Keith Hodgkins talk on:
The Lost Canals of Tipton
I was tempted along to the BCN Society's monthly meeting by the prospect of an illustrated talk by the author and local historian Keith Hodgkins, covering the lost canals of Tipton.
It is said that to become an expert you just need to narrow your chosen field to the point that the subject matter is so restricted that you become the de facto expert, but by that time there is no one interested in what you have to say! This criticism could in no way be levelled at Keith Hodgkins.
Keith is a Tiptonian through and through, having gone to school on the banks of the Toll End Communication Canal and has taken a very active interest in the history of this area ever since.
His presentation included a huge number of photographs of the canal features linked together by some amazing areal shots which put the whole local network into perspective.
To someone with only a passing interest in the subject this could find this a bit dry, but to someone who has walked every yard of this post industrial landscape in search of 21st century remains it was fascinating. Suddenly, all those ditches, embankments and linear open spaces sprang to life as water (or more often reedy) filled channels, winding their way point to point as the canals threaded their way though the landscape. I have often thought that if I could use a time machine for a day I would probably visit the Tiption area, and this came a close second.
I was delighted to see that the routes I had identified were all pretty accurate, but the old images showed me some nooks and crannies I had never noticed before. This is a problem of using any one set of maps - they only offer a view as a slice in time and what came earlier or later can be missed. Did you know that the Lower Ocker Hill Branch we know today is the second version. An earlier one which fed the original culvert to the pumping station suffered from mining settlement and was later replaced? Its these sort of titbits which keep drawing me back for more. Understanding this complex network is a never ending project.
So, my visit to the January BCNS meeting far exceeded my expectations and was well worth the effort.
Keith's published works are well worth a look, with his latest offering "Tipton Through Time" providing some great comparative images of what he describes as the epicentre of the UK canal network - a claim I agree with wholeheartedly. Curiously, I had exactly the same discussion with the late John Whitehouse in September and our pinpoint at the top of the Tipton Green Canal was just a few hundred yards from Keiths Watery Lane Junction alternative. Great minds and all that.
February offers a similar insight into the lost Stourbridge canals - an area which is the next on my to do list. I can see these events becoming a fixed item on my agenda.