Water levels of the Birmingham Canal Navigations

Water levels of the Birmingham Canal Navigations

The Birmingham Canal Navigations (BCN), a network of narrow canals in the industrial midlands of England, is built on various water levels. The three longest are the Wolverhampton, Birmingham, and Walsall levels. Locks allow boats to move from a canal on one level to one on another.

533 ft Essington Branch

A historical level, no longer existing. A branch of the Wyrley and Essington Canal, now filled in. It was the highest point of the BCN.

511 ft. Titford Summit

The highest canal currently in BCN. It was fed from the 18th century Titford Reservoir (now under Junction 2 of the M5 motorway) originally by feeder, and since 1837 by the Titford Canal. A feeder from the Tat Bank Branch (also known as Spon Lane Branch) supplies water to the Edgbaston Reservoir.

491 ft. Brindley's Smethwick Summit

A historical level, no longer existing. The highest level designed by James Brindley for his Birmingham Canal (BCN Old Main Line). Removed by John Smeaton's design in 1790.However, the line of the abandoned Smethwick Summit could still followed, by walking, some 200 years later.

473 ft. Wolverhampton Level

A total of 35 miles navigable with no locks:
*BCN Old Main Line. Brindley/Smeaton. Wolverhampton top lock to Smethwick locks (10 miles)
*Wyrley and Essington Canal + branches
**Lord Hay's Branch (now dry), Cannock Extension, Daw End Branch, Anglesey Branch
*Engine Arm
*Dudley Tunnel

453 ft. Birmingham Level

*BCN Main Line
**BCN Old Main Line, south of Smethwick Locks
**BCN New Main Line - Birmingham to Tipton Factory Bottom Lock, Island line, New Line at Smethwick
*Netherton Tunnel Branch Canal
*Wednesbury Oak Loop
*Wednesbury Old Canal (start) and Ridgacre Branch
*Dudley No. 2 Canal from Parkhead locks (Blower's Green) to Hawne Basin, originally to Selly Oak
*Gas Street Basin

Connecting canals, not part of the BCN, but using this level:

*Worcester and Birmingham Canal to Tardebigge top lock

*Northern Stratford-upon-Avon Canal from Kings Norton Junction to Lapworth Top Lock

441 ft. Dudley No. 1

*Dudley Canal

408 ft. Walsall Level

*Walsall Canal
*Tame Valley Canal to Perry Barr top lock
*Rushall Canal (part)


Reservoirs were built to collect water from streams. As water flows downhill these had to be above the relevant canal water level, often having to be some distance away. The small Titford Reservoir (Titford Pool), as well as feeding the Titford Canal had its surplus water taken to Edgbaston Reservoir along a feeder through Smethwick. Water from Edgbaston Reservoir fed both the Wolverhampton level, via a long feeder along the top of a raised embankment along Telford's BCN New Main Line to the Engine Arm, and also the Birmingham Level at the adjacent Icknield Port Loop.

Water pumping

Water was a precious resource, spent each time a lock was emptied as a boat changed level. Steam pumps were employed at many flights of locks to pump water back to a higher level, for example, the Smethwick Engine.

*Back pumping at locks
**Perry Barr
**Dudley Parkhead
*Back pumping between levels
**Ocker Hill
**Smethwick Summit
***Spon Lane engine (1778-) pumping Wolverhampton level to 491 ft. Summit level, closed by Smeaton's removal of the Summit level
***Smethwick Engine (1779-1898) pumping Birmingham level to 491 ft. Summit level, pumping to Wolverhampton level after Summit lowered. It was replaced in 1892 by two centrifugal engines in a new pumphouse north of Brasshouse Lane Bridge, Smethwick.
*Pumping to reservoirs
**Rotton Park (Edgbaston Reservoir)
**Cannock Chase (Chasewater)
**Lodge Farm
*Water was also pumped out from many coal mines to the canal system



*cite book |last= Paget-Tomlinson|first= Edward W.|authorlink= |coauthors= |editor= |others= |title=The Complete Book of Canal and River Navigations|origdate= 1978, 1980|publisher= Waine Research Publications|isbn= 0-905184-01-7
*cite book |last= Pearson|first= Michael|authorlink= |coauthors= |editor= |others= |title=Canal Companion - Birmingham Canal Navigations|origdate= 1989|publisher= J. M. Pearson & Associates|isbn= 0-907864-49-X

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