Sunday, 3 April 2011

Hay Inclined Plane

Hay Inclined Plane
Blist Hill Nr Ironbridge
April 2011

Whilst the network of tub boat canals which connected Shrewsbury with Ironbridge may have been largely lock free, they did have to traverse some hilly topography and through an area with very little  surface water.

Hay Inclined Plane

The answer was the development of the inclined plane, or put another way, railway tracks up a hill which carried either a water filled cassion in which a boat floated or, at Blist Hill, a cradle which carried individual tub boats.

This area turned the inclined plane into  something of an art form, with four of them in the vicinity. The Hay Inclined plane is the only one which survives, set at the southern tip of the Blist Hill Museum site. The slope carried tubs down over 200ft to the Coalport Canal below, and then into the River Severn.

Top of Hay Inclined Plane

This plane is in good repair, offering a good idea of how it looked in its heyday. True the main rails have been replaced with incongruous BR cast offs, but their placement does offer a sense of scale and proportion to the location. For the purists (and I had two serious rail buffs with me) a close examination of the slop into the canal bed at the top revealed original cast iron rails.

Most of the energy used to move the tubs will have been by gravity, but the remains of a boiler house remains which was used to help when needed.

Some inclined planes were short lived and unsuccessful, like that at Foxton on the GU Leicester Line, but this one was a big success - operating for over 100 years between 1792 and 1894.

Trench Inclined Plane

The other notable inclined plane on the system was at Trench, near Newport. This operated commercially till the canal closed in the 1930's. This was lost under the Telford sprawl, which is what has happened to most of this remarkable network.

On surprising feature of the site is the remarkably tight turning space at the top of the lift. To one familiar with the dynamics of a narrowoat it seems impossibly short, but the tubs were only about 20ft long and carried a 5 ton load, so didn't need a lot of space.

This location offers a rare opportunity to see an inclined plane layout, all preserved as a scheduled ancient monument.

No comments: