The canal systems of Britain were in its heyday the motorways on water.
Traffic from all over the isle would pass goods, post and even prisoners via the waterways.
The Midlands canal system which includes Birmingham and the Black Country was one of the busiest in Europe.
Illegal booze and arms were smuggled back and forth (as portrayed in the BBC drama “Peaky Blinders”) , industries relied on the canal system to deliver goods to sell at high prices in the South, and eventually all this come to halt with the railways and eventually motorways which Industries relied more and more on.
Through careful conservation, The canal of the Midlands have been preserved, taken care of and refurbished for all to see and use.
They are still used to this day, but more now for canal boat homes, which in the summer season are filling the waterways with holiday goers.
I would like to focus on a few important Black Country canals and why they are so important to the history of the Black Country Industry.
The Dudley Canal.
The construction of the Dudley canal began in 1776, to be joined as part of the Birmingham canal to connect Dudley with Stourbridge for various mining industries.
The canal took 3 years to complete, costing a reputed £92000. Lord Dudley was the main backer to the canal & the canal incorporates the now famous 9 locks on the Delph in Brierley Hill.
Immediately once the Dudley Canal was complete, a bill was put in for a Dudley Tunnel to have a junction to connect to Tipton. Work started in 1785 with disastrous effect. The tunnel was not straight, engineers resigned and the tunnel was vastly over budget. It was completed in 1792, 4 years after the original completion date.
Once again, as soon as this tunnel was complete, a bill for another canal (Now called Line 2, with the Dudley canal called Line 1) to reach the collieries in Netherton.Funds were raised and original costings for this second canal was estimated £61,500. It was agreed to join Lapal (Halesowen) so a further £28,000 were raised by investors.
Construction began 1974 and once again plagued with problems. Different engineers were brought due to the death of the original engineer, tunnel problems with bad foundations of sand and water pumping issues caused the majority of the funds to go here. In all the total cost of the Line 2 canal was around £120,000.
Used extensively for the next hundred years, the canal was a hub bub of tourists and commercial workers passing through. As the age of the motor car was in the canal system was very quickly become archaic and outdated, with parts being decommissioned in the 1950s.
As mentioned above, the canal trust have preserved both routes and as recently as Feb of 2016 the canal was officially used, parts of it not having a vessel travel through it since the 1920s.
The Netherton Tunnel.
As a child my Dad took me to the Netherton tunnel on a bright summer Sunday. Its dark tunnel was frightening to a 10 year old.
As soon as I entered the temperature dropped and both me and my Dad realised that we should have brought a jumper. We walked in the darkness with just a simple torch to guide us through the slimy walled construct.
At times we both nearly fell in due to the walk way barrier just being missing.
Occasionally we would be greeted by another humanoid travelling through the tunnel, hoping there intentions were as innocent as ours. All the time you could see a dot of light, a speck of white brilliant light up ahead that showed how long the vast tunnel was.
My dad explained to me a few facts.
It was linked to Tipton as way of transporting goods.
The tunnel had air vents meaning diesel run boats could work in the tunnel unlike most tunnels.
He also mentioned that people over the years had scrawled the names inside the tunnels, which you could see the more you walked through. Some were dated back to the 1930’s.
What I’ve learned since is that the tunnel was opened in 1858, after 3 years of construction with a budget of £302,000, quite a substantial amount , even for back then.
In the 1980’s various repair has been taken on the tunnel to preserve it and in 2013, more work has been made to repair the degrading tunnel. It is still in use today nearly 160 years from its opening and mainly for used for boating tourists.
As we finally came through to the daylight on the way back, the sun was quite down in its orange dusky glow, it made me smile to think of who had walked that tunnel, who had boated through the tunnel and who had left its mark in the deep dark silent tunnel.