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The Worcester and Birmingham canal links the two cities, built to connect the River Severn in Worcester to the Birmingham Canal System via a quicker route than the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal. At first, because of opposition from other canals, there was no direct connection in Birmingham, the last few feet of canal in Birmingham were left uncompleted. These days the ring formed by the two canals and the river makes a popular two weeks holiday route.

The canal travels through some very pleasant countryside, climbing from the Severn through rolling fields and wooded cuttings and slicing through a hilly ridge south of Birmingham. At Bournville is the Cadbury's Chocolate Factory which has tours and exhibitions. Cadbury's had a fleet of immaculately painted narrowboats which carried their raw materials to the factory. There is also the village built by the firm for its workers and two half timbered houses which were moved here from other parts of Birmingham.

The canal has four tunnels, the longest at Kings Norton near the junction with the Stratford Canal is just under two miles long. Steam tugs were used from the 1870's to haul strings of narrowboats through the four tunnels. There's also the famous flight of thirty locks at Tardebigge, hard but interesting work for boat crews.

The Worcester and Birmingham canal is well known for it's locks, 58 in all climbing 428 feet from the level of the River Severn in Worcester up to Birmingham. Originally it was planned to use lifts to greatly reduce the number of locks and to save canal water. However there was some concern over whether the lifts would be robust enough, and good water supplies were secured by building reservoirs at Tardebigge and later at Upper Bittal, so locks were built instead. Tardebigge reservoir was below the canal summit level so a steam engine was used to lift the water above the locks. The engine house still stands. One lift was built, but it was not reliable and became the top lock at Tardebigge. This accounts for it's great depth, fourteen feet, one of the deepest on the canal system.

James Brindley 1716 - 1772 British canal builder

He was the first to employ tunnels and aqueducts extensively, in order to reduce the number of locks on a direct-route canal. His 580 km / 360 miles of canals included the Bridgewater (Manchester-Liverpool) and Grand Union (Manchester-Potteries) canals.

Brindley was born near Buxton, Derbyshire. He set up a machine shop in Staffordshire and began constructing flint and silk mills. He was virtually illiterate and made all calculations in his head.

In 1759 Brindley was engaged by the Duke of Bridgewater to construct a canal to transport coal to Manchester from the duke's mines at Worsley. Brindley's revolutionary scheme for this included a subterranean channel and an aqueduct over the river Irwell. He constructed impervious banks by puddling clay, and the canal simultaneously acted as a mine drain. The success of this project established him as the leading canal builder in the UK.

British Canal History

British Canals can be dated back to the Roman times, when several canals were built here including the Fossdyke, still navigable today. However, after the Romans left, no canals were built for a prolonged period. It was not until the era of Elizabeth I that the next canal was built, at Exeter. This was also the first use of pound locks in Britain- the type of lock in common use today. The navigable rivers at that time used flash locks. Soon after, many schemes were introduced for the improvement of river navigations, in 1660 there were 685 miles of river navigation, by 1724 another 475 miles had been added.

It was found, through experience of river engineering, that it was often better to build quite long artificial cuts rather than try to make the original course of the river into a navigation channel. In 1757 the Sankey Brook Navigation, later called the St Helen's Canal, was opened. This is claimed to be the first canal of the industrial era. It is a claim now largely overshadowed by the Duke of Bridgewater's canal opened in 1761.