We motored off this morning on a delightful part of the canal towards Brownhills where we stopped at Tesco’s which is conveniently sited next to the modern C&RT Facilities block so that you can unload and load up at the same time.
The Anglesey Branch was built as a feeder in 1800 to carry the main source of water for the canal from Chasewater Reservoir, and was upgraded to navigable status in 1850 as new mines opened in the area. Coal continued to be transported along the branch from Anglesey Basin until 1967. The end of this branch is the furthest north it is currently possible to travel on the Birmingham Canal Navigations. There were three short branches all of which are now abandoned but one was at Sandhills, which happens to be the name of our Boat Builder.
Chasewater Country Park boasts a 90 hectare reservoir and plenty of green open space, it offers extensive watersport activities, including sailing, wakeboarding, water skiing, water zorbing and paddleboarding enough to keep the whole family entertained and we will be back for a visit when we have more time to spare. There is also bird watching, walking, cycling, picnics and barbeques or you can just step back in time and take a ride on the heritage steam railway which will take you on a Steam Train ride around the lake from Brownhills West to Chasetown Station and back.
We returned to the boat and headed back down the branch to Ogley Junction where the Wyrley and Essington descended through locks to join the Coventry Canal at Huddlesford Junction which we passed by a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately it was abandoned in 1954 but is now in process of restoration with even an isolated Aqueduct over the M6 Toll being put in place. Let us hope that it is not too long in coming to fruition as it would open up this delightful area for more boaters to visit.
Continuing on to the Catshill Junction we turned left onto the Daw End Branch and passed this statue of a fisherman. Not sure who or why it was erected but it is right on a tight S bend so don’t spend too much time admiring it or you may hit the bank.
Soon the canal over looks deep clay pits some filled with water and some still being worked with pallet loads of bricks stacked outside and mounds of clay ready to be used. This sight brought me on to wonder how many millions of bricks must have been used to build the Wyrley and Essington Canal as the towpath side is lined with a brick wall. If it is only 6 layers deep and 2 wide, the amount I could actually see, then by my calculations there would be approx. a quarter of a million bricks per mile, and I am sure that there must be more bricks which i could not see under the water.
We finally moored up just passed the Manor Arms Pub which is close to Park Lime Pits. Despite the entertaining but incorrect local legends woven around the pub which claim that the Manor Arms dates back to 1104 and may have been inhabited by monks, this historic building is in fact constructed of mainly 18th century red brick and modern roughcast, but contains stone from a previous structure dating from the 15th - 16th centuries.
It is possible, being situated at the boundary of the original park to Rushall Hall, that it may once have been the lodge to the northern approach, but there is no firm evidence to prove this.
The Manor Arms did not in fact operate as a pub until Victorian times. The building was in use as a farmhouse until the Anson family opened their front room as a beer house towards the end of the 19th century, with John Anson selling beer to passing boatmen whose narrowboats used the canal at the rear of the house. Mr. Anson is listed in Kelly's 'Directory of Staffordshire' for 1892 as a 'Farmer and Beer Retailer' at Daw End, and the family had been selling beer since at least the late 1860's as a sideline to their farming business. The Ansons first gained a full publican's license in about 1895, after which the trade directories begin to list the Manor Arms as a public house.
The Manor Arms is, remarkably, a pub without a bar, with the beer being served from the back of the low ceilinged timber beamed main room, and this certainly makes it unique in the Borough, and possibly further afield.
The Ansons do not seem to have neglected farming, however, since Mrs. Sarah Anson, the licensee in 1924, is listed in Kelly's 'Directory of Staffordshire' as a farmer and pedigree pig breeder.
Despite the legends surrounding it which have obscured the facts for many years, the simple truth is that the Manor Arms is still a fascinating old pub with interesting origins, and a genuine local treasure that stands up to the test of time without the help of mythical medieval monks.