The Haines Branch Canal

This dead arm canal completed in 1833 once crossed into what is now Sheepwash from Great Bridge, running in parallel to The River Tame, with basins serving The Canal Brickworks as well as the Denbigh Hall Colliery.

The overlay map below shows the position of how this part of the branch ran and would be on today’s Sheepwash.



Keith Hodgkins wrote about the history behind it below and we are grateful to him for sending us this for inclusion in this piece.

From Black Country Connections October-November 2019 by Keith Hodgkins.

The following are the recollections of Paul Barlett, who used to work on the canals, principally in latter years on the phosphorus waste run for Alfred Matty. 

“There was a timber yard on the right-hand side of the canal between Great Bridge and Tame Road. It was called Cox Thomas and Sons Ltd.  The one thing I am sure of is that it was the last place to receive cargo by cabin boat (long distance where the boatman lived on the boat) in Tipton. I cannot remember or find out exactly when the last cargo of timber arrived by boat but it would be around 1966 to 1968.

Again, I cannot confirm this but I think the canal boat company was Willow Wren but it could have possibly been the Birmingham and Midland Canal Carrying Company.  I think the timber would have come from Brentford docks in London. The usual procedure used to be for Ocean going vessels to bring timber to Surry docks London (East of Tower Bridge on the South side of the river Thames), then transfer it to Lighters (large barges) and shipped up river to Brentford docks and then transferred to Narrow Boats for shipment inland.

There was for many years an old sign at the road entrance to the basin at the end of the Haines branch headed BCN and underneath a list of charges for different cargos, ie coal, bricks etc. by the ton to use the basin for loading and unloading. I always meant to take a picture of it but I was young, film was expensive and steam engines took priority.”

The pictures below featuring in the Keith Hodgkins article are from David Wilson. This picture below shows the canal and the yard recalled by Paul above at what must have been the final days of narrow boat use. The Willow Wren boats Cygnus and Coleshill are present with the canal extending beyond towards Sheepwash Lane/Tame Road.

©David Wilson 1966

This picture below shows the abandoned canal looking towards Sheepwash Lane/Tame Road with water still very much in existence. The  pylons are a good indicator of where this would have been today with towers VT22 on the left and VT23 in the centre beyond.

©David Wilson 1969

It is this abandonment and the end of boat traffic which unfortunately gave way to safety concerns due to neglect. The following piece from 3rd July 1969 Birmingham Daily Post is perhaps one such incident that prompted the public call to “fill in the canal”, and was typical of the period when many areas of water like canals and marl holes  were infilled in the area. It was as kneejerk as it was short sighted, but perhaps typical of “proper authority” figures and busy bodies of the time who may have thought that there was a vote in it for them. The girl had actually fallen from off the road, and not the towpath into the cut!

The picture below is perhaps one of very few in existence of how the bridge and towpath went under the road. There were obviously two aqueducts where the canal and river went under, as this image shows.  For canal buffs, there is more of this stuff which you can read HERE with Captain Ahab. 

It is also clear that British Waterways Board as they then were, were a negligent and terrible body supposedly overseeing the canals, but more actively filling them in because they were incompetent at looking after them. It would be at this time that boaters themselves took direct action to save canals, where the powers that be were failing woefully to stop pollution and silting up. The piece below is also typical of the times and shows this, where the branch was being polluted by chemicals from adjacent factories.

Published: Thursday 30 January 1969 Newspaper: Birmingham Daily Post

With the demise of boat traffic, so the industry it served appeared to go with it in the area.

Published: Thursday 31 July 1975 Newspaper: Birmingham Daily Post

Two seminal books chronical the further demise of the branch, the first by Richard Chester -Brown “The Other Sixty miles” noted twelve years later in 1981 “At the junction of Ryders Green Locks, it has been stanked off from the main canal, ensuing that the water remaining in the branch remains stagnant. The towpath is still passable, which is more than can be said for the canal, even in a canoe, for the water is filled with scrap iron, factory waste, and even the occasional dead dog. “

He also noted that after Sheepwash Lane there was no trace of the canal and it had been infilled, though at this point the engine house to the former pumphouse brickworks is still referenced.

The second book by Eric Richardson “In Search of the lost canals of the Black Country” was published in 1996. He noted “A preservation area has been completed here along The  Tame River and The Haines Branch remains a rush filled sanctuary. “

Towards the end of the Millennium, Great Bridge Traders and The Tenants and Residents Association led by Malcolm Beckley attempted with the indefatigable local councillor Fred Perry and with the support of The Friends of Sheepwash and the Tipton Civic Society to clean up and restore the canal as far as Sheepwash Lane. They received little to no help from Sandwell council in the process , despite money from a housing development in Mill Street being promised to do this, in addition to a bid submitted to The Heritage Lottery. The housing developer went into administration and thus the money disappeared.

Alas both men would never see this dream realised before their deaths, though in some apparent fit of belated sentimentality , or more likely guilt, players within the council decided to rename “The Haines Branch “ walkway after a man who would not have wanted any such thing. Thus “Fred Perry Walk” cancelled out all of the history that Fred had fought for and it was an insult to him and not a fitting legacy at all. They even took away all mention of the real historic name of the area in one last act of treacherous spite. 

Did they sell it off for scrap or ebay it care of a third party?

An orientation board with the history of The Haines Branch and the wildlife it attracted was also ripped out to be replaced by a vacuous nothing bearing Fred’s name.

The other Great Bridge blight- namely Asda

The neglect by the authorities continued with drug addicts, and local drunken filth and scum of “Great” Bridge contaminating the remaining puddles of litter that once delivered cargo, until recently when some local men decided to attempt to clear some of it up. Their efforts are to be commended, but perhaps if “The Haines Branch” is to ever resurface, it will be down to the powers that be to actually do something rather than leave it to others and something more imaginative than “filling it in”.