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TYRLEY/MARKET DRAYTON WALK
Length: About 1½ miles each way.
Surface: Reasonable, but sometimes muddy in the cutting.
Parking: At Tyrley please do not park in the area reserved for long-term moorers. At Market Drayton the easiest place to park is in Waterside Drive, which is just over the Betton Road bridge.
Refreshments: The Four Alls is about half a mile from Tyrley Wharf; the Talbot is close to Market Drayton Wharf
Please note: This is not a guided walk so no date is stated. Peter Brown (pictured below) has provided these notes so that you can download them and enjoy the walk whenever you wish.
Brief history of the canal
Market Drayton’s canal, now part of the ‘Shropshire Union Main Line’ was the country’s last trunk canal. It was built by the Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal Company (B&LJC), the title showing that it was for long-distance traffic rather than local. Engineered by Thomas Telford, it was completed in 1835, a year after Telford’s death and just two years before the railway from Liverpool and Manchester to Birmingham was opened a few miles to the east.
Tyrley is at the end of a pound seventeen miles long. The line of the canal was well-chosen, falling all the way from Autherley Junction (on the edge of Wolverhampton) despite crossing two water sheds: Trent–Severn and Severn–Weaver. The water supply originally proved inadequate — Knighton Reservoir leaked and Belvide Reservoir was too small — but now there is no problem, the water coming from Wolverhampton Sewage Works.
To the south is Woodseaves Cutting, the longest cutting on any canal in Britain. The sides are steeper than was specified in the contract, and over the years there have been many slips. It is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest for its geological interest, the citation stating:
"This is the best available site in the area for the Keele Formation, which is probably Late Carboniferous in age. The site shows a major river-channel sandstone, together with overbank or crevasse-splay sandstones, associated with flood plain deposits. It is the best site for showing details of channel form and for interpreting their mode of formation. The site is of considerable importance for helping to interpret the Late Carboniferous and Early Permian geological history of Britain, and for demonstrating characteristics of river sediments of that era."
The wharf buildings were erected by the Twemlow family of Peatswood Hall shortly after the canal was opened. The canal company refused to allow the wharf to be built below the lock because this would have meant that too much water would have been drawn from the long pound. Within ten years of its construction, Thomas Twemlow complained that the winding hole was silting up, but the canal company was unsympathetic, saying that if he wanted it dredged, he would have to pay for it.
From 1911 the wharf was used for loading milk churns to be taken from the Peatswood Estate to Cadbury’s factory at Knighton. Other farms loaded churns into the boats there or in the lock.
From 1843 until about 1847 the B&LJC experimented with steam haulage between Tyrley and Autherley Junction (and, towards the end of this period, on the Wirral Line) but the cost and the practical problems of assembling boats into trains meant that they reverted to horses. Steam haulage was tried again in the 1880s but powered boats were not to become common on this canal until the 1930s.
The canal company had stables above Tyrley Locks on the towpath side for the horses that hauled the boats.
The Tyrley flight
The flight of five locks lowers the canal by 33 feet (10.06m). The locks all have the same depth so as to conserve water and (in theory) make gates interchangeable. Late canals tended to have their locks grouped in flights; on earlier canals they tended to be more scattered.
The locks were built of stone cut from Woodseaves Cutting. If you look carefully, you can see evidence that the design of the top gates have been changed. Telford’s original design had two gates. In the 1840s, these were replaced by the current design, with only one gate. If you look on the far side, you can see that the stonework has a recess just long enough for the old smaller gate, with a curved end for the ‘heel post’ of the gate.
Whereas most of British Waterways' locks are painted in black & white, the locks on this canal are painted in grey & white. This has been so since at least 1920.
The ugly concrete boxes hold stop planks which are used to shut off parts of the canal for maintenance.
The lock cottage is typical of Telford’s designs and is similar to the toll houses he designed for the Holyhead Road some twenty years earlier. (One has been rebuilt in Blists Hill Open Air Museum.) This is the only lock cottage which has survived relatively unchanged.
A lockless private canal nearly ¾ mile long had been built about 1791 from a marl pit just east of Tyrley Wharf, crossing the line of the later canal at about Lock 3 (the third one down) and finishing nearly ¼ mile north of lock 5, the aims being to transport marl and irrigate the grassland. In evening sunshine the line can just be made out curving across the field.
Between the second and third lock down, on the other side of the canal to the towpath, are a couple of short posts made of cast iron with the letters ‘SUC’. These are boundary markers, showing the extent of the canal company’s property.
The mileposts were erected when the canal opened to a pattern used on the Trent & Mersey Canal. The punctuation is idiosyncratic.
Tyrley Castle Bridge (Bridge 61)
This bridge has the date ‘1829’ inscribed. This is the date it was built, though because of the problems constructing the massive Shelmore Embankment (between Norbury and Gnosall), the canal was not open for traffic until 1835. It is what is known as an ‘occupation bridge’, built to connect fields severed by the canal, and is typical of Telford’s designs: the stonework curves satisfyingly in every dimension.
In the 1870s a white rectangle was painted on the abutments. This was to help the steerers of 'fly boats' which travelled during the night as well as by day. Traces of similar painting can still be seen on other bridges on this canal.
Cast iron rubbing plates were put on all bridges a couple of years after the canal opened, in order to stop tow-ropes cutting into the stonework. When a rope is wet, it picks up grit, and this makes it very abrasive.
Tyrley Castle Bridge to Newcastle Road Bridge
The brick wharf was used for deliveries, particularly coal, to Peatswood Hall. It was formerly wooden and was rebuilt in 1904.
The canal now crosses the Coal Brook, Berrisford Road and the river Tern on a steep-sided embankment about 500 yards long and up to 50 feet high, though Twemlow had wanted Telford to construct an aqueduct here because it would have been less intrusive in the landscape. The embankment has been stable since it was built, unlike some others on this canal. Modern motor-powered boats create much more damaging wash than the old horse-drawn boats, so it has been thought prudent to put the canal here in a concrete trough.
Where the canal crosses Berrisford Road there is a flight of steps showing 170 years of wear. An overflow weir allows surplus water to run off into the river Tern.
The home of John Wilson (c1772–1831), the contractor who built this section of the canal, is now part of the Grove School. He had worked for Telford on the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, on the Holyhead Road in North Wales and on various of his works in Scotland. After he died his sons took over the contract. Because of the canal company’s financial problems, the Wilsons were still owed over £17,000 in 1846.
The B&LJC wanted to build offices and a maintenance depot with a dry dock on what are now the school’s playing fields but had insufficient money.
In the Second World War, certain canals formed ‘stop lines’ across Britain but this canal was not part of one. Pill boxes were built in strategic locations; there is one just by the bridge under the former turnpike road to Newcastle.
Market Drayton Wharf
Sometimes known as the ‘Old Wharf’, the main wharf at Market Drayton was the only one developed by the B&LJC, all other wharfs being private ones.
It was divided into two from the very start, and is still so divided. In Pigot’s Directory of 1844, Hazledine & Co, coal merchants, were shown as occupying one part, with William Tomkinson, the canal company’s wharfinger, occupying the other. The detailed entry for the latter is particularly interesting:
"To all parts of the Kingdom, Crowley Hicklin & Co, Ellesmere & Chester Canal Co, Pickford & Co, Shiptons & Co, Thomas Sturland, and Tunley & Co.
"To Chester, Ellesmere Port, Birmingham and all intermediate places, the Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal Company’s steam boats, three times a day, for the conveyance of passengers."
Crowley Hicklin (based at Wolverhampton), Pickford (Manchester) and Shiptons (Wolverhampton) were national carriers; Sturland (Birmingham) and Tunley (Burton-on-Trent) regional. The Ellesmere & Chester Canal had in 1842 obtained private act powers to operate as a carrier, though it had actually been doing so under the name of Tilston, Smith & Co since 1836. The reference to steam boats intrigues: the company’s minutes make no mention of the steam boats being used as anything other than tugs. In my view this entry merely expressed the wharfinger’s opinion of what was likely to happen, and is not firm evidence that passengers were ever carried.
A couple of the small buildings by the road are shown on a plan drawn in 1845, as is the rectangular basin. The wharfinger’s house was built in about the 1880s, and the long waterside sheds in about 1905, replacing earlier buildings. The sheds now occupied by North Shropshire Trailers were erected by British Waterways in about 1950 for the manufacture of concrete products, such as the containers for the stop planks which were seen earlier in the walk. ‘Holidays Afloat’ has been serving boaters since the mid-1950s.
Behind the boatyard is the Talbot Inn, built about 1840 to cater for thirsty boatmen.
Betton Mill was originally built as a warehouse in about 1905 by James Henry Jones, a corn merchant. He is not recorded as a miller until the mid-1910s. At the far end of the building there is evidence of a lean-to addition to the structure, which probably would have housed a small diesel engine. It was sympathetically converted into offices, a café and apartments in 2000/01. Regrettably, the café is now an office.
North of Betton Road Bridge (63) were the headquarters premises of Ladyline, one of the country’s most successful canal firms in the 1960s and 1970s. Here they had a hire base, moorings, boat showrooms and a large chandlery. Unfortunately they eventually went into liquidation, possibly as a result of having expanded too quickly in too many other locations. After considerable local controversy, their site was developed for housing. The moorings, which have survived and which will accommodate about fifty boats, are unusual in being with piers at an angle to the canal.
To the north
The land between the bypass and Maer Lane Bridge (65) is the favoured site for a much-needed marina.
Messrs Sandbrook and Ryley, described in the B&LJC’s minutes as ‘two spirited individuals of capital’ — they owned a horsehair-weaving factory in Market Drayton — in 1838 constructed a wharf and warehouse just north of the bridge in Maer Lane. Maps show it had a rectangular basin, similar to that at Market Drayton Wharf; this has now been filled in. The 1844 Directory shows them as coal merchants. The site is still a coal merchant’s — Orwells have been there since the 1920s — an example of how a trade or industry stays at a site, even though the economic reason for its location has long passed.
The canal’s effect on Market Drayton
Apart from coal and other bulk supplies becoming cheaper, the coming of the canal had little effect on the town’s economy. No industries — not even the gas works — were located canalside, and the town did not expand towards the canal.
Since the 1950s the leisure-boat industry has created some employment.
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Tyrley Wharf cottages above the locks
Woodseaves cutting looking southwards
Tyrley Lock 1
redundant second gate recess on opposite side of lock to single top gate
Peatswood Milk Wharf
Market Drayton - venue for the IWA AGM in September 2010
steep drop from the canal to the lane near the River Tern aqueduct south of Bridge 62
Talbot Wharf, near Bridge 62, base for Holidays Afloat for over 50 years
Betton Mill from south
Betton Mill from north
housing on the former Ladyline site
A53 bypass crosses the SU north of Market Drayton