Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Bratch

The name apparently is derived from the Old English “brec”, meaning a clearing in forest or waste ground, so in this case applies to this area on the western fringe of Wombourne.

As is common, the locks here take their name from the closest geographical feature, whether natural or man-made.

Lock Keeper’s cottage and Toll Office

When James Brindley was planning the canal from Great Haywood to Stourport, he came across a bit of a problem here. The 30 foot high slope was too steep for a conventional flight of 3 locks with in-line pounds in between. For some reason he shunned building a staircase where each chamber drops into the next, although he did use this solution further south at Botterham.

Refections in the top lock

The ingenious compromise was to have intermediate pounds, but to move them off to one side rather than between the locks. Effectively they do the same job of holding sufficient water to fill the next lock down, without taking up space between the chambers. There’s only about 6 feet between the bottom gates of one lock and the top gates of the next. The paddles have to be opened in sequence to avoiding overflowing the very short pool, the channel to the lock below MUST be opened first, so the water from the lock above has somewhere to go. Any surplus flows off to the side pound.

Open the BLUE paddle first!

Looking up from the middle lock.

An unfortunate outcome of this construction is that boats cannot pass in the flight, although 3 can be moving either up or down at one time. It must have caused some bottlenecks in commercial carrying days, and a resident lock-keeper is still on duty here during the busy summer months to sort out right-of-way disputes.

Looking down from the top bridge.

The gap in the parapet was for the tow-rope, as the towpath changes sides.

Looking down to the right at the middle side pound.

Steps lead down to the water under the bottom bridge for the boatman to re-board.

A lot of feet have passed this way!

In 1895 a water works was constructed near the canal to lift domestic water over 300 feet to a reservoir on Goldthorn Hill 3½ miles to the east near Wolverhampton. Two steam pumps were housed in a typically flamboyant late Victorian building, with ornate brickwork and fairy-tale castle pinnacles.

The Bratch Pumping Station

The works became redundant in 1960, but the building and one of the pumping engines have been restored.

It’s been a beautiful sunny day here today. We’ll be moving on tomorrow, though how far remains to be seen…

Locks 0, miles 0.


Brian and Diana on NB Harnser said...

If you are still near the locks have a chat with the lock keeper.
There were several cockups building the locks, the bottom gates if open block the flow to the side pounds, also the depth of the locks differ as does the size of the side pounds which means that the amount of water coming down from the top is not sufficent to keep the intermediate pounds full, so every so often they have to let water down to top up the middle one.

Paul (from Waterway Routes) said...

It is very likely that Bratch Locks were originally built as a staircase. When the locks are drained for maintenance you can see the remains of what would have been the cills for gates in the right places for a conventional staircase.

If you look at the way the road bridge below the locks is curved out from the natural alignment it strongly suggest it has been moved out to accommodate the modifications to the locks.

The locks are three different heights. Top=13’, middle=10’, bottom=8’ and think what happens when you empty thirteen feet of water into a ten foot lock without a side pound to absorb the excess.

When the locks are reversed there’s no need to run water through them, the excess/shortage can just go to/from the side pounds.

It also allowed fractionally quicker passage for following boats since you can start emptying the first three feet of water from the top lock while the boat ahead is still moving from the middle to bottom locks.

As to why they were built at three completely different depths I’ve no idea.

Our Stourport Ring DVD shows the pumping station in steam on an open day. It’s wonderful to see and hear the hissing and movement as it comes to life.