Ready to tackle the last Shropshire Montgomery blockage

Published: Saturday, 21 August 2021

AFTER months of online meetings the reconstruction of Schoolhouse Bridge on the Montgomery Canal is to commence.

The formal arrangements for the reconstruction of Schoolhouse Bridge will soon be finalised with the site having been visited by the Inland Waterways Association’s Waterway Recovery Group to undertake a week of preparatory tasks, ready for the hoped-for start of the project in the spring.

MontyVolunteers at workLast highway blockage

This bridge, near Crickheath, Oswestry, is the last highway blockage in Shropshire and one of the obstructions that must be removed to re-open the canal into mid-Wales.

The bridge rebuild will involve closing the highway known as Long Lane, digging out the embankment across the canal, constructing the bridge and restoring the highway—all in a matter of months.

The Waterway Recovery Group normally runs canal camps through the year at any of the many restorations across England and Wales, but camps were not possible in 2020 owing of course to coronavirus, and so it was only recently that the group decided that conditions would allow a limited number of coronavirus secure work parties this year. The image shows volunteers preparing to rebuild the last Montgomery Canal highway blockage in Shropshire.

Providing accommodation

The Schoolhouse Bridge team were delighted to have been chosen for one of these, and were most pleased to confirm that Porthywaen Silver Band, near Oswestry, were able to help by providing accommodation for the volunteers in the Silver Band Hall.

WRGSilver Band

At the start of the camp, the WRG team lined up outside the Hall as the Band were preparing their weekly practice.

Michael Limbrey, Chairman, Montgomery Waterway Restoration Trust explained:

Very positive

“Leading councillors were very positive when we made our proposal to reconstruct this last highway blockage in Shropshire. It is however a very unusual project: it’s not often that a bunch of volunteers wants to close a public highway and rebuild a bridge over a derelict canal. This means there have to be many detailed arrangements and these have taken many months of negotiation, explanation and verification.

"Members of our team of volunteers have between them many years’ experience in engineering and project management and our discussions with the legal teams of Shropshire Council and the Canal & River Trust have involved a minute examination of the project procedures. We hope to be signing the various agreements very soon.

“It became obvious some time ago that these arrangements would not be in place in time for us to build the bridge this year as we had planned. However, the generous support of local landowners means we have been able to extend the project into next year, and if we can finalise the formalities soon we think we should be able to start next spring.

“We are delighted that the national Waterway Recovery Group selected our project as one of only four for a very limited programme this summer. Normally, they would operate some twenty work parties through the year at canal restorations right across England and Wales. Lockdown has now affected the group for two seasons and only very recently were they able to decide to run any work parties this year.

“As is usual for a canal camp, volunteers aged from 17 to 75 came from across the West Midlands and further afield, including County Durham, Leicestershire and around London.

“The visitors stayed at Porthywaen Silver Band Hallsleeping on a hall floor is one of the special features of a Waterway Recovery Group work party—and we are most grateful to the band for generously providing the facilities of their hall.

“When the main project gets under way we shall of course use specialists for major elements but it is only with the help of volunteers that we can keep the cost within the charity funds we have raised. We can help with training and can offer experience that will help anyone looking to work in construction, or indeed looking to wind down after a working life on site. This week’s preparation will help us off to a flying start next year.”

As well as recruiting volunteers for this intensive programme of bridge building next year, other volunteers of the regular Shropshire Union Canal Society group will be working to finish restoring the canal to Crickheath Basin, the next point at which boats will turn, so opening up a further 1¼ miles of canal.

A spokesman for the Porthywaen Silver Band enthused:

“We are very pleased to have been able to help the Waterway Recovery Group with accommodation again. We had to stop band practices last year so this will be the first time anyone has used the hall for nearly eighteen months. We have had a few practices outside and hope that in September beginners and starter groups will be playing inside once more.”