The Growth of Local Canals

Staffordshire & Worcestershire

The first to be completed in the area and open in its entirety was the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, which just pipped the Birmingham Canal Company at the post by 4 months.

The canal, surveyed by James Brindley (his last completed canal), connects the River Severn at Stourport to the Trent and Mersey Canal at Great Haywood. Work began at Stourport in 1768 and the canal was navigable as far as Compton in November 1770.

The Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal at Compton.

Work progressed rapidly, and the whole 46½ miles of canal was declared open at the company's board meeting on 28th May, 1772.

Much of the capital costs were provided by Wolverhampton tradesmen and landowners, who greatly profited from the new canal, which was extremely successful for the first 40 years of its life, until the newly completed Worcester & Birmingham & Canal acquired much of its coal traffic.

The complex network of local canals.

The canal was built using Brindley’s contour method in which the natural land contours were followed wherever possible to avoid locks and tunnels.

There are only 43 locks along the whole length of the canal, 31 of which raise it about 292ft. above the Severn to the summit plateau starting at Compton. The remaining 12 locks lower the canal from Gailey to the junction with the Trent and Mersey Canal at Great Haywood.

Wightwick Lock. Staffs & Worcs Canal.

Bratch Locks at Wombourne.

Three of the canal's locks at the Bratch, Wombourne are unique in Britain because they are built close together and appear to be a staircase.

The 3 individual locks are so close together that a boat cannot pass between them. The operation relies on the side pounds.

The Birmingham & Liverpool Canal

In 1835 the Birmingham & Liverpool Canal opened, joining the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal at Autherley Junction. The 39½ mile long canal extends to the Ellesmere & Chester Canal at Nantwich.

It was engineered by Thomas Telford and built at a cost of £800,000 to link Liverpool with the Birmingham Canal Navigations, which at the time carried about 3 million gross tons of goods, much of which was coal.

It was of no great benefit to the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, even with its charges, as the new traffic only travelled along the canal for about half a mile between Autherley and Aldersley Junctions. It is now part of the Shropshire Union Canal.

Signpost at Autherley Junction.

The view at Autherley Junction looking along the Shropshire Union Canal.
The Toll House on the Shropshire Union Canal at Autherley Junction.
The signpost at Aldersley Junction where the Birmingham Canal Navigations meets the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal.
The Stourbridge Canal

Another offshoot of the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal is the Stourbridge Canal which was built as a link to Stourbridge from Stourton. The canal was originally surveyed by James Brindley in 1766 when he was surveying the Staffs & Worcs, but nothing could be done until the Act of Parliament was Passed in April 1776. At the same time the Act authorising the construction of the Dudley Canal was Passed. It runs from Dudley to the Fens Branch of the Stourbridge Canal.

The locks on the Stourbridge Canal.

A typical rural scene on the Stourbridge Canal.

The Stourbridge Canal is just 3¼ miles long and has 4 locks.

It's branch (the Fens Branch) starts at Wordsley Junction and extends to Fens Pool, the canal's main reservoir.

The canal came into use on 3rd December, 1779 and for many years the canal was extremely successful due to the many Stourbridge industries that it served.

Some of the surviving factories on the eastern half of the Stourbridge Canal.
The Stuart Crystal works and glass cone on the Fens Branch.

Wordsley Dock on the Fens Branch.

Locks on the Fens Branch.

The Dudley Canal

The Dudley Canal, promoted by Lord Dudley, was 2¼ miles in length and included a flight of nine locks at Black Delph and a reservoir at Woodside.

The canal was completed on 24th June, 1779, and opened with the completion of the Stourbridge Canal in December of the same year.

As the canal was totally dependent upon the Stourbridge Canal, the decision was taken to construct a tunnel beneath Dudley so that the Canal could be extended to join the Birmingham Canal Navigations.

An Act of Parliament allowing the construction was Passed on 4th July, 1785 and the 3,172 yards long tunnel opened for business on 15th October, 1792. The canal also took a lot of traffic from the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, offering a faster route to Birmingham.

The southern entrance to Dudley Canal Tunnel.

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