Brief History of the Bradley Locks Canal Route


The Birmingham Canal Navigations (BCN) as they are today started with the authorisation and construction of
the Birmingham Canal Main Line, completed in 1772, between Birmingham and the Staffordshire and
Worcestershire Canal at Wolverhampton. The original Main Line from Birmingham was added to by the
construction of the Wyrley and Essington Canal in 1797, from Wolverhampton to the collieries on Cannock
chase via Walsall, and the Walsall Canal from the Birmingham Canal at Ryders Green (near West Bromwich) to
Walsall which was completed in 1800.


The Birmingham Canal Main Line was heavily modified in the 1830’s, resulting in two parallel lines for around 6
miles around Oldbury and Tipton, and a large loop being cut off that became known as the Wednesbury Oak
Loop, today this loop survives in part from the main line at Deepfields Junction to Bradley Lane.
When the BCN Company and the Wyrley and Essington Company merged in the 1830’s a number of
connections between them were made, most notably the flight of locks at Walsall connecting two canals that
were less than a mile apart but separated vertically by a rise of 64 feet. The Walsall Canal and the Birmingham
Main Line were already linked not only at Ryders Green, where the two met, but via the Tipton Green and Toll
End Communication canal. Further links between the Wolverhampton Level and the Walsall Canal were built at
Rushall and Bentley. The Bradley Locks route was thus one of six directly linking the two levels in the second
half of the 19 th century. Of these, only Ryders Green, Walsall Locks and Rushall Locks survive. The Toll Green
route and the Bentley route now lie under modern developments at least in part and are probably beyond
recovery as navigations.


Starting from Bradley Lane the Bradley Canal is initially a continuation of the Wednesbury Oak Loop of the
Birmingham Canal. This stretch was opened in 1770 as part of the Main Line, and was bypassed by the building
of the new route through Coseley Tunnel in the 1830’s. The Loop itself was shortened sometime prior to 1849
with a straight cut across the valley sometimes known as the Rotton Brunt Line. It was from this line that the
flight of locks known as Bradley Locks descended.


At the other end, the Walsall Canal had been completed as far as Moxley in the 1790’s, and in 1796 a branch
was built to Bradley Hall colliery. This created a situation whereby the Bradley Hall branch terminated less than
a mile from the then main line of the BCN, but the two were not connected. In 1849 a flight of six locks was
built to connect the two, completing the route. Thus, the route referred to as the Bradley Locks canal was built
in four separate stages in 1770, 1796, and the 1840’s.


The whole of the Birmingham Canal Navigations has a place in national, if not international, canal history as
surely the most dense network of industrial canals anywhere. They are also significant for being so high above
sea level; the entire system is over 400 feet above sea level. The reason for such early development of the
Birmingham Main Line was that Birmingham and the Black Country were not well located for navigable rivers.
The Locks themselves represent a particular stage in the technological development of English Canals in
general and The Birmingham Canal Navigations in particular. Both the Rotton Brunt Line and the new locks at
Bradley were built on dead straight alignments, ignoring any minor changes in the contour and taking the most
time-efficient route. The locks were amongst the last on the BCN to have a single gate at top and bottom, the
original Birmingham Canal Locks had double bottom gates as did the last the BCN Company built at Rushall and
Perry Barr. The lagoons alongside each lock were a device to maximise water capacity in the short intervening
pounds, and finally, the locks themselves are all at one side of the canal, not located midstream as earlier locks
were. It is thought that this feature, which is shared by the locks at Oldbury and Perry Barr, was to make
subsequent duplication straightforward. Thus, restoring the locks allows access to an understanding of a particular phase of canal development.