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Potted History of the Staffs and Worcester Canal

Ashwood Basin

On the 14th May 1766 both the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal and the Trent & Mersey Canal were authorised by Parliament. The Staffs & Worcs was the first to be completed in 1772, engineered by James Brindley assisted by Thomas Dadford Senior.  This was the second canal to be opened after the Bridgewater Canal.

Joining the River Severn at Stourport to the ‘Grand Trunk’ at Great Haywood, it was to form one of the four main arms of Brindley’s vision of canals to link together the rivers Severn, Trent, Mersey and Thames.  It was the only canal from this plan to be completed in his lifetime.

It is 46 miles long and has 43 locks, almost a lock a mile.  Special features include overhanging sandstone cliffs; several short rock-cut tunnels and the Bratch triple locks, originally a staircase lock that was modified to be 3 individual locks with a small pound of a few feet between each.

Its route remains almost entirely rural making it the perfect leisure waterway for today’s modern holiday cruising but for two centuries it was a busy commercial transport artery.

In 1827 James Foster of ‘John Bradley & Co’, the Iron-masters from Stourbridge, and Lord Dudley, (The Fourth Viscount Dudley & Ward) agreed to build a railway from Ashwood Basin, on the Staffs & Worcs Canal, to Shut End on Pensnett Chase, a distance of 3.12 miles.

It was opened on the 2nd June 1829 and used the Agenoria locomotive.  The Shutt End Railway later became part of a larger system known as the Pensnett Railway     This system eventually stretched from Ashwood Basin in the West to Baggeridge Colliery in the North and Netherton in the East, taking in the Round Oak Ironworks complex as well as innumerable pits.

Some of the lines on this network did not cease operation until 1966 but it is understood that Ashwood ceased being used circa 1949 when the last commercial traffic finished operating on the now nationalised Staffs and Worcester canal. 

In 1957 Peter Rose was a canal enthusiast who kept a small leisure boat on the Staffs and Worcester canal at Stourton.  Peter was also a local scout troop leader and liked to take his scouts on canoe trips along the local canals.  On this occasion in 1957 Peter and his troop were canoeing south from Wombourne back towards Kinver when shortly after Greensforge lock Peter noticed a gap in the trees just before Flatheridge bridge.  Eager for adventure with his scouts he suggested they foraged their way through the trees and they keenly abided.

After several minutes of working their way along a small watercourse densely wooded on either side they came out into a basin surrounded by wilderness.  They subsequently worked their way up to the viaduct bridge and the upper basin and this is when Peter had his eureka moment.

Leisure use was the future of the canals and users would need marinas in which to moor their boats and have them maintained.  In conjunction with a couple of likeminded chums he sought to firstly find Ashwood by road and then acquire it.

2 years later he had succeeded in purchasing it from the Earl of Dudley and the first boat into the marina was Joanna, a newly converted houseboat.

Peter also needed somewhere to live whilst he continued his full time occupation and developed Ashwood at the same time and so he purchased ex working boat Hood from Samuel Barlow and converted her into a houseboat.

In 1962 Peter nearly lost everything when a government white paper was introduced proposing the closure of the Staffs and Worcester canal.  In conjunction with the IWA and other enthusiasts Peter campaigned for its continuation as an important part of the area’s heritage and area of natural beauty.

Thankfully the transport minister of the time, Barbara Castle was won over and so Peter was able to focus on the development of the marina into what it is today.

Back in the 1960’s and 1970’s most of the boats here were canal cruisers, many built by local companies like Abbot, Dawncraft and Heads of Stourport.  Some were hand built by their owners and Peter and his partners of the time had a go at building cruisers in fibreglass.

During the 1980’s the progressive switch to narrowboats was made; narrowboats now occupying most of our berths.  Often early narrowboats were converted from working boats, these being cut up with either the bow or the stern joined to a new half to form a shorter boat.  The Les Allen & Sons yard at Oldbury did many such conversions.

Sadly Peter passed away in 2011 but the family continue the legacy that he established of offering people a peaceful retreat close to the busy West Midlands conurbation.

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