Chillington Wharf

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Other interactive panoramas

Other interactive panoramas need updates, or are still “work in progress”. The should come online in the next few weeks:

  • The BCN from central Birmingham down to Salford Junction
  • Lapal Canal – planned route for restoration
  • Bradley Locks – planned route for restoration
  • Historic narrowboat Swallow
  • Historic steam narrowboat President

About Chillington Wharf (also known as Monmore Green)

It’s a railway interchange basin. Well, it was. Now it’s the probably best preserved, and it’s really sad to see it decline. Can the decline be stopped?

There used to be many railway interchange basins around the Birmingham Canal Navigations. What are they, what were they used for?

All the really detailed answers can be found in Ray Shill’s excellent book The Industrial Canal, Vol 2, The Railway Interchange Trade. In short:

The railway age did not finish the canal trade. Railways were more and more used for longer distance transport, and the canals served the “last mile”, the link between interchange basin and factory.

 

Chillington Wharf in a 1950 b/w photo

Chillington Wharf railway interchange basin in the 1950s

 

The canal infrastructure existed, factories had their own canal arm, or established access to the canals, it was all very well tried and tested. Building a new railway access to an existing factory would have been a complex and expensive operation.

A railway interchange basin is about the interchange of goods between canal and railway – an overhead crane would move goods between railway and canal.

Chillington Wharf in a 1950 b/w photo

Chillington Wharf in the 1950, with the overhead crane loading steel to or from railway wagons

Sounds old fashioned? Absolutely not! Just yards away, in a very long hall, an overhead crane moves steel from railway wagons to trucks (see photo in this news article). Just the same, but with HGVs instead of narrowboats. It’s on the same property – Chillington Wharf belongs to the Wolverhampton Steel Terminal. Even the railway line is still the same.

Blocked entrance to Chillington Basin

Blocked entrance to Chillington Basin. Photo by Harald Joergens

 The interchange basin can be seen from the canal, but is not open to the public. 

Location

Chillington Wharf is in Wolverhampton, next to Bilston Road, next to a Lexus dealership and the big BOC industrial gasses site. Google Maps is quite good to explore the site from above, and to have a good look around.

History

The railway didn’t mean the end of the canals, they co-existed for a long time and grew together. For long distance goods transport, the railways were quicker and cheaper, for shorter distances to and from factories, the existing canal network was almost perfect. At the height of the railway interchange trade, between 1900 and 1910, over a million tons (a seventh of the total BCN tonnage) was transported via interchange basins.

Railway wagons, carrying steel, at Chillington Basin

Railway wagons, carrying steel, at Chillington Wharf. Photo with kind permission by Phil Clayton

Chillington Basin was built around 1830 as part of the Chillington Iron Company, and was linked to their iron works and furnaces by a 2ft 6in tramway. A second, shorter, parallel basin was added later (around 1848) to cope with the increased traffic, and a boat yard was built at the end of the long basin for the maintenance of the narrowboats owned by the company.

In 1885, Chillington Iron Works went into receivership, and the whole property was sold off. LNWR bought the basin area, and applied (in 1893) to Parliament to develop the area for railway use. When permission for this, and a further application in 1898, was granted by Parliament, major work started:

A new basin, with two arms of equal length, was built to replace the existing basins, but the entrance from the canal was left unchanged.

In the 1930’s, under ownership of LMS, one arm of the basin was removed, and the still existing Babcock & Wilcox overhead crane was installed.

Railway interchange traffic continued until 1963. In 1967, Monmore Green and Walsall Street goods were connected, and their depots were merged to form Wolverhampton Steel Terminal.

Chillington Wharf in 1984

Chillington Wharf in 1984. Photo by Chris Hall courtesy Julie Wilkinson

Chillington Wharf and the BCNS in 1997 

The following article was first printed in Boundary Post, the BCN Society magazine, in the Spring 1998 issue (140). It was written by Jeff Barley, at the time conversation officer of the society.

Plan of Chillington Basin (Monmore Green) from LNWR times, with still two basins

Plan of Chillington Basin (Monmore Green) from LNWR times, with still two basins

The crew of any boat that has just laboured up the 21 locks at Wolverhampton and on leaving the top lock take the chance to have a rest and a drink, leaving just the helmsman to the view, will, likely as not, miss Chillington Wharf. Situated between Horseley Fields Junction and the Bilston Road ( where the Metro line now crosses the canal) its main feature to the traveller being a dark grey coloured gantry crane. On the gantry is mounted a shed-type structure that used to be the operator’s position, the crane being a later addition to the wharf and stands on what was a second chamber, filled in years ago.

Chillington Wharf, an artists idea how the restored basin might look. From Boundary Post, 1997

Chillington Wharf, an artists idea how the restored basin might look. From Boundary Post, 1997

The wharf itself is to the right and rear of the crane and consists of a canopy covering a wharf and the surrounding towpath and railway sidings. The whole structure being more or less a complete canal and railway Interchange Basin, having a handsome roving bridge at its junction with the main line. The wharf is silted up and the rest of the building has been slowly decaying for years. It is a unique structure; the canopy, wharf and crane a standing testament to the changing industrial history that makes the BCN the fascinating system it is. The whole assemblage is usually glanced at by the traveller who sees something decayed but different. If it were to be canal heritage and to the decreasing variety of canal side structures.

The BCNS exists to protect and promote all matters to do with the canals of the BCN. It is difficult continually to brief Members on all the issues addressed by the Committee as matters often require action at the time.

Chillington Wharf is such an issue where the Committee at various levels has endeavoured, over a period of time, to protect and promote a canal structure.

In early 1996 the Society played a supporting role in getting Chillington Wharf listed as a grade 2 listed structure, the listing including the wharf and the canopy but not the crane. This came about as the fabric of the wharf was deteriorating and its future uncertain as the owners of the site, British Rail, moved quickly towards privatisation. Having achieved the listing the Society moved on to other matters happy in the knowledge that it had done its bit.

Chillington Wharf, an artists idea how the restored basin might look. From Boundary Post, 1997

Chillington Wharf, an artists idea how the restored basin might look. From Boundary Post, 1997

Then, in early 1998, Wolverhampton Council surveyed all its listed structures and found Chillington Wharf and became concerned about its condition and future. Developments in the area and the Metro crossing the canal right next to the Wharf were going to change fundamentally the whole infra structure of the area and site.

As a result, a meeting of all the then interested parties was called by the Council, involving the new owners, English, Welsh and Scottish Railways (EWS) and British Waterways to discuss the future of the Wharf. It was at this stage that the Society was proposed, by BW, as a suitable body possibly to run the site as moorings or which would be interested in the planning of any restoration. This invitation alone indicates the standing the Society has with BW and the respect and rapport our present chairman and former chairman have built up with BW.

Martin attended numerous meetings all through 1997 with myself joining him whenever I could. The future of the wharf was fully explored, architects and engineers being appointed by EWS fully and professionally to prepare a plan and costings. The Society at this stage produced a plan of how the site could look, utilising the existing building so as to provide a secure and practical mooring on a section of the BCN short of such facilities. A mini business plan was also produced stating the Society’s input and possible income from the moorings, all the profits from which would be ploughed back into the upkeep of the site. Most of the Society’s ideas were taken on board ty the architects and the plans and engineers’ reports submitted to EWS.

All this took place in 1997, there following from November a lengthy cost analysis of the proposed project.

Sadly, in March, 1998, EWS reported back that the project would not be able to proceed due to the cost of the restoration being counted in hundreds of thousands of pounds. The words being used that the project would not proceed in the foreseeable future. EWS approached the problem of Chillington which they inherited at all times in a helpful and open manner and it is hoped that, in the future, some kind of scaled down restoration may be possible.

As a canal Society linked to supporting all alternative modes of transport to the lorry, it is gratifying to see that part of EWS current thinking is that Rail Freight in the Midlands is on the increase and that the Chillington site as a whole is expanding.

The outcome however, concerning the canal, is sad as it was believed by the Committee that Chillington Wharf would have given EWS good PR in the area. It would have given the Society a home of its own for meetings and possible boat gatherings as well as boat-orientated work parties in an underused part of the system and would have formed a community of boats within a historical structure, safe guarding its future.

The story may not yet be over as at least Chillington Wharf is now on both EWS’ and Wolverhampton Council’s agenda, the fact remaining that the wharf is still listed and requires attention to stop further decay. Perhaps we have gained a small victory in what looks like a long campaign to secure its viable future.

Overleaf are two sketches of what it was hoped the site would have looked like – not as posh as the architects’ but showing some of the potential of the site.

The basin today

Chillington Basin is still in water, and still connected to the canal, although access is blocked off. The basin looks surprisingly good, but the roof structure might need a bit of TLC.

The basin is owned Network Rail, but leased to German railway giant DBSchenker. They run Wolverhampton Steel Terminal, but they don’t use the wharf in any shape or form.

There have been attempts in the past to use the basin for moorings, but the idea wasn’t approved because of close proximity to the industrial gas storage tanks of BOC, the next door neighbour.

Chillington Wharf Railway interchange basin at Bilston Road on the BCN Main Line. Photo by Harald Joergens

Chillington Basin in the Canal Hunter videos

Andy Tidy had the chance to get onto the site as well, and Chillington Basin is the main feature in his highly recommended video “Lost Basins of Wolverhampton” on this website.

The future

Years ago, and with the help of the BCN Society, the basin got Grade II listed. There had been restoration plans, together with the Railway Heritage Trust and EWS (English, Welsh & Scottish Railways, now DB Cargo UK), but they didn’t succeed at the time.

The whole structure, open to the elements, is not getting any better. Chillington is the last surviving of a large number of similar structures, and should be preserved to tell the story of canal and railway cooperation to generations to come.

Grade II protection should prevent the basin from being removed or built over, it does not prevent the structures from decay. In 2016, when the panorama was photographed, the roof was already crumbling, and the overhead crane a danger zone. If nothing is done, Chillington Basin will fall apart in decades if not years.

What do you think?
What can be done?
What should be done?

Please let us know, via the comment form below.

 

Sources:

The Industrial Canal, Volume 2: The Railway Interchange Trade, ISBN 0951775561

Historic England: Chillington Wharf Canal Railway Interchange Basin

Wikipedia: Chillington Wharf

Rail around Birmingham: Chillington Wharf 1902 – Present

History Website: Chillington Wharf Canal-Railway Interchange Basin

Express & Star News: £6m steel terminal expansion in Wolverhampton

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