2011 - Re-watering
If you went to Tamworth Road during April and May 2011 you will have seen the great work which has been done there by our contractors, McPhillips. They completed operations on Pound 26 safely within the contract period and we now have a section of canal which is slowly filling with water. This is an exciting moment in the history of our project. We have worked for nearly a quarter of a century to restore our canals. We have many successes to point to but, for the general public; nothing will really count if it is not a canal with water in it and boats on it. For so many years we have had a work site at Tamworth Road which has impressed waterways aficionados but has not really impressed the passing public. Now that has changed. Our first section of restored canal is there for all to see.
In simple terms, the principal stages were:-
▪ Installing a small bore temporary pipeline to divert base flow water (measured at 1 litre/second) from the big pipe at the head of Lock 25, running beside the pound, discharging into the bywash of Lock 26 to maintain the Environment Agency’s condition for a continuing flow onwards into the Darnford Brook.
▪ Clearing the surface spoil and all growth from Pound 26, removing the big pipe, demolishing the drop shaft in Lock 25, casting a new concrete base and making good eroded brickwork up to low water level. Sub-contractors injected waterproofing grout to strengthen the new off-side pound wall.
▪ Reducing and levelling the ground in Pound 26, laying bentonite waterproof matting, covering it with about a foot of sandy material which fortunately could be excavated from another part of the site.
▪ Installing a “stop-plank wall” on a new concrete base at the head of Lock 26.
▪ Meeting stringent conditions imposed by Severn Trent Water to install four manholes and a new pipeline below the canal bed near the head of Lock 26 to extend surface drainage from nearby Wentworth Drive, through the towpath past Lock 26, reconnecting into the remaining big pipe in Pound 27.
▪ Dividing the normal water-flow above Lock 25 to both maintain the diversion volume and allow the new canal section to start filling up for gradual stages of testing water retention. This process will continue over many weeks until the pound is full so that in due course, the temporary diversion pipeline can be removed.
As an added bonus, the big pipe and drop shaft in Lock 26 have also been removed to enable us to proceed with completing restoration of that lock now instead of puzzling over how to get the big pipe out of there!
2011 - Turning the corner
With Pound 26 looking resplendent after being fully re-waterered attention turned to the new diversion beside the A38.
The annual Jaguar Land Rover Corporate Citizenship Scheme provided 40 man-days on a variety of labour-intensive construction tasks. Their planned schedule was extended by a week to allow a team of newly appointed young graduates to experience real achievement through manual effort.
To satisfy the Environment Agency it will be necessary to guarantee a minimum flow through the existing pipeline under the A38 and into Darnford Brook. Temporary wooden dams were fitted by Peter Buck and Bob Mullarkey to measure changing water levels which Rob Houghton did on a daily basis to establish a pattern. It was a bit like a game of "snakes and ladders" when heavy rain sends him back to square one to wait for the next dry spell to get his ladder out!". Professional help was used to lay the concrete base at the A38 corner.
2012 Pound 27 buttress wall
Rick Walters and Barry Parkes with other members of the home team have been busy building up the A38 corner weir to permit controlled water flow through to Darnford Brook.
All those "big pipes" that came out of Pound 26 last year have been reused as a vertical buttress wall at the back of the towpath flanking the A38 boundary. As the eventual water level will be well above this very busy trunk road, leakage here is not an option!
Planning by our Engineering Director, Peter Buck, has identified the need to bring the channel to a "narrows" for fitting stop planks at a distance from the A51 Tamworth Road end. This will allow the main pound to be watered whilst leaving a dry section needed later by contractors to drive the canal under the road into Darnford Park.
The Trust was grateful for professional help in laying a substantial concrete base to form a narrow point so that stop planks can be inserted to separate wet and dry sections pending the future road crossing into Darnford Park. The plan includes reusing a set of original massive stone blocks recovered from elsewhere on site after the canal was abandoned and partially leveled.
Over the week-end of June 23/24th 2012 Waterway Recovery Group held their annual skills training again this year at our Tamworth Road site. Over 30 volunteers came to gain new or enhanced experience on a variety of plant and equipment, abilities which will be needed to undertake more demanding work on many of the restoration schemes elsewhere in the country.
By mid-summer the usually full Pound 26 has become an established feature, pleasing walkers and ducks. The temporary water diversion pipe runs constantly there. Some remedial work still needs to be done to reduce the worst leaks in the old brickwork, especially in Lock 25.
Whilst the majority of volunteers put a concerted effort into Darnford Park through the summer weeks, (more on that here) the regular brick-laying team carried on regardless until no more towpath wall could be built.
2013 - Building the Narrows
Despite the severe winter weather, considerable advances have been made on this section, thanks to the dedication of the home team. The pictures show how the area prepared last year for constructing a "narrows“ - inset canal sides so that planks can be inserted to separate wet and dry areas - took shape. The ˜home team" built wooden shuttering to precise dimensions, supervised by Trust Engineer, Peter Buck, seen here adding some finishing touches.
We are again very grateful to Clarke Construction Services Ltd of Brownhills who, having helped us to lay the base last year, gave us a full February day with heavy plant in the bitter cold and snow to place 16m3 of ready-mixed concrete in the shuttering to form the lower part of the walls. To give the structure a traditional appearance, massive sandstone blocks, abandoned on site when the three locks alongside Tamworth Road were reduced in height after closure, had been recovered and stored for re-use.
These were carefully studied for shape, size and condition to select the most suitable ones to make the narrows look as if it has always been there!
The largest stones weight nearly three tons and all are beautifully cut with dressed outer faces having a 1:25 batter to match their former position in the lock walls. However, it has been necessary to adapt these shapes to produce the best result which saves £2,000 compared to their volume in concrete. This work could only be done with a very heavy-duty fork-lift machine, fortunately available from nearby Ruttle Plant Hire who have been very pleased to help on many occasions. For this work, the regular team quickly learnt to be stonemasons to cut and shape the blocks to match a very precise design. The end result is very pleasing and will soon mature as the stones come with greenery already attached!
Testing canal bed lining materials
Trials were run on the latest scientific technology in channel waterproofing materials.
'Terraseal' is a modern product comprising an impregnated polymer chemical fabric as a thin, lightweight sheet that is easily laid by hand without machinery.
The suppliers, H & R, whilst being a global business happen to only manufacture the chemical in Tipton, right beside the canal entry to the Dudley Tunnel; so that's another 'tick'!
Although the material has been used elsewhere, such as on the Montgomery Canal, Peter Buck our Engineering Director is working with H&R to establish industry standards for the product. A test area has been set up to run measured trials for different applications. All methods of waterproofing a canal channel are expensive so it is vital to assess how this modern material compares with traditional clay and other lining methods on a large scale.
Unfortunately the test was not as successful as hoped, possibly because of a manufacturing problem or in the method we employed in installing it. However, a new, improved batch will soon be delivered and, with a few alterations to our methods, a better result will, hopefully, be achieved.
Mid 2013 - The Towpath Wall
The main effort since Spring has been in the construction of a concrete coping to the top of the towpath wall, which will add strength and protect the brickwork. Peter Buck designed the shuttering, which was made to a very high standard by Bob Mullarkey. Despite being set up and dismantled 14 times and despite the extremes of weather, the shuttering has stood up very well, a great credit to everyone involved. Although we found it quite difficult at first, we have gradually worked out the best way to set it up, but it still involves a day-and-a-half's work to get it right.
When the coping is complete we can backfill behind it ready to construct a new, wheelchair accessible footpath. This will allow us to re-grade the offside bank and to form the profile of the new canal bed.
Next we turned our attention to the completion of the backfilling and extension of the towpath, a job which involves moving a large volume of material from Pound 25 down to the section below the “narrows”, a distance of about 1/4 of a mile. Once tipped, the material (soil, rubble, sandstone, broken bottles, old bikes etc.) has to be levelled and compacted in layers until we reach the correct height, when we can finish off with a suitable surface.
The tests on the new waterproofing system continued throughout the summer. Despite an “improved” product, different methods of installation, and considerable efforts by our hardworking volunteer team, the matter is still under investigation.
2014 - The Towpath Trail
By March work was well under way in building up the towpath earthwork from the narrows up to the A51. Using soil excavated from the winding hole adjacent to the narrows has reduced our travelling time with the dumper as well as giving us better material. However, at about 500 cubic metres / 1,000 tons / 400 dumper loads, it‘s still a lot of levelling and compacting, but given decent weather we should complete it in a couple of weeks. We can then surface it and open the whole length of towpath from Cricket Lane to the A51.
Eventually, the towpath earthwork was completed and we were able to start laying the hardcore base for the new footpath, using reclaimed scaffold planks, ripped down the middle, for containment. About 50 metres has been laid so far and it looks very good, even before the top dressing is applied. A couple of good days should see this part of the job finished all the way up to the bus stop on Tamworth Rd.
April 13th 2014 - The Towpath Trail is opened
Lichfield Bower Queen Savannah Bennett and Deputy Bower Queen Charlotte Aspley officially opened the disabled-friendly section of the Lichfield Canal Heritage Towpath Trail on Sunday.
Savannah and Charlotte were watched by a crowd of around 70 people as they cut the ribbon to mark the official opening of the trail then walked the section, accompanied by Councillor Terry Finn, leader of Lichfield City Council, and Darren Jones and Simon Chilton, of Tempest Ford of Lichfield, who are partners with the Trust in the Love Lichfield initiative. Special guest Paul Woolley, an advisor to spinal injury units at Oswestry and Sheffield, was the first to prove the Trail's suitability for wheelchair users.
For more information on the Heritage Towpath Trail including an interactive guide see The Heritage Trail page on our website.
May 2014 - The Winding Hole
We can now turn our full attention to the foundations for the winding hole wing walls. The geology here is quite interesting; at one point we’re hitting bedrock only a few feet down, while 50 yards away there’s just sand to the full depth of the digger’s reach. Digging out the bedrock is hard work but it will be a really good base for the concrete.
Our first load of “Moody blocks” was delivered and we soon got to work, using the tele-handler from Ruttle Plant Hire to put them in place on the wing wall foundations. It’s a really quick and effective method of construction; by lunchtime all the 14 blocks for the base layer of one wing wall were in position, leaving us the afternoon to mix and place the concrete fillet behind the blocks. It was very satisfying to see such rapid progress.
The wing walls are necessarily very substantial structures; they’re likely to suffer some rough treatment from manoeuvring boats so we’ve made them as strong as possible. The back is made up of “Moody Blocks” (named after the manufacturer); giant concrete Lego blocks which interlock and can be built up remarkably quickly using a telehandler. This a very satisfying job, looking back on a day’s work and seeing so much progress. The wall is then faced with solid blue engineering bricks, leaving a gap of about 9 inches which we fill with reinforced concrete. At the time of writing we’re awaiting delivery of the last batch of blocks and the brickwork is gradually reaching a more comfortable height for the brickies. The initial setting out of the brickwork and the difficult radius corners has been left in the capable hands of “Rick the brick”; he and Barry have been joined by one our newer volunteers, Tony, so now we have a good gang of brickies. It’s just as well; there are about 8,000 bricks to be laid.
Puddling Clay, Blocks and Bricks - 2014
In August and with limited tools and no experience of the process, but with loads of enthusiasm, Simon, Hugh, Clive and Keith, joined later by Peter Buck, managed to lay and compact a decent-sized pond which we filled, not very hopefully, with water as a test. At the time of writing, the level has dropped, but not as much as we feared, and certainly less than the tests carried out on the synthetic product. This has encouraged us enormously, so next week we’ll get another load of clay and “lamb’s foot” trench roller to improve our methods.
While we had the telehandler on site we salvaged some of our big sandstone blocks and positioned them at the weir corner as a seating area, part of the Bobby Battisson Memorial Garden. A suitable fence around the open drop shaft will soon be installed, replacing the temporary one currently in place.
Additional clay has been put into our test pit, thoroughly puddled and compacted with the sheep’s-foot roller. Even though this is still not to the full design plan, it seems to be holding water very well and bodes well for the full-scale lining.
September / October 2014
We completed the winding hole walls, with the bull-nosed coping coming along well, thanks to Rick-The-Brick, Barry and Tony J. When that’s done, all that remains is to fill between the brickwork and the “Moody Blocks” with concrete (probably ready-mix, as there’s a lot to do). Better still is that we’ve made good progress on the profiling of the canal bed in that area; it’s amazing how much it’s lifted our spirits and how much interest the passing walkers have shown.
our “new” sheepsfoot roller was delivered in October and was soon put to good use. Although less than pristine, it performs just as well as the hired one it replaces.
November 2014 - Puddling the clay
Lining the winding hole area with clay began. Approximately 20 tons were laid and rolled, but it’s clearly going to be a very hard job, as the clay comes to us in very big lumps which need to be reduced in size before use, otherwise we’ll get big voids, hence leakage.
The area immediately downstream of the apron of Lock 26 has been excavated and cleaned out so that we can continue pointing the wing walls. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, we’ve found that they have no foundations, so another spell of underpinning looms large. The pipe providing a dry-weather flow to satisfy the Environment Agency has always given us problems requiring our attention, so we’ve installed an improved system. Once we’re satisfied that this works consistently we can remove the old one and re-use the pipes.
December 2014 - Some leaks are plugged
Our work for the last few weeks has centred around the tail of Lock 26, where we’ve finally managed to make the stop-planks watertight. In spite of this, we still found the area flooded every morning, wasting us a lot of time in pumping it out before we could start work. Water leaks being what they are, it took us a long time to trace the sources of the ingress. The short section between the bywash and the “big pipe” was not sealing properly, allowing water to run through and emerge from the gravel bed some distance from the actual leak.
We dammed the bywash and gave our new volunteer, Harry, the job of repairing the joint with quick-setting cement, he being the only one small and agile enough to do it, while Barry supervised and instructed from the open end of the pipe. We were originally going to line this part with clay, but plans to install a concrete slipway a short distance downstream persuaded us to continue with a concrete bed for at least the distance to include the slipway.
Lock 24 Bywash Tunnel
In June 2014 Mike Battisson was intrigued by the Lock 24 bywash entry feature with the extant ‘tunnel’ to the lower level, hiding demurely behind its 4 foot screen of nettles. Having braved the prickly barrier he started to remove the centuries of mud, weeds and detritus to reveal a beautifully blue-nosed capped perimeter wall, still with 80% in reasonable condition.
“As I penetrated deeper to expose the base I was puzzled by what I found. In contrast with the precise laying of the wall bricks, each brick in the base was 1/4 to 1/2 centimetre higher or lower than it’s neighbour. I wondered If this was to provide a 200 year old equivalent to a ‘non-slip’ surface to prevent accidental slips when being cleaned out”.
Entry to the tunnel is prevented by a blockage of tarmac-like material. Removal of the ‘blockage’ will necessitate the fabrication of a security grill to deter interference.
Although the bywash will not be needed in the restored canal due to the different level needed to pass under Cricket Lane, it was decided to fully restore this historic feature. With no plans or pictures Barry Parkes, Rick the Brick and the team set about rebuilding the brickwork to a typical period design. and are sourcing the necessary brick specials from along the full length of the canal.
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