On Monday 6th November 1769, three boats belonging to the canal company are towed slowly between the fields of Birmingham Heath towards the very edge of the town. With the sun low in the autumn sky, crowds watched as the boats are brought in alongside the temporary wharf at Friday Street. Some 200 tons of coal from the collieries at Wednesbury, five miles distant, are unloaded onto the wharf. The coal was immediately being sold for 4 1/2d per long hundredweight, around half the price of coal the previous Friday.
It was an exciting event, and although the canal was far from finished, this was the first commercial voyage, and in the subsequent weeks and months, boats were moving loads of coal in to Birmingham to meet a seeminly instatiable demand.
For Birmingham and the Black Country, 6th November 1769 was the dawn of the Canal Age. The area would certainly have grown without the BCN, but it would probably have grown very differently and although much heavy industry has now departed, the routes of the canals are also the axes of industry that made Birmingham the workshop of the world.
It was recognised as a historic event on the day and local poet John Freeth felt compelled to write a poem to commemorate their arrival: Inland Navigation - an ode (published in full earlier).
Happy 240th Birthday, Birmingham Canal Navigations
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