Lock No. 1 lies beneath the Midland Metro
|Length||0.6 miles (0.97 km)|
|Start point||Wednesbury Oak|
|End point||Moorcroft Junction, Moxley|
|Branch of||Birmingham Canal Navigations|
The Bradley Branch was built in two distinct phases. The first phase began on the Broadwaters Extension of the Wednesbury Canal, later known as the Walsall Canal, after its extension to Walsall Town Basin, which was completed in 1799. From Moorcroft Junction, the branch ascended through three locks, to reach the collieries at Bradley Hall, and was opened in 1796. The Wyrley and Essington Canal merged with the Birmingham Canal Navigations in 1840, and links between the two canal systems included the Walsall Extension Canal, which ran northwards from Walsall to meet the Wyrley and Essington at Birchills Junction. With the Walsall Canal now providing a link to the south or the north, six locks were built in a straight line from the Wednesbury Oak Loop of the BCN Old Main Line to the Bradley Hall line, which was straightened and its three locks rebuilt. It was opened in 1849, becoming known as the Bradley Branch or Bradley Locks Branch, and closed in 1961.
Today the western seven locks and canal have been filled in and are used as a public path and open space. The eastern two locks have been restored, filled in and culverted, with the canal remaining as a reed-filled stream as far as Moorcroft Junction. The Birmingham Canal Navigations Society have suggested the route as one which could possibly be restored, since the only structure which obstructs such a plan is a bridge at the end of the navigable section of the Wednesbury Oak Branch, and it would open up some additional circular cruising routes.
In November 2013, following discussions with other interested parties, the West Midlands Waterway Partnership agreed to seek funding for a detailed feasibility study into restoration of the Bradley Canal.
The canal left the Walsall Canal at Moorcroft Junction. As the towpath was on the northern bank, there was a towpath bridge immediately to the north of the junction. To the south of the canal was a sand pit, already marked "old" in 1890, and a chemical works, while to the north was Moorcroft Old Colliery. The southern site is now occupied by industrial units, while much of the colliery site has become Moorcroft Wood. The south-western corner was occupied by an isolation hospital in 1937, and the north-western edge is now occupied by Moorcroft Wood Primary School. There was a small basin to the south of the canal, just before the first lock was reached. Another basin turned off to the north after the lock. The Great Western Railway crossed immediately after the lock.
A further basin on the north bank served Tank Foundry in 1890, but by 1937, the works had expanded and the basin had been closed. The whole complex was labelled Bradley Boiler and Engineering Works in 1937, and straddled the road, called Oak Road in 1890, but later renamed Great Bridge Road, which is still its modern name. The road crossed the canal at Bradley Bridge, below the second lock and a triangular basin on the south bank, which served a colliery. To the south was a large expanse of workings, labelled Willingsworth Collieries, but already disused in 1890. The third lock was immediately west of the road bridge, and another large basin serving the engineering works was located just above it.
To the north of the next section lay Bradley Colliery. Pits 1 and 2 were close to the canal and were served by a basin. A tramway ran from the basin to pits 3 and 4 in 1903. To the south was a long basin, which left the main line opposite the north basin. It ran to some coal shafts. Housing had been built along its eastern edge by 1938, with the construction of Myrtle Terrace, and by 1967, over half of it had been filled in, and the far end was occupied by houses on Bartlett Close, although the middle section had been used to lengthen the gardens on Myrtle Terrace. Four more locks followed, after which there was a basin on the south bank which served the Wednesbury Oak Iron Works. A network of canals at a higher level, which joined the Wednesbury Oak Loop also served the area, but had been filled in by 1919, when a network of railway sidings served the adjacent Wednesbury Oak Furnaces. The furnaces and sidings had all disappeared by 1937. The final two locks raised the level to the Wolverhampton Level of the Wednesbury Oak Loop. The section where it joined was a straight cut, made to bypass a much longer loop, which broadly followed the boundary of the Weddell Wynd Community Woodland.
One feature of the canal which is obvious from the maps concerns the locks. Locks 2 and 4 to 8 all have a central island in the middle of a wide canal, with a lock on the north side, and a large structure labelled "overflow" at the downstream end of the south side. It makes the canal look like a river navigation, although there is no evidence for a similar structure at locks 1, 3 or 9.
Points of interest
|Map of Wednesbury Oak Loop (shown in pink), an original part of James Brindley's Birmingham Canal, and its modern neighbours. The canals as they stand today are shown as solid lines. The Bradley Branch (top of map) linked the BCN Old Main Line and the Walsall Canal through nine locks.|
(Links to map resources)
|OS Grid Ref||Notes|
|Bradley Branch Junction||SO958944||Wednesbury Oak Loop of BCN Old Main Line (estimated)|
|Bradley Branch Lock 9||SO958944||(estimated)|
|Bradley Branch Lock 8||SO959944||(estimated)|
|Bradley Branch Lock 7||SO960945||(estimated)|
|Bradley Branch Lock 6||SO961945||(estimated)|
|Bradley Branch Lock 5||SO961946||(estimated)|
|Bradley Branch Lock 4||SO962946||(estimated)|
|Bradley Branch Lock 3||SO965947|
|Great Bridge Road (A4098)||SO965947|
|Bradley Branch Lock 2||SO966948|
|Midland Metro||SO967949||Original Great Western Railway|
|Bradley Branch Lock 1||SO967949|
|Moorcroft Junction||SO972951||Walsall Canal|
- "Bradley Locks, Bradley Branch Canal". Black Country History. Retrieved 2012-01-21.
- Hadfield 1985, p. 99
- Shill 2011
- Hadfield 1985, pp. 318–319
- BCNS Gallery
- Ordnance Survey, 1:2500 map, 1890/1919/1938/1967/modern.
- All coordinates: WGS84, from Google, with reference to Ordnance Survey map 1:10560 SO99SE dated 1955