Wednesday 16 October 2013

Ghost Canals of the BCN - Haines and Toll End Comminuication Canals

Lost Canal Walks on the BCN
Circular walk from the foot of Ryders Green Locks to Tipton focusing on the Haines and Toll End Communication canals.
October 2013

This is canal walk No 4, and is featured in the October edition of BCNS's Boundary Post Magazine.

Haines and Toll End Canals – Boundary Post Walk

This 4.5 mile walk marks a return to the core of the BCN network covering the Haines Branch, Dixons Branch and the Toll End Communication Canal, linking Great Bridge with Tipton.

Haines Branch Canal
Let’s start our walk where the 1833 Haines Branch left the Walsall Canal at the foot of the Ryders Green locks. If you didn’t know it was there you would miss this junction completely. The canal bank has been built over and the towpath bridge removed. You can pick up the trail by following the River Tame as it emerges beyond Market Place and joins Haines Walk, which follows the line of the towpath.

The channel of the canal is reed filled but very obvious, with a cantilevered loading gantry still attached to the wall of the building opposite. It then heads south west among the trees, which line a wide strip of public open space leading to a bricked up canal bridge hole under Sheepwash Lane.

From here the diverted River Tame has been dug into the bed of the old canal as it threads through the Sheepwash Local Nature Reserve, built on the site of the Pumphouse Brick Works. The branch canal ended parallel to the big lake which fills the old clay pit. This half mile canal was dug to serve the local collieries and brick works via a number of short side arms, all of which have now been lost. This lockless arm closed in 1969.

Dixons Branch
Keep to the northern side of the Haines Branch, following the footpath into Johns Lane which will lead you to Dudley Port Station and access to the eastern side of the New Main Line Canal. Follow the towpath north past a number of aqueduct narrows and you will find a footpath turning right under the railway embankment. This is the entrance to the lockless half mile 1820 Dixons Branch. There is not a lot to see, but a footpath runs on the course as far as Station Street, about a quarter of the way up the arm. Beyond this the channel is buried under a modern housing estate and the canal was closed phases during the 50’s and 60’s.

Tipton Green Branch
Returning to the New Main Line, continue north to the footbridge at Caggy’s Boatyard where you can cross over the canal. From this footbridge you can see a stub inlet into the boatyard spanned by iron roving bridge – which is the western entrance to the Toll End Communication Canal. Directly opposite a footpath follows the line of the Tipton Green Canal to Union Street which then morphs into a liner public open space. Within this park you will find the remains of one of the three 1805 locks which used to lift the channel up to the Old Main Line in Tipton.
Rather than retrace your steps down the Tipton Green Branch, turn right along the canal and exit at the next bridge onto Owen Street. Then turn right which will take you back over the New Main Line and under the railway tracks which now bars your progress down the Toll End Communication Canal from Caggy’s.

Toll End Communication Canal
This is a real mongrel of a waterway, built in several phases between 1783 and 1809 and is as elusive as it is historic. It’s hard to believe that this was navigable into the 1960’s. The western end, down to Tipton Cemetery was part of the Tipton Green Branch built in 1805 and later bisected by the New Main Line in 1828. Today it is hard to track as its path, which runs under open ground to the north of Alexandra Road, falling as it goes. The first real evidence on the ground is a canal sized strip of land to the east of the B4163, just north of the roundabout on Alexandra Road. Don’t be fooled by Tipton Brook which the canal nearly reached beside the cemetery before it kinked in what is now a stand of trees in the middle of the graveyard. This was the junction between the 1805 Tipton Green Branch and the 1809 phase of the Toll End Branch, home to the Horsley Ironworks which made many of those graceful iron bridges.

The line then swings slightly north under Bridge Road and follows a clear curving roadway through an industrial park which sits on top of a maze of side channels serving the Cotterill Farm Colliery, before passing under Brookhouse Bridge at Toll End Road. The bridge parapet remains intact and a scrabble in the undergrowth rewards you with a good view of the bricked up bridge hole. The course of this earlier 1783 section then follows Tipton Brook, parallel to Beever Road and enters the Walsall Canal under a pipe bridge which borders the towpath.

From here it is a very short walk along the Walsall Canal to the foot of the Ryders Green Locks and the end of this circular walk.

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