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Historian Fred Hughes writes....
There’s little doubt that the canal from Stoke to Newcastle was compromised by the so-called Gresley monopoly. Sir Nigel Gresley’s Canal running from his coalmines at Apedale and the Stoke Canal both terminated in Newcastle. All that was needed was to connect them – but was there a will.
“Both canals had been relatively easy to put together. The next move was to join the Stoke Canal ending at Brook Lane to the Apedale Canal a mile up the road at Cross Heath,” says Andy Perkin of the Potteries Heritage Society. “So a connecting waterway known as the Junction Canal was cut. Although it finished level with Brook Lane it stopped at a higher point making the handling of haulage between the two terminals laborious. One answer was to construct an inclined plane, a sort of rail lift, in the location of the steep gradients of Occupation Street. But the inclined plane was never constructed and interest waned.”
Junction Canal through Newcastle opened in 1799.
The inclined plane had been talked about for a long time. But continued postponement increased the cost of what was a major engineering project. Mining historian and chairman of Newcastle Civic Society, Jim Worgan, has studied the options faced by the shareholders.
“The canal from Stoke to Newcastle was hampered immediately by Gresley’s monopolising conditions on the price of coal carriage,” Jim says. “Trading was generally poor except for the transport of coal to and from Gresley’s own coal wharf in Liverpool Road. The other wharf, belonging to the Stoke Canal at Stubbs Field, was hardly used at all. To remedy this, the shareholders brought the inclined plane project back onto the agenda to provide cost-effective means of conveyance up the hill through Occupation Street. In 1831 the frustrated shareholders called upon the engineering whiz kid of the day, none other than the railway genius George Stephenson.”
this is what the Newcastle Junction canal plane might have looked like if completed
Jim continues. “In 1832 Stephenson presented his designs for the construction of an inclined plane from the basin at Brook Lane to Stubbs Fields. The starting cost was £2,206. Despite this reasonable sum (about £1.5 million today) the shareholders had difficulty in persuading Heathcote to lease the Junction Canal to liberate funds to build Stephenson’s project. Heathcote eventually turned his back on it; after all his investments were already safe – the great iron and coal master wasn’t particularly bothered about linking with Stoke. Beside the industrial world was opening-up to railways and he could see superior benefits.”
In fact by 1846 a new rail line had been laid-out from Stoke to Silverdale through Newcastle. The Stephenson’s inclined plane on the Junction Canal was no more than a half-remembered dream.
“Most of the canal bed was used for rail track,” says Jim. “Of course that’s now gone as well. But you can follow the line quite easily from Marsh Parade and Water Street, across King Street by the Borough Arms, along a greenway and under Queen Street into West Brampton. From here the railway travelled through a tunnel under Liverpool Road to Knutton and Silverdale. The Junction Canal however took a different route from West Brampton.”
Jim offers to walk me along what’s left of the bed of the Junction Canal. The start point is Hempstalls Lane.
“This area was once occupied by the grounds of Rye Bank House,” he points out, “An early home of the Caddick family and built alongside the railway in 1847. Nearby were the Brampton Sidings which still carry the name today.”
Jim and I walk along a dead-straight stretch now called Croft Road, through a modern housing estate via Honeywood and into a row called Brackenberry all of which stand on the canal bed.
“We are now walking parallel to St Michael’s Road Cross Heath,” says Jim. “From this point the Junction Canal passed under Liverpool Road where it connected with the Gresley Canal near Swift House. As for the actual connection – it’s been long buried by modern industry and transportation.”
10 August 2008
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