BCN Branches and Byeways
by Ray Shill
10. Wolverhampton Station Deviation
The publication in February 2008 of intended plans to rebuild both Wolverhampton bus and railway stations and demolish the existing multi-storey car park has, at the same time, brought mixed news for canal enthusiasts.
Journalist Daniel Wainwright, writing in the Express and Star (15th February) mentioned that the tired canal network around the Broad Street area will be totally revitalised.
Probably the most important milestones in transport history in this specific area were:
The building of the Birmingham Canal 1771-1772
The construction of the Stour Valley Railway and Shrewsbury & Birmingham Railway 1848-1852
The Construction of the Birmingham Wolverhampton & Dudley Railway 1852-1854
Brindley's original canal curved around the east of the town following the 473ft contour to the edge of a slope that dipped towards Wednesfield. Canalside wharves were established at the two crossing places, Workhouse Lane & Can Lane. In between the line of the canal was initially undeveloped. Gradually industry came to line this section of waterway.
Prices's Wharf in Workhouse Lane was Wolverhampton's first carriers wharf and was established during 1771 initially at the temporary terminus of the canal as a coal wharf. A warehouse was constructed here for merchandise traffic. Then there was a steam-powered flourmill that was erected on the other side of the lane by 1801. Beyond this mill the land on the offside was developed during the 1820's as a timber wharf by James and Maurice Shipton.
Beyond Shiptons yard was the lengthy Proprietors Wharf at Can Lane, which was the Birmingham Canal Navigations Wharf for Wolverhampton. Here were located another warehouse and offices. Can Lane was also an important coal and limestone wharf. Shiptons also adapted a strip of land as a Packet Boat depot for the Swift Packet Boats that ran between Wolverhampton and Birmingham during the 1840's.
In the opposite direction towards Horseleyfields both sides of the canal were developed for industrial purposes. These included the Worsted Spinning Mill originally owned by Henry Penn that later became known as te Old Factory.
The Shipton family were prominent timber merchants. Joseph Shipton had started the family trade at Charlotte Street in Birmingham and this business was handed over to cousins James and Maurice. James Shipton also formed a partnership with miller, Henry Pratt to carry goods by water at Albion Wharf. Henry Pratt established the first warehouse there during 1829. Albion Wharf lay beside the start of a long basin that extended from the canal and under a new flour mill (Albion Mill), which seems to have been built and in use by 1827.
There was also a coal wharf and later an engineering works and foundry alongside. Henry Pratt's partnership with James Shipton was dissolved and Pratt ultimately faced the harshness of bankruptcy. Maurice Shipton also dissolved his association with James. James Shipton went on to trade as a timber merchant in his name and as brothers as Shiptons, canal carriers, from Albion Wharf in Wolverhampton, Birmingham and eslewhere.
The decision to build railways from Shrewsbury to Birmingham and alongside the Stour Valley dramatically altered the geography. Out of the many schemes promoted during the railway mania came the Birmingham Wolverhampton & Stour Valley Railway that came to be owned by the London & North Western Railway. The construction of the BW & SVR led to various deviations being made to the line of the BCN. At Wolverhampton the alterations involved a new stretch of canal from near Albion Wharf to Can Lane Wharf during the years 1849 and 1850.
A new Central Station for the Shrewsbury & Birmingham and the LNWR was made across the old canal bed with short sections of water retained to Nortons Flour Mill and at Can Lane Wharf. The new line cut across the old Proprietors Wharf neatly bisecting in into two halves on opposite sides of the new canal. A short tunnel was constructed to carry the waterway under the approach road to the station as well as various goods sidings. Shiptons timber yard was lost under the new station and moved to Old Factory Wharf between the Old Factory and Albion Wharf. The Packet Station was also lost in the railway construction work.
Building the Stour Valley Railway involved a lengthy viaduct over the low lying land near the canal at Horseleyfields and built up land for the foundations needed for the Central Passenger Station and an adjacent goods station in Corn Hill. A railway interchange facility with the canal was also made. A standard gauge railway descended from the upper level to turntables that linked with sidings that passed under the viaduct to the basin warehouses.
The short section of water at Can Lane was subsequently adapted as a carrier's depot for the Shropshire Union Railway and Canal Carrying Company.
The modern plan to revitalise the area is a continuation of what happened at Albion Wharf where developers destroyed the former Albion Wharf warehouses to make way for new housing. They now target the Broad Street/Shropshire Union Wharf area and maps indicate the removal of the cinder block retaining wall for new buildings that will open out the canal side there. The current BW Sanitary Station may also be lost. The Shropshire Union warehouse and basin it seems will be retained.
Published maps also indicate a wider vision that has the Metro extended from the present terminus to the Station front and then along the bank of the canal passing over the former interchange basin site and using the former railway access under the viaduct to pass through to Wednesfield and Walsall.