Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Neachells Branch, Bentley Canal BCN

Neachells Branch, Bentley Canal BCN
December 2009

This lockless three furlong (0.5 mile) branch canal exited the Bentley Canal just below the six lock flight, following a slightly curving line off to the south.

Neachells Branch from (just east of) the site of junction with Bentley Canal

Here is a mouth watering image of the Junction as it looked in 1980:

My thanks to Laurence Hogg for this photo.

The branch was built two years after the 1843 opening of the Bentley Canal, serving mines and foundries along it's short route. The navigation lasted for 98 years before being abandoned in 1953, closely followed by the Bentley itself. A contemporary visit to the site will yield a total absence of structures, but there is plenty of evidence of it's course, particularly along the middle and southern end.
There are no tell tale traces of the location of the junction with the Bentley main line, but a close examination of the maps and aerial photos suggest that the Neachells Branch started beneath the Bearing Drive / Steelpark Way road junction. (I have been since been advised that the junction was in fact 200 yds to the right of this photo , with the cabal crossing the foreground to the corner of the building in the middle distance - thanks Steve!) From here the waterway passed the eastern corner of a new retail shed (deserted at the time of our visit) and went over it's car park and out into the wilderness beyond, keeping west of the filtration beds which remain an enduring feature of the area. By peering through the car park railings the blue brick foundations of a canal type structure is apparent, probably the base of an aqueduct carrying the Neachells Branch over a small stream.

Line of Neachells Branch beyond abandoned discount outlet

Neachells canal bed looking north to Watery Lane

By retracing our steps we were able to circle round and get to the far side of the stream, picking up the line as it crosses Watery Lane. The next 400 yards are the richest historical section on the whole arm. The canal bed has been cut into and a small stream has been diverted along its course, thereby preserving it's profile for a short length. After all the obliteration up to this point it was quite exciting to be able to jump down into the old canal bed and see the actual line from a boaters perspective.

Neachells Branch south of Watery Lane

Neachells Branch continues behind Noose Crescent

This excitement is short lived as the channel soon becomes infilled once again, but with the line retained as an area of open grassland and trees topped off with a paved path, right up to the terminus where roads and railways hem in the buried basin.

Neachells Branch Terminus Basin 2009

Whilst this branch contains few tangible remains, the canal has left its mark on the landscape. Buildings avoid its danp channel and instead the route is given over to public spaces and human powered modes of transport.

Update October 2014

Laurence Hogg  provides a more accurate description of this arm:

Andy has made a mistake. The Neachells branch remains as described seem to be wrong.
I believe he followed the remains of Waddens Brook which has a public footpath roughly along its route but is east of the old canal.

The junction of the Neachells branch was discernible in the days of the Bentley being extant but is now buried beneath the southern edge of Tata's steel stockholding park. The arm ran arrow straight passing under the ex Midland railway (now completely obliterated, lowered and is the road "Steelpark way") up to Watery Lane, today that stretch has no remains, it is obliterated by the road and then filled in with Edward Howells galvanising factory and yard covering the remains. At Watery lane there was a short basin (Howells car park) but the bridge here was not removed and is still partly extant (a hump in the road with no discernible reason!) but is heavily under filled, viewed from the factory estate yard which is at the old canal level it is easy to see it was a bridge, from here it curved right through the industrial estate terminating before Neachells lane in what today is the Mercedes truck dealership premises.

Laurence - my thanks for this insight.


labrat4uk said...

You were a good 200 yards out to the east of the branch's original track. It just shows how difficult field archeology can be.
The Neachells Branch junction was at 52.5957N 2.0752W, 100 yards NE from the island. It would have crossed Steelpark Way 20 meters from the end of the cycle tracks. Its infilled bed is now used to store stillages, built on by factory buildings and a carpark until Watery Lane then it kinks to the SW of a fence as another carpark to its terminus at 52.5892N 2.0769W.

Sources :Wikipedia, maps, GE and over 50 years of local knowledge.

Captain Ahab said...

That don't surprise me one bit - local knowledge is a wonderful thing.
My reference map was on a scale of about one inch to a mile so to have got within 200 yds of the juction is pretty close - especially with almost no landmarks to latch onto. I knew the canal came east of the filter beds but with little of the Neachells Branch to be seen on the ground north of Watery Lane I had all sorts of trouble getting a line on it.
I guess it ran under the northern section of Bearing Drive, which the junction close to the little lake on the Corus site?
Thanks for sharing this with me!
I have since discovered The Godfrey Edition OS maps from the turn of the century and this would no doubt have assisted in my search.

Labrat4uk said...

Sorry, I have put us even further out. I meant West instead of East, nearer the roundabout. It was hard one to track back in the 70's and is made even harder nowadays by the changed landscape, although GIS does help out a lot.

Captain Ahab said...

Thanks Steve - I have added a correction but I hope I have got it the right way round!

Labrat4uk said...

Hi Andy,

Use the coords of the junction from Wikipedias' 'Bentley Canal page' and drop them into GE (this makes it about 35m North on the second steel stockholding accessway). Your photo looking over the Corus site from Wednesfield Way shows its site. The canal's course can be clearly traced in GE, heading due south through factories until Watery Lane. If you use GE and an oldish OS based map you can use other landmarks to help refine the course.


Gordon Nutt said...

If you go down Watery Lane from Neachells Lane after about 150yds you go over a bridge shortly before turning right into Watery Lane industrial estate. The bridge is filled in but i think this was a bridge over the Neachell branch.
Gordon Nutt