Shropshire Canal

Note: The Shropshire Canal should not be confused with the Shropshire Union Canal which came many years later

Shropshire Canal History

The Shropshire Canal was part of what became known as the East Shropshire Tub-Boat Network. This was made up of a number of short and very narrow canals situated around the area that we now call Telford. For a long period the network was self contained with no connection into the main canal system although there was an indirect link at the south of the network into the River Severn.

At the time of the network's construction the Severn Valley was already coming alive with industry for this is the area widely regarded as the birth place of the Industrial Revolution which brought Britain (and the World) out of the Middle Ages into what we now think of as the "modern world".

At the time of the Shropshire Canal's creation there was no town of Telford and Thomas Telford himself apparently had little (or nothing) to do with the building of the canal, though he did become Surveyor for the County of Shropshire at around the same time and later worked on the Shrewsbury Canal.

The landscape in the Telford area, heading south to the River Severn, is very hilly. Despite this, no locks were constructed on the Shropshire Canal.

Instead, great use was made of inclined planes - rail tracks and pulley systems which would carry boats up and down a hillside between two sections of canal. These were almost exclusive to this area (though some were also used in the West Country).

The boats used on the East Shropshire Network were unlike any used on the main English canal system. Typically they were only 6ft 4in wide and about 20ft long, they would normally be chained together and hauled along the canal by horse in long trains.

One account claims that up to 17 tub-boats could be hauled along the canal in one go. However, it seems somewhat unlikely that one horse would pull what amounts to about 140 tons in a 350ft long train on the narrow and winding East Shropshire Network. The great canal historian, Charles Hadfield, wrote that he expects much smaller trains were used in reality.

The story of the Shropshire Canal begins in the 1780's.
It was William Reynolds' idea, he also promoted the Wombridge Canal, Ketley Canal and had a big hand in the Shrewsbury Canal. He had assistance in the building of the Shropshire Canal from local business owners such as the Marquess of Stafford (formerly Lord Gower) who had built the nearby Donnington Wood Canal some 20 years earlier. Gower was a very big fan of canals, he had done much to promote the Trent and Mersey Canal and was the Uncle (some books say Brother-in-law) of the Duke of Bridgewater who built the first canal in Britain, near Manchester.

The Shropshire Canal was to run from Donnington Wood (grid ref SJ 70322 12402) to Coalport (SJ 69442 02404), a distance of about 7 miles. It was to have two inclined planes, two tunnels, and two (so called) Shaft & Tunnel Systems (see below). The canal would connect with three other canals as well as the River Severn. The three canals were the Donnington Wood, the Wombridge and the Ketley, all of which were built specifically to serve local businesses - ironworks, limestone quarries and coal mines.

The Shropshire Canal was to be different to the other waterways in the network in that it was to be built to link the other canals rather than to serve any one specific business, its outlet to the outside world, via the busy River Severn, would provide a route to the Midlands, Gloucester, Bristol and the coast. Like all the other canals in East Shropshire, it was to be very narrow, carrying tub-boats just 6 feet wide.

Work began in the middle of the route from a junction with the Ketley Canal at Oakengates (SJ 69904 10382). To the north, it soon met the Donnington Wood and Wombridge canals via the Wrockwardine Wood Inclined Plane (SJ 70300 12300) while to the south it headed for Coalport via Stirchley and another incline at Windmill Farm (SJ 70045 05637).

At Coalport the canal had to come to an end high up above the River Severn on a hill side. William Reynolds decided to construct a system similar to that already in use on the Donnington Wood Canal. At the top of Blists Hill (SJ 69689 02687) he intended to bring the canal into a basin, two shafts were to be dug down, deep into the hillside below. At the bottom of these shafts would be a canal tunnel from where boats would take goods out onto the river bank. Although it is unclear whether this system was ever used at Coalport, the tunnel was certainly started, it survives today and is open to the public.

So the story goes, while building the tunnel it was found that natural tar was oozing from the hillside, the canal tunnel was turned into a tar extraction business and the Hay Inclined Plane was built to replace the shaft & tunnel system, bringing boats down Blists Hill to Coalport.

The whole of the Shropshire Canal main line took just a few years to build, actually costing less (under £50,000) than had been raised by its shareholders. It soon became a profitable canal though this is because it always served its owners own interests - other canals were often built to carry goods which the owners of the waterway had no control over.

The small village of Coalport was greatly enhanced by the arrival of the Shropshire Canal and the new waterway helped to turn the settlement into a busy industrial town. For instance, John Rose opened a pottery works (which made fine porcelain with a brightly coloured floral decoration) and there was also one of the first ever chain making factories (making hoists used on pit-head winding gear and on the inclined planes). Many of the new industries were situated along the canal and the route went from strength to strength.

A branch line, 2¾ miles long, was added to the route from just north west of Windmill Farm Incline, at a settlement which later became known as Aqueduct (named after the structure which carried the new branch over the main road running through the settlement). It would appear that the people of East Shropshire were very descriptive with their place names; Coalport, Coalbrookdale, Ironbridge, Aqueduct, etc.

The new branch ran west towards Coalbrookdale but about one mile before its terminus it had to encounter another enormous change in level. Once again the shaft and tunnel system was used. Two shafts were dug into the hillside at Brierly Hill (SJ 67058 05217) to allow goods to pass from the canal above, down into a tunnel. Although this system worked, it suffered numerous problems and was soon replaced. From the foot of the hill the canal was planned to run south through Coalbrookdale to the River Severn though there is no good evidence to prove that this part of the canal was ever constructed.

Some historians say that the shafts and tunnel system at Brierly Hill was closed down in 1794 and replaced by an inclined plane. Some people believe that this is the same incline which (in parts) can still be seen today. However, there is very strong evidence to suggest that the first incline to be built was in operation at the same time as the shaft system and the incline that we see today was built a few years later (c1800) when the canal immediately above Brierly Hill was converted into a tramway. There is no doubt that the current incline and the old the shafts system could not have been in operation together because the approach to the top of the incline is built on top of the site of the shafts. It is safe to say however, that c1794 to c1800 the shafts and tunnel system was closed down and the inclined plane we can see today became operational.

Unlike all the other inclines on the East Shropshire Network, this one never carried boats - it was built as a tramway. Shortly after building the incline(s) the company continued the tramway into Coalbrookdale. Some books say the tramway used the towpath of the lower canal (mentioned above) which was then drained and filled in. Other people believe there was never a lower canal and the tramway was actually built at the same time as the shafts and tunnel.

The newly formed Shrewsbury Canal Company bought up the Wombridge Canal and connected it to its own main line at Trench. This meant tub-boats could now travel all the way from Coalport, along the Shropshire Canal, onto the Wombridge Canal and then onto the Shrewsbury Canal. At this time there was still no connection with the main UK canal network.

More prosperity arrived for the Shropshire Canal when the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal connected an arm to the Shrewsbury Canal. Goods could now be carried out into the main canal network for the first time - reaching the Midlands, the Potteries and the north. However, normal canal boats could not reach the Shropshire Canal due to the narrow dimensions of the tub-boat network. Specially built narrowboats had to be constructed which allowed goods to reach Trench (on the Shrewsbury Canal). At the bottom of Trench Incline a transhipment area was created to transfer goods between tub-boats and narrowboats.

The Shropshire Canal was leased to the Shropshire Union Railways and Canal Company. During the next few years the canal began to deteriorate, mainly due to a lot of mining subsidence in the area along with the high costs of repairs and maintenance. During this time, both the Wrockwardine Wood Incline and Snedshill Tunnel (at Oakengates) suffered collapses. The Shropshire Union company sought and obtained the power to close the canal and build a railway in its place but before anything was done the SU company itself was leased to the London & North Western Railway Company. LNWR found that the SU Act allowing the construction of a railway was not transferable and the canal was kept open, albeit in an ever increasing state of disrepair.

After several years of trying, LNWR obtain the necessary power to close the Shropshire Canal and build a railway in its place. They closed down the main line of the canal from Donnington Wood to Windmill Farm (near Stirchley) and also closed the Coalbrookdale Branch. The only section of canal still in use was the 1¼ miles from the foot of Windmill Farm to the river bank in Coalport (this included the Hay Inclined Plane). The tramway at Coalbrookdale (below the Brierly Hill Incline) was also still used. After closing the canal, LNWR opened a railway branch line which used much of the canals route, wiping it out in places.

The section from Windmill Farm to Blists Hill was also closed. This left only one very short (about 800 yards) section of canal intact from below Hay Incline along the banks of the River Severn at Coalport. This small section remained open until WW2, mainly serving the furnaces at Blists Hill. By then the canal was owned by the London, Midland & Scottish Railway Company.

In the end, the remaining section of canal actually out-lived the furnaces which it was there to serve but it was eventually closed (along with many miles of canal around the country) in the infamous LMS canal shut-down.

In the decades after the war (especially the 1960s and 70s) the area through which the Shropshire Canal once travelled saw a huge transformation. The town of Telford was built and its many housing estates and roads wiped out most of what was left of the canal - not to mention dozens of railway branches, old quarries, furnaces and other old industrial sites.
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The short section of canal (the last to have been used) between Hay Incline and Coalport China Museum was excavated and restored. Although boats cannot reach this section today, the old towpath makes a pleasant walk, running along the north bank of the River Severn alongside the restored canal.

The Institute of Industrial Archaeology based at the museum in Coalbrookdale became interested in the site around the incline at Brierly Hill. Sadly, they failed to find any trace of the old shaft & tunnel system and declared it lost forever. It was thought that it was lost because later developments on the site had necessitated the removal of most of the physical features. However, in 1986 the western shaft was found. The top 10 feet or so had indeed been removed at some point and the shaft appeared to have been back filled - this explains why it had not been found previously. The top was made safe with a 12" slab of reinforced concrete. (The eastern shaft is still waiting to be discovered).

Not all of the history of the area is lost however. During the 1970's & 80's the area around Coalport, Coalbrookdale and Ironbridge was developed into a "living history" centre. This includes numerous museums, usually on the site of former mills such as the China Factory at Coalport and the Iron Foundry at Coalbrookdale. The main attraction is Blists Hill Open Air Museum which incorporates old furnaces, a stretch of the Shropshire Canal main line and the Hay Inclined Plane. At the foot of the incline, on Coalport High Street, is a "Tar Museum" which includes the old canal tunnel which predates the Hay Incline.

More explorations at Brierly Hill revealed an old tunnel. It was found to be brick lined, 6 feet wide by 6 feet high. It appeared to be heading directly towards a point just below the top of Brierly Inclined Plane. At first this was thought to be part of the old shaft and tunnel system built by Reynolds prior to the construction of the inclined plane. However, it is now not thought to be part of this system. At some point the tunnel was blocked off at either end but it was used for over 150 years as a well, providing drinking water to the two cottages at the top of the incline. However, it is thought that this tunnel did not hold water during the canal's working days. More likely it contained rails and it is believed that its original function was to act as a tramway underpass, passing beneath the upper section of the inclined plane.

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Shropshire Canal Route

Locating the Shropshire Canal is not easy nowadays, this is mainly due to the building of the new town of Telford which includes many new housing estates and a complete redesigning of the road layouts. I must thank Ronald Russell and his book "Lost Canals Of England And Wales" (1971) for providing a starting point. I must also thank Chris De Wet who's research and studying of old maps - together with new technology - made the completion of the following description possible. However, "completion" is not quite the correct word, yet! There is still much to be found of the canal and further explorations will hopefully uncover our missing links.

I must also thank Charlie Boyce who has been very kind in providing me with lots of information regarding the complex nature of the site around The Old Wynd (Brierly Hill Incline Plane).

The Shropshire Canal began at Donnington Wood on the north side of what is now Telford. To find the site of the junction, you first need to locate Smith Crescent (OS Grid Ref SJ 70310 12375) in the Wrockwardine Wood area. This is a relatively new street running east off Oakengates Road. It was built long after the canal was closed but in working days there were actually three canals in this area. They met at a junction on the north side of Smith Crescent. Unfortunately this land has changed greatly over the years but I believe the junction was at OS Grid Ref SJ 70331 12405.
The Wombridge Canal left this junction heading north though it soon turned west towards Wombridge. See the Wombridge Canal page for more info.

The Donnington Wood Canal - which was actually the first to be built here - also started at the junction. It headed generally north east towards Lilleshall.

The Shropshire Canal began by heading south west away from the junction. In fact this was where the Wrockwardine Wood Inclined Plane began, only the second ever to be built in Britain. The incline headed south west, lifting up 120 feet, heading towards Oakengates. The bottom part of the incline has been lost beneath Smith Crescent and the new Wrockwardine Wood Way. But the site of the upper part of the incline still exists and can be accessed...

On the west side of Moss Road (SJ 70350 12306), immediately south of the Wrockwardine Wood Way bridge is a footpath which at first glance appears to be taking pedestrians up to Wrockwardine Wood Way. This, however, is not the case - the path actually passes the bottom of Summer Crescent and leads onto Wrockwardine Wood Inclined Plane. There is nothing of the incline's workings to be seen though a local resident told me one of her neighbours has a tunnel in their garden which goes under the incline, forming an underpass.

The incline was actually slightly to the west of the track which leads up the hill. In 1971 Ronald Russell wrote that an old cottage, bits of stonework and some bricks could still be found amongst the scrub at the top. The cottage has now gone but bits of stonework and bricks are still in place (at ground level only) in the woods near the top.

Russell said the line of the canal could still be traced through thick undergrowth for about 200 yards heading south from the top of the incline (in the area around SJ 70200 12000). This area is known as the Cockshutt, now a coppice with a number of rough paths running across it. When I was here in summer 2002 I could not determine exactly which line of nettles would have been the canal! One source I have read claims there were underground canals at the Cockshutt leading into mines owned by Lord Gower. A similar system also possibly existed at the bottom of the incline on the Donnington Wood Canal.

Travelling south into Oakengates the canal has now been obliterated. Even on old maps (c1889) it is marked as "old canal" and is lost in a tangle of railways which have also now long since gone. The area which is now new housing in Oakengates was obviously once a very industrial area and of course Ironworks are the most prominent features on the old map. The canal ran somewhere very close to the current day Lincoln Road, passing close to the east of Lincoln Crescent and Union Road (close to SJ 69910 11698).

"Guesswork" is the keyword to my research in the next section. I believe the canal ran alongside what is now Willows Road (SJ 69900 11100) in Oakengates, possibly on the western side, and then it ran between Willows Road and what is now Cockshutt Road. Following this it crossed what is now Station Hill which I believe is the route of the original London to Shrewsbury road, part of the Roman Watling Street. However, it is likeley that the canal was underground here as I believe Snedshill Tunnel began just north of Station Hill (SJ 69931 10998) and ran south beneath what was then Snedshill Coppice for about 280 yards to a point just north of Canongate (SJ 69928 10749).

It is not know if the tunnel was removed, filled in or is still in place. The nearest we can get to the tunnel today is the road called Silkin Way. In fact, "Silkin Way" is the name given to a walk along the old railway bed which was built (in parts) on top of the canal. The tunnel ran parallel to the west side of the road called Silkin Way.

I believe the old Roman road called Canongate crossed the canal at virtually the same point that the new A442, Queensway, now crosses Canongate. The waterway then ran through (or maybe beneath) the Snedshill Iron Works (SJ 69912 10604).

Continuing south the Shropshire Canal ran into Oakengates, to the west of the current A442 and east of Station Road. It was at the south end of Station Road that it made a junction with the eastern end of the Ketley Canal. I believe the junction was very close to (if not beneath) the large road junction where Queensway crosses Holyhead Road (the former A5 and current day B5061) (grid ref SJ 69896 10278). This is known locally as The Greyhound Roundabout (named after a nearby pub). The old Ketley Canal ran on the north side of Holyhead Road as both the road and the canal headed north westward.

In 1971 Ronald Russell wrote that a short tunnel was traceable underneath what was then the A5. This was said to have survived because the canal bed had later been used as a railway tunnel. However, I have also read that canal water seeped into a railway tunnel in this area at one point so who knows what is what here - maybe you do? It is not clear what this tunnel was called or how long it was - if it existed at all.

From the junction with the Ketley Canal, the Shropshire Canal continued south close to what is now Telford Central Park and through what is now Telford town centre. Some stretches of the canal became a railway line and the current day A442 (Queensway) follows the same general line up to and beyond the M54 (ref SJ 70000 09500). South of the motorway the canal passed through Hollinswood to the east of Dawley. The current day A442 heads south east while the canal took a more southerly line and I believe the current day Hollinsgate (SJ 70346 09007) crosses the route of the canal and the route of the later railway line. Roads such as Dunsheath, Daleacre Way, Deercote and St. Quentin Gate also cross its route.

In this area the canal passed close to the former Old Dark Lane Colliery, Lawn Colliery, Dark Lane Foundry, Lodge Colliery and Wharf Colliery (all now gone). Wharf Colliery was just west of the roundabout (SJ 70226 08191) where Daleacre Way meets St. Quentin Gate, Queen Elizabeth Avenue and Stirchley Avenue. The Holiday Inn is very close to (if not on top of) the canal bed.

The canal then headed south westerly, close to the current day Dark Lane which used to cross the canal close to grid ref SJ 69865 07734. My current street map of this area shows park land here today and Dark Lane is now a dead end, it can be reached via Hinkshay Road which runs north east from the B4373 (Southall Road) south of Dawley (SJ 68900 06800). I must stress that these directions are for reference only - I doubt very much that anything can be found on Dark Lane today.

On my old map the canal heads south following the same course as the railway which replaced it (listed as the Wellington & Coalport Railway on my 1889 map). It has been said that the railway wiped out the canal in these parts but the old map shows otherwise. Today there is a footpath and cycleway (the Silkin Way) along the railway bed but the area where the canal was (and may still be) looks less inviting than a trek through a jungle swamp. I didn't bother! This is an area of rough land which is being developed as park land. The 1889 map shows heavy industry here, including Stirchley Ironworks situated at SJ 69718 07286.

A little further south is better news. Not only can the canal be traced but there is water in it. In fact you can see quite a bit of water around here. As well as a stretch of canal, which even has fish in it, there are also two fairly large pools of water. These are the Hinkshay Pools (upper & lower). There is only supposed to be an upper pool, it used to be a canal reservoir but its bank burst - hence the lower pool!

Perhaps the easiest way to reach this stretch of canal is from Stirchley Lane (SJ 69462 06677). On this road there is a bridge crossing high above the former railway, the Silkin Way walk - there is a rough car park a few yards along the road to the west. Walk north along the Silkin Way for about 400 yards. Look out for a path with steps on the left (west) side of the Silkin Way. This will take you to the Hinkshay Pools and the Shropshire Canal. You can walk for about 200 yards along either bank of the canal, the west bank forms a causeway between the canal and the lower pool. At the north end of the pools there is an information board though it marks the canal as the Shropshire Union Canal. Although the East Shropshire tub-boat canals did eventually belong to the same company as today's Shropshire Union Canal, the Shropshire Canal was built over 40 years before the Shropshire Union Canal.

As mentioned above, at the end of this section the canal was crossed by Stirchley Lane where there is still a bridge where a former railway bed (now the Silkin Way) closely follows the former line of the canal.

On the Silkin Way to the south of Stirchley Lane, possibly where it begins to drop down, was Stirchley Tunnel. I'm basing this guess on my old map which does not show the canal but does mark "Tunnel Row" - presumably these were cottages situated near the tunnel? This is at grid ref SJ 69507 06220 on Aqueduct Lane, Brookside.

The canal reappears on my old map just south of the cottages at a point where Aqueduct Lane ran right alongside the railway line. Near to the junction of Aqueduct Lane and Chapman's Close (a new housing cul-de-sac) was a canal junction where the Coalbrookdale Branch began (about SJ 69458 06220). You won't see any canal here today however because the railway was built on top of the canal at this point. Or I really should say the railway was built underneath the canal because the waterway was actually up on an embankment here until the railway obliterated it. The main line of the Shropshire Canal turned east at the junction while it was the Coalbrookdale Branch that continued straight on, heading south west.

To reach this area by car you must drive to the B4373 (Southall Road) heading south out of Dawley. You need to turn off the B4373, heading south east, following signs to Stirchley, Brookside and Aqueduct. Although you turn off the main road you are still on Southall Road because this is actually the former A442 from the days before Telford town and its suburbs were built. After a few hundred yards Southall Road crosses the old railway (Silkin Way) and the next road left (north east) is Aqueduct Lane. There is a footpath leading down from Aqueduct Lane onto the Silkin Way at about the point where the old canal junction was situated.

Before leaving this location you should jump down the page and read the first part of the Coalbrookdale Branch description because there is something well worth seeing just a few yards from the former junction. But for now we will continue on the main line...

As I said, the main line left the canal junction at Aqueduct Lane heading east, but within a few hundred yards, to the south east of Aqueduct Lane, the canal curved around to head south again. The new housing estate of Brookside has obliterated all traces of the canal, both Lambeth Drive and Brookside Avenue cross its path and I believe it ran between Brookside Avenue and Birchmore. It then curved east and then south once again - this time its path is crossed by the street called Burnside.

Just south of here was Windmill Farm and the Windmill Farm Inclined Plane (SJ 70045 05637). I believe the incline has completely vanished today but it ran between Bishopdale and Blakemore. In 1971 Ronald Russell wrote that the incline could still be seen, he said it was somewhere to the east of the "main road" on the south side of Windmill Farm and just north of a railway. As mentioned above, the "main road" used to be the A442 but it is now the unclassified Southall Road running into the large housing estates at Aqueduct and Brookside. The railway (once the GWR Madeley Branch) is still in use though today it has the A4169 (Queensway) running alongside it on its northern side. Although Windmill Farm Incline was not the highest to be built, it was certainly the longest at over 600 yards in length.

At the foot of the incline the canal used to pass under the railway embankment and then it continued south to the east of the old A442. This old main road is now severed within the housing estates but it reappears to the south of Queensway (A4169) which crosses over on a new bridge. At this point the old road is called Bridgnorth Road as it heads south east from Brookside towards Madeley. About 400 yards south of the Queensway bridge is an area called Tweedale (SJ 70152 05144). My old map marks a wharf with a crane at the point where Bridgnorth Road crossed the canal. In 1971 Ronald Russell wrote that the canal still held water to the south of the road bridge but I saw no sign of the canal or a bridge when I was here in 2002, a small industrial estate now stands on the canal bed (or very close to it). On the 1889 map there is an Inn marked at the canal bridge and I can confirm that this pub still exists.

The old map shows another wharf a few hundred yards south of the former bridge (SJ 70208 04949 - on the west side of Bridgnorth Road), this one had a track (maybe a tramway) heading north east to Bridgnorth Road. After passing under the road there is an inclined plane marked on the old map which I assume was part of a tramway carrying goods to the canal and/or the main road.

Although Russell found water in the canal here, as the route arrived on the north east side of Madeley, there is certainly no water today. By matching up the old map with the current day street map it would appear that today's Prince Street crosses the former course of the canal as it entered Madeley (SJ 70236 04677). In fact, I believe some of the back gardens on Tweedale Crescent now lie on what was the canal bed and a path along the side of these gardens is almost certainly the old towpath. In 1971 Ronald Russell wrote that the only evidence that there had ever been a canal here was a bridge parapet on one side of Kemberton Road. However, there was a little confusion for me when I visited here...

Kemberton Road is the only road which appears on both my old map and my modern map of Madeley. However, I am pretty sure that these are not quite the same Kemberton Road. I believe the original Kemberton Road is now called Prince Street and this is probably the road Ronald Russell was referring to. There is a short road connecting the new Kemberton Road to Prince Street and I believe this is on (or right beside) the former canal bed. Directly opposite the junction into Prince Street is what appears to be the line of the former canal with the fore mentioned path running behind Tweedale Crescent. In fact, the garden of the end house appears to have a section of wall which is much older than all the other walls on the road, could this be the former bridge parapet that Russell saw?

South of Kemberton Road the canal ran parallel to the current day Bennett Road and was then crossed by Queen Street (which is listed as Hill Lane on the 1889 map). On the old map, Madeley appears to be a very busy village. As well as the canal (already listed as "old" - meaning disused) there was a railway with a station. Kemberton Road headed west and became Bridge Street as it passed under the railway.

Like the canal, the railway in Madeley has also now disappeared. But, unlike the canal, its course is easy to spot. It is now Legges Way, the road which heads south from the large new roundabout in the village. The canal used to run parallel to the railway, about 100 yards to the east. The current day street map shows the land where the canal once ran to be (apparently) undeveloped. In 1971 Ronald Russell found the line of the canal at the bottom of a grassy slope opposite "another new housing estate" and above a sewage farm! There was the remains of a bridge here too which I believe might have been on what was once Mill Lane. This section of canal is to the west of Sutton Way and Raynard's Coppice, part of a housing estate at Sutton Hill (SJ 69891 03815).

South of here the canal's route runs through some woods though I believe it is still possible to follow its course. Parts even have water in them - very green water! Even this is short lived however as the route soon disappears beneath a car park.

The final mile of the route could still be followed in 1971 and the canal was in water. A footpath followed the weedy, overgrown ditch. Trees lined the route and so did a number of factories including the disused Blists Hill furnaces. Today all this still applies with one major difference... The whole of this section is now within Blists Hill Open Air Museum and is preserved - though not fully restored as yet. It is still weedy and overgrown in parts but it is clearly visible and can even hold boats - an old tub-boat stands on the water within the museum.

The museum section begins where a building actual straddles the route. This is a museum works building which is not part of the public displays. Close to it are wharves which once belonged to the Madeleywood Brick & Tile Company. A number of narrow sections which are either former stop locks or the sites of old bridges can clearly be seen. Stop locks were added to this section after a breach had occurred. The locks enabled the rest of the canal to stay open while repairs took place.

At this point the canal is situated high up on an embankment. Down below, to the west, are the preserved Blists Hill furnaces as well as numerous other buildings, all now part of the museum (SJ 69525 03045).

Note: The only way to see this section of the canal is by entering the museum. It is situated off Coalport Road between Madeley and Coalport and is well signposted.

At the south end of the museum the canal is just 400 yards away from the River Severn. However, it is also over 200 feet up above it. To overcome this, the canal company constructed the mightiest inclined plane of them all. In 1971 Ronald Russell reached the top of the Hay Incline through the grounds of Hay Farm. He reported that the incline had recently been tidied up and was preserved as a historic industrial monument. Like the canal above it (and the farm), the incline is now part of Blists Hill Museum and its future is secure.

The paying public are welcome to wander up and down the Hay Incline, this allows us to see the former docks at the top where tub-boats once left the water and moved down the hillside on rails - two sets of rails (not the originals) have been placed on the incline to help give it the right look. Half way down the steep slope are the parapets of a bridge where the railway which was built to replace the canal once passed underneath (once again, this is now the Silkin Way Walk). Near the bottom of the incline is a road bridge though there is no access to this road from the museum (and vice versa). It was by far the biggest rise (or fall) of all the Shropshire inclined planes at a mighty 207 feet with a slope of 1 in 5

For those who don't wish to go into Blists Hill Museum, it is still possible to see the incline in its entirety. As mentioned above, close to the bottom of the slope the incline passes under a road, Coalport High Street (SJ 69507 02537). There is a small (rather rough) car park along the road to the west. From the road bridge you can look north directly up the incline, following the two sets of rails right to the very top. The only thing I've ever seen which remotely resembles this is at Blackpool Pleasure Beach (a theme park). Anyone who has ever stood at the foot of the Grand National Roller Coaster and watched the trains race down the steep tracks and pass beneath your feet might be able to form a picture.... or maybe not!

Two cottages stand on the western side of the incline while a pub and shop stand on the roadside near the bridge at the bottom. Directly below the road bridge is the bottom of the incline where the rails now drop into a restored section of canal which immediately turns sharply east to run along the north bank of the River Severn for about 800 yards. In working days this section was lined with wharves and warehouses but only the old Coalport China Factory with its massive bottle shaped chimneys survives today. It is possible to join the canal at the foot of the incline and walk along a path (the former towpath) which runs between the canal and the River Severn.

The canal comes to an end alongside the china factory - now a pottery museum. The canal did not make a junction with the river (although some sources say there was a lock - they also say it was soon removed due to lack of use), instead the canal ended a few yards east of the china factory near Coalport Bridge. I have no precise description of the basin where goods were transhipped from tub-boats into trows on the River Severn. Apparently a building which was once a warehouse is still nearby. Goods were transhipped via "self-acting" planes. These were short inclined planes with a double set of tracks. The containers on each track counter balanced each other.

There is one final canal feature near the terminus of the Shropshire Canal - the old "Tar Tunnel". This is also now a museum attraction but it was originally dug by William Reynolds as a canal tunnel. It is thought that the original plan was to create a basin on the canal at the top of Blists Hill. A system of shafts was to be used to lower goods from the canal above onto boats waiting below inside the hillside within the tunnel. The tunnel would have been around 400 yards long and would have emerged alongside what is now the foot of the incline. However, while Blists Hill Tunnel was under construction it was discovered that natural tar was oozing from the walls. Recognising a fortune when he saw one, Williams Reynolds is said to have abandoned the idea of a canal tunnel and tapped into the tar instead! If you enjoy seeing pretend tar painted in black on the inside of a dimly lit brick passageway leading to a dead-end within a hillside - or if you are a canalcoholic of the highest order - then I highly recommend Coalport Tar Tunnel!

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Coalbrookdale Branch

To the south east of Dawley, at the place now called Aqueduct, was a junction where the Coalbrookdale Branch left the main line of the Shropshire Canal. As described above in the main line section, the area close to the junction is reached on Southall Road (the former A442) which heads south east from Dawley into the large housing estates of Stirchley, Brookside and Aqueduct. This stretch of Southall Road was built in the 1960s to replace a much older and narrower road which still exists, hidden, a few yards to the west. Sadly, the building of the new Southall Road wiped out part of a canal embankment on the first few yards of the Coalbrookdale Branch (SJ 69389 06092). The canal junction was somewhere close to the new Southall Road - on the east side. Southall Road also crosses an old railway line (running north/south) very close to the site of the former canal junction. The railway bed is now the Silkin Way Walk.

As mentioned earlier there is a path on Aqueduct Lane leading down onto the Silkin Way. This is approximately where the canal junction used to be although it was closer to the level of the road rather than the level of the former railway. While the main line of the canal headed east, the Coalbrookdale Branch started by heading south west, slightly more westerly than the Silkin Way. By walking south on the Silkin Way you can walk under the recently rebuilt (and rather impressive looking) Southall Road bridge towards the suburb named Aqueduct. Beyond the road bridge the Silkin Way arrives at Chapel Lane which has a row of terraced cottages on its north side. These are the original cottages from the original hamlet of Aqueduct.

Heading north between the Silkin Way and the cottages is an old lane (now a dead-end) which passes under an old bridge. This old lane is, in fact, an ancient road running from Bridgnorth to Whitchurch. It was once the only major road through this area and up until the early 1960's it was the A442. But then Telford new town was built and lots of new roads and housing estates appeared - old roads like Southall Road were severed and re-routed.

The old bridge (SJ 69475 05872) which crosses old Southall Road is, in fact, the former Aqueduct which gave the village of Aqueduct it's name. In 1971 Aqueduct was described by Ronald Russell as still nothing more than a row of cottages on an old main road which had become a dead end. The aqueduct, which has a single grey stone arch spanning the old road, was said to be in very good condition. I was here in 1998 and it appeared to be surviving well although it had plant life growing all over it and all over the approaches on each side of the old road. On a revisit in 2002 I found it has now been relieved of the vegetation, cleaned up and repointed. The old road is also a lot tidier now.

A few years ago a friend of mine visited the aqueduct and decided he should see what condition it was in on top. He scrambled his way up the steep embankment leading up to the aqueduct and struggled over the parapet to find a woman pushing a pram across it!!! Little did he realise that there is a footpath up there.

Today this is a lot more obvious and there is a path up to the top of the aqueduct from the old road (on the north side of the aqueduct). The former canal bed on the aqueduct is now tarmacked and it carries a path from the new Southall Road to houses on Pasmore Close and Malory Drive.

Although Coalbrookdale is to the south west of Aqueduct, the Coalbrookdale Branch spent much of its route heading any direction but south west! Immediately after crossing old Southall Road it curved around and headed north west for several hundred yards before curving around the northern edge of what was Botany Bay Colliery. It would appear (by trying to match old maps with new) that the new B4373 (Castlefields Way) runs right through the site of the former colliery (SJ 68959 06132) and Pageant Drive crosses the course of the canal in Dawley Magna.

The canal curved left around the colliery to face south west for a short length. Good clues to the canals route can still be found at Castle Pools (a lake which is open to the public at SJ 68816 06105). This was originally created when land beside the canal subsided and was flooded by the canal.

Within a few hundred yards the Coalbrookdale Branch curved west, passing a small reservoir on its right bank (close to SJ 68547 05841). Somewhere back in time the reservoir and canal became one and it is now known as Wide Waters Pool - and its very popular with fishermen.

Between here and Lightmoor Road (SJ 68254 05849) the route passed under an old plateway bridge which has recently been restored by the council. Beyond Lightmoor Road and a little way south of the junction with Holly Road (on the south side of Dawley Parva), the branch curved north towards Doseley. It passed under Hollywell Lane (SJ 67952 06088) to run along the west side of Frame Lane (or St. Lukes Road as it is today). After several hundred yards the canal curved again towards the north west (SJ 67787 06454). The gardens of St. Lukes vicarage and the graveyard ran along the northern bank for about 100 yards and then the canal took a hairpin bend to the left, suddenly heading back towards the south as it curved around a quarry. The reason for this long winded loop was to avoid a stream. Such loops are common on the older canals.

Woodlands Lane crosses the route (SJ 67659 05990) about 100 yards north west of the junction with Hollywell Lane. Within another few hundred yards Hollywell Lane itself crosses the route for a second time. This is at the point where the road turns sharp left to become Stoneyhill (SJ 67411 05754). The old canal then headed across fields and into a small wood for about 400 yards until it reached Crackshall Lane (SJ 67080 05358). Maps and other accounts of the route claim it headed in a straight line, southwards, but I believe it actually meandered quite a bit and what other people see on the maps is the line of the tramway which replaced the canal in the early 1800's. On top of this (literally), the area became an open cast mine so it is not surprising that the canal is hard to find here! More recently, plans have been put forward to build 750 houses which will make it even harder (impossible?) for future historians to find the line of the old canal.

Crackshall Lane still exists today but the much newer A4169 (Queensway) has superseded it as a main road. In fact, old Crackshall Lane is so narrow I would guess it was never much of a "main road". The two roads run parallel for about half a mile and the place where they cross the line of the Coalbrookdale Branch of the Shropshire Canal is easy to spot. About 400 yards north west of the junction with Cherry Tree Hill, the A4169 passes a small turning on the left and a farm gate directly opposite on the right. The old canal crossed the new road at this point - albeit long before the new road ever existed.

There is plenty of room to park on the roadside close to the left turn which actually leads to a gate and a drive marked "The Old Wynd House". Here you will see the original Crackshall Lane running parallel to the new main road and if you stand on the lane immediately to the west of the drive into Old Wynd, you will be standing on an original Shropshire Canal road bridge. There is a stile beside the bridge (adjacent to the east side of the north parapet) and this leads to a very short section of former canal lying between the new main road and Crackshall Lane. Of course there is no actual canal to be seen but the bricked up arch of the old bridge can easily be made out.

On the south side of the bridge the canal's line can be made out (in the weeds) as it runs along the side of the drive to Old Wynd House. Although this appears to be private land, the drive is actually a public right of way and it is possible to walk south along the drive, the west side of which now covers what was once the canal towpath.

After about 200 yards the drive comes to an end beside two houses, one of which is Old Wynd House. To the south there is a sudden drop as the land slopes away into a wood. This is the site of Brierly Hill Inclined Plane (SJ 67058 05217). Or, to be more exact, it is the site of one of the two inclined planes that once stood around here - and a lot more besides! Canal historians like to call this area Brierly Hill though this name is not used by locals today - the area is known only as The Old Wynd (pronounced as in "long and winding road").

It is thought that the name "Old Wynd" refers to the winding gear on the old inclined planes though I am told the word 'wynd' is fairly common in this part of Shropshire and simply means "inclined plane". It is certainly not a new name however because even on OS maps dating back to the working days of the canal, the area is labelled "Old Wind" (sic).

Ronald Russell said Brierly Hill Inclined Plane could still be seen in 1971, he said it was on a hillside to the west of the B4375. This is Cherry Tree Hill, now the unclassified road running north east out of Coalbrookdale to the A4169. In 1971 the incline was said to be overgrown and parts had collapsed. Having seen the site myself I would be very surprised if Russell actually saw the incline himself as the whole site is far from obvious. In fact, the man who now lives at Old Wynd House, Charles Boyce, has spent the past couple of decades piecing together the jigsaw puzzle that is Brierly Hill - and it is a puzzle which still has many missing pieces!

For starters, there was more than one incline here and they were both different from all other East Shropshire canal inclines in that they never carried boats. The canal ended at the top of the hill and goods were transhipped into wagons which were then lowered down the incline and taken to Coalbrookdale via a tramway.

When I visited the Old Wynd in summer 2002, Mr. Boyce kindly took me on a tour of the site in an attempt to help me describe the site - and what an adventure it turned out to be!

First of all we began at the end of his drive, facing south into the dense wood which drops down hill in the general direction of Coalbrookdale. Here, at the end of the drive, on the edge of the hill, Mr. Boyce has discovered 4 docks (or bays) where boats would have pulled in so that goods could be transferred before (or after) being carried on the incline. Finding these docks was something more akin to archaeology rather than canal exploration because the remains of the docks are partly buried under soil and vegetation.

It is though that these docks were in use before the incline was ever built and were actually part of an earlier shaft and tunnel system similar to that at Coalport where the Tar Tunnel is situated (see above). All traces of these shafts were thought to be lost but Mr. Boyce has found evidence of one of them alongside the site of the docks - and he also has a theory as to where the tunnel below the shafts used to emerge - though this cannot be proved at present because it is blocked up and is on private land. The shaft and tunnel system may or may not have been in use at the same time as one of the inclines at Brierly Hill.

It is thought that one of the inclines (most likely the first one) headed south east down the hill, its possible line can be followed alongside a footpath that begins beside Mr Boyce's storage sheds.

It would appear that the other incline (most likely the second) ran directly south from the fore mentioned docks but it did not start immediately where the canal ended. Down in the wood to the south, the slope is gradual at first but then, about 50 yards or so to the south, it suddenly becomes much steeper and drops away very quickly towards the bottom of the hill. This probably means that there was some sort of tramway (probably horse-drawn) on the gradual part of the slope, linking the canal docks to the top of the much steeper incline further down the hill.

At the top of the incline, close to the site of the docks, there are two original canal buildings which were once used as offices and stables. Ronald Russell wrote that they were built to a design by Thomas Telford but this seems unlikely - and they certainly don't look like typical Telford canal buildings. One of these buildings is a private residence called Old Wynd House while the other can now be hired as a holiday cottage. The cottage is ideally placed for any would-be holiday maker with an interest in canal history or (maybe more so) in industrial history in general. The magnificent Ironbridge Gorge and the many museums and visitor attractions around Coalbrookdale, Buildwas Abbey, the National Trust's Attingham Park, Wroxeter Roman City and Shrewsbury are all just a short drive away. For details about Old Wynd Holiday Cottage and how it can be hired click here.

During the 1990's the ever inquisitive Mr. Boyce was puzzled by an old well which stands in his garden. He decided to investigate and - with the help of the Shropshire Caving & Mining Club (!) - he discovered that the well was actually a tunnel running beneath his garden! At first it was thought this tunnel must be part of the shaft and tunnel system - though its depth, position and alignment was not where it should have been if this was the case. Closer investigation of the bricks and a better knowledge of the site now leads Mr. Boyce to believe the tunnel was some kind of underpass, travelling beneath the canal, the docks and the gradually sloping part of the incline to emerge close to the point where the steeper slope (the main incline) began.

During my visit and guided tour of the site, Mr. Boyce opened up a hatch in his garden, then grabbed a ladder, placed it into the dark hole beneath the hatch and said "after you"!! Down below I was amazed to see the tunnel in what appears to be very good condition. It is brick lined, about 6 to 7 feet wide and about 6 to 7 feet high. It is blocked off at both ends so the only access at present is via the hatch in the garden. It holds a fair amount of clear water although it was never actually a canal tunnel. It is thought it probably contained rails and was used as a tramway

Down at the bottom of Brierly Hill there is no evidence that the tunnel used in the shaft & tunnel system was ever used by boats though it definitely did have tramway running into it. The line of the former tramway can be seen all the way from the bottom of Brierly Hill down to the river at Dale End (close the Ironbridge Gorge Visitor Centre). Some books say the tramway was built on a former stretch of canal but no one seems to be able to confirm this.

The whole area around Coalbrookdale, Ironbridge and Coalport (generally termed as Ironbridge Gorge) is a World Heritage Centre. This small area of middle England is (as I see it) the birth place of the modern world as we know it. It was here that the Industrial Revolution began and the Shropshire Canal played a major part in its development. Many of the old industrial buildings in the area are now preserved and open to the public as museums. These depict how the area developed though they also have many exhibits from elsewhere in the country and from around the world. For details of the many museums see the official web site at

The excellent Oakengates website at has information and history on the canals within that part of Telford.

For more details about the holiday cottage at The Old Wynd see

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