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29 October 2014

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A new golden age of canals in Shropshire
The Shrewsbury Canal at Wappenshall in 1965(image courtesy of S&N Canal Trust)
Canals were mostly abandoned by the 1930s

For almost 100 years canals were the lifeblood of Britain and formed the backbone of the industrial revolution.

Yet by the middle of the 20th Century most lay forgotten and abandoned.


Great Salopians: Thomas Telford
Builder of the Shrewsbury Canal, Telford was responsible for the creation of a whole new profession.

Industrial archaeology quiz
Try your hand at our quiz on Shropshire's industrial past.

UK unveils massive canal revamp from BBC News »

Canals were built in response to the growing industry in Shropshire, including the mines in the county. To find out more, see our feature on mining in Shropshire.

Memory Lane Gallery
Take a look at our photography gallery showing Shrewsbury in the 1950's and 60's.

A Shrewsbury gallery has just opened a new exhibition of photographs of old Shropshire. See our feature about it.

Day Star Theatre Company write and perform their own plays on the banks of the Shropshire Union Canal, using their narrowboat, the Angry Bull.

Mystery of Ironbridge Historians have finally uncovered the great mystery of Ironbridge - how it was built.


British Waterways are responsible for all working canals in the UK and its website contains lots of usuful information.

The Boat Museum in Ellesmere Port specialises in the history of the British canal network and is based in the docks built at the end of the Shropshire Union Canal.

The Shropshire Union Fly Boat Restoration Society is restoring The Saturn, an old horse-drawn canal boat for future generations.

I.A. Recordings: A Shropshire-based group which makes video recordings of our industrial heritage. The website includes a feature about the Shropshire Union Canal and videos on the subject.
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites.


Birmingham was a hugely important junction for canals. According to British Waterways, the city has more miles of waterway than Venice!

Thomas Telford was a qualified stonemason and wanted to build Longden upon Tern aqueduct in stone. But the Shrewsbury canal project was heavily backed by William Reynolds, who owned ironworks in Ketley and so iron was used.

However, it's likely that Telford's experience building at Longden stood him in good stead when designing the spectacular iron aqueduct at Pontcysyllte on the Llangollen Canal.

But in the last 30 years or so, many have been re-opened and have taken on a new life as leisure areas for boating enthusiasts and practically anyone who likes a walk in the country.

Shrewsbury & Newport Canal

In Shropshire, the Shropshire Union Canal connects Ellesmere Port (on The Mersey) with Wolverhampton, as well as linking up to the Llangollen and Montgomery Canals.

We're told that Britain is entering a new age of canals. British Waterways is pumping £500 million into restoring the canal network - and even building new ones.

And now a campaign has been launched to re-open one of Shropshire's forgotten canals, the Shrewsbury & Newport.

This canal was one of many built in the mid to late 18th Century in order to move large quantities of raw materials and coal from one place to another.

Building the canal

The area now occupied by Telford was criss-crossed with several canals linking the many coal pits in the area with the ironworks that needed the coal. Donnington Wood Canal was the first, opening in 1768, and by 1793 it was decided to build a canal linking up the industrial network with Shrewsbury.

These canals were designed to carry tub boats rather than the narrowboats we see on today's canals. Tub boats were, as the name suggests, simply tubs filled with cargo and then put together in 'trains' that were hauled by horses.

The Canal Tavern in Castlefields, Shrewsbury
The canal once ran behind this pub in Shrewsbury on its way to the terminus at The Buttermarket. Today this part of the route is choked with weeds.

One Josiah Clowes was appointed chief engineer, but when he died half way through the project he was replaced by his assistant - Thomas Telford, who at that time was just making his name.

One of his first tasks was to rebuild the stone aqueduct over the River Tern at Longden which had been swept away in floods. It was rebuilt using a 62 yard trough made of iron cast in Ketley, and this aqueduct still stands today - marooned in the middle of a field.

The eastern end of the canal was to be linked up with the Wombridge Canal in the Telford area - and this presented a problem. The Wombridge Canal was 75 feet higher up than the Shrewsbury one, so an inclined plane - a slope with rail tracks on it - was built to allow the boats to be transferred from one canal to another.

The Shrewsbury Canal was finally finished in 1797, although it operated in isolation from the rest of the British canal network.

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