Opening up a short and obscure abandoned Black Country canal could create useful through routes, tick local authorities’ boxes and just maybe happen quite quickly
Which restored canal will be the next one to reopen? A ‘big project’ like the Cotswold or Chesterfield? Maybe, but they’d need to attract some really major funding. Or is it more likely to be on one of the smaller schemes – like the Wendover or the Driffield – where a lot of the work has already been done, and a single Lottery grant just might make things really happen?
Or might the next complete reopening involve restoring the Bradley Canal from the end of the Wednesbury Oak Loop through to the Walsall Canal?
If you know the area you may be thinking “Martin’s finally taken leave of his senses”. A one-and-a-bit mile largely filled-in channel in ex-industrial Black Country (where canals were still closing in the 1990s), linking a little-used dead end to a canal once described by a waterways guide as ‘like standing in a dustbin’, is ‘the next one to reopen’?
Well as it happens, quite apart from the much less dustbin-like state of the Walsall today, opening this link could actually improve prospects for canals at both ends. The Wednesbury Oak Loop would become part of a through route – and not just any through route. In combination with the Tame Valley and parts of the Walsall and BCN Main Line, it would form the new shortest route across the BCN from Salford Junction to Wolverhampton. So even boaters whose attitude to the BCN is to get through it as fast as possible would benefit: reopening it could be popular with BCN-lovers and BCN-haters alike! And it’s only a little over a mile long.
But what would opening it involve? That’s been the subject of a study commissioned by the Canal & River Trust’s West Midlands Partnership from waterways and planning consultants Moss Naylor Young – and they’ve just reported back that it’s entirely feasible.
A large part of the report describes the route, the problems and the options for dealing with them – starting at Bradley, where the Wednesbury Oak Loop comes to a dead end by the CRT Bradley lock gate workshops. So we’ll start there, and follow the route. You can do the same: it’s mostly walkable.
As its name suggests, the Wednesbury Oak Loop was one of the loops of the original 1772 Birmingham Main Line that were cut off when the route was straightened in the 1830s (in this case via the new Coseley Tunnel). Originally, the Loop continued beyond Bradley to rejoin the later route near Tipton.
The first section of the route proposed for restoration (which the report refers to for brevity as the Bradley Canal, even though it was built as four different lengths) is a continuation of the old loop – and straight away it
hits its first