Falling Sands.

Sunrise: 05.10   Sunset: 09.20

170 metres downstream of the former Falling Sands Rolling Mills and Cottages’ site mentioned in my last post, is another vantage point. I can look across the River Stour and the Staffordshire and Worcester Canal from here, they are only 15 metres apart, to a 6 story high sandstone bank thick with trees and varied sprawling vegetation. The Falling Sand lock is here too, and to its right was a lock keepers cottage, demolished in the 1950s, built tight against the sandstone bank; the canal was less than a couple of metres from its front door.

90 metres upstream, just around the canal bend, is the pipe-bridge that spans the canal and river. It gives good aerial views of the Riverside Pasture, the river and the canal, from the top of its steps.

The canal, once a main commercial haulage highway, is now a leasureway. It was very different at the turn of last century. Like now, though, there were no lampposts to light the way on dark nights. The present day joggers, bikers, power walkers, fishermen, and the odd motorcyclist, would not be using the tow path during the first half of the 1900s; not if they wanted to avoid being knocked down by a large cart horse pulling a heavily laden narrow boat.

At a steady walking pace, the cart horse could pull fifty times as much weight in a boat than in a cart – around one hundred times its body weight. Even with the introduction of steam and diesel engines, horse drawn craft continued to compete until the end of commercial canal haulage business.

The first steam powered commercial narrow boats appeared during the mid 1880s on long haul routes, but the engine, boiler and coal storage took up a lot of valuable boat space. To make the steamer pay, it towed a butty. Seven men were required to operate the boat pair: four on the steamer and three on the butty. They ran 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; the men lived on the boats. By 1927, all steamers had been fitted with diesel engines.

There were many narrow boats waiting to be unloaded and loaded at the Stourport-on-Severn basin at the end of the 1800s, with others waiting further up the canal, or on the River Severn. Also, wagon loads of pig iron were arriving at Stourport by rail and run on tracks down through the town to the basin under gravity, with a brakeman on the back to control them. Yes, the canal was very busy in its heyday, and not the place to conduct any kind of leisure activity. Fishing would not be possible, as it is today, because of heavy pollution.

It’s not difficult to imagine the chaos of narrow boats hauled by powerful horses up and downstream, and the well practiced passing manoeuvres. The Riverside Pasture was used to graze and rest the horses; a wooden bridge over the River Stour gave access to the pasture. It was the Merchant’s family narrow boats that transported loads of ten feet long pig iron bars from the basin to the Wilden Iron Works, via Pratts Wharf. Before Pratts Wharf lock was built, the materials where unloaded at the wharf and lowered down the river bank to waiting boats, to be pulled by horses the half mile to the iron works.

The canal system was nationalised in 1947, and coal was transported down the canal to Stouport-on-Severn Power Station until 1949.

Were these the “Good Old Days”? No contest as far as I’m concerned….

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