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24 September 2014

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You are in: Birmingham > Your Birmingham > Walk Through Time > Birmingham City Centre > Page 7
The canal information office and cafe
Canal office and café

Birmingham City Centre

Gas Street Basin

Just inches from the modern architecture of the ICC and Brindleyplace, you're now standing in a 200 year old canal basin.

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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 canal
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 canal.

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.

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Map of Birmingham city centre (© Crown copyright. All rights reserved. BBC licence number 100019855, 2004)
© Crown copyright. All rights reserved. BBC licence number 100019855, 2004

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