It was quite late by the time we set off, but we are in no hurry. Wood End lock was one in, one out etc. and the same at Shade House lock at Fradley. Middle lock had a volockie so we were through there in double quick time. Through the swing bridge onto the Coventry Canal just as a boat pulled away from the water point so we hopped in the space and filled up.
We stopped where the Birmingham and Fazeley and Trent and Mersey came together to form the Coventry (see blog from August 17th) and this time I got off and got a half decent photo of the plaque. Sadly, the writing on the original stone isn’t very good and the plaque commemorating the bi-centennial in 1990 was very dirty and it was almost impossible to read the writing.
From Fradley the canal loops around what used to Fradley Aerodrome, home to RAF Lichfield, which was constructed from mid 1939 to 1940. The airfield was set out in the usual triangular pattern with two runways half a mile in length and a main runway of just under a mile. Initially it operated as a maintenance site, being home to the No. 51 Maintenance Unit from August 1940. Manufacturers sent newly built aircraft to Fradley to carry out any modifications before delivery to squadrons. After the war, large numbers of aircraft were broken up and many aircraft were prepared before being sold to the air forces of other countries. The unit remained active until the closure of the airfield in 1958. In 1998 major redevelopment started on the former airfield, with the construction of factories, warehouses and 750 new houses. Today Fradley Park, a 300-acre warehousing and distribution development, covers most of the former airfield. 7 OTU (Operational Training Unit) was formed on 23rd April 1941, its role was to form and train aircrew for front line bombing operations using Wellington bombers. The crews, largely from Australia and other Commonwealth countries, were then posted to their allocated squadrons, mostly in Lincolnshire. Operational bombing missions were flown from Lichfield in 1942–43, including the 1,000-bomber raid on Cologne in May 1942. After 1943 most sorties were 'Nickel' raids, the dropping of propaganda leaflets over German cities coupled with occasional bombing of French airfields occupied by German Forces. The unit was disbanded in June 1945 with the last flying training detail being flown on 22nd June. Haunting the old runways is a headless airman who is reputed to have walked into the propellers of a Lancaster – but was it an accident or suicide?
We passed Huddlesford Junction again and the entrance to the Lichfield Canal. The Lichfield & Hatherton Canals Restoration Trust are promoting the restoration of both the Lichfield Canal and the Hatherton Canal. A major aim of both projects is to provide additional access to the presently underused northern parts of the Birmingham Canal Navigations. The Lichfield Canal consists of the Ogley to Huddlesford length of the Wyrley and Essington Canal, descending through 30 locks in 7 miles from the Wolverhampton level of the Birmingham Canal to the Coventry Canal, and abandoned in 1954. The Hatherton Canal is the Hatherton Branch of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, abandoned in 1955, plus a new section of canal to replace the former Churchbridge Locks connection to the Cannock Extension Canal that was lost to coal mining. Both canal restorations have many obstacles to overcome, particularly road crossings.