Wednesbury Oak Loop
2 miles
Starting from the venerable old bridge at Deepfields Junction and under the railway line, you may think there's a possibility that you're heading into the heart of darkness. The Bradley Arm was originally part of Brindley's meandering Old Main Line but was subsequently by-passed by Telford's Coseley Tunnel. It was abandoned in 1854 but is still partly navigable.

Small scale mining and iron smelting had taken place in the area around the canal for several centuries before the Industrial Revolution due the proximity of coal to the surface together with iron, limestone and fire clay deposits. The wandering waterway served these concerns and encouraged further development. if you could have walked along the canal from Deepfields Junction in the late 19th century it would have been lined with iron works: Capponfield Furnaces near the eponymous stop and the adjacent Iron Works, Barbor's Field Furnaces, Bankfield Iron Works, Bradley Iron, Steel & Tin Works, Bradley Field Iron Works, Regent Iron Works etc etc

But nowadays the canal quickly opens out with houses on the far side and adjacent parkland and, after the former Heathfields Road Arm and Colliery Wharf, housing takes over on both sides.Following Banks Bridge the towpath improves from a muddy track and you enter a modern housing estate opposite one very large old factory and several smaller ones. Look out for the bricked up entrance by Pothouse Bridge (the site of a former pottery). This was the original line of the canal to Bradley Basin.

Housing continues where industry once was but the path veers off from the cut into what is now parkland. To reach the current end of the canal you follow the path to Bradley Lane and turn right to the C&RT Central Workshops.

Many people would say that Bilston was the birthplace of the Black Country. For it was at Bradley around 1766 that 'Iron Mad' Wilkinson established his works. By 1790 three quarters of the Black Country's blast furnaces were located around Bilston, and Wilkinson's iron works, that had spread along Bradley Lane, were the largest and most significant.

Cylinders for Boulton and Watt's steam engines, including the Smethwick Engine, were first made at Bradley. When one was installed at the works in 1775 and coal instead of coke was used in the furnace, output doubled. By adopting new techniques such as puddling furnaces, Wilkinson made a fortune. The canal was also straightened from Pothouse Bridge due to the pressure from Wilkinson's estate as the existing canal was choked with traffic.

The workshops occupy land where part of the Bradley Works once stood.. Since 1961, they have repaired and built lock gates, aound 200 every year. It takes up to 20 days to make a gate, depending on the size, and there is no standard design. So each gate is hand crafted from English oak and weighs on average 3.6 tonnes.

The canal would have run between the workshops and the Old Bush i.e. through the pub car park and then to the side of the old tube works opposite. Any canal restorers will have to find an answer to the Bradley Lane problem but from then on it is relatively plain sailing as canal that has been largely infilled and there are no major obstructions.. Walkers have to turn left from the workshops and then quickly right through some concrete bollards and into a wide field.

Above you on the right would have been the canal running parallel to the factory. Walk along the well made path up the incline and you will eventually begin to follow where the tow path once was. The old 1770 main line would have followed the contour off to the right, but this was subsequently straightened (as with other parts of the BCN the old main line formed a loop) and you will soon reach the top of what was once the Bradley Branch.

The branch was built in 1849 to connect with another that led from the Walsall Canal to Bradley Hall Colliery. A 1.5 mile link was therefore completed from the main line to the Walsall Canal and, as they are on different levels, an additional six locks had to be constructed. The locations of these locks can still be clearly seen.
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Birmingham and FazeleyWednesbury Old Canal
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