In search of Michael Pennington (Deceased)

From Scarfield Hill Bridge No 60 to Wolverhampton Top Lock Moorings, a distance of 28 miles, 7¾ flg and 15 locks.

I think it was a train on the line that runs right by the canal that woke us up and after doing the morning engine checks we cast off on the rather long run into Birmingham city centre

The run into Birmingham is not only long it is remarkably depressing. It starts off quite well as the photo below shows but once you get near King’s Norton Junction things start going down hill.

Not quite what you expect from Birmingham
Not quite what you expect from Birmingham

Birmingham has done so much over the past 20 years to pull its city centre up from the mess it was and there have been huge developments at the university and at the hospital. There have even been huge improvements to the canal in terms of access and the towpath but one thing that does not change is the graffiti. There is hardly one single vertical surface between Kings Norton and Holliday Wharf that isn’t covered in graffiti – even the mew buildings at the hospital which back onto the railway line aren’t immune. Why? I ask you Why? Do the Mayor and Birmingham City council know? Do they care? Don’t they realise that although not the post popular canal route into the city this is also a major rail commuter line. What image of your wonderful city does that present? What do the secure moorings by Bournville Lane Aqueduct No 4 and the vandalised station tell us about your city apart from “You really don’t want to stop here”

It’s only when you reach the start of the city centre re-development at Holliday Wharf that the vandalism stops. The wharf has a good set of boater facilities and we took the opportunity to empty the Portable loo as it was getting pretty full, We had arrived in Birmingham the weekend before the Conservative Party conference and security was already being tightened – moorings had been suspended, there were security turnstyles on the bridges over the canal and The Mailbox Footbridge had a notice on it telling all boats to stop and contact the police. We chugged through the bustling city centre and made our way out to Smethwick Junction where we turned onto the Birmingham Canal Navigations (Old Main Line) … DON’T try to pull in to drop crew off before the bollards below Pope Bridge because although the bank edge is good engineering brick the canal runs out of water a couple of feet out from it. Despite the desolation around you the three Smethwick Locks are quite easy to work, although you do need security keys to unlock the paddles, and before long you’ve made it out of the top lock and are heading past Engine Arm Junction on the rather wibbly wobbly Old Main Line.

Like parts of the New Main Line it is sometimes hard to believe you are in the middle of a sprawling city but then you meet the M5 and reality comes crashing in around you again and Oldbury Junction is almost hidden amongst the concrete pillars of the motorway. We’re not sure what the Estate Agents say about the cottages at the bottom lock but it must be a pretty hard place to sell.

Again, like the Smethwick locks the 6 Oldbury Locks, which are also known as “The Crow” due to the fact that the Crow Arm which leaves the canal half way up the flight led into a large factory owned by James Crow, are actually very easy to work… well pretty easy but the bottom gates can be a bit of a pain. The canal seemed very shallow and was full of floating weed but we made it to the Tat Bank Branch junction which has a rather nice engine house by it.

Titford Engine House
Titford Engine House

We were advised by some people who keep their boat on the Tat Bank Branch NOT to enter the Titford pools as they are very silted up and so we turned at Portway – Causeway Green Junction

Titford Pools beyond the bridge
Titford Pools beyond the bridge

We headed back down to Oldbury junction and nowhere along the way did we see anything that remotely matched anything in “Wall To Wall” by Michael Pennington (Deceased) 1 which was a pity, but who knows maybe the abandoned boat yard is on anther bit of Oldbury canal that we’ve not yet visited. By the time we reached the locks the weed had spread out again and it was hard to believe a boat had actually been this way in weeks.

We headed off towards Wolverhampton and apart from one boat coming through the lock at Tipton Factory Junction the canal was pretty quiet. There were some kids sitting above the portal of Coseley Tunnel (South end) who waved at us an there was also a tramp in the tunnel who must have climbed past the security fences which close off the towpaths as they are blocked in the cutting immediately before the tunnel.

At Chillington Interchange Basin there is an impressive frame mounted crane but as it isn’t used I can’t imagine it will be long before someone cuts it up for scrap which would be a great pity.

The night was starting to draw in and as we passed Broad Street Basin someone on a boat told us that the moorings at the top of the locks were full but we managed to find a mooring that was just the right length for us although we did end up having to use a mooring spike to keep one end in.

  1. Michael Pennington met a violent death – murdered and thrown into a coal shaft that was later bricked up, his body was to remain undiscovered for over thirty years. Jack however had witnessed the gruesome event, powerless to do anything about it – he was, after all, in the spirit world himself…

    In the afterlife Michael struggled to come to terms with his extraordinary existence. He was, like many other spirits, a lost soul trapped as a result of his past traumatic experience. He desperately sought retribution. Painstakingly he learned to communicate – using modern technology, the internet. Would his death be avenged?

    Michael’s story may seem far-fetched, indeed beyond comprehension and the laws of physics, but the growing number of strange contacts and stories on message forums should not be dismissed lightly. Wall to Wall Michael Pennington is more than a paranormal whodunnit – it will provoke some searching questions on future supernatural contact with the past.

    The story started on January 15th 2004 on a Birmingham Message Forum. A person calling themselves Michael Pennington told an interesting tale about his murderous death in 1971 and subsequent life as a spirit in an old derelict boatyard. In recent times the building became occupied and the ghost found a way to communicate with the living using a computer.

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