Bringing the Canal back to Lichfield
By Christine Howles
A new year’s walk along the Lichfield Canal blew away the Christmas cobwebs but also inspired me to do something more in 2015; To give something back and support the redevelopment of the canal. I decided I’d help bring the canal back to Lichfield.
The Lichfield Canal was originally the Ogley Locks Section of the Wyrley and Essington Canal and opened in 1797. It covers a distance of just over seven miles from Ogley Junction near Barracks Lane to Huddlesford Junction. The canal was open until 1955, but during the 1960s, most of the canal was drained and filled in.
This is where Lichfield and Hatherton Canals Restoration Trust (LHCRT) comes in. The Trust was set up in 1988 to campaign for the restoration of the Lichfield Canal, and the Hatherton Canal through Cannock, and to raise funds to bring it back to life.
It’s a huge challenge. Since the canal was abandoned, not only has it been filled in but, the A38 and M6 Toll road have been built across the route (who doesn’t know about the aqueduct over the M6 Toll?) and bridges have been removed where the canal would have crossed the A51, A5, A461 and others. In fact the line through Sandfields in Lichfield has been completely blocked.
In 2009 a detailed Feasibility Report was produced, which recommended complete restoration of the Lichfield Canal in five phases. The restoration route follows the original line of the canal, except for four diversions around developments that have sprung up since the canal was abandoned.
LHCRT have already achieved a lot. At the Borrowcop Locks Canal Park on Tamworth Road, there is now water and a “yellow brick road” of the Heritage Towpath Trail for walkers, cyclists and joggers to enjoy. More recently, progress has been made at Summerhill between Barracks Lane and Walsall Road, where the canal route has been cleared and rebuilding work has started.
It’s not just the dereliction of the canal that is a challenge. LHCRT has no paid employees, it is run entirely by volunteers who give up their time for the love of the canal.
The volunteers work tirelessly. You can see the work party at the canal three times a week; clearing the route, digging, rebuilding, laying concrete and lining the canal with clay. While the green team are planting hedges, bulbs and plants along the towpath.
Behind the scenes, you’ll find volunteers working to buy back the land, appointing contractors, fundraising, applying for grants and many other jobs.
All of the work is funded by membership fees, donations and grants - it’s not cheap.
To put it in context, one part of the canal by Tamworth Road needs to be lined with 27,000 square feet of clay, this work will cost over £40,000. A tunnel needs to be built under the cross-city railway line, at Birmingham Road and Falkland Road, which will cost £1.5m. All of this money has to be raised before the work can go ahead.
I’d known about the canal for a long time and I always look, in awe, at the aqueduct over the M6 Toll as I pass by on the A5. But I hadn’t done anything about my curiosity until my new year’s walk along the towpath of the Borrowcop Locks Canal Park.
I really want to see the Lichfield Canal back in use. I want to be able to walk and cycle along it, see the boats and wildlife return, and see the boost to Lichfield’s tourism as a result.
That’s why I’ve become a volunteer for the Trust. It’s very unlikely that you’ll see me digging, but I’m behind the scenes helping with the social media accounts and raising the profile of the Trust. All of the volunteers, in their own ways, are rebuilding the canal. We all “dig” canals.
How can you help? The LHCRT needs two things – more volunteers and more funding. For more information on the work of the Trust, how you can volunteer and how you can become a member of the Trust or make a donation, visit www.lhcrt.org.uk. There’s also a 500 Club lottery – do you feel lucky?
Pound 26 was returned to water in 2011
Some of the regular Working Party at Tamworth Road
Pound 27 is ready for lining with puddled clay
The approach to the M6 Toll aqueduct, cleared of scrub early 2015