Grindley Brook

Building the canal

When the promoters of the Ellesmere Canal applied to Parliament for the Act to build their canal, they never intended it to go through Grindley Brook. The original plan was for a canal from Shrewsbury to Chester via the Ruabon and Wrexham area, with a branch (amongst others) to Whitchurch. What was built never reached either Shrewsbury or Chester. By the time the company ran out of money, it had only made or contracted for a ‘cross’ of lines in north Shropshire and south-east Denbighshire. The proposed line from Trevor to Chester was abandoned. Instead, it was decided to make a link with the Chester Canal by extending the part-built Whitchurch branch through Grindley Brook.

The 4½ mile section from Tilstock Park to Grindley Brook was built by John & William Hughes and the final 10 miles, including the locks at Grindley Brook, by John Fletcher and John Simpson. This canal was opened in 1805, at the same time as Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. Many early canals had staircase locks, where the top gate of one lock was the bottom gate of the next, but it was soon recognised that they wasted water and caused delays. It is therefore surprising that a staircase of three locks was built as late as 1805 in a location where it would have been quite possible to build single locks if a slightly different line had been adopted. The canal company made a wharf and erected a warehouse, as did a couple of private individuals. Grindley Brook was almost two miles from the town centre, so it was feared that transporting coal by road would add two shillings & sixpence per ton to the price.  The leading local businessmen were also concerned that Grindley Brook might replace Whitchurch as the general market for the area.  These considerations were a major factor in the decision to build the mile-long Whitchurch Canal Arm.

 The trade of Grindley Brook

For most of its existence, Grindley Brook wharf served only the local farming community. It was also the canal wharf nearest to Malpas.  There was a limekiln in the triangle of land between the top locks and the wharf; limestone brought from Froncysyllte was burnt here, principally to make quicklime for spreading on the fields to increase their yield.  The other bulk product handled at the wharf was coal, probably coming from Chirk. Thomas Whittle’s advertisement gives an impression of the wide range of other goods carried between here and Chester.
For much of the first half of the 19th century there was a boat builder and repairer at Grindley Brook.  The settlement also had a blacksmith and a wheelwright, together with, from about 1840, a shop, but these were probably mainly dealing with local rather than canal trade.  
There were two public houses, James Batho, the landlord of the Canal Tavern, being summonsed to appear before the magistrates on several occasions for licensing offences and twice for assault.  However, it could not have been too disrespectable a house, as the coroner also held inquests there.
The mill at Grindley Brook was not built until 1896 or 1897.  Much of the grain used by the mill was imported from Canada or the United States through Ellesmere Port, and was then brought to Grindley Brook by narrow boat.  The mill was powered by a turbine using water bypassing the locks through a pipe 2ft 6in in diameter.   The charge for the use of this water depended on the extent to which the mill owners used the Shropshire Union’s boats — £40 a year if the freight account did not reach £50, but as low as £10 if usage was heavy.  This arrangement lasted until 1915, when fire seriously damaged the mill.

Incidents and accidents.

Even a rural wharf had its incidents.  The following all happened in the eight years from 1869.

Thomas Jones was charged with wilfully damaging a lock, when instead of winding a paddle down he let it drop, which broke it.  He had to pay 4s.3d damages and 6s costs. And Harry Owen, another boatman, violated the byelaws when he tried to go through the staircase locks when he should have given way to Edwin Hanner’s boat.  He pleaded guilty and was fined £1.
A more serious event involving a boatman was when Edward Hammonds, captain of the Star, was threatened by three labourers, who said they would kill him and throw him into the canal.  The three pleaded ‘not guilty’, but said they had mistaken him for another man.  The magistrates bound them over in £5 each to keep the peace. Canals were often used to commit suicide. Miss Emma Corser, ‘about 70 years of age, of rather weak intellect’, tried to drown herself in the top lock just after dawn on a Sunday morning.  A boatmen saw her, took hold of her by her hair, and then brought her out.& ; She was put in a bed in the lock-keeper’s house, and the doctor called.  It transpired that this was the second attempt she had made in three months. The case of John Done, the six-year-old illegitimate son of Mary Done of Grindley Brook, was even more tragic. He left home at about 5pm one September evening. A passer-by saw him soon afterwards driving a pair of donkeys with a boat — and nobody reported seeing him after that.  When it was discovered he was missing, the canal was dragged for some distance, but with no result. Seven days later Joseph Briggs, a boater, saw a body floating in the canal near Povey’s Lock (the next lock down).  He got it out, though it was in a decomposed state, badly bruised having come in contact with numerous passing boats, it was thought. ; The boy was recognised, and the body taken to his mother.  The inquest returned a verdict of ‘accidentally drowned’.

Peter Brown