- Shropshire Union Canal
The canal lies in
Staffordshire, Shropshireand Cheshirein the north-west midlands of England. It links the canal system of the Midlands, centred on Birmingham, with the River Merseyand Manchester Ship Canalat Ellesmere Port, Cheshire.
The "SU main line" runs south east from Ellesmere Port on the River Mersey to the
Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canalat Autherley Junctionnear Wolverhampton. Other links are to the Llangollen Canal (at Hurleston Junction), the Middlewich Branch(at Barbridge Junction), which itself connects with the Trent and Mersey Canal, via the Wardle Canal, and the River Dee (in Chester). With two connections to the Trent and Mersey (via the Middlewich Branchand the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal) the SU is part of an important circular and rural holiday route called the Four Counties Ring.
The SU main line was the last trunk narrow canal route to be built in England. It was not completed until 1835 and was the last major
civil engineeringaccomplishment of Thomas Telford.
The name "Shropshire Union" comes from the amalgamation of the various component companies (
Ellesmere Canal, Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal, Montgomery Canal) that came together to form the Shropshire Union Railways and Canal Company. The main line between Nantwichand Autherley Junction was almost built as a railway although eventually it was decided to construct it as a waterway.
Ellesmere Porton the River Mersey, the SU crosses the Wirral peninsula to Chester. This stretch was built in 1805, as the Wirral Line of the Ellesmere Canal. It connected Chester(and the River Dee) to the River Merseyat Ellesmere Port. The Ellesmere Canal was to have continued west and south to Wrexham, and Trevor and then on to the River Severnat Shrewsbury. The line from Chester to Trevor was never built, and the section beyond Trevor was not completed in its planned form. However, some stretches of the Ellesmere were built: these now form the modern Llangollen Canaland Montgomery Canalboth of which are strictly speaking branches of the Shropshire Union Canal, although nowadays considered to be separate canals.
In Chester, from the top of the arm leading down to the Dee, the SU follows the old
Chester Canalbuilt in 1772 to connect Chester and Nantwich. The canal passes alongside the city walls of Chester in a deep, vertical red sandstone cutting. After Chester, there are only a few locks as the canal crosses the nearly flat Chester Plain, passes Beeston Castle, and the junctions at Barbridge and Hurleston and arrives at Nantwich basin, the original terminus of the Chester Canal.
The two junctions on this stretch are very important links in the English/Welsh connected network.
* At Barbridge, the
Middlewich Branchof the SU goes NE to Middlewichon the Trent and Mersey Canal (via the tiny Wardle Canal). This was the original planned main line of the Chester Canal, but was in fact built much later than the Nantwich stretch.
* At Hurleston, the old Ellesmere canal from Llangollen and Montgomery made a connection from
Frankton Junctioneastwards to the old Chester Canal after it was realised that the planned main line from Trevor to Chester along the Dee was never going to be built. This canal eventually merged with the Chester Canal and became the Llangollen Branch of the Shropshire Union. These waters are now known as the Llangollen Canaland (south from Frankton Junction, and still being restored) the Montgomery Canal.
Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal
The odd angle between Nantwich basin and the next stretch of the SU shows that the journey southwards is on a newer (and narrow) canal originally constructed as the narrow
Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canalto connect Nantwich, at the end of the Chester Canal, to the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canalat Autherley Junction, near Wolverhampton. An important lost link can be seen at Norbury Junction, where a branch ( 1841) ran south-west through Newport to connect with the Shrewsbury Canalat Wappenshall Junction.
After Nantwich basin, a long sweeping embankment incorporating an
aqueductcarries the canal across the main A534 Nantwich-Chester road. The canal then has to climb out of the Cheshire Plain by means of a flight of 15 locks at Audlem. The canal passes near Market Drayton. Further south there are substantial lengths of embankment through the Staffordshirevillage of Knighton. There is an aqueduct south of Norbury Junction and deep cuttings at Loyntonnear Woodseaves, and Grub Street, south of High Offley.
The lengthy embankments are equipped with flood gates at regular intervals to prevent loss of water should the canal be breached in this area. During World War II these locks were kept closed at night because of the risk of bomb damage.
Gnosall(pron. "Know-sull") the canal enters the 81 yard Cowley Tunnel. Originally the tunnel was planned to be 690 yards (631 m) long, but after the rocky first 81 yards, the ground was unstable, and the remaining length was opened out to form the present narrow and steep-sided Cowley cutting.
The canal then continues as the remarkable mile-long very tall Shelmore Embankment. Repeated soil slippage during construction meant that this was the last part of the B&L Junction Canal to be opened to traffic.
At Wheaton Aston, the canal climbs its last lock to reach the summit level, fed by the
Belvide Reservoirjust north of Brewood(pron. "Brood"). Near the reservoir, the canal passes by aqueductover Watling Street (the A5 road).
The SU terminates at
Autherley Junctionon the Staffs and Worcester Canal. Immediately before the junction is a very shallow stop lock built to prevent the loss of water to the new rival canal from the pre-existing Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal. Unusually, the B&L Junction canal's summit level was designed to be a few inches lower then the older canal, so the newer canal gains a small amount of water each time the lock is cycled (the reverse of the practice usually insisted on by canal companies as a condition for not opposing the construction of a newer one).
The link with the Staffs and Worcester provides a choice of onward journeys
* Northwards, the S&W meets the Trent and Mersey at
Great Haywood junction- allowing journeys east to the Leicester Branch of the Grand Union Canal (or the Trent) or north to the Potteries, Manchester, and the Pennines.
* Southwards, Aldersley Junction is only a mile away, connecting to the
BCN Main Lineof the Birmingham Canal Navigations(the maze of canals between Wolverhamptonand Birmingham) and onwards to the Grand Union Canalmain line and London.
* Beyond Aldersley, the S&W is a very popular holiday route down to the
River Severnat Stourport.
Formation of the "Shropshire Union" company
The Shropshire Union Railways and Canal Company was formed in 1846. The Ellesmere and Chester canals had amalgamated in 1813, and the absorption of the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal by the Ellesmere and Chester Company was authorised by an Act of Parliament passed in 1845. A further Act, passed in 1846, changed the name of the company to the Shropshire Union Railways and Canal Company [ [http://www3.shropshire-cc.gov.uk/roots/packages/tra/tra_u08.htm Shropshire Routes to Roots] ] and authorised the acquisition of the
Shrewsbury Canaland other canals in the east Shropshire network (linking modern-day Telfordwith the River Severnto the south at Coalport). Then (in 1847), the latter was taken over by the London and North Western RailwayCompany, which allowed the Shrewsbury Canal and the branch from Norbury Junction to decline.
In order to promote the interest in, use of, and restoration of parts of the Shropshire Union Canal, the
Shropshire Union Canal Societywas formed.
The canal in Chester is promoted by
Chester Canal Heritage Trust.
*Gordon Emery - "The Old Chester Canal" (2005) ISBN 1-872265-88-X
* [http://www.shropshireunion.org.uk Shropshire Union Canal Society]
* [http://www.bwpics.co.uk/gallery/oldcanal.html Old Photographs & Drawings of Chester & Liverpool, The Chester Canal Area part 1]
* [http://www.geograph.org.uk/search.php?i=3099011 www.geograph.co.uk : photos of The Shropshire Union Canal on Geograph.co.uk]
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