1. The Mailbox was the largest sorting office in the country serving the West Midlands, built in 1970 and closed in the 1990’s, being purchased in 1998 and redeveloped opening as a niche shopping mall in December 2000.
The BBC moved in from their old premises at Pebble Mill and Network Rail has extensive offices here. Opposite is the site of Salvage Wharf where the Restaurant is located, Birmingham Corporation employed Horse Drawn Boats up to the 1970’s to take on rubbish brought in by Horse & Cart and transport it to Lifford. Holliday Wharf now converted to upmarket apartments was the first original Warehouse to be converted into small Antique Shops but failed as it was too far away from the city centre.
2. Gas Street Basin is the terminus of The Worcester & Birmingham Canal, at the site of a stop lock where the canal narrows. The Wolverhampton and Birmingham canal also arrived here in 1773 and had an extensive basin at Paradise Wharf, which was through a walled up tunnel in Bridge Street. It became part of the Birmingham Canal Navigations, which owned and operated the canals in Birmingham and prevented up until 1815 the boats from Worcester entering Birmingham by building a bar (barrier). This is the path leading across to the James Brindley Pub, which was used to tranship between boats moored either side. Their toll office is the Café on the quayside and the building before with a bow window was the Worcester & Birmingham Canal Co toll office. Their Head Office facing Gas Street is the back of a white building just before we enter the narrows on the left.
3. Brindley Place and ICC in the 1970’s was a walled deep cutting and not the place to be on foot. After a lot of planning and funding problems the NIA was built on the original site of the City Sawmills and the ICC was completed in 1991. Opposite the ICC, Brindleyplace opened the Waters Edge development in 1994, which finally obliterated the remains of factory sites that had stood derelict for a number of years. Between the ICC and Deepcutting Junction (later known as The Old Turn) was the site of The Birmingham Brewery Co and in latter years taken over by Butlers. Today, though renovated The Brewmaster’s House dating from 1805 still stands high up due to the deepness of the original cutting here. The entrance to a canal basin that served the brewery from 1815 is just before The Malt House Pub with a canal boat permanently moored in it for show. Between points 3 and 4 was the extensive goods yard and engine shed of Monument Lane Station stretching from the site of the station (see below) to St Vincent Street. The Fiddle & Bone pub, now closed indefinitely, was famous for its jazz and good food and sited between the end of the goods yard and engine shed, between Sheepcote Street Bridge and St Vincent Street Bridge. The pub has wrought iron gates and you catch a glimpse of the Roundhouse built as stables for the canal horses and the main pub building, which originally was a school, built at the turn of the 20th century.
4. Borax Soap & Soap Powder Factory lies behind the walled up entrance to the towpath over bridge built for the horse to cross over the canal feeder entrance. Opposite is the remains of a London & North Western Railway Canal Interchange Basin, which was much larger when in operation and held 200 boats transferring coal and goods from railway wagons in the extensive goods yard of Monument Lane Railway Station. The site of the station on the right is not apparent having passed through Ladywood Middleway Bridge.
5. Icknield Port Loop is a section of the original canal from Wednesbury Coalfields that was built between 1768 and 1772 to Birmingham, arriving at Newhall St. This loop has been the subject in part of considerable demolition to make way for the further developments of city living. The corner of Rotton Park Junction is the site of an International Paints Factory, once part of the Courtaulds Group, which burnt continuously for 3 days during WW II bombing raids.
6. British Waterways Maintenance Depot originally belonged to the canal company before Nationalisation in 1948 and is now a listed structure. Dominated by an extensive grassy bank at the rear of the depot it holds back millions of gallons of water from Rotton Park (Edgbaston) Reservoir that was built exclusively to supply water to the canals in Birmingham. The sluice supplying the water is sometimes running just before the BW buildings on the right. Amongst the many maintenance craft moored here some of the British Waterways Heritage Fleet should be seen. They have been restored and maintained for education and exhibition.
7. Demolition of manufacturing companies has progressed over the last couple of years leaving a larger area here being raised to the ground awaiting the mixed use regeneration plan.
8. Oozells Street Loop is another section of the original canal, which had coal wharves and one of the last warehouses to be built for a famous canal carrying company Fellows Morton & Clayton. This building now contains modern apartments, as city living with fashionable fitness centres are the new image of this quiet backwater. Sherborne Wharf was once a busy canal carrying wharf for FMC and two small white washed brick buildings are original, but dwarfed by Portakabins housing the local trip boat company.
9. Davenports Brewery and The Children’s Hospital. The entire site this side of the canal was split between the old Davenports Brewery first part built in 1815 and the rear of the old Children’s (or possibly the Accident) Hospital all of which were in Bath Row. All have now gone to be replaced by yet more apartments, including more extensive student accommodation, the hospital has been re located and the brewery closed down after a merger of a number of breweries in 1989.
10. Midland Railway Junction (site of) a goods railway line left the main line here on the bend and followed the canal under Holliday Wharf to an extensive goods yard in Holliday Street. It was a goods depot for New Street Station and succumbed to closure in the 1960’s. The site is now occupied by extensive office blocks and apartments. The tunnel and track bed still exist as an access for Network Rail to maintain the railway line here.
11. The Vale, Edgbaston Our turning point for this part of the cruise. Time to stretch your legs and have a smoke, if you need to at this point. Dominated by an extensive University of Birmingham student’s hall of residence behind the hedge, the quay and turning point were installed a few years ago. The aim was to operate a waterbus service into the city, which never materialised. What of the future?
Birmingham Old Main Line – Birmingham Canal Co opened the first section from Wednesbury Collieries in November 1769 and completed to Aldersley in 1772. Original first terminus in Newhall Street now filled in 1937 with Council blocks of flats built on the site.
In 1773 it was extended through Deep Cutting (Brindleyplace and ICC) to Paradise Wharf, which was closed in 1926 and filled in a few years later. Alpha Tower and Crowne Plaza Hotel occupy the centre area of the site.
Birmingham New Main Line – Thomas Telford, famous for railway building engineered a New Main Line by straightening the canal, widening it and creating two tow paths one in each direction to avoid conflict with horses travelling in opposite directions. Several deep cuttings, embankments and tunnels were created to reduce Brindleys original meandering route of 22 1⁄2 miles by 7 miles. It took between 1826 until 1838 to complete the radical improvements, which commenced with Telford surveying the canal on a horse for 4 days. A number of notable Horsell wrought iron bridges on the cruise route are dated 1854.
Worcester & Birmingham Canal – Opened in 1795 to Selly Oak and complying with the condition of the Act of Parliament that it would not come within 7ft of The Birmingham Canal Navigations. This created the Worcester Bar in Gas Street Basin, which was a barrier that was used to tranship goods between boats. Kings Norton was reached the following year, though work had already started on Wast Hill Tunnel in 1794. By 1807 boats could reach Tardebigge, but it was not until 1815 that Worcester and the River Severn were finally achieved. Following a fierce row between the Birmingham Canals and Worcester& Birmingham an Act Of Parliament allowed the Bar to be breached with a stop lock. A meter was even installed to charge the Worcester Company for any water supplied by Birmingham.
Goods carrying finally ceased in 1967, though Birmingham Corporation carried on with Horse Drawn Rubbish Boats until 1970’s. An attempt to carry coal from a reopened mine on the Ashby Canal was short lived. Freight today is confined to short quarry shuttles on the River Severn and Denham on The Grand Union Canal as examples, with many political ambitions attempting to bring back water borne transport in some form or another.