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Company of Proprietors of the Wyrley and Essington Navigation


Records of the Company of Proprietors of the Wyrley and Essington Navigation: committee book 1792-1803, agreements 1794-1832, plans of land and the canal 1795-early 19th century.



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Administrative /​ Biographical history

The Wyrley and Essington Navigation was suggested as a means to get coal from the mines in Wyrley and Essington to Walsall and Wolverhampton. The Act of 1792 authorised a canal from Horseley Fields on the Birmingham Canal to Sneyd. One branch was to extend to Wyrley, itself having a branch to Essington, and a second branch to Birchalls. A second Act was obtained in 1794 allowing for an extension to Brownhills and Huddlesford. This extension initially had its finances kept separate. More limestone quarries and works were to be reached with new branches, including Daw End and Lord Hay's. William Pitt was appointed as engineer. By the time the company had their second Act, the original canal was open to Sneyd. It was capable of taking boats71 feet 6 inches by 7 feet 1 inch. Work progressed quickly, and the 23 ½ mile main line with 30 locks was completed in May 1797. Sneyd Reservoir, the Birmingham Canal and Norton bog all supplied the canal with water, but still there were shortages until the Cannock Chase Reservoir, also known as Chasewater, was built in 1800. Sneyd Reservoir had burst in summer 1799, adding flood damage to the company's list of concerns. By then, the branches were all completed too. 1798 saw the 2 ¼ mile Sneyd to Wyrley Bank and its own ¾ mile Essington branch, with 9 locks between them, completed, as was the Birchalls to Walsall branch. The latter was made virtually redundant the following year when the Birmingham Canal reached Walsall too. By early 1809, the branch had been disused for years and was completely dry. By 1800, the 5 3/8 mile Daw End and 1 ¼ mile Lord Hay's branch, both level, were also finished. Despite the Daw End branch's limestone quarries being worked out by 1809, the Wyrley and Essington Navigation built up a strong trade in coal and merchandise. Previously under-developed, the area through which the canal passed grew as industries such as lock-smithing and brick-making were established along it. Further pits were opened and the canal was extended to serve them. From 1835, the company sold water to the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal on a regular basis, with more sporadic purchases made by other surrounding canals. The company's success was modest and hard-earned, but enough for dividends to reach 6 per cent. In 1825, mine owners who used the canal suggested a junction with the Birmingham Canal. The company was agreeable and spent the next two years surveying for potential junctions with the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, and the Birmingham Canal. This came to nothing, and in 1829 a more formal request was made to unite the Wyrley and Essington Navigation with the Birmingham Canal, this time by a larger group of landowners, ironmasters, carriers, and others concerned with the navigation. Again, no action was taken as neither company seemed enthusiastic. Birmingham Canal continued to reject all offers of a junction at Walsall until the Wyrley and Essington Navigation announced their intention to build it themselves. It had the desired effect, and in 1840, the Wryley and Essington Navigation amalgamated with the Birmingham Canal. A year later, the 5 5/8 mile, 8 lock Walsall Junction was completed. The move coincided with a period of difficulty for the canals. Colliery strikes, water shortages and railway competition combined to reduce the revenue taken by the canal. The Wyrley and Essington Navigation, however, remained open until a 1954 Act closed part of the main line and the branches of Sneyd, Wyrley Bank, Lord Hay's and part of the Hays Head. Traffic had been poor since the beginning of the twentieth century, with a further drop after World War II. All commercial traffic ceased in the 1960s, although the remaining navigable sections were used by pleasure craft. A programme of restoration work was begun in the 1990s. For further information on the Wyrley and Essington Navigation see Edward Paget-Tomlinson's 'The Illustrated History of Canals & River Navigations' and Charles Hadfield's 'The Canals of the West Midlands'.

System of arrangement

It has not been possible to ascertain the original structure of record-keeping from the small number of records held for this company. The fonds has therefore generally been arranged chronologically while keeping records relating to each other together. This means that some records may fall slightly out of the chronological sequence. Documents are placed first, followed by plans.

Associated material

[See also: BW165 for records of the Wyrley and Essington Navigation during other periods of ownership]