Tuesday 15 November 2011

Cape Arm - part 1

Cape Arm
Birmingham Canal Navigations
October 2011

Other posts in this series:

1. Cape Arm - northern section - this post
2. Cape Arm - southern section

Map from Richard Chester- Brown's 'The Other Sixty Miles'

Unless you are over 80 its highly unlikely you have ever navigated this stretch of the BCN, but the strange thing is that it is still in water, deep enough to float a narrowboat and to all intents and purposes there are no fixed obstacles preventing you accessing at least a bit of it.

Entrance to the Cape Arm from the New Main Line

But why the Cape Arm? I know lots of capes: Cape Horn, Cape of Good Hope, and Cape Wrath to name but three - but this one should be called the Cape of Frustration. Frustration because it is all in private land which, whilst abandoned, is boarded up as tight as a drum. As a result you have to catch glimpses of it from the few vantage points open to you. 

 The metal screen preventing access

Lets start with the history of the arm. It was originally part of the Brindley main line but the construction of the New Main Line in 1827 creatied a loop, one of a series coming out from Birmingham: Oozells, Winson Green, Cape and 'Avery'. The loop didn't last long as the southern end was soon filled in to prevent canny boatmen using the loop to get round the Winson Green Toll Stop. Thereafter the loop became an arm accessed via a tunnel under an embankment which carried a feeder from Titford to Rotton Park Reservoir.

The Rotton Park Reservoir feeder

Spool forward and the arm fell into disuse till GKN developed the site which surrounded it but traffic from the wider BCN ceased during the second world war and a guillotine gate was dropped across the entrance, limiting boat movements to a bit of internal work.

Today the northern entrance can be spotted from the cast iron bridge which used to span the entrance to Avery's Basin, alongside a second tunnel which used to lead to a basin but now contains the rotting remains of a cruiser which has been there for the best part of 30 years.

A glimpse over the wall

Getting sight of the arm as it extends into the works is a challenge in itself. The best view is obtained by climbing the embankment and peering over a razorwire topped wall which is protected by the now dry feeder channel. Even this vantage point calls for photography taken at arms length on tiptoe when a low footbridge can be seen spanning the water.

A sight of water over the north parapet of Cranford St Bridge

A reverse view can be caught over the parapet of Cranford St Bridge.

As far as I can tell, the passage under Cranford St Bridge may be blocked but the watercourse continues on - but more of that next time.


Howsie said...

"The Cape arm" probably refers to the nearby Cape Hill just beyond the end of the arm.
Well known for the Cape hill brewery of Mitchells and Butler beer fame.

Anonymous said...

The feeder shown here is, I believe, a feed from Rotton Park Reservoir to the Wolverhampton Level feeing into the Engine Arm, but which has been long disused, The feeder to Rotton Park Reservoir runs from Titford (on the Titford Branch somewhere) to Rotton Park Reservoir ......