Fens Branch Canal
The Fens Branch is a short arm just above the Stourbridge 16 locks, connecting into the much longer but later Stourbridge Extension Canal (yes, Stourbridge had one just like Cannock, which is a bit confusing!)
The first half of the Fens branch in not only in water but completely navigable, with some semi secure moorings on the stub arm of the Stourbridge Extension, not that I have ever seen any boats in the area. In fact, weeks can go by without a boat making its way up to Brockmoor Junction so the place is left in peace to the anglers and the American Crayfish who abound above and below the surface.
These posts are devoted to the lost waterways so I will skip over the navigable bit (explore it for yourself next time you are passing) and cut to the abandoned section.
Old Railway Bridge to Haywoods Bridge
Narrowboats are stopped at the Old Railway Bridge, whose rotting timbers have collapsed into the canal bed and rendered it too shallow for navigation. This is a shame because the next 300 yards are deep and obstruction free, right to to Haywoods Bridge on Crescett Lane which is a reconstructed footpath bridge built on top of the original curved abutments. This reach is infested with Floating Pennywort, scourge of the canals. It's an invasive plant which creates a dense floating mattress of weed, obscuring light and killing off all the indigenous plants - a bit like the American Crayfish are doing beneath the surface.
Haywoods Bridge is blocked with rushes, probably growing out of generations of rubbish chucked over its balustrades. This is nothing new as Richard Chester Brown records the same situation in his survey 30 years ago.
Fens Arm next to Bromley Ironworks
This section runs through what were once rich coal seams and hundreds of old mine shafts are noted on the old maps, mines which have all gone and in the main been built over. Beyond Haywoods Bridge this changes and to the north you had the huge Bromley Iron Works, consumers of coal and a major user of the Fens Branch Canal, built in 1779. To the south of the iron works there was a big wharf with a couple if inlets for boats serving yet more collieries - all gone by 1900. If you were to restore this stretch to navigation this would make an obvious winding hole, where one of the inlets could be cleared and 70ft of width achieved.
Fens Arm at Bromley Ironworks Basin
The reason I suggest a winding hole at this point is that just round the corner the canal passes under the wide Pensnett Road, which runs over the site of the old hump backed bridge, with the water ducted underneath.
Fens Branch 1901 from The Godfrey Edition 71.02
In summer the length from Brockmoor Junction is peaceful and tree lined, with suburbia taking over from industry. If you fancy a visit the towpath is well maintained and well used by walkers and cyclists, with parking available in Crescett Avenue, which Sat Nav fails to recognise.
Second post in this series
Second post in this series