Tardebigge Locks or the Tardebigge Flight is the longest flight of locks in the UK, comprising 30 narrow locks on a two and a quarter mile stretch of the Worcester and Birmingham Canal at Tardebigge, Worcestershire. It raises the waterway some 220 feet, and lies in between the Tardebigge tunnel (length 580 yards) to the North and the Stoke Prior flight of 6 narrow locks to the South. The Tardebigge Engine House is also on this stretch.
The top lock has a rise of eleven feet, unusually high for a single lock. This lock was built to replace an experimental vertical boat lift. The canal had been constructed and open from Birmingham to the wharf (now known as the Old Wharf) north of Brockhill Lane bridge by 30 March 1807 without the need for locks. After the Old Wharf, the Tardebigge tunnel runs through the solid rock to the New Wharf, just above Lock 58, the topmost lock in the flight. The canal company was concerned with the expense of the 58 locks needed to take the canal down to the River Severn at Worcester. The Tardebigge vertical lift was invented by John Woodhouse and installed at his own expense, with excavation and masonry provided by the company. Finished on 24 June 1808, it was housed in a covered shed and used a fixed counterweight of bricks, connected by a set of eight parallel chains and pulleys. Lifting was performed by two men using a windlass. The 64 ton wooden caisson (lifting chamber) was sealed at each end by guillotine gates, as was the lock chamber. It succeeded in lifting 110 boats in 12 hours but was considered too fragile for permanent use. The remainder of the canal was built with locks, and the lift was replaced by one in 1815. The lift mechanism has gone but the outline of its balancing pit may be seen near the lock keeper's cottage.
Close to lock number 57, the second from the top, is the Tardebigge Engine House, built to pump water up from Tardebigge Reservoir, which is about 50 ft (15.2m) below the level of the top pound. The original steam engine has been removed, and the building has since been reused as a restaurant, but is currently vacant. The reservoir was one of a number of water supplies for the canal.
There is a detailed history by Revd Alan White in his book The Worcester and Birmingham Canal.
At the top lock are plaques commemorating the 1945 founding of the Inland Waterways Association (IWA).
Inland Waterways Association plaques at Tardebigge top lock
- Bingley Five Rise Locks in West Yorkshire
- Bingley Three Rise Locks in West Yorkshire
- Foxton Locks near Market Harborough, Leicestershire
- Watford Locks in Northamptonshire
- Caen Hill Locks near Devizes, Wiltshire
- Fourteen Locks near Newport, South Wales
- "Tardebigge". Waterscapes. British Waterways. Retrieved 2007-06-06.
- Hadfield, Charles (1969). The Canals of the West Midlands (Second ed.). David & Charles. ISBN 0-7153-4660-1. (has an engraving of the vertical lift)
- Paget-Tomlinson, Edward W. (1980) . The Complete Book Of Canal & River Navigations. Waine Research Publications. ISBN 0-905184-01-7.
- Perrott, David; Mosse, Jonathan (2006). Nicholson Waterways Guide 2 - Severn, Avon & Birmingham. Collins. ISBN 978-0-00-721110-4.
- De Maré, Eric (1987) . The Canals of England. Gloucester: Sutton Pub Ltd. ISBN 0-86299-418-7.
- Nicholson, William (1812). "Lift for Canals". A Journal of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry and the Arts 33: 335–342.
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