In the last post I mentioned that one of the next steps on my journey of discovery was to find out more about the Iron Boat Dock where BCN18686 was built in 1903.

It’s proved to have been a really productive week, thanks again to the BCN experts on the Canal World Forum who’ve so freely shared their knowledge, and provided new leads.

As a result of their advice, and with the help of a couple of reproductions of the 1904 Ordnance Survey 1:2500 map, I’ve been able to expand a single paragraph from:

The makers plate shows the boat was built by Eli Aston of 50, Waterloo Street, Tipton, at some point before 1903. The 1911 census states that Aston was trading as an Iron Canal Boatbuilder. He would have been in his early fifties when 18686 was built. The census also records that working in the company were his son Isaiah Aston then in his thirties, as a Canal Boat Riveter and a younger son, Eli Aston Canal boat Rivet Heater. Kelly’s Trade Directory of 1912 records Eli Aston iron boat builder, as working in Iron Boat Dock, Alexandra Road, Tipton on the Toll End Communication canal.

to this:

“The Toll End Communication Canal, at the side of which BCN 18686 was constructed, was the result of patchwork development over a number of years.

1000px-BCN_canal_map_Wednesbury_Oak_svg

The canal began in the west with the short Tipton Green Branch, completed around 1805, which branched eastwards off what’s now called the Old Main Line and in its short quarter mile length dropped through 3 locks terminating near today’s New Main Line adjacent to Watery Lane Junction.

In 1806 the Tipton Green Branch was extended north easterly for about a mile descending a further four narrow locks.

Meanwhile, rising towards it from the east was the Toll End Branch. It had been authorised by Act of Parliament as early as 1783 to provide access from the Broadwaters Canal (now part of the Walsall Canal) to a proposed new coal mine. It wasn’t completed until 1801.

In 1806 it was decided to extend the Toll End Branch to meet the Tipton Green Branch via two further locks, and in January 1809 the Toll End Communication Canal was completed.

In 1829 Thomas Telford’s New Main Line cut across the Tipton Green Branch, forming Watery Lane Junction, and creating a de facto Tipton Green Locks Branch of three locks and a Toll End Locks Branch of seven locks.

IMG_4933

And it’s this end of the branch that’s linked to the history of BCN 18686. The makers plate shows the boat was built by Eli Aston of 50, Waterloo Street, Tipton, at some point before 1903.

The 1911 Census states that Aston was trading as an Iron Canal Boatbuilder. He would have been in his early fifties when 18686 was built. The census also records that working in the company were his son Isaiah Aston then in his thirties, as a Canal Boat Riveter and a younger son, Eli Aston Canal boat Rivet Heater.

Kelly’s Trade Directory of 1912 records Eli Aston iron boat builder, as working in Iron Boat Dock, Alexandra Road, Tipton on the Toll End Communication canal.

IMG_4932

A look at the 1904 Ordnance Survey Map shows that a basin once stood close to what is now called Alexandra Road in what was then Workhouse Lane, however I couldn’t prove that this was the location of the Iron Boat Dock until Martin O’Keeffe confirmed that the BCN’s Table of Distances show Aston’s Iron Boat Dock to be situated in a side basin between the top and second lock after the London & North Western Railway bridge on the north side of the canal. He was also able to confirm that the dock was located on the western side of the basin where buildings and hard-standing are shown on the 1904 O.S. map.

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This detail taken from R. J. Dean’s remarkable ‘Canals of Birmingham No. 2’ in the Historic Map Series for Cartographics shows the extent of the branches that once sprung from the Toll End and Tipton Green branches…

Ray Shill added that the Tipton Tithe Survey of 1894-49 shows that the side basin had once extended to Tipton Green Furnaces and was the original link to the Furnace Yard. The line of that extension can just about be made out on the map above. These furnaces loaded ironstone and limestone at an upper level and iron was sent out by boat from this lower level arm onto the Toll End Communication. The making of the Three Furnaces Branch rendered the link to the Yard redundant and it was given over to other uses. Interestingly Ray notes that the Tipton Rate Books list James Fellows (father of Joshua & James Fellows of FMC fame) as being located here in the early days of his involvement in canal carrying, when associated with the iron master, Thomas Bagnall.

The Toll End Communication Canal is long gone, a ghost canal, part of the Lost 60 miles of the Birmingham Canal Navigation. It’s decline typified the fate of many of the minor branches that once served industry in that having suffered from a century or more of declining traffic due to competition first from the railways and then road haulage, the Tipton Green Branch became disused in 1960, and the Toll End Branch in 1966.The locks and canals were infilled in 1976.

With a little imagination, and the help of aerial maps, it’s still possible to resurrect the ghost of the Toll End branch, in this endeavour I’m grateful to a Canal World Forum member who I only know as ‘Derek R’ who so helpfully pointed me in the right direction.

From the Watery Lane Junction (a short section of which later became Caggy’s Stevens’ boat yard) the canal passes beneath the railway and across Alexandra Road.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
A peek into Caggy’s Yard or Watery Lane Junction as it once was…
yellow caggy end
After Watery Lane Junction the canal dived under the LNWR line. All sign of the first two locks and the basin where Iron Boat Dock was located have been lost to infilling and the later tunneling works prompted by the extension of Alexandra Road across the old basin and beneath the railway.
yellow industrial estate 1
The line of the canal from this point continues eastwards through the industrial area to the north of the railway where stands of trees and the line of warehouses seem to indicate that it followed the southern perimeter and car parks of two industrial estates.
yellow inudtrial estate 2
Once out of the second industrial estate the canal passed across what is now Brooks Meadow where a shallow open drainage ditch marks the likely course. There was a lock along this stretch, and a short coal wharf to the North.
yellow across church lane
Just before Upper Church Lane the canal turned sharply to the right. This was where the Toll End Communication canal, rising through two locks, joined the Tipton Green branch (which had originally continued across Upper Church Lane to Cotterill Farm Colliery). The turn and lock chambers are defined by a stand of trees and rough shrubland.
yellow playing fields
The canal, having turned abruptly right, then veers left and beneath Upper Church Lane (just north of a zebra crossing shown on Google Maps) and continues along the back of the Tipton Community Fire Station.
yellow Tipton Cemetery
It then crosses what is now a playing field and skirts the top of the Tipton Cemetery where there was a lock.
yellow industrial estate sweeping road
There was another lock just before the canal passed over Bridge Road, this bridge was removed when the canal was in-filled and the road levelled. 
yellow joining the walsall canal
The line of the canal is now echoed in the line of a service road within another industrial estate until it passes beneath Toll End Road where the bridge abutments are still visible. The final stretch of canal is lost beneath later industrial building and a car park before it’s junction with the Walsall Canal. The junction is now hidden, with the line of a pipe bridge parallel to the towpath the only remaining evidence of where the Toll End Communication Canal ended.

And that’s where the journey ends this week… I’m really enjoying the detective work, and the fact that I don’t know where the journey will take me next!

ps. If you know of any historic photographs or reference materials that might extend ‘The Story of a Boat’ further I’d love to hear from you…

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