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The Restoration of Summerhill

2015 was the year that Summerhill suddenly came to prominence. The focus of activity was on the section of the Lichfield Canal between the Boat Inn and Barracks Lane just west of the M6 Toll aqueduct.

A Social Investment Business Community Grant for work on the towpath trail which was thought to have been lost suddenly become active again in October 2014 and funding of £336,000 became available. A strict condition of the grant was that the funds must be spent in the Government’s financial year by March 2015 so feverish activity to tie up the land deals, sign off contracts, and confirm adherence to planning regulations  all took place over a very short space of time.

Land was purchased and a demolished culvert over Crane Brook had to be reinstated. A contractor will be found to build the towpath trail along this section further extending the Heritage Towpath Trail and finally showing that the aqueduct does have relevance. Volunteers got to work immediately cutting down trees and clearing scrub from the Walsall Road end of the section, while contractors cleared the aqueduct and culvert area.

On Friday, 6th March Lichfield MP, Michael Fabricant, formally cut the first sod for the work which will see the reinstatement of a culvert and small aqueduct which was demolished when the M6 Toll motorway was built. This structure will enable the Lichfield Canal Trust to reinstate the canal right up to the aqueduct which the Trust had to install before the motorway opened to traffic in 2003.

In the immediate future there will only be a walking route from the Boat Inn to Barracks Lane but this will open up the canal route to the general public.  This has been made possible because the Trust managed to attract a substantial funding grant at the turn of the year to open up derelict canal land linking Lichfield and Brownhills.

New culvert on May 10 th. 2015

March 6th. 2015  Work on the Culvert officially begins

February  2015  Volunteers clearing scrub from the canal bed

Contractors used for some work, here seen stump-busting in February 2015. Video by Paul Marshall.

In an exciting new proposal Mark Deadman, a director of WCL Quarries Ltd. revealed a possible plan to turn Cranebrook Quarry  adjacent to the canal at Summerhill into a Marina. When the quarry is finally exhausted instead of filling it in and returning it to heathland it could be connected to the restored canal and turned into a marina. It would also provide valuable water storage for the canal.

Brian Kingshott said “This again shows local businesses engaging with the Trust and seeing it as a business catalyst.”

M13.135.R.006 Cranebrook Quarry - Concept Restoration.pdf

It was hoped that the Towpath Trail would cross the Aqueduct by the end of 2015 but difficulties obtaining consent have caused delays.

A small team of volunteers at very short notice completed the first section of the HV Mains cable trench and laid ducts for an electricity cable crossing under the bed of the canal by the Cranebrook Quarry weighbridge.

This HV supply cable will initially supply WCL Cranebrook Quarry with mains electricity, but will also allow the Trust to install the short length of mains supply required for the proposed Lock 8 adjacent to the M6Toll Aqueduct.


This allowed Weston Power to then install the Transformer post and  install the Earthing grid in the trench the volunteers have excavated along the first 100 metres of our towpath.


Other work included trimming back sections of hedging along the 550 metre cable route which follows the line of the canal towpath along part of the Summerhill  section.



Clarke Construction returned to site to complete the channel invert slab over the culvert, now that the Trust volunteers have completed a significant earthworks operation to trim a section of the north side of the Summerhill canal cutting and move the material  generated to top up the missing fill over the new Cranebrook Culvert.



The new culvert with access road to aqueduct and Moody block retaining wall to support the offside towpath which will be used for maintenance. The holes in the Moody Block retaining wall will be planted with native hanging /trailing plants to create a green wall.


It also provides essential access to the Aqueduct which had been built from the motorway, and to the site of the new deep lock 8.




By the end of October a great deal of earthworks activity had been carried out at the East end of the M6Toll Aqueduct thanks to the provision of a massive 23tonne Volvo excavator by WCL Cranebrook Quarry. Several hundreds of tonnes of soil were moved to remodel the old canal embankment and future basin area, but also  forming the ramp access and hard standing adjacent to the proposed Deep Lock 8.


There is still plenty to do in this area, but completion of this early major earthworks now defines the area for the Deep Lock 8 and the canal basin up to the recently constructed Cranebrook Culvert and releases many new areas of work for volunteers.






By the end of May the Culvert was almost complete

WCL Plans for a marina - click for larger view

It may have seemed in February, when our work parties could be found “slashing and burning” at Summerhill, that we were destroying valuable habitat, but by March we were injecting new life into the area by planting 800 hedging  plants, including 100 oak trees.


On the cold and windy morning of March 1st our ‘Green Team’ met to complete the new hedge planting along our boundary with Farmer Ryman’s field at Summerhill, just off the A5 Junction with the A5011, Chase Road.


Using sapling whips, canes and spiral protectors collected from Peter’s ‘Buck House’, then strictly following his planned design, Hawthorn, Hazel (and later, Oaks) will add to the environmental habitat in this otherwise rather bleak area, offering opportunity for wild life and interest to mitigate the sight and roar of the Motorway.  


By December more  replanting of the main Summerhill site had been undertaken by the Green and Ground teams. 420 small trees donated to us by the Woodland Trust and 1000 mixed hedging plants purchased by the Trust were used to plant new hedgerows and fill-in the newly cut and laid hedge.  


To be continued…

Start of the hedge bordering the newly purchased land west of the M6 Toll, old demolished hedge on the left. Over 170 hedgerow whips were  planted in one morning.  On Sunday 1st March another 200 were planted taking us up to the corner.


Aerial photo taken in August by Tim Wayne of Lichfield Camera Club

The Summerhill section as referred to here consists of three lock sections from the Boat Inn on the A461, across Crane Brook and the M6 Toll, and on to Barracks Lane by Lock 6.

This was the Summerhill section in 1883

From the 6-inch to 1 mile Ordinance Survey Map of Staffordshire LVIII.NW

Building the Culvert over Crane Brook at Summerhill in 2015. A few months work is compressed into two minutes in this time-lapse video courtesy of Clarke Construction (Services) Ltd.

In this video Engineering Director Peter Buck decribes in detail what the Trust has achieved at Summerhill in less than two years, what is happening currently and the plans for the future. He also pays tribute to the work of the various corporate volunteer groups. Made in October 2016 by Paul Marshall.


Hedgelaying at Summerhill in November 2016 with Roger and Jean Barnett and Chris Bull, and with hedgelaying training provided by our Staffordshire Wildlife Trust rep, Hayley Dorrington.

Video by Paul Marshall.