Wyrley Bank Branch Canal
7th November 2009
A trip to see the Wyrley Bank Branch Canal, or indeed the older Essington Branch wouldn't be complete without a look at Sneyd Reservoir. Whilst you wouldn't think it from ground level, this canal is one of the highest on the system at 507 feet, and the higher you go the more problematic the water supplies become.
Sneyd Reservoir at its much reduced depth
The four miles of canal above Sneyd Locks is on a single level and therefore can be fed at any point. It therefore made sense to build the holding reservoir close to the start, allowing the canal to be used to access as many mines as possible in it's initial phase of construction.
Map showing feeder channel to reservoir to capture surplus water coming down the canal.
Map sourced by Laurence Hogg
The end result it a huge earth walled enclosure immediately to the west of the locks. The reservoir was built in 1795 and was a good 30 to 40 feet deep, lifting the surface level to above the height of the top lock. When I visited the site and looked down into the residual pool at the bottom, I was struck by it's depth when full, and again as I circled round it, found the height of its banks impressive. I couldn't help thinking about the huge weight of water the banks held back, and what would have happened if they had breached. I therefore wasn't too surprised when I read an item in a local history site which described a day in 1798 when it failed catastrophically, spilling it's contents and "sweeping all before it as it ran through Shenstone, Hopwas and Drayton before it spilled into the River Tame at Tamworth". It's not hard to imagine this level of devastation when you look at the size of the reservoir.
Water inlet shaft?
On a slightly less dramatic note, the reservoir contains some curious watercourses along its eastern flank. There is a normal sort of overflow spilling out into the line of the canal above the locks, but there is also a channel which leads to an angled brick lined tunnel which dives down through the embankment, and is presumably the entry point for new water supplies. However, given the scarcity of groundwater in the area I am not sure where it all came from. I am speculating that there may have been some form of pumping mechanism which lifted water from the Wolverhampton Level up and into the reservoir. Given the many mines in the area it is plausible that the water pumped from the mines below was pushed up into the resrvoir.
Remains of old pumphouse
Today the giant earthworks stand gaunt and empty, like an iron age earthworks with just a shallow pond in the middle fed by rainwater. That's not to say it isn't picturesque, and it is certainly a popular fishing spot for the local anglers.