The Lichfield and Hatherton Canal Restoration Project

The Newsletter of December 1993 records that in November the Civic Society was addressed by the former Chief Architect of Design and Planning of British Waterways, subject - "New Developments on the Waterway Network". The talk was followed by a brief introduction to "The project to restore the Wyrley and Essington Canal between Huddlesford and Ogley". Mr John Horton of "The Lichfield and Hatherton Canal Restoration Trust Limited" happened to be present. He said that the most optimistic timescale for completion is 30 years but there is great enthusiasm that a start should be made.

Four years later the December 1997 edition reported under the heading "The Restoration of the Lichfield Canal - An Act of Faith or Beyond Belief", that the November meeting of the Society had been addressed by Mr Eric Wood Chairman of the Trust and Mr Bob Williams. Mike Tole in his report wrote "When I speak to many people they do not think the restoration will ever happen. They do not take the idea seriously. They cannot imagine that a small charitable Trust, perceived to be dependent on a multiplicity of small donations and income from the sale of sweat shirts, videos and the like, can possibly undertake such a major engineering operation. Yet it is already happening!". He added "that the Trust's vision will be realised is an act of faith borne on the wings of enthusiasm and patience. It deserves to confound the doubters and to succeed in its efforts". What Mike had written has turned out to be right in every detail.

Bob Williams returned on the 21st May to give us a progress update. This time he was accompanied and assisted by his wife who discreetly helped him to control sophisticated audio-visual equipment. This was indeed an evening to confound the doubters.

We were reminded of the history of the former canal system and the benefits that have accrued in terms of the system's development as a leisure facility, following its decline as a major commercial and industrial transport waterway. These benefits will be further developed by the completion of the current restoration. It is no longer depending upon the enthusiasm of the few but has attracted support, most notably from the south of England. All causes benefit from the publicity that follows celebrity and the high profile of the Trust's Vice President David Suchet will have been encouraging.

It has become recognised that the completion of the project will make a significant contribution by its extension to the Birmingham Canal Navigation.

Changes to government policy, that had hitherto subordinated the interest of canals to those of major road developments, had made a significant contribution to preventing the planning of the BNRR from damaging the interests of the Lichfield and Hatherton restoration.

Bob Williams led us through the route of the canal with a series of detailed maps going some way towards clarifying where it is in relation to routes and roads that many of us know well. One of the most confusing locations is where the A5 is joined by the A34 at Churchbridge to the south of Cannock, where density of traffic converging on two mini islands has prevented observation or even speculation about what might have been located beyond the frontages. The appearance of this site is now very different, but no less confusing.

His vision of the Midland canal system providing a waterway-crossroad for the four major river estuaries - the Thames, the Severn, the Mersey and the Humber - greatly appealed to those of us who had previously failed to make this connection.

Sites for bridges, culverts and even aqueducts over motorways were located and explained as we were conducted from Hatherton in the west to the east towards Lichfield.

Here on more familiar territory, we were able to imagine the effect that the restoration will have on this community. We were reminded of the proposed building of the southern by-pass and the impact of the recent decision of the City Council to sell open space land off Shortbutts Lane, initially for housing and eventually a link road. Although no final details of the course of the canal have yet been decided, it is likely to follow the line of the proposed by-pass, thus deviating from the original route through the Bison industrial site.

However one may feel about the detailed consequences upon the local environment, the dedication, tenacity and commitment of the Lichfield and Hatherton Canal Trust. Restoration demands our respect and admiration. The "great enthusiasm" reported in 1993 has been well sustained.

Ivor Mitchell
May 2002