The canal wharf at Wappenshall north of Telford is one of the most significant in the history of inland waterways in England. It was at first simply a passing place on the Shrewsbury Canal, completed in 1797, extending 26 km. from a basin in the East Shropshire Coalfield to Shrewsbury, the county town. Like the network of canals which served the mines and ironworks of the Coalfield, it was built to carry tub boats, rectangular vessels about 6.5 m. X 2m. In 1835 the Shrewsbury Canal was joined by a branch from the newly-constructed Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal (whose main line is now known as the Shropshire Union Canal), which provided a link with the national canal system, which was used by narrow boats 21.34 m. long and 2.13m. in beam.
The canal’s engineer was Thomas Telford (1757-1834) who was probably responsible for a particularly elegant stone skew bridge that still survives. The junction was on land owned by the Leveson-Gower family, Dukes of Sutherland, one of the wealthiest families in England. The Sutherland estate commissioned the canal engineer and architect James Trubshaw (1777-1853) to establish a wharf in the angle between the two canals. Initially a two-storey warehouse, with a cast iron stub crane was constructed, but from 1844 it was supplemented by a much larger three-storey warehouse built above an arm of the canal. Goods could be lifted by pulleys from the holds of canal boats to the upper floors. The account books for the wharf in the Sutherland estate archive (which is divided between the county archives of Shropshire and Staffordshire) provide a uniquely detailed picture of the traffic in ‘merchandise’ (i.e. goods for retailers in small consignments) most of which was carried by canal in England between about 1800 and the development of the national railway network in the 1840s. Merchandise traffic appears to have ceased at Wappenshall after 1850, following the opening of railways, but the wharf continued to be used for the despatch of coal and iron from the mines, furnaces and forges of the East Shropshire Coalfield and for the receipt of limestone for the ironworks from quarries in North Wales.
Traffic on the canals ceased in the mid-twentieth century, but the Shrewsbury and Newport Canals Trust was formed in 2000 with the long term aim of restoring the route from the junction with the Shropshire Union at Norbury through Newport and Wappenshall to Shrewsbury. In 2008 the Telford and Wrekin Council took the opportunity to buy the complex at Wappenshall and let it on a long lease to the Trust which has commenced the restoration of the warehouses as a visitor centre. The premises are open to the public several times a year.