Urban Moorings is situated at Horseley Fields on the Wyrley and Essington canal at Old Limekiln Wharf and Commercial Wharf.
The Curley Wyrley as it is affectionately known was completed in 1797 and run by the Wyrley & Essington Canal Co. It was primarily used to transport coal, lime and various materials and finished goods. After the first section was built the canal was extended, and featured many arms and wharves, however sadly most of these are now lost. A more detailed history can be found on the Lichfield & Hatherton Canals Restoration Trust website History of the W & E (lhcrt.org.uk)
Urban Moorings sits right at the Junction with the Birmingham Main Line canal. Here you can see there was a stop lock which had two purposes. The first of these was to separate the water between the Birmingham Canal Navigations Company (BCN) & The Wyrley and Essington Canal Company (W&E) as water was a precious and expensive commodity to keep the canals at a navigable level, and each company did not want to lose water to their competitor. In 1840 the BCN and the W&E were merged into one company, and the stop lock was kept open, bringing the water to one level (the W&E had previously been slightly higher).
The second purpose of the stop lock would have to been to gauge the boats and charge a toll when passing onto each canal. After the companies merger it may still have been used to gauge the boats in order for the BCN to charge the carrying companies a toll for the freight they were carrying. There was a toll house on our site at Limekiln Wharf and opposite on the main towpath was a lock cottage. The lock cottage has been demolished probably when British Steel built their factory. The Toll house was presumed to have also been demolished. When we arrived on site and started clearing rubbish and Buddleia, to our amazement we discovered it was still standing although someone had removed the pitched slate roof and replaced it with a flat (ugly) roof. You can still see the tiny (bricked up) window that would have been used as a ticket hatch.
The site has the West Coast main line running over it and the old Lower Level line under it. You will pass under the railway arch to come onto site. The now abandoned lower level runs underneath the site and the canal in a tunnel. The railway played an important part on our site, as we will come to shortly.
We mentioned at the start, there were two canal wharfs here; Old Lime Liln wharf which came off the “Main line” BCN and Commercial Wharf which came off the Wyrley and Essington Canal. Originally these two wharves were completely separate. A building ran across what is now the open car park, however in the 1970’s part of this was demolished joining the two parts of the site.
Old Lime Kiln Wharf as the name suggests was used to burn and sell lime. Underneath our site is buried the remains of the three very large horseshoe shaped Limekilns, which were probably in use until the first part of the 20th century.
Commercial wharf was used for the business situated around it to bring in coal. At Union Works on the opposite side of the arm there was a cut nail factory, and later this was purchased by Manley and Company, who manufactured paints and varnishes.
You may have seen that one of our goals is restoring the Boat House as a community space. The Boat House was one of three slipways for repairing and launching boats on our site. Originally the slipways were uncovered, but in the 1890’s the building you can see was built. In fact the whole area next to the Boat House (in the car park) once had several buildings dedicated to mending boats, including a forge and workshop for bending planks of wood with steam.
This is where the railway is relevant. The Boat House and slipways were owned by the LMS railway company as the canals worked in conjunction with the railway companies to move goods. The LNWR railway company (later to become LMS in 1923) had a large canal and railway interchange depot built where British Steel is now. Horseley Fields Canal and Railway Junction (historywebsite.co.uk .This was a dock where goods off the canal were loaded onto the trains and visa versa. You can still see an example of one of these (the last in fact in the country) at Chillington Wharf as you walk along the Main Line canal – near to the Bilston rd. LMS (and probably contractors to LNWR) had their own narrowboats, and these needed to be built and maintained, hence the Boat House and boat yard at Commercial Wharf.
Another unique feature of our site is that is was the home of a fleet of ‘Ampton Boats’. The ‘Amptons’ (if you aren’t a from the Black Country it is slang for Wolverhampton) were unique narrow boats in that they were only used on this section of Canal as there were no locks between here, Tipton and Cannock. This meant they could be built longer and wider than normal narrowboats, and able to carry more cargo in one journey. They could be up to 83ft long and nearly 8ft wide and carry up to 50 tons. They were also built of wood – and sadly as the canal trade fell into decline they were seen as redundant. None now remain – save for two sunk for preservation at the Black Country Museum. You can read a fascinating detailed history of our site and the people who worked here at Wharves and Union Works (historywebsite.co.uk)
One part of the sites history that we are not sure we are grateful for or not is Mr Penny and his concrete post making business. The level of the ‘island’ part of the site where the boats are now moored was once level with the canal. Over the years it was got higher and higher with left over concrete castings, posts and canal dredging’s until it is about 4 to 5ft higher than where it started. This means all of our trees have shallow roots, and digging to put in plants means working around all the concrete!
I remember the canal as i see it in the photographs what looked to me as a girl as broken…
what a great find a big bit of history that there is no many around to be seen, great for…