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Three short walks in the Telford area

Three short walks, each leading to a rare feature of canal engineering.  They can be linked by car or bicycle — from Longdon-on-Tern to Hugh’s Bridge is about 10 miles.

Walk

Branch
IWA Shrewsbury District & North Wales Branch
Location

Longdon-on-Tern

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The canals

The history of the canals in the Telford area is particularly complex.  The first canal was the private Donnington Wood Canal built by Earl Gower (later created Marquis of Stafford) in 1768 from Donnington Wood to Pave Lane, two miles south-east of Newport, with a branch to the limestone quarries at Lilleshall.  This was a private canal, designed for tub-boats (small boats, 20 feet long and 6 feet wide).  Next were two short private canals built by William Reynolds: the Ketley Canal and the Wombridge Canal.  The Shropshire Canal, a public canal, ran from where the Donnington Wood Canal and Wombridge Canal met, past the end of the Ketley Canal to Aqueduct, from where the main line continued to Coalport and a branch went to near Lightmoor.  The final tub-boat canal was the Shrewsbury Canal which went from the Wombridge Canal (part of which it bought) to the county town, opening in 1796.  In total, these tub-boat canals had six inclined planes, the one at Blists Hill being the best-known now.

The Newport Branch of the Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal opened from Norbury Junction to Wappenshall Junction in 1835.  There it met the Shrewsbury Canal, which had rebuilt the two locks between Wappenshall and Shrewsbury to take conventional narrow-boats 7 feet wide.

Longdon-on-Tern Aqueduct

Distance: About a quarter of a mile each way, through grassland.

Parking: By the footpath gate about 600 yards east of Longdon-on-Tern on the B5063.  [SJ619154]

Walk along the footpath to the ridge which shows the former line of the canal, then follow the line west across the field to the aqueduct. [SJ617156]   (If you leave the footpath you are on the private land of Longdon Hall.)

Josiah Clowes, who was appointed the Shrewsbury Canal’s engineer at the end of 1793, designed a masonry viaduct to take the Shrewsbury Canal across the river Tern here.  At the very end of December 1794 Clowes died; then in early in February 1795 the worst floods ever recorded in Shropshire brought down the recently completed spans.  Thomas Telford was immediately appointed engineer and the following month the decision was made to rebuild the aqueduct in iron — the first major iron aqueduct in the world. 

The concept and detailed design were probably attributable to William Reynolds, the Ketley ironfounder and a major shareholder, who contracted to build it for not more than £2,000.  Telford, as the adviser to the canal company, bore the ultimate responsibility of course.  It is sometimes said that it was a ‘trial run’ for the more famous Pontcysyllte Aqueduct but the designs have little in common and, in any case, the two projects were in progress at the same time.

The aqueduct was completed within twelve months.  The trough is 62 feet long and 9 feet wide, with the towpath alongside at base level.  The canal was designed for tub-boats but fortunately the aqueduct was able to take standard narrowboats though their draught was restricted to 2 feet 9 inches.

Hadley Park Lock

Distance: About 200 yards each way, on a well-surfaced footpath.

Parking: At the Hadley Park roundabout on the A442, take Hadley Park Road and almost immediately go left into Okehampton Road. Park in the lay-by on the left [SJ669133].  (Cyclists can continue along the footpath.)

Walk east along the footpath to the lock.  [SJ672134]

This lock is unusual for three reasons: it is only 6ft 4in wide compared with the standard width of just over 7ft; it is 81ft long instead of 72ft; and, most obvious of all, it has guillotine gates instead of mitre gates.  It was built to take four tub-boats, rather than conventional narrowboats.  What is unclear is why guillotine gates were used instead of normal mitre gates.  Telford, writing in about 1797, says the locks could pass one, three or four boats, but there is now no hint of an intermediate gate in this lock chamber.  Originally the counterweight hung down over the canal; this was later altered so that weight descended in a pit alongside the lock gate.  About 200 yards southeast of this lock is Turnip Lock, which survives in the original condition.  The unusual design is almost certainly attributable to William Reynolds, the contract for this section of the Shrewsbury Canal having been let some six months before Clowes was appointed.

Hugh’s Bridge Incline

Distance: About a quarter of a mile each way, partly through grassland.  [SJ739149 to SJ739152]

Parking: From Lilleshall village take Old Farm Lane (a back route to Lilleshall Hall), go down the hill then up the other side.  Where a track crosses, park at the edge of the road, causing as least obstruction as possible. [SJ739149]

Walk along the track leading east for a hundred yards to where a public footpath goes off left.

Hugh’s Bridge is one of the few surviving structures on the Donnington Wood Canal.  A hundred yards along the track is a stone shed which looks as if it related to the canal. 

A little further on, down the hill to the left, can be seen the terminal basin of the branch canal which led to the limestone quarries at Lilleshall (with a further branch to Pitchcroft).  This canal is 43ft 9in lower than the main line.  At first, loads were transferred between the two canals by being raised or lowered in containers; the lower canal went into a tunnel (the top of the entrance can still be seen) which had two vertical shafts.  By 1797 this had been superseded by a 123 yard long inclined plane, the remains of which can be clearly seen.  The inclined plane had two tracks, the ascending tub-boat, which was on a wheeled carriage, being partly balanced by a descending boat on its carriage, to which it was linked by a chain or rope over a pulley at the top.  Steam power was used to help pull the load up.  At the top of the incline the ascending on rails) had to pass over the lip and make a short descent into the main canal.  The incline was last used about 1879.

The bottom of the incline may be reached by the footpath across the field.  It is evident how the original line of the canal led straight into the tunnel, and the incline was built in line with a new arm.  The basin was re-watered in the first decade of the 21st century.

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