Photo: The Lichfield Canal at Huddlesford Junction by Roger Kidd
(7 miles and 7 miles. Canals in various public and private sector ownership)
Usually referred to together, the Lichfield Canal and the Hatherton Canal are actually two separate waterways, but restoration of both of them is being promoted by the Lichfield & Hatherton Canals Restoration Trust. A major aim of both projects is to provide additional access to the presently underused northern parts of the Birmingham Canal Navigations (BCN).
The Lichfield Canal consists of the Ogley to Huddlesford length of the Wyrley and Essington Canal, descending through 30 locks in 7 miles from the Wolverhampton level of the Birmingham Canal to the Coventry Canal, and abandoned in 1954. The Hatherton Canal is the Hatherton Branch of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, abandoned in 1955, plus a new section of canal to replace the former Churchbridge Locks connection to the Cannock Extension Canal that was lost to coal mining.
Both canal restorations have many obstacles to overcome, particularly road crossings, and the threat posed by the building of the M6 Toll Motorway was an early challenge for the Trust. The Public Inquiry helped change Government policy on road crossings of waterway restoration schemes, but left the Trust to fund the construction of two enlarged culverts at Churchbridge on the Hatherton Canal and an aqueduct on the Lichfield Canal near Muckley Corner. After a high profile appeal fronted by David Suchet, this was achieved in 2003 by generous public and charitable donations and with assistance from British Waterways. Using this as match funding, a European grant then enabled construction of a replacement road bridge at Cappers Lane near Lichfield in 2006, and in the same year The Manifold Trust funded purchase of a former lock cottage at Ogley Junction.
A further threat to the Lichfield Canal from construction of the Lichfield Southern Bypass was partly overcome by installation of a buried culvert under the Birmingham Road roundabout in 2007, again at the Trust’s expense, although accommodation of the canal alongside the future continuation of the road will require further major expenditure. Over £2 million has had to be invested in these major road crossings to preserve continuity of the routes, which for some time inhibited the pace of actual restoration work.
For many years the Trust also faced a threat from HS2, the government’s planned High Speed Railway, which after a change of route around Lichfield will cross the canal at Cappers Lane demolishing the new canal bridge. But with the assistance of IWA and CRT an Assurance was obtained that HS2 would construct a canal diversion and a new bridge at their expense, and at the same time the Lichfield Cruising Club slipway and some of their moorings will be relocated into a new offline basin.
The Trust has held regular work parties over many years on both canals, with assistance from the Waterway Recovery Group. Early work on the Hatherton Canal reinstated the towpath, replaced hedges, repaired accommodation bridges and constructed a new access ramp; but is now mostly engaged on maintenance.
The Lichfield Canal has seen work over many years on several sites, including restoration of a lock at Fosseway Lane, and a partly built diversion channel, a lift bridge and an inverted siphon stream culvert at Darnford Lane. The main voluntary work effort has been at Tamworth Road in Lichfield where 2 partly demolished locks have been rebuilt, wash walls reconstructed, a section of a land drain pipeline removed, a slipway built, and a pound relined and rewatered. In the adjacent Darnford Park, between two future road crossings, the site for 2 new locks has been excavated and extensive landscaping carried out.
A grant in 2015 enabled the Trust to purchase a 1 km section of canal at Summerhill, clear 60 years of undergrowth, construct a new culvert and canal channel over the Crane Brook to replace the one demolished when the motorway was built, and to relay hedges and resurface the towpath between the Boat Inn and the aqueduct.
In 2017 work started at Fosseway Heath to reinstate a missing section of towpath, modify the canal channel and create a nature area. By 2019 a large new turning basin had been mostly completed, and at Fosseway Lock 18 the channel was re-excavated back to the road and the towpath wall rebuilt.
Work has also resumed at Darnford Lane, and in 2018 some 11 pre-cast concrete culvert sections, purchased with a European grant 12 years earlier, were relocated there to be used to replace the road bridge. There are now 5 currently active restoration sites along the Lichfield Canal and the Trust hosts WRG Canal Camps and weekends, and frequent visits from Corporate volunteer groups, to supplement its own regular volunteers.
In 2017 the Trust launched its ‘Tunnel Vision Appeal’ for £1m by 2019 to construct a tunnel under the railway in Lichfield, concurrently with a new road tunnel, to take advantage of the railway closure at that time. The Trust are also in active negotiation with housing and commercial site developers on either side of the railway to secure the canal route through their sites and to make the necessary infrastructure provisions.
Both canals now have professionally produced Feasibility Studies to guide the restorations, and several sections of land have been acquired with others under negotiation, to add to the available CRT and council owned land. Both the Lichfield Canal and the Hatherton Canal restorations are long-term projects but the Trust has proved able to rise to major funding challenges and, with increasing support from the local authorities to protect the routes, the often asked question of when will they be restored should eventually be answered.
For more information see the Lichfield & Hatherton Canals Restoration Trust website: www.lhcrt.org.uk