Unloading in Birmingham

Picturing the Past: NarrowBoat, Autumn 2020

Two 1964 images from the Jack Parkinson Collection show destinations for coal in central Birmingham

A great many unloading wharves on the Birmingham Canal Navigations were actually little more than large doorways leading into the side of some anonymous wall or industrial building. This view of one such works is situated near Aston Junction, where the Digbeth Branch joins the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal at the top of Aston Locks.

It also shows the often deserted appearance of the industrial Midlands canal landscape of the time. Nevertheless, it wasn’t always as quiet as it might appear, depending on the industrial processes going on inside these premises. During a journey through such an environment, a boatman could experience long periods of solitude while hearing a continuous drone of ventilation fans or some other equipment, and sometimes an isolated works emitting a terrifyingly loud roar.

The two men aboard this motor-boat are just about to start unloading its cargo, the high freeboard indicating a full load of coke. Although positive identification is …

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