Wombridge Canal

Wombridge Canal History

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 an indirect link at the south of the network into the River Severn.

William Reynolds of Ketley was the main man behind the Wombridge Canal. His ironworks at Ketley was one of the biggest businesses in eastern Shropshire. He also played a large part in building and promoting the Ketley Canal, the Shropshire Canal and the Shrewsbury Canal.

The exact date of the opening of the Wombridge Canal is not certain though it is known that is was 1¾ miles long with no locks.

From Wombridge in Shropshire it ran generally east to Donnington Wood where it connected with Lord Gower's 20 year old Donnington Wood Canal. Although this gave Reynolds a direct route from Wombridge to the transhipment wharf at Pave Lane (south of Newport) the Wombridge Canal was actually built to carry coal and iron from mines around the Wombridge Priory area to industrial sites nearby.

The Shropshire Canal was completed, this joined the the Wombridge Canal and the Donnington Wood Canal at Donnington Wood. This gave Reynolds a complete canal route from the Wombridge mines to his iron works at Ketley. It also gave him a much needed connection with the River Severn, allowing access to the Midlands, Gloucester, Bristol and the sea.

However, within a few years the Wombridge mines were exhausted and the western end of the canal (near Wombridge Church) was abandonned.

Another waterway, the Shrewsbury Canal, connected with the Wombridge Canal at Trench.

Because the Shrewsbury Canal was on a level some 70 feet lower than the Wombridge Canal, an inclined plane was built between the two canals to carry tub-boats up and down the hillside at Trench. In the same year the Shrewsbury Canal Company bought up the whole of the Wombridge Canal. As William Reynolds was a big player in both waterways it can be assumed that this was always part of the overall plan. The new connection created a direct link between Shrewsbury and the industries around Wombridge, Ketley, Coalport and Coalbrookdale.

The eastern portion of the Wombridge Canal between, Trench Inclined Plane and Donnington Wood, in effect, became an extension of the Shrewsbury Canal and was well used as a through route. But the remaining part of the western section of the Wombridge Canal, from Trench into Wombridge, was used much less. Within 25 years this part of the canal became completely unused and Wombridge Iron Works was built on part of the canal bed.

The Shrewsbury Canal Company abandonned the unused western part of the Wombridge Canal though the "main line" between Trench and Donnington Wood remained in business for another hundred years until the Trench Incline was closed. For further information on the Trench Incline and the Shrewsbury Canal, see the Shrewsbury Canal page.

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Wombridge Canal Route

The Wombridge Canal ran north east for less than 2 miles, from Wombridge (which is now a suburb of Telford) to Donnington Wood where it met the western end of the Donnington Wood Canal and the northern end of the Shropshire Canal. There is absolutely nothing of the Wombridge Canal left but there are plenty of places you can visit where the canal used to run.

The western end of the canal was situated in Wombridge, on the north side of Oakengates. It began alongside the site of Wombridge Priory (SJ 69042 11551) on Wombridge Road (almost opposite Wombridge Church). The canal ran through an area which is now a housing estate, across streets such as Priory Road, Abbey Walls, The Cloisters and Bollingale Avenue. It then curved around the south and east side of a large pool (shown as Wombridge Pool on old maps) which was once the priory fishing pond and was probably used as a canal reservoir but is now a large open field to the south west of the A442, Queensway.

The actual canal can not be found here but its position can be traced a little further north where it passed under what is now the A442, Queensway. This road was once a railway line and there is now an underpass where once there was a railway bridge over the canal (SJ 69419 11605). However, the canal here was already disused even when the railway was being built. Immediately south of the underpass old maps appear to show a basin or short arm heading east to what is now Withington Close. This area cannot be reached from the A442 but can be approached via the field to the west of Withington Close or from the north side of the A442 via Laburnum Road. However, there is absolutely nothing of the canal to be seen here.

Laburnum Road follows the line of the canal very closely. I believe the canal actually ran along the back of Laburnum Road (west side) and there is a footpath along what was once the canal bed. This begins immediately after passing through the A442 underpass at the south end of Laburnum Road. The canal turned sharp left here and the footpath follows the back gardens of Laburnum Road, curving from north west to north exactly as the canal did.

At the junction of Wombridge Road and Hollyhurst Road (SJ 69267 11905) the canal crossed Wombridge Road although I have yet to see an old map that actually shows this. My earliest map (dated 1840) shows a gap in the canal at this point because the Wombridge Iron Works was built on the canal bed. Some people believe there was a canal tunnel in this area but, if there was, someone has removed the hill!!

All of the canal route I have described so far was closed down after just a few years in operation. Once the coal and iron mines in Wombridge had become exhausted there was little use for the canal. Beyond Wombridge Iron Works however, the canal remained in use for many years.

The Iron Works was situated on the west side of Wombridge Road, a gap between the houses, leading to a field, marks the spot. The canal probably also ran through this gap - long before the houses were here of course.

West of the Iron Works site the canal line is now lost beneath Wrockwardine Wood Way and the A442, Queensway - although "beneath" is not the right word. Both roads are actually much lower than the canal was, it ran somewhere up above on a part of the hillside which no longer exists.

The next place to pick up the canal line is at the top of Trench Inclined Plane on Capewell Road, Trench (SJ 69038 12168). Like all the rest, this area bears little resemblance to the way it looked when the canal was first built but the line has not been built on here so it is possible to use your imagination!

The flat grassy area at the top of Capewell Road and at the back of Juniper Drive is at the top of a hill above the site of Trench Inclined Plane. The site of the top of the incline is actually below the top of the hill at the point where a footpath now runs around the edge of the hill heading from south west to north east. This footpath is, more or less, the line of the Wombridge Canal. The slope going down to the north west is the site of the incline. It ran very close to the west side of Capewell Road, although the road did not exist when the incline was in use.

As you look north west, down the slope, you will see Capewell Road over to the right and the Blue Pig pub at the bottom of the hill. This was once the Shropshire Arms and it stands alongside the site of the bottom of the incline. For more information about Trench Incline see my Shrewsbury Canal page.

The Wombridge Canal ran across the top the incline, presumably through the basin. The canal came in from the south west and departed heading north east across what is now Capewell Road, it then crossed what is now Teagues Crescent and then between Teagues Crescent and Trenleigh Gardens and across Pool Road - but none of these streets were here in the canal's day.

Virtually the only road that can be seen today that was also present in the days of the canal is Wombridge Road. This crossed the canal at Teague's Bridge just north of Teagues Crescent. (Note: there are two entrances to Teagues Crescent from Wombridge Road - the above description refers to the southern entrance). Today there is a modern pub called The Bridge Inn on what was the south bank of the canal, on the west side of Teague's Bridge.

East of Teague's Bridge the canal headed easterly, meandering around the contours of the land as it went. This land is now a playing field and a sports complex, the canal ran across the field and right through the middle of what is now a running track!

On the north side of the playing field the line of the canal can be picked up where a footpath runs on the west side of a primary school. This path is, in fact, the former canal bed and as it bends from northbound to eastbound it passes a former corn mill which once stood on the west bank of the canal close to Chruch Road (SJ 69988 12498). This was once Bullock's Mill which has stood on this site since around 1811 (although a date in the stonework reads "1891"), By the 1990's it had long since been closed down and had become run down and close to falling down. Very recently it has been saved from ruin and converted into apartments.

The canal crossed Church Road though there is no sign of the actual canal or a bridge. On the far side of the road the canal line (now a public footpath) continues east to Wade Road, passing the pretty gardens of nearby houses.

Wade Road did not exist in the days of the working canal so there was no bridge here but I did spot a line of bricks buried in the footpath. Maybe they are canal related, but then again, maybe not? On the east side of Wade Road the canal's line can be followed along a street (more of a back street actually) called Canal Side! Once again there is no sign of the old canal here but at the east end of Canal Side it crossed under Furnace Lane.

The Wombridge Canal now turned sharp right to run south, parallel to the east side of Furnace Lane (behind the modern houses). Somewhere just behind these houses, on the north side of Smith Crescent (SJ 70316 12393) the Wombridge Canal came to an end at a canal junction. To the south the Shropshire Canal began by climbing steeply up the Wrockwardine Wood Inclined Plane. From the same junction the Donnington Wood Canal also began, heading north east towards Lilleshall.

For more details of this area, and of the Wrockwardine Wood Inclined Plane, see the Shropshire Canal and Donnington Wood Canal pages.

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