8 July 2024

Written by

Alan Wilding

Restoration of the bridge was an amazing achievement, and facilitates further restoration of the Montgomery Canal. The work has been led by a volunteer group over the past 8 years. Originally intended to be volunteer-built at a cost of about £300,000 but, following the Covid pandemic, it was built by a contractor in 2023 at a cost of £1.1m – and that money was sourced through public appeal from individual and group donations and grants. The whole project was described by Shropshire’s Lord Lieutenant as, ‘an incredible job’.

The Scene

On a windy, June afternoon crowds rolled up to a quiet corner of north Shropshire to celebrate a canal restoration event at a site where there is currently no actual canal! But there is now a brand-new road bridge over the line of the Montgomery Canal. And work is in hand to extend the canal restoration along to the new bridge (as you can read later).

The spot near Crickheath, two miles from the Welsh border town of Llanymynech, is where, for the past 60 years, restoration has been blocked by an embankment supporting the road following demolition of the original hump-backed Bridge 86. It was the last major highway obstacle to further extension of the navigation along the remaining un-restored 2 miles in England.

Culmination of 8 years’ work

Canal enthusiasts and dignitaries from local and national organisations assembled on an area in front of the bridge, which is going to be profiled as the bed of the restored canal, to watch Mrs Anna Turner, Lord Lieutenant of Shropshire, unveil a plaque to celebrate the culmination of 8 years of intensive planning and fund-raising by local canal charities working together as Restore the Montgomery Canal!

John Dodwell chairman of the Montgomery Canal Partnership, opened the ceremony by introducing Mrs Anna Turner, the Lord Lieutenant of Shropshire, and noted that she is the county representative of the King who, when Prince of Wales, took a keen interest in the Montgomery Canal. Standing alongside was Michael Limbrey, Chairman of the Restore the Montgomery Canal! appeal (and President of IWA Shrewsbury District and North Wales Branch).


[The photo shows the new plaque mounted on Schoolhouse Bridge – by Alan Wilding]

Volunteer team recruitment

John Dodwell said the original bridge was flattened in the 1950s/60s when an earth causeway was put across the canal and he continued: “Given that there was no pressing highways problem, and that Canal & River Trust had other things on their plate, we decided to take on the project ourselves. Rather than wait for the famous “Them” to do something, we determined to do it “Ourselves”.

“This meant assembling a team of skilled and experienced volunteers – retired professionals with engineering, legal and project management skills. As a result, we were able to produce a bridge design that satisfied Shropshire Highways and Canal & River Trust. It meant agreements with adjacent landowners and agreement with Shropshire County Council whereby they took on ownership of the bridge. The planning of the works took a lot longer than the eventual bridge building itself. In all, it has taken some eight years during which time key volunteers stayed with the project.

Specialist volunteers named on the plaque

“I want to single out three volunteers from among many. First, Michael Limbrey, a retired solicitor who used to practise in Shrewsbury, and his patience in dealing with all the legal paperwork – we finished up with some 12 agreements spanning over 150 pages.

“Phil Parker, a retired civil engineer, was our volunteer project manager both before and during the actual bridge building works. And a special mention and thanks to Roger Bravey, a retired civil engineer and expert in bridge building. Roger has been involved since 2015.  He dealt unperturbedly with all the challenges the project threw up – without him, we would not be here today!”

[The photo shows , left ot right, Michael Limbrey, Mrs Anna Turner (Lord Lieutenant of Shropshire) and John Dodwell – by Alan Wilding]


Fantastic financial and other support

John Dodwell named and thanked various donors to the project including Shropshire County Council, which had recently supported the canal with a £177,000 grant from the Rural Prosperity Fund for re-watering works.

During its building in 2023/4 by contractors Beaver Bridges of Shrewsbury, the Schoolhouse Bridge project has had extensive coverage on social media, often under the headline ‘The Monty’s Million Pound Bridge’ and in his speech John Dodwell confirmed the final cost: “I thank the public at large for donating around £1.1m needed to rebuild this bridge. Special thanks to The Inland Waterways Association for £70,000 from the Tony Harrison Memorial legacy. Thank you too to the Walker Trust and to the Tarmac Landfill Communities Fund and to the Millichope Foundation. Thank you also to the Friends of the Montgomery Canal who have contributed over £30,000 and the Shropshire Union Canal Society who started the fundraising off with £12,000”.

John Dodwell continued: “Thanks to all those who made individual donations – and continue to do so. We have one person who donates £5,000 a year and another who donates £100 a month. Another person donated £10,000 and others have given £5,000. On top of that, we had the enormous help from an anonymous donor who provided many thousands of pounds.”
John Dodwell said another big thank you goes to three adjacent landowners whose land was needed during the works – all allowed us the use of their fields without charge. And the owners of the adjacent cottage deserve a special mention for putting up with the disruption the works caused them.

[The photos shows the Lord Lieutenant of Shropshire unveiling the plaque – by Alan Wilding]

‘An incredible job’

The Lord Lieutenant, Mrs Anna Turner was then invited to unveil the commemorative plaque and she said it was most appropriate that she should be there as the King’s representative because the King himself had been interested in the canal since the early days of restoration and she would be really pleased to report back about the event.

She added one thing that John Dodwell had not mentioned, the work that he had done for the project as a co-ordinator who had galvanised the team. She added: “I also want to celebrate everyone that’s here,” and added: “You have done an incredible job. Our future generations are going to benefit from everything you have done. You must be very, very proud of yourselves.”

‘Christened’ in ‘Navigation Ale’

The final act of the afternoon was to christen the traditional canal bridge number plate on the arch, denoting the bridge as number 86. This was carried out by the two volunteer engineers Roger Bravey and Phil Parker who poured bottles of ‘navigation ale’ from the parapet and, much to the amusement of the crowd, suffered a wetting when a gust of wind blew some of the ‘ale’ back through the parapet onto their trousers.

After the formal proceeding, guests’ refreshments included a barrel of Navigation Ale donated by Monty’s Brewery of Montgomery (who make a donation to restoration from every bottle sold). Music was provided by members of the Porthywaen Silver Band, whose band hall has been used as a base by visiting teams of IWA’s Waterway Recovery Group.

[The photo (left) shows crowds dispersing after the opening ceremony, and the photo below shows the ale ceremony – both by Alan Wilding]

Offers amenity and wellbeing

Summing up the day’s celebration, Michael Limbrey, Chairman of the Restore the Montgomery Canal! (and President of IWA Shrewsbury District and North Wales Branch) said: “This was another great day for the Montgomery Canal, a celebration of many years of effort. The new bridge removes the last highway blockage in Shropshire and, at the current time, engineers are working on plans for new bridges on the Powys section of the Canal as part of substantial investment under the UK Government Levelling-Up grant. Plans for the Welsh section also include new nature reserves to safeguard the canal’s valued flora and fauna to match the reserves in Shropshire.”

Michael Limbrey added: “All this is part of a vision of a revived canal which values its built and natural heritage and offers amenity and well-being to its local communities and visitors.”

“I got my hands dirty in the very early days”

Attendees at the celebration included the High Sheriff of Shropshire, Brian Welti, Shropshire Council Leader and Chair, Lezley Picton and Vince Hunt respectively, Canal and River Trust CEO Richard Parry and IWA National Chair Mike Wills who praised everyone involved and said the bridge was a restoration triumph, based on working in co-operation. He revealed that he was making a return visit to the Monty, saying: “I was just a teenager when I first visited, and got my hands dirty, in the very early days of the Montgomery restoration. It is certainly a project that has required a long-term vision, and indeed patience. It is great to celebrate such a success.”

[The photo shows a pre-cast unit being dropped in during the construction – by Alan Wilding]

What’s next?

Earlier, during his speech at the event, John Dodwell had mentioned that only two miles were left to restore in Shropshire, and that volunteers from the Shropshire Union Canal Society were working away to put the water back into the canal from Crickheath Bridge (re-opened in 2023) to this new bridge and beyond.

He said: “All this costs money for equipment hire and materials. That’s why last year we launched a new Public Appeal for £250,000. I’m pleased to say that – excluding the Rural Prosperity Fund grant – we are more than half way there with the total now being about £130,000.”

Restore the Montgomery Canal! can receive donations through

[The photo, right, shows Schoolhouse Bridge, looking towards Crickheath – by Howard Dalton.  The photo below shows a steam powered lorry crossing the new bridge –  by Alan Wilding]