We’ve just finished our I Dig Canals Birmingham project, funded by the John Feeney Charitable Trust. This project enabled us to interview and record stories from eight women about Birmingham’s canal heritage. We’re so grateful to everyone who spoke to us.
We’re sharing some of the stories collected on this online gallery, and in a series of six podcasts, which you can find on our Soundcloud, but as we learned so very much, here are five facts we found out through this project:
1. Lucy Waldron: “In 1979-80, you know there’s that funny little house above Broad Street bridge, that looks like an old factory. On top of Broad Street tunnel, there’s houses on top of Broad Street tunnel, and one of those was a recording studio, and before they were famous Duran Duran used to practise there. So you talk to a lot of Gas Streeters from that era and they go ‘oh, I remember when Duran Duran used to play there before they got on Top of the Pops’.
2. Brenda Ward: “It was decided that the BCN need clean ups, because of the state of it was really pretty dire. So IWA, BCNS and Waterway Recovery Group, we got together, had a meeting, decided what we would do, where we would first start. This was in 1996 I think, or 7. The decision was made that the Walsall canal was probably the worst of the canals on the BCN and the decision was made to start off a clean up there. The amount of stuff that was taken out was astonishing. We organised to put it on the side of an old factory base. The factory had gone and so it was just concrete base. We asked British Waterways at the time if we could have skips to take it away so they supplied a certain amount of skips, but it just wasn’t enough, so it was piled up, masses and masses of it was piled up.
3. Sylvia Eades: “The canal barges, we called them – not boats – the canal barges were named after rivers in the area and some of the barges were called, let me see, the Stour, the Ribble, the Severn, the Spey, the Avon, the Dart, and those are the ones I can remember off the top of my head. There were two horse-driven ones and we had horses and stables. The horses were kept in stables in the dockyard, towards the bottom, and we had Albert and Vic. Albert was the farrier, and Vic, I’m not sure if he was a sidekick or helped with maintenance of the boats, but they were the two based on terra firma and looked after the welfare and made sure the boats were in good order.”
4. Netty Miles: “Myself and my sister in 1992, legged the first boat through Dudley Tunnel. My dad hired us two Victorian costumes and popped us on the plank when the tunnel was reopened and it was a rally. I was six, my sister was eight… and for TV canals we legged the first boat into the tunnel. My dad told me ‘don’t tell your mum what you did’ today. I still don’t think she knows.”
5. Sue Constable: “If you stayed in the right bit of the new mainline you could usually get through. The boats that went through were Caggy’s Rubbish boats or things like that. They were usually very heavily loaded so if it was a barrel or something, chances are they would shove it out of the way, but you had to remember which side of every bridge was the one you could get through.”