Canal crossings: Six Places Where One Canal has Been Built Over Another
The waterway locations of Smethwick, Kidsgrove, Tividale, Spon Lane, Hazelhurst and Barton have one thing in common.
They are all places where one navigable waterway crosses over another. In fact, those six locations are the only places where this occurs on the main connected inland waterway network of Britain (all of them happen to be in England), and the current structures all date from the 19th Century. All of them have Listed status.
Three of these special aqueducts are on the Birmingham Canal Navigations within about 4 miles of each other:
- Steward Aqueduct - Old Main Line crossing the New Main Line just before the top of Spon Lane Locks
- Telford Aqueduct - Engine Arm crossing over the New Main Line (near Smethwick).
- Tividale Aqueduct - Old Main Line crossing the Netherton Tunnel Branch
The next two are also geographically quite close to each other, and were both built by the Trent & Mersey Canal Company:
- Hazelhurst Aqueduct - Leek Arm crossing over the main line of the Caldon Canal
- Poole Aqueduct - Hall Green Branch of the Trent & Mersey Canal crossing over the main line of the Trent & Mersey Canal
And finally, the biggest and most well known…
- Barton Swing Aqueduct - Bridgewater Canal crossing the Manchester Ship Canal
Here are some more details about them, in the order in which they were built:
1825 - Telford Aqueduct
The Engine Branch was built in 1789 to improve the water supply to the summit level of the Birmingham Canal (now known as the Old Main Line) originally from a pumping engine which gave the branch its name. The cast iron aqueduct was built in 1825 by Horseley Ironworks in nearby Tipton, when Thomas Telford’s New Main Line was constructed through a cutting in this area. At this time the Engine Branch was extended to carry water from the new Edgbaston Reservoir, also built by Telford as part of his scheme.
The aqueduct is Grade II Listed and also a Scheduled Ancient Monument. The aqueduct consists of a 52 ft cast iron trough supported by a stone arch, and carries the Engine Arm (which is on the Wolverhampton Level, 473 ft above sea level) over the New Main Line (otherwise known as the Birmingham Level, 453 ft above sea level).
Photo-left: Engine Arm Aqueduct photo by Alison Smedley. Photo-right: Engine Arm aqueduct by Angela Acott
1828 - Steward Aqueduct
Also known as Stewart or Stewards Aqueduct, this Grade II Listed aqueduct was built in 1828 by Thomas Telford, to carry the old line of James Brindley’s earlier Birmingham Canal over his New Main Line, at Spon Lane, Smethwick. It later (in 1852) had a railway bridge built adjacent to it, the railway line running parallel to, but much higher up than, the New Main Line, and later on, in about 1970, it had the M5 built over the top, at a higher level still. The aqueduct is made of brick with sandstone dressings.
Photo-left: Steward Aqueduct - looking down on the New Main Line. Photo-right: Steward Aqueduct taking the Old Main Line over the New Main Line, railway on the left going over Old Main Line and M5 going over the top of all. Both photos by Alison Smedley.
1828 - Poole Aqueduct
These days most people think of this aqueduct as being the place where the Macclesfield Canal passes over the Trent & Mersey Canal, but in fact it is the Hall Green Branch of the Trent & Mersey Canal crossing the main line of that canal. The branch canal crosses the main line by means of the brick built aqueduct immediately downstream of Poole Lock, just the second lock down from the summit and the junction of the two canals.
The Trent & Mersey Canal Company’s Act of 1827 authorised them to build the first 1½ miles of the Macclesfield Canal’s line, and to charge tolls on cargo carried on it. The aqueduct was built in 1828 of red brick with a stone parapet, and is Grade II Listed. The Hall Green Branch, including Poole Aqueduct, was opened in 1831, at the same time as the Macclesfield Canal itself.
Photo-left: Poole Aqueduct, Macclesfield Canal crosses over Trent & Mersey Canal by Derek Pratt. Photo-right: Poole Lock and Aqueduct, Trent & Mersey Canal by Alison Smedley.
1841 - Hazelhurst Aqueduct
This aqueduct was part of the third arrangement of canals in the area around Hazelhurst and Hollinhurst on the Caldon Canal. When the canal was first built in 1778 the summit level was less than 2 miles long, but was extended when the Leek Arm was added (to supply water from Rudyard Reservoir) in 1801, with a new staircase of 3 locks being built at Hazelhurst. The Leek Arm crossed the valley on a huge earth and stone embankment and joined the main line at a junction immediately above the staircase. 40 years later in 1841, when the staircase (which had caused a bottleneck for traffic) was replaced by Hazelhurst New Locks (3 separate locks actually at Hollinhurst, half a mile away), the original line of the canal was reinstated, and the embankment pierced with a new aqueduct, taking the Leek Arm over the main line of the canal. The aqueduct is Grade II Listed and consists of a single arch in painted brickwork with stone dressings.
Photo-left: Leek Arm going over the top of Hazelhurst Aqueduct. Photo-right: Hazelhurst Aqueduct. Both photos by Alison Smedley.
1890s - Tividale Aqueduct
The Netherton Tunnel Branch (and Netherton Tunnel itself) were built in 1858 to improve communications between the Dudley and the Birmingham canals. The original aqueduct on this site carried the original Birmingham Canal over the new branch canal, just a few hundred yards before the newer canal heads underground through Netherton Hill. The aqueduct was rebuilt in the 1890s and the current structure is made of brick with sandstone keystones. It has two arches either side of a toll island, used for gauging boat traffic, and is Grade II Listed. An interesting feature of this aqueduct is that water was run through pipes in the aqueduct from the higher canal through a turbine which drove a dynamo for the electric lighting in Netherton Tunnel. The pipes can still be seen on the south side of the aqueduct.
Photo-left: Tividale Aqueduct looking towards Netherton Tunnel by Alison Smedley. Photo-right: Tividale Aqueduct seen from the north end of Netherton tunnel, Birmingham Canal Navigations by John Gagg.
1893 - Barton Swing Aqueduct
Carrying the Leigh Branch of the Bridgewater Canal over the Manchester Ship Canal, this is often referred to as one of the wonders of the waterways. It was designed by Sir Edward Leader Williams and completed in 1893, and was officially opened for commercial traffic on New Year’s Day 1894.
It consists of a 235ft long trough weighing 1450 tons that swings through 90 degrees on a central island to allow unrestricted navigable headroom along the Manchester Ship Canal. The water in the higher canal is sealed off with gates at either end, and the aqueduct is swung using hydraulic power. It dates from the building of the Manchester Ship Canal, and replaced an earlier aqueduct by James Brindley, built in 1761, which had been the first canal aqueduct in Britain. This original Barton Aqueduct carried the Bridgewater Canal over the Mersey & Irwell Navigation, and so in itself was another, and indeed the first, crossing point of one navigable waterway over another. The swing aqueduct is Grade II Listed.
Photo-left: Barton Swing Aqueduct carrying the Bridgewater Canal over the Manchester Ship Canal by John Gagg. Photo-right: Barton Swing road bridge and Swing Aqueduct.