Aldersley Junction
The racecourse extends to the end of the BCN at Aldersley Junction, where it joins the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal. The BCN has fallen 133 feet in the last 1.8 miles from Broad Street Basin, through a flight of 21 locks. There were originally 20 locks, but the last lock at the junction was originally very deep and took a long time to fill. The problem was overcome by the addition of lock 20.

At the end of lock 21, on the side of the racecourse, is the base of the old toll office, and the lock keeper’s cottage, originally occupied by John Brown, a carpenter who had previously worked on the construction of the canal.

At the junction was a small isolated settlement, consisting of several buildings, including stables, and a wharf. The largest building, a 4 storey lodging house, had stables on the ground floor, and offered overnight accommodation for canal boatmen and their families.

The four storey lodging house by the roving bridge at Aldersley.

Horses entered the stables on the ground floor via the small arch in the bridge.

In the background is the toll house, and lock keeper's cottage.

Based on a drawing by the late Ron Eason.

What remains of the lodging house. The lower part of the front wall now supports an area of parkland above.

In the corner, by the bridge, is what appears to be the remains of several small coal-fired ovens.

The roving bridge from the other side.


It is now hard to imagine the busy canal in its heyday, when large numbers of working boats travelled along its length, carrying everything from coal, limestone, or clay, to domestic items, furniture, and food. Today’s tranquil scene couldn’t be more different.

When walking along the canal in the mid 1970s I met an ex-canal boatman near Aldersley Junction. He began to reminisce about the old days, and remembered what it was like in the 1930s and 1940s when a large number of boats would join the queue to go up the 21 locks from Aldersley. The boats often filled the canal from one side to the other, during an overnight stay, making it possible to walk across the canal, stepping from one boat to another. He remembered occasionally having to wait two or three days to go up the locks, because of the vast amount of traffic, travelling in both directions.

In its heyday the canal was the equivalent of our motorways, and much of the area’s industry relied on it. The Black Country grew, and developed, as the world's largest, successful, and prosperous, industrial area thanks to the canals. Similarly towns rapidly grew because all kinds of essential goods could easily be transported for the first time. The canal was an essential part of the commercial life of local towns, and many wharves were built to allow the loading and unloading of almost every kind of product.

Things did change with the coming of the railways, but not to the extent that is sometimes imagined. The BCN became an ally of the London and North Western Railway, and from 1846 the canal was leased to the railway, but remained under the control of its own management. The greatest initial impact was the loss of passenger traffic to the railways, it took some time for goods traffic to be greatly affected.

Things changed quickly with the development of modern roads, and road transport. From the mid 1930s increasingly large numbers of goods were transported by road, and many of the canal haulage companies either converted to road transport, or went out of business. Similarly the old boating families had to find other work because of the dominance of road haulage.

After a brief renaissance during the Second World War, the canals rapidly declined, until the beginning of today’s leisure industry, when they became a very different, and  useful amenity. In the intervening years many canals closed and have since disappeared, and many have been re-opened and made navigable thanks to groups of enthusiasts.

I hope this journey along the BCN has recaptured a little of the atmosphere of the old canal. It was a vast service industry that greatly benefited the local area, and much of the country, helping to make it the prosperous place that it became. It is now referred to as 'the workshop of the world', and it all began thanks to the canals.

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