The Ketley Canal saves its party piece for the end.
We approached Potter Bank with little expectation of tangible remains, but aware that there used to be tunnel in this area. Imagine our delight when we walked up Shepherd's Lane and looked round the back of the terrace houses. Not only was there a beautifully preserved cutting but also the eastern portal of the tunnel which carried the canal under Ketley Hill.
Tunnel at Ketley Hill
Sadly the western end has long since been buried but as the line approaches Ketley Hall it remains in water, a surprising find considering it carried its last traffic to the hall in 1842 before being fully abandoned in the 1880's.
Open water beyond the tunnel
The canal curled round the back of Potter Bank and through an area which is now built over, crossing Red Lees at which point it becomes apparent once again. The canal bed winds round the back of Ketley Hall like a moat before terminating abruptly at the top of the escarpment, the site of the lock at the top of the Ketley Inclined Plane.
Canal bed at rear of Ketley Hall approaching the top of the incline
Whilst no photos exist of this, the first inclined plane in the UK, a commemorative token was struck on its completion in 1788. It shows the top lock which was the weakness of the design. This canal was chronically short of water and even after pumping the lost water back into the canal Reynolds still struggled to keep it full. Mind you, this was a busy route taking up to 24 tub boats a day of iron ore and coal to the Ketley Ironworks, 73 feet below.
Top of the incline
Bottom of the Ketley Incline
The incline was quite short, just 59 yards long dropping the tub boats in twin tracks for 28 years till the works closed in 1816. These days the whole area has been redeveloped and there is no clear line of sight down the plane. You have to stand well back beyond the Wrens Nest pub to get a feel for the sharp descent achieved by this innovative lift which attracted the interest of many great engineers including a young Thomas Telford.
Canal bed beyond the inclined plane
The route of the canal beyond the incline is pure supposition, having been abandoned for almost 200 years. The canal appears to have gone due west towards the ironworks, which sat beyond what became a railway line and is still a major engineering works. All the old footpaths seem to converge on a single underpass which fits the direction and the contours so it is likely that this was the point the canal entered the works. To get there it probably went through the back gardens of Waterloo Road which when followed to the rear brings you to a broad trench which runs across the grain of the terrain. I wouldn't want to put money on it but from the evidence available I suspect that this may have been part of the canal bed.
Railway bridge parapets - possible site of entry into Ironworks
Ketley Ironworks 2012 - still ugly!
That brings us to the end of the short but significant Ketley Canal, one of the first of its kind with an Inclined plane, a tunnel and a 1ft stop lock along its 1.75 miles.