Monday, 8 March 2010

Haines Branch Canal (south west)

Haines Branch Canal (south west)
Birmingham Canal Navigations
March 2010
There are some historical posts I look forward to, and others which inspire less enthisiasm.

Southern end of the Haines Branch Canal 1904

Yesterday's was one of the duller ones (in my opinion) but I have been looking forward to writing up today's. It's not the canal itself I find interesting - about 1/3 of a mile of straight canal bed, devoid of bridges or interesting structures. In this case its the surroundings I find fascinating.
The Haines Branch was initially built to access coal mines in and around Great Bridge. The remains of the mine workings can be seen dotted around landsacpe either side of the 1904 OS Map, with old shafts recorded on the Pumphouse Estate to the east and the disused Denbeigh Hall Colliery to the west. The old map even shows the remans of a canal arm reaching out to Denbeigh Hall, but cut off by the diverted course of the River Tame.

Tame Inn from the bed of the Haines Branch Canal

By the time the 1904 map was drawn mining had ceased, and instead of coal attention had turned to exploiting the large clay deposits and the area hosted The Canal Brick Works, the large Pumphouse Brick Works and just beyond the new mainline there were the Stour Valley Brick Works and the Rattlechain Brick Works. This last works was the site of a spectacular disaster in September 1899 when the canal burst, flooding a three acre claypit to a depth of 300 ft. No one was injured but the site became something of a tourist attraction for a while.

Course of the Haines Branch from Sheepwash Bridge

This whole area was a hive of activity, with flaming brickwork furnaces lighting up the night sky and belching clouds of acrid smoke into the air.

As for the canal itself, the River Tame has been diverted into its bed, draining both the land to the west of the New Main Line, and the huge lakes created by the huge claypits, now landscaped into the Sheepwash Urban Park.

Pumphouse Brick Works claypit 2010
It's southern end almost butts up against the railway embankment, with the New Main Line just behind. You don't really appreciate the height as you progreass along the Birmingham Level from Smethwick to Tipton, but the water level is a full eight locks higher with the canal lofted a good 50 feet into the air.

Today, all the industry and mining is gone. Housing has encroached and the old brick works offer scope for a nature reserve, and a place of leisure where once there was frenetic activity. With the aid of the old maps it is possible to see how the scars have healed, but it is only when you scratch away at the ground you reveal slag, concrete, broken bricks and clay, all of which hint at the things that went before.

Sunset over the industrial revolution

The canal itself isn't anything to write home about, but it provides a good route into the area's industrial past which is really absorbing. Talk about "getting under the skin" of an area.

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