The Black Country owes its rapid industrial growth to the complex network of canals that criss-cross the region. The canal network rapidly grew in the late 18th century and brought many benefits to the towns and cities that it served, throughout the country. The roads of the day were poor and badly maintained, and journey times were long and uncertain due to the vagaries of the roads and the weather. Heavy goods were difficult to transport and the cost of transportation was very high.

The local area had a vast mineral wealth with coal, limestone, and iron ore in abundance. The difficulties of transporting large quantities of raw materials, even to somewhere as close as Birmingham were astronomical. Birmingham badly needed a cheap and reliable source of coal and so the local canal system was conceived as a way of achieving this.

A winter's day at the Black Country Living Museum.

Very large sums of money were required to finance the building of canals, but luckily there were many local businessmen and traders with disposable income, who would willingly invest in such schemes in the hope on getting a large return on their investment.

The canal system certainly lived up to their expectations. Once the Birmingham Canal was in operation the cost of Black Country coal dramatically fell, as large quantities were mined and transported on the new canals.

Vast quantities of limestone were transported from the Dudley and Walsall areas and heavy industries such as iron and steel began to grow, using the canal network to bring-in their raw materials and deliver their finished goods. By 1851 there were no less than 13 coal merchants based on the canal in Wolverhampton alone, and large factories sprung-up on the canal sides. The large quantities of coal, raw materials, and finished goods that were transported on the canals at the time, made the canal companies very wealthy, greatly benefiting their share holders.
The population of many of the local towns rapidly grew thanks to the employment offered by the new factories, and the cost of some of the items for sale in the shops fell due to large–scale manufacturing and ease of transport. A greater variety of goods could be found in the shops thanks to the reliable transport on the canal network. The large-scale textile and garment manufacturers in Derbyshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire relied on the canals to transport their goods, which could quickly be delivered to the Midlands, reducing the cost of clothing, and increasing the variety that was available in the shops.
Another view of the canal at the Black Country Living Museum, Dudley.
The canal network was connected to sea ports so that manufacturers could easily export their products and many imported goods were readily available for the first time. The falling cost of coal reduced people’s heating bills and the large amount of raw materials and goods that were transported allowed traders in the local towns to easily provide the expanding population with all of their needs.

Although principally used to transport goods, canals were also used to transport people, until the arrival of the railways. Passenger boats originally took 4 hours to travel from Wolverhampton to Birmingham, although the travelling time was reduced to 3 hours when Telford’s new main line opened.

For many years canals were the vital arteries of the midlands and remained so until they were overtaken by modern forms of transport and better roads. It is now hard to imagine just what the canals were like in their heyday. Today they are tranquil places for relaxation and enjoyment, but two hundred years ago it was a very different story.

A map showing the area that will be covered in the description of the industries that grew-up alongside the canal.

The approximate location of some of the industries to be described:

1. Mars Iron Works
2. Bayliss Jones & Bayliss
3. Eagle Works
4. Commercial Road wharves and factories
5. Shrubbery Iron Works
6. Chillington Iron Works
7. Lower Walsall Street Works, Minerva Works etc. opposite.
8. Beaver Works
9. Osier Bed Iron Works
10. Crane Foundry, Horseley Chemical Works, T & C Clark etc.
11. Crown Galvanising Works, Ceres Manure Works.


Canals are a very personal thing for me and it is a pleasure to write about them. I grew-up in the Black Country and started to walk along the canals and explore them from the age of nine or ten. I have been doing so ever since, and will continue to do so as long as I can.

I was inspired to produce this section thanks to the research that was carried out in the 1970s by the late Ron Eason. He had a great interest in the local canals and the early factories that grew alongside them.

References for this section:

Black Country Canals, Paul Collins, Sutton Publishing, 2001.
A History of Wolverhampton, Chris Upton, Phillimore & Co. Ltd., 1998.
Guide to the Iron Trade of Great Britain, Samuel Griffiths, London, 1873.
The Horseley Fields Canal and Railway Junction, Austin Moseley.
ECC Institute News, Autumn 1954.
Staffordshire Industrial Archaeology Society Journal, Vol. 3, 1972.
The North Western Railway Guide, 1861
Wolverhampton Chronicle - various articles.
Wolverhampton Red Books and local trade directories.

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