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Canals: Dudley and Stourbridge

The success of the first Birmingham canal in the 1760s led to the mine owners in the area around Dudley to plan their own canal. There was a considerable amount of coal available and local industies that could use it too, especially glassmaking and ironmaking. By joining onto the Staffs and Worcester canal, that had been successfully running for several years, there was the possibility of selling coal to towns along that canal and onto the River Severn. The major supporters of the plan included Lord Dudley, who owned many of the mines.

Parliamentary bill for the building of the canal was proposed in 1775 but was opposed by the Birmingham company, who felt it would damage their new trade. Similar plans were submitted to Parliament the next year. This time there were two Bills, one for a Stourbridge canal and another linking from it to Dudley. Both Acts were passed in 1776.

The Stourbridge Canal appointed Thomas Dadford junior as engineer. The canal left the Staffs and Worcs at Stourton and after climbing four locks, followed the contours to the centre of Stourbridge. A branch of it climbed by a further 16 locks. It then split into two, one arm going to reservoirs on Pensnett Chase and the other following the contours around Brierley Hill. Here it met the Dudley Canal at Delph. The work was finished in December 1779. Dadford resigned two years later.

In the 1820s considerable coal mining started to the North of the Stourbridge Canal around Kingswinford. A survey of a possible canal to serve the pits was made, but no further action was taken. Lord Dudley had a railway built to carry his coal from the area to the Staffs and Worcs Canal. Further proposals were made for a new branch of the canal to link to new mines and works around Shutt End, together with plans for more railway lines. In the confusion a new company was set up, not only with the intention of linking to the mines, but also carrying on through a tunnel to reach the Birmingham Canal. Though the second part of the plan was dropped, the new company gained parliamentary permission in 1837.

The Stourbridge Extension canal was only 2 miles, with a stop lock at its junction with the Stourbridge. It was completed in 1840 and carried mainly iron ore and limestone to the iron works and finished iron and coal from the mines.

There was the threat of railway competition from before the Extension was built In 1845 the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway was applying for an Act of Parliament for several different routes. One of them was in direct competition with the Extension Canal and so it was agreed that the Railway would purchase the canal if it got parliamentary approval. The same Act of Parliament approved the purchase of the Stratford on Avon Canal.

In 27 March 1847 the OWWR tookover the Extension canal and for quite a while it was the only source of income (together with the Stratford and Moreton Tramway) that the railway had. It was made good use of and the profits went up under railway usage. By the 1850s there were 17 blast furnaces in 6 ironworks, 2 brickworks and 4 major collieries served by the canal, so there was plenty of traffic.

The OWWR eventually became part of the GWR and the Stourbridge Extension Canal went with them. The canal continued to operate at a profit, even though some of the loads travelled less than a mile along the waterway.

By the early 1900s the use of the canal was declining, though it wasn't abandoned until 1935.

The Stourbridge Canal itself was thriving. In 1834 and 1836 the lock-keepers at Stourton and on the 16 locks were given pay increases for keeping open these locks all night and on Sundays. The railways seemed to pose a threat to all canals, but the Stourbridge continued to make a sound profit, even charging a toll on goods transhipped from canal to rail. Much of the prosperity of the small canal was in the large number of glassworks, ironworks, brickworks and mines that had developed around the canal since its construction.

The decline came with the closing of some of the factories that surrounded the canal and with the advent of reliable lorries. By 1930 the profits were falling rapidly and at nationalisation of the canal commercial traffic had almost finished.

British Waterways Board, with considerable encouragement from canal societies, have restored much of the canal.The Stourbridge Canal now represents an interesting stretch for cruising and walking. Starting in countryside around Stourton it winds past sites of great industries, many of which have disappeared to give housing, warehousing and parks.