First boat on disused waterway near Shrewsbury in 70 years

A boat has returned to the water on a disused stretch of canal near Shrewsbury for perhaps the first time in over 70 years.

Alistair Price, and Waterway Recovery Group leader Ian Gaston, take to the water
Alistair Price, and Waterway Recovery Group leader Ian Gaston, take to the water

And although it was not a canal boat - it was a small plastic dinghy being used functionally during work to tidy and clear the canal - it marks a symbolic step towards realising the ambition of bringing the entire Shrewsbury to Newport Canal back into use.

"The canal was closed in 1944 and while I can't guarantee that there hasn't been a boat of some sort on there, it is very likely that there hasn't been a boat on there for 70 years," said Alistair Price of the Shrewsbury Canal Rewatering Group, which has been clearing and tidying the canal in the area of the mouth of the Berwick Tunnel.

"Using the boat is a safety issue. Rather than leaning out across the water trying to connect our ropes to haul out the material in the canal, part of the team was working in the water from the boat, with the rest of the team on the bank.

The Berwick Tunnel mouth in about 1900 - the enthusiasts are planning to restore it and the lengthman's hut to this appearance

"The Waterway Recovery Group helped us all week with work, which was invaluable in achieving the results we did."

The Shrewsbury Watering Group is a sub group of Shrewsbury and Newport Canals Trust, and has been doing initial work on the canal at the "Shrewsbury end" as part of the overall project by the trust, the dream of which is to bring back to life the entire length of the waterway from Norbury in Staffordshire, through Newport, north of Telford, and into the heart of Shrewsbury.

"Our plan is to initially restore that section of canal which is 250 metres from the western end of the Berwick Tunnel to where it crosses the new A5. We are doing very much preliminary work at the moment."

Work includes clearing vegetation and removing fallen trees from the water near the tunnel. Part of the tunnel masonry has collapsed and it is intended to rebuild it in due course and restore the tunnel portal to its historic appearance.

Alistair said the current work was instigated by the couple living at Tunnel Cottage, who had asked the Canal & River Trust if it would clear the site up, and it in turn asked the local volunteers if they could do it.

Clearance and tidying work under way

Ultimately the plan was to reopen Berwick Tunnel.

"The tunnel is a little bit unique as it was the first tunnel of any significance to have a towpath built in. It was a cantilevered structure that was taken out fairly early on, it was said, because of lack of maintenance."

Alistair said that the canal was originally designed as a tub boat canal, and they hoped to build a replica of one of the early tub boats, using a rare survivor at the Blists Hill Museum as a guide.

Historically the canal was used to bring raw materials such as coal from eastern Shropshire to the county town.

The last working boat is said to have reached Shrewsbury in 1936, and the canal was officially abandoned in 1944.

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