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Birmingham Canal Navigations (BCN) is a network of navigable canals connecting Birmingham, Wolverhampton, and the eastern part of the Black Country. The BCN is connected to the rest of the English canal system at several junctions.
At its working peak, the BCN contained about 160 miles (257 km) of canals; today just over 100 miles (160 km) are navigable, and the majority of traffic is from tourist and residential narrowboats.
The first canal to be built in the area was the Birmingham Canal, built from 1768 to 1772 under the supervision of James Brindley from the, then, edge of Birmingham, with terminii at Newhall Wharf (since built over) and Paradise Wharf (also known as Old Wharf) near to Gas Street Basin to meet the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal at Aldersley (north of Wolverhampton).
The Birmingham and Fazely Canal, from Birmingham to Tamworth, followed in 1784 with the Birmingham Canal Company merging with the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal Company immediately, to form what was originally called the Birmingham and Birmingham and Fazeley Canal Company. This cumbersome name was short-lived, and the combined company became known as the Birmingham Canal Navigations from 1794, as the network was expanded.
The BCN is built on three main levels, each with its own reservoirs.
453 ft, the Birmingham Level;
473 ft, the Wolverhampton Level;
408 ft, the Walsall Level
These levels are linked by locks at various places on the network.
There are also stretches on their own levels.
The Titford Canal and its branches were built at 511 ft, linked to the Titford Reservoir (Titford Pool). A feeder supplies water to the Edgbaston Reservoir.
A short section of the BCN Old Main Line, at Smethwick Summit, was built at 491 ft. Pumps at either end were built to pump water used by the locks back to the summit - one at Spon Lane locks, and one at Smethwick locks: the Smethwick Engine. When the summit became too busy John Smeaton designed a scheme where it was lowered by 20 feet to the Wolverhampton level, eliminating six locks and providing a parallel set of locks at Smethwick which improved traffic throughput. It also linked to the general Wolverhampton Level supply of water.
The Canals of the BCN
Fingerpost at Old Turn Junction, where the BCN Main Line meets the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal Anson Branch
BCN Main Line (originally known as the Birmingham Canal) from Aldersley Junction (north of Wolverhampton) to Gas Street Basin (at the Worcester Bar in central Birmingham), using some of the Old Main Line canal.
Old Main Line, originally terminating in Birmingham at two wharfs now built upon: Old Wharf (adjacent to Gas Street Basin) and Newhall Wharf.
New Main Line, a revised route for the Birmingham Canal, double towpathed, largely progressing in straight lines using cuttings and tunnels.
Birmingham and Fazeley Canal (from Old Turn Junction (by the National Indoor Arena), eastwards to the Coventry Canal at Fazeley Junction)
Cannock Extension Canal
Digbeth Branch Canal
Bumble Hole Branch Canal (part of a bypassed loop)
Dudley Canal Line No 1 (see also Dudley Tunnel)
Dudley Canal Line No 2 (mostly dewatered; see also Lapal Tunnel; Netherton Reservoir)
The Engine Arm
Gower Branch Canal - linking the Birmingham and Wolverhampton levels, via three locks, at Tividale.
Netherton Tunnel Branch Canal
Soho Branch Loop Line (an old circuitous route cut off by Telford's improvements, originally with a branch to the Soho Manufactory)
Spon Lane Locks Branch (between Bromford Junction and Spon Lane Junction on the Old Main Line - 3 locks, not to be confused with Spon Lane Branch, another name for Tat Bank Branch on the Titford Canal)
Tame Valley Canal (a later canal cutting off some northern meanders)
Walsall Canal (a more modern canal connecting the main line with Walsall and forming a big northern loop with the
Wyrley & Essington Canal
Walsall Branch Canal
Wednesbury Oak Loop Line (part of the original Old Line, now incomplete)
Wednesbury Old Canal
Wyrley and Essington Canal (bought by the Birmingham Canal Navigations in 1840)
Daw End Branch Canal
Lord Hay's Branch (abandoned)
The BCN Society is a registered charity (number 1091760) formed in 1968, which exists to conserve, improve and encourage a wide range of interests in the BCN. It publishes a quarterly journal. Boundary Post. From 1983 it erected signposts at most of the canal junctions on the BCN.