Friday, 23 January 2015

Bradley Locks and Gospel Oak Canals walk (BCN)

The following walk was included in the summer edition of The Boundary Post, the quarterly magazine of the BCNS.

Andy Tidy returns to the Bradley Works and uses the C&RT workshop as a base for his exploration of the Bradley Locks and the nearby Gospel Oak Branches. This is a five mile circular walk, exploring what was once one of the tightest tangles of canals in the Black Country.

Leaving the rarely cruised Bradley Arm behind us we head south across Bradley Lane and into public open space, following 1848 Rotten Brunt Line. When built Brindley’s original 1772 Wolverhampton Canal followed the contour in a big loop to the west, and we will take a look at the on our return.
So for now we cross the shallow valley and soon arrive at the top of the Bradley Locks Branch, built in 1849 to link the Wolverhampton Level to the existing1783 Scott and Foley three lock branch from what is now the Walsall Canal. Surrounded by all the greenery and open space it’s hard to imagine the pioneering industry which proliferated in the area, the blast furnaces above ground and the coal workings several hundred feet beneath our feet. The mines closed over 100 years ago but they still play a vital role in the wellbeing of the BCN, as the Bradley pumps still pull water from the flooded workings and so provides one of the main sources of supply.

Bradley Locks Branch
This linking canal was closed in 1961, but its path down the hill remains clear and fresh. The canal and its margins are now a public open space, with the sites of the locks forming short flat terraces linked by a well made footpath. The area is popular with the locals and if you happen upon one of the older dog walkers you are likely to be tales of how it all looked as boats worked up and down the slope.
A walk further down the hill brings you to the bricked up Gospel Oak Road with its cranked pipe bridge, after which the piped canal returns to water and the last two locks which have been semi restored. These locks, either side of the railway bridge, give a good idea of how the flight used to look, followed by several hundreds of yards of canal in water which takes you to Moorcroft Junction and the still navigable Walsall Canal.

Monway Branch
At Moorcroft Junction a convenient footbridge doubles as a pipe bridge and carries you to the Walsall Canal towpath, whereupon you turn right / south for about 1/3rd of a mile, or 30 chains according to my map (80 chains per mile).
One can be tempted to zip along the towpath to Wiggins Mill Pool, but before we do we need to pause half way along where there is an almost imperceptible widening of the canal south of Moorcroft Drive Bridge. This is the entrance to the lost Monway Branch, which extended for over half a mile to service a number of heavy industrial sites, which have all been swept away by redevelopment. The one tantalising link to this arm is Monway Terrace, a modern road which lies a hundred yards or so from the end of the branch.

Gospel Oak Branch
Walk under the railway bridge and you arrive at the junction with the Gospel Oak Branch built in 1800, which heads west for half a mile parallel to the Bradley Locks Branch. The junction retains one of its two railway interchange basins and some very attractive cast iron roving bridges.
The start of the canal is in water but this soon peters out and is replaced by a linear open space which exactly tracks the lockless old canal bed as its wound its way between collieries and furnaces to terminate beside Gospel Oak Road. For a brief period the Dumaresq Branch continued on beyond the garage and up through two locks to the Gospel Oak Ironworks, generally following the line of today’s Coronation Road. This arm is squeezed in between the Old Main Line at Asda to the north, and the Upper Ocker Hill Branch a couple of hundred yards to the south. The Gospel Oak Branch closed in 1954.

A mere 300 yards separates the end of the Gospel Oak Branch from the terminal basin of the original bottom section of the Bradley Locks Branch. The line of Gospel Oak Road has not changed and suggests that this branch lies buried between Elizabeth Walk and Myrtle Terrace, but no traces remain on the ground today.
And so we return to the foot of the 1849 section of the Bradley Locks Branch. To complete our circular trip to the Bradley Works we will return to the top lock where we turn left through the trees and then sharp right before Turton Road, following the original half mile loop bounded by Batmans Hill Road and Weddell Wynd.

Before we leave the lock gate works, pause and look at the grassy area where the gates are seasoned. It’s the site of another old basin which has been filled in and the basin outside the works building was the start of another lost loop lost when the canal was straightened to Loxdale Street. Just on the other side of the road is the line of the long lost the Bradley Marr Canal heading east with its staircase pair. Lot’s to see in a very small area.

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