BRITANNIA AQUEDUCT HISTORICAL SOCIETY
This is an edited version of a leaflet produced in August 2009.
A SHORT HISTORY OF AQUEDUCT VILLAGE
Within the boundaries of the East Shropshire town of Telford lies the village of Aqueduct. In common with other places such as Ironbridge, the village took its name from the construction of a particular edifice. In this case it was a sandstone bridge, built to carry the newly dug Shropshire Canal over the turnpike road from Bridgnorth to Wellington; an aqueduct.
(O.S. map ref SJ 695058)
The canal was built following an act of Parliament of 1788, its function being to link the ironworks and mines in the Oakengates area to the River Severn. The waterway was opened in 1792. It ran southwards from Wrockwardine Wood, via Oakengates, through a tunnel at Stirchley and on to Southall Bank whereupon it split into two branches. The western branch was intended to meet the river at Coalbrookdale but was never built beyond Brierly Hill; it was this branch that crossed the aqueduct.
The eastern branch went via a descending inclined plane of 126 feet at Windmill Farm to the wharf at Tweedale and then on through Madeley to meet the river, using the Hay Inclined Plane and a short canal at Coalport. The Shropshire Canal did not enjoy unlimited supplies of water to feed it and its depth, shallow by design, restricted the size of the tub boats to about 5 tons.
By the 1850s traffic on the canal was very much reduced, due partly to problems associated with subsidence along with the increased presence of the new railways and their ability to carry more goods and do so with greater speed, to the extent that in 1861 a railway line was opened from Wellington to the new town of Coalport, with much of the track being laid on the bed of the now disused canal. That railway line has now also gone and the route forms part of the Silkin Way footpath which passes through Aqueduct Village.
Much of the evidence of the canal’s existence is now gone; the Windmill Farm Inclined Plane and indeed the Windmill Farm itself, are buried under Brookside Estate, although a little further south a short section of the waterway may be seen still crossing the Blists Hill Museum site along with the Hay Inclined Plane, descending to Coalport. This part of the canal did survive in use until about 1894.
Earlier mention was made of a railway and indeed if one considers the activities of railway companies during the middle part of the 19th century, it can be seen that this part of Shropshire was very well served with public transport.
On certain lines, the frequency of stations and halts gave a convenience to the travelling public not so far removed from a modern day rural bus service. The nearest station to serve Aqueduct Village would have been either Dawley & Stirchley or Madeley Market, both on the LNWR line.
The beginnings of what became Aqueduct Village, were in the early 1790s in the Aqueduct Bank area. A substantial stone cottage was built, known as Aqueduct House, probably having some connections with the new canal. It later acquired the name of Stone Cottages and was demolished about 1960.
There were also some commercial buildings in that area (O.S. Map ref SJ 693059). A Gilbert Gilpin carried on a chain making business, his products probably being used in local mines and on the inclined planes. He pursued that activity until about 1827 but from that date little is known for the next 20 years until 1847, when the site was described as an iron foundry.
By 1856 half the buildings had been converted into housing for five families, whilst the remainder was in use as a soap manufactory, although by the end of the 19th century these buildings too were being used as houses. 1965 saw the demolition of the site.
In what later became known as Chapel Lane, there were four rows of houses built in 1840 – 1841; presumably to provide accommodation for people working at Aqueduct Bank or other very local industries. In 1850 a Primitive Methodist Chapel was erected, its arrival giving the lane its name; sadly, the existence of that lane is now the only reminder of the chapel.
A ribbon of development now began along a section of the Bridgnorth to Wellington turnpike road. The first houses to be built were seven rows with four houses per row and known as Foster’s Row, later numbered 22 to 49 Aqueduct Road.
James Foster, who built this housing, was an ironmaster from Stourbridge who bought Madeley Court in 1828 for £24000 with the idea of exploiting the mineral resources in the area to add to his not inconsiderable industrial interests.
He began his mining operations at Madeley Court using local tramways and canals to carry his mined materials to his ironworks based at Wombridge. Within a short time a combination of transport inadequacies and the now diminishing deposits of raw materials at Wombridge persuaded him to concentrate his efforts at Madeley Court, resulting in his building the Madeley Court Furnaces around 1840.
Many of the workforce moved from Wombridge to work the new furnaces at Madeley and were housed in the cottages known as Foster’s Row. Foster also built a house for his furnace manager further down the road and it is likely that the bricks used for this new building work came from the nearby brickworks. These works were another of Foster’s operations, the site of which now sadly lies beneath the Brookside Estate.
James Foster also built a small church in Aqueduct Road, St. Paul’s, completed in 1851. It was known as a chapel of ease providing a place of worship for his workforce within the immediate area and thus removing the need for them to travel to Madeley.
It was not until 1951, that the Foster family handed over the deeds of this church to the Vicar of Madeley. It is no longer used for worship but instead provides a base for the local boy scout group.
Around 1860, two chartermasters, Messrs Holmes and Dainty built two rows of cottages between Foster’s Row and the furnace manager’s house. Named Aqueduct Terrace they were later numbered 2 to 6 and 7 to 13 Aqueduct Road. At the side of number 7, a lane was made to run from the main turnpike road to the brick works. It was called Dainty’s Lane and a section from Aqueduct Road to Brookside Avenue is still in evidence.
The final part of the building work in the village was the construction of the row of cottages, now numbered 15 to 20, along with what is now the Britannia Inn which was rebuilt from another chartermaster’s house.
With the exception of numbers 22 to 24, which were lately demolished to allow for a car park to the inn, all of this housing has survived to the present time.
A slow ongoing period of increasing quietness in the area began with the closure of immediate industry at the turn of the century, followed some sixty – odd years later with the end of the railway from Coalport. A part of the Brookside development was to re-route the section of the old road, which had previously passed through Aqueduct Village, through the new housing estate and by so doing, create a vehicular cul-de-sac in the village. The additional feature of tree planting along what is now the Silkin Way has lent yet further seclusion, to help in the creation of this delightful back-water; Aqueduct Village.
N.J. Clarke, ‘The Aqueduct: an East Shropshire Industrial Settlement’, Shropshire Newsletter No 40 (1971).
Text by Raymond Haire, Illustrations by Raymond Haire & John White.