What can I expect when visiting Tardebigge Locks?
Start from the Tardebigge Village Car Park next to St Bartholomew’s Church. There is a gate with a path that leads down to the canal below. To the left of the row of trees midway on the right, you can see the original toll road that crossed through Tardebigge, which was realigned when the canal and tunnel was constructed.
Look right and you will see the south portal of the Tardebigge Tunnel.
Turn left and start walking along the towpath. You will see Tardebigge New Wharf on the right. It was completed four years before the flight of locks and the warehouse has been converted into accommodation.
Follow the towpath and you will shortly arrive at the top lock, which is number 58. Notice the church in the background.
The lock has an unusually high rise of 11 ft because it was constructed to replace an experimental boatlift that existed in this location from 1808 until 1815, whilst the canal was under construction. Designed by John Woodhouse, the lift raised and lowered narrowboats nearly 12 ft (3.6 m) in a sealed caisson or lifting chamber. It had a roofed shelter and used a counterweight of bricks connected by a series of eight parallel chains and cast iron pulleys. Lifting was executed by two men using a windlass and the lift handled 110 boats in 12 hours .
The lift was deemed too fragile and was replaced by a conventional lock before the canal fully opened ; however, the outline of the balancing pit can still be seen by the keeper’s cottage.
Cross over the lock and backtrack slightly to reach a memorial commemorating the meeting of Lionel Thomas Caswall Rolt, Angela Rolt, and Robert Aickman in 1945 aboard a boat called ‘Cressy’. They went on to found the Inland Waterways Association, an organisation that was instrumental in the conservation, maintenance, and restoration of the British canal network. You could say this is hallowed ground for canal enthusiasts.
Before you leave the top lock, can you spot the restored brickwork commemorating the years of the Hereford and Worcester County Council?
Continue along the towpath and you will arrive at lock 57 and the Tardebigge Engine House. It originally housed a Newcomen/Watt beam engine, which is why some of the walls are 4 ft solid brick. The engine used steam power to pump water 60 ft (18.3 m) from the nearby Tardebigge Reservoir up to lock 58. This water supply was crucial for the operation of the Tardebigge Locks as water emptied from one lock down to another as boats passed through. The engine house has been converted into private dwellings.
You will then arrive at a sluice that directs water from the canal into the reservoir, which is visible in the distance. Notice the stone plaque in the wall that reads ‘1915’, the year that the sluice was most likely redeveloped.
Further along is the reservoir lock house. It was the home of George Blake, the foreman carpenter during the construction of the canal. He lived here during his working life and retirement. It was also the home of Pat Warner, author of the book ‘Lock Keeper’s Daughter’ [
You will see more locks in succession as you continue along the towpath and eventually arrive at an embankment with a path over the top. Climb up and walk along it for a beautiful view of Tardebigge Reservoir, which is also called Tardebigge Lake, with the canal running alongside.
You will then arrive at the reservoir overflow weir as you walk along the top of the embankment.
Continue along the top until the embankment bends left, steps are leading down from the corner. This is where you will get the best view of the Tardebigge Locks and the magnificent Worcestershire countryside.
Further along after lock 46 is another lock keeper’s cottage.
Another lock keeper’s cottage is located after lock 40.
Notice the stone lock number plaques.
Lock 33 has a unique plank footbridge over its southern entrance.
You will finally arrive at lock 30, which is the bottom lock of the Tardebigge flight. A short distance ahead is the Queens Head Visitor Moorings with the pub’s expansive beer garden on the other bank at Stoke Pound. This is a perfect stop for refreshments before heading back up the flight of locks.
Remember, it’s harder going up than coming down, so a little break might be a good idea before heading back. If you have time, when you reach the top lock, cross over to the west bank and head into the courtyard next to the New Wharf where you will see ‘Birmingham’ a surviving steam tugboat. She operated at Tardebigge from 1876 to 1917 towing narrowboats through the tunnel in a pair with her sister ‘Worcester’.
How long does it take to see Tardebigge Locks?
It will take you between 1 hour 45 minutes and 2 hours to walk the entire flight of locks with a return journey.
Is Tardebigge Locks suitable for a picnic?
The grassy banks of the canal are an adequate spot for picnicking; however, it’s a popular route with walkers, and the canal attracts flying insects on warm days. It’s probably best to sit on one of the lock gate beams and tuck into sandwiches with a flask of tea.
What wildlife does Tardebigge Locks offer?
You may see mallard ducks and coots on the canal. We were lucky enough to see Swallows diving down to eat insects on the water.
How do I get to Tardebigge Locks?
There is a free car park located next to St Bartholomew’s Church off Church Lane. If you are not arriving by car, there are bus stops near the south portal of the Tardebigge Tunnel on the Alcester Road with services from Bromsgrove nearby. Bromsgrove railway station is a 10-minute taxi ride.
History of Tardebigge Locks
1784 – A canal to Worcester terminating at Diglis was first proposed by the Stourbridge Canal Company from their line . It was bitterly opposed by the Staffordshire & Worcester Canal Company, the bill was defeated in the House of Lords, whereupon there were rejoicings and bellringings at Wolverhampton, Kidderminster and Stourport  (areas that were served by the Staffs & Worcs canal).
1789 – The idea of a canal to Worcester resurfaces. This time a shorter route is proposed that runs through Tardebigge, which avoids the navigation of the Severn between Stourport and Worcester.
1790 – A party of opposition led by the canal companies of Birmingham and the Staffs & Worcs defeats the first bill .
1791 – Despite the continuation of fierce opposition, an Act of Parliament was eventually passed thanks to a new petition from Birmingham businessmen, which included 6,058 signatures on a roll of paper 14 yards long . Construction of the Worcester & Birmingham Canal began the following year.
1794 – The original survey intended to build a broad canal so barges suitable for the River Severn could reach Birmingham; however, it was decided to construct a canal for narrowboats. This may have been due to cost or the intended junctions with the narrow Dudley and Stratford canals .
1807 – After years of slow construction, the canal was opened to Tardebigge Old Wharf on 30th March  where ‘a commodious Bason, Wharf, Weighing Machine, etc. are prepared for the accommodation of the Trade’ . At this time, firms advertised they carried goods by water then by land to Worcester. In the fifteen months since the opening of the old wharf, tonnage increased progressively .
1808 – Another Act of Parliament was passed to raise £168,000 for the completion of the canal. The construction of Tardebigge Reservoir was authorised, and the company decided to try an experimental canal lift invented by John Woodhouse who had taken over as engineer from Thomas Cartwright due to his failing health. It was hoped the success of the boatlift would reduce the number of locks required to reach Worcester . Here is a drawing that was sketched at the site of the lift in 1810.
1811 – After a time of repeatedly testing the lift, the canal company decided they would build locks to complete the line, which sparked a great deal of discussion. William Jessop was hired to assess the lift and the challenge of dropping the canal 220 ft to Worcester. He favoured the lifting machine due to doubts about the availability of water for the summit and the high costs of pumping water from the Severn . John Rennie was also consulted who reported the boat lift was too complex and delicate, which required much attention and careful management that would create a greater risk of frequent repair .
1812 – Investigations proved there was enough water to supply a summit of locks and construction steams ahead. The boat lift is left in place for the time being to give additional demonstrations.
1813 – More money is borrowed, and the canal opens to the top of Tardebigge Locks.
1815 – Another Act of Parliament authorises more money providing the bank loan taken out 2 years earlier is repaid by a deadline, otherwise the land for Tardebigge Reservoir would have to be sold. An extra £36,000 is raised by annuities at 10% per £100, redeemable after 3 years. The boat lift is replaced by a lock, the reservoir is complete, and the entire canal opens on 4th December.
1821 – The company declared its first dividend; toll receipts slowly rose.
1841 – The opening of the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway starts to seriously affect trade on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal. Dividends are reduced and tolls are cut.
1857 – A new canal branch was discussed on the level from Tardebigge to Redditch; however, the agent to Baroness Windsor who owned the land would not consider it. Tolls are cut once again as competition from the railways ever increases.
1866 – No longer able to pay dividends, a bill was raised in Parliament to sell the canal to railway contractors for conversion, which failed. Another bill was raised the following year, which also failed.
1874 – The canal is bought by the Sharpness New Docks Company (formerly the Gloucester & Berkeley Canal Company). The new company was now called the Sharpness New Docks & Gloucester & Birmingham Navigation Company .
1875-76 – The new owners deploy a tunnel steam tug from the north end of Shortwood to the New Wharf above the top lock at Tardebigge. One of the tugs called ‘Birmingham’ survived and is displayed next to the wharf .
1914 – The engine house ceased operations when the water supply was changed to gravity feed from the Upper Bittell Lakes. The canal company raised its water level by 6 inches to reduce potential water loss that was a concern .
1948 – The UK’s transport infrastructure is nationalised, and control of the canal and locks is passed to the newly formed British Transport Commission, who also become responsible for all inland waterways .
1950s – The engine house is converted into a jazz club by Martin Hone, a motor racing enthusiast from Birmingham who also owned a club on Gas Street Basin .
1960 – Coal from Cannock to Worcester is no longer carried on the canal.
1961 – Chocolate crumb from Worcester to Cadbury’s at Bournville is no longer carried on the canal . After many years of neglect, the canal and Tardebigge Locks continue to deteriorate.
1963 – The British Transport Commission (BTC) is abolished, and control of the canal and locks passes again to British Waterways, a statutory corporation wholly owned by the government who take ownership of all inland waterways .
1969 – The Worcester & Birmingham Canal Society was formed to promote the restoration, conservation and improvement of the Worcester & Birmingham Canal and adjacent waterways for the use and benefit of the public .
1986 – The locks, the top lock keeper’s cottage, the engine house, the workshops at the New Wharf, and the south portal of Tardebigge Tunnel all are listed as Grade II buildings.
1990s – The Engine House Jazz Club closes.
2008 – After being used for a variety of purposes such as a wedding venue and restaurant, the engine house fell into total disuse .
2012 – The Canal & River Trust is formed and take control of all inland waterways in England and Wales from British Waterways . The engine house is converted into four luxury apartments .
How many locks does Tardebigge Locks have?
Tardebigge Locks consists of 30 locks.
How long is Tardebigge Locks?
The flight of locks and pounds covers a distance of 2.2 miles or 3.5 km.
How long does it take for a narrowboat to pass through Tardebigge Locks?
We spoke to several boaters. They said it took them between 4 and 6 hours to pass through Tardebigge Locks depending on traffic. Less experienced boaters naturally, would take longer.