Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Old, new, borrowed, blue

Old meets new: Spon Lane Locks under the shadow of the towering M5
The canal weaves in and out the motorway, its familiar bridges in alien territory
No, I haven't been planning a wedding, this perfectly sums up what we saw on our trip from Birmingham to Tipton. 
First, the blue. In an unremitting hostile post-industrial area we saw not one but two flashing blue kingfishers on separate occasions along the way. Not to mention an unfortunate heron that had chosen to earn its livelihood fishing under the concrete forest of M5 motorway support columns. As well as a fox, basking in the sun amid the detritus on the offside bank.
The 'new' – well, pretty new anyway – is the motorway. For more than a mile the canal squirms it wandering way in and out of its concrete legs like a small child playing among adults at a party. It seems incredible that its old brick bridges, locks and aqueducts all survived this concrete onslaught and survive, albeit in surroundings too sterile and dreary even to be deemed a wasteland.
The 'old' is the canal; more specifically the Old Main Line which we switched onto via three locks at Smethwick to wind out way Tipton-wards. There are some fine views and handsome structures but some equally un-handsome deposits of rubbish.
We got a lucky opportunity to look around the big pumping engine whose towering chimney dominates the scene at Smethwick; it's normally only open every second Saturday but was being got ready for the coming weekend. It's a fine building, built to pump water up to the summit level of the old canal. What's remarkable, though, is that has been rebuilt from almost the ground upwards including a new version of that iconic chimney.
The towering Smethwick Pumphouse
And as it was before restoration

Inside the engine house is a modest but enjoyable display with a butty back cabin and life size models of canal workers and a towing-horse all backed by some useful explanatory boards about the canal. Centrepiece is the steam pumping engine (sadly not working at the moment until funds are found for repairs. And this is where we come to the 'borrowed' bit. This isn't the original engine which was sold for scrap when the pumphouse closed back in 1930.
Part of the enjoyable and informative display inside the pumhouse
This engine is contemporary in age and style. And it was built in Birmingham by the local firm, Tangye.  Richard Tangye and his brothers established a huge factory canalside in Smethwick which made hydraulic jacks and systems and went on to build gas and diesel engines. The factory has long gone but the name survives on modern hydraulics. Richard Tangye and his brother helped found both Birmingham Museum and Birmingham Art School.
The big Tangye diesel pump engine
This was the scale of the firm's Smethwick works
To come up to date, we are now moored in Tipton, a popular spot for boaters as the little town sits at the junction of both Old and New Main Lines. Indeed, it was once made an island by a third canal, the Toll End which filled in the triangle between the two main lines. Only a pathway survives these days.
Tipton is famous for the 'Tipton Slasher', seven years the champion English prizefighter in the 1870s, the nearby and marvellous Black Country Living Museum and Mad O'Rourke's Pie Factory, a pub famed for its ginormous Desperate Dan Cow Pies, though boaters tend to prefer the homely canalside 'The Fountain'. That and a few shops make the otherwise unremarkable little spot an ideal stopover for we boaters.

No comments:

Post a Comment