The Lichfield Canal covers a distance of just over 7 miles through 30 locks from Ogley Junction on the Birmingham Canal Navigations (BCN) to Huddlesford Junction on the Coventry Canal. Built between 1794 and 1797 as the Ogley Locks Section of the Wyrley and Essington Canal, the right to navigation was extinguished by The British Transport Commission Act, 1954 and much of the canal was drained and filled in during the 1960s.
The restoration route is mostly original, but contains four diversions in order to avoid developments since abandonment. In 2009, a detailed Feasibility Report produced by renowned consultants W S Atkins recommended complete restoration of the Lichfield Canal in five phases. Click here to view the report summary and download the full report.
To enable the Trust to undertake some early activity since its formation in 1988, the plan below identifies sites under Council ownership which were made available over a number of years for restoration work mainly by volunteers. These are explained in the following sections.
In order to start restoration one needs basic requirements such as labour and materials, achievable with volunteers and donations/grants. However, more fundamental are possession of the site and planning permission. Thus it was, starting with nothing in 1990, that the Trust were grateful when Lichfield District Council agreed to allow us to begin work on the only site available at that time. It is about half a mile long and situated almost exactly half way from Ogley to Huddlesford at Fosseway Lane.
About one third of it had been filled in, including Lock 18, and the remainder drained dry and growing scrub. We have cut down the scrub, excavated the lock chamber and repaired it, including the weir and by-wash. Financial assistance from Lichfield District Council Heritage Fund and the Lichfield Conduit Lands Trust assisted the work and the provision of a stile and picnic table for recreational use. We have also re-surfaced the towpath as far as possible along the bottom length which forms a popular local walk. Further work here, other than maintenance, was delayed pending settlement of a legal issue, which took a few years to resolve causing some interim degeneration.
Our second site at Darnford Lane actually comprises two sites joined together. The further part is some 250 yards of original canal, some of which had been levelled, leading to the partly demolished Lock 29. This was purchased in 1995 by Lichfield District Council, financed by a Derelict Land Grant and licensed to the Trust. The nearer part is about 400 yards long and purchased by the Trust in 1994, financed by a loan from The Inland Waterways Association (IWA).The Trust engaged contractors to excavate a new channel along "our" part, joining into the original line with a new winding hole below Lock 29 which is derelict. The new channel continues at the level below the lock to pass under Darnford Lane without the humpback bridge demolished many years ago. A new lock will be sited on the other side of the road.
In 1996, aided by finance from the Manifold Trust and labour from Waterway Recovery Group (WRG), a new concrete inverted siphon culvert was installed to take the Darnford Brook under the canal. Sections of the old cast iron culvert (which was fully silted up) were removed and donated to the Waterways Museum at Gloucester. Vehicle access is now available beyond the brook, which has allowed us to erect a lift bridge. The purpose of the bridge is to transfer the original towpath over to the Lichfield side avoiding the abandoned lock and new "nature reserve" where deciduous trees have been planted. Over 250 metres of sponsored piling have been installed at this site and a 50 metre trial section has been lined with bentonite matting and re-watered experimentally (see Part 8). Land on both sides of the canal has now been made into golf courses, so we are very fortunate to have gained possession of this strip when we did.
Our third work site lies midway between the other two and consists of three lock sections adjacent to the Tamworth Road. Owned by Lichfield City Council, the original licence to the Trust was extended in 2006 to a 50-year Lease.
With the co-operation of The Darwin Walk Trust and the Lichfield District Council (the planning authority), the Trust was permitted to excavate and refurbish these locks. Locks 25 and 26, which had been partly demolished, have both been largely rebuilt apart from removal of the land drain, a considerable achievement by our volunteers. On completion of Lock 25, a ceremony was held when the Burgomaster of Limburg (Lichfield's twin town in Germany) assisted by the Mayor of Lichfield and the Chairman of Lichfield District Council named it "Millennium Lock". In 2001 a Local Heritage Initiative grant enabled us to rebuild a 50-metre section of the towpath wall above Lock 25.
Rebuilding, surfacing and landscaping the towpath at Tamworth Road has been funded by a Local Heritage Initiative Grant awarded by the Countryside Agency.
For more early photos of work at Tamworth Road sites Click here
Photo by Bob Williams
Photo by Jan Horton
(Photo by Bob Williams)
The future of Lock 24, which was excavated for exploration, has been considered. Having assessed its condition and taken measurements, it was decided to fill it in and carry out low level landscaping. A set of old lock gates donated by British Waterways has been installed for the time being. This has improved the appearance of the area and ensured a good through route for walkers. The infill will also conserve the brickwork and limit the need for maintenance work. In due time the future of Lock 24 will be determined when there is a clearer idea on how the canal will achieve a crossing of Cricket Lane (see the Atkins Report).
Borrocop Locks Canal Park
In 2008, considerable progress was achieved when the Trust acquired additional land needed for a route diversion where the A38 has obliterated the original line. This enabled a new footpath to be laid, extending the length available for the public to walk through.
This now forms an interesting walk over about half a mile with a new steel footbridge, donated in memory of the late Marjorie Kitchener, providing access over the tail of Lock 25 where an interpretation board has been sited.
Additionally, a new off-side wall to Pound 26 has been built by contractors with grant assistance of £6,000 from IWA and £500 from Lichfield City Council. Further development is largely governed by the technical requirement of removing the embedded water pipe to obtain a local water supply.
Other relevant sites include Ogley Junction where there is a canal basin between the junction and Lock 1. At the lower end the Huddlesford Arm, which is owned by British Waterways and leased to the Lichfield Cruising Club, runs from Huddlesford Junction to Cappers Lane and is fully navigable.Whilst we would like to complete restoration of one section, the acquisition of further sites, as and when opportunities arise, is also a high priority. Whilst continuing to beaver away as and when volunteers and resources permit, we are particularly grateful to Waterway Recovery Group and our own volunteers for all their effort and the progress which has been made.
The Pinch Point Problem
When the Wyrley & Essington Canal Ogley Locks Section was abandoned the land containing the original route between Shortbutts Lane and the A38 passed eventually into the hands of the Lichfield City Council. By then the canal had been infilled and grassed over. At some stage the garden of the property now No 21 Wordsworth Close was extended onto part of the former canal forming a narrow gap in the City Council’s land. It would have been quite easy to restore the canal through the gap, which became known as the pinchpoint, but plans were then developed to construct the Lichfield Southern Bypass through the same gap. There is not enough width for the bypass and a canal to pass through. Over the years many plans have been proposed for solving the pinchpoint problem – the latest being a proposal by the Staffs County Council that a tunnel should be constructed to carry the canal under the bypass from a point South of Byron Avenue to the London Road. This solution would have been prohibitively expensive and distinctly user unfriendly. Fortunately, on closer examination, the scheme was found to be impractical as the water level in the rest of the canal would have required the roof of the tunnel to be above the level of the bypass carriageway!
The Trust therefore proposed that the towpath (which would be largely used by walkers, joggers and cyclists) should share the 4 metre wide cycleway which is an intrinsic part of the bypass and is provided at great expense for – walkers, joggers and cyclists. By eliminating the towpath and reducing the width of the canal channel to 3.5 metres there is room for the bypass and one way boat traffic through the pinchpoint.
As the towpath lies on the south side ofthe canal in this section it will be necessary to provide a bridge across the tail of the lock to the west of the pinchpoint to carry the towpath to the north side and another at the next lock to return it to the south side. The County Council have accepted this concept and have asked us to provide more detail of the canal requirements. Working with Roy Sutton, the Honorary Engineering Consultant to the IWA, we have proposed the layout shown on page 10. The original Lock 22 lies well away from the new route and Lock 23 will be partially under the bypass and at the wrong angle for the new channel. Our proposal therefore includes a two lock stair (nos 19 and 20) to the west of the tunnel under the Birmingham Road and railway, a new Lock 21 with a tail bridge and a new Lock 22 between the London Road bridge and the pinchpoint. There will be no Lock 23.
Sadly the bypass will prevent the restoration of the original St John’s Wharf and mooring basin which would have been the ideal place for visiting tourists to stay while visiting Lichfield. However, we have proposed that Pound 22, west of the pinchpoint, should be wide enough to accommodate visitor and longer term moorings and that other essential feature: a winding hole. We must stress that the layout and features shown in the plan are simply the proposals we have put to the County Highways engineers. The final design will only emerge after the detailed design and levels of the bypass carriageways have been confirmed. Nevertheless, we are hopeful that when this section of the bypass goes for planning approval we will not only have solved the pinchpoint problem (and saved the cost of a lock) but will have had every opportunity for the needs of the canal users to be taken into account.
Summerhill is the section of the Lichfield Canal between the Boat Inn on the A461 and Barracks Lane just west of the aqueduct.
At the end of 2014 a Social Investment Business Community Grant for work on the towpath trail which was thought to have been lost suddenly become active again and funding of £336,000 became available. A strict condition of the grant was that the funds must be spent in the Government’s financial year by March 2015 so feverish activity to tie up the land deals, sign off contracts, and confirm adherence to planning regulations all took place over a very short space of time.
The Wyrley and Essington Canal is described in "Inland Navigation - or Select Plans of the several Navigable Canals throughout Britain, accompanied by abstracts of the different Acts of Parliament relating to them" by John Cary, published in November 1795. This tells that the canal was twenty-eight feet wide at top water and sixteen feet at the bottom and four and a half feet deep - the sloping sides being intended to prevent erosion. The Act of Parliament of 1794 permitted the Canal Company to buy land up to twenty-six yards wide on which to construct the canal, allowing for towpaths, embankments, sides of cuttings etc.
The purpose of its construction was of course the carriage of goods from wharf to wharf without mooring between, so whilst the wharves would have been of brick construction there seems little evidence that the general run of the canal was originally edged on either the offside or the towpath side. Certainly much of the brickwork recently uncovered around the wing walls of locks incorporated iron rubbing strakes and is readily identifiable with the refurbishment which took place in the 1840 period after amalgamation of the W & E with the BCN and in the style of the newer Rushall Canal.
It is not surprising therefore that when we excavated the pound below Lock 29 at Darnford we found no sign of brickwork even on the towpath side. At Fosseway there are the remains of a continuous wall on the towpath side from Lock 18 to Lock 19. It is built of bricks which are more red than orange and which we would guess to be more likely 1840's than 1797.
Be that as it may, the towpath width seems to have been about 10 feet, generally bordered by a hawthorn hedge although when in a cutting or on an embankment the hedge would have followed the boundary of the land.
Modern boaters like the facility to moor anywhere along the cut so at Darnford we decided to carry out trials by piling a short length on the towpath side, with the offside left as a slope right up to the bank. The new lining in this section is a Bentonite Clay membrane protected by sand and a dry mix filled webbing matrix on the sloping side. The piling joints were sealed with a Butyl membrane bedded in clay. Much has been learnt from this trial with the section later being allowed to dry out until it can be included in total restoration of the Darnford section.
Watery Lane Bridge
Starting from Huddlesford Junction this is the first bridge, being located halfway along the present arm. It is an original brick structure of traditional design, recently repaired by BW. It carries a field access and a foot path.
Cappers Lane Bridge
Removed when the canal was abandoned. The Trust commissioned the design and construction of a replacement by Staffordshire County Council, part financed by a European Regional Development Fund grant. Construction took place between October 2005 and March 2006. Modern highway design criteria combined with the fact that the water level is tied to the Coventry Canal and also the slope of the land on the Whittington side meant that extensive re-grading of the road was involved, adding to the cost.
It was opened to traffic March 31st. 2006.
Darnford Lift Bridge
Installed by the Trust, this steel lift bridge came originally from the Peak Forest Canal, via the Chesterfield Canal!
Its refurbishment and construction of the abutments was largely done by volunteer labour during 1997-1998 with funding from Staffordshire Environment Fund.
Darnford Lane Bridge
Originally a humpback structure now demolished. Our new lower level channel excavation is designed to suit a replacement bridge with a flat deck.
A38 and A51 Tamworth Road Bridges
Two new culverts will be required to take the canal and towpath under these roads. The civil engineering firm Trafalgar House produced a range of options for these which are required because both roads have been built since the canal was abandoned. These schemes were included within our cost/benefits study in 1993 when the combined cost was estimated at £1.4m and would constitute one of the most expensive construction sites on the canal.
Freeford Farm Bridge
The foundations of this accommodation bridge, long since demolished, were uncovered when the Trust excavated the tail of Lock 25. In April 2008 a new footbridge was built here to provide access to ½ mile of towpath walk as part of the Borrowcop Locks Canal Park, partly funded by a generous private commemorative donation and a Staffordshire Aggregates Levy Grant.
Cricket Lane Bridge
A similar situation to Darnford Lane bridge; it may be necessary to lower the channel and replace Lock 24 on the other side of the road, unless Cricket Lane can in future be closed as a through road with just a pedestrian bridge.
St. Johns Bridge
Rebuilt in the 1930's, this is still in use as a pedestrian underpass beneath London Road.
Birmingham Road Bridge
A new canal crossing was needed where the diverted canal line is planned to follow to the south of the Lichfield Southern Bypass. Construction of this part of the bypass began in 2006 with the Trust having to pay £490,000 to Staffordshire County Council for the inclusion of a culvert to take the canal beneath a new roundabout connecting Birmingham Road with the bypass.
Fosseway Lane Bridge Demolished after abandonment it will need to be rebuilt on a slightly amended road alignment.
Wall Lane Bridge The canal passed under Wall Lane in a deep cutting, since in-filled. Without excavation it is not known if the bridge was destroyed or merely in-filled.
Shaws Bridge An accommodation bridge within the grounds of Pipe Place Farm, this has been demolished.
A461 Pipehill Bridge
Undistinguished from above, this early Victorian structure comprises two arches for the canal and field access and a flat deck span taking the railway under the road. Viewed from below it is a most impressive feature and in good condition. Standing water can often be seen in the canal bed.
A461 Moat Bank Bridge (Muckley Corner)
A twin of St. Johns Bridge except that the channel on either side has been in-filled. Objections by the Trust to proposals to in-fill underneath the bridge have been upheld. In 2009, Staffordshire County Highways acquired a marginal strip alongside the bridge and unearthed the arch and part of adjacent Lock 11 to facilitate access for maintenance. (See News 2009)
A5 Watling Street Bridge
This was lost when the road was re-constructed as a dual carriageway. Discussions with the Department of Transport in 1993 suggested that if construction were to take place after the BNRR (M6 Toll) was in operation, then the consequent reduction in A5 traffic would allow the culvert to be put in by the "cut and cover" method which would be much cheaper than "thrust boring".
A461 Boat Bridge
Also lost when the road was reconstructed, however this road has been reconstructed once again to allow the M6 Toll to pass under it in Crane Brook Valley just to the south. It was hoped that this would present an opportunity for a new culvert to be installed during the road alterations. Regrettably, it was not possible to raise the money in time. Road works are now complete and the canal crossing will need to be constructed at some time in the future.
M6 Toll Aqueduct
This is a new structure replacing the embankment where the new M6 Toll motorway crosses the canal line. The design was accepted but whereas the Public Inquiry Inspector recommended that the road promoters should pay for the whole cost for this replacement structure, the Secretary of State ruled that they would pay for only the foundations. Funding for the super-structure had to be raised by the Trust. Thanks to a most generous grant of £250,000 from The Manifold Trust and many donations to the David Suchet Appeal the required sum of £450,000.00 was raised in time and the Highways Agency issued a Variation Order instructing Midland Expressway Limited to build supporting columns and abutments. The pre-fabricated steel trough made by Rowecord Engineering Ltd of South Wales was craned into position on 16th August 2003. The new motorway opened to traffic in December 2003.
Warren House Bridge
The original humpback bridge which took Barracks Lane over the very short pound between Locks 5 and 6 has been demolished. It could be rebuilt either by vertical realignment of the lane or by horizontal realignment of the lane around the tail of Lock 6. Both these are possibilities as the road is to be considered for redesign in accordance with a proposed Brownhills Bypass.
Ogley Junction Footbridge
An existing cast iron bridge by Horseley Ironworks.