Sunday, 17 January 2010

Dartmouth Branch Canal, West Bromwich

Dartmouth Branch Canal
Part of the Ridgeagre Branch network of canals, BCN
January 2009

Having consulted Eric Richardson's Guide and Google Earth, I set off in high hopes of finding some quality remains of this canal, which headed off to the north for nearly a mile from the end of the Ridgeacre Branch.

Dartmouth Branch Embankment

Sadly, my search was largely in vain as the line has had acres of residential houses built on both ends during the six decades that have elapsed since it's closure.
Having made one exploration of the area I was aware that the intital section crossing Denbeigh Drive was gone, with the line buried beneath Salop Close. But Google Earth suggested that the canal track might still be found as it skirted the old Hateley Heath School (now an adult education centre) and the adjoining playing fields found at the foot of a high embankment. The historical maps of the area tell us that these playing fields occupy the site of Coppice Ciolliery, abandoned in the 1800's, and the higher ground occupied by the canal formed part the curving swiathe of Coles Farm Collieries.

Path of Dartmouth Branch through school grounds

In the event the only visible section was the length which ran through the school grounds and then a short distinctively 'canalish' line, squeezing across some waste ground just before Coles Lane.

Dartmouth Branch approaching Coles Lane

And Coles Lane is where the trail went cold. The old maps tell us that the canal followed a line now occupied by Leacroft Grove, complete with three side arms before passing under Witton Lane. Whilst the location of this crossing can be established, there are no visible remains and the final three hundred yards built to reach the Crookhay Iron and Steelworks and the adjacent Crookhay Colliery, now open ground by Moorlands Primary School. The terminus area contained  no less than three sizeable basins but sadly all traces of them have gone, covered by Schofield Avenue and James Watt St.

End of the Dartmouth Branch trail in Leacroft Grove

So, the Dartmouth Branch Canal turns out to be a bit of a damp squib from a  canal hunters perspective. However, as the surrounding mines and foundries had largely been and gone by the turn of the 20th century, this shouldn't be a surprise. If fact, the mining in the area was so extensive that the Hilltop area has sunk by an estimated 20 feet, with disasterous effects on the canal's integrity.  But if any of you guys can find some remains at the Balls Hill end please let me know (with photographic evidence).

Whilst this route may have had it's limitations, I did end up very close to Balls Hill Basin, which represented the eastern end of the nearby Wednesbury Old Canal, and the start of my next lost canal exploration.

But that is another day's story...


Mark of nb Northstar said...

More than a year later, and I've followed in your footsteps along the Dartmouth Branch. Similar findings!
There's a lot more apparent of the Halford Arm.
From the map, I've measured the exact ending of the WOC. I thought it would end up matching the depression at the end of Tunnel Street, but it doesn't. I also think that the basin was much bigger in 1769 when first opened and that there was a tramway - for some reason - heading in a curving line to the south-east.

- Mark

Captain Ahab said...

There used to be an aqueduct which crossed the railway line and delivered the canal to somewhere close to the depression. The size and layout of the depression isnt really right for a big basin and I suspect that a lot of earth has been moved in the area as it was developed. My maps from 1900 stops at the railway line, so my guess about the depression was exactly that - a guess. The tramways in the area all seem to go to coal mines (clay pits are unlikely so high up) so the tramway probably reached out in the direction of the Dartmouth Branch serving the western side of the hill. Its all interesting stuff!

Mark of nb Northstar said...

It is interesting indeed. The early tramways would probably have gone north and south from the basin rather than east. In those early days (1760s to early 1800s) Hill Top was the eastern edge of the coalfield. It was only later that the deeper mines appeared at Crookhays, Wallface and Hall End. The Dartmouth Branch wasn't built until 1828. I still can't work out **why** the Dartmouth Branch was built! The two canals are only 600 yards apart at their end points!

It's all very curious.....
Why, in 1828, was it more economic to build a canal all the way up from Swan Village and up the Dartmouth Branch, when the existing canal was only 600 yards (as the crow flies)..a little longer along the contour line to the same place?

This is even more puzzling when one considers that the Balls Hill Basin must have been **extremely** lucrative because in the early 1850s it was economic to build a substantial aqueduct across the new railway cutting simply to end immediately in a basin. It just doesn't make **any** sense. Why not build a tramway on a bridge across the railway and excavate a new basin on the western side? That must have been a less expensive option.

If you look closely at map 68.06 (I think you've got it reproduced online somewhere) you can see the an obvious curved pathway/boundary line coming from the end basin (Plot 332), passing Hill Top Foundry, crossing Hawkes Lane, passing to the left of Plot 335, over New Street, petering out at the boundary of Plots 424 and 425. I believe that this area was shallow pits and that "line" was a tramway to the canal basin, long before Blacklake Colliery was built. (I think I've read somewhere that the older colliery to the north of Blacklake had a different name....Ebeneezer Colliery perhaps?)
If you walk along the remnant of Hawkes Lane from Hill Top, you come across a low embankment roughly on that line. It's also clearly visible on Google Street View.

Finally, I believe there is another shallow coal pit just above the railway embankment (to the right of where it says 333), which may also have been a reason for the canal basin.

However, I can't find out anything about the colliery just to the north of the basin and I'm not even sure it was a colliery in 1769.

- Mark

Catherine Sommer said...

I just found this and realised you are describing the canals I used to know as a child 60 years ago - my father used to fish them (and there were some decent fish in there!) and the barge traffic was plentiful, transporting coal etc, with some people still living and working on them. As kids, we played all over the remains of the old collieries (pitmounds and slag heaps known as tocky banks, with marlholes here and there) that extended along Witton Lane from Holloway Bank to Wyntor Lane, bordered on the north by the canal. The bit of the canal that crossed under Witton Lane where Leacroft Grove is now was pretty well silted up by then, but still had lots of tadpoles and tiddlers in it. Crookhay was a dirt track following a different line from the present-day road of that name. Thanks for bringing back memories!