The Birmingham Canals the early Transport infrastructure

The city of Birmingham in the UK really does have more miles of canal than Venice, according to legend. The exact numbers depend on where you draw the city boundaries, but the whole Birmingham Canal Navigations (BCN) system adds up to 100 miles of canals.
The canals were the life-blood of Victorian Birmingham and the Black Country. At their height, they were so busy that gas lighting was installed beside the locks to permit round-the-clock operation. Boats were built without cabins for maximum carrying capacity, and a near-tidal effect was produced as swarms of narrowboats converged on the Black Country collieries at the same time every day.

It is one of the most intricate canal networks in the world. The hub of the BCN is the bustling city centre junction at Gas Street Basin. The basin is in the heart of Birmingham’s cosmopolitan nightlife and shopping districts. Here, colourful boats and historic canal architecture sit side-by-side with vibrant modern restaurants, cafes and bars.

In recent times the focus of the canal network has shifted from industry to leisure and amenity. So too has that of the buildings that are associated with it, meaning very little of the industrial heritage that was served by the canals remains intact in its original form.
One building that has held on to its industrial heritage is The Roundhouse. Hidden away in Sheepcote Street, the building is virtually unchanged; a surviving piece of the city's industrial and civic heritage and is Grade II* listed in recognition of its architectural and historic significance.

The Roundhouse was built by the Corporation of Birmingham as a mineral and coal wharf for the railway. The site is a small triangular parcel of land, which sits directly between the Birmingham Canal and the former London & North Western Railway.

It was the subject of an architectural competition in the early 1870s and the winning design was by William Henry Ward, a local architect based in Paradise Street. Ward was responsible for many of Birmingham's great buildings such as Great Western Arcade and the Parish Offices in Newhall Street, also known as Louisa Ryland House.

The Birmingham Canal was the first canal to be brought into the city under the supervision of James Brindley between 1768 and 1772. From here the canal network grew to form the commercial backbone of Victorian Birmingham, shipping in coal and raw materials to the thriving factories and distributing manufactured goods across the country. That was until the advent of the railways from 1838, when canal use began to decline nationally.
However, elsewhere on the BCN, you can really get away from it all on winding suburban canals and some surprisingly rural branches.

One example is the The Worcester & Birmingham Canal which takes you from the vibrant centre of Birmingham, through the green hills of Worcestershire, to the cathedral city of Worcester.

At its northern end, the canal joins the Birmingham Canal Main Line at Gas Street Basin. This pretty basin was once a thriving transport hub. Now, traditional narrowboats and elegant black and white iron footbridges sit side-by-side with modern bars and restaurants. Close by is luxury shopping centre the Mailbox, with its stylish clothing shops and cafes.

Among the cargos that once travelled on the canal was chocolate crumb to the Cadbury factory. Today, this is Cadbury World, a great day out if you have a sweet tooth.
At Kings Norton Junction, the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal joins under permanently open guillotine gates. Opposite the junction is an attractive toll house with its board showing the charges.

The Lickey Hills are pierced by three long tunnels. The canal was realigned to allow the building of the M42. Tardebigge Wharf, with its dry dock, maintenance yard, workers' cottages, and historic warehouse remains the main base for maintenance on the canal, and is a great place to start a walk.

All 58 locks are in the second half of the canal, as the canal descends through rural Worcestershire.  The Tardebigge lock flight has 30 locks in just over two miles, making it the longest in the country.

Hanbury Junction marks the connection with the Droitwich Junction Canal, linked with the Droitwich Barge Canal and offers a route to the River Severn at Hawford.
Around Bilford, the countryside is left behind as the canal begins to encroach on the city environs. The Commandery was the headquarters of Charles Stuart before the Battle of Worcester in 1651.

Ahead lies Diglis Basins and two wide locks accessing the Severn. Once very busy with commercial traffic, the working boats have long been replaced by pleasure craft. Worcester Cathedral stares down imposingly on travellers entering the river.

Sources: Canal & River Trust & Birmingham Post

The Birmingham Canals the early Transport infrastructure
WiderView Visual Media, Chris Roberts 24 July 2015
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