The section of canal now known as the Bradley Arm was opened in September 1772 and was part of the original main line into Birmingham. It was built primarily to give collieries in the area a waterway to carry coal, which had previously used horse and cart. The sharp left-hand turn into the Bradley section was always called Deepfields Turn by the boatmen.
It was built by James Brindley and later Thomas Telford extended the canal at Deepfields and a tunnel was dug under Roseville which carried on into Birmingham, this was known as the New Mainline Canal.
The Bradley Canal then became part of what is now called the Old Mainline Canal, it would have been very rural and wound its way through open countryside. It was later that industry started to emerge alongside the canal, one of the first being the iron works of ‘Iron Mad’ John Wilkinson, who built his blast furnace at Bradley and is believed to be the very first blast furnace in the world of this type, being coal fired and using air blast from bellows to smelt iron ore at higher temperatures. He also developed the first boring machine tool to accurately bore cannons and pistons for steam engines.
At Pothouse Bridge, an early boatyard was established by John Toole a boat builder and canal carrier, mostly carrying coal from local collieries and building wooden canal boats. Just past Pothouse Bridge was a left turn from the main canal. This was a loop that served collieries on what is now called the Royal Estate. The Bradley Bar Ironworks and the Gun Barrel Ironworks were also situated along this loop canal. It re-joined the main canal just before Tup Street Bridge, on what is now the Canal and River Trust Bradley Lane depot. The depot has a pump house that pumps water from a bore hole, to keep the canal topped up with water, as this is a summit level and you have to go down locks to leave this stretch of canal. The pump is electrically operated today but originally housed a Boulton and Watt beam engine to pump water. The canal terminates at this point but used to carry on to the top lock in a flight of nine known as Bradley Locks.
About five hundred yards before the top lock, was the Wednesbury Oak Loop Canal that served collieries and iron works at Batman’s Hill and re-joined the canal past the top lock on the section that went to Tipton where it joined the Ocker Hill branch canal. At Bradley top lock was a lock keepers’ cottage. The last lock keeper was Mr Element and his family. The cottage was demolished in the late 1950s between locks 6 and 7 where an arm went into Thompson Brothers works.
Adjacent to lock no 7 was another lock cottage. The last lock keeper was Frank Williams who lived there with his wife Mary and son Paul. This was also demolished in the late 1950s. By this time the locks had fallen into disuse and later were drained of water. The paddle gears were gradually removed by British Waterways and used elsewhere, although the gates remained in situ and some were still there when the canal was filled in in the mid-1960s. The ground was then landscaped, and a walkway constructed.
The last two locks; numbers eight and nine, are still visible and have had some remedial work done to them to prevent further decay. Although the canal is not in water, a culvert; which used to be a stream and ran into the lock flight above the pound of lock number seven; was piped and runs out under Great Bridge Road canal bridge.
The Bradley Canal Restoration Society hopes to raise enough funds to re-establish the flight of 9 locks from the Bradley Lane Depot up to Batman’s Hill and then left down to the Walsall Canal passing under the Great Bridge Road (see map).
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