Birmingham Canal Navigations

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The head of the Birmingham Canal at Gas Street Basin, central Birmingham

Birmingham Canal Navigations is a network of canals connecting Birmingham, Wolverhampton, and the eastern part of the Black Country. The network is connected to the rest of the national canal system at several junctions.

At their working peak, the Birmingham Canal Navigations contained about 160 miles of canals; today just over 100 miles are navigable, and the majority of traffic is from tourist and residential narrowboats.


Birmingham Canal Navigations (in shaded area) from historical map, 1864

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 termini at Newhall Wharf (since built over) and Paradise Wharf (also known as Old Wharf) near to Gas Street Basin to meet the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal at Aldersley (north of Wolverhampton).

The Birmingham and Fazeley 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 Birmingham Canal Navigations are built on three main levels, each with its own reservoirs.

  • The Birmingham Level, 453 feet above sea level;
  • The Wolverhampton Level, 473 feet above sea level;
  • The Walsall Level, 408 feet above sea 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 feet above sea level, linked to the Titford Reservoir (Titford Pool). A feeder supplies water to the Edgbaston Reservoir.
  • A short section of the Old Main Line, at Smethwick Summit, was built at 491 feet above sea level. 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 18 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 Birmingham Canal Navigations

Fingerpost where the Main Line meets the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal
  • 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.
  • Bentley Canal (abandoned)
  • Birmingham and Fazeley Canal (from Old Turn Junction (by the National Indoor Arena), eastwards to the Coventry Canal at Fazeley Junction, and thence north-west as far as bridge 78.)
  • Bradley Locks Branch
  • Dudley Canal
    • Bumble Hole Branch Canal (part of a bypassed loop)
    • Dudley Canal Line No 1
    • Dudley Canal Line No 2 (about half dewatered)
    • The Two Locks Line (infilled)
  • The Engine Arm
  • Gower Branch Canal - linking the Birmingham and Wolverhampton levels, via three locks, at Tividale.
  • Icknield Port Loop (part of the Old Main Line cut off by Telford's improvements, now serving as a feeder from Edgbaston Reservoir)
  • Netherton Tunnel Branch Canal
  • Rushall Canal
  • Soho Loop (an old circuitous route cut off by Telford's improvements, originally with a branch, the Soho Branch to Soho Wharf, serving the Soho Manufactory)
  • Spon Lane Locks Branch (between Bromford Junction and Spon Lane Junction on the Old Main Line - 3 locks, part of the original Wednesbury Canal, not to be confused with Spon Lane Branch, another name for Tat Bank Branch on the Titford Canal)
  • 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 and Essington Canal)
    • Anson Branch
    • Walsall Branch Canal (Town Branch)
  • Wednesbury Oak Loop (part of the original Old Main Line, now incomplete)
  • Wednesbury Old Canal - part of the original Wednesbury Canal
    • Ridgacre Branch
  • Wyrley and Essington Canal (bought by the Birmingham Canal Navigations in 1840)
    • Anglesey Branch
    • Birchills Branch
    • Cannock Extension Canal
    • Daw End Branch Canal
    • Lord Hay's Branch (Lords Hayes Branch) (abandoned)
BCN branded paddle gear on the Walsall Canal

Linking canals


The Birmingham Canal Navigations Society is a registered charity[1] 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 network.

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Birmingham Canal Navigations)


  1. [ Birmingham Canal Navigations Society] - Registered Charity no. 1091760 at the Charity Commission
  • Broadbridge, S. R. (1974). The Birmingham Canal Navigations, Vol. 1 1768 - 1846. David & Charles. ISBN 0-7509-2077-7. 
  • Foster, Richard (1990). Birmingham New Street. The Story of a Great Station Including Curzon Street. 1 Background and Beginnings. The Years up to 1860. Wild Swan Publications. ISBN 0-906867-78-9. 
  • Hadfield, Charles (1969). The Canals of the West Midlands (Second ed.). David & Charles. ISBN 0-7153-4660-1. 
  • Pearson, Michael (1989). Canal Companion - Birmingham Canal Navigations. J. M. Pearson & Associates. ISBN 0-907864-49-X.  - canal maps and text
  • Perrott,David; Mosse,Jonathan (2006). Nicholson Waterways Guide 3 - Birmingham & the Heart of England. Collins. ISBN 978-0-00-721111-1. 
  • Shill, Ray (2000). Birmingham's Canals. Sutton Publishing. 
  • Birmingham Canal Navigations. GEOprojects. 2004. ISBN 0-86351-172-4.  - Highly detailed printed 1:30,000 sheet map
The Birmingham Canal Navigations

BCN Main LineBirmingham and Fazeley CanalBumble Hole Branch CanalCannock Extension CanalDigbeth Branch CanalDudley CanalEngine ArmGower Branch CanalIcknield Port LoopNetherton Tunnel Branch CanalRushall CanalSoho LoopSpon Lane Locks BranchTame Valley CanalTitford CanalWalsall CanalWednesbury Oak LoopWednesbury Old CanalWyrley and Essington Canal


Anson Branch • Bentley Canal • Bradley Branch • Lichfield Canal • Ridgacre Branch • Tipton Green and Toll End Canals