Towards the end of the 1990’s, the Stourbridge Navigation Trust was awarded a substantial Heritage Lottery Fund grant, which not only enabled the Trust to repair and surface the canal towpath all the way to Wordsley Junction, but also enhance and extend the Trust’s boat moorings on both sides of the canal adjacent to the Bonded Warehouse in Canal Street.
The idea, originally came from John Greaves-Smith as he floated things that we could include on the application to Heritage Lottery Fund and then everybody came on board. The newly extended moorings also needed a linking foot bridge between the two sides of the canal, all of which is in a conservation area. Any new structure therefore had to be in keeping with its heritage environs!
Luck was on our side. We were aware of a metal bridge that originally crossed the Standhills Branch of the Stourbridge Extension Canal in Kingswinford, and put in place at the time of building the canal in 1838. This canal branch, owned by the Great Western Railway, was derelict by the turn of the 19th century, and the bridge had stood moribund until 1974, when the area was cleared for redevelopment. Our late Founding member and Chairman Alan Trevis-Smith was instrumental in recovering the bridge to the Black Country Museum in Dudley for safe keeping where it remained unused. When the Stourbridge Navigation Trust found a purpose for the bridge Alan was again instrumental in arranging its relocation to Stourbridge. He was also heavily involved with the Black Country Museum in its early years. At this time, Alan firstly checked that the bridge or what remained of it was still at the BCM and was surplus to their requirements. The idea was then included in the funding bid after John had checked that it was the right size and that the Black Country Museum was willing to let it go.
The museum declared that they had subsequently not found a use for the bridge, and being ideal for our purpose, they kindly bequeathed it to the Stourbridge Navigation Trust in 1997. We were then able to rebuild it utilising a narrow section of the canal at the head of our Moorings area. John designed the brick abutments and chose the bricks. To help the new structure blend in with its surroundings, a special colour of brick was also made for us, which was used in the building of the bridge abutments. On a very cold day just after one Christmas Vic Smallshire assembled a team of volunteers and a load of equipment on the land that the bridge had to be built on and drilling of the ground took place.
It is interesting that this showed the ‘narrows’ were a later installation as the first part of the samples proved to be infill of foundry sand before the bed rock was hit which now forms the base of the footings for the abutments. That was good news in that we confirmed we had a solid base to erect the bridge and Heritage Lottery Fund (with match funding from SNT) produced their share of the finance.
The contractor was Walls, based in Hall Street, Stourbridge who were also the contractors for the renovation of the Office building in Canal Street. They used one of their staff to build the parapets and he insisted that it was his and only his task, so much so that when he took his summer holiday the work stopped!
The bridge remains did not include the metal railings and after a lot of research by John, the present design was agreed by all the “important” people – British Waterways, the Conservation Officer, Planners, etc. It is fitting therefore that the bridge further along the canal, which had no hand rails was then built to match the design produced by John.
David Caunt remembers that there was a strong requirement by British Waterways that the air draught of the bridge should conform to their standard, which accounts for the height of the bridge which is higher than the bridges along the rest of the Arm!
The ‘new’ bridge was officially opened by the Mayor of Dudley, Cllr Fred Hunt, in October 2000 at the Open Weekend event, and was given the name ‘Neville Garratt Bridge’ in memory of an ancestor of the Garratt family who owned the small piece of land on which the far side abutment was built. He was also a past Mayor of Dudley and the invited party included relatives of the person the bridge was named after. The Mayor presented them with a photograph of their relative when he was Mayor of Dudley and the owner of Stourbridge Saw Mills. It was this company that maintained they still owned the land on the off side on which the bridge now sits.
SNT had to sign a document, still available in the SNT archives, formally transferring ownership from Black Country Museum to Stourbridge Navigation Trust and their expectation of the future use of the bridge.
The wording on the original cast iron bridge is ‘John Bradley & Co 1838’. So, after 160 years it had come home!!
In recent months the bridge was given a makeover by the Tuesday Club, work ranging from weeding the surrounding area, undertaking a good preparation of the metalwork with wire brushes and finally being given a generous application of paint. The finishing intricate touches to paint the historical wording on the bridge was skilfully done by Ivor Caplan whilst balancing on the SNT Chairman’s boat!
Information recalled and kindly supplied by Christopher Dyche (SNT Trustee & Treasurer) and David Caunt (SNT Trustee and former Chairman).