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The Wyrley and Essington Canal - Part Of The Birmingham Canal Navigation System (BCN)
We cruised the remaining navigable section of the Wyrley and Essington Canal as part of our 2010 cruise.
Also known locally as "the Curly Wyrley" (or "Curly-Wurly") as this lockless canal twists and turns its way through north-east Wolverhampton and its environs. The present W&E Canal runs north-east of Wolverhampton in the English county of West Midlands from Horseley Junction 16 1/2 miles to Ogley Junction - MAP. As built it ran from Horseley Fields Junction, Wolverhampton to Huddlesford Junction - MAP near Lichfield, with a number of branches, some parts are currently derelict. Pending planned restoration to Huddlesford, the navigable mainline now terminates at Ogley Junction near Brownhills.
We found the first eleven miles of canal to be unkempt and full of floating rubbish and submerged hazards as we cruised through urban sprawl and old, mainly derelict, industrial areas until just before Freeths Bridge, when you finally get a view of open countryside, where we moored for the night.
Our second day was spent finishing off the Curly W to Ogley Junction, cruising the Cannock Extension Canal, as far as the Old Brownhills Colliery Basins and the Anglesey Branch from Ogley Junction to Anglesey Basin back tracking to the moorings outside a 24hr Tesco Supermarket opposite Clayhanger Common near Brownhills. The Wyrley and Essington Canal from Freeths Bridge, where we moored the first night to its conclusion is a far more open and interesting section.
Branches of the Wyrley and Essington Canal
A number of branches were constructed:
The section of the original mainline from Sneyd Junction to Wyrley Bank that was later considered a branch, was opened in 1798, some 2.2 miles (3.6 km) long with four locks; this was extended towards Great Wyrley in 1799, but the extension fell into disuse by 1829. It was reopened and extended to reach Great Wyrley and serve the mines there in 1857. When completed it was 3.5 miles (5.6km) long, with major wharfs at Broad Lane, Landywood and Wyrley. This branch was abandoned in 1955, under the powers of the Act of Abandonment and all that remains now is a bricked up lock.
The Birchills Branch, which is now a section of the main line, was opened in 1798, 2.1 miles (3.4km) long. In 1840 a link to the Walsall Canal was created south of Birchills Junction by introducing a short section of canal and flight of 8 locks.
The Essington branch (now dry), off the Sneyd to Wyrley Bank line, was opened in 1800, 0.7 miles (1.1km) long with five locks. It was the first section to be abandoned, (prior to 1904) as its water supply was always inadequate.
The Daw End Branch from Catshill Junction to limestone quarries and limeworks at Hayhead was also opened in 1800, some 5.4 miles (8.7km) long with no locks.
Over the years it has suffered from mining subsidence, with the result that many of the embankments are now much taller than when they were constructed. The 1954 Act allowed the final section to the limeworks to be abandoned. Surrounded now by Hayhead Woods - MAP - it is still partially watered, and the area has been declared a Site of Important Nature Conservation (SINC).
The Lord Hayes Branch, now dry is located a few yards north-west of Fishley Footbridge MAP was 0.9 miles (1.5km) with no locks; this branch was built under the 1794 Act and abandoned under the 1954 Act. It is also referred to as the Lords Hayes Canal or Lord Hay's branch. The branch could be restored, as it has been identified as a suitable route for the restored Hatherton Canal in a feasibility study carried out by Atkins. Previously a route to reconnect the Hatherton Canal to Grove Basin on the Cannock Extension Canal had been favoured, but met with opposition from landowners and on environmental grounds, whereas the Lord Hayes route satisfies the environmental concerns, is preferable to landowners, and would reduce the number of new road bridges needed.
The Anglesey Branch from Ogley Junction 1.5 miles to Anglesey Basin, built as a feeder in 1800 to carry the main source of water for the canal from Chasewater Reservoir, was upgraded to navigable status in 1850 as new mines opened in the area. Coal continued to be transported along the branch from Anglesey Basin until 1967. The end of this branch is the furthest north it is currently possible to travel on the Birmingham Canal Navigations (BCN).
There were other short branches including the Anson Branch and Slough Branch, all of which are now abandoned and junctions with other defunct canals like The Bentley Canal, an abandoned canal that was part of the Birmingham Canal Navigations (BCN). A very short section still exists where it joins the Wyrley and Essington Canal at the site of a new Bentley Bridge trading and entertainment complex at Wednesbury, Wolverhampton. From there it headed generally southeast through Willenhall and Walsall and connected with the Anson Branch and through to the Walsall Canal.
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