Black Country Museum to Owen Street Bridge, Tipton
After booking ourselves onto the midday tunnel trip we walked back into the Black Country Museum. There were places we’d not looked at yesterday. The first to catch our eye was the Trap Shop.
Here a very knowledgeable chap talked us through the history of trap making. From men sitting hammering shapes, to fly wheel presses churning out parts to a gas powered engine that turned the presses. Sidebotham’s sold animal traps around the world even after they were banned in England. Not the nicest of things they were designed to hold their victim until the hunter came along to release them!
The building was originally ran along the back wall of Sainsburys in Wednesfield, well before the supermarket was there. It was dismantled kept in storage and took four years to build back to how it had been.
We called in at the Pawnbrokers, Tipton in the day had forty such shops, for such a small town this just showed how most of the inhabitants lived from day to day hand to mouth, or not even managing that.
The chap in the Chemist was full of the new street plans further up the hill. The first building to be erected will be a pub from Wolverhampton. Around 30 million has been raised to create the new street and after many years of planning things are starting to happen. The aim is for the new street to be fully open in two years time, sadly our years pass won’t cover that, but maybe there will be something new before the end of the year for us to look at.
Then Mick spotted a trolley bus. Would it get us up the hill and back down in time for our trip into Dudley Tunnel? We walked up to catch it, but with no passengers waiting for it it headed back up the hill. So instead we walked back down to the lime kilns to see if we could work out which of the sunken boats was an Ampton. Below the surface hulls lurked.
Oleanna is 26 paces long and 58ft 6″. So we needed to find a hull that was around 35 paces long. We think we found two, both very well submerged.
Dudley Canal Trust was heaving with young kids who’d all been on a trip into the tunnel. They were full of it. One lad almost gave us a guided tour without being in the tunnel, he said it was quite ‘Bumpy’. Our boat was far quieter, only six of us. We donned hard hats and sat on the benches. The chap at the helm gave us a running commentary and another fella kept an eye on us and untied the boat ready for the tunnel.
Limestone mines in Castle Hill necessitated a tunnel system to help extricate the limestone. Lord Ward had the tunnels and canals built under the hill, work started in 1775 a year before the Act of Parliament was passed for both tunnel and canal. The work was completed in 1778. The tunnel gave access to the other side of the hill, 3 miles underground, the second longest in the country.
Large caverns and various tunnels fill the hill. Today the first two caverns have no roof and are open to the sky, then our boat dipped into the black of the tunnels. Now lined with concrete and areas oversprayed the first section is very round, but this soon becomes more rock like. Opening out into a larger cavern we were shown a film explaining how the limestone was created, then the hills pushed up creating fault lines.
On further and another cavern, more film showing how the limestone was mined and how the Victorians used the tunnels for excursions, coming in by boat and listening to bands, having picnics. Today there is a stage where performances can happen, people get married and concerts are performed.
We backed out through a different tunnel, this one lined with handmade bricks. The original method for boats to come through the tunnel was to be legged. Two volunteers took to a plank in the middle of the boat and they started to leg us along. The tunnel being only one boats width meant one way traffic and boats would queue up at either end to await their turn. One chap could leg three boats joined together on his own, meaning he made more money than the normal pairs of leggers.
Once through the main tunnel the boat would enter the big cavern where numerous tunnels headed off, which one was the right way? A lamp hangs in what would have been dusty air to guide you through. They say this is where the term ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ comes from. However our guide didn’t explain how the leggers got the boats across the wide cavern, presumably the boats were poled across here.
Passage through the hill was much easier through Netherton Tunnel, opened in 1858, which was wide and had a towpath on both sides. So by 1959 Dudley tunnel was more or less disused and British Waterways were going to close it, despite protests it finally closed in 1962. Much work was done by determined enthusiasts and it reopened in 1973. In the late 80’s more work was done to open up links between the caverns. Now visitors can go inside in the electric powered boats to see the sights. No diesel engines are allowed in the tunnel due to lack of ventilation and most modern boats don’t have a low enough profile to manage the journey. A very interesting tour, well worth the drips and getting very cold.
Mick still wanted a ride on the trolleybus so we headed back into the museum, but it seemed that the driver must be at lunch, so we joined the queue for a sneaky bag of chips between us before we left.
Time to head onwards. We winded with the bow under the bridge into the museum then pulled up at the services. Water topped up and yellow water disposed of we pushed off and headed to Tipton.
We pulled in behind a couple of boats moored on the off side by the Medical Centre,walked down into the shuttered town centre to find the Co-op to stock up on a few items.
Back at Oleanna we decided that our second mate should be trusted with some outside time, she most probably wouldn’t like it. Chaperoned for a while she nosed at the people in the doctors waiting room and checked under the friendly cover, but no one was around to play with.
A short whole after 4pm a visitor arrived. Heather, Mrs Bleasdale, was in the area and had spotted we were too, so she called in for a cuppa, a hot cross bun and a very good boaty catch up. NB Bleasdale is currently stuck down on the Great Ouse due to high river levels and delayed maintenance. Last year we had a catch up in Weedon, so there was plenty to talk about. The subject turned to the Irish waterways, this is the second person who’s brought the idea up. Costs need to be looked into, but it’s an idea, I might need to do extra work for us to be able to afford it, but it is an idea!
Heather headed off to catch a train and we headed off to walk through Tipton to Mad O’Roukes Pie Factory. We’ve heard mention of this pub by several bloggers but never been. This being our last night on the Birmingham plateau we decided to treat ourselves and managed to time it with Thursday Pie for a fiver night.
The interior of the pub is very much an old style boozer, no modernisation here, just tables and benches to pack in the masses. We managed to find one of only two free tables, ordered our pies and drinks.
Their gluten free menu had five pies for me to choose from. I was excited, it’s not often I get to enjoy a pie. The only shame was that my puff pastry top was only just browned on top. Gluten free things always take longer than normal and I suspect my pie had been put in the oven at the same time as Mick’s. His crust had bubbled up wonderfully, but mine was doing the chewy under cooked gluten free thing that I now avoid by making my own pastry. Such a shame as I’d been so looking forward to a good pie. The filling was very tasty beef and my gluten free battered chips were tastier than Mick’s.
0 locks, 0.54 miles, 1 wind, 1 straight, 0 trolley bus, 1 trap shop, 2 horses, 1 new street all the talk, 1 year and 1 week, 1 sneaky bag, 76 of each, 6 on a boat, 9 million bricks and counting, 1 text message underground, 2 leggers, 1 lamp, 1 Heather, 1 hour shore leave, 2 boxes wine, 2 pies and chips, 1 pint, 1 glass wine, 2 boaters in need of veg.
Things are doing well, I’ll give it a day longer, but start keeping the discard for some pancakes. Fed twice today and bubbling nicely.