Saturday 30 October 2010

Pensnett Arm, BCN

Pensnett Arm or Lord Wards Canal
30th October 2010

Index of posts in this series:
1. Park Head end - this post
2. Middle section
3. Pedmore Lane area (April 2013)
4. Canal Street
5. Canal St and Fens Pool (April 2013)
6. Northern terminus

I have been hankering after a look at the Pensnett Arm for ages, just waiting for a suitable time when I could explore its mysterious length.

Start of the Pensnett Arm

This is an unusual canal in that it was always in private ownership, built by The Earl of Dudley in 1840 to connect his mines to the main canal at Parkhead and the Dudley Tunnel. It's no long, less then 1.5 miles running parallel, but four locks higher than the Dudley No 2 canal before veering off and stopping just short of the Fens Branch.

The canal offered a quick and easy method of transporting coal from his Estate Colliery and was a big success. Profits were further boosted by a policy of demanding that when ironworks were built of land leased from him , some of their coal had to be bought from his mine. It little wonder he became a wealthy man. And why Lord Wards Canal? Ward is the family name of the Earl of Dudley.

Pensnett Canal enters Crackley Way

 Pensnett Canal leaves Crackley Way
The canal remained in operation well into the 20th century, only closing in 1950 but because it was not in BW ownership access is difficult.

Pensnett leaving Parkhead
The canal starts from the Parkhead basin, with its first 200 metres to the railway viaduct cleared and navigable. From there its line is buried beneath Crackley Way and its associated factory car parks. The line and the level are apparent if you know what to look for but there are no clues on the ground for the casual observer.

Crackley Way

The line holds true to its contour as Crackley Way drops down to Peartree Lane, the route now buried beneath modern warehouses only to re-emerge at the site of Blackbrook Bridge - now demolished.

Friday 29 October 2010

Autumn Colours

Autumn Colours
29th October 2010

I promised a few mote autumn shots from afound the garden as the season progressed so here they are.

Thursday 28 October 2010

Grazebrook Arm

Grazebrook Arm
Park Head, BCN
28 October 2010

The Grazebrook arm east the least of the five exits from Park Head Basin, striking off a few hundred yards to the east to service local foundries.

Grazebrook Arm entrance

Grazebrook Arm - the watered section

Today the first half is in water, passing under a flat topped bridge and then the tall railway viaduct before coming to an abrupt halt there factories have been built on its course. Sure the trees reach nearly all the way across the channel but beneath the surface the water appears clear and deep - plenty to float a narrowboat but with all the weed it may be better not to use the engine.

End of navigation on the Grazebrook

The canal is stanked off and beyond is a hundred yards of undergrowth before you reach the factory perimeter. To survey the rest if the line you have to retrace your steps back up Peartree Land and back up in Hulbert Drive. Here you are sitting on the line of the canal which continued into the estate along the line of the road to a basin terminus  now occupied by a car park.

 Peartree Lane crossing

Site of the Grazebrook terminus basin

Not the most enthralling arm but the watered section is well worth a look - you could even get your boat to the end if you had a mind to do so.

Wednesday 27 October 2010

Rites of Passage

Rites of Passage
27th October 2010

Sometimes the key milestones in life approach gradually and you anticipate their arrival, whilst others spring up and grab you when you least expect it.

Jeff was seventeen at the weekend and even in my most  forgetful moment I wasn't going to overlook that event. However, this landmark event brought with it something of a surprise. Jeff had his first driving lesson on the afternoon of his seventeenth birthday.

The lesson was planned and booked, but nothing prepared me for the impact the event had on me. There he was, still more a boy than a man in my eyes, but how can a boy be legally driving a car? After a brief word with his new instructor hey went off for an hour of tuition. I hung around nervously awaiting his return at 3.00pm. As the hour approached I found reasons to be fiddling around in the garage with the doors open, able to watch for his return without being too obvious about it. How would it go? would he be ok? would the the driving instructor be ok? For goodness sake, he is only a boy and surely he is way too young to be driving.

3.05pm arrived and no Jeff. 3.08pm and surely they must have crashed. Finally at 3.10pm the car drew up outside the house, and there at the wheel sat Jeff - no longer a little boy but very much a young man. In the space of ah hour he had aged and matured, tipping the scales into adulthood.

His instructor was full of praise and reasurance. He drove well, had a good command of steering and a natural road sense. Phew!

But I shouldn't have worried should I?. After all, Jeff has been competently handling a 15 ton narrowboat for over four years. I have watched him manoeuvre it around on a flooded Trent with complete confidence so why not a car?

So Jeff returned, his face wreathed in  smiles of achievement and his heart  consumed with a passion for driving. I was shocked by the pride I felt as I watched him drive up. Something momentous had happened, I had checked my mirrors, indicated and manoeuvred all in the proper sequence, but I never saw it coming.

 My boy has become a man and there is no going back.

Tuesday 26 October 2010

Park Head, BCN

Park Head
26 October 2010

Having had a good look at the Bumblehole area we moved on to Park Head with the aim of exploring the Pensnett Branch Canal. We parked up in the Dudley Canal Trust car park at Blowers Green Pumping Station (having asked permission) and took a stroll up to the basin from which there were no less than five exits.

 Blowers Green Lock

Taking it clockwise there is the Western portal of the Dudley Tunnel, the Grizebrook Arm (more on that another day), the three locks down to Blowers Green and finally the Pensnett Arm of which a couple of hundred metres have been restored providing a snug berth for a couple of boats as far back as the railway viaduct.

 Scenes from the three locks at Park Head
This is a pretty spot with the woods crowding down and the Viaduct offering a multi arched backdrop. Not that you will find many boats up here. Its a bit of a vulnerable spot and not somewhere to tarry alone.

Three bridges at Park Head
We did bring WB up her a few years ago, one sunny Sunday afternoon and spent a good hour trying to explain to incredulous locals why we were there. I don't they ever really accepted the "because its here" argument.

Dudley Tunnel entrance
This is a magical and unique spot on the BCN. An area of secluded tranquility where people come and stand on the bridges, lost in their thoughts as they stare down into the clear waters below.

Sunday 24 October 2010

Withymoor Arm, BCN

Withymoor Arm
October 2010

Exploring this arm calls for some imagination, a lot of imagination.

Whilst the bricked up entry bridge still stands alongside the Northfield Road bridge at Windmill End, there is nothing else to suggest the canal ever existed. Not only has the line gone but the ground level has been lowered by about 20 ft leaving the theoretical canal soaring high above what is now Darby End Road, coming to an end in the upper floor of a block of flats which stand on the site of the long gone Withymoor Brick Works.

Withymoor Arm entrance, and winding hole opposite
The initial 200 metres of waterway will lie beneath some old workshops,  and its passage beneath St Peters Road can be identified by a slight rise in the tarmac, but that's about it. The water level had to be the same as the main line, so either the land has been reduced, possibly bulldozed into the old clay pit  which is now a recreation ground, or the canal ran on an embankment which is probably the most likely solution.

Withymoor Branch Canal 1970

Derby End Road - beneath the line of the canal

Just over to the north you can see the Dry Dock pub, sitting beside the base of the new embankment. There is no trace of a dry dock today but a close inspection reveals a brick structure opposite the Bumblehole Turn, so the new line may have passed through an old dry dock.

The old dry dock?

This is all supposition and working out exactly what happened where is almost impossible. But that's the fun of the game. Can anyone out there shed any light on the origins of this arm?

Saturday 23 October 2010

Bufferies Basin Arm, Bumblehole

Bufferies Basin Arm
Bumblehole, BCN
23 October 2010

If I were Jimmy Saville I would be going "aye aye pop pickers, I'll take five points from you for this one" and waggle my cigar between my ring encrusted fingers. This is obscurity built on obscurity.

The junction basin containing a new folly

 Bufferies Basin junction

The far end of the Bumblehole Turn contained a further half mile arm heading north and leading out of what is now the winding hole. The name is obscure but the best I can offer is The Bufferies Basin but it was so long it really represented an arm in its own right .

The state of play in 1902 - with the top end already infilled

The plan had been to build it right up to Baptistend but in the event it  progressed a few hundred metres beyond a feeder stream before petering out in a wide basin linked by tramways to the nearby collieries.

Canal channel

Feeder stream from Baptistend

Today very little remains of the line, a hump in the road at the junction, a linear depression in the parkland and finally a valley in which the terminus was located, a site abandoned even in 1902.

Bufferies Basin Terminus

This hunt was to gain an idea of the old line without any expectation of tangible remains. The best clue to it's location is the feeder stream which continues to flow in its old course before being fed into a duct which defines the line and level of the canal. This is the one firm location on the entire line. 

Possibly one best appreciated by the die hard fanatics among us!

Friday 22 October 2010

Bumblehole Turn

Bumblehole Turn
22 October 2010

Of all the place names on the BCN Bumblehole is one if the most curious. I have absolutely no idea of its origins and it needs to be remembered that until the straight route to the Netherton was built this was just another loop on the Dudley No2 Canal. Maybe it was trying to make up for the utilitarian name it used to live under.

 Bumblehole Arm

This half mile stub is very much in water and is home to half a dozen narrowboats, all safely tucked in behind a swinging yellow boom. The line used to be very overgrown but this has since been opened out and there is no reason why a dedicated arm bagger should not go in, pass the boom and wind in the entrance of the old Bufferies Basin arm.

Bumblehole moorings

The arm curls round a pond in a little valley - presumably Bumble Hole itself and maybe an old opencast mine or clay pit? After the by pass was built the canal remained to serve the substantial Windmill Boiler Works on the collapsed section, and the Washington Boiler and Girder Works which are now occupied by the builder of eclectic structures like the "windmill" folly.
Bumblehole winding hole - with scrap folly

Thursday 21 October 2010

Boshboil Arm, BCN

Boshboil Arm
21 October 2010

I'm not sure if this section is really lost or not. A short sunken section certainly qualifies.

Entrance to Boshboil Arm

It forms part of the Bumblehole loop which was short cutted by an embanked section built as part if the Netherton Tunnel project. The loop remained in water till the far end subsided into pit workings thereby leaving two distinct arms.

OS Map 1901
The northern arm is the shorter of the two, maybe 200 metres long and sometimes navigable. At the time of or visit the channel was clear and a boat could penetrate to the end providing the skipper didn't mind reversing out. At other times it is clogged with weed.

 In water - and dry
Beyond this navigable length the line becomes indistinct within a stand of trees, probably occupying a depression now half filled by garden walls. Just as you think you must be on the right line the shape of narrowboats loom above you  and you have stumbled across the far end of Bumblehole.

Wednesday 20 October 2010

Government Spending Review and British Waterways

I see trouble ahead - and it ain't moonligh and music

The long awaited Government spending review is upon us and it looks like we are all in for some tough times, paticularly public sector employees. Not that I am shedding any tears as my personal experience of Government, particularly that of the local variety, is one of astonishing incompetence and waste.

But what does this mean for British Waterways? Love them or loath them, they are the body responsible for keeping our lovely playground ticking over, so what's bad for them is also probably bad for us.

Well, BW falls within the Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and they have been savaged, mullered or generally duffed up I am afraid.

DEFRA's budget has been cut by 29% by 2014/15 - reducing from £2.9bn to 2.2bn.

Sure DEFRA do a lot more than British Waterways but we can reasonably expect BW to be in the firing line for some serious pain. Back office savings  won't do the trick so expect less of those friendly boys and girls in their blue sweatshirts and less help in remote locations.

The good news (or at least I think it is good news) is that the Review  also confirms DEFRA's plans to move BW into a new Waterways Charity. I know that this comes with uncertainty but its got to be a good thing in the long run.

I would love to be part of the planning process for the new Waterways Conservancy. There are so many ways to make more of our unique resource, and a lot of those would raise serious dosh.

If you want to see the details for yourself here is the link. You will be looking for page 60.

Windmill End, Netherton

Windmill End, Netherton
20th October 2010

After a weekend of flu and aches I was itching to get outside in the fresh air, and where better to go than Netherton? An obvious location I would have thought.

My favourite view of Cobbs Engine House

Yes, that's right. With the 2010 cruising season coming to a close Captain Ahab and Able Seaman Jeff have returned to their quest of seeking out the abandoned nooks and crannies of the BCN, the more obscure the better.

Majestic ruins

Windmill End isn't exactly abandoned from a boating perspective but there is precious left of the intensive industry which occupied the area for 150 years. Standing tall above this post industrial wasteland stands the skeletal remains of Cobbs Engine House, or Windmill End Pumping Station to give it its proper name.

This gaunt structure was built in 1831 on three stories to contain a Newcomen type beam engine which faithfully pumped 1.6m litres of water per day from Windmill End Colliery 525 feet below for nearly 100 years. By 1928 the coal seams were no more and the obsolete engine was moved to a Michigan museum.

Slag heap cresta run

Whilst the boilerhouse may be roofless, it is a listed structure standing slightly apart from the 11"6' square tapered chimney which rises 95 feet into the sky, serving as a landmark for miles around.

Warrens Hall Colliery Basin - flattery to deceive

We walked around this impressive ruin, viewing it from all angles. Perhaps the best perspective is from the top of the windswept slag heap which is all that remains of Windmill End Colliery, its steep slides sweeping down to the polluted depths of Warrens Hall Colliery Basin.

The Sandwell Council gives this site the 9th place in their top ten waterways attraction, and what is number one I hear you cry? Answer: The Engine Arm Aqueduct - and they are not wrong!