was presumably to offer foot access to The Lays Iron Foundry site.

Bromley Branch terminus at Crab Lane

From there the route continues on twisting north at the far end and terminating at Crab Lane with the charmingly named Dingle Primary School occupying the site of Burrows Colliery, the last colliery before reaching the fault line.

 The weeded line heading north from Bromley Junction

The canal channel beneath Bromley Lane Bridge

The canal between the Bromley Junction and Bromley Bridge was in water till the 1960's and is still a weed filled ditch with the canal passing through the western arch of the Bromley Lane bridge (The Kingswinford Branch of the Railway used the other one).

Friday, 26 September 2014

Stourbridge Extension Canal - Part 1 Bromley Basin

Stourbridge Extension Canal 
Part One - Brockmoor Junction
September 2014

Other posts in this series:

1. Bromley Basin - this post.
2. Bromley Bracnh and Bromley Bridge
3. Standhills Branch

The Stourbridge Extension is one of the last substantial sections of the region's lost canals and with this reviewed it only leaves the Dudley No 2 in the Lapal are before I am scratching at oddments here and there.

Stourbridge Extension Canal - J Ian Langford

Its a fair trek from our Sutton Coldfield base and my visit has been repeatedly delayed but finally I had a day to myself and an opportunity to drive to the far end of the network.

Brockmoor Junction

There are over three miles to the Sturbridge Extension when you include the Bromley and Standhills Branches but it served numerous collieries and brickworks which are both notoriously hard on any abandoned canals which happen to pass through their territory. A quick look at past account and a fly by via Google Earth suggested that there would be thin pickings but hey, you never know what you will find till you walk the line.

Transhipment Warehouse at Brockmoor Junction - 1968

This was a late addition to the network, being built in the 1830's and opened in 1840. Whilst it was financially successful, linking many iron works, collieries and brick works, its heyday was short and trade was soon lost to the Kingswinford Branch of the GWR which was completed in 1860 and whose tracks still follow the route of the canal, rarely straying more than 100 feet.

Picturesque Stourbridge Extension Canal / Bromley Basin in 2014

Just beyond the end of the navigable section the canal narrows to the remains of the curious 132 foot stop lock which could be used in either direction, whichever was higher.
Today the site is overgrown but traces of the lock edge can be found underfoot. This lock was soon found to be unworkable and it was accepted that the Stourbridge Extension and the Fens Branch would be on a  single level. 

 Bromley Basin and entrance to Bromley Branch 1956

A surviving fragment of the stop lock

Apart from serving as a gauging station for many years but in 1936 a guillotine lock was instated when water was found to be emptying into old coal working. These guillotines were removed in the 1960's at the same time as the covered transhipment shed was removed from Brockmoor Junction.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Tat Bank Branch - BCN

Tat Bank Branch (or Spon Lane Branch - take your pick)
September 2014

Whilst looking at the Oldbury Loop. I also decided to take a look at the Tat Bank Branch, originally a feeder from Fens Pools to Rotton Park Reservoir and later part extended to navigable dimensions.

 Tat Bank Branch Canal Map from The Other 60 Miles

Tat Bank Branch residential moorings

At the time of my visit it was pouring with rain, which was particularly suitable for a canal with no tow path access as it passes through factories. This was therefore a bridge hopping 

The feeder channel can still be found here and there but the navigable enlargement took place in the 1860's. It failed to generate much traffic in spite of a railway interchange basin being build and by 1900 it was quietly abandoned.

Tab Bank Branch looking east from Tat Bank Road

The branch turns sharply left behind the Titford Pumphouse,from the top of the Titford Locks. The first few hundred yard are lined with floating pontoons for residential moorings but strangely they were all empty at the time of my visit (Sept 2014). 

This short navigable section is ended by Tat Bank Bridge, but the canal continues in water as it runs through an industrial area with gantry and pipe bridges spanning its murky waters at regular intervals. To be honest its amazing its still in water as it has been abandoned for over 100 years.

Tat Bank Branch - west from Rood End Bridge

The next crossing is at Rood End Road and most sources mark this as the end of navigation. However, by peering round the bridge it is clear that there is a bridge hole of full navigation dimensions suggesting that boats can and did go further. This is the end of the watered section with any flow regulated by a valve mechanism in a purpose built narrows.

Tat Bank Branch looking east from Rood End Road Bridge

Beyond Rood End Bridge the channel continues but is reeded up. I traced the line to the next accessible crossing where Mallin St meets the Oldbury Road, Whilst there is no trace of a bridge, the canal channel is wide and suggests that this ,may have been the terminus for the 40 years of its operations. Does anyone have any views on this?

Tat Bank Branch at Mallin St - terminus?

Monday, 22 September 2014

Oldbury Loop BCN - part 2

Oldbury Loop BCN - Part Two
Brimingham Street to Old Main Line Via Bromford Road
September 2014

We pick up the trail of the Oldbury Loop as it emerges from beneath the Health Centre and Primary School.

Oldbury Loop Canal near New Meeting St

Undertaking this sort of field work does carry its risks. Fortunately my wanderings were conducted at 9.00 am on a Saturday morning but mooching around a school with a camera isn't generally very advisable and I was glad that I wasn't picked up for some sort of illicit or undesirable activity. That said, a delivery driver saw me marching round in purposeful but erratic circles and asked me if I was lost. He seemed genuinely interested in my quest for a canal which was filled in 60 years ago and suggested that I may find some remains neat Sandwell Council's offices to the north of the town.

The Oldbury Loop Canal from Bromford Bridge

I skirted round the school playing fields and managed to pick up the line of the canal just beyond New Meeting Street, an area occupied by modern housing. The line of the canal has been left as public open space and I laughed out loud when I approached Bromford Road. The canal may have gone but the bricked up arch stands clear and proud, probably the best built remains on the 2.5 mile waterway.

Bromford Road Bridge

Beyond Bromford Road the canal bed can be found in an overgrown stand of trees (behind the fence marked "Dangerous - no access"). It's course then either tracks beside or lies under the Oldbury Ringway, but the wide bit of open ground to the north of the road and the off set location of the foot bridge support (probably on the site of Cockscroft Bridge) gives credence to the canal route being to one side of the road. Certainly the 92 year old gentleman and long time local resident I stopped seemed to think that is where it used to lie.

Probable line of the Canal near Sandwell Council's offices

For the remainder the course is a matter of conjecture. The line appears to track just to the north Newfield Road, running behind an electricity pylon, behind the loading bays of the new retail outlets, and in the grounds of a now abandoned factory. The site was closed at the time of my visit but reference to Google Earth reveals a very short length of canal as it approaches the New Main Line, and still in water being used as a cooling pond.

Irregular concrete coping marking the northern junction with the Old Main Line

The northern exit to the Old Main Line is even more obscure that its fellow to the south. There is no trace of a roving bridge and the only clue as to its whereabouts is a gap in the bull nose engineering bricks which edge the towpath, replaced by a rather crude stretch of concrete.

To be honest, I never expected to find a lot of remains here but in the end the route more than justified two hours of my time and a soaking when the heavens opened on an ill prepared canal historian.