There is work going on at the moment in the bowels of the Dark Region, to save the future of both a national treasure and one of the Black Country's finest examples of Victorian structural engineering; the historic Netherton canal tunnel in Dudley. Hopefully there will more news about the project in future weeks from the Canal & River Trust, who are carrying out the work.
In the meantime, and as an appetiser for the main course, we have received a letter and some spellbinding images of the tunnel from Martin Guest who lives at Driffield in East Yorkshire. As one of the contractors involved, Martin has recently been working at the tunnel and recalls his lifelong passion for the cut: "I have been interested in the canals since my school days at Rowley Grammar,” he tells us, “and they have always been my passion, going back to when the school had use of an elderly ex- Stewarts & Lloyds wooden narrow boat called "Bumblebee" based at Bumble Hole, Netherton.
“Nowadays I work as a tug operator whenever I can, after years working all round the canal network, and I was very pleased when I ended up at Netherton late last year to operate the tugs used in the current repair work at the tunnel. It felt like it was a journey for me that had come full circle.
“Work is being carried out at the tunnel to strengthen the brick lining along a 45 metre length, at roughly the centre of the cut's passage under Dudley, some 350 feet below the Co-op at Oakham. A raft has been assembled in the tunnel as a platform to allow drilling and rock bolting to be carried out, after which an additional reinforced concrete lining will be installed.
“As the majority of those who currently live in the Dark Region will know, landmarks that were familiar to me when I was growing up, like Round Oak Steel Works and Stewarts and Lloyds steelworks in Bilston, have now all gone; and Simpkiss's Brewery! “But at least Batham's and Pardoe's are still thriving! I took the opportunity to take a firkin of Pardoe's Entire back to my current home in East Yorkshire, specifically for refreshment at the recent Boxing Day festivities undertaken by my local Green Ginger Garland Morris Dance Team; who thoroughly approved of its mellow qualities."