Canals, Roads, and
Willenhall’s first canal, the Wyrley &
Essington, was built to transport coal from Essington Wood Colliery, Wyrley Bank Colliery, and collieries around New Invention to
Wolverhampton and Walsall. Construction was authorised by an Act of
Parliament, passed on 30th April, 1792. The canal followed the
natural contours, to avoid as far as possible, the building of
locks. It was surveyed by William Pitt.
In 1794 another Act was Passed to allow the
company to extend the canal to join the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal.
As a result the canal extended from Birchills, through Bloxwich,
Pelsall and Brownhills to the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal. Being a
contoured canal and following an extremely circuitous route, it
became known as "The Curly Wyrley".
Much of the finance came from Wolverhampton
businessmen, principally the Molineux family. Work soon started
under the canal company's engineer, William Pitt. There were two
branches, one to a colliery at Essington and the other to Birchills
near the centre of Walsall. The canal joined the Birmingham Canal at
Horseley Fields and opened on 8th May, 1797. In 1840 the canal was
acquired by the BCN.
Willenhall's canals and railways.
The Wyrley & Essington Canal had only a small
impact on Willenhall because it came no closer to the town centre
and its industries, than Pool Hayes and Lane Head. In 1843 a second
and more important canal, the Bentley Canal, opened. It ran from the
Wyrley and Essington at New Cross, to the Anson Branch on the
Walsall Canal. The Neachells Branch which served Neachell Hall
Colliery, and several coal mines in the Neachells area opened in
1845. The Bentley Canal served many of the local industries
including Monmer Lane Iron Works, Willenhall Colliery, coal mines in
the Sandbeds area, and local brickworks. Large amounts of iron,
coal, and goods of all kinds would have been transported on the
canal. Off Clarke’s Lane was the large Crescent Wharf and basin.
|During the 1950s and early 1960s the canal saw
little traffic, and fell into disrepair and dereliction.
The Neachells Branch closed in 1953, followed by the
closure of the Bentley Canal itself in 1961, which
quickly became weed-bound.
Graham Bosworth, who lived at Willenhall in the early
1970s remembers the closure of the canal, which his
garden overlooked. He describes the end of the canal as
"Eventually, the canal bed was excavated from a few
hundred metres to the west of Fibbersley (possibly the
boundary between the boroughs of Wolverhampton and
Walsall) off to the east, possibly as far as the Anson
Branch Canal in Bentley."
"Large prefabricated concrete sections were lowered
into the trench by a crane on caterpillar tracks. I
recall using the site as a playground, running along
inside or above the concrete sections."
"The sections were joined together along the length of
the former canal to form a culvert, and the water that
had previously drained into the canal subsequently
drained into the culvert."
"Walking along the route later, it was possible to see
occasional "man hole" inspection covers. Some bridges
were removed or altered after the canal had gone,
including Fibbersley and Monmer Lane."
The culvert for the Bentley Canal
being built alongside the old high-rise flats. The
photograph was taken by Richard Ashmore.
The culvert being built on the
site of Bentley Canal, looking towards Clarkes Lane. The
photograph was taken by Richard Ashmore.
What now remains of the Bentley
Canal, as seen from Clarke's Lane.
In 1793 when the Wyrley & Essington Canal was
under construction, the canal company decided to economise on bridge
building by diverting the main road to Bloxwich.
|The original route
was along Haley Street, Ezekiel Lane, and Coltham Road. The canal
crossed the junction of Haley Street and Ezekiel Lane, and so a
bridge over the canal would be required.
In order to avoid building
the bridge, the canal company closed off both roads, and diverted
the route through High Road, and across Lane Head Bridge, which was
then linked to Coltham Road by a new road called Straight Road. This
avoided building two bridges, one in Haley Street and another at
Lane Head. This has been commented on many times over the years
because Lane Head Bridge is awkward and dangerous, and carries a lot
Changes made to the roads when the
Wyrley and Essington Canal was built.
|In the early years of the 19th century, good
roads and road transport became more important because it was a
necessity for the growth of local industries, and people were
travelling more. The most important road building project at the
time was Thomas Telford’s Holyhead Road, which ran locally from
Birmingham, through West Bromwich, Wednesbury, Bilston and
Wolverhampton. It was realised that the road would greatly increase
the amount of traffic through the area, and as Willenhall had become
a bottleneck on the main route from Walsall to Wolverhampton, it was
felt that something needed to be done to ease the problem.
The toll house built for the Walsall Road
Turnpike Trust, set up in 1750, now a restaurant.
An old view of the toll house.
traffic from Walsall passed through the narrow streets in the town
centre, and along Wolverhampton Street. The decision was taken to
build a road to by-pass the town centre to provide a faster and more
direct route through the town. This was achieved around 1818 by the
building of New Road, a turnpike road which links the main Walsall
Road to the western end of Wolverhampton Street. The old toll house
is now a shop at 9 New Road.
The old New Road toll house.
Before the building of New Road the area was
known as ‘The Shrubbery’, an area of unspoilt countryside with a
well-stocked fishing pool which was greatly enjoyed by many people
from the surrounding area.
When Wolverhampton Street ceased to be on the
main route through the town, its once popular coaching inn, the
Bull’s Head, declined in importance. Previously mail caches stopped
here for refreshments, and to drop-off and collect mail. The pub was
demolished in 1920.
The Grand Junction Railway
The Grand Junction Railway, the world's first
trunk line, opened on 4th July, 1837, and had a great impact on the
town’s industry. It ran from Birmingham to Liverpool and Manchester,
via Wolverhampton, Stafford, and Crewe. The first train was hauled
by an engine called ‘Wildfire’ and consisted of eight carriages. It
caused great excitement, and many hundreds of sightseers flocked to
watch its progress. The railway avoided the centre of Wolverhampton
and Walsall because of local opposition, but once people realised
the benefits of rail travel, they petitioned the railway company for
extensions into the town centres.
The following year the London and Birmingham
railway opened, again offering new markets for Willenhall's goods.
In 1846 the Grand Junction Railway, the London & Birmingham Railway,
and several other railways amalgamated to form the London & North
Western Railway, which yet again increased the impact on the town's
There were local stations at Bushbury,
Wednesfield Heath, Portobello, Willenhall, Darlaston, and Bescot.
Passenger traffic was never intensive, but greatly suffered as a
result of the opening of the Stour Valley Line between Wolverhampton
and Birmingham on 1st December, 1851. Passenger services were
withdrawn between Willenhall and Bushbury on 1st January, 1873, and
on the same date Portobello station closed after a life of only 35½
years. The first and last station master at Portobello was Job
Broadbent. All traces of the station, which stood near to Noose
Lane, have disappeared.
|Willenhall station stood on the eastern side of
Bilston Street, with a goods shed to the west. It remained open
until January 1965 when the line was closed to passenger traffic.
In February 1838 a stray horse got onto the
railway line in the Shepwell Green area. It collided with a passing
train, which was derailed and ran into a field. The
driver was killed, and a horse box thrown over, killing several horses.
Luckily the passengers escaped without injury.
The site of Willenhall's first
railway station. As seen from Bilston Street.
The accident at Portobello.
|A more serious accident took place at
Portobello Junction around 6a.m. on Thursday 19th October, 1899 when
a passenger excursion train from Wolverhampton collided with a goods
train from Bushbury in thick fog.
The engine from the passenger train ended on its
side, instantly killing the driver. The fireman died
later in Walsall hospital.
Some of the goods wagons rolled down the embankment
into a nearby field.
|None of the passengers were injured. They managed to
leave the train, and walked back along the track to
Wolverhampton and Walsall Railway
|Willenhall acquired a second railway station with
the opening of the Wolverhampton and Walsall Railway on
1st November, 1872.
The station, with sidings and a
large goods shed was originally called Willenhall Market
Place. It stood on the western side of Temple Bar and
was later renamed Willenhall Stafford Street.
Services were originally operated by the London and
North Western Railway, which purchased the railway in
1875, and a year later sold it to the Midland Railway.
The site of Willenhall's second
Another view of the site of
Willenhall's second railway station.
There were stations at Heath Town,
Wednesfield, Willenhall, Short Heath, Bentley, and North Walsall.
1923, after grouping, the Midland Railway became part of the L.M.S.
Passenger services were withdrawn
in 1931, but the line remained open for goods until 1st
Stafford Street Station. From an old postcard.
The staff at Willenhall Stafford Street Goods
Depot around 1914. From an old postcard.
|There were also a number of mineral lines and
tramways in the area, including a mineral line from the Grand
Junction Railway, just south of New Road, to New Priestfield
Colliery, New Priestfield Iron Works, and the Birmingham Canal in
Darlaston. There was also a tramway that ran from the mineral line
to coal mines in Portobello. Another tramway carried coal from the
collieries in Little London, across Temple Bar to Willenhall
Furnaces in Sandbeds.
The Growing Town