The canal is extremely important in Birmingham's history
- without it, our city would not be anywhere near as important as it is
today. Gas Street was the first street in the city have gas lighting,
hence the rather unsexy name.
In 1800, Birmingham was the hub of the Industrial Revolution
in Britain and the centre of England's canal network which stretched from
Liverpool to London.
There are few raw materials in Birmingham so they were
shipped in on the canal and used in factories here. Coal from the Black
Country was used in the furnaces of the metal industry. Just above the
tunnel, on Broad Street, there was a factory making brass items. The building
is still there now - it's now a pub called The Brasshouse. Gas Street
Basin would have been buzzing with constant activity, day and night, as
cargoes were loaded and unloaded.
In the 1830s, railways opened and competed for business
with the canals. By 1960s, road transport and rail was quicker (and therefore
cheaper) than the canals and they stopped being used by businesses. Cadbury's
in Bournville were one of the last local businesses to stop using the
canals. Their fleet of boats only stopped transporting their products
in the 1960s. The canal area then became run down, the dirty water lined
with derelict warehouses.
However, today Birmingham's canals are buzzing with life
again. The historic canals sit comfortably next to Broad Street, one of
the city's busiest entertainment areas. You can take a canal boat tour,
have your dinner on a boat or sit outside a pub on the canalside.
|Bridge over the canal
On your right, after the low black and white footbridge
(see photo, right) is the the Canal Information Centre. (Call 0121 632
6845 to check it's open when you want to visit.) Next door to the centre
is a café, and next door to that, the Tap & Spile pub which
used to be a warehouse and then a private cottage.
The bridge itself is an imposter - it's not an original
one! It was made recently using the original Horseley Ironworks design,
just like the other footbridges in Birmingham. It links Gas Street with
the Worcester Bar. The basin used to link the 'Worcester & Birmingham
Canal' to the 'Birmingham Canal Main Line'. The Worcester Bar, built in
1792, separated the two canals for 30 years so that the Birmingham Canal
Navigations company didn't lose water to the Worcester & Birmingham
If a cargo needed to continue on the other canal, the
whole load had to be taken off one boat and loaded onto another on the
other side of the bar which was a major inconvenience. In 1815, a lock
was put into the bar to allow boats through.
|Mailbox Bus boat (I think it looks
like a canal version of the ice-cream van...)
Today, it's much easier to pass between canals - there's
a narrow channel under the bridge. Private boats now moor along both sides
of the Worcester Bar.
Continue straight on and up onto the walkway at the
back of the Mailbox.
map of this stage