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Things to do in Maesbury Marsh, Shropshire

The original plan by the Ellesmere Canal Company (later The Shropshire Union Railways and Canal Company) was to build a canal from the Mersey across the Wirral to Chester then up to Wrexham and thence south to Shrewsbury, with short branches to Ellesmere and to the lime rich area round Llanymynech.

From the Navi Bridge © David Cragg
From the Navi Bridge © David Cragg

Work commenced on a number of sites with high priority being given to some easy sections which would return tolls once they built.

These were the Wirral section from Netherpool (later Ellesmere Port) to Chester and the Llanymynech Branch from there to Frankton. Both were rapidly dug and opened in the 1790s.

On the Llanymynech Branch digging began along the old river Severn valley.

While progress was rapid, the engineers had to be careful to keep their waterway above the winter flood levels in what was then an area of marshes.

In keeping with this policy when digging reached Maesbury Marsh the canal line ran along a few feet above one side of the local marsh running north-south.

At this point a bridge had to be built where the line of the canal was crossed by the summer road/ winter marsh track between Oswestry and Shrewsbury.

At this point the road/track ran down from the firm dry farmlands (owned by the high and mighty) onto the marshlands.

The bridge was built beside a pub and the few dwellings in the then hamlet of Maesbury Marsh.

Inland Canal Port

Given the existence of the pub, the road to Oswestry and plenty of firm ground for building on one side of the canal, Maesbury Marsh was the ideal place for the canal company to develop an inland port to serve the area.

Spiggott's Bridge © David Cragg
Spiggott's Bridge © David Cragg

And this it did installing wharfs and warehouses, buildings and infrastructure to make this the main distribution point for a large area including Oswestry and its hinterland and some local industrial and coal mining villages which later reverted to agriculture with little hint of their past.

For nearly 50 years Maesbury Marsh village was a very important place in the area, a place that gained in importance with its environs developing and more and more good quality houses being imported as the canal system expanded to connect the area to the rest of the world.

And in the ever expanding canal-side village some of the new houses were the homes to local boat families.

Wharfingers House © David Cragg
Wharfingers House © David Cragg

Meanwhile, as a main conduit between the industrial world brought to Maesbury's wharfs and the Maesbury/Oswestry surrounding area the Maesbury/Oswestry road was improved to take heavy wagons and other wheeled traffic.

Wharfinger's House

Such was the size and importance of the traffic that came and went to Maesbury's wharves that the canal company built for the Wharfinger a 5 bedroom house with offices; a property nearly as large and imposing as the Ellesmere Company's headquarters in Ellesmere!

Then after over 50 years of canal monopoly the railway came, and with it trade to the wharves reduced day on day and the rash of building in the area ended.

Through road traffic also nearly ceased for the new A5 main link road came nowhere near Maesbury Marsh.

And so the village was reduced to being a sleepy backwater, a backwater in a time warp.

A whole village and the surrounding area with dozens of properties in the style of the 1800 to 1850 canal age left almost untouched for the next hundred years.

The Navi Bridge © David Cragg
The Navi Bridge © David Cragg

It was only after the Second World War and the coming of the motor car that Maesbury Marsh began to awake.

Odd houses and bungalows began to appear in the village filling the spaces between the much older properties.

A small council estate was put up on one edge.

This process of infill and odd groups of houses built continues to this day.

So - how much of the original canal port of Maesbury Marsh exists today?

In fact most of it is still intact.

The large dry goods warehouse built on the other side of the road from the Navigation Inn has gone, it spontaneously combusted some years ago.

But the cottage behind is still there.

Navigation Pub

Unfortunately, where the warehouse was British Waterways ruined the best picture postcard view of the canal and village by plonking down a modern toilet block.

Opposite that block (across the road) is the Navigation Pub, the Wharfinger's house and the main port area which covers over 3 acres as described when it was auctioned off in 1886.

In this area is the much built on original Navigation pub, it marking one edge of the area which was wharf and storage, an area which still has buildings like Coal Wharf Cottage in place.

The flood plain from the Navi Bridge © David Cragg
The flood plain from the Navi Bridge © David Cragg

The Wharfinger's house dominates the scene but is only the largest of a number of other buildings and sheds around the multi-acre original open storage area bounded at the far end by the chimney of the old Bone Works - this smelly industry being built downwind of the village.

The village itself has many old buildings, some high status and others more for the workers.

It's easy to spot them with their white finish.

Likewise, the larger buildings and halls within a few miles all have that 'made by or improved by materials carried in by canal' look.

(One understands that most things could be ordered then delivered by canal back then just as we order via the web and get delivery by white van man today!)

Draining of the Marshes

This building boom was enhanced by the draining of the marshes shortly after the canal was built.

After they were drained down on the marshes large farms with big farm houses and tenants cottages were built almost to a standard design, these often using materials brought in by boat.

From all the buildings and the wharves and the census record the port of Maesbury Marsh was a thriving enterprise village for over 50 years of its life. Then it was forgotten.

Even now, in the age when local history is studied and old buildings protected no-one seems to have realized or is interested in Maesbury Marsh, a unique and largely intact purpose-built inland canal port.

The only one still in such condition, largely unspoiled by progress.

Old Ball Mill © David Cragg
Old Ball Mill © David Cragg

Stand on the Navigation bridge and look down the road imaging the horse-drawn wagons coming up and down the road from Oswestry.

Then turn and look out south along the canal and across the Marshy ground beside the canal imagining a plodding horse towing a boat on a long line emerging into view from the bridge under you and go off along the canal towards the distant hills.

Follow that horse and walk down to the next bridge (Spiggot's) and you can see one of the last original un-strengthened 1795 bridges.


Description by David Cragg

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