58. A walk round Edgbaston Reservoir, Birmingham, in
September 2013, with additional shots in February 2014.
See also Diary 49 for images of the Titford Pools & the beginning of the feeder that connects to this reservoir.
8th September 2013. A Sunday. Earlier in the week, we walked round Edgbaston Reservoir – it’s only 2 or 3 miles away, and we needed to get away from computer screens for an hour or two. Unfortunately we forgot to take the camera, so remedied that today. It was sunny at first, but dull later, and rain was forecast in the afternoon, though it has not arrived yet (1640). The reservoir was made in the 1820s when Thomas Telford improved James Brindley’s original canal between Birmingham and Wolverhampton. It’s connected by means of a largely-underground conduit to the Titford Pools 3.5 miles away, which act as an auxiliary reservoir or feeder – but more of that later.
If you are a Tolkien fan, you must know that Edgbaston is Prime Tolkien Territory! The Two Towers in ‘Lord of the Rings’ are almost certainly based on the ones shown here & immediately below. Both are located on what became Waterworks Road. It’s often thought that the Edgbaston Reservoir is part of the ‘Waterworks’ – I thought so for many years – but the only thing they have in common, is that this an area of high elevation; so it’s an obvious place to put reservoirs and pumping stations. There’s not even a connection between this Waterworks and the great Elan Valley Project to bring fresh water to Birmingham; the above buildings (now Grade II Listed) went up around 1870, over 20 years before the Elan Valley scheme.
A few hundred yards further away is the tower called ‘Perrott’s Folly’, also known as ‘The Monument’ and ‘The Observatory’. It was built in 1758 by the eponymous landowner – who actually lived several miles away – but the precise purpose of it (if indeed it had one) has become uncertain. It is 29 metres tall, and is one of the oldest structures in present-day Birmingham. We say present-day, because in 1758 it would have been well outside Birmingham, which was really very small at that time. For many years it was used as a weather station, and as the anemometer was on top of it and well in the clear, we had consistently higher wind speeds than one might have thought!
As we have remarked before, it is impossible (at least for us) to take a photo. of a relatively large lake, when one is standing on its shore. It is, and remains, just an expanse of water. Still, there are some nice clouds, and you see four people are being given instruction on how to row, for the lake boasts both a Rowing Club and a Sailing Club. There are also seagulls (I always marvel at their presence 90 miles away from the sea; they never used to come here) and three coots, all hastening towards someone behind us who has just started dishing out food.
Considering that we are probably less than a couple of miles from the centre of Birmingham…
… the idyllic vistas are most agreeable, soothing and refreshing. Angling is naturally practiced here: the reservoir is well stocked with fish, though oddly, we only saw three people indulging in that stress-relieving activity today. One is reminded of the alleged English translation in an old foreign phrase book: “Bring me a wand and some string, for I wish to angle.” Surely it must be a joke, along with “Our postilion has been struck by lightning!”? 8^)
Nevertheless, all lakes which have bends and corners in them, must have some swampy dead ends, like this one, in the south-eastern arm.
The water level is currently low, as evidenced by the extensive shore-lines visible in these threadbare and abject images. But here is a partial zoom shot which includes just over 20 seagulls, a small sailing dinghy, some of the high-rise stuff in the centre of Birmingham, and most notably, on the right, the Birmingham Post Office tower, which has already figured more than once in this diary. I suppose it might possibly count as ‘The Third Tower’? Tolkien would hardly have approved, though.
We approach a little bridge at the north east bay of the lake, which I have visited many times over the years, but never actually walked all the way around it until this week, so had never seen the outfall from the conduit leading from the Titford Pools…
But here it is! The flow is sparse at the moment – we have had but little rain these many weeks; but equally, there must be a sluice or regulating device at the far end. This water is coming from about 3.5 miles away – assuming the conduit is in a straight line. If you wish to know more of the Titford Pools, you can Google it. But as remarked above, see also Diary 49, which has images of the Titford Pools and canal, and the start of this feeder. It would seem that those pools were a reservoir for the highest level of James Brindley’s original Birmingham – Wolverhampton canal, circa 1770. In 1830, Telford linked the feeder to his much larger Edgbaston Reservoir, via the conduit you see above. But I may be wrong…
This is a poor shot, into the light, as the clouds drift up, along the dam at the eastern face of the lake. We should have shot it from the other end…
A zoom shot from the dam, juxtaposing a sailing dinghy with the imposing tower & spire of St. Augustine’s Church, Edgbaston. Built in 1868; tower and spire added 1876. Height 56 metres, the tallest in Birmingham.
More prosaically, one of the two winches that operate the sluice-gates which allow the water to descend to the canal level. I expect it’s all done automatically these days with large motorized valves &c.; but this is how it was originally done.
We look down from the dam, and see the curved line of Brindley’s original contour canal. The main area is the Icknield Port Yard, belonging to the recently-created Canal & River Trust, which has taken over the functions of British Waterways. One can join the Trust as an individual member. You will not be surprised, I think, to learn that I am a member? The three structures at the bottom left are doubtless air vents, inspection hatches for the conduit &c. Let us go down & look at them more closely.
Actually, we took these shots first – which is why they are in sunlight. The dam wall is to the left.
Here is the outlet from the reservoir to the main Birmingham to Wolverhampton level. This is quite a long level. Firstly, it extends from the centre of Wolverhampton to the centre of Birmingham; Telford’s improvements by-passed the six locks that went up and down the high bit at Smethwick – though that higher level was left in use – which it still is. From Birmingham, the same level continues along both the Birmingham – Worcester canal and the Stratford canal (which leaves it at Kings Norton Junction) until both the latter are compelled to descend from the ‘Birmingham Plateau’. Distance? Perhaps 20 to 25 miles all on one level? In any event, a fitting tribute to the surveyors & builders of these waterways which are still so valuable to us today.
This is a view of the dam from the lower level.
And here, from the upper. The top of the band of light colouring represents the high water level.
Here is more or less the same view on 9th February 2014. The ‘winter’ of 2013-14 has not yet started; the lowest temperature I have recorded is -1°C, and that only three times, producing a light overnight frost, which soon evaporated. However, there has been prolonged rain and wind, and serious flooding has occurred in many parts of the U.K. with, alas, some loss of life. The weather has been strange indeed for some months. So we went to Edgbaston Reservoir again, in bright and windy weather, to see how much it had filled up. During the short journey, (~15 mins), cloud rolled up and it began to rain. The temperature was 8°C, but there was some sleet in the rain, and by the time we got to the dam, we were getting very wet and very cold in the wind, and were rather glad we had not arrived half an hour earlier and begun to walk round the lake, as originally intended. The reservoir is completely full!
Here is the modest looking escape overflow in September 2013; is it about 6 or 7 metres across. In the event of sufficient rain, the reservoir would fill right up – and the water would escape through this vent.
9th February 2014. The overflow is in operation. The water runs down a brick-lined channel.
Above is the channel down which it would pass, seen in September 2013…
… and again in February 2014. The water flows into the canal, albeit this time in an uncontrolled fashion. Still, as there is twenty-odd miles of the same level into which it can flow, there would be little problem? And in any case, the canals themselves were always provided with overflows, and sluices which could be opened & allow excess water to drain into nearby rivers; for canals – and later railways – always tended to follow rivers, as their gradients were so gentle. As ever, the efforts of Man took the easy way out, and followed the paths already engraved in the landscape by the Mighty Workings of Nature.
Page photographed & written 8th September 2013.
Revised with additional images 9th February 2014.