view site

Name: Shrewsbury Canal (view items)
Industry type: Transportation
Industry: Canal
Country: Great Britain
State/County/Province: Shropshire
City: Shrewsbury
Start year: 1797
End year: 1944
Company: unknown
Notes: Josiah Clowes was originally appointed Chief Engineer of this canal project, but died in 1795 part way through construction. He was succeeded by Thomas Telford.

One of Telford's first tasks was to rebuild a stone aqueduct over the River Tern at Longdon-on-Tern which had been swept away by floods in February 1795. Telford's stone-mason instincts initially led him to consider replacing the original structure with another stone-built aqueduct, but he reconsidered. Instead, it was rebuilt using a 62-yard cast iron trough, cast in sections at Reynolds' Ketley ironworks and bolted together in 1796. The aqueduct was the world's first large-scale iron navigable aqueduct, though it was narrowly predated by a much smaller 44ft-long structure on the Derby Canal built by Benjamin Outram. The aqueduct still stands today, though it is isolated in the middle of a field. This successful use of an iron trough to contain the water of a navigable aqueduct casts the Tern aqueduct in the role of Telford's prototype for the much longer Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal, where he mounted the iron trough on high masonry arches.

The Shrewsbury Canal was finally finished in 1797, being 17 miles (27 km) long, with 11 locks. At Trench an inclined plane was built, which was 223 yards long and raised boats 75 feet up to the Wombridge Canal. From the Wombridge Canal, boats could travel via the Shropshire Canal southwards to the River Severn at Coalport.

The canal was originally built as a narrow canal intended for horse-drawn trains of 20ft-long tub boats no wider than 6ft 4inches. However, in preparation for the Newport branch of Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal to Wappenshall the section from there to Shrewsbury was surveyed in 1831 and subsequently widened to take standard narrow boats. This heralded the canal's most profitable period, though it was short-lived.

In 1844 the Humber Arm was constructed. This short branch ran to Lubstree Wharf, which was owned by the Duke of Sutherland. Tramways ran from the end of the branch to various works owned by the Lilleshall Company, who shipped cargoes of pig iron, coal and limestone for use as a flux in the production of iron. The wharf was leased to the Shropshire Union Railways & Canal Co. in 1870, by the third Duke of Sutherland, and closed in 1922 by the fifth Duke.

In 1846, the Shropshire Union Railways and Canal Company bought most of the east Shropshire canal network, including the Shrewsbury Canal. The London and North Western Railway Company (LNWR) took control shortly afterwards and allowed the canal to decline. In 1922, the London, Midland and Scottish Railway took over the canal and the basin in Shrewsbury was closed. The LMS finally abandoned the canal network in 1944.

Of all the canals that formed part of the Shropshire Union Canal system, the Shrewsbury Canal is the only one which has no part open or under restoration. The Shrewsbury & Newport Canals Trust was created in 2000 to preserve and restore the waterway.

Today the short stretch of canal to the first lock is used as moorings, while the lock itself is used as a dry-dock.