There are times when, no matter how good an idea something is in theory, in practice it’s much harder work than it should be. So it was this weekend, when we ventured out on the Blackcountryman from Stourbridge town to Stourton. All the essential elements are there – canal, boat, bar, sunny day – but it was the last of these that turned it into a difficult day. Sunny day is fine; 28C is TOO MUCH, especially when one’s located in the greenhouse-like bow of the boat with no breeze and at the opposite end to the cold drinks. Lesson learned.
Anyhoo, this is a history blog. We travelled on the Stourbridge Town Arm of the Stourbridge Canal, then on the main line of the canal from Wordsley to Stourton. According to the announcer, the Town Arm was completed about 1777. That just about fits in with my understanding. The canal was initially mooted as part of one major canal project, from Lord Dudley’s mines in the Rowley hills to the Staffs & Worcs at Stourton. This would have been a major problem for the Birmingham Canal Company, which would previously have shipped the coal. limestone etc. from this region to the S&W via Wolverhampton, and they successfully batted the Bill back. However, it soon passed in a revised version, with two separate companies creating what was, in effect, one long canal – the Dudley (now No.1) and the Stourbridge Canal – from Dudley to Stourton via Brierley Hill and Amblecote. The Stourbridge Canal ended up as one of the few in the region not to be taken over by the BCN, and consists today of almost 5.5 miles of main line from the Black Delph in Brierley Hill, to Stourton Junction in Staffordshire. From this branches off the Town arm, culminating at Canal Street just off the Stourbridge ring road; and the Fens Branch, a navigable feeder from the Fens Pools nature reserve (just behind Aldi and B&M in Brierley Hill).
The canal was completed in December 1779, shortly after the Dudley Canal, creating that competing through route to the burgeoning national waterway network. Work started at the trickiest point, the aqueduct over the Stour just west of Wordsley Junction and was mostly complete and trading by early 1779. Our trip took us along a single pound (i.e. no locks), starting from the Bonded Warehouse in Stourbridge, and it’s a section that we’ve walked plenty of times. First point of note though was seeing things from a different angle – there’s no way of seeing the extent of the various bridges and bricked up arms that led to the old Bradley Ironworks in Stourbridge, except from the canal level.
Continuing up the Arm we saw the extensions to the Coalbournbrook Bridge which carries Wollaston Road (and previously the Kinver Light Railway) overhead, then to Wordsley Junction. Turn right here and you’re on the Stourbridge 16 Locks – a pleasant uphill stroll or several hours of furious lock-working. We turned left though, under a bridge and over the aforementioned aqueduct, continuing to parallel the Stour. It’s not a particularly industrial stretch along here, but it’s thoroughly lovely and pastoral. Then comes the winding hole, which now makes sense: basically, you stick the end of your boat in the mud and turn full power on sideways to turn around.
The heat was a problem, to be honest, and probably spoiled the overall effect. This still remains a wonderful bit of canal though – it’s so pretty round here, and gorgeous to walk. You can hike from Stourbridge to Kinver via this route, adding just a couple of miles of so from Stourton onwards – that’s thoroughly worth doing.