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Canals

The Black Country and Birmingham Canals have a unique place in the history of the Industrial Revolution, which developed into our modern world. It is thought that nowhere else in the world has such a huge geological variety present in such a small area, with coal, iron-ore and limestone in close proximity and close to the surface.

The first successful Newcomen steam engine was used to pump water from coalmines near Dudley Castle in 1712 and John Wilkinson another iron pioneer introduced coke to his Bradley Furnace at Bilston in around 1758. However it was the emergence of the canal system, which made industrialisation develop extremely rapidly in the Black Country.

The construction of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal (1766 - 72) and the Birmingham Canal with its arm to Wednesbury (1768 - 72), built under the supervision of James Brindley, were key starting points for the canal period in this area. 

Subsequent canal development rapidly took off as canal links, arms and wharves intensively covered the Black Country in a frenzy known as 'Canal Mania'. This intensity enabled a huge increase in movement of materials and products allowing the Black Country and Birmingham to become literally "the workshop of the world".

Today, after two hundred years of use and competition from roads and rails, the decline of heavy industries and transformation of the primary and industrial economies; the canal system still exists and functions in the Black Country. In recent years there has been a transformation of the use of the canal system with leisure and tourism becoming ever more important. Today, over 177 km of canals, with a distinctive canal architecture, exists in the Black Country. The canals, now with a rich natural history, are used extensively both for boating and general amenity purposes.