Schoolhouse Bridge officially opens

Following a successful £1.1 million project supported by people across the country, its reinstatement was marked on 28th June by Anna Turner JP, Lord-Lieutenant of Shropshire.

A plaque was unveiled by the Lord-Lieutenant to celebrate the culmination of years of planning and fund-raising by local canal charities working together as Restore the Montgomery Canal!

Introducing the Lord-Lieutenant, John Dodwell (pictured) chairman of the Montgomery Canal Partnership, noted that as Lord Lieutenant of Shropshire she is the county representative of the King who when Prince of Wales took a keen interest in the Montgomery Canal and was much in-volved in promoting restoration in the Welshpool area.

Mr Dodwell noted too the Marches Forward Partnership recently established between councils in Shropshire, Powys, Herefordshire and Monmouthshire, focussing on cross border projects where the Montgomery Canal is a classic example. Shropshire Council had recently supported the canal with a £177,00 grant from the Rural Prosperity Fund for re-watering works.

He continued: “I thank the public at large for donating the money we needed to rebuild this bridge – about £1.1m. Special thanks to The Inland Waterways Association for £70,000 from the Tony Harrison Memorial legacy. Thank you too to the Walker Trust and to the Tarmac Landfill Communities Fund and to the Millichope Foundation. Thank you also to the Friends of the Montgomery Canal who have contributed over £30,000, largely from their renowned annual Triathlons – and the Shropshire Union Canal Society who started the fundraising off with £12,000. Thanks to all those who made individual donations – and continue to do.

“Volunteers led did a lot of the initial works, including building a temporary diversionary route for use during the main works. Volunteers supervised the diversion of a water main. And the volunteers have done a great deal of the tidying up works – and will be installing steps from the towpath to the road.

“Another big thank you goes to three adjacent landowners whose land we needed during the works – all allowed us the use of their fields without a charge. And the owners of the adjacent cottage deserve a special mention for putting up with the disruption the works caused them.

“As a result, we were able to produce a bridge design which satisfied Shropshire Highways and Canal & River Trust. It meant agreements with adjacent landowners and agreement with the Council whereby they took on ownership of the bridge. As is so often the case, the planning for the works took a lot longer than the bridge build-ing itself. In all it has taken some eight year from start to finish during which time the key volunteers stayed with the project.

So what’s next?

Says John: “We have only two miles left to restore in Shropshire – where 80% has been completed. It’s what we call the ‘Shropshire Gap‘. Volunteers from the Shropshire Union Canal Society have been working away to put the water back into the canal from Crickheath Bridge (where we celebrated last year) to here and indeed towards Pant. All this costs money – even with volunteers. We need money for the equipment hire and materials they use. That’s why last year we launched a new Public Appeal for £250,000. I’m pleased to say that – excluding the Rural Prosperity Fund grant – we are more than half way there with the total now being about £130,000.”

John then invited the Lord Lieutenant to unveil the Commemorative Plaque newly fixed to the bridge but before she did so, Mrs Turner paid tribute to everyone involved in the new bridge which she described as a remarkable achievement, adding that John Dodwell had been too modest to add his own contribution as part of the team that led the project.

Volunteers ‘wet’ the bridge’s number plaque from above

The final act was to christen the traditional canal bridge number plate on the arch, denoting the bridge as number 86 (historically, bridges on the Montgomery Canal are numbered from Hurles-ton Junction near Nantwich) a task by carried out be the two volunteer engineers of the project, Roger Bravey and Phil Parker.

Michael Limbrey, Chairman of the Restore the Montgomery Canal! said: “This was another great day for the Montgomery Canal, a celebration of many years of effort. The new bridge removes the last highway blockage in Shropshire and at the same time engineers are working on plans for new bridges on the Powys section of the canal as part of substantial investment under the UK Government Levelling-Up grant. Plans for the Welsh section also include new nature reserves to safeguard the canal’s valued flora and fauna to match the reserves in Shropshire. All this is part of a vision of a revived canal which values its built and natural heritage and offers amenity and well-being to its local communities and visitors.”

Displays at the celebration were from Shropshire Union Canal Society, the Friends of the Montgomery Canal and a flat-pack Cracker, a 3-D model of a boat horse used to tow the historic canal fly-boat Saturn from the Shropshire Union Flyboat Restoration Society.

Guests were given the opportunity to see works being undertaken by the volunteers of the Shropshire Union Canal Society to rewater the next section of the canal south towards Schoolhouse Bridge, part of the two-mile Shropshire Gap which has been dry and unusable since abandonment eighty years ago.

Restore the Montgomery Canal! is always glad to receive further donations through or further volunteers to join work parties.