Hatherton had a major economic interest in canals, and the Hatherton Canal was only part of the network that served his mines and quarries in Staffordshire. He sought legislation to impose a solution on the canal owners, who would not agree among themselves to a holiday for their workers.
The First Lord Hatherton was a wealthy landowner whose estate at Teddesley Park lay between Penkridge, Acton Trussell and Cannock Chase and included the lands of Hatherton Hall through which the Hatherton Branch Canal was built. A book of extracts* from his diaries between 1817 and 1862 gives a fascinating insight both into his involvement with national politics and into the life of the ordinary people on and around his estates. It contains many entries relating to canals, including a few references to the building of the Hatherton Branch Canal. Although many of these canal references are tantalisingly short, they show Lord Hatherton's dedication as Chairman of the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal Company and their involvement with competing railways and rival canal schemes, with building new bridges and more reservoirs, with dividends and tolls, inspections and Sunday trading, and latterly with loans to the Severn Commission.
The entries relating to the Hatherton Branch Canal are as follows:
1837 Apr. 1st. "At 12 o'clock I met the principal members of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal Committee at Cank (Cannock), in order to point out to them the facilities and inducements for making a branch canal from Calf Heath to Churchbridge. I first took and showed them the four Blue Brick and Tile Works now recently at Rummer Hill, and its neighbourhood. Two of them only at present grind their clay by engines. I showed them how certainly all these works might be extended, if a connection were afforded them by a railroad, with a Canal at Churchbridge, how that district would supply all Wolverhampton and its neighbourhood to the exclusion of the Potteries. I then showed them the natural inclined planes which existed from Wyrley coal pits towards Churchbridge, and the consequent facilities for a railway communication down to the canal, and the certainty that as soon as a canal communication existed with Wolverhampton, the iron stone of the Wyrley district would be raised, and sent to the furnaces about Bilston, if indeed furnaces were not erected about Wyrley." Obviously he was very persuasive as the canal was subsequently built, and named after him.
1839 Aug. 13th. "Dined at 3 - Rode to see the Hatherton branch of the Canal, and found it about one-third finished."
1840 Feb. 6th. "To Wolverhampton - Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal Committee. Lord Wrottesley preferred that Walker the Engineer should survey our new canal, to see that all was right." It would have been interesting to find more about the construction of the Hatherton Canal, which was completed in 1841, but this is all that has been published. However, there are a few other entries for local canals that are also worthy of note:
An entry for April 23rd 1835 records one of Lord Hatherton's many works to improve his estate: "After examining my accounts, I walked the grounds with my Stewart Mr. Bright. The Masons had just began to lay the abutments of the stone bridge across the Canal, which I intend for the approach to my place from Penkridge. I have contracted for it with my stone mason for £200. The whole of the ground to the right and left of the bridge on the eastern side was a complete shaking bog, on many acres of which it was impossible to stand, till I drained it this spring. My Steward, old Davison, had led me to believe it would be impossible to drain it without laying an iron pipe under the Canal, but Bright found no difficulty in carrying the water down to Park Gate lock." Completed in 1836, this is bridge 89, Teddesley Park or New bridge, but known to the boatman as 'Fancy' bridge due to its stone balustrade parapet, now badly patched with brickwork.
An amusing incident recorded in 1831 involved "men who had come from the neighbourhood of Brewood where they were employed in cutting the B. & L. Canal" being bribed to chase off the "Thimble Men" from Penkridge Races, resulting in them being "ducked in the river".
Another event showing Lord Hatherton's care for people is an entry for January 4th 1861: "Continuation of an intense frost. All the boat people visiting me, perhaps 20 a day - their boats frozen fast at Penkridge or Acton. We gave them all dinner."
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