The Restoration

Saturn Horsedrawn - Frankton to Queens Head, 17 September 2002 - Norman and Judith Stainthorp

The day dawned dry and mild. Many onlookers, together with Representatives from BWB and WREN, gathered at the top lock at Frankton as Saturn waited to began her historic journey towards Queens Head, on the Montgomery Canal.

Harry Arnold welcomed all those present and explained the programme for the morning.

Julie Sharman, BWB Waterway Manager, said that it was a proud day for all partners involved in the Saturn Project. She explained that this was a significant last run for Saturn in her ‘old form’ which marked the start of the restoration at Malkins Bank.

She also expressed particular thanks for the support of The Shropshire Union Canal Society, The Waterways
Trust, WREN and other private donors, and thanked everyone else concerned.

Richard Smith, WREN Project Manager, also expressed his satisfaction at being involved with the Saturn Project and endorsed Julie’s comments.

The speeches over, Saturn then began the descent of the locks.

After the double drop of the staircase, the tow line was attached to the hook on the spreader bar at the rear of boat horse Geordie, led by Duncan Knapp, and after 60 years of waiting, the iron bar over the flight of steps to the former ‘Canal Tavern’ did its job of preventing the tow line from snagging on the steps.

(There was a moment’s pause for lightning repairs when mallet and clout nails were brought from a support craft to fix a sprung guard from Saturn’s side!)

Below the locks Saturn took the turn to the right through the junction with the unfinished main line to Shrewsbury, later known as the Weston arm as the canal construction petered out in a field just beyond Weston Wharf.

The short length of the arm still in navigable water was crowded with moored boats, many of whom came especially to witness Saturn pass by.

Along the next section, is the site of the infamous 1930’s breach, restored some years ago by the local authority.

From the support boats, led by Paul Mills, there was time to view the interesting edge detail whereby sedges are grown in submerged hollow blocks, thus softening the edge line of the canal whilst at the same time preventing them spreading across the navigable channel.

We asked Paul the derivation of his boat’s name “Exelbee”, thinking perhaps it was from a long line of famous boat names such as “Monarch” or “Searchlight” but no, he said it was an acronym of the registration letters of his first car!

Saturn then reached the left hand bend before the rebuilt Perry Aqueduct.

The original 3 arch brick aqueduct was demolished by the Water Authority. Fortunately, at that time someone ensured that they promise to reinstate the Aqueduct if the canal was ever restored. They readily agreed, never suspecting that they would one day be held to it; hence the steel trough structure we see today.

Saturn’s voyage continued, Geordie being followed by a group of pedestrian enthusiasts.

Perhaps in future though, horse followers could kindly stay back towards the stern of the boat at least while amateur ‘David Bailey’s’ such as ourselves are let loose with cameras!

At Graham Palmer lock there was a few moments pause in memory of that pioneer of volunteer canal restoration. His hirsute bobble capped effigy gazing at us from his memorial alongside the lock.

After a further long straight stretch, the canal bore to the left, past the cast iron towpath swing bridge installed in 1902, over the entrance to the former Rednal Interchange Basin.

There were once extensive railway sidings here to transfer goods to boats for delivery to Welshpool and beyond, before the railway was extended in the 1860’s.

By 1884 all the tracks had been removed, although the Arm continued to serve the Rednal Fertiliser Works, using Shropshire Union Canal Co boats until as late as 1921.

Saturn then passed below the railway bridge close to the site of Rednal West Fenton Station. Ahead was the Rednal Interchange Warehouse and packet boat terminal and the only towpath turn-over bridge on the whole of the canal.

This Warehouse described in the previous issue, was saved from demolition by BW who did extensive works to prevent it continuing to slide into the canal. The famous ‘Stop’ board slid out of the wall instructing, again, for the first time in over 60 years, the passing horse drawn fly boat to stop.

BW invited the group to inspect the restored building and demonstrated the system of ropes and pulleys that slide the restored “Stop” board in and out of the Warehouse.

When Saturn restarted it was interesting to see Geordie ‘hanging in the harness’ which is a method of overcoming the inertia of a stationary boat that has to be taught to canal horses.

All too soon Saturn reached Queens Head, once a big interchange point for goods between the boats and waggons on Telford’s Shrewsbury-North Wales A5 road.

Geordie was led to his horsebox and the rest of us repaired to the pub.

After an excellent lunch and some more speeches, we went outside in time to see that Saturn was already winded and ready for the motorboat tow back - as Temple Thurston wrote, ‘along those water roads of England’.

You can click on all images to see larger versions.

The Shropshire Union Fly Boat Project