The Birmingham & Fazeley Canal
Until recently, the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal was a ‘private’ industrial world behind high walls with three long flights of locks (Farmer’s Bridge, Aston and Curdworth) coping with a steep descent from Gas Street Basin at the end of the Birmingham Canal to the Coventry Canal at Fazeley. Now it provides a surprisingly rural cruising link from the centre of busy Birmingham to the east, to the Coventry Canal, and the Trent and Mersey canal, and opening up a number of interesting circular cruising rings.
This canal was the first of Birmingham’s regeneration schemes (1984). Farmer’s Bridge Locks were cleaned up, lit and landscaped. Towpath accesses were created through the walls. Resurfaced towpaths now attract families on weekend strolls and relaxing workers on weekday lunchtimes.
The Birmingham and Fazeley Canal Company made waterways history. Even before they started to seek approval for their scheme to build a canal to Fazeley they gained uncharacteristic cooperation from three other independent companies (1782). Known as the ‘Coleshill Agreement’, incomplete canals were to be finished and some long distance routes established. The Trent and Mersey Co., which had already (1777) linked these two rivers at Fradley, agreed to ‘go halves’ with the Birmingham and Fazeley on financing a missing link from Fradley to Fazeley.
Coventry Canal Co. agreed to finish its canal from Atherstone as far as. Fazeley, and Oxford Canal Co., which had already built a canal from Coventry as far as Banbury, agreed to complete its intended route to the Thames at Oxford.
Thus the system around Fazeley was to be connected to London markets. Within 8 years all four companies had fulfilled their promises and Fazeley became a busy entrance to Birmingham. A prosperous Birmingham Canal Company understood the benefits of such progress and, after the Birmingham and Fazeley had obtained their Act (1783), proposed an amalgamation (1784) to form the Birmingham Canal Navigations (1794). The great and good of Tamworth insisted that canals be routed in the fields at the edge of their town boundary. The company created wharves and formed a junction with the Coventry (Fazeley Junction) at the point where it served the old Roman Road (Watling Street: A5). 44 years later a fugitive from striking workers in Lancashire diverted the local stream and created a series of water-powered factories to mass produce calico. The multi-storey mill buildings still stand alongside the canal.
The M6 is only one of six main roads connected by the many twisting slip roads that give rise to the name Spaghetti Junction. Most are on stilts and in the wasteland below is a four way canal junction (Salford Junction) that has existed here for 150 years.
Farmer’s Bridge and Aston Locks take the canal down 150 feet in less than three miles. Only the second connection to the canals serving the rest of the country, the flight was provided with gas light for night working and worked 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The Farmer’ s Bridge flight was, for 50 years, the busiest flight on the system.
This was a serious a bottle-neck. Hemmed in by factory walls, the locks could not be duplicated and were eventually bypassed completely (1844) by the 8 mile Tame Valley Canal which connected to the Birmingham and Fazeley at the bottom of the hill at Salford Junction.