Shropshire Routes to Roots
|Routes | Transport and communication | The Shropshire Union Canal|
10. Closure and rebirthWhy were the canals closed and re-opened?
Decay and closures
Although the First World War had little direct effect on the canals, its indirect effects were disastrous. Government control and union pressures led to wage increases and restrictions in working hours. These forced the Shropshire Union to cease its carrying business in 1921. A combination of surplus equipment, trained mechanics and a lack of regulation caused a large growth in the use of motor vehicles: it was the lorry rather than the railway which finally killed the commercial trade of the canals. Declining income meant that even less was spent on maintenance, which exacerbated the problems.
The legal status of the SURC changed in 1922, when it was formally absorbed by the LNWR, which in turn the following year became part of the new railway conglomerate, the London Midland and Scottish Railway (LMSR).
By 1935 only one trader, George Beck, was still using the former Llanymynech Branch and Montgomeryshire Canal. The LMSR was probably relieved when a breach of the canal bank near Frankton effectively closed the canal. It paid Beck £80 compensation, and in 1944 obtained the Act which formally approved its abandonment.
The same Act approved abandonment of other parts of the Shropshire Union where there had been little or no trade for several years. This included the Shrewsbury Canal - the last boat to the county town having passed in 1936 - the remaining long-disused short section of the Shropshire Canal and the Newport branch. The line from Hurleston Junction to Llangollen survived only because it was used as a water supply channel for parts of south Cheshire.
In 1948 the canal network was nationalised. It was another decade before the policy-makers began to recognise that the leisure industry might bring new life to some rural canals, giving a major boost to the local economies.
The canal from Hurleston past Whitchurch and Ellesmere to Chirk and Llangollen was marketed as the 'Llangollen Canal' and is now the busiest canal in the country. Even the former Shropshire Union main line through Market Drayton passes more boats a year than it did in the height of freight carrying.
Restoration and reopening
The canal from Frankton Junction to Newtown, now known as the 'Montgomery Canal' is being reopened in stages. Much of the work has been done by enthusiastic volunteers from the Inland Waterways Association and the Shropshire Union Canal Society. Within Shropshire, Frankton Locks were reopened in 1987, Queens Head was reached by 1996, and Maesbury by 2003. It is hoped that the dry section to the Welsh border at Llanymynech will be usable again by 2009. Because the closed canal had become home to some rare plants, nature reserves such as the one at Aston Locks are being built at the same time as the canal is restored.
The Shrewsbury and Newport Canals Trust is leading the move to reopen the canal from Norbury Junction through Newport to Shrewsbury. A consultant's report estimates the cost at £86 million and says there will be 'very substantial financial, employment, recreational, educational and regeneration benefits'.
Perhaps the most imaginative of the restoration schemes within Shropshire is for the former branch into Whitchurch. Because much of the old line has been built upon, the idea is to have an inclined plane taking boats to a new branch canal at a lower level. This would be a unique tourist attraction.
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Page created January 2004 and last updated 1 August 2007