Monday 30 January 2012

Wombidge Canal - Wombridge Arm

Telford's Tub Boat Canals
Wombridge Canal - Trench to Wombridge
January 2012

Other posts in this series:

1. Trench to Wombridge (this post)
2. Trench to Donnington Wood Mill / Church Road
3. Church Road to Wrockwardine Inclined Plane

The Wombridge Canal

Other posts in this series:

1. Trench to Wombridge (this post)
2. Wombridge to Church Road
3. Church Road to Donnington Wood

It could be argued that this next section is a continuation of the Shrewsbury Canal, as that is the name it traded under till it was closed and de-watered in 1921. However, it has an older pedigree and, for the purpose of this series, I will take a look at it as it was originally built by William Reynolds in 1788 to move ironstone and coal to the furnaces at Donnington Wood.

Top of Trench Inclined Plane

This sale of one mile of track to the Shrewsbury Canal was a smart move as it recouped over half of his construction costs at a time when the mines and quarries it served were largely played out. Following the sale of the section to the north of Trench the remaining 0.75 of a mile deteriorated and navigation retreated in stages. By 1902 there was nothing much left and its course is only visible as a series of disconnected ponds.

Wombridge Canal 1902

Fast forward to 2012 and what remains? Past accounts suggest not a lot, but undaunted we struck off to the south west from the top of the Trench Inclined Plane, one of the three fixed known points where the canal passed.
Wombridge Arm  2012

Straight off we struck pay-dirt. There, exactly as shown on the Godfrey map, was a 20 foot wide shallow trench in a row of old trees. This is not to be confused with the deeper valley between the top of the plane and the colliery spoil heap behind it. Sure, it looks promising but that canal like swathe of open grass swings round on the wrong direction and the levels go to pot. The key is to stick to the 100 metre contour.

Canal route to Wombridge Road

Then its a leap of faith as the course spans a cutting excavated to build the modern Wrockwardine Wood Way. Picking it up again at the far side is tricky, but a gap on the houses exists in just the right place on Wombridge Road with the curving line of the canal reappearing behind Laburnum Road. 

Route to rear of Laburnum Road

A footpath follows the route to an underpass beneath the A442 Queensway. This is the second known point on the route, the point where the canal passed under the railway which rapidly rendered it obsolete. The railway has been replaced by a road but the crossing remains, pretty much at the same height.

Site of route under railway

From here the canal emerges into a large open area, and used to curve round to the east hugging the contour and avoiding the low lying Wombridge Pool. All traces of the canal have vanished and its route passes through today's football pitch. The only trace of the canal is an excess of clay underfoot.

Open space which contained the loop in Womborne

The line then continues beneath the modern Bollingale Avenue, coming to a conclusion somewhere close to its junction with Abbey Walls. As far as we can tell that is the end of the arm, just south west of Wombridge Church. It may have extended to Wombridge Rd and the quarry beyond, but that is pure speculation. 

Update 7.2.12 - I love the way people drop in little snippits of interest not found elsewhere. In this case I now discover that the canal did continue right up to the Wombridge Road but within a tunnel which accounts for the inconsistent ground levels and the route appears to follows the line of the ponds on the 1912 map. See Pascals following account of the tunnels in the 1960's.

The canal tunnel was accessible in the 1960's, during the time of the demolition of the farm, 1967, a small portion of the roof collapsed just inside the Farm perimeter wall. As children three of us explored this tunnel in both directions - northerly took you almost up to the Wombridge road - the other direction taken you back along the farmfield for about thirty or forty feet. the canal by then had been partially filled in with soil & rubble however we were able to stand up inside the tunnel whilst exploring (we were around 9 to 11 years old at the time so no more than 5 foot tall).

The line of the tunnel is not as you have pictured, to the right of Bollingal Avenue, but nearer Wombridge Road; The end house of Priory road had a plot of land adjacent to it which was almost opposite the roof cave in. You can see this site on Google Earth by the difference in the housebuild - all the houses along the road have garages built in apart from the two newer ones.

So, living proof that a tunnel did exist, probably running from Wombridge Road pretty well back to the open ground. One would therefore assume that it emerged on the far side of Wombridge into the site of the old furnaces the canal was built to supply. Hmm, I feel another version of the map coming on.

(not the) Terminus at Bollingale Avenue

So, not many physical traces after 150 years of abandonment, but enough clues to accurately trace its line through the contemporary streets of Telford.

The above photos have been assembled from various sources, including those freely found on the internet. My thanks go to the many photographers alive and dead who have contributed to this collection and in so doing, are keeping the memory of these  canals alive. These images are reproduced for ease of research are are not necessarily the property of this blog and some may still be subject to copyright, and as such they should not be used for commercial gain without the explicit permission of the owner (whoever that may be). 

Saturday 28 January 2012

Shrewsbury Canal, Trench Arm - Pt 5 GKN to Trench

Telfords Tub Boat Canals - Part 5
GKN to Trench
January 2012

We really are into the final furlong of this leg of our journey to Trench. The massive GKN works may sit astride one of the best preserved sections of canal but its line does finally emerge, albeit with something of a whimper. 

The Blue Pig, Trench 2012

The line limps out beside the recently reinstated railway track, passing beneath a gas pumping station before entering the maze of redeveloped roads and roundabouts. Trench Lock, the highest on the canal, sat somewhere in the area. Our best guess is that it sat in the central roundabout but the whole area has been levelled and absolutely no traces remain - we even pressed through the centre of the roundabout to check.

Site of Trench Lock

Trench Lock in operation

We do know that the canal passed along the edge of Trench Pool and past the Blue Pig, the pub visible in the iconic images of the Trench Inclined Plane. A word about this pub: Its called the Blue Pig after the local iron which went a shade of blue as it cooled but was previously known as the Shropshire Inn. Either way, this building offers the only absolute landmark in a sea of change.

Course of Trench Arm beside Trench Pool 

Trench Pool 2012

Below Trench 1966

This route does offer a final feature of interest, the site of the Trench Inclined Plane. The plane was 227 yards long and 75ft high rising up the hill to the east and connecting the Shrewsbury Canal to the earlier Womborne Canal. Of the five tub boat inclined planes in the network, this was the last to close in 1921 after over 120 years of service. 

Trench Inclined Plane - 1902

The lift consisted of two parallel tracks and carried five ton tub boats on wheeled cradles. Initially the system operated by gravity, with a full boat going down lifting a 3/4 full boat coming up. At a later date a steam engine was added to improve efficiency.

Looking up the Incline site 2012

Trench Incline in operation

Trench Plane 1966

Fast forward 90 years and much of the plane embankment is gone, swept down the hill to fill in the bed of an obsolete canal. However, take a look at the old pictures and compare it to what remains. 

Two views from the top of the Incline at Trench - new and old

The top platform, or part of it, remains together with the higher spoil stack behind but perhaps the best view is back over the Blue Pig. The smoking chimneys may have gone, replaced with GKN - its good to see some industry has survived.

Trench Inclined Plane - top

If you have enjoyed these posts fear not - the Shrewsbury Canal may have come to an end but they bought the Wombridge Canal to reach the furnaces of Donnington Wood, and that's where we are going next.

 Some more images of the Trench Incline through the years:

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Thursday 26 January 2012

Shrewsbury Canal, Trench Arm - Pt 4 Hadley Park to GKN

Telfords Tub Boat Canals - Part 4
Hadley Park to GKN works
January 2012

We are coming in to land as far as the Shrewsbury Canal, Trench Arm is concerned.

Hadley Park Lock guillotine

This post looks at the section from Queensway on the edge of Hadley Park to the GKN works which straddle the route and prevent exploration of about half a mile.

A boggy canal bed in Hadley Park

We start our walk from the electrical sub station on the Queensway, picking up a well maintained pathway which skirts a reed filled canal bed. Within the park you will find two locks, Hadley, and Turnip (you have to wonder where these names came from). Both have been the subject of some restoration over the years to give the curious an idea about how they used to look when the canal was an operational entity a century ago.

Guillotine winch - Hadley Park Lock

First up is Hadley Park Lock above which a reconstructed gantry stands tall and proud, complete with cable wheels and a winch. Whilst this lock may not have the authenticity of Britton further down, it does provide the best indication of how the whole flight used to look.

 Hadley Park Lock

Hadley Park Lock in operation.

Hadley Park Lock 1954, 1956, 1960 and 1961

Half a mile further on is Turnip lock, this one hiding away in the bushes. It has the same array of wooden and iron furniture with the added bonus of a skeleton bottom lock gate.

 Turnip Lock - Hadley Park

Turnip Lock 1967

Beyond Turnip Lock the weed filled canal continues to the boundary of the GKN works - topped with razor wire. Oddly, the fence stops at the canal edge but the silting is such that we were able to walk round it! GKN is a defence contractor, so we didn't really expect to stroll into the site and photograph what we liked, but it was worth a try. I walked along the waters edge and captured an ivy covered hump backed bridge on film whilst Dr D went to engage with the guard who was becoming increasing agitated by our presence.

Canal bed at the GKN boundary

There was consternation on the guard house, why hadn't our approach been picked up on the CCTV? I appears that no one has attempted an unauthorised entry via the canal before - the Maginot Line springs to mind. We did try to sweet talk our way in to follow what Google Earth shows to be a very well defined canal through the works, complete with Castle Lock, but is was to no avail. National security appears to rank in from of canal enthusiasts. We were given the head of HR's phone number and politely asked to leave. 

Bridge in GKN grounds

I will lave you with an image of the lock in the GKN works, or at least an artists impression of it  before the factory was built in 1900 as G F Milnes and Co. The scale of the boats is way off, but given the paucity of photo's beggars can't be choosers:

That seems a logical place to leave this post, with one more account of the Trench Arm still to come.

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