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News article created on 16 October 2013

Canal volunteers unearth historic tramway

Volunteers working alongside the Trent & Mersey Canal at Rugeley have unearthed a historic tram route which would have played an important part in the development of the town over a hundred years ago.

Volunteers from the Lichfield branch of the Inland Waterways Association and the local community have been working with us over the past year to improve the area around the ‘Bloody Steps’ in the town.

While clearing overgrown shrubs and greenery from the area the volunteers uncovered the remains of a tramway that linked the canal with the nearby water works. In the early 20th Century there was a canal wharf at the Bloody Steps and it is thought that the tramway would have been built to supply coal arriving by canal to the steam engine at the water works.

The volunteers have been keeping the area clear while a full heritage assessment of the site takes place. It’s hoped that over time the line of the tramway can be marked so that people can see how the area might have looked and understand the role the canal played in daily life. As part of their assessment the volunteers have also recorded an interview with a local couple who remember the tramway and who remain active participants in the campaign to preserve the water works.

The Bloody Steps have a grisly history and got their name from the gruesome murder of Christina Collins in 1839. Christina was paying to travel on one of Pickfords boats to join her husband in London but was brutally murdered by the boat crew who had been drinking heavily. When Christina’s body was discovered in the canal, it was carried up the sandstone steps and her blood is said to have stained the stone giving them their macabre name - which persists despite the steps' replacement in the mid-20th century

Colourful history

Tom Woodcock, heritage advisor for the Trust, said: “The tramway is a very useful find as it adds to the picture of life in Rugeley over a hundred years ago. We already know the very colourful history of the canal but this discovery tells us a little more about how the canal contributed to day-to-day life in the town.

“The volunteers have been doing a brilliant job to look after the canal and this discovery is a great reward for their hard work. It gives them a terrific opportunity to help preserve this interesting feature but, perhaps more importantly, enables them to record for the very first time the important role the canal played in supplying clean water to the people of Rugeley.”

Margaret Beardsmore, Work Party Coordinator for the Inland Waterways Association said: “Our volunteers are really enjoying their work as a local ‘Time Team’ and uncovering a previously unknown heritage gem."