A Brief History of Chasewater Reservoir
Chasewater exists to keep the canals topped up with water. In 1792, there was a canal from Wolverhampton to the collieries at Wyrley Bank and Essington, with another branch to Walsall. This canal was dug to bring cheaper coal to Wolverhampton and Walsall. Two years later, it was decided to join the Wolverhampton Canal to another existing canal, the Coventry Canal, which ran from Coventry and the East coast ports to Lichfield and the ports of the North East.
The canal built to join the existing waterways was to be called the Wyrley and Essington Canal, and, when it was opened in 1797, meant that cheap coal could be brought to Lichfield and regular traffic for other goods to Burton, Derby and London, and to the ports of Liverpool and Hull. Now, from Wolverhampton to Brownhills there was no problem – the canal stayed at one level, no real loss of water, but from Brownhills to Lichfield, it passed through 30 locks down over 200 feet, 60 metres, to the Coventry Canal. This is where the problems started.
Every time a boat passes through a lock, it takes about 25,000 gallons of water with it – more than 100,000 litres. This is where Chasewater comes in. The canal company wasn’t allowed to take water from any river or stream, so they had to create a reservoir to keep the canal full. Norton Bog, near Brownhills, was chosen as the site and work started, first diverting Crane Brook, and then digging out the bog and, using the material they removed, a dam was built. They were in a hurry to get the canal open, so it was opened before the reservoir was finished – it soon ran dry. Every time a boat passed through the locks, the water from the Wolverhampton end flowed along the canal, down the locks and was lost.
The word went out to fill the reservoir, so Crane Brook was re-diverted and, through a channel cut to the top of the locks at Ogley Hay, refill the canal. All was well for a couple of years, but then, disaster, the dam burst!
Roads, bridges crops and animals were swept away as millions of gallons of water rushed through the countryside towards Shenstone and the river Tame at Tamworth. Compensation obviously had to be paid out, as it was – at a generous rate.
The company quickly decided that they had no alternative but to rebuild the dam as soon as possible. As many navvies as were needed were employed to rebuild the dam much stronger and thicker than before, and within 9 months the canal was reopened and there have been no problems since.
Throughout the 1800s, the demand for coal increased with the growth of the industrial revolution. About half-way through the century, the Marquis of Anglesey, who was one of the biggest land-owners in the district, having seen the increase in mining activity in the area, decided to explore the possibilities of opening up his own mines. These were situated on the eastern side of Chasewater, below the dam and towards the present site of the rugby club. In the early days, the coal was moved from the pits to the canal-side by horse-drawn tramway – a cart on rails, and loaded into boats. After a while, the first steam loco was bought.