Tag Archives: canal

The Coalport Branch of the Shropshire Canal – Part 1 – The length as far South as Stirchley Iron Works.

The Coalport Branch of the Shropshire Canal appears on the schematic plan below. The tub boat canals were linked to the Shropshire Union Canal via the Newport Canal (the Shrewsbury and Newport Canal).

This schematic representation of the Shropshire Tub Boat Canals is helpful in clarifying the extent of the network. It shows the locations of all the inclined planes on the system. These are marked with a red arrowhead which in each case highlights the direction of the lift. The Trench Branch and Incline were in important link in the journey between the Shropshire Union Canal and the River Severn at Coalport, linking the Newport Canal to the Wombridge Canal which became a part of the Shropshire Canal. [2]

An Act of Parliament dated 11th June 1788 enabled the construction of the Shropshire Canal. It was opened along nearly its full length by 1791 and served the major ironworks and collieries in its immediate vicinity. These included “the Snedshill and Priors Lee Furnaces, the Lilleshall Company’s early mines, the Madeley Court Ironworks, Blists Hill Furnaces and the Coalbrookedale Company.” [24: p 167]

The Shropshire Canal was blighted by subsidence throughout its life. Many of the mines in the area were shallow workings only had short working lives and, once the reserves that they exploited were exhausted, were abandoned. Their demise often resulted in water loss from the canal, a problem which could not be addressed quickly. Of more substantial difficulty were the occasions when subsidence led to more significant structural damage to the waterways and their associated inclined planes.

Initially, the majority of the loads carried by the canal were transported only short distances between industrial sites in the immediate area. Over time, first coal and pig iron and later other products were dispatched to a variety of destinations outside the area. An inclined plane (the Hay Inclined Plane) linked the Canal to the River Severn. See:




Coalport grew significantly as a result of this trade and “within a few years two potteries, a rope works and a chain works opened there.” [24: p167]

A length of the canal from Trench to Shrewsbury was open by 1797, but it remained isolated from the rest of the canal network until 1835, when the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal built the Newport Branch from Norbury Junction to a new junction with the Shrewsbury Canal at Wappenshall. [1]

The Trench Branch brought the Canal to the top of Trench Inclined Plane, that length of canal and the Inclined Plane are covered in an article which can be found here:

Canal Inclines in East Shropshire – the Trench Inclined Plane …

At the top of the incline a junction was made with the Wombridge Canal which is marked as a continuation of the Trench Branch on OS Maps.

The Wombridge Canal opened in 1788, and parts of it were taken over by the Shrewsbury Canal Company in 1792, who built the inclined plane at Trench. It lowered tub-boats 75 feet (23 m), and remained in operation until 1921, becoming the last operational canal inclined plane in the country. The canal had been little used since 1919, and closed with the closure of the plane. [3]

As the schematic plan of the Shropshire Canal network above shows, from the top of Trench Inclined Plane (Wombridge Wharf) tub-boats could be taken in two different directions. Turn to the South and it was only a short journey to Wombridge Iron Works. This short length of the canal is shown on an extract from the 6″ Ordnance Survey of 1881 below. …

Trench Inclined Plane enters this map extract from the 6″ OS Map of 1881 (published in 1887] in the top-left corner. Wombridge Ironworks are shown in the bottom-right of the image. Wombridge Collieries appear close to the centre of the map. Wombridge Ironworks where extended, before the time of the Ordnance Survey, across the line of what was a slightly longer canal arm. [5]
This is an extract from a wider plan of the Shropshire Canal network included on the website, ‘Exploring Telford’. It shows a longer length of the canal South of Trench Inclined Plane, running on passed Wombridge Iron Works, Wombridge Forge and on to Wombridge Farm. The website ‘Exploring Telford’ [21] was developed by Richard Foxcroft. Richard, sadly died in 2018, I have been unable to contact anyone about his website. The plan from which this extract is taken appears on the Homepage of ‘Exploring Telford’. [21] The line shown on this computer generated drawing matches well with the drawing included immediately below and which was sourced from British History Online [22]
Wombridge and Priorslee in the 1840s. The area of interest to us here is in the top-left of the image around Wombridge. That area is enlarged below. [22]
An enlarged extract from the plan above. In the 1840s, the canal arm which extended South of Trench Inclined Plane was already truncated with short lengths isolated from the network still in use. [22] British History Online indicates that this length of the canal (South of Wombridge Ironworks) was probably abandoned by 1819. [23]

Northeast of Trench Inclined Plane the Wombridge Canal linked across to Old Yard Junction. Here the Donnington Wood Canal continued Northeast and the Coalport Branch ran to the South.

Travelling South on the Coalport Branch Canal, tub-boats would have immediately encountered Wrockwardine Wood Inclined Plane.

Construction of the Wrockwardine Wood Inclined Plane took place in 1791 after the Ironmaster, John Wilkinson petitioned Parliament to extend the Shropshire Canal from Snedshill to form a junction with the Donnington Wood Canal. [4]

P. Whitehead [11] provides approximate figures for the inclined planes on the Shropshire Canal as follows:

Trench Inclined Plane: 227yds long, 73ft 6in rise.

Wrockwardine Wood Inclined Plane: 350yds long, 120ft rise. Or 316yds long, 113ft 2in rise. (But note the information provided by British History Online below and reference [17] which gives different dimensions again.

Windmill Inclined Plane: 600yds long, 125 ft rise.

Hay Inclined Plane: 300yards long, 213ft rise.

Ketley Inclined Plane: 59yds long, 73 ft rise. Or, 65 yds long, 73ft rise.

Lilleshall Inclined Plane: 123 yds long, 43 ft. This replaced an earlier vertical lift in a shaft and tunnel system. [11]

The Coalport Branch continued South. The majority of its route is picked up on John Rennie’s plan showing the proposed route of his Shrewsbury & Wolverhampton Railway which predated the construction of the LNWR’s Coalport Branch.

An extract from a plan drafted by John Rennie in 1844 showing the proposed route of the Shrewsbury and Wolverhampton Railway through Wellington and Shiffnal [Shifnal]. This plan predates the LNWR’s construction of its Coalport Branch. The Shropshire Canal can be seen clearly at the centre of the extract. This plan is held by the Shropshire Archive Ref. X6008/201 and is included here with their kind permission. The original map is at a 1″ to 1 mile scale. [10]
An enlarged extract taken from the image immediately above. The extract shows the top of the Trench Inclined Plane in its top-left corner with the Wombridge Canal running sinuously East towards the canal junction from where the Donnington Canal heads Northeast and the Coalport Branch runs to the South. The Coalport Branch crosses the line of the proposed railway just to the Northwest of Priorslee, where a branch canal can be seen heading to the West. This is the Ketley Canal. Coalport Branch then runs parallel to the intended railway for a short distance before turning South along the East side of Dawley. Just to the Southwest of Stirchley it passes through a tunnel and at a junction divides into two. One arm runs to the South of Great Dawley in a generally Westerly direction. The other branch heads to the Southeast before encountering Windmill Inclined Plane to the Northeast of Madeley Court. From here it heads South towards the Hay Inclined Plane and the River Severn both of which are off John Rennie’s plan to the South. [10]

The route of the Canal can be picked out in greater detail on the 6″ Ordnance Survey which was completed in 1881 and published in 1888. By this time the LNWR’s Coalport Branch had been built and the canal can only been where it had not been replaced by the railway. There are, however, some very short sections of the canal still visible alongside the railway route even into the 21st century.

Old Yard Junction was located at the bottom edge of one map sheet and so also of this extract from the 6″ Ordnance Survey of 1881 which was published in 1888. The Wombridge Canal met the Donnington Wood Canal at the junction. The Coalport Branch of the Shropshire Canal headed South at this point. [5]
The same area as shown in the map extract above, this time in the satellite imagery provided by the National Library of Scotland (ESRI)[9]
The Canal route through Wrockwardine Wood. It enters from the top of the extract and runs in a South-southwest direction leaving bottom-left. [6]
On this ESRI satellite image provided by the National Library of Scotland (NLS) the Canal route runs from top-right to bottom-left, principally through the wooded area (Wrockwardine Wood). It can be seen represented by a curving line of trees at the top-right of this image by and then follows a sinuous course on the northwestern side of the Wood. The red line is only an approximation to the route. [12]
The site of the Wrockwardine Wood Inclined Plane in the mid-1960s © Dr. Neil Clifton, 29th April 1967 made available under a Creative Commons Licence (CC BY-2.0) [7][8]

Wrockwardine Wood, north-east of Oakengates town centre, was originally a detached piece of woodland, later a township, belonging to the manor and parish of Wrockwardine, the rest of which lay 7 km. to the west. British History Online provides a history and a plan of the area. The plan (reproduced below) clearly shows the Inclined Plane. “An inclined plane on the Shropshire Canal rose 122 ft. in 320 yd. from the junction to a summit level on Cockshutt Piece. The Shropshire Canal closed in 1857, the Shrewsbury c. 1921. [19] An underground level, perhaps navigable, ran between Donnington Wood furnaces and the area north-west of the Nabb by c. 1800. [20]” [17]

The 1847 plan of Wrockwardine Wood as provided by British History Online. It shows the Inclined Plane to the right-side of the map slightly above the centre line. The high point of the Inclined Plane was at the Northeast end where it left the Wombridge/Donnington Wood Canals at the Old Yard Junction. This map is enlarged below. [17]
Wrockwardine Wood Inclined Plane. [17]
Another extract from the 6″ Ordnance Survey of 1881. The Canal route can more easily be seen on this image as, although disused, significant length were still holding water in 1881 and are coloured blue. Oakengates is on the West side of the Canal and Snedshill Ironworks can be made out at the bottom edge of the map extract. [6]
I have drawn the approximate alignment if the canal onto this image. The curved edge of Wrockwardine Wood one-third along the top edge of this ESRI (NLS) satellite image extract from the left defines the point at which the canal alignment enters this image. It curves round to the Southeast, running on the Northeast side of the A442 which dominates the centre of the image. It runs along the line of the lower portion of Willows Road before running South through the modern site of Fitchett (Redland) Business Park (which sits alongside the first designated length of the Silkin Way) and then across the A442 alongside what was once Snedshill Ironworks. The line is defined by the western edge of the woodland on the West side if the A442, the East side of the Reynolds Drive estate and the tree line in Madin Park. [13]
The 1881 6″ Ordnance Survey shows a section of canal alongside Snedshill Iron Works still ‘in water’. South of the Works and before reaching what was for many years the A5 Trunk Road. The newer Coalport Branch began to run along the line of the old canal. One of the Works sidings followed the line of the canal to join the LNWR branch. The red-dashed line approximately indicates the route of the canal. The blue-dashed line is the approximate route of the old Ketley Branch canal. [6]

The Loop adjacent to, and South of, Malinslee Railway Station

The Canal bed behind Malinslee Railway Station buildings in 1962. This image was shared on the Telford Memories Facebook Group by Marcus Keane on 27th February 2022. [14]
An extract from the 1881 Ordnance Survey, published in 1882 showing the area to the South of Dark Lane. Little Dark Lane Colliery to the immediate West of the Station was still in use at the time of this survey. The standard-gauge siding to the West of the Station buildings can be seen on this extract as serving a tramroad wharf, as can the longer siding to the South. Tramroads are not the subject of this article, but given that the tramroads shown seem to only serve the Little Dark Lane Colliery and the Dark Lane Foundry, the traffic on these lines may have either been horse-powered or even man-powered. When the Canal was active a wharf would have existed on the West side of the canal. [25]
A further extract from the 1881 6″ Ordnance Survey, showing the next length of the canal. The route of the old canal is indicated approximately by the light blue dashed line. [25]
The next extract from the 6″ Ordnance Survey of 1881 takes the canal as far South as Stirchley Ironworks. There are a myriad of tramroad sidings shown at the time of the 1881 survey. Many of these are associated with Oldpark Iron Works and they fill the space between the old canal route and the Works. Most of these will not have been present in the period while the canal was active. As we will see below, there was at least one tramroad bridge across the canal in the time before the canal was replaced by the LNWR Coalport Branch. [25]

The Loop near Stirchley Ironworks

Andy Tidy surveyed the route of the Coalport Branch of the Shropshire Canal in March 2012. He highlighted two areas worthy of note. The first adjacent to Hinkshay/Stirchley Pools and the second to the South of Dawley and Stirchley Railway Station where the Canal was in tunnel during its working life. [15]

Adjacent to the Hinkshay Pools, the Canal alignment deviated from the formation of the later Railway. Andy Tidy provided a plan (below) of the location which I have annotated with the key features he refers to. His pictures of the canal deviation can be seen here. [15]

Andy Tidy says: “No sooner has the line moved off the modern Silkin Way than it is in water, first in the undergrowth but then as it passes the first reservoir the bed squeezes through the foundations of a collapsed bridge and on into open water. … The towpath sits on a narrow strand of land between the canal and the Stirchley Pools Reservoir, a pretty spot which is carefully maintained as a nature reserve. This clear stretch of canal is haunting and as you walk under the shade of the trees you almost expect to meet a horse plodding the other way towing a string of loaded tub boats. … All too soon this enduring stretch of canal slides back into the railway bed, all traces are lost at it passes through the recently rebuilt Stirchley Station.” [15]
Looking North along the Silkin Way, this is the Stirchley Ironworks Bridge which crossed the Canal and later the railway. Stirchley Ironworks were on the left-hand side of the photograph, on the far side of the bridge. [My photograph, April 2022]
This picture shows the length of the canal on the map above. It was shared by Andy Rose on the Telford Memories Facebook Group in February 2022. [18]

The remaining length of the canal to the South of Stirchley Iron Works is covered in a second article which can be found on this link:


  1. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shrewsbury_Canal, accessed on 27th August 2022.
  2. https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Wombridge_Canal#/google_vignette, accessed on 26th July 2022.
  3. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wombridge_Canal, accessed on 27th August 2022.
  4. https://www.hugofox.com/community/wrockwardine-wood-and-trench-parish-council-7908/inclined-plane/?preview=f84044eee88d4d9a86222c53c7152164#:~:text=Construction%20of%20the%20Wrockwardine%20Wood,incline%20measured%20about%20seven%20degrees.
  5. https://maps.nls.uk/view/101594284, accessed on 27th August 2022.
  6. https://maps.nls.uk/view/101594308, accessed on 27th August 2022.
  7. https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wrockwardine_Wood_Inclined_Plane,Shropshiregeograph.org.uk-_343759.jpg, accessed on 28th August 2022.
  8. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, accessed on 28th August 2022.
  9. https://maps.nls.uk/geo/explore/#zoom=16&lat=52.70969&lon=-2.44111&layers=6&b=1, accessed on 28th August 2022.
  10. J. Rennie; Shrewsbury and Wolverhampton Railway through Wellington and Shiffnal; Map scale1″/1 mile; Shropshire Archive Ref. X6008/201, 1844.
  11. http://www.pittdixon.go-plus.net/shropshire-tbc/shropshire-tbc.htm, accessed on 28th August 2022.
  12. https://maps.nls.uk/geo/explore/#zoom=15&lat=52.70413&lon=-2.44538&layers=6&b=1, accessed on 29th August 2022.
  13. https://maps.nls.uk/geo/explore/#zoom=15&lat=52.69707&lon=-2.44735&layers=6&b=1, accessed on 29th August 2022.
  14. https://m.facebook.com/groups/674238619260811/permalink/7378452445506028, accessed on 29th August 2022.
  15. http://captainahabswaterytales.blogspot.com/2012/03/shropshire-canal-stirchley.html, accessed on 22nd June 2022.
  16. http://captainahabswaterytales.blogspot.com/2012/03/shropshire-canal-wrockwardine.html?m=1, accessed on 29th August 2022.
  17. A P Baggs, D C Cox, Jessie McFall, P A Stamper and A J L Winchester; Wrockwardine Wood, in A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 11, Telford, ed. G C Baugh and C R Elrington (London, 1985), pp. 323-326. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/salop/vol11/pp323-326, accessed on 29th August 2022.
  18. This photograph was shared as a comment by Andy Rose on a group post by Marcus Keane dated 27th February 2022 which showed the length of the Shropshire Canal bed directly behind Malinslee Railway Station; https://m.facebook.com/groups/674238619260811/permalink/7378452445506028, accessed on 29th August 2022.
  19. References provided in Reference [17] C. Hadfield; Canals of W. Midlands (1969), 40, 151, 251, 328-9; I.G.M.T., Lilleshall Co. colln. 106, 110; Trinder, Ind. Rev. Salop. (1981), 76, 84-5, 153.
  20. Reference provided in Reference [17] Shropshire Records Office 691/1; Salop. News Sheet, xvii. 7-8.
  21. http://www.telford.org.uk, accessed on 31st August 2022.
  22. A P Baggs, D C Cox, Jessie McFall, P A Stamper and A J L Winchester; Wombridge: Growth of settlement, in A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 11, Telford, ed. G C Baugh and C R Elrington (London, 1985), pp. 285-289. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/salop/vol11/pp285-289; accessed on 2nd September 2022.
  23. A P Baggs, D C Cox, Jessie McFall, P A Stamper and A J L Winchester; Wombridge: Communications, in A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 11, Telford, ed. G C Baugh and C R Elrington (London, 1985), pp. 284-285. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/salop/vol11/pp284-285; accessed on 2nd September 2022.
  24. Bob Yate; The Shropshire Union Railway – Stafford to Shrewsbury including the Coalport Branch (OL129); Oakwood Press, Usk, Monmouthshire, 2003.
  25. https://maps.nls.uk/view/101594470, accessed on 13th March 2023.