Posts Tagged ‘Montgomery Canal’

The Monty – Week 38 of the Oswestry Heritage Comics

Oswestry sits at the junction of a number of canals that lead to Llangollen, up to Ellesmere and down to Welshpool. Today, they are scenic havens for wildlife and places to go for relaxing afternoon walks. But back in the late 1700s and early 1800s, canals were Shropshire’s industrial transport network, and linked rural parts of the county to the growing urban centres of the Midlands and the Northwest. Canals linked small market towns like Ellesmere and Welshpool to cities like Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham, making new kinds of trade possible. But this trade was secondary to the main purpose of the canals, which was to distribute agricultural lime from the quarries at Llanymynech Rocks. When added to fields, lime does four important things: (1) it increases the pH of the soil, making it less acidic, (2) it adds calcium and magnesium, (3) it allows oxygen to penetrate deeper into the soil, and (4) it increases the uptake of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in plants. All these things make soil much more fertile by improving the growth of plants and increasing the diversity of soil bacteria – meaning fields will become much more productive. Powdered lime straight from the quarry is effective, but lime that has been first burned to create “slake-lime” (calcium hydroxide) will produce much faster results in soils that have never been ploughed or planted before. Limestone was cut out of the quarries at Llanymynech and then burned in lime-kilns to produce slake-lime. This was then transported by canal to farmers up and down the Borderlands. The resulting boom in agriculture meant the growth of communities and market towns, and an ever-increasing need for efficient transport links. Lime-burning requires six tonnes of limestone and one tonne of coal to create three tonnes of slake-lime – canals were used to bring coal to the lime-kilns as well as take agricultural lime away.

The Montgomeryshire Canal was dug in stages between 1794 and 1821, and when completed, ran from Llanymynech down to Newtown, and connected at Llanymynech via the Ellesmere Canal to Ellesmere. But by the 1840s, a new form of transport – the railway – had appeared. Profits on the canal were squeezed, and there were suggestions that it be closed as early as 1847. But it was amalgamated into the larger Shropshire Union Canal Company and continued to make a small profit through the end of the 1900s. By the 1920s, however, almost all the trade that used to be carried by the canal was now taken by road and rail. The Shropshire Union Canal company was eventually purchased by the London Midland and Scottish railway, and by 1944 the canal was closed. But the history of the canal was not over. When the construction of the new bypass around Welshpool threatened the remains of the canal in 1969, a local volunteer group got together and – recognising that the canal was an important part of their local heritage – campaigned for changes to the planned road, and began work to restore the abandoned canal. Despite continued – and acrimonious – opposition by the town council – there was huge local support for the canal restoration, and eventually the bypass route was changed.

Since then, progress to help restore the canal has been slow and steady. Through the 1980s and 1990s, new sections of the canal were slowly cleared, repaired and made navigable. SSSI-designated nature reserve areas were created, new locks built, new bridges built, and major engineering works undertaken to sections of the canal that had been altered by the modern drop in the water table. Today, the canal can be travelled by boat all the way from Ellesmere to Gronwyn Wharf, just below Maesbury Marsh. The canal has been restored beyond Gronwyn to Redwith Bridge (where the road from Llynclys to Knockin – the B4396 – crosses), but the plants established along the banks need to bed-in. The section from Redwith Bridge to Crickheath is currently being restored. When complete, this will see the Monty restored for navigation as far down as Penarth Weir, not far from Newtown. The restoration work has been a major undertaking – but more still needs to be done. If you can help, the Shropshire Union Canal Society would love to hear from you! Restoration Work Party dates for 2018 have already been scheduled – the March dates are this coming weekend. Restoring the Monty has breathed new life into this important part of our industrial, rural and cultural heritage – and it’s great to see it finding new meaning as a leisure, tourism and green resource. But it couldn’t have happened without a lot of people donning gloves and boots and getting stuck in. They deserve a big thank-you – as do you if you head down to Llynclys this weekend to help out!

If you are interested in joining the restoration work parties, please contact David Carter on dcartersucs@gmail.com or 01244 661440. New volunteers with any level of experience are welcome, our work parties are an opportunity to learn new skills under the guidance of experienced people. Something resembling tea is provided three times per day, just bring your own lunch. And maybe a cake!

The Oswestry Heritage Comics are a year-long series of weekly newspaper comic strips about the archaeology, history and heritage of the area around Oswestry, Shropshire in the UK. The comics are published in the Oswestry and Border Counties Advertizer every Tuesday, and on Facebook. The project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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Week One: 340 Million Years of Heritage

The first of the new, year-long Oswestry Heritage Comics is in this week’s Oswestry and Border Counties Advertizer. I think it takes the prize for the longest time-interval I’ve ever covered in a single comic. This one does, indeed, cover 340 million years – from the Carboniferous period, when the limestone and coal around Oswestry were laid down – the present day, where we are surrounded by evidence of how that distant time impacted Oswestry’s archaeology, history and heritage. This part of the country has been shaped by its geology, and it’s that I wanted to try and capture in this comic. There’s more to this story, of course: the local geology affected the fertility of the soils, the patterns of water-drainage, even the shape and form of the hills which became the border between England and Wales. If you want to see more ways the geology affected Oswestry’s history, check out the Oswestry Town Museum, which has some interesting information on local geology and geography, and definitely pay a visit to the Hoffman Kiln and Llanymynech Rocks quarry in Llanymynech.

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