Opposite the National Indoor Arena is a circular island with a signpost in the middle of the canal, for all the world like a waterway roundabout.
It dates back to the Second World War, when LMS Railway engineers installed it to hold stop-planks which would dam the canal in the event of bomb-damage, with the aim of protecting the railway-tunnel below from flooding. The signpost, beckoning in three directions, to Liverpool and Manchester, Nottingham and Lincoln, and to Coventry and London, is a cross-roads of the English canal-system.
One arm of the junction leads on the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal, which shortly begins the descent of the thirteen Farmer’s Bridge Locks.
This was the eighteenth-century equivalent of the motorway system around Spaghetti Junction.
At one time there were 124 separate wharves and works between Farmer’s Bridge and Aston Junction, and until at least the 1920s the locks were gas-lit in order to operate twenty-four hours a day. This stretch is a varied and spectacular piece of canal-scape, whether viewed from the towpath or by boat.
The canal plunges beneath the high-rise buildings associated with the 498-foot Telecom Tower (1965-6), which actually straddle Locks 9 and 10. Locks 12 and 13 are similarly located beneath the bridges of Livery Street, the Great Western Railway approach to Snow Hill Station and Snow Hill itself.
The Farmer’s Bridge flight is a powerful and evocative walk beneath the streets of central Birmingham, the city that boasts it has more canals than Venice.
For details of Mike Higginbottom’s Birmingham’s Heritage lecture, please click here.