The Restoration of the Lichfield and Hatherton Canals

Five years ago, Bob Williams from the Lichfield and Hatherton Canals Restoration Trust spoke to the Society about the restoration of these two canals. This May, five years on, he provided members with an upbeat progress report on the canals' restoration. For an hour, members were treated to a story of tenacity and opportunism which has seen the project overcome both physical and financial problems. But there's still much to do!

For those who aren't familiar with the canal network, Bob explained that the Trust was dealing with two different canals. The Lichfield Canal was dug in 1797 as an extension of the Wyrley and Essington Canal, joining it close by Chasewater, which still serves as a canal reservoir. Its construction allowed narrow boats a north eastern exit from the Black Country. The Hatherton Canal was constructed at the late date of 1841. Its six mile length betrays its important strategic role linking the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal in the west via Cannock to the Wyrley and Essington and thus to the heart of the Black Country. Abandonment of both canals came in the mid fifties. There matters lay, until the slow revival of the canals for leisure cruising in the 1960s. Restoration concentrated firstly on some of the more prominent parts of the system, like Gas Street Basin. From such locations, the ripples have spread outwards.

The Lichfield and Hatherton Trust was established in 1989 and eighteen years of hard work has seen selective restoration of sites on both canals as the opportunities arise and finance allows. The challenges in the Hatherton Canal's 6 miles and 16 locks have included driving a new culvert under the M6 Toll at Churchbridge with the aid of substantial amounts of European funding, as well as negotiating with landowners for future access. A big challenge awaits with be the reinstatement of the canal under the M6, where it is currently severed. Here, the Trust is pinning its hopes on the work required to add new lanes to the Motorway to solve the problem.

At the Lichfield end, members will be aware of the ongoing roadworks at the new junction of the southern by-pass and Birmingham Road. Perhaps they are unaware that the new canal culvert passes under this junction too. Further towards Huddlesford, Cappers Lane bridge has been reconstructed, again with the aid of European funds. Elsewhere along the route, works have been undertaken, particularly at locks such as that at Tamworth Road and the new isolated aqueduct over the M6 Toll which waits patiently to be eventually linked to the network.

It was very obvious from the presentation, that this is a project which will come to fruition. Yes, it will take time, but reserve your place for the Society meeting in May 2012 for the next progress report!

Roger Hockney
May 2007