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Birmingham Canal Navigations

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Birmingham Canal Navigations

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

Birmingham Canal Navigations (BCN) is a network of 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.


BCN Network (within shaded area) from historical map, 1864
Birmingham Canal Company offices fronting Paradise Street. They backed onto the Old Wharf terminus.

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 BCN is built on three main levels, each with its own reservoirs.

  • 453 feet (138 m) O.D., the Birmingham Level;
  • 473 feet (144 m) O.D., the Wolverhampton Level;
  • 408 feet (124 m) O.D., 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 feet (156 m) O.D., 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 feet (150 m) O.D.. 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 (5.5 m) 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

[[Image:BCN paddle

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