Shropshire Routes to Roots
|Routes | Transport and communication | The Shropshire Union Canal|
9. From canal to railwayWhy did the canals decline?
The new company pressed ahead with construction of the Stafford-Shrewsbury line, the main line west of Wellington being done jointly with the Shrewsbury and Birmingham Railway. At its western terminus, a branch led down to the Shrewsbury Canal's basin. Inevitably, the company had held discussions with the influential railway companies of the West Midlands, including the Liverpool and Birmingham Railway (LBR).
At that time the Liverpool and Birmingham Railway had fallen out with the Grand Junction Railway (GJR), its natural partner. It saw the conversion of the canal north of Wolverhampton as an alternative route for its ambitions to reach Lancashire. However, sense soon prevailed, and on 1st January, 1846 the LBR, GJR and various other railways merged to form the London and North Western Railway (LNWR).
The LNWR now saw the Shropshire Union Railways and Canals Company (SURC) as a potential threat. In particular, it feared that a rival might capture it and use it as a line to the northwest. This was not an unjustified fear, as within ten years the Shrewsbury and Birmingham had been taken over by the LNWR's rival, the Great Western Railway.
In the autumn of 1846, the LNWR offered a perpetual lease of the SURC on reasonable terms. Management of the SURC was to be by a joint committee with equal representation from the SURC shareholders and the LNWR. The terms were accepted, and in 1847 the SURC lost its short-lived independence.
Under railway control
The Eastern Branch of the Montgomeryshire Canal was bought by the Shropshire Union in 1847, the Western Branch following three years later.
Instead of buying the Shropshire Canal, the SURC leased it from 1849. However, it suffered from water shortage and subsidence. The LNWR were reluctant to approve the investment necessary to put matters right. Instead they decided to build their own railway down to Coalport. They therefore bought the canal and closed the summit section, the inclined planes at each end and the Horsehay branch in 1858, only leaving open the section from Madeley to Coalport, parts of which struggled on into the twentieth century.
The LNWR allowed the SURC considerable management freedom, providing it did not wish to make large investments. Indeed, railway ownership may have been beneficial in the long term, because much of its canal ran through what was to become the territory of other railway companies: the Cambrian Railway and the Great Western Railway.
At first, independent boat firms, including national companies such as Pickfords, did all the carrying. However, concern about the construction of rival railways led the Shropshire Union to start its own carrying service on its main line, and in 1849 this was extended to the branches.
Railway competition came relatively late to much of the network: 1858 at Nantwich and Whitchurch, 1860 at Welshpool, 1861 at Newtown, Trefor and Llangollen, 1863 at Market Drayton. Tolls were reduced and income fell.
Closure of the Montgomeryshire Canal was proposed in 1887 but it was reprieved as it was still making the tiny profit of £432 (before interest payments). By the end of the nineteenth century, the trade in limestone had virtually ceased, but the canal was still kept open, possibly because of the legal difficulties of closing it.
ContinueNow find out about the canal's closure and rebirth: Next
Page created January 2004 and last updated 1 August 2007