No.256                                                            Summer 2020

  Dudley Canal and Tunnel Trust

501 Birmingham New Road, Dudley, DY1 4SB

0121 557 6265

Dudley Canal & Tunnel Trust is a Registered Charity No 1166460


Alan Garnell


Chairman - Jeff Luesley

Treasurer/H&S - Paul Smith                     

Membership - Richard Jones

Trustee - David Caunt

Trustee - Richard Langford

Trustee - Kate Bennett

Trustee - Alan Hazeldine


DC&TT Working Group               

Bob Dale

Chris Round             

Alan Hazeldine

Bob Mullen                                                                                                                                                                                                         


Richard Jones

Work Parties                              

John Rudge


Mike & Hilary Skidmore

Legger Editor                                    

Traci Dix-Williams


Chief Executive - Traci Dix-Williams

Finance & Admin' Manager  - Diane Griffin

Heritage Activities Assistant - Megan Keary

Volunteer Coordinator - Becci Cooper-Sayer

Trip Operation Manager - Becky Wright

Catering Manager - Peter O’ Toole

Commercial Manager - Matthew Dix-Williams

The views and opinions expressed herein are not necessarily those of the editor or Dudley Canal & Tunnel Trust.



Chairman’s Report                                                    

CEO Report                                                            

Archives Report                                                       

Dudley Tunnel Campaign                                          

I DIG CANALS                                                          


Dudley Canal Tunnel Preservation Society                                                                 

The canals during the second world War                    

Wartime Recollections                                                    

Historic Boats/Work Parties/Socials                             

A Little Nostalgia                                                               

Membership Matters                                                        


With the current need for isolation it has been necessary to produce this edition in a digital format. This is something we would like to explore for the future so any feedback will be greatly received. 

Articles for the September edition need to be in by Friday 21 August 2020. Send them to [email protected].



We Will Survive! (and ‘managing’ the Trust in Lockdown)

For me and you these have been strange and unprecedented times and so it has been for the Trust. Paul Smith and I have been ‘managing’  (a rather a grand term for our activities) the Trust, as since the middle of March the site at Todd’s End has been closed to comply with Government regulations and all but one of the staff have been furloughed. These furloughs include our CEO, Traci Dix-Williams. and the real managing of the Trust will not restart until Traci returns to work and we start planning in detail for the future.

However, much work has been done in seeking out grants and similar fundraising support to help ensure the survival of the Trust through these extraordinary times and I am glad to report that this has been quite successful.

We have also ensured that the other Trustees and Directors of the Trust and DCTT Enterprises have been kept fully informed and used their knowledge and suggestions in the work we have been doing.

Despite the fact that most of the staff were furloughed, we were conscious that we had a number of volunteers and service users who relied on us for a more social offer than a day out, making new friends, learning new skills and becoming part of a supportive network.  From the outset we wanted to make sure contact was maintained and that we were doing our bit to continue to offer support. During these challenging times of isolation, growing restrictions and uncertainty, personal welfare is of paramount importance.

Claire and Becci, supported by Emily, who is still working and managing our visitor enquiries and social media have done a great job towards this with our virtual tunnel tots and digital chit chat. Though these are completely different to our usual offers and are purely aimed at offering support and communication during our close down, they have been really well received with over 6000 views.

By the time that you read this we expect that Traci will be fully back with us from furlough and will be planning and, where possible, preparing for our re-opening, whenever and however that might happen. Life for the Trust, our staff, our volunteers and our customers, is going to be very different for a long period of time, perhaps for ever, but if the past is anything to go by, the Trust has an enormous capacity to change as circumstances change and win battles, even, if this time it’s with a virus!!

I finish with my usual plea – please tell your neighbours, social media contacts, friends and family about us – your support is very important. However, this time I have a further plea, whilst our current financial situation is OK, we must not be complacent, the future is, at this point in time virtually unknown and I, therefore, ask that you might consider making a donation to our ‘Help Keep Us Afloat Appeal’ – see our website for details.

Keep safe!    Jeff Luesley Chairman

B&W image of portal tunnel entrance at Dudley


Sadly, due to the lockdown, we were not able to commemorate the VE Day celebrations as we would have liked and so we are taking the opportunity to use this edition of The Legger to focus on just some of the aspects of our local area during the Second World War and also revisit some of the challenges and triumphs we have faced as a Trust.

As many of us have taken time to remember V E Day as a time of adversity, conflict and also triumph (albeit it a great cost) we can’t help but reflect on the fact that we are again facing a time of uncertainty and fear. A period when we are trying to the best for our country, our family, our neighbours and our friends and protecting the area in which we live for future generations. 

I remember a conversation with Richard Jones about our early days and I asked him why a bunch of kids thought they could take on a daunting project such as saving the tunnels and caverns and his simple answer was “we went to war, because that’s what you did then”.

Facing challenge and being prepared to fight for what we want is a major part of our legacy, it is in our DNA!  From building canals and tunnels through difficult terrains, surviving wars, loss of industries and manufacturing, economic downturns, fighting off the closure of the tunnels and caverns, reinstating neglected and abandoned canals and building amazing heritage attractions – we have all fought and played our part in protecting and preserving the unique environment that is so evident today.

Yet, we still need to fight – as our Chairman’s report shows. We will be welcoming people back on site but we know this is not going to be an easy task and that there will be big changes to how we operate as we march back to recovery. Its daunting but as we know from experience this can often lead to amazing things, new idea’s, and great initiatives.   Traci Dix-Williams   Chief Executive

We still have a long way to go with the current challenges we face. Getting back to business is going to be a hard struggle and we need support more than ever to achieve this.

There are many ways you can help us, below are a few ideas.

  • Encourage friends and family to visit when we are open.
  • Donate to our “Keep us Afloat” appeal.
  • If you shop online, we are registered with Amazon Smile & Amazon Associates and Give as you Live. Use these and we will receive a donation every time you shop.
  • Keep an eye out for us on social media and like/share/retweet our messages – it’s amazing how many people we could reach.
  • If you want to fundraise for us, we would be more than happy to support you – we can even set your fundraiser up on our website.
  • Facebook allows you to use your birthday as a way to raise funds for a good cause.
  • Advance purchase tickets or gift vouchers – you may not be able to visit us at the moment but it will give you something to look forward to.
  • Check out our Facebook page and website, fill in a short survey and help us get feedback on what you want to see to make you more confident to visit.
  • If you see or hear great initiatives elsewhere, let us know, this will help us improve our safety and offer.
  • Volunteer with us and help us get the site cleaned, well presented and ready for opening.


Sadly, just at the time we went into lockdown Sarah Fellows left the Trust to start her new job at Worcester College. We have not had a chance to say a proper goodbye to Sarah but we would like to take this opportunity to thank her for all her hard work, knowledge, enthusiasm, creative input, musical contributions, geological understanding and colourful props & set dressing which she has contributed to the Trust.   We will all miss you and wish you the best for your new job.


Despite our closure due to the Corona Virus, works has continued in some areas, particularly the Archives. If anyone has not yet had a chance to come and see the great work the team has completed, please make the effort, they have created an amazing treasure trove of information and history.

Mike and Hilary have continued to work at home and have now completed an index for the in-house bulletins and leggers and have entered all the articles from the 255 issues comprising of some 4377 individual entries as well as an extensive photographic archive!

 Incredibly the database can be searched using several formats which makes accessing information so much easier.

  • Issue No 2)  Issue Date
  • Title 4)  Author

 By clicking a link within this database, the appropriate pdf version of the publication instantly becomes available.

 With this information, the team are now producing presentations and recently they contacted the Inland Waterways Association and were able to secure permission to use some of their photograph’s as part of a presentation that Mike Skidmore has put together to celebrate two important events relating to the Dudley tunnel, the 60th anniversary of the IWA Dudley tunnel protest of 1960 and the 50th anniversary of the Dudley Dig & Cruise of 1970.  IWA also supplied 2 photographs of Parkhead Basin in 1960 which were new to us.

Richard Jones and Mike planned to present this work at the social meeting on March 18th, unfortunately we could not hold this so we will look hold this at a later date.   Mike Skidmore   Volunteer Archivist



Here we present the first of two reprinted articles from our archive collection.

                                                        DUDLEY TUNNEL CAMPAIGN                                                          

On Thursday April 23rd, 1964, nearly 200 years after his ancestors had built the canal, the Earl of Dudley made the two-mile journey from Tipton Junction to Park Head through Dudley Tunnel as the guest of the Dudley Canal Tunnel Preservation Society. With him on the trip were the Countess of Dudley, the Mayor and Mayoress of Dudley, Mr Robert Aickman, Mr. David Hutchings, and a few other guests, together with officials of the Society.

An old steel coal boat was used and this had been painted inside and out to give it, if not an immaculate at least a clean appearance. Duck boarding had been installed together with chairs and tables provided by kind permission of Dudley Fire Brigade.

Prior to joining the party at the Wolverhampton road bridge, the Earl and Countess met Society President Dr, Fletcher and Secretary Mr Amott, at a Town Hall reception.

To a barrage of Press photographer’s flash bulbs and the whirr of cine cameras  (B.B.C. and I.T.V. were there) the boat moved off to the tunnel entrance and on to Castle Mill basin where a brief stop was made to hand round refreshments. The Press said, “the boat was complete with its own cocktail cabinet”. Entering the tunnel again, just as the treacherous looking sky decided it was time to rain, the boat was pushed and 'legged’ on its journey beneath the heart of Dudley pausing now and then to view the junction with the mines and the rock sections of the tunnel. Onto beneath the Priory, Wolverhampton Street, Dock Lane, and Stourbridge Road to Park Head, where the boat emerged in watery sunshine after just over an hour underground.     

Here we were presented with the unusual sight of a chauffeur driven Bentley being backed onto the towing path, for it was at this point the Mayor and Mayoress of Dudley and the Earl and Countess had to leave. The rest of the party then went in search of lunchtime sustenance before the return trip.

Luckily the journey had proceeded very smoothly, with none of these minor mishaps which always seem to occur just when they are least wanted, and both the Earl and the Mayor were impressed with the trip and showed considerable interest in the tunnel.  It is of interest to note that the previous evening another party visited the tunnel, comprising 60 members of Dudley Council, officials and their friends, an encouraging event in these days of official lethargy when the views of most councils on canals - if any - seem primarily concerned with abandonment.

In the meantime, the fight to save the tunnel continues. Trips are being arranged every week and appeal forms are being sent out. The latest news from British Railways is that they are prepared to give the Society an extension of time until the end of June in order to raise the necessary funds for the extension of the portal. This is an unpleasantly short space of' time, and any form of assistance is most urgently required. Much hope, however, remains, and let us hope that it is not too optimistic to, look forward to the day when boats can navigate the tunnel and on through Park Head Locks as in, the past.   Alan Garnell

disused canal at Dudley

Entrance to Lord Ward's Tunnel - Dudley


Alarum Productions’ ‘I Dig Canals’ project culminated in an online event on Sunday 31st May (still available to watch on the Alarum Theatre YouTube channel). After months of research and oral history work, there is now a series of podcasts, a book and a short film celebrating the involvement of women in campaigns to save canals post-war to the 1970s. The audio recordings will be available to the public at the Waterways Archive and the book is a taster of the wealth of stories collected.

Here is some material from the book to whet your appetite: an article about the formation of the IWA, an interview extract, a poem and two photos. The first photo is one of Angela Rolt’s letters and the second shows Tina Gittings with a group in Dudley Tunnel. Neither appear in the book but there are several wonderful stories from Tina, one of which is included here. The book is available from Alarum (details below).


At the end of the Second World War, after nearly 200 years at the heart of England’s industrial landscape, the inland waterways were in decline, with transport moving to rail and road. That decline might have been terminal had it not been for a small band of enthusiasts who, in 1946, formed the Inland Waterways Association (IWA) and began the campaign to save and restore the canals. They were followed by numerous smaller societies and groups who fought for particular stretches of water. The story started with an engineer, Tom Rolt, who converted a working boat, Cressy, into a floating home (much to the surprise of the working boaters who couldn’t quite understand why one would have a sitting room, or even more incredibly, a bath, rather than a wage earning cargo in the hold!) and set off from Banbury to explore the canals on July 27th 1939. With him was the first woman of our story, Angela Rolt. They had married on July 11th, in secret, because her father was violently opposed, calling her “a whore and strumpet” for wanting to marry a “garage mechanic”.

From this trip came the waterways classic Narrow Boat. After doing the rounds of publishers in the early years of the war, it languished in a drawer under the bed on Cressy, until he met and became friends with H J Massingham. Massingham was a prolific British writer on ruralism and a poet who introduced him to the publishers, Eyre & Spottiswood, and the book finally appeared in 1944. Rolt was surprised by how well it was received and the amount of fan mail he was sent. The key moment in our story came on July 9th, 1945 when Robert Fordyce Aickman wrote to him saying:

Dear Mr Rolt,

My wife and I have just read your book NARROW BOAT with the very greatest measure of admiration and agreement. We are literary agents but seldom encounter a new MS at once so distinctive and so penetrating.

He then goes on to share his own concerns about the state of the waterways and adds that

it has long occurred to me that some body might be founded to promote the welfare of the canals and interest in them.

He concludes with a lengthy paragraph which boils down to their wish to meet Rolt at the soonest possible opportunity. Rolt replied with enthusiasm and the two couples met for the first time in August 1945, with the IWA being formed the following February.

Angela and Ray, Aickman’s wife, soon formed a close friendship. Many of Angela’s letters to Ray are in the Aickman archive as he seems to have kept every scrap of correspondence, but few from Ray survive. They deal with the practicalities of visiting each other including post-war travel and rationing.

My dear Ray (please do call me Angela), Thank you so much for your card saying you will bear with us from Nov: 19th-24th. I will bring various foods such as sugar, fats, bacon, eggs and anything else you ask me for…


My dear Ray, Thank you so much for your card - I feel guilty about London as there is really no excuse for me to come & it makes work for you - whatever happens don’t make up TWO beds for Tom and I. We can quite well sleep in one & have done for the past 6 years!! Think of the pillowcases etc!

Both women worked incredibly hard, but mostly unnoticed, for the association. Angela set up the first waterways exhibition at the London department store Heal’s in 1947 and worked hard on the preparation for the first IWA rally to be held in Market Harborough in August 1950. Ray typed all of Robert’s letters until Elizabeth Jane Howard (later a novelist and co-writer with Aickman) was employed in 1948 to work three mornings a week for £2 10s. This was no easy task as Robert would stand over the typist and dictate directly as she typed. This is far less formidable than it sounds, Ray later wrote to Barbara Balch, a former school friend in 1953. Her patience with Robert had run out (not least because of his well-known affair with Jane Howard), but, even as she left, she seems to have felt that she should organise care for him so approached Barbara as a possible part time secretary. It

…is much easier than taking letters down in shorthand as the person dictating just waits until you have come to the end of the bit you are typing, instead of dashing on not knowing where you are. Anyone who can type can get this sort of thing going… in a week.

It seems to have worked as Barbara worked for Robert for the next twenty years, another unsung heroine of the canal campaigns.

The IWA grew apace over the next five years with the workload on all involved increasing exponentially. However, Rolt and Aickman had always had differing views on how the campaigns should be approached and cracks began to appear, coming to a head in early 1950 as the association prepared for its first national rally to be held in Market Harborough in August. Angela returned from a visit to Market Harborough on February 7th:

My dear Robert,

I have been away since Monday and arrived back on Wednesday to find Tom in what is known as ‘a state’. All I had heard before my departure was that you had offended T very much at the meeting on Friday last when Gould and Lucan were present. What Tom has been writing to you I do not know but it would appear that the fact that I do not always agree with Tom in his differences with you has given him the idea that you are influencing me. You see women are not meant to have minds or any ideas of their own.

  Hand written letter by Rolt

Rolt had already written one furious letter to Aickman (followed by another the day after Angela had written) and amidst his accusations that Aickman took everyone for granted he wrote:

I would say without any hesitation that if anyone deserves a medal for what they have done for the IWA it is Ray. No one person in the organisation has done so much as she has and it has been perfectly clear to me for a long time that a great deal of the credit that is accorded to you or to me rightly belongs to her. I certainly appreciate this but I sometimes wonder if you do. This is a conclusion I have reached solely from personal observation.

Aickman replied that

the magnitude of Ray’s contribution to the Association (and earlier of Jane’s) can be known to no-one better than to me. Such success in life as I have achieved I owe indeed almost entirely to Ray.

Initially the two women wrote to each other insistent that this feud would not affect their friendship. However, it soon became clear that it could not survive the vitriol these two determined men were hurling at each other and their letters descend into an acrimonious exchange about repayment of a loan before ending completely in June 1950. And thus, to a great extent, these two pioneering women from the early days of the IWA and campaigning for the canals have disappeared from history, with only Rolt’s second wife, Sonia, who became involved from 1948, remaining in the public consciousness.

Kate Saffin, with thanks to Kit Acott and Lesley Jordan for additional research.

For more on this story, listen to Episodes 11 and 12 of the I Dig Canals podcasts  Alarum Theatre


1963/64 I left school and started going out with this lad who was involved with exploring Dudley Tunnel at the time. He had a canoe which he would take to the tunnel on a Sunday. The very first time I went there, I was in what was supposed to be a one-man rubber dinghy – it was more like a floating doughnut. I sat in that with a tow rope back to the canoe and off we went; it was only a one-man canoe, you see. You can never appreciate the splendour of Cathedral Arch in Dudley Tunnel until you have seen it from water level. When I say water level, my bum was actually below water level in the cold water.

DCTT Founders in tunnel

That relationship went through a dodgy patch. Basically, one time, he went into the flooded mine so he could explore it, while I stood on a dry patch and waited. After a long time he hadn’t come back and I could see it was getting dark outside so I headed out and as far as I know he might still be there. (I have seen him since. I do know he’s out really.)    Tina Gittings


(Words found in an article by David Bolton, Waterways World, July 1993. Felix travelled through Dudley Tunnel with Robert Aickman and Crick Grundy. The date is not given in David’s article.)

Known to her friends as Felix,

this ardent and dedicated worker,

a cornerstone in the fight

to save our waterways,

was placed in the bow of a dinghy

known as the Blue Bath,

commanded to hold a torch

to show their hazardous path.

‘Speeding full tilt in the dark,

with this pitiful little light

expecting a barrier of bricks,

was a terrifying sight.

We thought we might sink in the tunnel

when no-one knew we were there!

Then we perceived a glimmer of light,

and breathed the pure fresh air…’

Proving it wasn’t blocked at all,

as British Waterways said,

they hadn’t believed what they were told,

but saw for themselves instead.

Heather Wastie


The I Dig Canals book is available from Alarum - see website or Facebook page for details, or email [email protected]. A short film celebrating the project can be found on our YouTube channel.

Alarum Productions are exceedingly grateful to DCTT for invaluable support in being our base for the I Dig Canals project. We were delighted that Hilary and Mike Skidmore joined us for two of our oral history training sessions. (Mike is hiding up the corner in this photograph.) The Vic Smallshire also provided the perfect setting (complete with authentic chilly temperature) for our writing workshop.

Kate Saffin, Heather Wastie & Nadia Stone



 Queens Award Logo

 In all the doom and gloom of lockdown and corona virus, we have managed to have some amazing moments and it is through our volunteering offer we have had one of the best experiences.

We are really pleased to be able to tell you that we have been awarded the Queens Award for Voluntary Services.  This is an incredible, well deserved and very prestigious award.

Becci, Claire and the team are working hard to make sure everyone in the organisation can celebrate this achievement and that we can get the news out as widely as possible. 

Volunteers have always been a major part of what we do and achieve and there is no higher accolade we can receive that acknowledges and celebrates this. The award is the equivalent to an MBE and a stringent evaluation process was completed.

Thank you to everyone, past and present who has helped us and made us who we are today.

Volunteer team standing lined up in one of the open narrow boats

Our second reprinted article from our archives


An article written in for the IWA Navigation Magazine. May 1964

By 1950, commercial traffic had ceased through Dudley Tunnel, which brought to an end 158 years of continuous use, plus a further 15 years of use when the tunnel only extended from Tipton to the Earl of Dudley's limestone mines at Castle Mill Basin. The complete length of 3172 yards was opened in February 1792.

In 1959, British Waterways sought to close the tunnel and in October 1960, a protest cruise was held. Although the act of closure was delayed, it was only for a short time and despite strong protests from canal societies, the tunnel was officially abandoned in 1962. A useful and attractive canal was left to become a stagnant ditch and a receptacle for rubbish. Even though the canal was officially abandoned, there was nothing except weed and rubbish to stop a boat passing through the tunnel, although the Park Head locks at the southern end had become unusable due to vandalism and lack of maintenance. In 1963, however, there came a new threat from the railway, which passed over the Tipton end of the tunnel. The bridge over the tunnel portal was declared unsafe and British Railways decided that it must be replaced by an embankment, which would completely cover the tunnel portal. To fight this proposal, a small group of enthusiasts who had hitherto only been interested in taking the occasional boat through to visit the limestone mines and explore the tunnel, formed the Dudley Canal Tunnel Preservation Society. An anonymous enthusiast donated an elderly coal boat, which was used for taking trips through the tunnel every Sunday. To create further interest, members gave talks to other societies and our voice was heard on radio and television. The Society flourished and its membership increased. Things were happening so quickly that weekly meetings of the committee were needed, at the then president's house - Dr. J. M. Fletcher- at Walsall.

At first, the fight seemed hopeless; a small group of enthusiasts were against two nationalised industries and trying to do something that other canal societies had found impossible. The society suggested that a short extension tunnel be built through the proposed embankment. British Railways replied that it would cost the society about £7, 000 which was confirmed by our own enquiries. After a battle lasting eighteen months, the railway authorities decided not to build the embankment but to strengthen the bridge instead, which would cost £3,000. It was agreed that the society should raise this money and give it to B.R. in exchange for an agreement that they would maintain the bridge for however long it remained in use.

The society is still engaged in raising this huge sum, which is being done mainly by trips through the tunnel, which have averaged about 60-100 per year. Sales of booklets, badges, 'Black Country Three' E.P. 's, and other material have also played their part. During 1965 and 1966, the society had a full-time paid canal manager -Derek Gittings - who was kept busy with organising not only Sunday trips but also ones on Saturdays, weeknights and the occasional morning and afternoon trips. 

This was an exceedingly busy time for the society; work parties were always being arranged - to improve the boats, the approach canals, the basins, inside the tunnels or just to tidy up the grass along the towpaths.

At the 1966 A.G.M., Derek found it necessary to leave his position, though he stayed as a voluntary member of the society's committee. The writer volunteered to take the position of canal manager though on a voluntary and unpaid basis, which meant fewer trips during the weekdays and nights. We only refused a few trip enquiries and managed to get every party, which approached us through the tunnel.

Dudley Tunnel - Castle Mill Basin.

On occasions, the party asked for a visit and explanation of the limestone mines, but a visit could only be made to one or two of the more safe and interesting mines. It must be remembered that the tunnel was started solely for the extraction of limestone from beneath Dudley Hill. (The writer still maintains that there is more fresh air beneath Dudley than above it!)

In March of 1968, vandals sank our good tripping boat in the tunnel and stole the entire stock of lighting equipment and maintenance tools. This was not discovered until the morning of the first trip. With the help of the local A.F.S. we were able to get the boat up, but she was found to have large holes driven through the sides and the bottom and it was admitted that she must be considered as a write off. We found that damage to our other tripping boat was so extensive that trips through the tunnel were out for the time being.

As the canal tunnel is still owned by B.W. (They will not allow it to be bought or leased under any circumstances), we have to get their permission for any major work party.

This being done, we spent three days on the approach canal at Tipton and the basins inside the tunnel. This was very successful and the northern end still looks very neat and attractive. Since then, the society has been trying to obtain a good steel narrow boat of suitable dimensions to go through the tunnel. We have recently been able to obtain one from B.W.

Readers may recall a move to get the Dudley Canal Tunnel Preservation Society formed into a company with the Earl of Dudley as 51% shareholder. This was in 1964, but it was soon found that neither B.W. nor Dudley Borough Council were willing to enter into an understanding with a limited company. It was for this reason that the members voted to form the society into a trust. The society arranged a visit by the IWAAC in September 1968 when a boat was hired from B.W. and the council went through. A favourable reaction was obtained, though the society has heard nothing since that date. The new Board of Trade regulations are giving our society more troubles, but we are determined to overcome them as we are convinced that our little section of the B.C.N. can play a very important part. We are determined to preserve and utilise for the recreation and education of the people of this country, the Dudley canal and tunnel and hope to offer education and entertainment to all interested in the history of engineering and the industrial revolution in the Midlands.

Richard W. Jones, Canal Manager 1964

Castle Mill Basin

Castle Mill Basin


Foreseeing the need to take pressure off the railways and improve the transport of goods and troops around the country, especially connecting to the ports the Ministry of War Transport undertook an expansive survey of the canals in 1941 before taking over complete control of them in 1942.  Though they found that 500 miles of canal was irredeemable, there was still 2000 miles which could be used for the war effort.  Even at this time the canals were still carrying large tonnage of cargo, the Birmingham Canals were conveying over 100,000 tons of coal a month and it was estimated that 12 million tons of cargo was being carried on canals per year.

The main issue highlighted was getting enough boats and barges operating and controlling the flow of this operation, in particular, having enough trained and experienced boatmen to operate the craft. Much of the ownership of the boats was private, either by companies such as the railways who owned boats and employed boatmen to transport their goods or owned by individuals and families who operated independently. The number of boatmen had dwindled over the years with many of the younger folk leaving the life to work in the factories and cities or as hostilities began joining the armed services and leaving to fight.  Women had begun to take over the role and by 1942 training programs were being offered to them, but labour shortage continued to be a big problem.

There were also difficulties in looking after the welfare of those involved in transport to support the war effort, particularly those operating on the canals.   Pay was poor, a workday could be as long as twelve hours, with a lot of manual labour involved in loading and unloading. A journey just around the Black Country collieries collecting cargo could take a fortnight.  Often the whole family would be onboard and getting access to food proved challenging. Though issued with travellers’ food cards they were not always accepted at towns along the route.  Many female operators encountered hostility and suspicion and though the canals themselves were not a such a priority target for bombers as roads, rail and industrial areas were, they were adversely affected by the damage they caused. Buildings toppled into them and blocked routes, blackouts made night travelling hazardous and water supplies were affected. Getting materials and equipment for repairs grew more difficult as the war effort escalated and operating during the winter months certainly took its toll on those onboard and the ability to make progress.

For all the problems, the canals played a great part in the war effort and the transport of goods and troops, particularly given its neglected and overlooked importance at the beginning of the war.  The feeling at the time was that this effort helped halt the decline of the canals and that this would stimulate the government to reorganise them and again make them a vibrant part of the transport infrastructure.  With hindsight, sadly we know this was not to be the case.

Derek Gittings – Ministry of Transport Booklet 1942


Troops being loaded onto a canal boat

Troops being loaded onto a canal barge – Canal & River Trust


I have spoken to boatmen who described steering into the bushes on the Shropshire Union  to avoid enemy planes and when we were regularly travelling by boat from Birmingham to Dudley in the early 1960s, we always kept to one side (left side going north I think) of

the double arched bridges on the main line as it was common knowledge that the other side was deliberately shallow to hinder any enemy invasion fleet!  How true this was is still debatable but the result was that as all the boats went through on the same side, it became deeper and the other side silted up.  Derek Gittings

VE Day Street Party

Coseley VE Day Street Party – Dudley Museum and Archives

President’s butty became a casualty of the war when it was bombed at a wharf in Birmingham. 

On May 8, 1945, I had had my 15th birthday three days before and I was in a small group of fifth formers at Dudley Girls’ High School waiting in the school library to be called to take my School Certificate French oral exam. All was very quiet in the library when in came Miss Mona Matthews, one of our more formidable teachers, who announced that the war was over! Happily, she didn’t chastise us for cheering and dancing on the tables, also I passed my exam.  Margaret (Turley) Beddard – Express & Star 8/5/2020

Canal and River Trust – War on the Waterways

A look at many aspects of the canals and their role in the war. Follow link  CRT - War on the waterways

Dudley Street parade

Dudley Celebrates V E Day DMBC

I was seven years old when war started. We lived in the Black Country at the time and most nights the bombs were coming down and we all had to run into a small air raid shelter until the all clear sounded. We were lucky to survive at the end of the war.

To mark VE Day we lit a fire in the middle of the road, a quiet street called Borough Crescent, near Oldbury, and many people were dancing round the fire until the early hours of the morning.       Cyril Robinson - Express & Star 8/5/2020

Tipton Home Guard

Officers & NCO’s of the Tipton Home Guard c1944.    Tipton Home Guard



Due to lockdown we have not been able to offer our normal work party activities or attend boat shows. We hope to return to these soon. However, we still need more volunteers to help us with moving boats, doing site maintenance and canal clearance works and manning our historic boats at boat shows and at our main visitor site. If you are interested please contact [email protected]


Our last social prior to lockdown saw Graham Worton bring us up to date with the amazing efforts taken to put forward the bid for the Black Country Global Geopark. A decision was due in Spring 2020 from UNESCO, we are still waiting to hear the outcome of this. Keep your fingers crossed.


Wren's Nest



Pictures by Bob Mullen

Take a canal boat trip underground at Dudley and visit the Singing Cavern; a limestone mine from the industrial revolution era. During your journey you will see much more than the all aspiring Singer; as we call the mine for short. Before the general public could be taken into the Singer to view its splendour, the mine had to be made safe. Just to name one major job that had to be done: NETTING. In the latter half of 1980 the big pillars supporting the roof and the massive sloping sides of the mine had to have netting applied to them as one safety precaution. What follows are a few photographs showing how one awkward section of the mine was netted.

 Works in Dudley Tunnel

  Two boats were used for stability; locked together using scaffold poles to anchor them tight. 

Building Dudley Tunnel

A scaffold tower erected inside the right-hand boat, with extra support given by a shorter tower sighted on the towpath.





 The Fossil


Dear members we are aware that you have not been able to visit since we ceased tripping on 18th March 2020. We will be extending your membership to accommodate the closure. We will contact you once we are back at work to organise this. 

 The Cabin on Sagitta