Friday, 15 January 2010

Halford Branch Canal, eastern section

Halford Branch Canal, eastern section
Church Lane to terminus near Bank Street
January 2010

The final half mile of the Halford Branch Canal initially curves round behind a factory, riding atop a substantial embankment which allowed it to cross a small valley in which was clay was found, supplying the nearby brickworks. Before the industrial revolution this area was renown for its open fields, orchards and hunting, but the discovery of coal, iron ore and clay in the vicinity transformed it into an industrial powerhouse. A close look at a map from the late 1800's reveals a myriad of old collieries, slag heaps, iron works, clay pits and brick kilns, with barely an acre left untouched. The canal ran like an artery through the midst of all this endeavour, and without the waterway and it's associated tramways, none of this would have been possible.

Access to the canal embankment was possible from Haig Street, which opened out into the grassy public area, previously the Hall End Brickworks.

Embankment on the Halford Branch Canal

Richardson's sketch of the area suggests the the canal terminated short of Vicarage Road, but an inspection on the ground caused me to believe that it may have continued beyond it, heading north into what is now a housing estate.

Halford Branch's two road crossings. Vicarage Road (here) and Church Lane (in the distance)

I hummed and harr'd about the possible continuation, wondering if it could be an abondoned railway line / tramway instead, which has caught me out in the past. However, casting a look back along the road to the Church Lane bridge site, the levels are absolutely spot on, and house builders reluctance to construct on old canal beds gave further credance to the idea. The subsequent purchase of a 1895 Godfrey Edition OS Map at a scale of fifteen inch to the mile confirmed that the Halford Branch did pass beneath the road at this point, terminating in a basin which was served by several tramways from nearby pit shafts.

The Halford Branch Canal terminus,

Well, that is it for the Halford Branch Canal. Not a lot to see on the ground today, but considerably more than was apparent on my first exploration. An area which has seen a transformation from rural heaven to undustrial hell, and then back to  a more peaceful residential limbo of the modern age.

Halfie, if you are looking for a rich inheritance from the canal  bearing your family name, I fear you will be both disappointed and penniless! This is in sharp contrast to Joshua Fellows, Managing Director of Fellow Morton and Clayton, who lived in the nearby Churchfields House in the late 1880's.


Halfie said...

Excellent, Andy. No, I don't expect any financial gain ... but the mere fact that a canal is named after me (ha ha) and that there are still recognisable bits is reward enough.

Do you have any idea why the Halford Branch is so-called? Named after a local industrialist, or canal engineer perhaps?

Captain Ahab said...

Now that is a good question - and I dont have an answer! The old maps give no clue either. I will keep my eyes open and let you know if I come across anything.

Paul Swift said...

Hi, it's Paul here, Karen the map womans hubby !
I just can't believe the info I have found on here, I have a West Brom Website showing old photos & stories of West Brom and even I have found out a few things on here I never knew !
When I was a kid we used to get on the number 11 bus from Vicarage Rd to West Brom and it used to go down the Hill in Church Lane and up Johnsons Bridge (Named after the Johnsons rolling mills), when you was at the top of the bridge, right at the brow, there was canals serving the Rolling Mils both sides of us and it was a really busy place with the sparks coming fromm the rolled iron flying across the factory
Now, we are talking of the 1960s here and that was the only Canal I have ever known at this part of West Brom but even that has gone now
I am in contact on my site with Bill in Australia who is now in his 80s and he was born in Vicarage Rd, I will ask him if he has any memories, his brain is as sharp as a die and I have learnt a lot of info off him
Thanks Andy for this, you have worked really hard and it really is a fascinating insight of the Old West Brom
Well Done !

Captain Ahab said...

Thanks for your kind comments.
I have found this exploration of the Ridgeacre area absolutely fascinating. At first glance it is unremarkable suburbia but scratch the surface and the land tells a very different story.
I am not finished with the area yet as there is still the final mile of the Wednesbury Old Canal at Hilltop to look at, and the Danks branch slightly to the west.
Your site has loads of great photos!

Mark of nb Northstar said...

I have to disagree with your conclusion about the final few metres of the Halford Branch.
While house builders do, in general, avoid the line of the canal, they also - more importantly - avoid old mine shafts. The grassy area in your photo is, I suspect, the site of the last shafts of the Hall End Colliery.

The Halford Arm is actually quite a lot lower than the current level of Church Lane and so I think the terminus of the Halford Arm is actually just 20 yards to the left (west) of where you suggest.

I managed to walk down the first part of the Halford from its old junction with the Ridgacre and was surprised at how high the embankment was at the southern end. I imagine this short stretch of lost canal will be impassable in summer; it was tough enough in the middle of winter!

Also, there is an Urban Regeneration Project online for Hill Top that has overlain the 1885 map with a current street map. This is quite helpful when exploring the Hill Top area!

- Mark

Captain Ahab said...

I suspect you are right. I did my fieldwork without the benefit of the map I later used and mistakenly thought the end of the canal curled round to the right following the line of the open ground. In fact is crossed the road and headed north to its terminus. As you say - the apparent line was actually the mineshafts. Its great to know that other people are interested in tracking down these old routes. Hilltop really is a gem for lost canals - more so than Tipton.
Illnesss in the family has thwarted my desire to explore more this winter. Never mind, hopefully there will be future years...

Halfie said...

I'm keeping a watching brief on this - always fascinating!