Shrewsbury & Newport Canal
Joseph Plymley writing in 1803 said “… The town of Shrewsbury, and the country immediately around it, are supplied with coal principally from the neighbourhood of the Oaken Gates, and which has hitherto been conveyed by land-carriage, about fourteen miles along the London road; and this part of the road, from the constant succession of heavy coal carriages, had become almost impassable, notwithstanding that large sums of money were annually laid out upon the repairs of it. The price of coals at Shrewsbury continued to rise year after year, and there was no prospect, of being able to put a stop to the progress of this growing evil, unless.by the means of a navigable canal, which would not only reduce the expense of carriage, but would likewise, by passing through, or near to a greater number of collieries, enable more proprietors to send their coals to this market; and these considerations, joined to the prospect of the agricultural improvements, which promised to follow from the cheaper and more expeditious conveyance of lime and other manures, led to the foundation of the company which entered into a subscription, and obtained an Act of Parliament for making of the Shrewsbury canal.”
As Plymley indicated, Shrewsbury was a major market for East Shropshire coal but was still reliant on the River Severn and on the poor road system to transport it. Much of its coal came from around Oakengates, several miles away from the Severn, and had to travel over 14 miles along the Holyhead Road. By the 1790s it was said that “this part of the road, from the constant succession of heavy coal carriages, had become almost impassable, notwithstanding that large sums of money were annually laid out upon the repairs of it”. The high cost of transporting the coal inevitably led to high prices and complaints that the townsfolk were “so grievously imposed upon by the Jaggers (hauliers) and proprietors of coal teams”.
It was thus decided to create a canal between Shrewsbury and the East Shropshire Coalfield. The promoters of the new canal included the Marquess of Stafford, Lord Berwick of Attingham Park, John Charlton of Apley Castle, John Corbet of Sundorne Castle, local ironmasters Richard and William Reynolds and John Wilkinson. The 17 mile route of the canal was surveyed in 1792 by George Young of Worcester and an Act of Parliament obtained in 1793. Josiah Clowes was originally appointed as engineer, under William Reynolds. However, Clowes died in 1795 and was replaced by Thomas Telford, who had recently been appointed part-time Surveyor of Public Works for Shropshire
The Shrewsbury Canal Act 1793 authorized the promoters to raise amongst themselves the sum of £50,000, in shares of £100 each and, if necessary, a further sum of £20.000 for the purposes of the Act. As well as setting out the powers for the canal’s construction, the Act also set the tonnage rates applicable when the canal opened, ie
· For all Iron, Iron-stone, Coal, Stone, Timber and other Goods, Wares and Merchandize whatever 2d per Ton, per Mile.
· And in Proportion for a less Quantity than a Ton or a less distance than a Mile.
· And in addition of One Penny per Ton if passed by Inclined Planes, until the Canal pays a Dividend of Eight per Cent, when this last Rate shall cease.
· Boats with less than Eight Tons to pay for that Quantity, except when returning.
· All Manure (except Lime) exempt from these Rates.
Because much of the land along the route was prime agricultural land, its purchase price was higher than that in the coalfield area. The company also had to cope with the whims of certain landowners, such as Lord Berwick, who insisted that the towpath be on the opposite, or north, side of the canal to his home at Attingham as it passed through his estates. The section from Shrewsbury Basin to Trench via Wappenshall had 11 locks. The company then bought a short section of the Wombridge Canal, measuring 1 mile and 88 yards, for £840 from William Reynolds to provide access to the Donnington Wood Canal and Shropshire Canal at Old Yard Junction in Wrockwardine Wood. The canal was originally built as a narrow canal intended for horse-drawn trains of tub boats carrying up to 8 tons, which were 20ft long and no wider than 6ft 4 inches. Due to the difference in height of the two canals, the Trench Inclined Plane was constructed in 1794 to join them up. It had a rise of 75ft and was 233 yards long. The company minute book of on 6th July 1793 records that “an Engine similar to the one at Donnington Wood be erected at the head of the intended Inclined Plane at Wombridge and that Mr William Reynolds be requested to order the Engine from the Coalbrookdale Company”.
The plane consisted of twin railway tracks, each of which held a cradle. Boats would be floated onto the cradles, which had larger wheels at the back to keep the boat level. A third set of wheels were mounted at the front, which ran on extra rails in the dock, to prevent the cradle tipping forwards as it ran over the top sill. Although the plane was partially counterbalanced, with loaded boats going down the plane pulling empty boats up, a steam engine was also provided, to pull the boats over the top sill.
To ensure that the boats remained in a horizontal position on the incline the wheels on the lower end of the cradle were larger. At the top side of the cradle there were two vertical posts between which a “bridle chain” was slung. The long rope which hauled the cradles was attached to bridle chains. As most of the traffic was coal, which was going down the plane (traffic going up was mostly wheat for the corn mill at Wrockwardine Wood), the cradles worked by counterbalance. At the lower end the rails went into the water so that the boats could easily be floated on and off the submerged cradle. The complication was at the top where the cradle had to negotiate a sill, without upsetting the boat.
The engine house was at the top of the incline, its roof extending out over the sill. Under this roof was a large drum onto which the rope which hauled the cradle, wound on and off. Behind the drum was a pair of wheels, or "sheaves", which the rope passed over and under before going on to the drum. The rope drum was supported by three stone piers, the cradles passing into the docks of the top basin on either side of the centre pier. This pier housed the brake which controlled the speed of the cradle, and to this pier were attached two heavy “winding chains”. To both sides of each dock there were long pieces of wood, slightly tilted towards the water, which served as rails.
As the ascending cradle approached the sill the brake would be applied. A winding chain was then attached to the cradle and the engine really came in to play, hauling the cradle over the sill. At that point the main rope and bridle chains would fall slack, a third set of wheels on the side of the cradle would run along the wooden rails attached to the side of the dock, taking over support from the smaller wheels on the cradle. The winding chain would prevent the cradle going too far. One boat could then be floated off and another on. The process was then reversed with the winding chain being used to pull the boat over the sill before the cradle was stopped to allow it to be removed.
The following description and account of the operation of the planes was given in 1858 by the Shropshire Union Canal engineer. “These inclines have been in work about sixty years, and from perhaps the largest system of canal inclines in use in this country. They are four in number, viz
• The Wombridge (Trench) Incline on the Shrewsbury Canal
• The Donnington Wood Incline
• The Stirchley Incline
• The Hay Incline on the Shropshire Canal.
The two first mentioned inclines rise from the level of the Trench Lock to the summit level of the Shropshire Canal, a height of 195 feet. The fall of the last two from the summit level to Coalport 350 feet. The inclination varies from 1 in 5 to 1 in 15. The planes are formed by heavy cast iron frame plates laid upon longitudinal balk 10 inches x 6 inches, the latter being supported by cross sleepers of suitable scantling. The Wombridge Incline differs from those on the Shropshire Canal, in having wrought iron rails instead of cast metal plates. In all cases there are double parallel ‘ways’ rising from the lower levels to the summit of each incline, and descending thence into the upper bays. On each incline two Cradles are used, one ascending, the other descending, and although a loaded boat will draw up an empty one, still to surmount the summit a steam engine is necessary. The Cradles are very strong carriages, running on four inside wheels, but having two outside or bye wheels which run on elevated rails to preserve the horizontal position of the boat on entering the upper bay. To the upper part of the Cradle is fixed the ‘Carriage Head,’ to which are also fixed two strong back stays, to which latter the rope is attached by a chain bridle. The use of the carriage head is to elevate the fastening of the rope in order to allow a boat to float under, as well as to act as a guide in placing the boat on the carriage. The cost of a carriage or cradle, fitted complete, is about £90.
The Machinery of each Incline is composed of a Steam Engine of from 16 to 20 horse power, with a large Drum Barrel 6 feet diameter and Break Wheel, also a ‘Winding out Drum’ and Break Wheel, the whole being connected with suitable spur gearing. The ropes (of wire) are laid from the drum barrel upwards and passed over two large independent pullies (6 feet diameter), situate over the upper bays, and fixed to the carriage heads, the one being, we will suppose, in the upper, and the other in the lower bay; we must also premise that a chain has been led from the winding out shaft, or drum, and attached to the hind part of the Cradle. The following is the operation in passing Boats from one level to another:-
A loaded Boat is floated on the Cradle lying in the upper, an empty one is at the same time placed on the Cradle in the lower bay. The signal is given and the Engine (being in connection only with the winding out shaft) draws the Cradle out of the upper bay over the summit. This being done, the brakeman puts down the brake of the large drum barrel to stay the Cradle, till he or his assistant can disconnect the winding out chain and throw it on one side. All being clear, the brakeman raises the brake, when the cradle carrying the loaded boat descends, drawing up the cradle with the empty boat. On the latter reaching the top, or nearly so, the chain from the winding out shaft is attached to the cradle, as before described; the Engine is put in gear with the large drum (having been previously disengaged from the winding out shaft) and the cradle drawn over the summit, at which moment the brakeman applies the brake to the winding out shaft, thus allowing the boat to run easily into the upper level, and which on floating leaves the carriage by the impetus it has acquired in the descent. Whether a loaded boat is ascending or descending the operation is the same, with the exception that the Engine must be put in motion to assist in bringing up a loaded barge. Eight boats per hour is the maximum number that can be passed, to do which requires an engineman and boy at the summit, and a man to ‘put on’ at the lower level.
By the end of 1794, the first portion of the canal between the bottom of the Trench Incline and Long Lane Wharf was open. The next major obstacle was the crossing of the River Tern at Longdon. An aqueduct was first built here by Josiah Clowes in 1794 but made of brick. It was, however, damaged by floods in February 1795 and, since Clowes had subsequently died, the job was completed by Thomas Telford the following year. The idea of having the replacement aqueduct made of cast-iron was first suggested by Thomas Elton, then Chairman of the canal company. It was approved and the task was referred to William Reynolds and Thomas Telford. The castings for the aqueduct were done at Ketley and were transported the 5 miles to Longdon, partly by land and partly by canal.
Joseph Plymley writing in 1803 said “… A third, and perhaps the most striking circumstance is, that the canal passes over the valley of the Tern at Longdon, for a distance of 62 yards, upon an aqueduct made all of cast-iron, excepting only the nuts and screws, which are of wrought iron; and I believe this to be the first aqueduct, for the purposes of a navigable canal, which has ever been composed with this metal.
It has completely answered the intention, although it was foretold by some, that the effects of the different degrees of heat and cold would be such, as to cause expansion and contraction of the metal, which not being equal to extend or draw back the whole mass of the aqueduct, would operate upon the separate plates of iron, so as to tear off the flanches which connect the plates lengthwise, and break the joints. Others said, that the expansion of freezing water would burst the sides, and so break off the flanches which connect the sides with the bottom plates: but after the trial of a summer's heat, and the very severe frost of the winter of 1796, no visible alteration has taken place, and no water passes through any of the side or bottom joints. After the frost had continued very severe for three or four days, and the water had not been drawn off (although there is the means of doing so), but it had stood in the aqueduct about the height of two feet six inches, the ice had then frozen to the thickness of an inch and a half, but instead of having forced out the sides, it was melted away from them, and quite loose upon the surface of the water.”
Although it is often claimed to be the first cast iron aqueduct in the world, a 44ft one had been constructed by Benjamin Outram on the Derby Canal one month before the Longdon one was completed. The aqueduct was built using three sets of iron knee-braced supports. The 62 yard long cast-iron trough was cast in sections at Reynolds' Ketley ironworks and bolted together on site. The main trough was 7½ft wide and 4½ft deep, with a narrower trough to one side which formed the towpath. The aqueduct was completed in March 1796 and had cost £1,750, actually less than the budget of £2,000.
By March 1796, the canal had been extended past the new aqueduct at Longdon, where there was another public wharf, to Berwick Wharf, which was named in honour of Lord Berwick. There appears to have been a plan to build a short branch canal from Berwick Wharf to the Holyhead Road at Atcham and this was started but then abandoned. An aqueduct was required at Rodington and this was designed by Josiah Clowes. Unfortunately, Clowes died before it was completed and his job was given to Thomas Telford. Telford kept to the bulky, three-arched design of brick to span this section of the River Roden. The squat arches and heavy superstructure were necessary to contain the weighty lining of watertight mud or clay used to carry the water across the channel.
Just west of Berwick Wharf, the canal passed over Lord Berwick’s land but he refused the canal company permission to construct a cutting through his game preserves. As a result, the 970 yard long, brick-lined Berwick Tunnel had to be excavated. It was designed by Josiah Clowes and a towpath was added at William Reynold's suggestion. It was the longest canal tunnel in Shropshire and the first tunnel of any length to have a towpath through it.
Joseph Plymley writing in 1803 said “… Another circumstance (which I believe to be peculiar to this canal) … is the mode of constructing the towing-path which passes through the tunnel. This towing-path is three feet wide, from the wall to the outside of the railing; it is not a solid body, like to the towing-paths which are formed under canal bridges, but consists of standards of wood, which are fixed in stones placed in the inverted arch at the bottom of the canal, and, is tied into the side wall by bearers which are framed into the uprights; upon the bearers the planking is laid, which forms the road of the towing-path; a railing is placed along the top of the uprights, and a piece of wood is framed between them, at a little way below the top water-level, to prevent the boats from striking the uprights obliquely. By this towing-path being hollow below, there is a water-way in the tunnel, of ten feet, instead of seven feet, which would have been the case if the towing-path had been formed solid. This is an useful contrivance, because it preserves the water-way, and affords a towing-path, without going to the expense of enlarging the width of the tunnel; but it would still be an improvement, if the whole of the towing-path was constructed with stone or iron, instead of timber, and if it was made three feet six inches in width.”
Due to some surveying errors, the tunnel is not straight and has a dogleg in the middle where the construction tunnels were said to have met. As a result it was not possible for an approaching boat to see whether there was already a boat in the tunnel. Since there was no room to pass, one of the boats had to reverse out. There was no rule about this until 1838, when a white line was painted in the exact middle. Whichever boat reached the middle of the tunnel first had precedence over a boat coming the other way. However, loaded boats always took precedence over empty ones. As most boats were going to Shrewsbury, boats heading westwards generally had the right of way. Despite the rules, no doubt there were many fights over who should have precedence.
The company laid down their rates at a General Assembly in October 1796. Coal and limestone were to be charged at 2d per ton per mile but, to encourage the development of limekilns along the canal, these goods would be charged at 1½d per ton if delivered to places within thirty yards of it. Iron and general goods were also charged at 2d per ton, and there was an additional charge of 1d per ton on the Trench Incline. These charges proved too excessive and were soon all reduced to 1d per ton until rising again a few years later. The canal was finally open to Shrewsbury in November 1796, ending at a terminus just to the north of the castle. It had cost nearly £70,000.
An extensive coal wharf was created at the Shrewsbury Wharf but expectations that the canal would substantially reduce the cost of coal in Shrewsbury were speedily disappointed. The Ditherington Flax Mill, the first iron-framed building in the world, also opened in 1797 to coincide with the arrival of the canal that went past it. The mill’s boiler house was on the canal bank for the convenient receipt of coal. In March 1797 Henry Williams was appointed Agent and General Superintendent of the Shrewsbury Canal at a salary of £200 per annum and for the next forty years he was in effective control of the entire Shropshire tub-boat system. Shrewsbury basin also became the headquarters of the canal company. The Shrewsbury Canal, which had cost just under £65,000 to build, was quietly prosperous for some time, but ironically the cost of coal in Shrewsbury was not reduced.
The crews of the two different types of craft on the canals led very different ways of life. The boatmen of the tub-boat system would always work ordinary day time hours and go home at night, when the canals were closed. The crews of the long distance narrowboats, usually just one or two men and a boy, initially had homes on shore as well, and would work in a similar way to the long-distance waggoners of the period, spending time away from their families. It was only in the second half of the nineteenth century, when the effect of railway competition was beginning to be felt by canal companies and canal employees, that boatmen began to have their families living on board the narrowboats in extremely cramped conditions. Using family as crew members was obviously a cheaper option to a self-employed barge owner/captain (called Number One) or to a larger carrying company cutting its wage bills, and families continued to live in these cramped conditions up until the 1960s. About half of the company’s fleet continued to have all-male crews, however, and in 1902 they also had two all-female crewed boats.
The travelling canal families formed a close knit community, always on the move. Looking back, their life may appear to be romantic and peaceful, but it certainly was not. Hard work and poverty went hand in hand, and in many ways those on shore treated the canal families like all too many treat gipsies today. Lack of education was another problem, and the typical late Victorian do-gooders saw education and religion as one and the same thing and set up a variety of societies and missions to help. In 1903, for example, the company employed a “Lady inspector who would be able to visit the cabins and exert a beneficial influence, especially in seeing that the children attend school”.
For obvious reasons, most canal companies banned or discouraged night time working on their canals. Sunday working was also frowned on from time to time as the companies tried to find a difficult balance between making their canals pay and satisfying the powerful religious lobby of the day. At night, and on Sundays, narrowboats were generally tied up at the canalside, their horses suitably stabled or grazing in an adjacent field, and more often than not, their crew sampling the often dubious delights of the local hostelry and enjoying a chance to pass the time with their fellow boatmen.
As well as the boat crews, canals also needed a wide variety of other employees including clerks, accountants, wharfingers, lock-keepers, toll-collectors, boat-builders and repairers, carpenters and blacksmiths One of the most important jobs was that of the lengthsmen. These each had their own stretch of canal to patrol to make sure that everything was in working order and that there were no breaches, or potential breaches, in the canal. They would also make sure that the hedgerows by the canal were kept in check, keep the grass under control, and generally keep the towpaths tidy. Like the lock-keepers, they usually lived in canalside cottages. If there was a breach, or if a stretch of canal needed to be mended, a section could be isolated and drained by the use of stop planks. These were usually stored in racks by bridges along the canal. To save money, bridges were usually built with as little masonry as possible, often being little more than brick shells filled with rubble. They had very short approaches and were steeply humpbacked. There was usually only enough room for one narrowboat to pass beneath the bridge hole. A pair of vertical iron grooves on either side of the canal took the ends of the stop planks, and once fitted, the water could be drained away where needed - usually through one of the many overflow sluices.
One common problem was the freezing up of the slow moving water in the canal in severe winters. To combat this, each company had one, and usually several, ice-breakers. These specially made boats had keels (unlike the usually flat-bottomed narrowboats and tub-boats) and a large “goal-post” frame running their length. Men would cling to this and rock the boat from side to side as a team of horses pulled it as fast as possible through the ice. It was a spectacular sight. However, not all companies were too concerned to keep the canals ice-free, especially before the competition of the railways made itself felt. For example, in August 1821 the Shrewsbury Canal decided not to break the ice on the canal in the following winter at all.
The section between Wappenshall and Shrewsbury was fairly flat so only had 2 locks at Eyton. The other 9 locks were between Wappenshall and Trench. The current district in Telford called Trench Lock is named after one of these, now unfortunately buried by a roundabout. On this canal the top gates were mitred and the bottom gates were guillotine type. In 1819, due to lack of maintenance, the towpath in Berwick Tunnel fell into disrepair. It was thus removed and boats had to be “legged” through, with the towing horses having to be walked over the line of the tunnel to pick up the boat at the other end. The inclined planes could cause problems if they went wrong. In 1826, a boiler on the engine at Hay Inclined Plane burst which closed the canal until it could be repaired.
In 1826, the proprietors of the proposed Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal wanted to build a branch to link with the Shrewsbury Canal. They approached the Lilleshall Company, lessees of the Donnington Wood Canal, with proposals for a link between Gnosall Heath and Pave Lane. These were rejected and the proprietors then approached the Shrewsbury Canal company instead, proposing a branch from Norbury passing through Newport to a junction with the Shrewsbury Canal at Wappenshall. The Shrewsbury Canal company agreed to the scheme and Thomas Telford was asked to come up with a proposal. He told the proprietors:
“,,, having sundry trial surveys made I have found that a very good line may be obtained by leaving the Shrewsbury Canal in the Pond which is between the ninth and tenth locks counting from the inclined plane and proceeding with a very gentle bend to the town of Newport and from thence to the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal a little to the south of the Village of Norbury, the direction is nearly straight. The whole distance is ten miles three hundred and thirteen yards and the rise from the Shrewsbury Canal is one hundred and thirty-nine feet. From the said Canal to the Town of Newport the line passes up the bottom of the valley and the ground is so level that three locks only are required.
From this town for upwards of two miles further the ground still continues so flat that three more Locks only are required; in the remaining distance there are seventeen Locks making in the whole twenty three Locks of six feet rise each. The line, upon the whole, passes along ground sufficiently favourable for Canal work and in some instances along the boundary of property. At Newport every accommodation requisite for such a place may be given. The remainder of the line passes also over favourable ground, and through the whole no residence is incommoded or Park grounds encroached upon. The general connection between the two before-mentioned Canals by this proposed Branch affords the best communication which can be had, from Wellington and the centre of Shropshire to Manchester and Liverpool to the northward and to Wolverhampton and Birmingham to the Southward. The quantity of Lockage which the great difference of levels creates unavoidably causes a very considerable expense but by the following estimate, which is the result of careful detailed calculations, it appears that the cost does not much exceed seven thousand pounds per mile, which is rather below the average of that such Canals have of late been executed for.
Besides the Branch Line here described which as far as regards the general thoroughfare intercourse is in itself sufficiently perfect, it is desirable to open a connection with the Limestone district which lies on the south side of the valley, and is considerably above its level, to obtain this connection a collateral branch becomes necessary of two miles and one thousand three hundred and eighty-eight yards in length. As only a part of this distance across the bottom of the valley can be made upon a level and the remainder consists of a rise of fifty-two feet to the lime works it appears of necessity that this Branch should be an iron Railway and a single road of this description with proper passing places is estimated at six thousand seven hundred and ninety-eight pounds eleven shillings and six pence, or at the rate of about two thousand five hundred pounds per mile.
Newport 21st July 1826”
The Act for the Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal was passed in 1827 but, for financial reasons, work on the Newport branch was delayed for a few years. Telford estimated the total cost of the Newport branch at £72,412, comprising £20,059 for earthworks and puddling, £38,628 for masonry including locks, bridges, houses and one wharf, £10,277 for land purchase and fencing, and £3,448 for the Act and fees. He commented that £7,000 a mile was rather below the average of what such canals had lately been executed for. A tender for £77,716 from William Provis for constructing the branch was accepted in January 1830. This was almost a third more than Telford’s estimate for the earthworks and masonry.
In March 1831, Henry Williams reported to the Shrewsbury Canal company that altering the locks and bridges between Wappenshall and Shrewsbury would cost £1,000 and that the additional tonnage envisaged would more than pay for the work. By October, six bridges had been rebuilt and two others were being altered. The roving bridge at Wappenshall, designed by Thomas Telford, was built at this time. The two locks at Eyton were also widened to 7 ft. 4 ins. However, narrowboats do not seem to have been allowed on the Shrewsbury for some time, for in April 1834 Williams was ordered to procure a 'long boat', laden with 20 tons of cargo, to see if it could safely pass trains of tub-boats, and negotiate the Berwick Tunnel. The experiment was a success and narrowboats could at last reach Shrewsbury.
Telford’s became ill in 1833 and William Cubitt was brought in as consulting engineer. That autumn Cubitt reported troublesome slips on the towpath side of the canal on Newport Moors and that some slight realignment might be necessary, but he thought it was the contractor’s responsibility. Then in January 1834 he stated that there were minor problems at Newport and Edgmond Moors following the exceptionally heavy winter rains. That summer was dry, but part of the canal bank on Newport Moors had collapsed because of the peaty substratum, though the canal was still usable. Provis was putting it right at a cost of about £3,000, but Cubitt was concerned that this was leaving him short of money and materials for elsewhere, particularly for the crucial problem of Shelmore Embankment. Cubitt hinted that Provis was in danger of becoming bankrupt and recommended additional payments of £1,000 a month. By that autumn the banks at Newport Moors seemed solid.
The Newport Branch reached the junction with the Shrewsbury Canal at Wappenshall in January 1835 and, according to the Wappenshall Wharf records, the first boat arrived from Wolverhampton in February, carrying 6¼ tons of goods. The branch officially opened in March, at the same time as the main Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal. It was just over 10 miles long and had 23 locks, of which 17 were in a flight near to Norbury Junction. It was built to the same dimensions and style as the rest of the main canal. That summer Cubitt stated that the works on Newport Moors continued to subside and give occasional trouble by disturbing the locks walls but Alexander Easton, the canal’s resident engineer, had been able to take measures to secure the walls without stopping the trade. Cubitt’s report in 1837 still expressed minor concerns about this section but in 1841 he stated that it was now in a settled state.
Wappenshall now became an important junction and a place to tranship goods between the tub-boats and narrowboats. All types of goods were dealt with but the main cargo was coal from the nearby coalfield. The Duke of Sutherland’s had a warehouse built on the wharf in 1835 bit it quickly proved to be insufficient for the trade that arose on the canal. A larger building opened within two years, with the facility for boats to be unloaded inside. There was a toll clerk’s office there to collect the fees as boats passed Canals made most of their money by charging a fixed amount for each ton of cargo carried by each boat between fixed quarter mile posts along the canal. A system of painted figures of copper strips fixed to the hulls evolved. These showed the normal displacement of the boat unloaded and the different waterline levels at different cargo weights, which would then be tallied by the toll-collectors along the route. Usually on the narrowboats several tally strips were fixed to the hull to allow for unevenly loaded vessels and an average reading taken.
The 1827 Act had included powers to build two branches, to Edgmond and to Lilleshall. The former was never built and, for the latter, Telford recommended an iron railway 2 miles 1,388 yards long with a rise of 52 feet. A single track railway with passing places was estimated to cost £6,799; at £2,500 a mile this would be only about a third of the cost of a canal. Nothing was done at this time however. Until the arrival of railways, most coalfield companies used Wappenshall as the national outlet for their coal and iron. Rather than negotiate with the coalfield canals, however, the producers normally carried goods to Wappenshall by road and loaded them onto their own narrowboats. Likewise a wide variety of incoming goods was unloaded at Wappenshall for road distribution in the coalfield. A major import was fluxing limestone from North Wales ad in the 1830s and 1840s thousands of tons reached the coalfield annually through Wappenshall. In 1836, after the Shrewsbury Canal was linked to the national system, the Butter Market was constructed at Shrewsbury Basin and the canal extended up to its doors. Warehouses were constructed in this area for a number of carrying companies, including Pickford & Co. Malt, like cheese and milk, is a very perishable commodity and all three cargoes were carried in specially adapted narrowboats, lighter built than the standard craft. They were given special right of way at bridges and locks and often worked all round the clock with two crews. They were also given fresh teams of horses at frequent intervals along the route.
With standard narrow boats running to Shrewsbury, it was not long before narrow boats of special design were being built to work up to Trench and tranship to and from tub-boats at the foot of the inclined plane. It was Shropshire Union policy to build up their own carrying services over the whole 200 miles of their system and they succeeded in achieving a near monopoly of carrying. Certainly they monopolised traffic to Trench, handled by their Trench boats. These were extra-narrow narrow boats with a beam of 6ft 2in and a low cabin. They generally only carried 16 tons, although they could manage 18 tons. Some were Fly Boats, others being called Reserve Boats, taking local traffic. The fly-boats worked between Ellesmere Port and the foot of the Trench plane, making intermediate calls at Nantwich, Audlem, Market Drayton, Goldstone, Shebdon, Newport, Edgmond and Wappenshall. The Reserve Boats ran between Trench and points on the Shropshire Union main canal north and south of Norbury, including Gnosall, High Onn, Wheaton Aston, Brewood and Chillington, and they went up to Shrewsbury. Much of the traffic was iron ore from Ellesmere Port and limestone from Llanymynech, transhipped into tub-boats at the foot of the Trench Incline and destined for the Lilleshall Company's iron and engineering works on the canal at Donnington Wood. Below the Trench Incline were the Shropshire Ironworks, which received cargoes of copper ingots direct from ships at Ellesmere Port, these travelling non-stop by Fly Boat. Outward cargoes were copper wire and iron billets from the Shropshire Ironworks, nails from a works at Hadley and basic slag for export from Ellesmere Port. There was no means of turning a boat at Trench so one way, normally down, had to be performed stern first until the boat could be turned at Wappenshall. Because of the low bridges, empty boats had to remove all planks, stands, cratches and chimney.
Sometimes barges would take passengers but this could be dangerous. At the Shropshire Quarter sessions in October 1837, William Willday and John Morris were charged with assault and robbery of David Davies of Upton under Haughmond near Shrewsbury. Willday was the Captain of a boat owned by Messrs Pickford & Co, Morris the navigator and Davies a passenger. The offence occurred whilst the boat was proceeding from the Castle Foregate wharf at Shrewsbury towards Uffington during the hours of darkness. As the boat approached a tunnel on the canal it met a coal boat crewed by witnesses Messrs Wycherley and Peplow. The manacled passenger Davies screamed for help and was freed when the boat was eventually boarded. Both the accused were sentenced to fourteen years transportation.
In 1840, the lock at Wheat Leasowes was altered and the old central weight system for the guillotine gate was replaced by one using a counterbalance of cast iron moving in a well at the side of the lock. In the next few years, all locks were modified in this way except for the ones at Hadley Park, Eyton Village and Lower Eyton. Modifications to the Trench Inclined Plane were carried out in 1842. Edge rails set in chairs fastened to stone sleepers were used and a new engine of the Cornish type installed, also bought from the Coalbrookdale Company, at a cost of £400. The Trench plane became the last inclined plane working in Britain.
The Humber Arm was an offshoot from the Newport Branch and was originally planned to run to Lilleshall with 7 locks. In the event, it ended at the Duke of Sutherland's Lubstree Wharf on Humber Lane and opened in 1844. It was about ¾ mile long and ran in a straight line from near the Dukes Drive Aqueduct to the wharf on Humber Lane. This gave the Lilleshall Company a more direct outlet to the national canal network than before and it carried out quantities of coal, pig iron, and fluxing limestone. Tramways linked the wharf with the company’s various works.
The Shropshire Union Railways and Canal Company (SURCC) bought most of the East Shropshire canal network in 1846, including the Shrewsbury Canal. The London & North Western Railway Company (LNWR) took control the year after and allowed the canal to decline. By 1849, railways had taken away most of the trade from Wappenhall except for some local traffic. The average cost of maintenance for the years 1855 and 1856 was £1,599 18s and the cost per ton for working the Inclines is 21/6d for the four Inclines, the total amount of tons passed annually is about 135,000. Only 8 boats could be handled on the Trench Incline per hour and the average voyage of a boat was not more than 5-6 miles in 24 hours. Though this canal could not be considered a commercial failure, having paid a large dividend for very many years, it was incapable of meeting the requirements of the times. In 1859, the LNWR constructed a tunnel under Howard Street in Shrewsbury, opening into sidings extending across the Shrewsbury Basin. A travelling crane was constructed alongside the Beacalls Lane boundary, together with a brick goods shed and a small corn mill.
In 1870 the canal company, who were keen to divert traffic from the Trench Incline, agreed to lease Lubstree Wharf from the 3rd Duke and pay a wharfage rate of ½d a ton. In order to carry, what was clearly a substantial trade, they diverted 30 boats from their fleet for the purpose. It saved maintenance of the incline and allowed loading into standard sized narrow boats which came to be called 'Humber Armers'. At the same time a standard gauge railway line was built from the Lilleshall Company’s works to the wharf to replace the tramways. The transfer of trade was a factor in the closure of the Donnington Wood Canal. By 1880 the arm was only carrying fluxing limestone, despite the toll on iron ore having been reduced to try and promote trade. However, in a further attempt to promote the use of the arm, the company agreed specially reduced rates for the Lilleshall Company for 300-400 tons a week of limestone and 100-150 tons of iron ore. They also hoped for an increased coal and pig-iron trade. This must have been a fairly successful move for a further siding was built and the lease on the wharf was renewed in 1891 and 1905. The Butter Market in Shrewsbury became a railway warehouse and in 1880 a siding was built which entailed the canal terminus being reduced in size.
The canals were a major source of employment when operational in the 19th and early 20th centuries. As well as boat crews, canals also needed clerks, accountants, lock-keepers, toll-collectors, boat builders and repairers, carpenters and blacksmiths. One of the most important jobs was that of the lengthsman who was responsible for the up-keep of a particular stretch of canal. The following information comes from the 1881 Census.
At Shrewsbury, these were all husband and wife crews with, in three out of four cases, children aboard. The only exception is Charles Willis, described as a widower and occupation as “Steerer”. At Newport the enumerator did not record the boat names. Here, however, apart from one boat with a husband and wife crew (and very young son who had been born 7 weeks earlier at Chirk), the boats were occupied by apparently unrelated crews who all are described as “Boatman (Barge)”.
As well as those living on boats at the time of the census a number of other canal related workers have been found on the Shrewsbury, Newport and East Shropshire Canals. These do not include traders that clearly depended on the canal, such as the coal dealer at Longdon-on-Tern.:
In the early 20th Century, there were 4 Trench Fly Boats, the Helen, Dot, Spot and Bee; of the Reserve Boats the older were the Tanny, Flora, Fritz, Hugo, Janet, Mavis, Mentor, Opal, Peak, President; latterly in use were the Colonel (largest capacity), Educator, Rogarth (smallest capacity), Jupiter. Patriot, Reynolds, Shropshire and Venus. The names are typical of the Shropshire Union's variety, the Colonel being named after Colonel Paget, proprietor of the Shropshire Ironworks. In later years some of these became maintenance boats. Grain traffic via Trench Incline continued for the flour mills at Donnington Wood and the Shropshire Ironworks cargoes were maintained until about 1918, when the Shropshire Union decided to stop the through Trench boats and handle everything at Wappenshall by standard narrow boat. Three Trench Reserve Boats were kept on for short-haul work to feed cargo to and distribute from Wappenshall. These were just day boats and used one skewbald horse called 'Teeny'. They were crewed by Trench men.
In its last years, Lubstree Wharf was used for bringing in cheese from Cheshire and taking out coal, a traffic called the “Cheshire Run”. In 1922, however, the Duke of Sutherland decided to close Lubstree Wharf and the railway line to Lilleshall when the SURCC was absorbed by the LMSR.
Through boats were later restarted until the Shropshire Union gave up all carrying and closed the Trench Incline in August 1921. Wheat was the last traffic up it, four tub-boats being required for the 18 tons of grain aboard a Trench narrow boat. Traffic at the coal wharf in Shrewsbury had diminished and, when the London Midland & Scottish Railway (LMSR) took over the canal in 1922, the Shrewsbury Basin was closed. The canal above Trench Incline became disused and was finally abandoned in 1931. The section between Trench and Wappenshall was also disused from 1921. In 1931, the last regular traffic carrying sulphuric acid for Shrewsbury gas works came to an end. The last working boats, mostly carrying coal from the Newport branch, reached Shrewsbury in 1936 and Longdon in 1939.
By 1943, 100 tons per year from Newport was the only traffic on the branch. The LMSR obtained an Act of Abandonment and in 1944 was allowed to officially abandon 175 miles of waterway in England and Wales, including the Shrewsbury Canal and the Newport branch. Following abandonment, the canal passed from railway ownership into the ownership of the nationalised British Waterways. In the 1960s they began to sell off much of the line of the canal even as canal enthusiasts were looking at the possibility of restoration and reopening. The Shrewsbury & Newport Canal Society was formed in 1965 but after the canal was sold off they turned to other projects.
Part of the canal was retained in Newport after the council purchased the section within the town boundary in 1967. Wrekin District Council later protected that part under their planning control from the erection of permanent structures across the alignment. The Trench Incline was not so lucky and the docks and embankment were destroyed in 1968 to fill the basin at the bottom. Rodington Aqueduct was also demolished in 1970.
Memories of Albert Ruscoe (from SNCT Newsletter)
The Humber Arm all was well-maintained: in fact the weeds were kept cut and there was always an overflow of water. I'm not sure where the water came from, whether some of it came out of the pits further up or was pumped in at Stafford - it could well be from one of the Stafford pits - but it was certainly full of fresh water at all times, and of course lots and lots of fish, so there was plenty of fishing going on there. The Humber Arm joined the main canal by another wide sheet of water and a small steel aqueduct crossing the road running down from Donnington to Kinnersley. It was strange to see because it was so arranged that the canal could be shut off there. At that aqueduct there were slots in the brickwork at the sides to drop wooden beams in to shut one section of the canal off so that it could be cleaned and kept navigable. Between the two wars the canal was in full use with long boats which we now call canal "narrowboats", but we used to call them "house boats" because people lived on them.
Memories of T Wheeldon (from SNCT Newsletter)
In 1939, a Mr T Wheeldon hired a boat called ‘Joyce’ from Christleton, near Chester and made what must have been the last pleasure trip down towards Shrewsbury. He kept a diary and extracts from that diary were published in the May 1999 edition of ‘Waterways Journal’, published by The Boat Museum Society.
Thursday 20th July.
At 13.30 we arrive at Norbury Junction and turn down the Shrewsbury arm. Immediately we find weed, thick green vegetation. There seems to be a channel in the middle of it, however, so we are able to get through. Into the first lock, disturbing stagnant water and what seems to be the growth of ages. This is scarcely so as two boats do use the arm: one a coal boat which goes down to Long Lane and the other the maintenance boat. There are seventeen locks down within one and a half miles. It is a very hot afternoon and we do not hurry ourselves. Some of the locks are not in a fit state for hurrying anyway. Many of the sluices will not work and some of the gates are very heavy. Down, slowly down, and when we emerge at the bottom at 17.30 we decide we have done enough for the day. The rain clears later so we walk the five miles into Newport and back along the path. The ditch appears passable this far anyway.
Friday 21st July
Away at 10.00. There is a clear channel and deep water right into Newport and only two locks en route so we reach there without incident at 11.00. It is market day and the town is full - until the rain comes again, alas. We wait until 13.30 for the rain to clear. The company's dredger comes up through the lower lock while we wait - probably the last boat we see for some time. A lengthsman comes over to see our permit. This has been inspected by four in the short time we have been in this arm, so rarely do they see a boat, I suppose. At 13.30, then, on into the unknown. The first couple of miles until we are clear of the last of the locks are really bad. A thick greasy weed fills most of the canal and is so covered by water lilies that it is difficult to find a path through. At 14.00 we stop engine and wade in to clear the screw. This operation only takes about five minutes but the screw soon chokes again unless there is a clear stretch ahead. At 14.40 we do it again but after that we are clear of the locks and chug along happily for an hour.
We pass Humber Arm, a short stretch off to the South. This is a particularly fine spot just here at the junction: a very broad stretch of water covered with water lilies and a bridge of imposing design over which the canal passes, gives us the impression of an entrance to a large estate. About 16.15 we came to the first of the last two locks of the canal. The lower gate is of the old-fashioned guillotine type. Fortunately a lengthsman is about and he assists as it is quite impossible for one man to raise it alone. To the second lock, (the pair are called Eyton, I believe), is less than a mile but is easily the worst stretch we have yet met. Almost solid weed blocks our path and by the time we reach the gate we are scarcely moving. I lie on the overflow sill and reach the screw that way. Henceforth I think I will always do it from a wharf or such. It is equally efficient and I don't like plunging my legs into about a foot of black slime. This lock takes nearly half an hour as the guillotine gate will not shut properly until I drop it from its full height. The system of wooden wheels and beams attached thereto are a delight of historic industrial design. A little farther on we have trouble with lift bridges. None of these on this arm are particularly good but these have no chains at all. Now rather exhausted and with further screw clearing, and it being 18.00, we stop for a meal: our first since breakfast. It, of course, has rained almost continuously and this has hampered proceedings somewhat.
So far we have done about ten miles in three and a half hours’ running time. At 19.30 we feel much recovered and it now being a cool dry evening we press on. Quite a good section of canal except for the lift bridges. We always find a dense stretch of vegetation piled up before the narrow water under these bridges and a clear stretch the other side. Is the prevailing wind from the east? The weed has changed form. It is now a furry, messy type, not so liable to clog the screw. This, and the fact that we meet some wide, deep water, enables us to make good progress. I note that occasionally this canal broadens to very wide basins. We have not noticed this on the other canals and wonder the reason. In its heyday this arm must have been quite fast as the water is deep. At Longdon we came to the coal boat which makes its occasional trip to Norbury. After this we must expect undisturbed water and the first sign is a foot plank laid across under a bridge. Two small boys attempt to remove this for us and I finish it off, rewarding them each with a penny before proceeding. On to Rodington where, finding good clear water and no smells, we stop for the night. It is 21.15 and we have done about fourteen and a half miles today. Not much, I suppose, but it has been heavy going and there has been an awful amount of rain. We are nine miles from Shrewsbury. Can we make it? Our presence thus far has created much interest from local inhabitants and if we can get through it will be an achievement.
Saturday 22nd July.
Alas, it is drizzling with rain as we prepare to move. Under way at 10.00. First a clear patch but then weeds in abundance. We are now clearing the screw at every bridge where the deep water enables me to get the stern closely alongside. Eventually I decide it would be as well to tow through some of the worst patches and thereafter I find myself doing far more towing than using the engine. In fact, when we eventually tie up for the night at 15 -00 after some four hours running time the engine has only been used for one hour. Thus to Withington. Wilson's recently published Inland Waterways of GB gives this as the end of the canal. I have not been able to understand this as our map shows it to continue right into Shrewsbury. But I soon realise that this extension is almost entirely on paper. From Withington conditions get steadily worse. The most optimistic of our many advisers have said we might get to Berwick Wharf. This is about two and a half miles from Withington but when we get there we did not even recognise it. A fisherman tells us it is the place and then we look around and just manage to make out the old wharves - such desolation.
Rounding the bend we come up all standing. Masses of green slime completely fill the canal and further progress seems almost impossible. But we don't intend to give up without effort so leave the boat and proceed on foot to reconnoitre. If possible, the green slime gets thicker. A short way on the coping stones of a bridge have fallen into the water and the green slime has grown over these stones. Berwick tunnel lies ahead. It is no depth. The date on the facing is 1797. We muse on the past. 1797 - fifty years before railways became universal: fifty years of activity and prosperity for the canal, when water transport was superior to its only rival, the road. Along the banks we have heard many tales of bygone activity. It is only in the last ten years that traffic has dwindled to the one coal boat.
There was an iron foundry about a mile before Berwick, at a place still known as the Forge, where there was a large basin and a branch, both now filled in. All the agricultural wants of this large area were cared for by canal - but what of the future now that a farmer can get his load of meat sent out within the hour of phoning for it. With the engine we could get through this tunnel all right, not being very good at legging it as they used to, because there no weeds but better we first see what is on the other side. So we scramble up through the fields and copses above. Presumably the horses must have travelled in the boats, as there is no sign of a regular path over the tunnel. There are ventilating shafts every hundred yards so the tunnel line is easy to follow. It is about half a mile long. Conditions are worse at the far end than at the other. A little beyond the tunnel there are reeds right across the water and everywhere green slime. We walk to the railway bridge to be quite sure but there is no possibility of breaking through. The canal has ceased to exist as such some five miles from Shrewsbury and we have to admit defeat.
We turn Joyce round and I tow her back whence we came. We took two and half hours to do the last four miles coming: goodness knows how long it will take to get back. That will be tomorrow. We have done enough for today and in spite of the rain intend going into Shrewsbury by rail. About one mile back there is a station, Upton Magna, where the railway runs over the ditch. Here at 15.00 we moor and M. tramps across the field to ask the times of the trains. There is one at 16.25 and we catch it when it comes in at 17.00. Meantime we have made friends with the signalman and the porter. The latter produced, without our asking, and marked a timetable specially for us so that we should not miss our train back. Excellent service.
In Shrewsbury we found our way down the back streets to the canal end. A bricked-up arch marks the present end though it did run into a large basin. Full of dead animals and all kinds of rubbish, the smell is so objectionable that the locals want to fill it in. On return to Upton Magna we chatted with the signalman and porter until after 23.00 and watched a constant stream of traffic including a surprising amount of empty passenger stock, usually double-headed. This is the GWR/LMS joint line.
Sunday 23rd July
We set off at10.10 continuing the return journey and facing our stern battle with the state of the canal. The banks are well lined with fishermen, some of them having been here since dawn. The screw weeds up in the first few yards due to the bottom growth I decide to tow but then we find a clear stretch and get the engine running the circulating water inlet chokes with the floating moss. This takes much longer to clear and we are destined to do it several more times today. There is a strong wind which proves useful in keeping way on when I stop the screw through occasional weeds. If this is for more than a few seconds, however, the wind takes charge and we end up across the cut. It is then a matter of getting ashore and towing her around.
Eventually the combination of these various circumstances causes me to decide to tow the whole way and have done with it. Hence the day passes and we cover five miles in three hours. By the time we reach the coal boat things are much better and we proceed steadily and almost normally. The first Newport lock, at Edgmond, is a favourite Sunday afternoon rendezvous judging by the numbers who watch us through the lock. We go three locks beyond Newport to a very wide and clear stretch with Aqualate Mere close at hand and moor at 19.10. Thus we have done nine hours without pause and covered fifteen miles.
Memories of Tom Howard (from SNCT Newsletter)
Then, after about five hundred yards, comes the canal basin where tar was loaded into boats and close by the basin was Perry’s timber yard. On the other side of the fence was Mr Arthur Owens coal yard where we unloaded coal brought by boat from Littleton colliery which is by Penkridge, roughly twenty eight miles away. By the coal yard was and still is a warehouse we called Stubbs warehouse where people used to fetch their corn. Close by I should not have to tell people is Newport Lock. Also, tucked in the corner of Water Lane, was and is a brick building used for a weigh bridge. At night we used to stable the horse or mule at the Bridge Inn. Also, we would get our bread and other items from Millwards next door. We got our candles from Mr Hodgetts where the garage is now. Right by here is the turn-over bridge where the tow-path changed sides of the canal now leaving the stream on your right. This turn-over bridge (Newport Bridge) was very low and meant you could not have tall horses or mules.
In sight is the Mill Lock with a brick hut on the off side of the lock, also on the tow-path side just above the lock was and is a canal bungalow. In the early thirties it was lived in by a Mr Pouney who used to dash around on a bicycle to pay the men employed on the canal. As time went by he retired and was replaced by the canal company, to Mr Walter Davies who was head of seven carpenters at Norbury Junction repair yard. Also on this length was a Mr Charles Oakley who was employed by the canal company who lived at the entrance to the canal basin opposite the Old Wharf Pub in Water Lane.
Between the bottom of Mill Lock and the farm bridge the stream passes under the canal from one side to the other. It then followed the tow-path side of the canal about sixty yards, as far as Polly’s lock where if need be it was diverted to Longford Mill. The Mill lock became a turning point for boats and was also a nesting place for swans. At breeding time they could become very nasty. Then came Poll’s lock. After going through the lock we come to what we called Stony bridge, where people crossed on their way from Longford to Edgmond. In sight then comes Edgmond coal wharf with its warehouse and lock. Our family unloaded coal at this wharf. On the off-side of the canal were withy beds which a Mr Dawson of Middle Row in Newport cut and bundled up. So, when we came back empty from wharfs farther down the canal, we picked it up for him and placed it at the off-side at Newport Lock from where he collected it to make baskets. Now my wife for sixty four years lived in Newport and when she was young she recalled she used to see Mr Dawson fetch these bundles of withy on a truck not realising that the person who helped put it on the lock side would one day be her husband. What a small world it was in the nineteen-thirties.
Now, leaving Adeney on your right, there were some cottages on the off side at the buttery opposite the bridges. Soon we get to the turn over bridge a bit different to other turn over bridges as it had a dual purpose, also serving the junction of the Newport Branch with the Humber Arm. If you carried straight on your way along the Humber Arm you passed Kinnersley Aqueduct or Dukes Drive to a dead end, roughly a mile away. It must have been a busy place years gone by and I remember there were three sunken boats there. Also at the top end of the arm of the canal, guarded round with white railings was a well for drinking water and by the bridge was stabling for horses or mules. On the off side of the arm was an engine house and the rail track where coal and bricks came down. Close by was a derelict chapel. In it had been left an organ from years gone by which was still playable and we used to have a tune or two on it. My parents said most boat people were fairly religious.
Sometimes as I gaze around the buildings near the canal I think to myself that I may have fetched those bricks by canal many years ago. Going back to the Humber Arm, when coal or bricks came down to the canal by rail, mostly coal, it was taken by boat to one of the wharves at Longdon on Tern or Withington or Berwick. But, after the Humber Arm closed around 1923 the coal no longer came this way, instead being brought by boat from Littleton Colliery (Penkridge). After the boat was loaded at the Humbers you made your way back to the Kinnersley aqueduct you had to part the horse from the boat and take the horse up the turnover bridge to get to the towpath and head for Wappenshall. There was a towpath on both sides of the aqueduct and once back over the turnover bridge you make your way towards Preston upon the Wealds
The lengthman on the Preston Upon the Wealds stretch was Mr Tom France and I remember that in the early nineteen thirties it was a real credit to him. He had a little hut close by the aqueduct. While passing through Preston we always thought the building on the offside of the canal was a school. After arriving at Wappenshall Junction you can turn left up the Trench Canal and it was here that there was a winding hole [turning point].
As you go along the Trench arm there is first a road bridge (which is still usable) and then further on a pull-bridge and locks, with the Trench Lock now a roundabout. On this canal the bridges and locks were narrower than other canals. To the best of my knowledge, myself and my family owned and took the last working boat up the Trench Canal, taking clay to repair the canal banks in 1933 with a narrowboat called Enterprise.
Back at Wappenshall Junction you now head towards the aqueduct at Longdon. About 300 yards after the junction was the first pull-up bridge. It was real hard to dislodge it after the farmers had been over it. To lift the bridge you had to tug on the chains or ropes. Once you got it started you got some help from the large container of ballast fixed to it on the same side as you were tugging. After leaving the pull-up bridge, on the off-side of the canal was an avenue of trees. Then you approach the first guillotine lock. This is different from most locks with a large gate at the bottom end of the lock which was wound up with chains and a large windlass and I still have one of these in my possession now. To us, this lock always seemed to be right in the country.
The next place of importance was the Buck’s Head pub. On a few occasions we used to stable the horse there. Also, this bridge was very low for horses to go under. Then, farther on, you get to the next guillotine lock, with a pull up bridge right below the lock and the Parish Church not far away. Right below the pull-up bridge on the towpath side was, and still is, a little cottage. In our time in the early 1930s it was occupied by a Mr Isaac Clark, a length-man who attended to the canal in this area.
Not far on was another turnover bridge but this one was different, being made of cast iron. Then just a couple of hundred yards on was the most talked about aqueduct, the one which is over the river Tern at Longdon. I have many memories of this aqueduct. First of all, you had to blindfold the horse or mule to get them to go over the aqueduct. If you had seen it, it was certainly a bit scary. About fifty years ago I took my wife and children over it but they were too frightened to come back over it to get back to the car and had to walk all the way back along the road. But look at the times that me and my family had gone over it with the boat, though it seems quite different now with no water in the trough. After passing over the aqueduct about two hundred yards further along on the offside of the canal was a coal wharf, really a basin.
This belonged to a Mr Arnold and sons who had a cottage about two hundred yards behind the wharf. We unloaded coal from the boat here for the last time in 1936. The boat’s name was Percy and the mule was called Hairpin. The amount of coal loaded in the boat was twenty five tons. I can remember how people, including children of all ages, used to come with old prams and wheelbarrows to collect their coal. Occasionally there was an old lady who used to come with a donkey and cart. If you went straight on after coming over the aqueduct you would pass by a warehouse on the off-side of the canal and another wharf that seemed it hadn’t been used for years. Also there was a stable for three horses. Then, close by the road bridge on the towpath side, just a few yards down the road was a grocer’s shop. After leaving the road bridge head towards Withington coal wharf. We used to take coal there but didn’t do as much trade as we did with Mr Arnold. We bypassed Rodington where the canal goes over the river Roden with its old stone arches supporting the aqueduct. The next place of importance was Berwick Wharf. This wasn’t really used much for canal transport after the closure of the Humber arm in 1923, along with its supply of coal.
Now we come to Berwick Tunnel. I have only been through a few times. As a rule my elder brothers or parents legged the boat through and while doing so I took the horse or mule over the top of the tunnel to meet the boat at the other end. I used to watch the boat go through by leaning over the walls of the air shafts. The walls of the shafts were built up with bricks and mortar about three feet high for safety reasons and were roughly twelve feet in diameter. The boat always seemed such a long way down.
After meeting up at the end of the tunnel there was (and still is) a stable for two horses. I remember staying a night or two there in the early 1930s. It always seemed to me that our family only went through the tunnel for the benefit of saying that they had. I am certainly glad to be able to say now that I went through it. Now we make our way back towards Norbury to see how the coal got to these wharves on the Shrewsbury Canal. From Littleton Colliery basin by Penkridge we travelled the Stafford & Worcester Canal, then right at Austerely Junction and along the Shropshire Union to Norbury Junction to turn left onto the Shrewsbury Canal. In our time we had other boats on the Main-Line (Shropshire Union Canal). The boats names were George, Mayflower, and also the Percy, which was the last working boat on the Shrewsbury Canal.
As the years went by, canal transport was in slow decline so me and one of my brothers went to work for British Waterways at Norbury Junction on canal maintenance. About forty or so years ago people from the fishery came with two vans fitted with large tanks and eight of us to help, under the supervision of Mr Bowden. Nets were provided to catch the fish to put them into other canals. The fish were mostly taken from the Preston upon the Weald area.
After a while Mr Bowden died and was sadly missed. He wasn’t just a nine-to-five Inspector but, day or night if ever he was needed nothing was too much trouble for him. He was later followed as Inspector at Norbury by Mr Dean who had learnt his trade there as carpenter some years before. The reason why I am mentioning all this is to show that work was still being done on the canal, even when it was closed to boat traffic. Anyhow, soon after Mr Dean returned, he, myself and two labourers erected a fence on the off-side of the canal between Mere Town bridge and the lock. Also work was still being done around the Trench pools as well as below the seventeen locks opposite Fortson Church and at the skew bridge.
If all the past inspectors could see the canal now they would have a good cry. I have a photograph of me taken some years ago in the empty trough of the Longdon aqueduct where in the 1930s my family and I had taken loaded coal boats through. In contrast, I also have a photograph of my father turning the boat round in Newport basin after unloading coal at Mr Arthur Owen’s coal yard – the year, 1922.
In my visit back to the Shrewsbury Canal after all those years I went down to the Humber Arm and met with Mandy and John, the owners of the cottage. They made me and my son very welcome and invited us to look around. We first went to the engine house, now without its roof. I think it was a lifetime since I was last in there. There were rails running through it as far as the bridge but these are no longer there. Of course the trains were all steam powered then and the engine was as big as those you used to see on the main line. The train used to go up to Lilleshall and come back with a load of coal or bricks and, as I recall it, was locked up in the engine house each night.
It was always very busy down the Arm and there might be six or seven boats in at a time. But in the period I am talking about it was also a time when neglect was setting in and I recall there were three boats sunk in the arm just rotting sat on the bottom.
Remember, all the boats were pulled by horse or mule. Mules were always considered the best as they would struggle on for hours and wouldn’t tire the way horses did. Sometimes to help the mules and to speed up the journey we would harness a pair to the boat. The days were very long – sometimes eighteen hours at a stretch. In a single day we would often set off laden from Norbury, work the seventeen locks and get down to Arnold & Sons yard at Longden Wharf, unload and get back up the seventeen to reach Norbury before we saw our beds. This wasn’t so bad in the summer but in the shorter days we had to travel in the light of the paraffin bulkhead lamp so you can guess we knew every bend in the canal and the detail of every lock like the back of our hands.
Speaking of beds, when we were working the boats our bed was sometimes little more than a couple of planks and was often cold, cramped and very uncomfortable so a long hard day helped to make sure you managed to sleep okay. It was certainly a difficult time but having an upbringing like that stands you in good stead for later life and might help to explain why I am still here at 90. In the summer there was less demand for the coal and so the boat people would take their mules and work on the nearby farms. We certainly had to be a Jack of all trades.
I was the second youngest of six lads and one sister. We all did our stint on the boats though my eldest brother, Charlie, wasn’t so keen to start with and went to work on the land. The canal water must have been circulating in his veins like it was for the rest of us though as he went on to work the boats in Wolverhampton when he was older. Like most children we started work proper when we were fourteen and up to then mother always tried to ensure we were properly schooled and went to church. Our school was at High Offaly which was very handy for the canal.
Getting back to my recent visit to the arm, I had my photograph taken on top of the bridge facing Kinnersley aqueduct or what some people called Duke’s Drive. Here there used to be a wooden building which acted as a grain store for boat people.
The tow path carried on under a bridge to where there used to be some stables but these are no more. The path continued to the top end of the arm where there was a well which was mostly used by boat people. You can still see a similar one to this on the green at Norbury Junction opposite where the inspector’s house used to be. I remember that the well water at the Humbers was only about eighteen inches from the top and when I spoke to the couple at the cottage about this they told me it had been filled in but they occasionally had water seeping out of the ground. In my time we would collect our water from here with the metal water cans just like the ones you see in the pictures and that holiday boater’s display on their boats now. We used to decorate the water cans, cabin doors, mops, masts, horse shafts and so on, all with the traditional roses and castles. No-one really taught us how to do it but it was a kind of relaxation when you had some time to spare and there always seemed to be someone in the family who would pick up how to do it and could help you make your boat more personal and like home.
I also mentioned to Mandy & John that there used to be a chapel there not far from the cottage but this had been demolished many years ago. I was then invited to look at what we used to call the ticket office. I remember you had to have a chit or ticket for the amount of coal or bricks you had on your boat how long/weighing load and I wonder if the children of today would be happy to work at unloading the boats as we did and catching two bricks at a time without pinching their fingers. When Mandy and John took us in for a cup of tea I noticed the same fire grate still there in what had been the office.
Memories of Old Shrewsbury Canal (from SNCT Newsletter)
Sundorne - in 1780 it was recorded that an Inn, The New Inn, used to stand at the top of the lane on the right. This was a regular haunt of the 'bargees' from the traffic on the canal and river. In 1820 The New Inn was closed because of the bad conduct from the Bargees. The old bowling green from the New Inn could still be seen right up to 1911. At the bottom of the lane there was a stile and gate leading onto an old iron bridge built on a brick base.
The Shrewsbury Branch was looked after by lengthman Tom Adams, known locally as „Tom the canal man‟. He lived at the canal basin yard behind the railway station (now a car park). His „length‟ was from his home to the other side of Upton Magna. On his way out, Tom would clean out the canal and trim the edges and on his return journey would cut the hedges and repair the fences. Tom had a little black barge that he used for shelter and the storing of his tools. His tool kit, by modem standards, was crude, basic and simple. He managed to complete all his tasks with a scythe, a brush hook, a shovel and a few other basic tools. Very often we would see him cycling from his home to wherever he had left his barge the night before. He would then load his bicycle onto the barge and punt it to his next job. He was a great character and took immense pride in his work. His stretch of the canal was always immaculate and a joy for the public to behold. He was good to us children too. He would often let us ride on his boat and we found it great fun even if he only moved the barge a hundred yards.
Declining Traffic on the Shrewsbury & Newport Canals
Joseph Boughey - Waterways Journal 2002
The Shropshire Union Railways & Canal Company (SURCC) controlled both a complex series of waterways and a freight carrying system which was unusual amongst railway-dominated waterways owners. The London & North Western Railway Co (LNWR) owned most of the capital, but left the SURCC to run the canal in a semi-independent fashion, even competing modestly with the LNWR lines itself.
The SURCC developed freight carrying using its own boats, which it extended onto the whole of its system from 1849. As trade developed, especially to and from the Midlands, it developed its fleet and facilities further, almost doubling the number of narrow boats between 1870 and 1889. By 1898 its fleet had reached its height, making it the largest narrow boat fleet in Britain at the time. The branches then remained reasonably busy, but less prosperous, parts of a thriving system. This coverage is divided into three periods. The first attempts to portray the position in the late 1890s and the 1900s, when the system was reasonably trafficked; the second attempts to consider the position until 1921, when the Shropshire Union ceased carrying; while the last section discusses the final decline of toll-carrying traffic.
1. Relative Prosperity: From the 1890s to 1910
Returns of traffic carried indicate a steady increase in traffic on the Shropshire Union at this time. However, local traffic was a small proportion of the total, and this was largely carried by bye-traders, paying tolls, whereas Company boats carried the majority of through traffic. When the Company was the carrier, overall charges for wharfage and carrying were quoted to customers, whereas bye-traders had to arrange tolls, craft, and labour and incur wharfage, storage and collection and delivery charges. It is not entirely clear how much more efficient was the integrated service provided to customers, but there would be complaints that the system discriminated against bye-traders on the main line and through traffic, leaving the bye-traders to handle less remunerative local traffics. Numerous small traders handled traffics with which the Shropshire Union did not deal, but larger national carriers, like Fellows Morton & Clayton, claimed that high tolls deterred them from carrying on the Canal. Patterns of carrying are hard to discern and quantify, but some details for 1905 are available. Traffic to branch ‘stations’ on the Shrewsbury & Newport Canals were:
This equates to just 3% of Shropshire Union traffics being carried on the Shrewsbury lines. The 'stations' represent traffics at several points, and the statistics may indicate merely the places at which freight and tolls were recorded. Although the SURCC was marginally profitable overall, high maintenance costs against limited revenue prompted them to consider the closure of several sections, including Trench incline in 1881 and the line between Longdon and Shrewsbury in 1899.
The most important source of trade was the Trench area. Coal traffic was generated by the Lilleshall mines above the Trench incline and carried, either down the incline, or by the private Lilleshall railway to the Humber Arm, for distribution to a series of wharves on the lines to Shrewsbury and Newport, and onto the main line as far as Market Drayton. The Lilleshall Company had wharves at Edgmond, Long Lane and Berwick Wharf, but also wharves at railway stations, including that at Newport, where it would later develop canal facilities. Most of the Shrewsbury wharves (including much of the canal basin itself) had been taken over by the railway, but one canal trader, still there and at Sundorne (near Pimley) in 1905, was Frederic Chubb, who also had railway wharves at Yorton, Wem, Dorrington, Baschurch and in Shrewsbury itself. Some indications of traffic in the Trench area were provided by William Owen, who worked at the Trench incline from 1890 to 1921. During his time, only coal was carried down the incline, and grain upwards; about 50-60 boats passed over the incline daily at its height. The grain traffic, from Ellesmere Port, was transhipped at Trench Wharf between ‘Trench’ narrow boats (the canal from Wappenshall to the bottom of the incline required a special narrow boat built only 6 feet 2 inches wide to pass the narrow locks to Trench Wharf. The SURCC maintained a small fleet of boats built to this gauge. They were always brought up the locks stern first, as the return loads were heavier) and tub boats, and to Bullocks' Donnington Wood Mill Co. on the former Wombridge Canal; the wharf at the latter was lengthened in 1893. In 1905 2,788 tons of coal were loaded on the Duke of Sutherland's Canal (the only traffic on this canal, disused shortly after) and taken down the incline. This may have come from Muxton Bridge Colliery, which worked until 1912.
Along the top two pounds of Trench Locks were manufacturers which had partly developed there after the adjacent railway opened in 1849. These included the Trench Ironworks and Shropshire Iron Company, wire manufacturers, and the Castle Iron Works. The latter had been opened in 1871 by Nettlefolds, but this was sold in 1886, re-opening as the Castle Car Works in 1900, and later Joseph Sankey; it had its own basin above the second lock. Raw materials, like copper ingots for the Shropshire Iron Co., came from Ellesmere Port, some being transhipped at Wappenshall. Return cargoes included hoop iron for cotton binders, and wire and wire billets for export. One load, from the Shropshire Iron Company for Argentina, took over two years to complete. All of these traffics used freight vessels. Owen also recalled a chemical works, just below the incline; this was recorded in 1891 as the Trench (Salop) Phosphates Co, artificial manure manufacturers, served by basic slag brought from local furnaces by canal; a whole floor of the wharf building at Wappenshall was used to store this. By 1894, when a new wharf was being constructed here, this firm was named J & F Albert. Later, the slag traffic was transferred to the Humber Arm.
Grain was carried to Shrewsbury, Newport and Edgmond, much of it imported through Ellesmere Port and encouraged by developments at the Port, like the new grain warehouse of 1898; much of the latter would pass by rail or road to smaller mills. Some traffics later came from Manchester after the opening of the Ship Canal and the development of grain terminals there after 1898. The Humber Arm was mainly used by the Lilleshall Co, which was served by its own railway from the Lubstree terminal, carrying iron ore and coal. The accommodation at Lubstree was enlarged in 1893.
The line from Wappenshall to Shrewsbury included brickworks and pipeworks west of Long Lane, where the Lilleshall Co had a coal basin, whose towpath bridge was so low that only tub boats could enter. Near Longdon Wharf there was a further brick and pipe works, and Shropshire Union freight warehouses and wharves there and at Rodington, Withington and Berwick Wharf. At the small Uffington Wharf, corn was unloaded in 1906 for a local mill, and a coal wharf at Sundorne, east of Pimley Aqueduct; while bricks from a brickyard north of the railway bridge at Berwick were unloaded at Pimley in 1906. Into Shrewsbury, there was a wharf at Ditherington Flax Mill, and then Shrewsbury Gas Works, from which waste acid passed to the Midlands by canal. Beyond here were W L Browne's Flour Mills. The wharf at Shrewsbury had been largely taken over for railway sidings, but some wharfage, known as Castlefields, remained. On the Newport section, the main wharves were at Newport, where there were two sets of wharves and a warehouse; there was also a warehouse and wharf at Edgmond, operated by the Lilleshall company.
2. The Shropshire Union in Decline 1910-1921
While the Royal Commission of 1906-10 envisaged the enlargement of the Shropshire Union main line, there was no question of this for the branches. Some traffic continued on the Shrewsbury line. A corrugated iron shed was erected at Rodington in 1906, competing with the GWR at Crudgington. In 1913 a 5 cwt crane was ordered at Uffington to enable boatmen to discharge boats. The coal wharf at Newport was operated by the Lilleshall Company; its lease expired in 1915, and it closed its coal business at Long Lane Wharf in 1917. The same company also had the commission agency at Edgmond in 1918, when it raised rates there and at Berwick Wharf. The closure of the Shrewsbury Basin was mooted in 1920; traffic was apparently continuing, as leakage then affected the SURCC boat Bute, carrying barley for Shrewsbury. In 1914 rates were agreed for the unloading of iron and copper billets at the Shropshire Iron Co, carted to and from the canal.
The SURCC's position worsened after 1911, and under wartime control massive losses were recorded, but covered by the government. The future must have appeared limited, and on 13 June 1917 the Company decided not to build any new boats. The land upon which the Humber Arm wharf had been built was owned by the Duke of Sutherland, and when a 14 year lease expired in 1919, the SUC sought to renew this on an annual tenancy only.
3. Final Decline 1921-1944
The collapse of Shropshire Union freight carrying was really based on mounting losses, subsidised by government wartime guarantees, the consequences of whose expiry were the subject of national policy in 1919. The controls and subsidies ended in 1921; at this time the viability of owner-carriers was doubtful due to increases in costs, particularly wages, the introduction of an 8-hour day in the railway industry, the refusal of many staff to work through Sundays, bank holidays and evenings without overtime, the consequent difficulty in recruiting
and retaining the workforce, and the inability to pass on costs in freight (or toll) charges during a period of economic chaos. The SURCC had been subject to massive losses on both canal-owning and canal-carrying, and sought to reduce these by ceasing to carry. It was spurred on by legal advice that freight facilities could be withdrawn without the formal procedures required to extinguish navigation.
Shortly after September 1921, when the Company began to operate as toll-takers only; it was absorbed into the LNWR, itself soon amalgamated into the London Midland & Scottish Railway Company. An early casualty was the Trench incline, and then Shrewsbury Basin in 1922, but toll traffic continued to pass over most of the system, including some parts which had relied entirely upon freight. The latter probably excluded the Humber Arm after the terminal wharf closed. Oral evidence indicates that its last traffics included coal going out, with cheese from Cheshire inward. The Shrewsbury lines were lightly trafficked, but remaining trades were slow to disappear. The Trench incline and the canal above formally closed in 1921, but it is not clear when movements ended along the rest of the branch; these depended upon special Trench boats, and unless carriers took over these craft, they may have ended entirely in 1921. In November 1935 this was one of four disused lengths singled out for closure by the Shropshire County Surveyor. One former major customer, the Trench Iron Works, closed in 1931, and traffic to Joseph Sankey & Co. (formerly the Castle works) may well have ended before 1927, when Sankey sought to fill in the basin there and remove the bridge. Traffics along the line to Shrewsbury were confined to the Gas Works, from which traffic to the Midlands, for Thomas Clayton (Oldbury) and Chance and Hunt, ended in 1927 and 1931 respectively. By November 1935 there was no traffic on the section west of Withington Wharf.
Coal and corn continued to pass to Edgmond. Local merchants, Burton Woodward & Co, took a lease of the wharf in January 1924, and coal was being carried there in July 1927. However, its office was removed in 1927, and the firm went into liquidation. There is further reference to coal at Edgmond in 1929. The warehouse was let to CM & M Stubbs & Co., which had been located in Station Road, Newport, in June 1924, but this was vacated by 1929. A CLLWC traffic in offal passed around January 1929, and the same company brought grain from Manchester to Newport in 1928.
Detailed movements were recorded for the first 7 months of 1935. Coal traffics passed from Autherley (almost certainly Littleton colliery on the Staffordshire &Worcestershire), to Withington and Longdon. The former, serving William Owen, involved nine boats carrying 167 tons; the latter, serving John Arnold & Son, involved 25 boats carrying 603 tons. The other traffic was in tar, from Newport Gas Works, carried by Thomas Clayton to the Midlands, involving four boats carrying 80 tons. These generated a total of £66 in tolls. The last traffic to pass beyond Newport was 480 tons of coal to Longdon in 1939. The carrier here was J. Howard of Shebdon, who owned Ash. In 1924 the Longdon warehouse and stable had been let to John Henry Jones of the Old Wharf at Market Drayton. These were corn and cake merchants. Traffic was passing in 1926, but their lease ended in December 1934. The wharves at Newport became the final focus of traffics. In early 1930 Arthur Owen, a local coal merchant, vacated the wharf. Attempts to find a replacement proved difficult; one local candidate, proved to be in a poor financial position. The final loads of tar to Oldbury passed in 1944, and the canal became unusable shortly afterwards.
Wappenshall Wharf 1835-50
Peter Brown - Journal of the Railway & Canal Historical Society, July 2005
Part 1: The Wharf and the Sutherland Estates
Wappenshall Wharf is situated 2½ miles northeast of the market town of Wellington in east Shropshire. (Map reference: SJ663146) The Shrewsbury Canal, a tub-boat canal from the coal-mining and iron-founding district east of Wellington to the county town, opened in 1797 but there was no canal connection to the rest of the country until the Newport branch of the Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal (B&LJC) was opened through from Norbury Junction on the Wolverhampton-Nantwich main line on 2 March 1835. Although the canal from Wappenshall Junction to Shrewsbury had been rebuilt to take full size narrowboats, the section southeast towards the inclined plane at Trench remained unconverted. The junction was therefore the obvious place to build a wharf, both for the transhipment of goods between tub-boats and narrowboats, and for the unloading of goods destined for the Wellington area.
The Development of the Wharf
At Market Drayton, the Canal Company itself developed the wharf. Not so for Wellington - the major landowner in the area was the Duke of Sutherland and it was the Sutherland estate which developed and managed the wharf. A two storey warehouse of typical appearance was built by the triangular winding hole preparatory for the opening; nothing has been ascertained about who designed this.
As early as July 1835 it was noted that there were delays at Wappenshall because of the lack of room at the wharf and warehouse. In particular, William Botfield, the iron and coal master with works at Old Park and Stirchley, wanted covered accommodation for transhipment. James Loch, the Duke of Sutherland‘s Principal Agent, considered that the traders should themselves construct the extra accommodation which they were demanding, paying a rent (which should not be excessive) and being subject to strict conditions. He was concerned that it was difficult to judge what was necessary: when people trade on another‘s capital, applications will not be infrequent and always pressing‘, but on the other hand, if one is too cautious the prosperity of the place may be improperly repressed.
However, Loch was over-ruled by the Duke himself. A second warehouse was therefore planned, built end-on to the wharf so as to permit further development, as suggested by Loch. Three storeys tall, it was built over a second link between the Newport branch and the Shrewsbury Canal, enabling unloading or transhipment to take place in the dry. Unusually, a cart road passed through the building. The architect and contractor was James Trubshaw, who was a personal friend of the Duke, having worked for the him both at Trentham Hall and Lille-shall Hall, and who also had much canal experience. James Loch appears to have had misgivings about employing Trubshaw, the implication being that he feared the building would be over-designed; at this time he was very concerned about the rate at which the Duke was spending money generally. Construction of the new warehouse started in February or March 1836 and it was in use by January 1838.
The two warehouses, together with the skew towpath bridge and the wharfinger‘s house, still stand - the later warehouse is a particularly elegant building and we can now be grateful that the Duke ignored Loch‘s advice. The contemporary plan also shows a weighbridge. By 1840 an inn, appropriately called the Sutherland Arms, had been built and leased to John Tranter.
John Tomlinson was appointed wharfinger early in 1835. From the start he also acted on behalf of the Canal Company, which evidently caused some problems as the following year Loch found it necessary to remind him that he was the Duke‘s servant, and that his first duty therefore was to the Duke. The accounts show that Tomlinson was paid £50 in 1842 for 6 months’ salary and expenses, and £117 in 1843 for 18 months’ salary and expenses, figures which do not seem consistent. The assistant wharfinger was paid £50 and £97 in the two years, but the periods were not stated. Another man was employed for weighing the iron.
Tomlinson‘s record-keeping was sometimes criticised, as was the occasional lateness of his traffic returns. Although dismissed at the end of 1845 and held liable for the outstanding arrears totalling £435, one gains the impression that his problem was sloppy accounting and ineffectual debt collection, rather than fraud. The financial mess he left behind him took several months to sort out as it proved necessary to contact each of the carrying companies. He was replaced by Joseph Barlow, who was probably the “good Bridgewater clerk” referred to in correspondence; also the accounting system was improved.
Because the records are incomplete, it is not possible to construct trading accounts for the whole of the period. In summary, the known figures are
By 1846 the total amount expended on capital works (principally buildings) at Wappenshall was stated to be £5,342. These accounts show that the wharf was clearly profitable, even after allowing for the investment which had been made in warehouses. However, because the capital cost was so great, the return on capital employed was only about 5%. James Loch was proved right: if the Duke had taken his advice and licensed the traders to make the extra accommodation they wanted, rather than providing it himself (made even more costly by employing a regionally-respected architect/contractor), his investment would have been only about £1,500 instead of over £5,000, his return on capital employed would have been much greater and his financial risk significantly less.
The detailed figures for payments are tantalisingly incomplete and do not agree with the totals above because the latter excludes capital items such as “making canal basin”. In summary the figures for the two years for which records survive are:
Making the canal basin cannot refer to constructing the triangular winding hole, which was done by 1835; perhaps it was enlarged or improved. The amount seems too big for it to refer to dredging. Analysis of the monthly cash receipts from mid-1841 to mid-1849 shows little seasonal variation. The peak month tended to be March, the lowest months June and July. This appears to have been typical for canal revenues. The railways from Shrewsbury to Wellington and on to Stafford (and hence to the main population centres and ports) and to Oakengates opened on 1 June 1849; the line from Oakengates to a temporary station at Wolverhampton opened on 12 November that year. The immediate effect on the trade at the wharf is clear from the monthly income for 1849:
The railways had a significant, if brief, effect on the revenues in another way: the record year of 1847 included a substantial amount of rails, chairs and other iron products for railway construction.
Charges for Wharfage, Warehousing and Cranage
After the wharf had been open for a year, James Loch somehow gained the impression that no charge was being made for warehousing, writing to William Smith, the Land Steward or Sub-Agent responsible for looking after the Duke of Sutherland‘s interests in Shropshire: “You may build warehouses as big as the Wrekin, and if you put no rent on them they will not satisfy the trader.” In fact charges were made according to weight. The schedule as at 31 December 1835 was as set out as in the table above. A note appended to the schedule stated, “The person using the cranes must be liable for all damage done to them when moving weights exceeding 6 tons” implying that there was more than one crane, and that they were operated by the traders‘ employees.
The legal basis for these charges must have been queried, because early in 1839 James Loch sought a counsel‘s opinion from Loftus Lowndes. The answer could not have pleased Loch: the charges for wharfage and warehousing were in excess of those permitted under the Act authorising the canal, and there appeared to be no statutory power for charging for cranage. Normally private businesses could charge whatever they wanted, unlike entities set up by statute (such as the canal company). However, Section 145 of the 1826 Act which authorised the Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal explicitly regulated the charges at both canal company and private wharfs. Loch has appended a footnote to Lowndes‘ letter: “The dock under the warehouse is private property, not part of the Parliamentary line. I apprehend the Lord may make a charge for that... accommodation.” This seems a dubious interpretation of the legal position.
All users were charged the same fees. In particular, no preference was given to the Lilleshall Company, in which the Duke‘s uncle, Granville Leveson-Gower, Earl Granville (1773-1846), had a half share.
The wharf records end in December 1850, implying that the Sutherland Estates ceased their direct management, though no confirmation of this has been found.
Joseph Barlow is shown in the 1851 census as wharfinger, and three wharf labourers are also listed. This seems surprising, seeing that in the more prosperous years of 1842 and 1843 the accounts show that the wharfinger had only two assistants. However, Bagshaw‘s directory for 1851 lists John Tranter, the licensee of the Sutherland Arms, as the wharfinger; one can speculate that this was under a rental or licence arrangement, rather than as an employee. The Sutherland Estate‘s rent book for 1860 shows Tranter as paying £200 a year for property at Wappenshall, but does not state what the property comprised. The 1851 census also lists a boat-builder, John Goodwin.
The decline in the activity at the wharf is evidenced by the Sutherland Arms closing sometime between 1856 and 1861.18 The wharf area continued in commercial use until almost the end of the 20th century, despite the last trade on the canal being in the 1930s. In the 1960s it was a coal yard, and later a haulage firm was located there. The buildings then became derelict and, although listed Grade II, need a suitable new use if they are to survive. It is to be hoped that any new use will be compatible with the eventual reopening of this canal.
Part 2: The Trade and the Carriers
The Surviving Records
Luckily many of the wharfinger's records for the period from 1835 to 1850 have been preserved in the Sutherland papers, divided between the Shropshire Archives and the Staffordshire Record Office.19 However, no one type of record covers the whole period. For most it, bulk cargoes, mainly iron and coal, are dealt with in summary. Most revealing of all, for various periods there are books recording all small cargoes received and dispatched - well over 100,000 individual entries. The earlier books give both the boat number and the steerer, whereas the later records show only the steerer. Because of this mass of data, detailed analysis was restricted to three sample periods of four weeks:
• March/April 1835, shortly after the wharf opened;
• March/April 1842, whilst the Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal (B&LJC) was still independent; and
• March/April 1849, after the amalgamation which created the Shropshire Union, but just before the railway opened to Wellington.
The most important traffic was pig iron and iron products being transported from the East Shropshire ironworks to Ellesmere Port for Liverpool, and raw materials being brought in for the ironworks. The 1835-6 records show the carrier but not the ironworks and the destination is merely the point where the boat leaves the B&LJC: Autherley (for Wolverhampton or Birmingham) or Nantwich (for Ellesmere Port or Manchester).
An analysis of a four week period in March/April 1835 shows the following boat-loads of pig iron or iron products being sent from Wappenshall:
A boat-load was usually between 18½ and 20 tons; one load of 22½ tons was exceptional. Coal had a more local market, and most of it was sent in trains of three tub-boats, each carrying five tons. Hazledine used one narrowboat carrying 20 tons and one train of three tub-boats which were also loaded to 20 tons. During the same four week period the following loads were dispatched:
All these firms owned or leased mines: Hazeldine and Collier at Wombridge, the Lilleshall Company at Wrockwardine Wood and Botfields at Old Park (Dawley). They were therefore carrying for themselves; none carried back-loads. It took until mid-April for the Lilleshall Company to establish a regular pattern of trade; after that they were carrying 45 tons week to Newport. The Coalbrookdale Company started using the wharf later in 1835. The other bulk loads dispatched were bricks to Church Eaton and Newport, and one load of lead to Autherley.
Only John Bradley & Co (New Hadley) had bulk loads inwards: in the four weeks one load of limestone came from Nantwich, no doubt originating at Llanymynech. During the two weeks following the end of the period analysed in detail they brought a further four boatloads, this time from Autherley (presumably from the Walsall or Dudley areas).
Unfortunately, the surviving records from 1842 onwards do not give much detail beyond a monthly summary of the weights carried for each company. These show large variations from year to year, reflecting the general economy of the country and the success of the individual firms. The Coalbrookdale Company ceased using the wharf in 1845; Foster & Co, successor to Bradley & Co, in 1846 (which coincides with James Foster's move from Wombridge to Madeley Court) and the Lawley Company in 1847 (when the works was leased to the Coalbrookdale Company). The Lilleshall Company transferred almost all of its canal transport to Lubstree Wharf following its opening in 1844, but in 1847 ironstone and limestone wharfage resumed at Wappenshall, the weights far exceeding those of the early 1840s.
The total tonnages of bulk cargoes passing through Wappenshall in March each year was
It is not absolutely clear how much is coming in and how much going out. Presumably the iron transhipped is ironstone and, like the limestone, is being brought in by canal, whereas the other materials are being sent out. Just over 60% of the iron and limestone transhipped was for Botfields; their ironworks at Old Park is known to have used high quality haematite ores from Cumbria which had advantages over the lower grade local ores. Almost all the iron transhipped under the dock was also for Botfields. The weighing of pig iron was almost exclusively for Ketley and Lilleshall.
Towards the end of the period studied, the records show the carriers for the out-going loads, as well as the originating ironworks. Thus in March 1849 Botfields were using their own boats (1,028 tons), whereas the other ironworks were employing carrying firms: Shropshire Union Railways & Canal Carrying Company (674 tons), Henshall & Co (530 tons), Tranter (236 tons) and Crowley & Co (130 tons). The Lilleshall Company was dispatching regular loads of coal to Norbury in its own boats and to Market Drayton in Hazledine's boats. The only other bulk loads mentioned were sacks of grain, Jobson bringing in about 100 sacks of grain each week every year until 1848, and crates of wood.
The most striking thing about the goods received at Wappenshall is the variety. The following list shows all the entries in the wharf books in the year to April 1849 which mentioned specific goods. Plenty of other entries merely stated box, truss, parcel, etc or were indecipherable:
• Bacon, codfish, herrings, oysters, cheese, flour, rice, biscuits, nuts, potatoes, pease, beans, fruit, figs, prunes, oranges, currants, raisins, tea, coffee, syrup, treacle, salt, spice, pepper, mustard, vinegar, lard, snuff.
• Soda water, ale, porter, cider, wine, spirits, rum, whisky.
• Drapery, bedding, sheets, feathers, flocks, yarn, thread, hats.
• Brushes, brooms, carpet brooms, stails [handles], soap, starch, soda, naphtha, turpentine, candles, wicks, blacking, plates, tin plates, congreves [friction matches], paper, stationery, ink• Furniture, chairs, sofa (for Rev Bird, Preston), bedsteads, pictures.
• Paint, nails, wire, hoops, screws, bracket castings, rods, tubes, slates, glass, cement.
• Deals [floorboards], pine and mahogany boards, pine logs, birch logs, scantlings, glue, varnish.
• Shovels, riddles, files, lathes, grates, ash pans, fire irons.
• Furnace bars (for Lilleshall Iron Co), pumps.
• Iron bars, sheet iron, steel, tin, zinc, sheet zinc, lead, coils of lead pipe.
• Plough, hoe, plough-shares, harrow, scythes, whips.
• Wheat, oats, oilcake, seed, rye grass, bran, meal, hops, linseed, twigs, soda ash, potash, manure, guano.
• Oil, tallow, bark rosin, grease, ropes, empty casks, leather, sacks, organ pipe.
The weights of the individual items varied considerably, some being as low as a few pounds. Few exceeded a ton. The wharf served not only Wellington but also the coalfield settlements. Analysis of a typical day's arrivals (7 April 1849) shows the following ultimate destinations for the goods:
Judging by the number of items, the best customers on this day were A Baynton & Co, linen and woollen draper of Ironbridge (10 items), J Webb, linen and woollen draper, Market Place, Wellington (6), John Danby, grocer, Walker Street, Wellington (5), and Michael Bailey, shopkeeper and grocer, Dawley (5). Outgoing goods was only about an eighth of that coming in. Mostly it is described by its container, ie box, truss, chest, and the like; specifically-named items include ale and bacon (for London), glass (Shrewsbury), tools (Nottingham) and brushes (Walsall). On the day surveyed in detail, there were no out-going items; during the previous week there had been only six.
In the four weeks examined in March/April 1835, six firms carried general goods. Detailed analysis indicates the following boat usage:
Figures in brackets show the number of these boats which were empty. The average tonnage includes the empty boats. An asterisk indicates that the other boats left loaded with iron products. Although tonnages seem low, it must be remembered that these show the amounts unloaded or loaded at Wappenshall, and the boat may have made other calls on the way there.
More fundamentally, the shape of the hull of the stage boats then used meant that the maximum load was 20 tons. A fly-boat designed for fast operation could carry even less: 15 to 18 tons, typically. These figures assume that the cargo was dense (heavy compared with its size) and could be stacked without space being wasted. However, much of the goods carried was relatively light for its size; perhaps it could not be stacked easily; and if separate items were being conveyed for different customers it was necessary to stow them in a way that they could be retrieved conveniently. All these factors led to the total weight of the cargo being less than the theoretical maximum that the boat could carry. Of course, sundries were charged at a much higher rate than large consignments, and this compensated for the inefficient use of hold capacity.
Various observations can be made about the individual carriers:
• Fairhurst, Tilston of Liverpool and Chester were the major carriers of iron products northwards. Many of their boats returned with general goods. Eleven different steerers were recorded, but it is noticeable that steerers never seemed to switch between boats.
• Crowley, Hickling & Co were the second largest national firm of carriers at this date, their base being at the Union Wharf, Wolverhampton. Although three different boats (66, 80 and 112) were used during the four weeks, they all had the same steerer, B Bowater. He arrived and left Wappenshall on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, presumably travelling to Union Wharf.
• Pickford, the largest national firm, also coming to Wappenshall from the Wolverhampton direction, seemed less successful at attracting trade. No boat or steerer appeared twice in the period, perhaps indicating that they were coming through from further afield. The dates of unloading and loading imply that their boats went on to Shrewsbury.
• Whitehouse & Sons were based at Tipton; one boat regularly visited on Tuesdays; this was sometimes supplemented by another later in the week. The three boats used each had its own steerer.
• William Henshall's boats came from Manchester twice a week, carrying quite a lot of items for intermediate wharfs such as Market Drayton and Newport. Thomas Cork (boat 2) arrived each Tuesday and left each Thursday. The steerer for three of the other four trips was Samuel Stevenson. His boat stands out in the records because it was the only one referred to by a name: Cheese Factor.
• Turton's boats came through from the Nantwich direction twice a week, the steerers being William Jacks (boat 4) and Joseph Peak (boat 3). However, they seem to have had a lot of either empty mileage or idle time
Towards the end of 1836, Fairhurst, Tilston & Co were bought out by the Ellesmere & Chester Canal for £6,304.15s.10d. The firm continued to trade nominally independently under the name Tilston, Smith & Co; it was not until the passing of its 1842 Act that the canal company had explicit powers to operate carrying craft.
The Carriers: 1842 to 1849
From 1842 the records show the steerer but not the boat, so there is no way of telling whether a steerer consistently used one boat or whether the firms switched him between boats. Unfortunately too, it is not possible to link up loads inwards and outwards for individual boats.
The clear distinction between the companies trading north and those trading south continued:
• In March 1842 Crowley & Co's boats were still arriving from the Midlands on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, the steerers being Bowater and Tonks; by 1849 Bowater was bringing a boat in on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, supplemented on some other days by a boat under steerer Skeldon. Crowley's boats were occasionally recorded as going on to Shrewsbury.
• For its traffic from London, Pickford's policy was to use the London & Birmingham Railway as far as Curzon Street, Birmingham, where the loads were transferred into boats.22 In 1842 Pickford's boats were, like Crowley's, arriving at Wappenshall from the Midlands on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, but their twelve arrivals had twelve different steerers — although Crowley and Pickford were both national firms they obviously then had different methods of organising their local operations. However, by 1849 Pickford's normal days had changed to Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, using only two steerers in the month studied: C Speakman and Vickers. Pickford's boats were also occasionally recorded as going on to Shrewsbury.
• Whitehouse & Co of Tipton was the other carrier from the Midlands until 1848; in March 1842 their boat with steerer Hawkins arrived on two days most weeks, though the actual days varied.
In 1842 Tilston, Smith & Co brought goods from both Manchester and Liverpool (Ellesmere Port) to Wappenshall. In March steerer Davies arrived every Monday from Manchester; steerer Woolsey arrived every Friday. The service from Ellesmere Port was not as predictable, either in the day of the week or the steerer, with 10 steerers being involved in the 25 trips in the four-week period. The usual period for the round trip was a week, though it could be done in six days, occasionally even in five. From November 1842 the business was described in the Wappenshall Wharf records as the Ellesmere & Chester Canal Carrying Company; this subsequently became the Shropshire Union Railway & Canal Carrying Company (SURCC), though it wasn't thus described in the records until April 1849. In March 1849 Wilkes had the Tuesday boat and Rowson the Saturday boat from Manchester.
Again the Ellesmere Port service was more intense but less predictable: 16 steerers shared the 28 trips. There were also two journeys from Birmingham or Wolverhampton in the four-week period, both with steerer Bonner.
Henshall & Co had two boats a week from Manchester. In March 1842 steerer Cork arrived on Mondays and either Oakes or Davies on Thursdays; most of these boats also conveyed goods from Liverpool. In March 1849 Oakes arrived on Saturdays and Davies, Cork or Shirwin on Tuesdays; these were supplemented by the occasional boat from Preston Brook, possibly the vestige of the trade from Liverpool. (One of Oakes' boats was notable for having 44 separate loads for 20 different customers.)
The Neptune Canal Conveyance Company was the other principal firm bringing loads from the north but their last entry was in August 1842. In March 1842 steerer J Speakman arrived every Thursday and Wilkes arrived every Monday, both from Ellesmere Port; there was also an arrival most Saturdays, but the steerers varied. It is noticeable that some of the same names appear in 1849 as working for the SURCC.
Boats for general goods were lightly loaded. On a typical day, 7 April 1849, ten boats arrived for unloading:
The railway had an immediate impact on general goods carrying. Crowley & Co‘s last load to Wappenshall was in January 1850, Henshall‘s in August 1850 and Pickford‘s in October 1850, leaving the SURCCC to continue virtually alone. (Henshall is recorded in Slater's directory of 1856 as still being a carrier.) Bulk loads withstood railway competition rather better, though the tonnage halved during the first year of competition.
This remarkable series of records shows the huge variety of goods being traded in rural England in the canal age, including many items one would have expected to have been produced locally, and also the relatively large catchment area of a canal wharf. Neither the 1841 nor the 1851 census record any boatmen as living near the wharf. The wharf did not appear to work on Sundays, nor, judging from the times taken, did the boats. This was not an edict of the Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal Company nor of its successor, the Shropshire Union; it was not until 1874 that the latter prohibited all boats working on Sundays except for those specifically required to work “fly” with urgent traffic on board.
The goods boats generally worked to a set timetable. This did not necessarily accord with what was implied by directories. The following shows a comparison between the information in Robson's Directory of 1840 and the actual schedules. The missing destinations could be accounted for by goods being transferred between boats at strategic places. For example, the Neptune Conveyance Co have transferred goods for Manchester at Barbridge.
Assuming an average boat speed of 3½ mph plus 2½ minutes for a narrow lock and 4 minutes for a broad lock (all rather faster than one can now achieve), it would have taken 10 hours to get to Wolverhampton. This makes the standard two days taken for the round trip remarkable, bearing in mind that the boat would need to be loaded and unloaded twice. The similar calculation for Manchester is 27¼ hours each way, the round trip taking a week. Ellesmere Port would have been rather easier: some 20¼ hours, still normally taking a week for the round trip. As mentioned, carriers‘ methods of operation varied. Boats were relatively lightly loaded, and return loads were scarce. It would be interesting to know how profitable this trade was to the carriers.
See also the Trail
1) Shrewsbury – Comet Bridge 46
The site of the Shrewsbury Canal Basin (SJ495131) has been completely infilled and is now occupied by an industrial estate and the station car park. The only remaining building is the Buttermarket (SJ494130) which was once Howard Street Warehouse.
Factory Bridge 47 (SJ498137) has been demolished but the old name plate has been retained and is fixed to the wall where the bridge once was. Over the road is Ditherington Flax Mill (SJ498138), famous as the first iron-framed building in the world. Comet Bridge 46 (SJ501141) has been demolished and there is no trace where Spring Gardens passes over it. The route of the canal from here has been converted into a footpath that parallels the River Severn and it crosses the modern road A5112 Telford Way (SJ504132).
2) Comet Bridge 46 – Uffington Bridge 43
New Inn Bridge 45 (SJ509145) has been demolished and Pimley Bridge 44 (SJ520143) infilled with only one parapet still visible. The canal route passed south of the footpath from here but it has been buried under the grounds of Pimley Manor on the right. There is a modern bridge carrying the new A49 road (SJ523143) and the ground then dips down to a stream. The Sundorne Aqueduct (SJ523144) has been demolished and replaced with a bridge for the footpath. The area on the left towards the road looks as if it has canal remains but this was only for the stream. Sundorne Wharf (SJ523144) has been infilled and built on. The path now continues towards Uffington, with occasional appearances of the canal bed down on the right. At one point it passes over a small stream with a sluice but the current iron bridge does not look original.
3) Uffington Bridge 43 – Bridge 40
Uffington Bridge 43 (SJ528140) has been infilled but the canal bed can be seen on the south-eastern side and sometimes contains water. There is a footpath from the road opposite the Corbet Arms pub that leads to reach Brick Kiln Bridge 42 (SJ530139). This is in nice condition and the canal bed can be seen each side, albeit normally dry. Downton Bridge 41 (SJ532134) has been infilled and the canal bed can just about be determined on either side. Bridge 40 (SJ532127) still exists, although it has been infilled and a culvert fitted.
4) Bridge 40 – Berwick Tunnel
The canal passes under a bridge that was shared by the London & North Western Railway and Great Western Railway (SJ530123), which still remains. It then passes under a modern bridge carrying the A5 dual carriageway (SJ530122) and into the north-western portal of the Berwick Tunnel (SJ531120). It emerges after 970 yards at the south-eastern portal (SJ538114), where there is a date stone.
5) Berwick Tunnel – Bridge 36
After the tunnel, the route heads south and Bridge 39 (SJ540112) has been infilled. Next to it are some canal cottages that are still lived in. Widow’s Bridge 38 (SJ541111) has been infilled but a culvert fitted. A section of canal with water still exists in a garden (SJ542110) and can be seen by peering over the fence on the southern side of the bridge. Berwick Wharf, from which the hamlet gets its name, no longer exists and Bridge 37 (SJ544108) and Bridge 36 (SJ548112) have been infilled. Note that the towpath is on the northern side at this point at the insistence of Lord Berwick, who did not want the common people on his land at Attingham Park. Despite this, there are remains of an abortive canal in Attingham Park (SJ542096) that was probably intended to go from the road at Atcham to Berwick Wharf but was abandoned.
6) Bridge 36 – Winding Hole
The modern A5 dual carriageway (SJ556117) has cut across the line of the canal and left Upton Forge Bridge 35 (SJ556116) isolated. It is obscured by trees from the road but a climb up the bank next to it reveals that it is still in good condition. On the other side of the A5, the bridge (SJ557118) still remains that carries the railway line over it. The route of the canal from here has been infilled for agricultural use and Footbridge 34 (SJ561120), Bridge 33 (SJ565123) and Swing Bridge 32 (SJ568124) have been infilled. The Winding Hole (SJ570125) has also been infilled. Winding holes were constructed at regular intervals to the side of the canal and was where long boats could turn around, since the canal was too narrow otherwise.
7) Winding Hole – Rodington Bridge 26
Unfortunately, most traces of the canal as it passed through Withington have all been removed. Lift Bridge 31 (SJ575128) has been demolished and Bridge 30 (SJ577130), Withington Bridge 29 (SJ578130) and Bridge 28 (SJ579132) infilled. Withington Wharf (SJ577130) has now been built on and the canal either side infilled. Lift Bridge 27 (SJ583139) has been replaced but Rodington Bridge 26 (SJ588142) remains in splendid isolation by the side of the road.
8) Rodington Bridge 26 – Bridge 22
The canal crossed over the River Tern here on a splendid stone aqueduct (SJ589142) but this was demolished in 1971. A little further on the canal passed along an embankment and there is still an access tunnel (SJ590142) that passes under it from the road. The route has been infilled from here on for agricultural purposes and Lift Bridge 25 (SJ592142), Winding Hole (SJ598140), Lift Bridge 24 (SJ600139), Lift Bridge 23 (SJ604139) and Lift Bridge 22 (SJ607144) have been demolished or infilled.
9) Bridge 22 – Long Lane Railway Bridge
The canal has been infilled in the section to Longdon-on-Tern, as has Longwaste Bridge 21 (SJ614156). There was once a wharf and warehouse (SJ615156) here but these have been demolished and infilled. At this point the canal crossed the River Tern on the cast iron Longdon Aqueduct (SJ617156) that still stands. It is a Scheduled Monument and English Heritage have installed a parking layby and footpath to get to it. Lift Bridge 20 (SJ619155), Church Lift Bridge 19 (SJ623154) and Lift Bridge 18 (SJ628155) have been demolished, as has the bridge that carried the Wellington & Market Drayton Railway (SJ631115) over the canal.
10) Long Lane Railway Bridge – Eyton Bridge 15
There is a short section of canal with water (SJ633156) in just west of Long Lane but Bridge 17 (SJ635156) has been infilled. Long Lane Bridge 16 (SJ636156) is still inact next to a layby to the east of the A442. It is very attractive with a chequer board pattern of red and blue bricks. Eyton Lower Lock 11 (SJ642153) was demolished as part of a drainage scheme Telford. Eyton Lift Bridge 15 (SJ652150) has been demolished and the space infilled with a culvert. .
11) Eyton Bridge 15 – Wappenshall Junction
Eyton Village Lock 10 (SJ653150) was altered as part of a drainage scheme for Telford but most of it remains intact. Next to it is the lock keeper’s cottage and there used to be a warehouse here that has now been demolished. Further along the route Lift Bridge 14 (SJ660146) has been demolished. Eventually the canal emerges at Wappenshall Junction (SJ662145), where it met the Newport and Trench Branches. The warehouses and other buildings still remain and are being preserved by Shrewsbury & Newport Canal Trust.
The section between Newport and Norbury Junction is not included as it is outside of Shropshire
1) Wappenshall Junction – Brook Aqueduct
Wappensall Junction Bridge 29 (SJ662145) is known as the “roving bridge” and is in good condition and part of the site being preserved by Shrewsbury & Newport Canal Trust. Most of the canal between here and Polly’s Lock has been infilled for agricultural purposes and the status of the main features is as follows :-
· Bridge 28 (SJ665146) is infilled.
· Kinley Winding Hole (SJ666147) still contains some water.
· Kinley Bridge 27 (SJ668148) is infilled.
· Short section of canal containing water (SJ669148).
· Crow Brook Aqueduct (SJ672150) is demolished.
· Oxmoor Bridge 26 (SJ674151) is infilled.
· Canal cottage in Preston (SJ680155) remains and is lived in.
· Preston Bridge 25 (SJ680155) is infilled.
· Preston Wharf (SJ681156) contains some water.
· Junction with Humber Branch (SJ686163) is infilled.
· Kynnersley Drive Aqueduct (SJ686164) is demolished.
· Buttery Bridge 24 (SJ688168) is infilled.
· Brook Aqueduct (SJ691172) is demolished.
2) Brook Aqueduct- Longford Bridge 17
· Short section of canal containing water (SJ693174)
· Cottage Bridge 23 (SJ695176) is infilled.
· Bridge 22 (SJ696178) is infilled.
· Adeney Bridge 21 (SJ702180) is infilled.
· Strinewater Bridge 20 (SJ708182) is infilled.
· Brannybank Bridge 19 (SJ713182) is infilled.
· Edgmond Bridge 18 (SJ718184) is infilled.
· Edgmond Lock 23 (SJ719184) and Edgmond Wharf are infilled.
· Longford Bridge 17 (SJ725187) is infilled.
3) Longford Bridge 17 – Meretown Lock 18
Polly’s Bridge 16 (SJ733191) has been demolished and most of Polly’s Lock 22 (SJ733191) infilled. The eastern end of the lock is exposed, however, and from here to the other side of Newport the canal contains water. There is a Winding Hole (SJ735192) just after the lock where boats could turn. Tickethouse Bridge 15 (SJ738194) remains, to allow access to the towpath that runs on both sides to Polly’s Lock 22, and Tickethouse Lock 21 (SJ738194) remains.
There is a canal cottage (SJ739194) just beyond Tickethouse Lock 21 with a bay window to allow the occupants to see both ways down the canal. Just west of Newport Bridge 14 (SJ743193), the canal bed has been infilled to restrict the flow and it is like this under the roving bridge and road bridge. The ground under the bridge has been raised, requiring most people to duck. Just beyond the bridge, Newport Town Lock 20 (SJ743193) remains mostly intact.
Just after the Newport Town Lock 20, the black building on the right hand side was a warehouse (SJ744193). Newport Canal Basin (SJ744194) is just after this, next to a car park that is convenient for exploring the canal. Fisher’s Lock 19 (SJ747195) remains as well as Summerhouse Bridge 13 (SJ749197). The end of the watered section is reached at Meretown Lock 18 (SJ752200). Beyond this, the canal has been cut by the modern A41 bypass but the route continued to Norbury Junction (SJ793228).
Donnington Wood Branch
1) Wappenshall Junction – Trench Lock 1
The road at Wappenshall was realigned during the construction of a drainage scheme for Telford. The canal route was diverted and Wappensall Bridge 13 (SJ663145) now stands in a garden. Wappenshall Lock 9 (SJ663144) was destroyed to create a sluice.
There are a number of locks and bridges on the next section as follows :-
· Britton Lock 8 (SJ665141) is filled in and the guillotine lock gate frame no longer stands vertically.
· Kinley Bridge 12 (SJ667139) has been infilled.
· Wheat Leasows Lock 7 (SJ668137) has been infilled.
· Wheat Leasows Bridge 11 (SJ668137) has been infilled.
· Shuck’s Lock 6 (SJ669136) exists but is heavily overgrown.
· Peaty Lock 5 (SJ670136) exists but is heavily overgrown.
· Hadley Park Bridge 10 (SJ672133) still stands with water on one side.
· Hadley Park Lock 4 (SJ672133) survives with its guillotine lock gate frame in good condition.
· Turnip Lock 3 (SJ673131) survives with its guillotine lock gate frame in good condition.
· Wittingham Bridge 9 (SJ675128) has been infilled.
· Baker’s Bridge 8 (SJ677125) still remains in the grounds of the GKN factory.
· Baker’s Lock 2 (SJ677125) is in good condition but without its guillotine lock gate frame. It is in the grounds of the GKN factory.
· Trench Railway Bridge (SJ683126) has been replaced.
· Trench Road Bridge 7 (SJ684125) has been demolished
· Trench Lock 1 (SJ683125) has been destroyed and a roundabout built over it.
· Trench Pool (SJ684125) acted as a reservoir for the canal and still remains.
· Trench Inclined Plane (SJ690122) has been destroyed and now lies under Capewell Road which follows the original line.
2) Trench Lock 1 – Old Yard Junction
The top of the Trench Lock Inclined Plane was the junction with Wombridge Canal. The route passes from Capewell Road, behind the houses in Trenleigh Gardens and crosses Teagues Crescent next to the Bridge Inn, where Teague’s Bridge 5 (SJ693124) used to be, now demolished. The Bridge Inn is modern and had no connection with the canal but there is a line of conifers on the right of the car park that marks the route it took. Opposite the pub is a footpath that follows the original route of the canal as it looped around the contours. Where the path turns left, the canal continued straight on to loop around what is now the running track of the leisure centre. Where the path turns left again, it picks up the route of the canal along the back of a school over the demolished Bridge 4 (SJ698125) to emerge on Church Road. The canal passed in front of Donnington Wood Corn Mill (SJ698126), now converted into flats. Wheat was brought here along the Shrewsbury Canal and in fact the traffic to this mill was the only thing that kept the canal open towards the end. The last journey on the canal before it closed in 1921 was 18 tons of wheat carried in 4 tub-boats.
Mill Bridge 3 (SJ699126) has been demolished but the route of the canal going east can be followed along a footpath opposite that leads to Wade Road. Before tarmac was laid on this path, you could apparently see the top of one of the sides of the canal. On the opposite side of Wade Road, Canal Side continues along the route of the canal and crosses Furnace Lane. Furnace Lane Bridge 2 (SJ703125) has been demolished.
The junction with the Shropshire Canal (SJ703124) has been infilled, lying in rough ground behind Smith Crescent. A short arm connected the junction to the bottom of the Wrockwardine Wood Inclined Plane but the route of this was buried under spoil tips and then the modern houses. The Shrewsbury Canal finishes just to the north-east of Smith Crescent at Old Yard Junction (SJ705125), where it met the Donnington Wood Canal. This can be reached by passing through the gate at the end of Smith Crescent and turning right. Old Yard Bridge 1 (SJ704125), that that brought the Shrewsbury Canal into the Junction, still remains. The west side has been blocked but the east side is only grilled. To the left is some broken brickwork that is the remains of a building, probably a warehouse.
The area has suffered badly from work to create the adjacent industrial estate. The ground level just south of the bridge has been lowered (hence the ruined building) and the continuation of the Donnington Wood Canal has been buried. A short tramway connected the junction to the bottom of the Wrockwardine Wood Inclined Plane but the route of this has been buried under the houses. There may have been other tramways and the footpath nearby has what appears to be a narrow gauge railway line crossing it.
Table of Features
Only features in Shropshire have links for Google map (significant remains highlighted)