Telford's 1796 cast-iron aqueduct at Longden-on-Tern
|Maximum boat length||81 ft 0 in (24.69 m)
(Locks could hold four 20-ft tub-boats)
|Maximum boat beam||7 ft 0 in (2.13 m)
(originally 6 ft 7 in or 2.01 m)
(Only Eyton locks were widened)
(plus Trench inclined plane)
|Status||Early stages of restoration|
|Original owner||Shrewsbury Canal Company|
|Principal engineer||Josiah Clowes / Thomas Telford|
|Date of act||1793|
|Date of first use||1794|
|Start point||Norbury Junction
(Newport Branch opened 1835, connecting canal to national network)
|Branch(es)||Newport Branch, Humber Branch|
|Connects to||Shropshire Union Canal, Shropshire Canal, Donnington Wood Canal|
The Shrewsbury Canal (or Shrewsbury and Newport Canal) was a canal in Shropshire, England. Authorised in 1793, the main line from Trench to Shrewsbury was fully open by 1797, but it remained isolated from the rest of the canal network until 1835, when the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal built the Newport Branch from Norbury Junction to a new junction with the Shrewsbury Canal at Wappenshall. After ownership passed to a series of railway companies, the canal was officially abandoned in 1944; many sections have disappeared, though some bridges and other structures can still be found. There is an active campaign to preserve the remnants of the canal and to restore the Norbury to Shrewsbury line to navigation.
From 1768 several small canals were built in the area of what is now Telford. These canals carried tub boats. The first of these was the Donnington Wood Canal which opened in 1768, to be followed by the Wombridge Canal and the Ketley Canal, both opened in 1788, and the Shropshire Canal, which opened in 1791. The network linked Lilleshall and Pave Lane in the north to Coalbrookdale and Coalport in the south. Following a survey of the route by George Young from Worcester in 1792, an Act of Parliament was obtained in 1793 which authorised the creation of a canal to link the town of Shrewsbury with the east Shropshire canal network serving coal mines and ironworks around Oakengates, Ketley, Donnington Wood and Trench, nowadays part of the new town of Telford. The act authorised the raising of £50,000 in shares, and an additional £20,000 if necessary. This canal became the Shrewsbury Canal, and incorporated one mile and 88 yards (1.69 km) of the Wombridge Canal, which were purchased for £840 from William Reynolds to provide access to the Donnington Wood Canal and the Shropshire Canal.
Josiah Clowes was appointed Chief Engineer, but died in 1795 part way through construction. He was succeeded by Thomas Telford, then just establishing himself as Shropshire's County Surveyor and already engaged on the Ellesmere Canal slightly further north. The Ellesmere Canal was originally intended to connect Chester with Shrewsbury, but never reached the latter – it became the modern Llangollen Canal and Montgomery Canal.
One of Telford's first tasks was to rebuild a stone aqueduct over the River Tern at Longdon-on-Tern which had been built by Clowes but swept away by floods in February 1795. Telford's stonemason instincts initially led him to consider replacing the original structure with another stone-built aqueduct, but the heavy involvement of iron-masters in the Shrewsbury Canal Company, notably William Reynolds, led him to reconsider. Instead, it was rebuilt using a 62-yard (57 m) cast iron trough cast in sections at Reynolds' Ketley ironworks and bolted together in 1796. The main trough was 7.5 feet (2.3 m) wide and 4.5 feet (1.4 m) deep, with a narrower trough to one side which formed the towpath. The aqueduct was the world's first large-scale iron navigable aqueduct, though it was narrowly predated by a much smaller 44-foot-long (13 m) structure on the Derby Canal built by Benjamin Outram. The aqueduct still stands today, though it is isolated in the middle of a field. This successful use of an iron trough to contain the water of a navigable aqueduct casts the Tern aqueduct in the role of Telford's prototype for the much longer Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal, where he mounted the iron trough on high masonry arches.
The Shrewsbury Canal was finally finished in 1797, being 17 miles (27 km) long, with 11 locks. At Trench an inclined plane was built, which was 223 yards (204 m) long and raised boats 75 feet (23 m) up to the Wombridge Canal, from where they could travel via the Shropshire Canal southwards to the River Severn at Coalport. 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 cill. 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 cill. The plane opened in 1794, and the engine was replaced in 1842. The plane continued to be used until 1921, making it the last operational plane in Britain.
The canal included a 970-yard (890 m) tunnel at Berwick, which was 10 feet (3.0 m) wide, but included a wooden towpath, supported by bearers which were attached to the wall. The towpath lasted until 1819, when it was removed. By 1904, there was a white line painted in the middle of the tunnel, and if boats travelling in opposite directions met in the tunnel, the one which had passed the mark had right of way.
The canal was originally built as a narrow canal intended for horse-drawn trains of tub boats which were 20 feet (6.1 m) long and no wider than 6 feet 4 inches (1.93 m). However, in preparation for the Newport branch of the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal to Wappenshall the section from there to Shrewsbury was surveyed in 1831 and subsequently widened to take standard 7-foot (2.1 m) narrow boats. This heralded the canal's most profitable period, though it was short-lived. With the opening of the Newport Branch in 1835, the Shrewsbury Canal was no longer isolated from the rest of the national canal network. The branch linked Norbury Junction to Wappenshall Junction, passing through Newport, and included 23 locks.
In 1844 the Humber Arm was constructed. This short branch ran to Lubstree Wharf, which was owned by the Duke of Sutherland. Tramways ran from the end of the branch to various works owned by the Lilleshall Company, who shipped cargoes of pig iron, coal and limestone for use as a flux in the production of iron. Much of this trade had previously used the Donnington Wood Canal, but the new arm provided a more direct connection to the canal network, and the transfer of trade was a factor in the closure of the Donnington Wood Canal. Lubstree wharf was leased to the Shropshire Union Railways & Canal Co. in 1870, by the third Duke of Sutherland, and closed in 1922 by the fifth Duke.
In 1846, the Shropshire Union Railways and Canal Company bought most of the east Shropshire canal network, including the Shrewsbury Canal. The London and North Western Railway Company (LNWR) took control shortly afterwards and allowed the canal to decline. In 1922, the London, Midland and Scottish Railway took over the canal and the basin in Shrewsbury was closed. The LMS finally abandoned the canal network in 1944, when they obtained an Act of Abandonment.
Of all the canals that formed part of the Shropshire Union Canal system, the Shrewsbury Canal is the only one which has no part open or under restoration. The Shrewsbury & Newport Canals Trust was created in 2000 to preserve and restore the waterway.
In 2007, the canalside buildings at Wappenshall, including a trans-shipment warehouse which has been little altered since it ceased to be used in the 1930s, and retains many original features, were put up for sale. They were eventually purchased, along with a length of the canal and the Wappenshall basin, by Telford and Wrekin Council, who are working with the Trust to allow repairs to the buildings to be undertaken, with the aim of providing a museum and heritage centre for the canal, a cafe, and offices for the Canals Trust.
Today the short stretch of canal to the first lock is used as moorings, while the lock itself is used as a dry-dock.
|Shrewsbury and Newport Canal|
The canal branched away from the Shropshire Union Canal at Norbury Junction, passing under a stone bridge which carried the Shropshire Union towpath over the branch. The bridge is a Grade II listed structure. The section to the first lock is still in water as it is used for moorings, while the first lock is used as a dry dock. The lock was the first in a flight of 17, which lowered the canal down the hillside as it passed through Oulton and to the south of Sutton and Forton. At the bottom of the flight, the canal and a minor road crossed the River Meese on the Forton aqueduct, before passing under a skew bridge which carries the road over the canal. The aqueduct is a scheduled ancient monument. The River Meese feeds the Aquelate Mere, which is a National Nature Reserve and the largest lake in the West Midlands region, covering 214.4 hectares (530 acres). Soon afterwards, the route of the canal has been cut by the building of the A41 Newport bypass.
Beyond the bypass, Meretown lock marks the start of a 1.5-mile (2.4 km) watered section, which passes through Newport and included another five locks. The Strine Brook passes under the canal at both ends of this section, running parallel to the canal between the two aqueducts. The canal passed under Buttery Bridge, and then over Kinnersley Drive on an aqueduct, before the junction with the Humber Branch, which ran for about 1 mile (1.6 km) to the south, and served the industrial complex of Lilleshall. Two more aqueducts carried it over the Humber Brook and the Crow Brook, before the junction at Wappenshall where the new branch joined the original canal from Trench to Shrewsbury. At the junction, the warehouses, basin and a section of the canal have been bought by Telford and Wrekin Council, and include a Grade II Listed warehouse which straddled a dock, so that goods could be loaded and unloaded through trapdoors in the floor of the upper storey.
The Trench branch rose through 9 locks from the junction, which were called Wappenshall, Britton, Wheat Leasowes, Shucks, Peaty, Hadley Park, Turnip, Baker's and Trench lock. Wappenshall Lock was demolished to make way for a weir which is part of a storm drain. Hadley Park and Turnip locks are Grade II listed structures, as is the bridge immediately downstream of Hadley Park lock, and both locks still have their original guillotine mechanism in situ. Beyond Trench lock, which was demolished in 1977 as part of a roadworks scheme, the Trench Pool was the main water supply for the canal, after which the Trench incline carried boats another 75 feet (23 m) upwards. The building of an incline, rather than a flight of locks was dictated by the lack of an adequate water supply at the higher level. The locks on the Trench Branch, and the two Eyton locks, had guillotine gates at the lower end. They were 81 feet (25 m) long, and although Thomas Telford wrote in 1797 that they had a third set of gates, so that they could be used by a single 20-foot (6.1 m) tub-boat in the short section, a train of three tub-boats in the longer section, or a train of four boats if the outer gates were used, there is no evidence that the middle gates were ever fitted.
After Wappenshall junction the canal dropped down through the two Eyton locks, which were widened when the Newport Branch was built, passing to the north of Eyton upon the Weald Moors and through Sleapford, before crossing the River Tern on the aqueduct at Longdon-on-Tern. The canal then headed south-west, skirting the southern edge of Rodington, where it crossed the River Roden on an aqueduct which was demolished in January 1971, and the eastern and southern edge of Withington, where there was a wharf. It passed under the Shrewsbury to Telford railway line south of Upton Magna, where the new line of the A5 road has blocked the line of the canal, to reach Berwick Wharf. Here it turned north-west, to enter the 970-yard (890 m) Berwick Tunnel. At the time of its construction, this was the longest canal tunnel in Britain, and the first equipped with a towpath through it. From the northern portal of the tunnel, it passed under the railway and the A5 road again, heading north to Uffington, after which it followed the large horseshoe bend in the River Severn to reach Shrewsbury where it terminated at Castle Foregate Basin adjacent to the Buttermarket building.
(Links to map resources)
|OS Grid Ref||Notes|
|Norbury Junction||ST793228||Shropshire Union Canal|
|Forton Aqueduct and Skew Bridge||ST756209|
|Meretown Lock||ST752200||Start of watered section|
|Edgmond Lock||ST734192||End of watered section|
|Humber Arm Junction||ST686163|
|Trench Pool||ST685124||Main water source|
|River Roden aqueduct||ST589141|
|A5 road blocks route||ST556117|
|South end of Berwick tunnel||ST538114|
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