Tub Boat Canals

The Shropshire Canals

This series has been condensed and published in the August and September 2012 editions of Waterways World, and revisited to make a series of YouTube videos under the Canal Hunter banner in early 2024.

Additional archive images have been added to the original posts to bring all the material together for those interested on this aspect of our Industrial Revolution heritage.

Posts in this series:
1. Mapping out the tub  boat canals - October 2011
2. The tub boats of Telford - December 2011
3. Shrewsbury Canal, Wappenshall to Trench (5 posts)
4. Wombridge Canal (3 posts)
5. Donnington Wood Canal (10 posts)
6. Ketley Canal (2 posts)
7. Shropshire Canal (9 posts)
8. Horsehay Branch (3 posts)

It's a little known fact that there was a whole network of canals in the Telford area, not that Telford as a town existed when they were in operation, nor did the venerable Thomas Telford have anything to do with their construction. Nor were they canals in quite the way we see them today, there were no gaily painted narrow boats or smoky tugs pop popping their way round the network.

This was a utilitarian network of canals carrying rectangular tub boats measuring about 20ft by 6ft, hauled by horses, each carrying up to a maximum of about five tons and often linked in strings of three.

This network of tub boat canals were concentrated to the north and south of what is now Telford town centre, with Newport and Lilleshall representing the northern limit and Coalbrokdale on the banks of the River Severn in the south. In addition there was a tub boat connection all the way to Shrewsbury but this was upgraded to a full seven foot wide narrow canal when a link was made to the main canal network via the Newport Junction Canal.

This was a heavily industrialised area but from a canal builder's point of view it was problematic - it was very hilly and there was an almost total absence of surface water. A classic canal with locks and pounds was therefore not practical so instead the network was built using a series of inclined planes, on which the tubs were hauled on wheeled bogies. In the end there were six of these planes at Trench, Lilleshall, Wrockwardine, Ketley, Windmill and Hay (you could include Brierly Hill in the list at the end of the Coalbrookdale Branch except it never carried boats).

This network included:

Shrewsbury Canal built 1796 
Wombridge Canal  built 1788 
Donnington Wood Canal built 1788
Ketley Canal built 1788
Shropshire Canal Main Line built 1792
Shropshire Canal Horsehay (Coalbrookdale) Branch built 1792

These posts and the videos which followed a decade later attempt to explore the lines of these lost canals and photograph the routes they followed. This is easier said than done as much of the network had been abandoned between 1800 and 1900 and since then most of the area has been mined, industrialised and then finally built over by  the modern Telford we all know and love.

Tangible remains are therefore be thin on the ground but I will do my best to publish a series of posts which faithfully depict the routes as they exist in 2011 / 12.  The associated videos harness the power of newer technology including stabilised video, drone imagery, on line side by side mapping plus acces to an increasing volume of archive material. However, old photos are thin of the ground because the canals were mostly abandoned before the age of photography started. 

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). 

The development of these posts has been aided and abetted by:

Shropshire Canals - articles by Howard Williams
The Godfrey Edition maps based on 1901 originals: 36.07 Trench, 36.11 Wrockwardine Wood , 36.14 Ketley, 43.03 Malins Lee and Dark Lane, 43.07 Dawley Magna and Stirchley, 43.11 Madeley Court and 43.15 Madeley (south) & Blist Hill
Tony Clayton's maps and notes
OS Explorer Map 242 Telford, Ironbridge & The Wrekin
Google Earth
Exploring Telford by Richard Foxcroft
The History of Limestone Mining and the Early Connecting Canals in Church Aston and Lilleshall (hows that for a punchy title!) by David Adams / The Shropshire Caving and Mining Club (2007 edition)
David and Charles reprint of OS 1st Edition Sheet 41 Shrewsbury surveyed 1831 and amended  to include railways 1870 (ish)

Now I just need to collate all the information and get out there....