Montgomery Canal milepost
|Maximum boat length||70 ft 0 in (21.34 m)|
|Maximum boat beam||6 ft 10 in (2.08 m)|
(Graham Palmer lock was added during restoration)
|Maximum height above sea level||265 ft (81 m)|
|Status||Parts navigable; parts under restoration|
|Navigation authority||Canal and River Trust|
Llanymynech Branch of the Ellesmere Canal;
Montgomery Branch (or Arm) of the Shropshire Union
|Modern name||Montgomery Canal|
|Original owner||The Company of Proprietors of the Montgomeryshire Canal|
|Principal engineer||John Dadford|
|Other engineer(s)||Thomas Dadford Junior/Thomas Dadford senior/Josias Jessop/John Williams/George W.Buck|
|Date of act||1794|
|Date closed||1936 (legal abandonment: 1944)|
|Branch(es)||Weston Branch (dis.)|
|Branch of||Llangollen Canal|
The Montgomery Canal (Welsh: Camlas Trefaldwyn), known colloquially as "The Monty", is a partially restored canal in Powys, in eastern Wales, and in northwest Shropshire, in western England. The canal runs 33 miles (53 km) from the Llangollen Canal (at Frankton Junction) to Newtown, via Llanymynech and Welshpool.
Originally the canal from Llanymynech to Newtown was known as the Montgomeryshire Canal, named after the county of Montgomeryshire it ran through, itself divided into Western and Eastern branches. At Carreghofa Locks near Llanymynech the Montgomeryshire Canal connected to the Llanymynech Branch of the Ellesmere Canal. These elements of the present-day Montgomery Canal were unified by becoming part of the Shropshire Union system; the Ellesmere Canal in 1846, the Eastern Branch in 1847 and the Western Branch in 1850.
The canal fell into disuse following a breach in 1936, and was officially abandoned in 1944. With the revival of canal use in the late 20th century, the two canals became known as the Montgomery Canal, although the canal does not, and never did, go to the town of Montgomery.
At present only 7 miles (11 km) from Frankton Junction to Gronwyn Wharf is navigable and connected to the rest of the national Canal & River Trust network; separately, a short stretch at Llanymynech and a central section of the canal around Welshpool are also navigable, though 'isolated' from the national canal network. On-going restoration work continues to expand the navigable sections.
- 1 History
- 2 Restoration
- 3 Architecture
- 4 Nature conservation
- 5 Towpath
- 6 Route
- 7 Points of interest
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
The Montgomeryshire Canal was devised with a different purpose from most other canals of the time. Whereas other canals could generate sufficient revenue from cargo carrying to be financially viable, the Montgomeryshire was planned to serve a more rural area, which would not offer such opportunities. Instead the primary purpose of the canal was to transport lime for agricultural purposes, which would allow the Upper Severn Valley to become better agricultural land. As a result, the promoters of the canal included local landowners who hoped to achieve a return on their investment through greater crop yields, rather than relying upon share dividends.
The proposal of a canal from Llanymynech to Welshpool was made in 1792, to extend the Llanymynech Branch of the Ellesmere Canal, which was itself still then only a proposal. By 1793 it had been decided that the canal should continue through to Newtown. The canal was authorised in 1794 by an Act of Parliament entitled "An act for making a navigable Canal from or near Porthywain Lime Rocks in the parish of Llanyblodwell, in the county of Salop, to or near Newtown, in the county of Montgomery, and also certain collateral Cuts from the said Canal." The company was authorised to raise £72,000 from shares, and a further £20,000 if required. John Dadford was appointed Engineer, while his brother Thomas Dadford Junior was appointed his assistant. There had been suggestions in 1793 for a connecting canal between Garthmyl and the Leominster Canal at Woofferton. It would have been 40.25 miles (65 km) long, but the plan came to nothing.
By February 1796, parts of the canal were completed, and the first boat, named the Royal Montgomery, was launched into the canal near Welshpool, amidst great celebrations. In July 1797, the connection to the Ellesmere Canal at Llanymynech was opened, although the Llanymynech branch was still suffering from problems with leakage. A month later, the canal had reached Garthmyl, providing 16 miles (26 km) of navigable canal from Llanymynech, but stopping 7 miles (11 km) short of Newtown. In early 1797, John Dadford had resigned his post, in order to pursue a career in America, and at the suggestion of Thomas Dadford, had been replaced by his father, Thomas Dadford senior. During construction, there had been problems with both the Berriew Aqueduct and the Vyrnwy Aqueduct, where one arch had collapsed. The management committee were uphappy with this, and the engineer William Jessop was called in to advise, but he explained that such issues were merely teething problems, and allayed their fears. To reach Garthmyl, £71,000 had been spent. The canal thus far included 13 locks, four descending between Carraghofa and Burgedin, and nine rising from there to Garthmyl. It also included a level branch to Guilsfield, some 2.25 miles (3.6 km) long.
Although conceived as a means to serve agricultural communities, trade on the canal developed steadily. There were a number of quarries in the Llanymynech area, which delivered limestone to the canal, for transport to kilns at Belan and elsewhere. Grain prices rose from 1800 onwards, and there was a large demand for lime as a fertiliser, so that the Welsh hill-lands could be enclosed and developed for agriculture. Once the Chirk and Pontcysyllte aqueducts were opened on the Ellesmere branch to Llangollen, there was an easy route for the transport of coal, used in the lime kilns to produce fertiliser. Other cargoes included stone for building, roofing slates, timber and bark. At its outset, the Earl of Powis had been one of the principal shareholders in the canal, and with his son, Lord Clive, were both landowners and owners of quarries and mills along the canal. The first dividend of 2.5 per cent was paid in 1805, and thereafter, a dividend was paid in most years while the canal remained independent, at rates up to 5.5 per cent. Volumes of limestone carried rose from 14,082 tons in 1806 to 44,592 tons in 1814, while carriage of slack coal rose from 6,757 tons to 11,560 tons over the same period. There was a significant drop in volumes with the end of the Napoleonic Wars, but trade had picked up again by 1820.
A lack of capital and income prevented completion of the canal, and it remained with Garthmyl as its terminus for 20 years, but by 1812, Newtown was experiencing significant growth, and there were calls to extend the route southwards, either as a canal from Garthmyl to Newtown, or as a canal to Bryn-derwen and a tranroad beyond that. A meeting of the shareholders held in October 1813 narrowly voted to press on, and Josias Jessop was asked to survey the route. His initial estimate was £28,268, although some of the committee later thought that he had forgotten to include the cost of puddling and lining the canal. The company agreed to put a Bill before Parliament, to obtain the necessary powers, but factions developed within the shareholders, with some fearing that they might lose their investment if the canal were completed. Heated meetings were held in September 1814 and January 1815, at which neither side was entirely successful, but on 3 February 1815, the company agreed that the new section would effectively be built by a separate company, with its own committee and accounts.
The old company would be known as the Eastern Branch, with the new company responsible for the Western Branch. Any profits that the Eastern Branch made above 5 per cent would be used to fund the extension, and on completion, the two branches would be jointly managed. Surpluses from the Eastern Branch would continue to be transferred to the Western Branch, until it was able to pay a 5 per cent dividend, at which point the two companies would be formally amalgamated. This was enshrined in an Act of Parliament obtained in 1815, which authorised the raising of £40,000 in new shares to complete the canal. The new company kept themselves separate, failing to notify the Eastern Branch how the work was progressing. Under the supervision of John Williams, the resident engineer, who used Jessop's plans, the new canal was completed in March 1819, although it was not formally declared to be complete until 7 December 1821. It descended through six locks from Newtown, and was supplied with water from the River Severn by a 24-foot (7.3 m) water wheel and a backup steam engine. An additional supply came from a weir and feeder at Penarth.
The six locks were each 8 feet (2.4 m) deep, with the cut being 4 feet 6 inches (1.37 m) deep, and 15 feet (4.6 m) wide at the bottom. As a result of the Western Branch needing to be profitable to allow the branches to merge, a higher tonnage charge was imposed on the Western Branch. On 23 June 1821 a further Act of Parliament was obtained, to alter the line of the Tanat feeder, and to make a navigable cut from the Guildfield Branch. This act also stipulated that the consolidation of the Eastern and Western branches would no longer be automatic, but would require the consent of the proprietors of each, and clarified that the commencement of the Eastern branch was to be taken as the distance of thirty five yards from the sill of the upper gate of the higher of the two Carreghofa locks. This alteration to the line of the Tanat feeder resulted in it now supplying the pound above the Carreghofa locks, whereas it had previously fed the canal below the locks.
The cost of the Western Branch was £53,390, which was well in excess of the £22,300 which had been raised by issuing new shares. The company had borrowed £6,000 from the Exchequer Bill Loan Commissioners, and the rest from various others, the majority coming from William Pugh. Income on the new branch was meagre, so that the company could not meet the interest payments on the loans, and factions developed. One group was led by Pugh, who complained that the engineer Williams had muddled the accounts since the canal had opened, and the other thought that Pugh had borrowed money beyond the powers granted by the Act of Parliament. They wanted the Exchequer Bill Loan Commissioners to investigate the company's financial position. However, both parties agreed that George Buck, who had been the engineer for the Eastern Branch since 1819, should become engineer and clerk, and he was appointed to this post in December 1832, with a mandate to investigate the accounts.
Buck presented his findings in November 1833, but the meeting took no action as Pugh was absent. Buck moved on the following month, to assist Robert Stephenson on railway projects. Pugh then paid off both the capital and interest of most of the other creditors, resulting in the company owing him £38,106, which was split into a mortgage for £25,000 and £13,000 in shares. He then obtained his own Act of Parliament to authorise his position, and to allow the company to raise their tolls. By June 1835, the Western Branch declared that receipts were sufficient to pay the interest on all mortgages, but there is no evidence that any dividends were ever paid on the shares. The two branches remained separate companies throughout their life.
Shropshire Union takeover
Major structural repairs to the Vyrnwy aqueduct had been required in 1823, when all of the arches were strengthened by iron bands, under the supervision of Buck. Otherwise, the Eastern Branch continued to be relatively prosperous, apart from a brief dip during a trade recession between 1840 and 1844. This was partly due to the late arrival of railways in the area. The Western Branch, in contrast, was hampered by the fact that nearly all of the traffic was in one direction, towards Newtown, with very little goods travelling in the opposite direction.
The prospect of railway competition arrived in the 1840s, and in 1845 the company was approached by the proposed Shrewsbury to Newtown Railway, to work out a deal. The company responded by setting up a subcommittee in January 1845, to consider how best to protect themselves from such competition. Meanwhile, the London and Birmingham Railway were negotiating with the Ellesmere and Chester Canal, who were planning to convert some of their canals into railways. They asked William Cubitt to investigate whether their own canal could also be converted, but that plan was dropped soon afterwards, as the Ellesmere and Chester offered to buy the canal for £110 per share, and the offer was accepted. The Ellesmere and Chester Canal obtained an Act of Parliament to enable them to become the Shropshire Union Railways and Canal Company, and to take over several canals, including both the Eastern and Western Branches of the Montgomeryshire Canal. The Eastern Branch was formally transferred to become part of the Shropshire Union on 1 January 1847, with the company receiving £78,210, of which £7,920 was in shares in the new company, and the rest was in cash. The Western Branch remained under Pugh's control for three more years, but was bought for £42,000 on 5 February 1850, although some £7,000 of this cannot be traced from the accounts.
The Shropshire Union company had negotiated with several railway companies who had initially been rivals, but on 1 January 1846, they had all amalgamated to become the London and North Western Railway (LNWR). The Shropshire Union had obtained powers in their enabling act to build railways, and thus became a threat to the London and North Western Railway, who offered to lease the Shropshire Union in the autumn of 1846. This was formalised by an Act of Parliament in June 1847, although the powers were not fully implemented until 25 March 1857. Part of the deal was that the Shropshire Union would drop its aspirations to build railways, but in return, would have a free hand to run the canals, which they did vigorously. The LNWR applied for powers to build a railway linking Shrewsbury, Newtown, Welshpool and Oswestry in 1853, but after negotiation with the Great Western Railway, withdrew the bill, and it was they who built the Oswestry and Newtown Railway, which was completed on 10 June 1861. The plan was supported by some of the former Montgomeryshire Canal shareholders, who were disappointed that the sale of the canal to the Shropshire Union had not resulted in it being converted into a railway.
Although the Shropshire Union had a fairly free hand in running the canals, the goods that could be carried were restricted by the terms of their lease, and the canals gradually became less profitable. Consideration was given to closing the Weston Arm in 1875, and again in 1885, but no action was taken. The idea of closing the whole of the former Montgomery Canal was considered in 1887, but study of the figures revealed that it was still making a small profit of £432 per year, and so it was reprieved. In May 1917, the Weston Arm suffered a breach at Dandyfield, which it was estimated would cost £14,000 to repair. Thereafter, the arm was only open for about 0.75 miles (1.21 km) to Hordley wharf, but there were complaints, and the issue was referred to the Board of Trade. They ruled in 1920 that repairs were not justified, and so the arm stayed closed. The Shropshire Union was absorbed by the London and North Western Railway in late 1922, and itself became part of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) under the 1923 grouping of the railways. Another breach of the canal occurred a mile (1.6 km) from Frankton Junction on 5 February 1936. The owners paid compensation to George Beck, the main user of the canal, and applied for a warrant of abandonment, but this was refused. The LMS finally obtained an act of abandonment in 1944, which gave them powers to close the whole of the canal from Frankton Junction southwards, including the Weston Arm, as part of a plan to close 175 miles (282 km) of canal.
The act of abandonment allowed bridges to be lowered, although none of the route of the canal was sold at that time. The Transport Act 1947 resulted in the nationalisation of the railways and canals, with control of the Montgomery Canal passing to the British Transport Commission in 1948 and ultimately to British Waterways in 1963, following the passing of the Transport Act 1962. The Transport Act 1968 classified canals into one of three categories, and the Montgomery Canal became a Remainder Waterway, meaning that British Waterways could only carry out certain statutory work on it. As a result of the act, the final 2 miles (3.2 km) to Newtown were sold off.
Since 1969 when the canal through Welshpool was threatened by a proposed road bypass, the canal has been gradually – but so far only partially – restored for use by pleasure boaters. In some places the canal has been filled in, roads have been built over the channel, bridges have been lowered, and infrastructure such as pipes and manhole covers have been built in the canal bed, presenting several obstacles to restoration. The end section from Freestone Lock to Newtown is dry, and no longer in Canal & River Trust ownership.
In 1969, there were plans to convert the bed of the canal through Welshpool into a road, and the Welshpool By-Pass Action Committee was formed to oppose this. They requested the help of the Shropshire Union Canal Society, who organised a "Big Dig" at Welshpool, which was attended by over 200 volunteers, who cleared a section of the canal. The Shropshire Union Canal Society had already begun campaigning for the restoration of the canal, and in the runup to the event, members attended council meetings, mounted displays in the town, and organised a visit to Market Drayton for Welshpool Town Council, to see another section of the Shropshire Union where progress was being made. Key players included Graham Palmer, the organiser of the London and Home Counties Working Party Group of the Inland Waterways Association. They published a journal called Navvies Notebook, which co-ordinated volunteer activity on the canals across Britain, and within a year had become the Waterway Recovery Group. It was agreed that voluteers would tackle the section from Welshpool Lock northwards to Mill Lane. Despite high level opposition to restoration by British Waterways, at local level they agreed to shut off the feed to the southern section and lower the water level, so that water could be pumped out of the section through Welshpool, rather than discharged into the Lledan Brook.
Welshpool Borough Council refused the use of their tip for material removed from the canal, but a local farmer called W Davies offered the use of his land. Buttington Contractors offered items of equipment, and the event was planned for the weekend of 18 and 19 October 1969. Some 100 volunteers were expected, and pumping began of Friday evening. The Severn River Board removed over 700 fish on Saturday morning, and numbers attending exceeded expections. Despite warnings by British Waterways not to touch it, the Lledan Brook flood paddle was opened to assist in the drainage of the canal, and over 200 people set to work, using hand tools and borrowed equipment, including a mobile crane, ten dumper trucks, four 7-ton tipper trucks, three JCB diggers, and a Hy-Mac long arm excavator. Brian Haskins, the British Waterways area engineer from Northwich, visited the site, and overlooked the use of the flood paddle. There was considerable interest from the townspeople, and the number of onlookers became a bit of a hazard. The cleared canal was refilled on the Sunday, and the Mayor and Mayoress rode along the section on a cruiser that had been trailed from Market Drayton. The canal route for the bypass was subsequently rejected by a public enquiry.
The Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council published a review on 20 August 1971, which assessed the potential of the "Remainder Waterways" which had been defined in the Transport Act 1968. This advocated the complete restoration of the Montogomery Canal, among other suggestions. The Prince of Wales announced a plan to restore 7 miles (11 km) of the canal to amenity waterway standards in October 1973. This was achieved through the Prince of Wales Committee of the House of Lords, and was to be managed by the Shropshire Union Canal Society. The scheme was also backed by the Variety Club of Great Britain, who wanted to use the restored canal as a recreational base for the benefit of handicapped children. The Prince formally opened Welshpool Town Lock on 23 May 1974, as the scheme got under way. Despite the progress being made, the Welsh Office approved a scheme in 1976 to construct a bypass road at Arddleen, which would have crossed the canal at low level, and culverted the canal beneath it. The Inland Waterways Association and the Shropshire Union Canal Society worked together to get the scheme changed, and by mid-1978, an engineering solution had been worked out, but the costs involved brought delays to the restoration.
The next threat to restoration occurred in 1979, when following the collapse of James Callaghan's Labour government and the election of Margaret Thatcher, economic conditions were tight. Powis Council were faced with the cost of repairing and upgrading bridges over the canal, and wanted to lower bridge 96, below Carreghofa bootom lock, to remove a weight restriction. They applied to the High Court for a "writ mandamus", which put the onus on the court to decide who was responsible for the costs. Again, the restoration movement objected, but the court ruled in favour of lowering the bridge. British Waterways objected, on the basis that restoration was already ongoing. Soon afterwards, the Secretary of State suggested that a note should be added to the Shropshire County structure plan, indicating that the line of the canal should be protected, but the lowering of the bridge went ahead. The Powis structure plan was amended in early 1982 to protect the canal from bridge 120, located to the south of Welshpool, northwards. However, within weeks British Waterways announced the future restoration, beyond the locks at Frankton and Carreghofa, was uncertain. The Restoration Trust met with Sir Frank Price, chairman of British Waterways, on 5 April 1982, and it was agreed that an economic assessment of the viability of restoration should be carried out and completed by October.
By 1985, the environmental lobby was growing, and in order to avert a situation where boaters and environmentalists clashed, the Manpower Services Commission funded a scheme to document the flora and fauna of the unrestored canal. It also included an experimental off-line nature reserve, which could provide a habitat for rare or interesting plants, and the first such reserve was built at Rednal. The concept was a success, and paved the way for other reserves that allowed restoration to proceed, both on the Montgomery Canal and on other canals where there were sensitive environmental concerns. Montgomeryshire County Council committed £1 million to canal restoration over a five-year period, as British Waterways submitted a private bill to Parliament to authorise restoration of the whole canal. The restoration also benefitted from a legacy of £200,000 left by Humphrey Symonds via the Inland Waterways Association, specifically for the Montgomery Canal. Frankton Locks were reopened on 12 September 1987 by the Prince of Wales, when he announced that volunteers had worked for 12,000 man-hours on the project, and that the value of this contribution was £200,000.
The British Waterways Act 1987 became law on 17 December 1987, and authorised the restoration of the canal from Newtown Pumping Station to Frankton Junction, including the Guilsfield and Weston arms. It formalised the change of name to the Montgomery Canal and the construction and maintenance of nature reserves. It also specified that any refurbished or new sections of the canal, when they were brought into use, would automatically be designated as Remainder Waterways, using the classification from the 1968 Act. A second Act was obtained on 29 July 1988, to undo the provisions of the London Midland and Scottish Railway (Canals) Act 1944, which had removed the right of navigation and prohibited such use. The new Act reinstated the right to allow navigation on any sections open at the time the Act was obtained, and on any sections subsequently re-opened. British Waterways was succeeded by the Canal & River Trust in 2012.
Gallowstree Bridge was opened by David Suchet on 7 June 1992. The canal from Frankton Locks to the River Perry crosses Perry Moor, and historically the bed had no puddling at this point, relying instead on the water table of the peat moor to retain the water. Modern agricultural methods had changed this, and a new lining using butyl, concrete and gabions had to be created during 1994. Shrinkage of the peat had also caused subsidence of the canal, and a new lock was built, with a drop of 2.5 feet (0.76 m). On 3 June 1995, the restored section between Frankton Locks and the aqueduct over the River Perry was opened, and the new lock was named the Graham Palmer lock, after the man who had been instrumental in so much canal restoration, through the creation of the Waterway Recovery Group. The section onwards to Queen's Head, a hamlet on the A5 trunk road, followed on 21 September 1996, extending the length of navigable canal connected to the national network to 4 miles (6 km). The 2.5 miles (4 km) from Maesbury to Redwith benefitted from European Regional Development funding, awarded in 2000, but there were fears that restoration might be hampered by the designation of large lengths of the canal in Powis as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) by the Countryside Council for Wales. Negotiations took place between the Trust, the Council, and English Nature, to ensure that this did not happen, and an agreement was eventually worked out in 2005, which would ensure that the flora and fauna would be protected by off-line nature reserves, to allow full navigation on the main line of the canal.
In the autumn of 2002 work was started on the restoration of Newhouse Lock, the penultimate lock on the southern section still owned by British Waterways. Soon after work started, it became evident that there were structural problems which had not been apparent when the first engineering inspection had been carried out. Further funding was obtained, and the quality of the work done by volunteers resulted in them completing some of the tasks originally assigned to professionals. £250,000 was spent on the project, significantly less than the revised budget, and the contribution of volunteer labour was valued at £45,000. The restoration was completed six months ahead of schedule in 2006, and the lock was opened officially on 25 June 2006 by Lembit Opik MP, in conjunction with the Annual Montgomery Dinghy Dawdle. The restoration of the lock was named Welsh Project of the Year by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors in May 2007. This completed the restoration of all of the locks on the section of the canal owned by British Waterways, and was the eleventh lock on the Welsh section of the canal to be restored by the Shropshire Union Canal Society.
In 2003 the 3-mile (5 km) section from Queen's Head to Gronwen Wharf was reopened, opening the canal through the village of Maesbury Marsh. The 875-yard (800 m) section from Gronwen Wharf to Redwith Bridge was filled with water in October 2007. Rare flora and fauna were accommodated by the construction of an off-line nature reserve on land leased by British Waterways for 50 years. The cost of the reserve added an extra £250,000 to the projected cost, and this was partially funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and EU Interreg funds. Restoration was then started on the 490-yard (450 m) section onwards to Pryce's Bridge. Rebuilding of the channel involved the laying of over 40,000 concrete bricks and the use of a Bentonite membrane. The refurbished channel was opened on 19 July 2014 by Owen Paterson, the MP for North Shropshire, but because there is no winding hole at the end of it, the limit of navigation remained at Gronwen Wharf for most boats.
In 2007 restoration of Crickheath Wharf was started by the Shropshire Union Canal Society, though in 2008 work was postponed due to land ownership issues. At present restoration efforts continue to bring the navigation to Crickheath Wharf (where a winding hole would be). A lottery grant in 2016 will ensure that the canal is restored to and including the Crickheath winding hole by 2020.
Restoration is being carried out by a partnership of the Montgomery Waterway Restoration Trust and the national Canal & River Trust (who own the canal and are its navigation authority). As of 2017, Gronwen remains the limit of navigation for larger powered craft on the northern section of the canal, which is connected to the Llangollen Canal and the wider Canal & River Trust network at Frankton Junction. A very short section of navigable canal exists in Llanymynech and a separate longer navigable section operates in the Welshpool area; however these two sections are not connected to any other navigable canal and are therefore 'isolated'.
The lock gear on the Eastern Branch of the Montgomeryshire were of a different design to those on other canals. Whereas most other canal locks have culverts in the side walls to fill and empty the lock, with paddles opening and closing vertically, the locks on the Montgomeryshire were designed with a culvert in the base of the canal, with the paddle sliding horizontally over the culvert. During operation this can lead to a large whirlpool being observed. To operate the paddle, the winding gear is purely a geared design, rather than rack and pinion. An effect of this is that there is no pawl to be operated, and the paddles cannot be accidentally dropped shut. The paddle gear was designed by George W. Buck, who was appointed Engineer of the Eastern branch in 1819, and Clerk to the Western branch in 1822.
Many of the lock gates on the Montgomeryshire Canal were replaced with cast iron gates. These gates were curved, with tubular cast iron balance beams. The last surviving pair were removed from Welshpool and taken to Stoke Bruerne Canal Museum in the early 1970s.
Bridge numbers on the Montgomery sections of the canal continue on from the Llanymynech Branch of the Ellesmere Canal to reflect this. Today, bridge numbers on the Montgomery Canal continue on from Llangollen Canal bridge numbers at Frankton Junction, with the first bridge on the Montgomery Canal (Lockgate Bridge) being therefore bridge number 71 and not number 1; the numbering begins at distant Hurleston Junction. The Llangollen Canal has, because of this, two separate series of bridge numbering, with one ending and the other beginning at Frankton Junction.
In the years following the closure of the canal wildlife flourished. The whole of the Welsh section and parts of the English section (notably the section from the Aston Locks to Keeper's Bridge) were designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The notable wildlife includes Floating Water Plantain and Grass-wrack Pondweed.
To preserve the wildlife, nature reserves have been created at points along the canal. These include Rednal Basin, most of the Weston Branch and a specially constructed reserve alongside the Aston Locks. Some winding holes have been given over to nature, with the one adjacent to Crofts Mill Lift Bridge having had boat barriers installed, and the one adjacent to Park Mill Bridge allowed to be partially overgrown. There is a maximum of 1250 boats per year allowed passage on the navigable section in England (i.e. that part connected to the Llangollen Canal). In addition there are stricter speed restrictions than normally found on British canals, with speed limits of 2 and 3 mph for example on the navigable and connected part.
The towpath of almost all the canal is used as a footpath. The section between Pool Quay Lock and Newtown forms part of the Severn Way. Shorter sections south of Llanymynech and Pool Quay are followed by the Offa's Dyke Path.
Frankton Junction to Carreghofa
Llanymynech Branch of the Ellesmere Canal
This section was originally the Llanymynech branch of the Ellesmere Canal, but since the passing of the British Waterways Act 1987 is officially the first section of the Montgomery Canal. The previous history is reflected in the numbering of the bridges, which start from 71, following on a sequence which begins at Hurleston Junction, where the Llangollen Canal meets the main line of the Shropshire Union Canal. The section of the canal from Frankton Junction to Gronwen Wharf (just north of Bridge 82) is navigable by narrowboat.
Access through the locks at Frankton Junction is strictly controlled, and must be booked in advance. The locks are operated by a Canal and River Trust lockkeeper and passage is only allowed between 10:00 am and 12:00 noon. The number of boats using the locks is restricted to a maximum of twelve in either direction on any one day, and having passed down the locks onto the canal, boaters must stay for a minimum of one day and a maximum of 14. Repeat visits cannot be made within six weeks of leaving the canal. The locks consist of a two-chamber staircase lock and two single locks. Alongside the locks are several canal buildings, including a boatbuilder's house. The remains of a dry dock can be seen in the garden, and it was here that the grain boat Cressy was converted for leisure use in 1929 by Jack Beech. The boat was bought by L.T.C. Rolt in 1939, who used it to tour the decaying canal network, and was instrumental in the setting up of the Inland Waterways Association. A plaque commemorating this was attached to the lock entrance and unveiled by his widow, Sonia Rolt, on 17 January 2009.
The now-infilled Weston Branch, which terminated at a wharf at Weston Lullingfields, branches off between Frankton Locks and Lockgate Bridge. Only a short section remains, part of which is used for mooring, and part is a nature reserve. There is a Canal & River Trust amenity block alongside. Just beyond the junction is bridge 71, a red-brick humped-back road bridge dating from 1785, which remains almost in its original state. It is a grade II listed structure.
The canal passes through a peat bog, which has been drained since the construction of the canal. This lowering of the water level has meant that during restoration the canal had to be lined to prevent leakage, and a new lock was required to lower the water level. This lock was named Graham Palmer Lock, after the founder of the Waterway Recovery Group. The Perry Aqueduct crosses the River Perry, and was replaced during restoration. The old aqueduct had three small arches, and restricted the flow on the river in flood conditions. As it was in a poor state of repair, it was replaced by a single span steel structure. Beyond the aqueduct, the canal is very straight, as a diversion was built in 1822. The original route of the canal had followed a less direct path at the insistence of one of the Proprietors, who wanted the canal to serve his Woodhouse Estate.
Rednal Basin was originally used for transshipment between the canal and the Chester and Shrewsbury Railway. This finished in the 1850s, and it subsequently served a bone mill. Although the link to the basin still exists, and there is a swing bridge over the entrance, it is not used for boats, as it is a nature reserve. At Queen's Head the canal passes under both the old and the new A5 road. There are mooring spaces and some Canal & River Trust buildings at Queen's Head. Following on from Queen's Head are the three Aston Locks. The top lock has a nature reserve alongside, built during restoration.
The canal passes through Maesbury Marsh, a village built largely alongside the canal. Canal Central, an environmentally friendly building incorporating a Post Office, shop, tearoom, accommodation and bike and canoe hire was built alongside the canal near the village (just to the west of Spiggots Bridge) in 2006. Mooring is available along sections of the canal at Maesbury Marsh. Bridge 81 is a lift bridge, which requires a windlass to operate, and immediately to its west the Mill Arm (or Peate's Branch) has been restored for much of its length, giving access to a boatyard and private moorings.
The section of the canal from Gronwen Wharf to Redwith Bridge (No. 83) was re-opened in October 2007, though is not navigable by powered craft as Gronwen Wharf is the final winding hole on this navigable section of the canal. The newly planted vegetation along this stretch also needs establishing. Therefore, Gronwen Wharf remains as the general limit of navigation. Redwith Bridge had been lowered since the canal's closure, but has recently been rebuilt and is now capable of taking narrowboats underneath once again. In 2014 restoration of the section from Redwith Bridge to Pryce's Bridge (No. 84) was completed.
The section of the canal from Pryce's Bridge through Crickheath and Pant is dry and partially infilled. Restoration continues to take place from Pryce's Bridge to Crickheath Wharf (located just north of Bridge 85), which will be the next winding hole to be available when this section of canal is restored. Through Pant the canal ran alongside the Oswestry and Newtown Railway, which later became part of the Cambrian Railways network. The Cambrian Railways Trust has restored a short section of the line between Llynclys and Pant, and has built a halt at Penygarreg Lane adjacent to the canal.
The section of the canal from just after Pant, through Llanymynech to Carreghofa is in water, though Carreghofa Lane now crosses the canal just to the north of Walls Bridge (No. 93) and this new crossing (built after the canal's closure) obstructs the canal. Since 2006, the short section between the new winding hole (located between Llanymynech and Pant) through Llanymynech is navigable and the wharf at Llanymynech has been restored. A second winding hole to the east of Llanymynech Bridge (No. 92) allows for boats to traverse this section of the canal and turn around at either end. As the canal passes underneath Llanymynech Bridge it passes from Shropshire, England into Powys, Wales. Canal trips are provided on this Llanymynech stretch by the narrowboat George Watson Buck.
Wern Aqueduct was built after the canal was originally opened, to allow a newly constructed branch of the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Railway to pass below. A temporary diversion of the canal was put in place to allow construction of the aqueduct, and the entrances to the diversion remain visible.
A feeder from the River Tanat enters the canal above Carreghofa Locks. Built in 1822 by the Montgomeryshire Canal Company, it originally fed water between the locks, so that none could enter the Ellesmere Canal. When the canals were united the feeder was diverted to enter the canal above the locks, so that the lowest pound of the former Ellesmere Canal also gained from the feeder.
The end of the Llanymynech Branch of the Ellesmere Canal joins end-on to the Eastern Branch of the Montgomeryshire Canal at Carreghofa Locks.
The section of the canal from Carreghofa to Arddleen is in water, though several bridges have been lowered.
Between the two Carreghofa Locks was a side pond. This was necessary as the pound between the locks is short.
Near the Vyrnwy Aquedect arches were built in the embankment of the canal, to provide protection from flooding of the River Vyrnwy. The aqueduct itself has been repaired and strengthened in the 1820s, 1890s and 1970s. It sometimes can be seen to leak into the River Vyrnwy, though the leaks self-heal. Unlike the nearby Chirk Aqueduct and Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, which have a cast iron trough, the Vyrnwy Aqueduct is built of stone and is puddled. The weight of this structure led to it being strengthened with tie bars and girders in the 1820s.
Bridges 102 and 103 carry a major road and have been lowered since the canal was closed. To restore navigation, lowering of the pound by addition of an extra lock has been proposed.
The section of the canal from Arddleen to Refail (Efail-Fach) Bridge is navigable.
The Guilsfield Arm never actually reached Guilsfield. The arm was 2.25 miles (3.6 km) long, with a wharf at its terminus. It was level, with no locks or tunnels, which was achieved by a cutting 600 feet long and up to 20 feet deep. Today the arm is cut off from the main line by a lowered bridge. A short section has been made into a nature reserve, and beyond that the arm is dry.
The pound below Burgedin Bottom Lock is the sump pound of the canal, the Eastern Branch of the Montgomeryshire being filled by lockings from the Ellesmere, the Tanat feeder at Carreghofa, and a feeder from the River Rhiw at Berriew.
The canal through Welshpool was one of the first sections to be restored in 1969, when it was proposed that the route of the canal be used for a bypass. Welshpool Town Lock had gates made of cast iron when the canal was closed. These were removed, taken to Stoke Bruerne Canal Museum and replaced by gates of a standard design.
The section of the canal from Refail (Efail-Fach) Bridge to Freestone Lock is in water, and heads in a generally south-westerly direction. Several bridges have been lowered, including bridges of the A483, which runs in the same direction as the canal, traversing it in places. At Brynderwyn, there is a lock with a fine whitewashed cottage, once the home of the lockkeeper. To the north of the lock was Brynderwyn Wharf, once a coal wharf, and the towpath briefly changes from the eastern side to the west between bridges 145 and 146, to accommodate it. Several of the bridges on this section of canal are made from cast iron, from nearby Brymbo. Glanhafren Bridge, no. 143, carries the date 1889 and has ornate balustrades, made from cast iron, while bridge 147, which carries Brynderwen New Road over the canal to the north of Abermule, dates from 1853.
To the south of Abermule, the A483 cuts across the bed of the canal at an angle. This section of road is relatively recent, as the road crossed over the canal at bridge 147 and ran to the east of Abermule when the 1975 Ordnance Survey map was published, but the Abermule western bypass had been built by 1983. Continuing to the south-west, Byles Lock and Newhouse Lock continue the ascent towards Newtown. At Aberbechan, a three-arched aqueduct carries the canal over Bechan Brook, a tributary of the River Severn. Nearby are the remains of a corn mill and some maltings. The final bridge on the watered section, no. 153 includes the cast lettering "Brymbo 1862". Immediately afterwards is Freestone Lock, beyond which the canal is dry.
Below bridge 153, water enters the canal from the Penarth Weir on the River Severn. The weir is to the south of the lock, and is an unusual double-tiered structure. It was constructed by Josiah Jessop in 1813-1814, and there is a modern salmon leap on its western side. The weir can be reached from the lock by following a footpath. Between the river and the canal are the former settling beds of Dolfor Sewage Treatment Works, now maintained as a wildlife haven by the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust. The section of the canal from Freestone Lock to Newtown is largely filled-in, and the site of the basin in Newtown, together with the last 0.5 miles (0.80 km) of the route, has become a housing estate. There is a public footpath that follows the route of the canal for most of the distance, passing the sites of Dolfor Lock and Rock Lock on its way.
The Newtown Pumphouse raised water from the River Severn to the canal, initially using an undershot water wheel to operate two bucket pumps. This was supplemented by a steam engine for times when the waterwheel failed to provide sufficient power. In time this arrangement was replaced by a diesel powered pump, but pumping was discontinued in the 1940s. The building, which originally had a tall chimney, still exists, but is in private ownership.
Points of interest
(Links to map resources)
|OS Grid Ref||Notes|
|Frankton Junction||Llangollen Canal/Montgomery Canal junction|
|Gronwen Wharf and Bridge No. 82||Gronwen winding hole, wharf and bridge|
|Redwith lift bridge No. 82A||New 2009|
|Redwith Bridge No. 83|
|Pryces Bridge No. 84||Southern limit in water|
|Crickheath Wharf||Wharf under restoration|
|Carreghofa Locks||Ellesmere Canal/Eastern Branch of the Montgomeryshire junction|
|Garthmyl||Eastern/Western Branch of the Montgomeryshire junction|
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