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I Dig Canals online gallery

I Dig Canals Birmingham

In 2021 and 2022, Alarum collected stories from women about Birmingham’s canal history.
Extracts from their stories, shared in their own words, can be found below.

Where it all started...

Map of Birmingham canals

Gas Street Basin

Built in the 1790s, it was the place where cargo was loaded and unloaded as it travelled up and down the country’s canal networks. 

From Gas Street, boats could head into Birmingham Canal onto the BCN (Birmingham Canal Navigations) or the Worcester & Birmingham  Canal, each owned by different competing companies, the split tangible by a physical bar dividing the basin, known as the Worcester Bar.

The Gas Street Basin we recognise today comes from a regeneration that began in the 1980s. Before then, it was a different world.

Farmers Bridge

The Farmers Bridge flight is on the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal - Main Line and has 13 locks.

The locks were named after Quaker James Farmer, a Birmingham landowner and gunmaker of the 1700s who invested in the canal system in order to transport their goods.

Alongside the first lock is an old Toll House where the rate of pay was determined by the weight of their cargo.

The Birmingham Canal Network

Birmingham’s first canal was planned by James Brindley, an engineer, who wanted to ship his coal from mines in Worsley up to Manchester. It was the first of many. The Birmingham Canal Network had, at one point, more than 170 miles of canals and was at the heart of the city’s ambition, growth and economy. With the growth of rail, the canals fell into disuse and became a dumping ground. Clean up work began in earnest in the 1960s for several decades, and many remember navigating the system fraught with obstacles.

The Clean Up

Deemed one of the first affected canals, the Walsall Canal was one of the first in the area to be prioritised for clean up.

This collection was curated as part of the I Dig Canals Birmingham project, funded by the John Feeney Charitable Trust.