Our water highway – The Shropshire Union Canal in Gnosall
Did you know that we have the longest section of any canal in England without a lock? The Shropshire Union Canal (the 'Shroppie') is one of the iconic features of our parish and the Heritage Group, BKV, canal users, towpath restoration group, Norbury Junction and Shrewsbury to Newport Canal Restoration Trust between them have a vast amount of information relating to it. This is a brief synopsis of the vast amount of historical data available.
In 1846 the Shropshire Union Railways and Canal Company (SUR&CC) - which originally constructed and ran the railway line from Stafford to Wellington - was formed. It was one of the few companies which constructed both a canal and a railway. The Shropshire Union Canal started life in 1797 with the completion of the Ellesmere Port to Chester section, masterminded by Thomas Telford. This was a 'contour canal', following the natural contours of the land and the final section from Norbury to Wappenshall was completed in 1835.The canal is just over 66 miles long and passes through Cheshire, Shropshire and Staffordshire, linking to the West Midlands conurbation and the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal at Autherley Junction in Wolverhampton. The Shrewsbury Canal, heading west from Norbury, declined and closed in 1944. There is now an active campaign to reopen and restore this branch canal to its former glory including all the locks between Norbury and Newport.
As many can testify, the main Shropshire Union Canal is very busy today. Long gone are the coal, clay and other commodities carried on the narrowboats and pulled by horses; today narrowboats are used for a variety of reasons, including leisure, waterway homes, trade boats, tourist and hire boats. There is still the occasional coal boat and narrowboaters still use the towpaths as a form of recreation, providing another market for businesses in the parish by means of sustainable tourism.
Our BKV team have used the Shropshire Union Canal as the main image on the new 'Welcome to Gnosall' sign - well done and thank you!
Large-scale canal industries have gone but small-scale canal industries remain. In Norbury many of the traditional narrowboat traditions and skills are maintained along with canal remnants of the past. There are also heritage and archaeological remains alongside and near the canal in Gnosall which are visible today if you know where to look. On some of the bridges you might see iron guards used to protect bridges from the ropes of horse-drawn narrowboats - the rope marks can still be seen. In Cowley woods can be found the remains of the old Gnosall brickworks and of the small pits where sandstone and clay were quarried, along with a section of small-gauge railway.
The Cowley tunnel itself, cut in to the sandstone and originally scheduled to stretch all the way to Goosemoor Lane bridge, was a feat of civil engineering. However, due to the stability and composition of the rock formation in the Cowley cut (embankment) the tunnel extension was abandoned.
In the winter of 1985/ early 1986 extensive work was carried out in the Cowley cut and the remains are still clearly visible; marks indicate where drag lines were used to pull rock up the embankment. After this work, Mr Stuart Naden and his team of volunteers created the 'Kingfisher Trail' and installed benches and 'Woodhenge' which is a wooden re creation of Stonehenge.
In 2017 Bob Johnson, Peter Jobling, Dudley Taylor, Carl Pendlebury (Canal & River Trust), and Councillors Keith Abbot and Victoria Kessey took part in a walk of the Cowley woods area to identify the location of fallen trees and for historical and archaeological purposes.