Our water highway – The Shropshire Union Canal in Gnosall

The Shropshire Union Canal (locally known as the “Shroppie”) is one of the iconic features in our parish. What many may not be aware of is that the Shropshire Union Canal through our area is the longest part of any canal in England without a lock! Our Gnosall heritage group,best kept village group,canal users,Gnosall towpath restoration group,Norbury junction and the Shrewsbury to Newport canal restoration trust have a vast amount of information relating to our little piece of water real estate and I am sure many will nd the information they have fascinating. The Shropshire Union Canal and surrounding areas in our parish does have an interesting history. The following is a small synopsis of the vast amount of historical data and information available and is not conclusive,just a mere insight.

In 1846 the Shropshire Union Railways and Canal Company (SUR&CC) was formed which also originally constructed and ran the railway line from Sta ord to Wellington. The SUR&CC 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. The engineer Thomas Telford masterminded this contour canal,so called because the line of the Shropshire Union Canal follows the natural contours of the land. There are other canals which have junctions with the Shropshire Union Canal;one example is the canal from Norbury to Shrewsbury (The Shrewsbury Canal).

The nal section from the Shropshire Union Canal junction in Norbury to Wappenshall was completed in 1835. The Shrewsbury Canal from Norbury heading west declined and closed in 1944. There is now an active campaign to reopen this stretch of canal and restore this branch canal to its former glory including all the locks between Norbury and Newport.

The Shropshire Union Canal is just over 66 miles long and passes through the counties of Cheshire,Shropshire and Sta ordshire linking to the West Midlands conurbation and the
Sta ordshire and Worcestershire Canal at Autherley Junction in
Wolverhampton.

As many can appreciate the main Shropshire Union Canal through
our parish is very busy today. Long gone are the coal,clay and
other commodities carried on the narrowboat’s and horses no
longer pull the narrowboat’s. Today narrowboat’s are used for a
variety of reasons including leisure,waterway homes,trade boats,
tourist and hire boats although there is still the odd coal boat
which uses the Shropshire Union Canal through our parish. The
towpaths are still used by narrowboaters,but also as a form of
recreation which also provide an additional source of business for our parish.

Other than roads di erent routes in to the Gnosall area including the canal do provide added trade through sustainable tourism. It is wonderful that our best kept village team have

used the Shropshire Union Canal as the main image on the new “Welcome to Gnosall” sign featured on the junction of Sta ord Road and Sellman Street,well done and thank you chaps.

Although the days of the canal large scale industries are con ned to the history books there is still an amount of small canal industries in existence. In Norbury many of the traditional narrowboat traditions and skills are maintained along with canal remnants of the past. There is also an amount of heritage and archaeological remains along and near the canal in Gnosall which are visible today if you know where to look. On some of the bridges there is iron guards used to protect the bridge from the ropes that the horse drawn narrowboat’s used and the rope marks can still be seen. In the Cowley woods adjacent to the Shropshire Union Canal in Gnosall can be found the remains of the old Gnosall brickworks and also there are remains of the small pits where sandstone and clay was quarried along with a section of small gauge railway.

The Cowley tunnel itself was a feat of civil engineering. This small tunnel was cut in to the

View from Goosemoor Lane looking towards the Cowley Tunnel- This photo was taken by the late Mr Ted Talbot of the embankment works in the 1980’s.

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sandstone and was originally scheduled to be a much longer tunnel stretching all the way to where the Goosemoor Lane bridge is situated. However,due to the stability and composition of the rock formation in the Cowley cut (embankment) the extension of this tunnel was abandoned by the canal builders. In the winter of 1985/ early 1986 there was extensive work carried out in the Cowley cut.

Some 30 years on there are the remains of the 1980’s work that was carried out in the Cowley Cut clearly visible if you know where to look. There is evidence
of where the drag lines were used to pull the rock
up the embankment. After this work was carried out
in the Cowley Cut Mr Stuart Naden and his team of volunteers created the “King sher Trail” and installed benches and “Woodhenge” which is a wooden re creation of Stonehenge. In 2017 there was a walk of the Cowley woods area adjacent to the Shropshire Union Canal to identify the location of fallen trees and for historical and archaeological purposes. Thank you to Mr Bob Johnson,Mr Peter Jobling,Mr Dudley Taylor,Carl Pendlebury (Canal &River Trust),Cllr’s Keith Abbot and Victoria Kessey (Gnosall Parish Council) for your attendance and observations,much appreciated.

Also in 2017 there was some dredging of the Shropshire Union Canal in Gnosall,far limited from the work which took place in the 1980’s. This dredging did reveal some fascinating nds including garden seats! There was also some tree work which took place with kind thanks to the Canal &River Trust in the Cowley woods area. This tree work was to ensure the land adjacent to the Shropshire Union Canal remains a safe location for all who access this area. Hopefully in the future the Shropshire Union Canal in Gnosall can be used to promote all things Gnosall.

There are bound to be many more people who can shed light on the “Shroppie” and adjacent areas with much more information,stories,legends and facts about this popular water highway in Gnosall…………….

With kind thanks to Mr Bob Johnson,Mr Peter Jobling and the Gnosall Heritage Group for passing on the useful photos and snippets of information which is much appreciated.

see also:

Canal &River Trust in partnership with Gnosall Parish Council-

https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/ volunteer/adopt-a-canal/158- gnosall-parish-council“King sher Production” original footage of the Cowley Cut before and during the restoration work 1985/ 1986 lmed by Frank &Pearl Shenton converted from cine lm by the Gnosall heritage group- http:// www.gnosallhistory.co.uk/ canal_1985-86.htm

Paul Boston

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