Ketley Canal

The East Shropshire Canal Network was made up of a number of short and very narrow tub-boat canals. These short routes had few locks but made great use of inclined planes which were almost exclusive to this area. For a long period the network was self contained with no connection into the main canal system although there was a link at the south of the network into the River Severn

Ketley Canal History

William Reynolds of Ketley was the main man behind the Ketley Canal. His ironworks was one of the biggest businesses in eastern Shropshire. He also played a large part in promoting the Wombridge Canal, the Shropshire Canal and the Shrewsbury Canal. Although the Ketley Canal was to be very short - just 1½ miles long - it was not a simple matter of cutting a ditch and filling it with water. Between its two ends, at Ketley and Oakengates, there was a rise of 73 feet but there was no way that Reynolds could access enough water to serve the locks which would be needed to climb this hill. As a result, he built Britain's first ever inclined plane. It was double-tracked and worked by self-balancing, i.e.. full boats going down pulled empty boats back up - lucky for Reynolds the hill went the right way!

The exact date of the opening of the Ketley Canal is not certain and, in fact, it was only recently that the whole route was proved to have existed as planned. What is known for sure is that it supplied the Ketley ironworks with coal and ironstone from the east at Oakengates.

The Shropshire Canal made a junction with the Ketley Canal at the eastern end at Oakengates. This (when completed) allowed access from the Ketley Canal to the Donnington Wood and Wombridge canals in the north and (more importantly) to the River Severn in the south.

The Ketley Canal was not a great commercial success in the way many other canals were but it did what it was designed for - serving the Ketley ironworks.

The Ketley works closed and thus the Ketley Canal became unused. It is thought that the inclined plane officially closed two years later

Ketley Canal Route

The Ketley Canal made a junction with the Shropshire Canal at Oakengates to the north of Telford. Although I have not seen the site of the junction "in the flesh" I believe it to be very close to (if not beneath) the large road junction where Queensway (the current A442) crosses Holyhead Road (the former A5 and current day B5061) (grid ref SJ699102). This is known locally as The Greyhound Roundabout (named after the nearby pub).

The old Ketley Canal ran on the north side of Holyhead Road as both canal and road headed north westward. Somewhere very close to the new Beverley Island Roundabout, where Holyhead Road becomes the A518 (SJ686107) is the point where the Ketley Canal passed under Holyhead Road. The canal clung to the southern side of the main road for a few hundred yards (still heading north west) but then it moved away from the road, heading westward at the backs of what are now gardens on Holyhead Road until it reached Shepherds Lane (SJ682109).

On the east side of Shepherds Lane the Ketley Canal disappeared into a short tunnel which emerged in what is now a wooded area preserved as parkland. Somewhat amazingly, there is actually a stretch of canal which can still be seen here (at SJ680108). This can be reached from two sides; From Holyhead Road (a few yards west of the junction with Shepherds Lane) there is a footpath which heads south to the canal; Or from the south side via a stile and down into a cutting from Red Lees (lane).

Rita and Michael Wilkinson who run the Ketley Parish Council web pages inform me that Telford & Wrekin Council did some renovation work on the canal here a few years ago. It is possible to walk along the canal but there is no proper path and no way out at the west end because the canal is blocked by houses (SJ679108).

Beyond Red Lees (southwards) the canal disappears from my oldest map. It can however still be traced by taking a path off Red Lees. The canal's line can be detected after about 100 yards. Alongside the gardens of Ketley Hall (also to the south of Red Lees) bits of canal bed can still be traced. In 1971 Ronald Russell found evidence of brickwork and it is thought that a series of tunnels ran under Ketley Hall.

The area to the south of Red Lees (around SJ679106) should be famous. It should have plaques, notice boards, a visitor centre and a museum. It should be a place that every canal enthusiast can name instantly - like Foxton, Bingley or Worsely because this is the site of Ketley Inclined Plane - the first ever canal incline to be built. Sadly it is (long) gone and until recently it was as good as forgotten. Its general location isn't too hard to guess at. There is now an estate called The Incline very close to where the top of the actual incline was situated. The canal incline ran westward, down hill, just north (behind) The Incline housing estate - between the houses and Ketley Hall. Near the top was a house named "Hillside" and at the bottom is a pub called the Wren's Nest.

Although the incline was forgotten for many a year and the local authorities of the past (maybe unwittingly) destroyed what is undoubtedly a monumental piece of British industrial heritage, the current Ketley Parish Council have not forgotten about the incline - as well as naming the nearby housing estate in its honour, the incline now appears in the logo of the council's letter heads.

Up until about 25 years ago there was doubt as to whether there was ever a canal to the west of the Ketley inclined plane at all. An old survey map of the Lilleshall estate was found and it showed the line of the old canal heading into Ketley works. There was at least one basin at the works and some people believe one of the current day pools is a former basin. I believe the actual terminus has been filled in and built on.

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