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A BRIEF HISTORY OF BIRMINGHAM'S PARK LAKES by John Andrews
Originally published in Midland Angler November 2007
The city of Birmingham has more mileage of canals than any other city in the world including Venice and the Birmingham Anglers Association was at one time the biggest angling association in the country with access to miles of bank on the Rivers Severn, Wye and Trent to name but a few. However, despite these two facts, most anglers who come from the city of Birmingham began their fishing somewhere other than the canal or a B.A.A water. They would have fished on one of the city’s park lakes. Perhaps it was Rotton Park, better known as Edgbaston Reservoir, or maybe they took the 45 bus down Pershore Road to fish for roach at Cannon Hill Park. Or maybe they were one of the 380 anglers who bought a day ticket to fish at Salford Park on the morning of June 16th 1966. Whichever city lake they fished they were in part creating the social history of Birmingham itself.
Some of the oldest waters in the city are the pools set in the two thousand acre Sutton Park, only six miles from the centre of town. Here, Keepers Pool, Bracebridge Pool, Little Bracebridge and Wyndley Pool were all dug in the 15th century as stock ponds for fish breeding. At 48 acres Powells Pool is the largest water within Sutton Park and was created by Sir Thomas Holte in 1730 when he dammed a stream running through the park. Blackroot Pool, now renowned as a carp fishery was named after the blackened stump of an old oak tree found in the centre of the lake.
Even closer to the city centre in Ladywood, Edgbaston Reservoir, the largest water in Birmingham, was created between 1824 and 1828 by Thomas Telford from the remains of Rotton Park which had been a fish pond on the former estate of the Lord of Birmingham. The reservoir became a centre for leisure in Victorian times, a venue where the Birmingham All the Year Round Swimming Club took to the waters every Christmas Day, where the first flying boat ever landed in Britain and whose extent the trapeze artist the Great Blondin crossed, 1500 feet up on a tightrope in 1924. Throughout this time bream, carp, pike, perch and roach thrived within its waters and pulled anglers to its banks. (Later in the 20th century it was used as a venue for the Birmingham Angling Festival.)
The most central of Birmingham’s park lakes is in Cannon Hill Park. The park itself is situated on land owned formerly by the Ryland family who in the late 19th century donated 57 acres of the estate to Birmingham Corporation for use as parkland. Designed and laid out by John Gibson who had worked as an apprentice under Joseph Paxton at Chatsworth, Cannon Hill Park opened on 1st September 1873 without a band, nor any bunting, visitors were merely handed a card upon which was a personal message from Louisa Ryland expressing the hope that, ‘the park may prove a source of healthful recreation to the people of Birmingham.’ Today the carp that live under the boathouse are descendents of some of the earliest fish stocked when the park was opened.
By 1936 they were over 70 shops in Birmingham selling angling licences from the Cabinet Makers Supply Stores in Sparkhill to Sportzall in Erdington to the ‘Orange and Green’ shop on Edwards Road more formally known as J M Daffarn and Sons.
Of the one million residents that lived in the city in the 1930’s many thousands fished. The sport of angling was their recreation from the work that helped build the city’s reputation as an industrial centre.
Of all of the waters in Birmingham, the most poignant is Salford Park. Today the water sits in the shadow of Spaghetti Junction and is ignored by millions of drivers as they negotiate their way from the M1 to the M6 whilst trying to spot the more familiar landmarks of the Dunlop Factory or Villa Park. But once upon a time, not even that long ago, before the Aston Expressway was built in 1968, Salford Park was the jewel in the city’s angling crown. Jack Williams, the Angling Times staffman for Birmingham in the 1950’s and 60’s said this about the water, ‘Perhaps the most prolific of Birmingham’s waters from the point of view of both the young and the old angler is Salford Park where the annual opening day gathering of anglers is an impressive sight. Long before the park is officially opened the perimeter of the pool is already dotted with anglers, some of them night shift workers who have travelled to the park after downing tools at the factory’.
Salford Park was in the heart of Aston, an area of Birmingham which boasted many factories from Norton Motorcycles to HP Sauce not to mention Ansells Brewery. Factories social and works teams bred dedicated and successful match anglers who ensured that their water, Salford Park, was always well stocked with sizeable roach, carp, tench and even chub. Its reputation for good fishing meant it became a venue for the Annual Angling Festival, a part of the Birmingham Games. Teams from the Angling Times, the Birmingham Anglers Association and the Birmingham Graylings (Ladies team) came to the banks of Salford and fished. As did the participants in the Birmingham Pensioners Match and the City of Birmingham Parks Department Juveniles Competition.
But in 1968 Salford Park was drained and netted whilst work on the Aston Expressway and Spaghetti Junction commenced. The fish that swam in its waters were placed into other Birmingham park lakes. It is testament to the regard in which the water was held that once the work on the Expressway was finished the pond was refilled and restocked. Today you can fish it, just as the England Match team did in 1991 when practicing for the World Championships.
As the twenty first century has developed so has the appetite of property developers. The landscape of Birmingham is changing to a post industrial one. Although you can still fish for tench at Salford Park you won’t be able to catch the smell of HP sauce in the wind. Heinz moved production of the famous sauce to Holland in 2006, the factory closed and was demolished in July of this year. Its famous sign was rescued after a media campaign, similar to the one that had demanded a sculpture be erected in Cannon Hill Park in 1906 to mark the fallen of the Boer War. Wherever you fish in Birmingham, be it for rudd at Swanshurst, or in the lake at Wades End which was created as a works finding scheme at the beginning of the 19th century you are casting into the middle of history. You are also standing in the footsteps of thousands of apprentice anglers who crowded the banks in between shifts and grabbed what angling they could in the little spare time they had.
Urban park lakes can seem featureless, often barren waters when compared to the grandeur of reed fringed estate lakes or the wide sweep of an ancient river but their appearance is deceptive because their history makes them some of the richest waters in the country. And Birmingham’s are no different.
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Birmingham City Council offers day ticket fishing on the following of its waters:
Cannon Hill Park
Fox Hollies Park
Manor Farm Park
Norman Chamberlain Playing Fields
Pype Hayes Par
Trittiford Mill Pool
Wade End Park
More information can be found at: www.birmingham.gov.uk
Go to the site and type ‘fishing’ into the search engine.
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