View of canal showing lock and factory buildings

Canals of Birmingham

Birmingham has 35 miles of canals, which is said to be more than Venice. They're enjoyed by walkers, cyclists, and narrowboat owners and they are a reminder of a unique industrial history.

During the Industrial Revolution the canals were busy waterways transporting coal, iron and other heavy goods. They played a crucial role in the development of Birmingham and the Black Country.

More than 100 miles of canals make up the Birmingham Canal Navigations (BCN) today. Some of the major canals that meet in the city are the Grand Union Canal, Worcester and Birmingham Canal, Stourbridge Canal and Stratford Canal.

Most of the canals were built in the 1700s and 1800s and at its height the BCN had more than 170 miles of them. One of the first to be built was the Duke of Bridgewater's Canal. It carried the Duke's coal from inside the mines 15 miles to Manchester. It was finished in 1761 and most of the engineering work was planned and supervised by James Brindley. Brindley was a millwright by trade and one of the most notable engineers of the 18th century. He worked on six canal projects in the Midlands.

For 170 years the canal system was bustling with activity. Towards the end of the 19th century the tonnage of goods carried increased reaching 8 and a half million tonnes in 1898.

Although the canals were profitable, they were costly to build and maintain. In the 1820s Thomas Telford was employed to inspect Birmingham's canals, which had severe maintenance problems. He suggested an overhaul of the canal system, which included the straightening of many canals.

As canal industries declined and railways and roads took over the long distance transportation of goods, use of the canals decreased. By 1980 all commercial traffic had stopped. Over the years canals fell into disrepair. However, many have since been restored and their surroundings improved with parkland, housing and many stunning modern developments, creating vibrant areas with shops, restaurants, bars and entertainment.

Read more about Birmingham's canals on the Canal & River Trust website.

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