The Hatherton Canal is a derelict branch of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal in south Staffordshire, England. It was constructed in two phases, the first section opening in 1841 and connecting the main line to Churchbridge, from where a tramway connected to the Great Wyrley coal mines. The second section was a joint venture with the Birmingham Canal Navigations, and linked Churchbridge to the Cannock Extension Canal by a flight of 13 locks, which were opened with the Extension Canal in 1863. The coal traffic was very profitable, and the canal remained in use until 1949. It was formally abandoned in 1955, after which the Churchbridge flight and much of the Extension Canal were destroyed by open cast mining.
Entrance to the Hatherton Canal is from Hatherton Junction at Calf Heath on the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal. The first length of the canal is navigable including Lock 1, Calf Heath Bottom Lock. Above this lock the canal is part of Hatherton Marina and a boatyard. Lock 2, Calf Heath Top Lock can be entered but boats can not pass through. The top half of the chamber has been widened to form a shelf, and when the water level in the lock is lowered this forms a dry dock facility for the boatyard. Above this lock are the remains of day boats, abandoned at the end of the canal's working life. The length from here to the site of Dog Bridge has a full depth of water and with a little dredging and reed removal, could easily be returned to navigable condition. However it may be necessary to lower the level of this section to pass under Straight Mile, with a new lock just beyond.
Dog Bridge 2
The length from here to the site of Dog Bridge has a full depth of water and with a little dredging and reed removal, could easily be returned to navigable condition. However it may be necessary to lower the level of this section to pass under Straight Mile, with a new lock just beyond.
The culvert continues for a short distance beyond the bridge through the corner of a field and then crosses beneath the M6. The motorway was built after the canal was abandoned and so a bridge was never provided. The motorway is on a high embankment at this point and a navigable box culvert could be inserted with few problems in engineering terms. The Trust is hoping for reinstatement if proposals to widen the motorway go ahead. From the M6 to Wedges Mills the canal is still owned by British Waterways.
The culvert ends after the M6 and the fully watered channel returns to a similar condition as before Dog Bridge. The Trust does, from time to time, arrange towpath clearance on this section, although there is no access at the M6 end and restricted headroom at Oak Lane.
Scrawpers End Bridge 3 on Oak Lane has been lowered to leave only about four feet headroom. This bridge carries a quiet back lane and it may be possible to replace it with a lift bridge.
Beyond the bridge the feeder to Gailey reservoirs leaves the canal. The supply of water to the reservoirs and to the main line at Calf Heath has ensured the continued existence of this part of the canal as a water channel.
The next section of towpath is the narrowest on the canal, due to trampling by cattle. The adjacent field has now been fenced and the hedge reinstated.
Saredon Mill Bridge 4
Saredon Mill Bridge is an original accommodation bridge and has full headroom. The parapets had been partly demolished but have now been replaced by the Trust.
Between this point and Cross Bridge the Trust volunteers removed trees and levelled the ground to reinstate the towpath after 40 years of neglect. This valuable amenity is now well used by walkers.
Cross Bridge 5
Cross Bridge has been partly lowered with a flat deck in a similar fashion to Scrawpers End Bridge. The volume of road traffic here is considerable and the bridge will need both raising and realigning.
The canal continues through the fields as a fully watered, semi-navigable channel.
Cats (or Catch) Bridge 6
This bridge, which appears to have had alternative names, suffered badly from coal mining subsidence and it has been demolished and the canal culverted. A fishing pool on the offside is also the result of subsidence. Beyond the site of Cats Bridge the reed growth becomes more prolific and there is only a narrow channel in the middle. Much work was undertaken by the Trust to reinstate the towpath and it has been surfaced from here to above Meadow Lock.
An accommodation bridge, this was also seriously affected by subsidence. The arch had badly cracked and sunk to such a level that a boat could not pass through it. The structure was demolished by the Trust with the help of volunteers. Fortunately it no longer performed any function so replacement will not be necessary.
Above the bridge a section of towpath is low due to subsidence and liable to flood after heavy rain.
Just below Meadow Lock the main water supply enters from a weir on the Wyrley Brook. Meadow Lock also suffered from subsidence towards the end of its working life and water used to cascade over the top gate, making passage difficult! The structure is reasonably sound, but bears the marks of 40 years of neglect, and the damage caused by the growth of tree roots can easily be seen.
There are no gates remaining; however at the head of the lock there is a steel stop plank in the original grooves, which allows a few inches of water to build up in the pound above. At the head of the lock, an old flow meter is still in place. Above the lock the towpath was impenetrable until it was cleared by the Trust for permissive use by the public.
This bridge has been the subject of much restoration work. Extensive re-pointing has taken place, and on the towpath side a substantial ramp has been built by the Trust to allow access to the towpath. The bridge is to the rear of the Roman Way Hotel, who allow pedestrian access through their car park.
They have already come to appreciate the benefits of canal restoration - the bridge and fields beyond offer the perfect setting for wedding photography! Beyond Bridge 8 the canal continues for a short way and a stream enters from the offside.
This is the end of the section still owned by British Waterways. Beyond here the canal has been filled in.
Just before the site of Wedges Mills Bridge the canal is infilled and car parks and a shed occupy the line. A green pipe was cranked over the canal just before the site of Wedges Mill Bridge near Longford Island on the A5. This was originally a humpback bridge with a lock immediately beyond. The bridge was demolished and the lock buried when the A460 (now A4601) Wolverhampton to Cannock road was widened. A new building has left a corridor for the canal.
Beyond the road the line ran between the shopping area and an office building. All trace of the lock has gone and a retaining wall has been constructed between the two premises, beyond which the line of the canal re-emerges and the canal and the Wyrley Brook merge shortly beyond.
Options are under consideration for reinstating the canal through Wedges Mills. The canal could be rebuilt close to its old line in a narrow channel or a 'cut and cover' tunnel. An engineering appraisal and full consultation with interested parties will clarify which is most practical. The Wyrley Brook was diverted by the former sewage works to flow through the remains of the shallow Joveys Lock 5. The original canal route can be reinstated here and a new parallel channel provided for the brook.
Green line indicates a permissive footpath, walkable from Oak Lane to the Roman Way just short of the A4601
The original canal line survives past the demolished Bridge 10 to just beyond Lock 6 (Bridgtown Bottom or Brick Kiln Lock).
However, the length which included Lock 7 (Rosemary's or Bridgtown No 2 Lock) and Lock 8 (Walkmill or Bridgtown Top Lock) has been obstructed by an industrial estate. More recently, both South Staffordshire District Council and Cannock Chase District Council support the restoration by safeguarding the line from further development in their Local Development Framework.
The position of Locks 7 and 8 was on the edge of the new Vines Road and the factory car parks. Both of these chambers were demolished. The Great Wyrley Basin was also lost at this time as was the already infilled entrance to the large Hawkins Basin.
The short arm leading to the basin was spanned by a towpath bridge and an unusual lift bridge and there was an aqueduct over the Wyrley Brook. The basin itself covered two acres and a feeder from the Hatherton Reservoir entered the canal via the basin. Beyond the site of the earlier culverted Walkmill Bridge a car park covers the line. The original line of the canal between Walkmill Lane and Churchbridge was infilled in 1988.
It is not possible to restore the canal to it's original line along this length so current plans call for a new line running alongside the Wyrley Brook from above Lock 5 to Churchbridge.
For more about Churchbridge Basin and Hawkins (Walkmill) Basin see CBW28 - Rescue Archaeology
Construction of the Birmingham Northern Relief Road (which has become the M6 Toll motorway) commenced in 2001, and after much campaigning, negotiation and publicity the Government and Midland Expressway Limited (the road operators) were persuaded to include crossings for the Hatherton Canal, but at the Trust's expense! Funding for the first of these, under the new A5 southern roundabout, came from many generous donations to The David Suchet Appeal, the second (under the motorway itself) was eventually paid for by the Government!
However, what has not been provided is a passage under the railway line, to replace that blocked off by the motorway, nor an enlarged culvert under the emergency access road at Churchbridge. Two new electricity pylons have also been awkwardly located, requiring the canal to go through or around them.
The Trust had understood from discussions with CAMBBA, the consortium which built the motorway, that the canal could have been accommodated in a concrete trough between the southern carriageway of the motorway and the pillars supporting the southern end of the new railway bridge. However, a sloping reinforced concrete embankment had to be constructed in that space to strengthen the bridge. It will now be necessary to drive a culvert through the railway embankment a little further south at considerably greater expense.
CAMBBA also refused to accommodate relatively minor changes to the height of one of the twin culverts laid under the emergency access road at Churchbridge, despite European funding being available for the work. It will have to be replaced at some time in the future, at a much greater cost.
Whilst the Trust was very disappointed with CAMBBA's unwillingness to co-operate in achieving solutions to all four of these important crossing points for the future canal route, at least the two most critical structures have been built, without which the through restoration of the canal would have been rendered impractical. The railway and the emergency access road crossings can be done at a later date, although it would have been much more economical if they had been done during the construction of the motorway.
Not only have these two enlarged culverts been built, with stream water flowing through, but the cost also served as partial match funding for the Trust’s successful application for a European Regional Development Fund grant which eventually reached £779,580 to further the restoration of the Hatherton and Lichfield Canals by acquiring:-
One of the main aims in restoring the Hatherton branch is to reopen a former link to the northern BCN. It is certain that this will encourage more boats to make use of these under-utilised waterways, by creation of a new through route.
Opencast coal mining has long since obliterated the original connection to the BCN. To re-link the Hatherton Branch to the BCN a new line has been identified for protection in the Local Development Framework.
Churchbridge to Wyrley Grove
The diversion begins at Churchbridge where the ‘David Suchet Tunnel’ provides a way under the A5/A34 southern roundabout.
The original intention was to make a connection eastwards over a disused colliery tramway to Grove Basins on the still navigable Cannock Extension Canal. However, the severe environmental restrictions theron led to adopting an alternate route southwards to connect directly into the Wyrley & Essington Canal through the former Lords Hays Branch near Pelsall Junction on the BCN. Even so, it may be necessary in future to introduce measures to protect the Floating Water Plantain (Luronium Natans) present in the Cannock Extension Canal from the effects of water movement. Opencast coal mining has long since obliterated the original connection to the BCN. To re-link the Hatherton Branch to the BCN a new line has been identified for protection in the Local Development Framework.
In 2003 the Trust commissioned Ove Arup & Partners to carry out a Feasibility Study for the Hatherton Canal, followed by a supplementary study for an alternate route completed by Atkins Limited in February 2009.
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