Lichfield & Hatherton Canals
In another year hugely disrupted by the pandemic, Lichfield & Hatherton Canals Restoration Trust made significant progress on several fronts in 2021. A particular highlight was the first sight for supporters and visitors of a section of the canal alongside the extension of Lichfield Southern Bypass. This road, built to service a new housing development named St John’s Grange, was opened in autumn 2021. A new section of the canal runs parallel to the bypass, and a great deal of preparation of the site has been completed, courtesy of Persimmon Homes and Amey, which constructed the bypass, including the installation of two bridges over the line of the canal connecting the estate with the bypass. LHCRT volunteers will build a new Lock 22 and restore a modified Lock 23 in this section, which has been named St John’s Reach.
The trust’s work parties have concentrated much of their efforts on the Tamworth Road section, and in particular the removal of old Lock 24, necessary to allow the canal bed to be lowered sufficiently to go under the nearby Cricket Lane. This involved reinforcing the canal wall with a series of buttresses and the realignment of the towpath, as well as the preservation of a heritage bywash recreated in traditional style. The majority of the many bricks used in the creation of the new wall were reclaimed from the old lock and cleaned up by local Scouts and Duke of Edinburgh Award students, who put in many hours in their spare time.
A 160m length of towpath along Gallows Reach was completed in early 2021, after rebuilding the 200-year-old towpath wall using reclaimed bricks and sheet steel piling. Work also began between Christmas and New Year on digging out the channel from Gallows Reach towards Cricket Lane, with 3,000 to 4,000 tons of removed earth being transported by tractor and trailer to Fosseway Heath Nature Reserve, where it is being used to restore ancient lowland heath. Also at Fosseway Heath, the canal basin wall was completed, with an earth bank built over it to allow the movement of spoil from Tamworth Road and a new section alongside Falkland Road, which has been handed over to the trust and which will be excavated in the near future. The canal wall of the new diversionary route parallel to Falkland Road was progressed with the installation of sheet steel piling, sponsored by supporters of an appeal which has raised over £26,000 in two years.
Throughout 2021 a small workforce at Fosseway Heath continued building towpath walls and restoring old Lock 18, now renamed Wood Lock 18 to celebrate the 90th birthday of trust co-founder and current president Eric Wood. The trust has continued to create a wildlife corridor along Falkland Road, planting hedging and trees along a protective bund, with the help of a £2,300 grant from South Staffordshire Water’s PEBBLE fund, 50 accent trees donated by long-time members Jane and the late Brian Taylor to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary, and the donation of 50 saplings of mixed hedging by Lichfield Soroptimists, who had nurtured the plants over spring and summer in their own gardens.
A late bonus came in the form of the Big Give Christmas Challenge, a match-funding appeal which set a target of £3,500 to raise £7,000. Supporters actually donated £8,406 which meant the trust received £11,906 with gift aid on top. This will be used to fund trees, hedgerows and flowers along the canal, as well as birdhouses, bat boxes and information boards.
In a year where events were necessarily curtailed, the highlight of 2021 was the revival in September of the Brownhills Canal Festival, which promoted Brownhills as a canal town, raised awareness of the link the Lichfield Canal will bring to the canal network and to Brownhills, and create a fun weekend for everyone.