There are more canals in Birmingham than in Venice, they say. Out of the past 160 miles, around 60 (100km) are no longer navigable, or have disappeared altogether.

Andy Tidy, canal enthusiast, blogger (Captain Ahab’s Watery Tales), and BCNS supporter, has created a brilliant series of videos where he explores the “lost canals”.

If you enjoy studying old maps and photos, wondering what may have happened to the places, where the lost canals and basins might have been, why they have been lost, and what’s in their place now, then you will just love the “Canal Hunter” videos.

With Andy’s kind permission, I have added the first two series to this website. Andy is working on another series, expected in 2020. Enjoy!

Introduction to the series

In his first video, Andy gives a brief introduction to the Birmingham Canal Navigations. His search for the remains of the “lost 60 miles” begins near his home base, featuring the Hay Head Branch (off the Daw End Canal), and Black Cock Bridge.

The Hay Head Arm

The Hay Head Arm (what remains of it) is now used by Longwood Boat Club. Andy explores the now lost part, and explains the industrial past of the area. It was an area of collieries and quarries, and brick makers. 

The snippet below shows the Hay Head Arm in the legendary IWA “Blue Book” Birmingham Canal Navigations, and is reproduced with the kind permission of the IWA:

The same area, shown on Richard Dean’s Historical Map of the Birmingham Canals (reproduced with the kind permission of Richard Dean): 

Historic map of the BCN, showing the Hay Head Arm, on the Wyrley & Essington Daw End Branch

Hay Head Arm, on the Wyrley & Essington Daw End Branch

To put it into a modern context, here is the same area in the 2019 edition of Pearson’s Canal Companion, Stourport & Black Country Rings & Birmingham Canal Navigations, reproduced with the kind permission of Michael Pearson:

The Hay Head Branch in the 2019 Pearson's Canal Companion for the BCN

The Hay Head Branch in the 2019 Pearson’s Canal Companion for the BCN

The Hay Head Arm (what remains of it) is now used by Longwood Boat Club. Andy explores the now lost part, and explains the industrial past of the area. It was an area of collieries and quarries, and brick makers. 

Black Cock Bridge

Black Cock Bridge is not on a lost canal. It’s “just” a bridge, but a bridge that can explain why so many canals disappeared. 

The bridge is on the Daw End Branch of the Wyrley and Essington Canal. Andy explains the problems that came with extracting coal from under the canals that were built to transport it. Black Cock turns out to be a spectacular example. It’s close to the former Walsall Wood Colliery. Coal was extracted from under the ground, including the ground below the canal. Over time, the tunnels collapsed, the land sank deeper, and the canal had to be “lifted up” to stay level. The bridges had to be lifted with the canal, and Black Cock Bridge has holes for bottle jacks, to lift the bridge. It seems to have been, and perhaps is, a pretty “normal” thing to pump a bridge a bit higher!

Black Cock Bridge on Google StreetView

Whilst the canal was kept at the original level, the landscape around sunk significantly. The image below, from Google Street View, shows the approach to Black Cock Bridge – the bridge is on top of the hill! A click on the screenshot should take you directly to Street View, to explore how high the canal is now – or how low the surrounding landscape sank after the coal below was extracted.

Green Lane approaching Black Cock Bridge

Green Lane approaching Black Cock Bridge

The snippet below shows Black Cock Bridge in the legendary IWA “Blue Book” Birmingham Canal Navigations, and is reproduced with the kind permission of the IWA:

Black Cock Bridge, on the Daw End Branch of the W&E, in the IWA Blue Book

Black Cock Bridge, on the Daw End Branch of the Wyrley and Essington Canal, in the IWA Blue Book

The same area, shown on Richard Dean’s Historical Map of the Birmingham Canals (reproduced with the kind permission of Richard Dean): 

Historic map of the BCN, showing the Black Cock Bridge, on the Wyrley & Essington Daw End Branch

Black Cock Bridge, on the Wyrley & Essington Daw End Branch

To put it into a modern context, here is the same area in the 2019 edition of Pearson’s Canal Companion, Stourport & Black Country Rings & Birmingham Canal Navigations, reproduced with the kind permission of Michael Pearson:

Black Cock Bridge in the Pearson's BCN Canal Companion

Black Cock Bridge in the Pearson’s BCN Canal Companion

Without any further ado, here is the video:

 

 
 
Here are direct links to the other videos of the first and second series:
1.2 Birmingham’s Lost Canal Basins
1.3 The Lost Loops of the Birmingham Canal Navigations
1.4 The Smethwick Summits
1.5 The Ridgacre Branch
1.6 The Balls Hill Branch Canal
1.7 Canal Hunter Resource Pack
2.1 The Titford Branch Canals
2.2 Oldbury and the Chemical Arm
2.3 The Toll End Communications Canal
2.4 The Wednesbury Oak Loop
2.5 The Lost Locks of Bradley
2.6 The Lost Canal Basins of Wolverhampton
2.7 Lost Canals around the Wolverhampton 21

Comments 3

  1. Making the videos gives me a great canal fix during those long months of winter. I will be off along the Wyrley and Essington just as soon as the leaves start falling off in October.

  2. Wow….. What a new look website.

    I’ll now a total sucker for Andy Tidy (Canal Hunter) web link, it’s Christmas again in August!

    I have the ‘Box Set’ of Canal Hunter to spend hours learning of industrial history, skilled craftsmen, engineering solutions that were both bold and intriguing.

    The website so well ‘joined’ both in its rich contents,but informative information all in one place.

    Appreciate the efforts obviously been put into the project, but also to Andy Tidy’s sterling efforts of recording history, and his explanation of event’s.

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