The many, changing faces of the Birmingham Canal Network

Those faces. She looks like a fine, no nonsense lady. ‘One of the last canal families, Vi Atkins with her daughter Violet, on the last horse-drawn run from Ellesmere Port to Clayton’s Refinery, Oldbury in 1952.

As I promised yesterday, some selected images here that caught my eye from the book I was bought for Christmas ‘The BCN in Pictures’ – a remarkable 1982 picture booklet of achieve images of the local canal network, the boats that navigated it and the people who worked it – both for a living, and to restore it in the dark years when hardly anyone cared.

This is Catshill Junction, Brownhills, from the bridge looking towards Tesco. Note the gas works where Humphries House stands today. ‘Ernest Thomas was a much loved canal carrier who later operated a substantial lorry fleet. His wooden tug DOT is show at Catshill Junction in the 50s’

The book is long out of print, but there’s loads more pictures than I feature here, so please do grab a copy if you can find one.

That face wasn’t posed. Oh gosh. I’d love to know the who and where of this. ‘What some people call pleasure! Part of canal restoration is getting covered in mud!’

It’s hard to appreciate now just what a bad state the canal was in when I was a child, and the huge strides made – much of it by volunteers – to gift us the clean, peaceful waterways of today.

I’m hoping someone can tell me where this is, and what, if anything, remains? ‘Once one of the largest operators on the BCN, Thomas Clayton of Oldbury survived until 1969, in latter years still carrying a considerable amount of oil. This scene shows their dock in Oldburyicirca 1965’

The book features a great map of the BCN network as it stood on publication and I posted that yesterday; you can see that post by clicking here.

A familiar image, in better quality than usually seen – this is a work crew featuring well-love local character Alf Mole at Catshill Junction. They would be stood in the gardens of Chandlers Keep today. Note the child obscured by the gent in the foreground. ‘Catshill in 1956, where the Daw End Branch (sic) joins the Wyrley and Essington Canal. British Waterways staff are seen engaged in bank maintenance.’

The Birmingham Canal Navigations Society still exist of course, and in 2019 are to take on the organisation of Brownhills Canal Festival – more on that to come soon.

This is one of my favourite images, and a spot I know really well – the canal as it goes under Spaghetti Junction. An old boss of mine used to be fascinated by the crane coming from the factory building, top centre. For years it was a landmark when we returned home up the motorway from London. ‘A birds eye view of the Tame Valley Canal as it heads West towards Witton from Salford Junctionunderneath the Gravelly Hill Motorway Interchange.’

You can visit the BCN website here. They have some great history.

Some fine appropriate clothing in this one… bless the 1970s. ‘Towpath clearance at the Tipton end of the Dudley Tunnel adjacent to the Black Country Museum during the Dudley Dig of 1972.’

If you have any comments to make, please do – either here on the post or mail me – BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. You can of course, find me on social media too.

Note Sterling Tubes in the background of this one. I’m intrigued by the steel structure spanning the canal in the background – what is that? ‘A traditional canal boat launching at Ken Keay’s former dock at Carl Street, Walsall on the Wyrley.& Essington Canal. MEROPE formerly a GUCCC wooden motor built in 1938, now owned by Peter Dodds takes to the water after being docked in February 1973.’

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11 Responses to The many, changing faces of the Birmingham Canal Network


    The crane az\t Spaghetti is the boat unloading crane at G.E.C., not sure if the pipe past Worsey’s dock was water or Gas

  2. Rob Selvey says:

    Bob – the iron structure in the last picture is a footbridge that connected the Birchills bus depot of Walsall Corporation Transport with gtheir sports field which is off to the left of the picture. Played many a Sunday afternoon game of soccer on that field when no-one but us kids were around.

  3. Rob Selvey says:

    Bob – the iron structure in the last post you asked about was a footbridge linking Walsall Corporations Birchills depot with their sports field just off picture left. Played many a Sunday afternoon game of soccer there when there was only us kids around.

  4. BrownhillsBob says:

    It was intended as a compliment, to be honest. She looks like a fine woman, but I shall alter it for you.

    Cheers, no offence intended

  5. BrownhillsBob says:

    I was struck actually by what a wonderful image it was, how timeless it was and surprised it was as early as 52. That’s why I made it top of the article. The picture is stunning and deserves wide exposure.


  6. BrownhillsBob says:

    Honestly Ian if you’d like to share memories or stories of the Atkins family or any of the boat folk of the day, please do feel free. It’s about sharing the history and I had no idea they existed until I came upon this photo.

    It’s about keeping the history alive.


  7. Bob says:

    Hi, enjoyed this thankyou, i remember well the Black Country canals when they were in decline before they became popular for leisure, pillboxes were built on the canals during WW2 and i was born near the pillbox on the Tame Valley Canal by Crankhall Lane bridge, there is also a very unusual round pillbox disguised as an industrial chimney on the canal near Lifford/Kings Norton (about 300 yards north of Pershore Road) and another by the Fazeley Canal Aqueduct at Tamworth, i remember Caggy Stevens another well known Black Country canal character who once worked the cuts by horse, my how the canals have changed, thankyou for sharing.

  8. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    many thanks for this post..My paternal grandfather worked on the local canal as a boatman at the time of my father’s birth, in 1911 according to the census for that year. I knew very little of his hard life . It has only been in the last few years, and specifically through the good office of your wonderful blog, that I have come to learn about the working life he lived, and slowly begin to fill in a missing part of my personal history.

    my kind regards and best wishes


  9. Martin says:

    These People where hard working Men and Women,i can just remember them in the mist of time loading coal on the Barges not far from the basin near Chasewater as it is know now, but even then, it was a dying industry, i still love to see the Barges with the painted jugs and pots and i’m glad that the Canals are been put to good use again, long may it continue.

  10. David Evans says:

    The Canal Connection

    I was interested to see the amazing images in your recent blog article. “The Many Changing Faces of the Birmingham Canal Network “
    Knowing that my paternal grandfather was living in Heath End, Pelsall in 1911 and was working as a “boatman, canal co” at that time I looked through other census details etc to see if any other of the family members.-he was one of 8 children- had any connection with working on the canal.
    His younger brother Thomas, who was later living in West Bromiwich Street Oldbury, was conscripted in to the Army on his 18th birthday in June 1916, in to the Machine Gun Corps. However, perhaps because his trade was given as “rivetter”(sic) he was subsequently transferred to serve in a branch of the Royal Engineers – the Inland Waterways and Docks Company ( IW&DC) in March 1917for the duration of the conflict.
    Little is recorded of his duties, but, interestingly, some of his service record documents show Sandwich and Richborough, Kent issue and signatures.
    I think there was some important activity thereabouts , during the Great War, but know very little of this. Perhaps readers can help. please
    He was disharged from the Army in February 1919, from the Army Camp in Rugeley.

    kind regards

  11. David tonks says:

    My dad used to operate the crane over the canal , used to empty the barges of their coal this was then used by the GEC for the boilers , he worked there over 25 years .

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