When the canal first made it to Birmingham, the people rang the church bells as they foresaw the wealth that would follow. And Birmingham soon had more canals than any other British town, a network of loops, locks, wharves, branches and junctions.
The industrial revolution flourished in Brum and the Black Country. But the canal’s main line, from the city centre west to Wolverhampton, was narrow, meandering, and congested.
So they got Thomas Telford in. Amongst other things, like naming cities after himself, Telford specialised in overhauling creaking infrastructure. For example, he built the road from London to Holyhead, splicing together umpteen turnpikes, building bridges, and generally straightening things out.
In Birmingham, he built the nineteenth century watery equivalent of the m6 toll road – a smart, straight, wide alternative to the city’s congested main through-route.
This was the New Line: generally parallel to the Old Line, twenty foot down the hillside, wider, and often with a towpath on either side. The two lines still exist today, peeping at one another through the trees, playing leapfrog on aqueducts, and occasionally linking tree-lined arms across a flight of locks.
Today, we took felucca from Birmingham town centre to Tipton, exploring these two wonderful waterways.