Bike Lock

On Wednesday, Christine from the Lichfield and Hatherton Canal Restoration Trust and I set off on a joint expedition to explore the remains of the stretch of the Wyrley and Essington Canal between the Fosseway Level Crossing and Sandfields Pumping Station.

Canal rocks

As we crossed through the gate off Falkland Road, the canal, or what once was the canal, was to our left. Down a steep slope to our right however, was a wide expanse of land filled with curious humps, bumps and scars. At the far end was a pile of stones, which Christine thought had come from the canal (it seems they were moved when the new road was built).  As we mused on the origins of the mysterious earthworks, I was reminded that someone had told me that this was once the place where the youth of Lichfield would come to ride their bicycles, both the pedal and motor varieties. Later, I popped the photos of this section on our Lichfield Discovered page on Facebook asking whether anyone else remembered this.  Steve Martin did and he sent this brilliant reply:

Used to take my bike down there some 30 odd years ago when, if I recall correctly, there was a lot less grass there. It was about a fifteen minute ride to get there from where I used to live but was well worth it because that area was a playground for bikes as there were well defined tracks , bumps and jumps in the area between the train track and the old canal. There were often youths there, some on motorbikes, riding around and jumping their bikes . . . I do remember being the only person there one day and coming off my bike on a track near the top of the embankment and having a rather spectacular kid/bike roll to the bottom.

 

The youth of today may have moved on to the skatepark or the nearby MUGA or, let’s be honest, moved in to play on the Xbox but previous generations have left their mark on the landscape here. And no doubt the landscape made a mark on a few of them too, eh Steve? It’s something you won’t find on a map but it’s a great bit of social history that I’d love to hear more about.

Who got else got their teenage kickstarts here?

Who got else got their teenage kickstarts here?

Bricks kickstart

Foundations?

I’m not sure that all of the earthworks here are related to what appears to have been Lichfield’s own version of Junior Kickstart (you’ll be humming that theme tune the whole day). The old maps suggest there was a lock on the canal here which might explain the presence of bricks. Christine and I continued along the wildly overgrown towpath, to where the remains of a lock are far more evident. It was a gorgeous walk – the sun shone, birds sang and butterflies flitted (although I did ruin things a bit by planting the thought in our heads that the vegetation above our heads might contain giant hogweed. It didn’t).

Christine on our lock crusade

Christine Howles and the Lock Crusade

If anyone can ID those purple flowers would be grateful!

If anyone can ID those purple flowers we would be grateful!

Lock ladder

We clambered back down the bank to stand in what would have been the canal, and walked in through the lock. We were surprised at how modern some of the brickwork looked, and the ladder certainly appeared to be a fairly recent addition. We later found out renovation work had been carried out on this stretch not all that long ago (which also explains the solitary picnic bench we found). Adventurous though we are, climbing out using the ladder was a step too far and so we clambered back up the bank and carried on along the towpath. At the end of this stretch there is a canal cottage with a lovely BCN boundary stone in the front garden. Due to dog related issues, I didn’t take a photo so you will have to go and see it with your own eyes.  If boundary stones don’t excite you as much as they do me, perhaps the old Fosseway crossing signal box and opportunity to trespass on the disused railway track which runs adjacent to the canal from Sandfields up to Pipe Hill wharf will float your boat instead.

Fosseway crossing

Trespass on railway

I’ve not gone into the history of the Lichfield and Hatherton Canal in any depth here for the simple reason that it’s been done far better elsewhere. Your first port of call is of course the Lichfield and Hatherton Canal Restoration website, where you can discover not only the history of the waterway but also their plans for its future.  Of course if you’d like to do something constructive to help, literally, they are always looking for volunteers! You can get in touch and keep up to date with what’s going on Twitter @lhcrt1 or on Facebook.

Sandfields at dusk

Sandfields at dusk

Back at the opposite end of this stretch, the canal flowed past Sandfields Pumping Station before crossing the Chesterfield Road, and flowing under the Birmingham Road (where you can still see one of the bridges by the Duke of Wellington!). For us on this occasion though, Sandfields was the end of the line. Again, the history of this Grade II* listed building has been captured in detail elsewhere, by friend and colleague David Moore. You can discover why Sandfields is such an important part of not only Lichfield’s past but also that of the Black Country’s here on the Lichfield Waterworks Trust site. Put simply, by supplying fresh water to our neighbouring towns, Sandfields saved lives and now the Trust are trying to save Sandfields for the community. It’s a building we should be singing the praises of at least as much as the Cathedral. If you think you might like to add your voice, please come along to the Lichfield Waterworks Trust monthly meeting next week (details here) or we have a drop-in session at the Beacon Park discovery hub tomorrow, Saturday 25th July, between 11am and 12pm, where you can find out more about Sandfields and the Trust’s work. I’ll be flying the Lichfield Discovered flag there too, so if social and sociable history is your thing, come down and say hello!

Finally, thanks to Christine for sharing the adventure and thanks to Steve for sharing the memories and the photos.

Moon above the lock 2012-ish. Taken by Steve Martin

Moon above the lock 2012-ish. Taken by Steve Martin

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14 thoughts on “Bike Lock

  1. The purple flowers look like Rosebay Willowherb. (Fireweed). Used to be a scarce woodland plant, but turned into one of the most successful colonisers of waste places. During WW1 the populations exploded, especially in the extensive areas of woodland that had been felled ( and often burned) to supply timber for the war effort. There was a second wave of expansion in WW2, and in the summer after the German bombing raids the ruins of London’s homes and shops were covered with sheets of Rosebay…

    (Flora Britannica, Richard Mabey

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      • Wish I hadn’t started this!

        Apple Pie (Som), Blood Vine (Hants), Blooming Sally (Ireland), Cat’s Eyes (Shrops), Eyebright (Dev), Flowering Withy (Berks), French Saugh (Lanark), Tame Withy (IOW), Wild Snapdragon (Glous).

        The Englishman’s Flora, Grigson

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      • Ha, ha! I’m glad you did. As a linguistics student I find the different names fascinating, especially the regional differences. There might even be a research project in here! Cheers, Kate

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      • A Modern Herbal, Grieve, gives a few more names Flowering Willow, French Willow, Persian Willow, Purple Rocket, Wickup, and Wicopy.

        Mentioned is that great old herbalist from 1597, Gerard (not the footballer)…

        “A Godly and stately plant having leaves like the greatest willow or osier, garnished with brave flowers of great beautie, consisting of four leaves apiece of an orient purple colour.”

        (Adds that Sally is corruption from Latin Salix, the willow.)

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      • There’s definitely a thing to be done around wildflowers and their regional & folkloric names. Maybe one day…

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      • They used to be on every bit of waste ground. My mother (from Cleckheaton, Yorks) called them by the unflattering name ‘rat flowers’.

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      • Now that really conjures up the idea of them being ubiquitous yet unwelcome! You’re never more than 6ft away from a Rosebay Willowherb plant…

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  2. Further to my quoted comment i’d love to add that in order to access the bike tracks on the railway embankment and in the ‘basin’ , we had to go up Chesterfield road and cut through a fence on the right where we would regularly have to evade workers ( or maybe guards , we didn’t know , we were about 11 ) at the waterworks building some 40yds along the path. Thundering along the narrow trodden pathway through the tall grass , we’d get yelled at but we didn’t care , we just wanted to get to the end of the path . . . I have recently walked the approximate route with the dog , boy have things changed , all those houses are there now , yet i recall the area being wasteland. Having just being on google earth , looking at the Chesterfield Rd / Pumping station image from 2003 i can confirm that this IS the place we used to go to race and jump our bikes

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