Gas Street Basin Canals | Visit Birmingham

Gas Street Basin

Gas Street, Birmingham B1 2JT, England

The canals are the key to Birmingham's past industrial prowess and have played a very important role in the modern cities success today.

Gas Street Basin Canal

Birmingham was the industrial hub during the industrial revolution with its network of canals reaching out to most major cities across England.

Huge amounts of cargoes were navigated through these watery veins like coal from the black country which helped keep the Birmingham furnaces alight during this heavily industrialised time. Gas Street Basin is a must see if you are coming to visit Birmingham.

As the name suggests it was the first place in Birmingham to benefit from Gas Lighting. A lot of the architecture from this time period still exists here and it makes for great photographs transporting you back in time.

As you walk down the bustling  towpaths you can imagine what it was like during the industrial revolution when it was a thriving port in the heart of the city. During the second world war it remained largely unscathed and so exist some wonderful examples of Victorian cottages. It's a great area to explore the old Birmingham by way of the canals.

Brindley Place is close by named after the industrial canal engineer James Brindley and there are some marvellous intricate iron bridges that criss-cross from side to side so you get to see everything, the modern and old from all angles. The most prominent bridge you will see is actually a modern day replica and not an original. It followed the original design from the local ironworks so stays true to the era.

The areas skyline is also dominated by the The International Convention Centre (ICC) and Symphony Hall with walkways leading down to the canals so they are easily accessible. You can also walk through the ICC in office hours through the central mall where there are a few coffee stands and galleries. It will eventually lead to Centenary Square. The design of the building was by The Percy Thomas Partnership with Renton Howard Wood Levin and was opened by the Queen in 1991.

It was built on the former site of Bingley Hall which was a huge exhibition centre originally built in 1850. In the late 70s and early 80s the area became a hotspot for people to gather after a night out with cafes near bus stops it was the in place to go if you were on your way home.

Today the area has been modernised, industrial heritage juxtapose clubs, bars and live music venues along with the pretty coloured narrowboats that are moored on this once busy waterway. There is a visitor information centre nearby with a great café next door or you can sit outside many of the bars and cafes that are dotted along the canal side.

If your on a bike its also a great place to visit with its miles of flat towpaths, its also a really fun way to get about Birmingham with the canals being a lot quieter than the roads they are fast becoming a preferred method of getting about town. 

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The Telegraph

Peter Donnelly's prize-winning essay offers a brilliant example of how local, and often unprepossessing, backgrounds can provide the material for an outstanding colour story. All his photographs were taken within a few miles of his home in Birmingham, Brierley Hill, at Blackheath, Bilston and Cradley Heath. He took them over a period of several months while on weekend walks along the deserted banks of the local canals. "Most evenings I never met a soul," Mr Donnelly recalls. "There was an air of isolation, and often desolation, over the whole scene, and this is what I have tried to capture in my photographs." The camera used was a Pentakon F and the film Agfa and Kodachrome.
by Dr Carl Chinn MBE
Peter Donnelly was born in Birmingham, educated at Corpus Christi junior school, Stechford and later at the holy rosary, Saltley. While at the Holy Rosary he took and passed a drawing examination for Moseley school of art at which he spent several years tuning his artistic talent.

On leaving the art school he joined Birmingham printers, Sam Currier & Son in brook street, St Pauls square, as an apprentice commercial artist. After completing his apprenticeship he left Sam Currier and worked at various printers and advertising agencies gaining valuable experience before starting with his working associate Bob Burns (typographer). Donnelly Burns Graphic Design studio was in Chapel Street, Lye before moving to larger premises in Cradley heath then Harborne.

Before starting the business Peter entered and won the Sunday Telegraph national photographic competition. He submitted an essay of photographs illustrating the demise of the Birmingham and Black Country canals with fellow photographer Norman Fletcher. To Peter and Norman, Midlands photographers and photographic societies seemingly had ignored the once great industrial arena that surrounded their everyday lives.

What an arena! what powerful exiting subjects for the camera; neglected canals, weed and web woven towpaths, old worn out narrow boats – redundant and half submerged in silted murky brown waters; steam trains rattling, hissing and bumping their waggons into line and the rail men who worked the line at that time.

Old foundries, run down factories and scrapyards – the industrial flotsam of a once great manufacturing region. Many six o’clock early morning starts were walked and many miles covered by Peter and his camera.

Now over 60 years later, photographs taken during those early excursions are being published - looking back at the time, long before the surge of change and reconstruction 1962 - 1965