Saturday 2 July 2011

Factoids from the BCN

Factoids from the BCN
2 July 2011

First off: What is a factoid? Well, there are a few different definitions. One school of thought says this its something presented as a fact but in fact isn't - like a humanoid isn't quite Human. The other definition, which I prefer, is a fact which is trivial and of no real consequence - the definition which Steve Wright appears to have adopted.

Maybe this is best summed up in "Common errors in English Usage":

The “-oid” ending in English is normally added to a word to indicate that an item is not the real thing. A humanoid is not quite human. Originally “factoid” was an ironic term indicating that the “fact” being offered was not actually factual. However, CNN and other sources have taken to treating the “-oid” as if it were a mere diminutive, and using the term to mean “trivial but true fact.” As a result, the definition of “factoid” ishopelessly confused and it’s probably better to avoid using the term altogether.

I guess that this introduction is a factoid itself - but back to the point of this post.

I have been reading Bread Upon the Waters by David Blagrove, kindly lent to me by Chris and Maralyn of nb Nebulae who are aware of my passion for old waterways books.

I will post a proper book review when I finish the second half but as I read the account of their 1961 trip through Birmingham I chanced upon some nuggets of fact, or possibly oft repeated assertions which have grown to be accepted as fact. Whatever their provenance, they struck a chord with me and justified a post so I have somewhere to refer back to as my memory fails (further!).

I will take this factoids on the order they appear (pages 92 to 94).

1. The BW depot at Sampson Rd Bordesley , aka Camp Hill. This was built by the Grand Union in the 1930's as an inland port and the terminus of their widened Birmingham to London waterways route. As Blagrove puts it "it was an act of faith which should have been well rewarded". In the event it never realised its potential and even in 1961 "one of the loading bays had already been walled up". By an interesting synergistic  twist the site is now home to some of the finest BW facilities anywhere in the country - but hugely underused. They were funded by a development projec which never happened and are therefore an endowed benefit on this city centre location. Another act of faith which failed  to be rewarded. But do use the site, its safe and boasts better facils than the more popular Black Country Museum on the other side of the BCN.

2. This account predates my own first memories of the BCN by about 7 years, but given the trajectory he describes, the state of the BCN I recall is very consistent with his account. I vividly remember a flight of locks which were a sea of oil and grease. Oil covered the canal with a thick black  slick and the lock margins were a veritable skid pan. I have always struggled to place these locks, but I had narrowed it down to Garrison or Ashted. This book describes the utter filth he found on the 1840 Brimingham and Grand Junction Canal, later part of the Grand Union but generally known as the Saltley Cut.  Blagrove's description cant be bettered:

... the flight of five locks was the filthiest piece of canal I had yet encountered, bar none. Grease oozed blackly from the lock chambers as we dropped. A sort of foul black patina settled on the brass paintwork...

The Capt Snr always referred to them as "Oily Locks" - and until recently I had assumed this to be their given name. I suspect I have finally identified the true location of "Oily Locks".

3. The name Camp Hill has excited my curiosity on more than one occasion, as has the name Garrison Locks with no sign of a local Army presence. It appears that Camp Hill was given its name as the location where Prince Rupert set up camp during the Civil War.  Garrison Locks are lent their name due to the practice of stationing troops in the area till 1830 when a local police force was set up - 10 years before the canal was built.  Both explanations work for me.

4. The Saltley cut formed part of the boaters route from the Cannock Coalfields down to the customers in the south. This route included five sets of narrow locks, Daw End, Rushall,  Perry Barr and the Garrison / Camp Hill  flights combined which where hung together in the following jingle:

"Moshes, two and the Ganzies seven.
The New Thirteen and the l'ousy leven"

Blagrove has plenty more to say about the area in the early 1960's but that's enough for now. A few tantalising nuggets to be scattered like seasoning on a good roast next time you are chewing the BCN cud with fellow boaters.

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