BW Request 1 Jim Crow and Houghton Chemical arms

History and dredging of Houghton and Jim Crow arms of the Birmingham Canal Network, Oldbury



At this stage we were unsure of how the private canal “chemical arms” referred to in “100 years of phosphorus making” by Richard Threlfall had been dealt with and by whom. As British Waterways are responsible for the management of the canal structure, we wanted to know if they had any relevant information.

We asked : Could you please advise me of any information that you hold on these canal arms in respect of their history and whether British Waterways have ever been involved in dredging operations and when these took place.

They replied : “British Waterways does not hold the information requested. I have been able to find a member of British Waterways staff who has been with British Waterways for more than thirty years and was in the 1980s working in the area containing the Houghton and Jim Crow arms. He was able to inform me that neither the Houghton or the Jim Crow arm of the Birmingham Canal Network ever belonged to British Waterways or the Birmingham Canal Navigations Company. This was normal for there to be private arms and basins. The canal company encouraged them because they provided traffic and thus revenue. During his time both arms were disused, the Jim Crow arm was curtailed to a few yards in length and the Houghton arm was piled off to keep contaminated sediment out of the main canal. At some point the arm must have been dredged and the piling removed.

There are no records of the dredging and the taking down of the piling in
BW’s possession.”

In addition to this British waterways supplied three maps. The first offers a current view of where the canal arm locations were. As this is a very large scale plan of a fairly small area, it is not very informative. To view this click here.

We were then fascinated by two deed maps also supplied which showed the entrance to these two arms along with historic information about some of the works surrounding them, which would probably not be in the public domain.

The Jim Crow arm map can be viewed here. Zoom in between lock number 3 and lock number 4.

The entrance to The Houghton chemical arm can be viewed here. Zoom in and look at the extreme left of the map by the Chance brothers works.

What does this mean?

British Waterways holds little information on the “chemical arms” of the Birmingham Canal Network. We have since found information from other sources regarding the infilling of these two arms. The deed maps were intriguing and we decided to see what other parts of the canal along the historic route of waste disposal may be available. This required more FOI requests.