Monday, 13 December 2010

Discovering the Bradley Loop - Bradley

Discovering the Bradley Loop
December 2010

Bradley, at last we have reached the far end of this expedition.

BW's Bradley works

But before we get there we have a lot of interest around us. Originally, the canal curved round to Bradley in the huge Wednesbury Oak Loop, slavishly following the westerly contour and this represented the main line of communication from Birmingham to Wolverhampton for 65 years. This all changed in 1838 when a new shorter route via Coseley which was dug by Telford, consigning this whole section to loop status. The area was a myriad of basins and arms in 1912, many abandoned but still bearing silent testimony to lost heavy industry.

But that didn't mean it was quiet in any shape or form. Furnaces and potteries lined the canal and ensured plenty of local trade. Shortenings continued, firstly the one to the north of Bradley which is now completely lost bar the roving bridges and then the big Wednesbury Oak one to the south bypassed by The Rotten Brunt Line, which crossed a shallow valley on an embankment built in 1848 and from which the Bradley Locks led off to the Walsall Canal at Moorcroft Junction.

Buried line at Bradley

A look at the 1912 map reveals an area of utter ruin and devastation. Worked out coal mines abound, sunk to access the various measures which comprised the 30 yard seam with the ground settling to fill the flooded voids. The area was also rich in ironstone and together with the coal serviced a huge iron industry. The area was hit by the recession on the 1870's and 1880's (nothing new there!) and trade finally slumped off with the growth of the steel industry in the early part of the 20th century. Steel called for large integrated works so the region moved on to metal bashing, a role it still enjoys to a greater or lesser extent today - 100 years later.

This specific area has retreated to nature sinse it was abandoned in 1950. The canal path is now an open amenity area and all those old mines, quarries and works lie beneath an unsuspecting population whose homes cover much of the site.

The northern end of the Wednesbury Oak Loop at Bradley

At the time of our visit the Bradley Works were a hive of activity, with new locks gates all assembled and stacked up, annotated with their destination locks such as Tardebigge.

Abandoned Rotten Brunt Line at Bradley

The area does continue to supply one essential ingredient of the BCN - water. The local mines were continually pumped by the Mines Drainage Board using huge beam engines but when the coal was gone the pumps were stilled. Today the beam engines have been replaced with electric pumps, sucking water from 600ft below and supplying the Wolverhampton Level via the Bradley Arm. With Chasewater reservoir empty this now forms the main supply to the entire BCN network.

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