The Other 60 Miles of the BCN

Birmingham Canal Navigations (BCN)
The abandoned sections - the other 60 miles revisited


Introduction
The BCN offers over 100 miles of navigable canals to explore but you may be surprised to learn that there are another 60 miles which have been lost over time. This spidery network sprawls north west from Birmingham city centre, covering much of the Black Country and its underlying coal measures.

An exploration of these 'lost' sections provides an interesting insight into the history of the area and has certainly taken me to some rarely visited nooks and crannies of my adopted city. The surprising thing is that whilst most of the missing bits were abandoned in the 1950's, a study on the ground normally reveals at least some tell tale clues about the past.

Perhaps the most authoritative study of the abandoned canals was undertaken by Richard Chester-Brown as part of his academic studies in the city between 1974 - 77, and periodically updated thereafter by members of the BCN Society till 1991. Thereafter these ghostly remnants have been left to their fate and their changes have gone unrecorded.

Over a period of years I have explored many sections of 'The Other Sixty Miles' which has resulted in a raft of individual blog posts. This page tries to tie the fragments together and offer a cohesive, if not comprehensive, update to Richard's work of the 1970's.

For simplicity's sake I have followed Richard's methodology of grouping the lost bits according to the canal they linked into, but this assumes a knowledge of the navigable BCN as a whole. If you are inspired to start looking for yourself, you would benefit from having a Geoproject map of the area, together with a modern A-Z. Maybe I will bump into you one day as we bash our way through a swampy thickett somewhere in darkest Darlaston!


If you click on the orange sub headings you will jump to photographic blog posts detailing my explorations. The ones in white remain on my 'to do' list. Collectively they could be referred to as 'Another Sixty Miles'. 

Over time I have been working my lost canal expeditions into walks which have been published as a series in the BCNS quarterly Magazine "The Boundary Post". Here is a link to the first walk which then links on to the later ones:

Guided walks around the lost sections of the BCN.



Happy hunting.

Chronicles from the 2012 BCN Marathon Challenge
Chronicles from the 2011 BCN Marathon Challenge

Birmingham Canals section


Avery Loop

  • A loop created by the construction of the New Main Line in 1827 which is really a continuation of the northern end of the Cape Arm.
  • The central section was filled in over a hundred years ago, leaving basins at each end.
  • Neither basins survive beyond their cast iron bridges although some elements of the line can be identified.
  • Status: Explored October 2011 - two star site

Birmingham Heath Branch (Hockley Port)
  • This short arm built in 1881 continued beyond what is now Hockley Port, stoppong just beyond the railway line.
  • The line of the canal to the site of a dismantled aqueduct is clear but there are no physical traces of Soho Wharf beyond
  • Status: Explored October 2011 - three star site

Cape Arm
  • A loop created by the construction of the New Main Line in 1827.
  • The south end was blocked by the Rotton Park Reservoir feeder to prevent boats circumventing the new Winson Green Toll Island.
  • Traffic ceased during the second world war - but some of the loop remains in water.
  • Access is difficult, but glimpses can be snatched from the feeder embankment and Cranford Road bridge, which crosses the site.
  • Status: Explored October 2011 - four star site

Causeway Green Arm
  • This half mile canal extended south from the end of the Titford Canal, built in 1858.
  • The section beside Titford pools remains in water but unnavigable, cut off by the M5 beyond Swan Bridge.
  • The final quarter mile beyond the M5 contains a residual trickle of water and can be seen from the Railway embankment
  • Status: Partially explored


Dixons Branch
  • A one mile branch off the New Main Line
  • Built in the 1820's along with the linked Horsley Colliery Arm which was abandoned in the 1880's, with the remainder closing between the 1950's and 1965.
  • The area had been completely redeveloped with housing and and no traces remain.
  • Status: No exploration planned - nothing visible on Google Earth.

Dunkirk Branch
  • A half mile branch north off the New Main Line built in 1850 and abandoned in 1953.
  • The main line junction is visible and in places the canal bed can be found, but the northern element has been covered with mine tailings.
  • Status: Explored - one star status
Gas Street Basin Arms (3 posts)
  • A radiating spread of arms centred on the basin we see today
  • Two arms either side of Worcester Bar stop lock
  • Old Wharf Arm under the Crowne Plaza Hotel
  • Regency Wharf / BBC Wharf to the north.
  • Status: Explored - a few fragments remain



Gibsons Arm and  Basin
  • A city centre branch, built in 1812 from the Newhall Branch, the remains of which is now Cambrian Wharf just above the top of Farmers Bridge Locks. 
  • Gibsons, along with Baskerville Basins sit under what is now Centenary Square, entering via a lock up - which was buried during the construction of Baskerville House and its adjacent car park.
  • Whilst no remains are immediately visible, excavations for the new library revealed some wharf foundations.
  • Status: Explored 2011 - nothing to see at ground level.

Houghton (Chemical) Arm
  • A private half mile arm off the Old Main Line at Oldbury, which remained in use till 1969.
  • The arm was stanked off 50 yards from the entrance, and the remainder has been filled in.
  • This is private land and very difficult to access.
  • Status: Unexplored
Oldbury Loop
  • Part of the original Old Main Line, cut off in 1821 before being abandoned in the 1950's.
  • Very little remains to be seen on the ground
  • Status: Explored with much to see. Well worth the effort.

Portway Branch
  • This was the second and longer arm leading from the end of the Titford Canal, built in 1837 and abandoned in 1960.
  • The canal bed remains wet to just beyond Titford pools after which its course is mapped out by trees across playing fields.
  • The bed is visible at its northern most point where a series of arms existed.
  • Status: Explored - grade two site

Tat Bank (or Spon Lane) Branch
  • One of the last branches built, enlarging part of the feeder to Rotton Park Reservoir in the 1860's but abandoned by 1900.
  • The arm remains in water, navigable for the first couple of hundred yards as residential moorings but blocked at the fist bridge.
  • Status: Explored  - an arm of surprises but only accessible by bridge hopping
Tipton Green and Toll End Communication Canal
  • This canal was built in phases, started from the Walsall Canal in 1783 and then extended up through three locks in 1801 .
  • Then the Tipton Green locks were built down from the Old Main Line to Cotterill Farm Colliery, before finally being connected to bottom end and becoming the Toll End Communucation Canal.
  • The Tipton Green Canal was closed in 1967 but remains visible in the form of a public park complete with a path through a lock chamber.
  • The remainder east of the New Main Line was closed in 1967 and infilled along its length.
  • Its course can still be traced by reference to the bridges which remain.
  • Status: Explored April 2010 - three star site
Wednesbury Oak Loop
  • The original Birmingham to Wolverhampton main line wound a painful 11.25 miles between Bloomfields and Deepfields Junctions, a distance of 4.25 as the crow flies.
  • A short cut was started in 1798, though the Cowley Tunnel wasn't finished till 1837.
  • This rendered the Wednesbury Oak section into a loop which continued in water till the 1950's after which only the section to the north of Bradley Works were retained.
  • Whilst most traces have disappeared at Bloomfield Junction, a bit of hunting will reveal the level on which the canal ran. It becomes more apparent as it winds round Summer Hill, its course now a footpath when eventually leads to the top of the site of the Bradley Locks and  into BW's Bradley Works.
  • Be sure to get a map before to try to track down these muddled miles.
  • Status: Explored October 2010 - five star status

Dudley Canal section


Bumblehole / Boshboil Arms
  • I link these two section together because they represent the 1793 through route of the Dudley No2 canal, till the Netherton Tunnel approach connected the two ends in 1858.
  • Subsidence has been an issue in the area, but the old sunken canal bed between the arms can still be found in the woods.
  • The two arms remain in water and navigable
  • Status: Explored October 2010 - two star site
Delph Old Locks
  • The nine Delph locks were rebuilt in 1858 with the top and bottom chambers retained and six new ones squeezed in between, leaving the old line out to the east.
  • Some remains, including the top pound, can still be found.
  • Status: Unexplored
Dudley No2 Canal - Selly Oak to Halesowen
  • This seven mile section was built in 1793 to connect Park Head to the Worcester Birmingham Canal at Selly Oak and included the 3795 yard Lapal Tunnel.
  • The tunnel was the weakest link and following a collapse it was closed in 1917 and legally abandoned in 1955.
  • Plans exist to restore this route, but this will have to be over the hill rather than through it.
  • The cut is hard to find along most of its length, although there some remains in the south.
  • Status: Explored July 2015 - lovely walk with rich history making up for lack of built remains
Grazebrook Arm
  • A short 400 yard arm which runs east from Park Head. The first half of the canal is in water, and possibly navigable if one really tried. 
  • The towpath is passable as far as the fence beyond which the land has been built over.
  • Status: Explored October 2010 - two star site
Pensnett Canal
  • This one and a half mile private canal runs south from Park Head, sometimes known as Lord Ward's Canal.
  • Built in 1840 and closed progressively between 1940 and 1950
  • The northern end has been turned into a road but careful exploration reveals the towpath through the middle section and then the canal bed can be found right through to the end.
  • There are even a couple of bits of water here and there.
  • Status: Explored October 2010 - four star site
Two Locks Line
  • A short cut designed to take two miles off the journey round Blowers Green / Park Head.
  • Built in 1858, closed on and off between 1894 and 1909 due to subsidence before being officially abandoned in 1954.
  • Much of the embankment has gone and its line can only be identified by the bridges at either end. Foundations of the southern lock can be found.
  • Status: Explored May 2010 - two star status
Withymoor Branch
  • A half mile canal near Windmill End, Netherton which was opened in 1803 to Withymoor Colliery and abandoned in 1960.
  • Only the entrance bridge remains, although a road marks the line of the waterway albeit at a very different height.
  • Status: Explored October 2010 - one star status

Walsall Canal section


Anson Branch
  • A long branch canal extending for aprox two miles from the bottom of the Bentley Canal to Reedswood Colliery, opened in 1830.
  • The section to the south of the M6 was navigable till the early 1970's and rumour has it that the last small boat through the M6 culvert to the Reedswood end was under the control of Mr Chester-Brown himself.
  • The final nail in the coffin were underground fires which endangered the embankment and the arm was closed off at the Walsall Canal end and filled in behind the Showcase Cimena complex.
  • The southern towpath is passable and the northern end, whilst in water, can only be accessed from the two bridges with cross its path.
  • Status: Explored December 2009 - four star site
Balls Hill Branch
  • This one and a half mile section forms the northern extremity of Brindley's original canal, otherwise known as the Wednesbury Old Canal and was abandoned in 1960.
  • It follows a circuitous route in a generally northerly direction from Swan Bridge Junction with the still in water Ridgeacre Arm, cut off from the main network by the Black Country Spine Road. 
  • Whilst no section remains in water, the line is clear and much remains walkable, albeit in disconnected segments. Sadly, no built remains have survived.
  • You will need some maps and a look at Google Earth to get the most out of this section, and it can be linked into the Danks Branch to form a circular walk.
  • Status: Explored March 2010 - three star site
Bilston Branch
  • A short arm opened in 1803 and abandoned in 1953.
  • A footpath follows its course
  • Status: Unexplored
Bradley Locks Branch
  • The first three lock section was built in 1798 and later extended through six more locks to provide a navigable through route from the main Birmingham - Wolverhampton Main Line at Bradley to the Walsall Canal below.
  • The branch as closed in 1961 at the same time as the Wednesbury Oak Loop into which it connected at the top.
  • Today its course is public open space and the locations of the locks are visible as flat terraces with a couple of the chambers restored at the bottom end.
  • Status: Explored October 2010 - three star site
Danks Branch
  • This reclusive branch veered off the Walsall Canal to the east just below Ryders Geen Locks, linking into the later Tame Valley Canal in 1844 and abandoned in 1960.
  • The one mile length served Goldhill Colliery and its northern extremity lies somewhere beneath a contemporary electricity pylon.
  • Exploration on the ground is best achieved via the abandoned railway line, accessed at either end. The railway also offers access to the two built remaining features in the form of railway bridges.
  • Status: Explored March 2010 - two star site
Dartmouth Branch
  • A half mile spur from the Ridgeacre Branch opened in 1828 and abandoned in 1948 when the surrounding pits were closed down.
  • Very little remain to be seen and it takes quite a bit of imagination to identify the line.
  • Access is difficult but best achieved from Coles Lane, beyond which the line is submerged in a sea of housing.
  • Status: Explored January 2010 - one star site
Gospel Oak Branch
  • A one mile branch which twists off to the west of the Walsall Canal near the foot of Ryders Green Locks.
  • The branch was built in 1800 and abandoned in 1954, with the bottom few hundred yards remaining in water.
  • A path lies between the banks of the old channel. All very clear on the ground with full public access.
  • Status: Explored October 2010 - two star site
Halford Branch
  • Another half mile branch canal heading west from the end of the Ridgacre Branch, built in 1828 and mostly abandoned in 1947.
  • A factory blocks the first section but whilst the line of the canal is indistinct, but its levels can be seen quite clearly where it crosses and recrosses the road. 
  • The line of the canal is mostly public open space.
  • Status: Explored January 2010 - two star site.
Haines Branch
  • A substantial branch canal striking off to the west of the Walsall Cabal just below the foot of Ryders Green Locks for about a mile.
  • Built in 1833 to Pumphouse Colliery and brickworks, and closed in 1969.
  • The initial section lies beneath a bus depot but then the channel is visible, sometimes complete with water and several road bridges. The westernmost element having is used as a drainage channel.
  • Status: Explored March 2010 - four star site
Jesson Arm
  • An obscure 400 yard arm off the Halford Arm, built to serve an old colliery. 
  • No physical traces remain, although its path can be seen in the form of  a car park.
  • Status: Explored January 2010 - one star site
Monway Arm
  • A criss cross of canals which opened in 1812 and closed in 1960's.
  • Now completely built over and obliterated, bar the bridge at the entrance.
  • Status: Explored October 2010 - no stars, nothing to find - 40 years too late!

Ocker Hill Tunnel Branch
  • A navigable branch, built in 1785 and leading to Ocker Hill Tunnel.
  • Not a navigable tunnel but one which provided a watercourse to a pumping engine which lifted the water to the Wolverhampton level to the 1950's.
  • Subsequently supplied water to the Ocker Hill Power Station till 1980.
  • No towpath access but can be inspected by boat.
  • Status: Unexplored residential arm - another short length next time I am passing.

Ridgacre Branch
  • The canal that got away - opened in 1826, restored to navigation in the early 1980's only to be severed at Swan Island in the 1990's by  the Black Country Spine Road. 
  • The result is just under a mile of canal in water, now used exclusively by fishermen.
  • Various bridges exist and the canal has the added bonus of leading to an interesting cluster of abandoned arms, making it a honeypot site to lost arm explorers.
  • Status: Explored Jan 2010 - 4 star site

Swan Arm
  • Much as it pains me to say this, but this arm has become the latest BCN casualty.
  • It formed the entrance to the Ridgeacre network, but remained navigable to a winding hole near the Black Country Spine Road till 2009 with progress through the middle section becoming increasingly difficult.
  • By 2011 the water course through the reeds was down to a couple of feet and an attempt to make a passage in 2012 by nb Tacet was foiled by sediment and a complete barrier of reeds a couple of hundred yards in from the head of Ryders Green locks.
  • The problem here is the extreme pollution in the sediment, which is toxic. 
  • Given the absence of anything of real merit at the far end I guess that this arm will be left to die - another half mile to be added to the "lost canals" tally.
  • The towpath is in good shape so if you fancy taking a look at an arm in its death throes, this is the one for you.
  • Status: Explored and last navigated in 2010

Union Branch
  • A branch created from the Wednesbury Old Canal to the Union Colliery but later bisected by the New Main Line
  • Little to be seen beyond the general road layout which reflects the canal structure beneath.
  • Status: Unexplored - 1 star site
Willenhall Branch
  • Less than half a mile in length in a north south orientation 
  • A footpath follows its path but not accessible from the canal towpath
  • Status: Unexplored

Wyrley and Essington Canal section


Bentley Canal
  • A three and a half mile canal built in 1843 from Wednesfield to the Walsall Canal via the Anson Branch, effectively closed in 1960.
  • The line used to include six locks at the top, but these were lost in the 1980's. Today the line is mostly visible within public open space but few tangible structures remain.
  • The route is now a linear park and best explored by bicycle.
  • Towards the western end the Neachells Branch headed south for half a mile. Some traces remain but this is one for an on foot expedition.
  • Status : Explored in December 2009 - four star site

  • This was the last bit of the BCN to be built in 1863, as industry grew desperate for fuel and cast around for additional coal resources. 
  • A mile and a half remains in water from Pelsall Common but the section north of Watling Street (A5) was abandoned in 1963.
  • The embankment and some traces of the canal remain for half a mile beyond the M6 Toll but beyond Betty's Lane all remains are gone, lost to redevelopment and massive opencast mining.
  • Status: Explored September 2011 - two star site
Essington Branch
  • A short branch built in 1798 to access a colliery.
  • It branched off the Wyrley Branch Canal just above Sneyd Locks and lifted the canal through another five locks to 533ft - the highest point on the BCN. Abandoned in 1830.
  • The line is apparent but indistinct, and the sites of the locks can be identified by a series of plateaus. The chambers remain buried by spoil thrown up by opencast mining.
  • This site is best approached on foot from the main road to the west.
  • Status: Explored November 2009 - two star site
  • A short private arm probably built around the time the through line was built in 1797 to serve Newlands Colliery, near Brownhills
  • This area has been completely redeveloped into housing and apart from Gilpins Crescent generally following the line of the arm, all traces have  gone.
  • Status: Not worth the effort! Google Earth shows no trace.
  • The Daw End Branch / Hay Head Branch extended five and a half miles from Catshill Junction (Brownhills) to terminate at Hay Head Limeworks in 1800. 
  • The last few hundred yards to the quarry were abandoned in 1954 with the western end used by Longwood Boat Club for moorings. The rest is in Hay Head nature reserve.
  • Status: Explored June 2012 - now a nature reserve and a very pleasant walk. 
Holly Bank Basin
  • A 400 yard colliery and railway interchange basin to the east of Wolverhampton.
  • Amazingly, it was cleaned out in 2010 and is now completely navigable and is therefore, for the time being, is no longer a lost canal!
Lord Hays Branch
  • A 1.25 mile private canal opened in 1800 to serve coal mines in Newtown, closed in 1954.
  • The dry bed cuts an east west path round the back of what is now Bloxwich Golf Course and is entirely on private land, with no rights of access at any point.
  • That said, the brave can still explore the entire length, with the eastern third being a well preserved dry channel and the rest filled in over time. Its course is apparent and the sites of the three Fishley Bridges can be identified, albeit in varying stages of collapse / destruction.
  • Access is best achieved from Fishley Lane or next to the Ivy House Pub on the Stafford Road.
  • Status: Explored September 2011 - three star site
Sandhill Arm
  • A half mile arm off what is now the Angelsey Arm near Ogley Junction. Dates of construction and abandonment are unknown.
  • The line can be identified under a privately owned farm track but no traces of the channel remain. A good collection of wharf buildings exist at the far end.
  • Access is via the Anchor Inn in Brownhills.
  • Status: Explored September 2011 - two star site

  • A one mile private canal built in the early 1800's and extended in the 1830's to reach the mines of Brownhills. Abandoned in about 1900.
  • The area is now a local amenity park built on the old mine workings, featuring a basin in water, the remains of a lock (with gates in situ) and a bridge.
  • Access via Engine Lane in Brownhills
  • Status: Explored September 2011 - four star site
Wyrley Branch and Wrley Bank Branch
  • This lost section ranks up there alongside the Bentley Canal in terms of length, stretching away for four or five miles north from Sneyd Junction, just north of Walsall.
  • This was part of the original 1785 canal from Horsleyfields in Wolverhampton, rising through the five Sneyd Locks to a long pound at 503ft. Abandoned in 1954.
  • The northern section suffered from opencast mining in the 1980's but the line has been retained as a good cycle way and plenty of structures remain for the enthusiast. Access is possible from both ends with good parking available.
  • Status: Explored in November 2009 - five star site
  • Built in 1797 to connect to the Trent and Mersey via a flight of 30 locks along its 7 mile length, now referred to as the Lichfield Canal. Abandoned in 1954.
  • This line is undergoing restoration with most progress being made at its eastern extremity.
  • The land is largely privately owned and access to the entire line is difficult.
  • Status: Explored 2014 - undergoing restoration so get there quick before the moody abandoned bits are brought back to life!
Waterways Adjoining the BCN
    • 13 locks built in 1860 to connect the Hatherton Branch Canal with the Cannock Extension Canal at Rumer Hill Junction.
    • Closed in 1955 and obliterated as part of a huge opencast mining operation.
    • The line is now followed by the Cannock ring road
    • Curiously, the top lock pound remains as an ornemantal lake.
    • Status: Explored February 2010 - one star site
    • 3/4 of a mile of canal continued beyond Brockmoor Junction, start of the Stourbridge Extension Canal reaching up to Grove Pool, a feeder to the canal.
    • The canal remains largely in water in an attractive tree lined valley eventually reaching a wide section beyond Brockmoor Bridge.
    • It continues to serve as feeder, ensuring its survival as a watercourse and a popular footpath.
    • Status: Explored July 2010 - three star site

    • Built in 1845 to tap into the Cannock coalfield and connected to the Cannock Extension Canal via the Churchbridge Locks in 1860.
    • The lower half of the canal remains in water carrying a high volume of water into the summit of the Staffs and Worcester at Hatherton Junction.
    • This section includes several intact locks and bridges
    • Access is tricky west of the M6 but an excellent footpath exists from the other side to Walk Mill Bridge
    • The section from Walk Mill to Churchbridge is buried beneath works.
    • Status: Explored Feb 2010 - five star site
    • A half mile branch of the Strourbridge Extension Canal serving Ketley and Horton Collieries
    • Some evidence of a dry channel remains near Standhills House
    • Status: Explored 2014 - few traces to be found

    Stourbridge Extension Canal
    • A two mile canal from the Fens Branch, opened in 1840 and abandoned between 1935 and 1960.
    • The first few hundred yards have been restored and are available for moorings.
    • The Bromley Branch exited to the south but was abandoned by the 1880's and all yraces are lost.
    • For a long canal few traces are to be found.
    • Status: Explored - good line to walk for half its length