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The Engine Arm Branch Canal
We cruised The Engine Arm Branch Canal in April 2011 as part of our summer cruise in Narrowboat Maid Of The Mist.
The Engine Arm or Birmingham Feeder Arm near Smethwick is in the West Midlands. It is a short canal built by Thomas Telford in 1825 conected to the canal system over an elaborate aqueduct spanning the BCN Birmingham Level Main Line Canal, to carry water from Rotton Park Reservoir (now called Edgbaston Reservoir) to the Wolverhampton Level of the Old Main Line of the BCN Main Line Canal built by James Brindley. The Engine Arm was also to connect the Smethwick Engine, which was used to pump water from the Birmingham Level of the canal to the Smethwick Summit (Wolverhampton Level) of the Old Main Line.
The Engine Arm was made navigable in 1830 between the Smethwick Summit of the Old Main Line canal and Engine Arm Basin, just beyond the Smethwick Engine a few hundred yards (metres) away so that boats could carry coal to The Smethwick Engine, a steam engine built by the partnership of Matthew Boulton and James Watt; brought into service in May 1779. In 1892, a replacement engine was built in Smethwick New Pumping Station, now a Grade II listed building, as the original Smethwick Engine was considered uneconomic to repair.
The original Smethwick Engine was then removed to British Waterways Ocker Hill depot where it remained until acquired by Birmingham City Council. It is now at the Thinktank science museum at Millennium Point in Birmingham and is the oldest working (steam) engine in the world.
From the Birmingham Level Main Line we turned off at Bromford Junction, rising up 20 feet to the Wolverhampton Level at the three Spon Lane Locks and under the M5 Motorway between J2 and J1 through the short Summit Tunnel and running alongside the now lower Birmingham Level Main Line until just after the Smethwick New Pumping Station, which is part of the nearby Galton Valley Canal Museum.
With a modern housing development on the left you will see a towpath bridge where the Engine Branch starts.
A 90 degree turn takes you into a narrow section that crosses the Thomas Telford built cast iron Engine Arm Aqueduct, a Scheduled Ancient Monument, with a view down onto Telford's Birmingham level and, due east, the old Gauging Island.
The Engine Branch turns left in front of an industrial park and proceeds through a derelict area of what looks like contemporary warehousing. After just a couple of hundred yards (metres) you come to the start of the BW Engine Branch moorings, home to around a dozen residential moorings.
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