Friday Photo – Engine Arm Aqueduct, Smethwick
This delightful structure looks like a bridge over a canal. You will never see a car making this crossing, though. It’s an aqueduct with narrow footpaths either side of a body of water, just deep enough and wide enough to take a narrowboat. Water is fed into the aqueduct at the right from Edgbaston Reservoir and leaves at the left to top up the Old Main Line of the Birmingham Canal Navigation company (BCN). This was the canal built by James Brindley in 1770 to move coal from the mines of the Black Country to the workshops, foundries and forges of Birmingham. There are locks to get boats over the high ground of Smethwick Summit and down again. Water was lost through the locks from the highest points of the canal and traffic often stopped for lack of water. Steam engines built to the designs of James Watt were installed at each set of locks to pump huge amounts of water back up to the highest levels.
The canal below the aqueduct is Telfords’s New Main Line canal of 1827. Telford gouged a straighter, faster route through the summit and created Galton Valley. The new canal was about twenty feet lower than the old line and lost less water through its locks. The pumping engine at the Smethwick end of the locks was kept in service. Telford built the Engine Arm Aqudeuct in cast iron so that coal for the engine’s steam boilers could be delivered by boat from the Old Main Line and carried over his New Main Line.