Oxford Canal
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The Oxford Canal is a
narrowboat A narrowboat is a particular type of Barge, canal boat, built to fit the narrow History of the British canal system, locks of the United Kingdom. The UK's canal system provided a nationwide transport network during the Industrial Revolution, b ...
canal Canals or artificial waterways are waterways or engineered channels built for drainage management (e.g. flood control and irrigation) or for conveyancing water transport vehicles (e.g. water taxi). They carry free, calm surface flo ...
in central England linking the City of
Oxford Oxford () is a city in England. It is the county town and only city of Oxfordshire. In 2020, its population was estimated at 151,584. It is north-west of London, south-east of Birmingham and north-east of Bristol. The city is home to the Un ...
with the
Coventry Canal The Coventry Canal is a navigable narrow canal in the Midlands of England. It starts in Coventry and ends to the north at Fradley Junction, just north of Lichfield, where it joins the Trent and Mersey Canal. It also has connections with the ...
at Hawkesbury (just north of
Coventry Coventry ( or ) is a City status in the United Kingdom, city in the West Midlands (county), West Midlands, England. It is on the River Sherbourne. Coventry has been a large settlement for centuries, although it was not founded and given its ...
and south of
Bedworth Bedworth ( or locally ) is a market town and unparished area in the borough of Nuneaton and Bedworth, Warwickshire, England.OS Explorer Map 232 : Nuneaton & Tamworth: (1:25 000) : It is situated between Coventry, 6 miles (9.5 km) to the south, a ...
) via
Banbury Banbury is a historic market town on the River Cherwell in Oxfordshire, South East England. It had a population of 54,335 at the 2021 Census. Banbury is a significant commercial and retail centre for the surrounding area of north Oxfordshi ...
and Rugby. Completed in 1790, it connects to the
River Thames The River Thames ( ), known alternatively in parts as the River Isis, is a river that flows through southern England including London London is the capital and List of urban areas in the United Kingdom, largest city of England and th ...
at Oxford, and links with the
Grand Union Canal The Grand Union Canal in England is part of the Canals of the United Kingdom, British canal system. It is the principal navigable waterway between London and the Midlands. Starting in London, one arm runs to Leicester and another ends in B ...
, which it is combined with for between to the villages of
Braunston Braunston is a village and civil parish in West Northamptonshire, England, next to the border with Warwickshire. At the 2011 United Kingdom census, 2011 Census, the parish had a population of 1,759. Braunston is situated just off the A45 road, A ...
and Napton-on-the-Hill. The canal is usually divided into the North Oxford Canal (north of Napton, via Rugby to
Hawkesbury Junction Hawkesbury Junction or Sutton Stop () is a Junction (canal), canal junction in England, at the northern limit of the Oxford Canal where it meets the Coventry Canal, near Hawkesbury Village, Warwickshire, between Bedworth and Coventry. The alter ...
near Coventry) and the South Oxford Canal, south of Napton to Banbury and Oxford. The canal was for about 15 years the main canal artery of trade between the
Midlands The Midlands (also referred to as Central England) are a part of England that broadly correspond to the Mercia, Kingdom of Mercia of the Early Middle Ages, bordered by Wales, Northern England and Southern England. The Midlands were important in ...
and
London London is the capital and List of urban areas in the United Kingdom, largest city of England and the United Kingdom, with a population of just under 9 million. It stands on the River Thames in south-east England at the head of a estuary dow ...
, via its connection to the Thames, until the Grand Union Canal (then called the
Grand Junction Canal The Grand Junction Canal is a canal in England from Braunston in Northamptonshire to the River Thames at Brentford, with a number of branches. The mainline was built between 1793 and 1805, to improve the route from the English Midlands, Midlan ...
) took most of the London-bound traffic following its opening in 1805. The North Oxford Canal (which had been straightened in the 1830s) remained an important artery of trade carrying coal and other commodities until the 1960s; the more rural South Oxford Canal however became something of a backwater, especially following the opening of the Grand Junction Canal, and it faced closure proposals in the 1950s. Since the end of regular commercial goods carriage on the canal in the 1960s, it has gained a new use as a leisure resource, and become used primarily for
narrowboat A narrowboat is a particular type of Barge, canal boat, built to fit the narrow History of the British canal system, locks of the United Kingdom. The UK's canal system provided a nationwide transport network during the Industrial Revolution, b ...
pleasure boating. The Oxford Canal traverses
Oxfordshire Oxfordshire is a ceremonial county, ceremonial and non-metropolitan county, non-metropolitan counties of England, county in the north west of South East England. It is a mainly rural area, rural county, with its largest settlement being the ci ...
,
Northamptonshire Northamptonshire (; abbreviated Northants.) is a Ceremonial counties of England, county in the East Midlands of England. In 2015, it had a population of 723,000. The county is administered by two unitary authority, unitary authorities: North N ...
and east
Warwickshire Warwickshire (; abbreviated Warks) is a Counties of England, county in the West Midlands (region), West Midlands region of England. The county town is Warwick, and the largest town is Nuneaton. The county is famous for being the birthplace of W ...
through broad, shallow valleys and lightly rolling hills; the canal's route northeast and then northwest forms part of the
Warwickshire ring The Warwickshire ring is a connected series of canals forming a circuit around the West Midlands (region), West Midlands area of England. The ring is formed from the Coventry Canal, the Oxford Canal, the Grand Union Canal, the Stratford-upon-Avo ...
.


The route

The canal begins in
Warwickshire Warwickshire (; abbreviated Warks) is a Counties of England, county in the West Midlands (region), West Midlands region of England. The county town is Warwick, and the largest town is Nuneaton. The county is famous for being the birthplace of W ...
near Hawkesbury Village at
Hawkesbury Junction Hawkesbury Junction or Sutton Stop () is a Junction (canal), canal junction in England, at the northern limit of the Oxford Canal where it meets the Coventry Canal, near Hawkesbury Village, Warwickshire, between Bedworth and Coventry. The alter ...
, also known as ''Sutton Stop'', where it connects with the
Coventry Canal The Coventry Canal is a navigable narrow canal in the Midlands of England. It starts in Coventry and ends to the north at Fradley Junction, just north of Lichfield, where it joins the Trent and Mersey Canal. It also has connections with the ...
, a little over 4 miles (or about 7 km) from the centre of
Coventry Coventry ( or ) is a City status in the United Kingdom, city in the West Midlands (county), West Midlands, England. It is on the River Sherbourne. Coventry has been a large settlement for centuries, although it was not founded and given its ...
and from
Nuneaton Nuneaton ( ) is a market town in the borough of Nuneaton and Bedworth in northern Warwickshire Warwickshire (; abbreviated Warks) is a Counties of England, county in the West Midlands (region), West Midlands region of England. The county t ...
. Within a mile were the late 18th- and 19th-century coal field/pit and
colliery Coal mining is the process of resource extraction, extracting coal from the ground. Coal is valued for its Energy value of coal, energy content and since the 1880s has been widely used to generate electricity. Steel and cement industries use c ...
of the small town of
Bedworth Bedworth ( or locally ) is a market town and unparished area in the borough of Nuneaton and Bedworth, Warwickshire, England.OS Explorer Map 232 : Nuneaton & Tamworth: (1:25 000) : It is situated between Coventry, 6 miles (9.5 km) to the south, a ...
. From Hawkesbury, it runs
southeast The points of the compass are a set of horizontal, Radius, radially arrayed compass directions (or Azimuth#In navigation, azimuths) used in navigation and cartography. A compass rose is primarily composed of four cardinal directions—north, east ...
through the
Warwickshire Warwickshire (; abbreviated Warks) is a Counties of England, county in the West Midlands (region), West Midlands region of England. The county town is Warwick, and the largest town is Nuneaton. The county is famous for being the birthplace of W ...
countryside for to Rugby. The route between Coventry and Rugby is level, with no locks, apart from the stop lock at the junction. Parts of this section were straightened by raising and waterproofing in the 1820s; the remains of a more circuitous route (which kept to the chosen contour) can still be seen in places. The canal winds through the northern part of Rugby. It passes through the Newbold Tunnel. In the churchyard in Newbold-on-Avon remains can be seen of an earlier canal tunnel built in the 1770s. It scales a flight of three locks at
Hillmorton Hillmorton is a suburb of Rugby, Warwickshire Warwickshire (; abbreviated Warks) is a Counties of England, county in the West Midlands (region), West Midlands region of England. The county town is Warwick, and the largest town is Nuneaton ...
about east-southeast of the town. East of Rugby, the canal passes southwest then south. It crosses under the M45 motorway and through broad low fields interspersed by views of wooded knolls and modest hills of
Northamptonshire Northamptonshire (; abbreviated Northants.) is a Ceremonial counties of England, county in the East Midlands of England. In 2015, it had a population of 723,000. The county is administered by two unitary authority, unitary authorities: North N ...
and Warwickshire to reach
Braunston Braunston is a village and civil parish in West Northamptonshire, England, next to the border with Warwickshire. At the 2011 United Kingdom census, 2011 Census, the parish had a population of 1,759. Braunston is situated just off the A45 road, A ...
. West of Braunston village centre, by a pub, the canal converges with the
Grand Union Canal The Grand Union Canal in England is part of the Canals of the United Kingdom, British canal system. It is the principal navigable waterway between London and the Midlands. Starting in London, one arm runs to Leicester and another ends in B ...
where both change direction to west-southwest. The latter canal has a major wharf, Braunston Marina, east and a campsite. The combined canal splits north of Napton-on-the-Hill: *The Oxford Canal runs southwest and then turns south towards
Oxford Oxford () is a city in England. It is the county town and only city of Oxfordshire. In 2020, its population was estimated at 151,584. It is north-west of London, south-east of Birmingham and north-east of Bristol. The city is home to the Un ...
via
Banbury Banbury is a historic market town on the River Cherwell in Oxfordshire, South East England. It had a population of 54,335 at the 2021 Census. Banbury is a significant commercial and retail centre for the surrounding area of north Oxfordshi ...
. *The Grand Union Canal runs north passing opposing marinas within a mile then northwest to
Birmingham Birmingham ( ) is a City status in the United Kingdom, city and metropolitan borough in the metropolitan county of West Midlands (county), West Midlands in England. It is the second-largest city in the United Kingdom with a population of 1. ...
via
Warwick Warwick ( ) is a market town, civil parish and the county town of Warwickshire in the Warwick District in England, adjacent to the River Avon, Warwickshire, River Avon. It is south of Coventry, and south-east of Birmingham. It is adjoined wit ...
. After winding round Napton Hill, the canal ascends the Napton flight of nine locks to a local summit reach, well below the hilltop. After passing an old wharf and a pub at
Fenny Compton Fenny Compton is a village and parish in Warwickshire, England, about eight miles north of Banbury. In the United Kingdom Census 2001, 2001 census the parish had a population of 797, increasing to 808 at the United Kingdom Census 2011, 2011 census ...
, the canal enters a long cutting which until some time in the 19th century was a tunnel. This section is normally referred to as a "tunnel straight" or the
Fenny Compton Fenny Compton is a village and parish in Warwickshire, England, about eight miles north of Banbury. In the United Kingdom Census 2001, 2001 census the parish had a population of 797, increasing to 808 at the United Kingdom Census 2011, 2011 census ...
Tunnel. The route between the farms of Priors Hardwick and
Fenny Compton Fenny Compton is a village and parish in Warwickshire, England, about eight miles north of Banbury. In the United Kingdom Census 2001, 2001 census the parish had a population of 797, increasing to 808 at the United Kingdom Census 2011, 2011 census ...
was never straightened, and is the most circuitous in the region: taking to cover (geodesically, as the crow flies). This coincides with the canal's highest "summit" reach in navigational terms. This reach is the "eleven-mile pound" mentioned in
Tom Rolt Lionel Thomas Caswall Rolt (usually abbreviated to Tom Rolt or L. T. C. Rolt) (11 February 1910 – 9 May 1974) was a prolific English writer and the biographer of major civil engineering Civil engineering is a Regulation and licensure in ...
's ''
Narrow Boat A narrowboat is a particular type of canal boat, built to fit the narrow locks of the United Kingdom. The UK's canal system provided a nationwide transport network during the Industrial Revolution The Industrial Revolution was the tr ...
''. The canal then descends the Claydon flight of locks and into the vale of the nascent Cherwell at Cropredy. The canal descends the valley to Oxford.
Banbury Banbury is a historic market town on the River Cherwell in Oxfordshire, South East England. It had a population of 54,335 at the 2021 Census. Banbury is a significant commercial and retail centre for the surrounding area of north Oxfordshi ...
has many visitor moorings alongside the historic and modern shopping areas in the middle of town. Banbury Town Council and Cherwell District Council treat the canal as an attraction to be encouraged; examples of its work include an old boatyard which has been incorporated into the town centre: Tooley's Historic Boatyard. About south is a lightly settled locality, Twyford Wharf, where narrow boats up to can be turned. Two villages nearby,
Kings Sutton Kings or King's may refer to: *Monarch A monarch is a head of stateWebster's II New College DictionarMonarch Houghton Mifflin. Boston. 2001. p. 707. Life tenure, for life or until abdication, and therefore the head of state of a monarchy. A mo ...
and
Adderbury Adderbury is a winding linear village Linearity is the property of a mathematical relationship ('' function'') that can be graphically represented as a straight line Line most often refers to: * Line (geometry) In geometry, a line is ...
(Twyford), are within 30 minutes' walking distance along the road. Both offer several pubs. Within Oxford's conurbation, the end of the canal has two links to the
Thames The River Thames ( ), known alternatively in parts as the The Isis, River Isis, is a river that flows through southern England including London. At , it is the longest river entirely in England and the Longest rivers of the United Kingdom, se ...
: * north of the city where Dukes Cut leads to King's Lock; *a few hundred yards (metres) from the heart of the city centre by
Oxford railway station Oxford railway station is a mainline railway station, one of two serving the city of Oxford, England. It is about west of the city centre, north-west of Frideswide Square and the eastern end of Botley Road. It is on the line for trains between ...
. below Isis Lock (known to boatmen as 'Louse Lock') through
Sheepwash Channel Sheepwash Channel connects the River Thames to the west and the Castle Mill Stream next to the Oxford Canal to the east (linked through Isis Lock), in west Oxford, England. To the north are Cripley Meadow (largely Cripley Meadow Allotments, allo ...
. This leads to an elongated navigable circuit at the Thames called "Four Rivers" above
Osney Lock Osney Lock is a lock (water transport), lock on the River Thames in Oxford, England, where the village or island of Osney is next to the river. The first lock was built of stone by Daniel Harris (Oxford), Daniel Harris for the Thames Naviga ...
. After below Isis Lock the Oxford Canal ends abruptly at Hythe Bridge Street near to the current Hythe Bridge over the
Castle Mill Stream Castle Mill Stream is a Backwater (river), backwater of the River Thames in the west of Oxford, England. It is 5.5 km long. Course The stream leaves the main course of the River Thames at the south end of Port Meadow, immediately upstre ...
, a backwater of the
River Thames The River Thames ( ), known alternatively in parts as the River Isis, is a river that flows through southern England including London London is the capital and List of urban areas in the United Kingdom, largest city of England and th ...
that runs parallel to the Oxford Canal for its southernmost part. The canal used to continue through a bridge under Hythe Bridge Street to a
turning basin A turning basin, winding basin or swinging basin is a wider body of water, either located at the end of a ship canal A ship canal is a canal especially intended to accommodate ships used on the oceans, seas, or lakes to which it is connected. ...
and goods wharf south of Hythe Bridge Street. It then continued via a bridge under Worcester Street to end in a coal wharf beside New Road. In 1951 the basin and wharves were filled in and
Nuffield College Nuffield College () is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford The University of Oxford is a collegiate university, collegiate research university in Oxford, England. There is evidence of teaching as early as 1096, makin ...
has taken part of the site. The locks on the canal are as follows. The canal rises from Hawkesbury Junction to Hilmorton Top Lock, there is then a pound to Braunston Junction, where it joins the Grand Union canal. From Napton Junction the Oxford canal rises again though the Napton Locks. After Napton Top Lock there is a pound to Claydon Top Lock, from where the canal falls towards Oxford.


History


Construction

The Oxford Canal was constructed in several stages over a period of more than twenty years. In 1769 an
Act of Parliament Acts of Parliament, sometimes referred to as primary legislation, are texts of law passed by the legislative body of a jurisdiction (often a parliament or council). In most countries with a parliamentary system of government, acts of parliame ...
authorising the Oxford Canal was passed, having been promoted in Parliament by Sir Roger Newdigate MP, who chaired the canal company. The intention was to link the industrial
English Midlands The Midlands (also referred to as Central England) are a part of England that broadly correspond to the Mercia, Kingdom of Mercia of the Early Middle Ages, bordered by Wales, Northern England and Southern England. The Midlands were important in ...
to
London London is the capital and List of urban areas in the United Kingdom, largest city of England and the United Kingdom, with a population of just under 9 million. It stands on the River Thames in south-east England at the head of a estuary dow ...
via the River Thames. Construction began shortly after near Coventry. The principal motivation for the canal was the transport of
coal Coal is a combustible black or brownish-black sedimentary rock, formed as stratum, rock strata called coal seams. Coal is mostly carbon with variable amounts of other Chemical element, elements, chiefly hydrogen, sulfur, oxygen, and nitrogen ...
from the Midlands to Oxford and London. Surveying of the route and initial construction were originally supervised by the celebrated
engineer Engineers, as practitioners of engineering, are professionals who Invention, invent, design, analyze, build and test machines, complex systems, structures, gadgets and materials to fulfill functional objectives and requirements while considerin ...
James Brindley James Brindley (1716 – 27 September 1772) was an English engineer. He was born in Tunstead, Derbyshire, and lived much of his life in Leek, Staffordshire, becoming one of the most notable engineers of the 18th century. Early life Born i ...
, assisted by Samuel Simcock who was also Brindley's brother-in-law. Brindley died in 1772, when the canal had only reached
Brinklow Brinklow is a village and civil parish In England, a civil parish is a type of Parish (administrative division), administrative parish used for Local government in England, local government. It is a territorial designation which is the lowe ...
, and Simcock took over. By 1774 the canal had reached Napton, but the company was already running out of money. In 1775, a second Act was passed allowing the company to raise more funds. Construction soon started again and by 1778 the canal had reached Banbury. Financial problems meant that work on the final stretch from Banbury to Oxford did not begin until 1786, and when it did, James Barnes was appointed as the engineer. As funds were limited, the Banbury-Oxford stretch was built more cheaply, and to lower standards than the rest of the canal, and many cost saving measures were used whenever possible: Wooden
lift Lift or LIFT may refer to: Physical devices * Elevator, or lift, a device used for raising and lowering people or goods ** Paternoster lift, a type of lift using a continuous chain of cars which do not stop ** Patient lift, or Hoyer lift, mobile ...
or
swing bridge A swing bridge (or swing span bridge) is a movable bridge that has as its primary structural support a vertical locating pin and support ring, usually at or near to its center of gravity, about which the swing span (turning span) can then pi ...
s were built, instead of more expensive fixed brick bridges. Deep locks were used wherever possible, with single gates at both end instead of double gates. A stretch of the
River Cherwell The River Cherwell ( or ) is a tributary of the River Thames in central England. It rises near Hellidon, Northamptonshire and flows southwards for to meet the Thames at Oxford in Oxfordshire. The river gives its name to the Cherwell District ...
at Shipton-on-Cherwell was incorporated into the canal. This reduced construction costs, but the behaviour of the river makes the canal more difficult to use. The Oxford Canal reached the outskirts of Oxford in 1789, when a coal wharf was opened at Heyfield Hutt, now the site of Hayfield Road. The final section into central Oxford was ceremonially opened on 1 January 1790. The Duke's Cut, a short link from the Oxford Canal to the River Thames, just north of Oxford, was built in 1789 by the
Duke of Marlborough General A general officer is an Officer (armed forces), officer of highest military ranks, high rank in the army, armies, and in some nations' air forces, space forces, and marines or naval infantry. In some usages the term "general off ...
. The River Swift (a tributary of the River Avon) connected to the original route of the Oxford Canal near Cosford and was used as a water feeder to the canal. In 1785 there was a proposal to make the river navigable from the Oxford Canal at Cosford to the town of
Lutterworth Lutterworth is a market town and Civil parishes in England, civil parish in the Harborough District, Harborough district of Leicestershire, England. The town is located in southern Leicestershire, close to the borders with Warwickshire and N ...
in
Leicestershire Leicestershire ( ; postal abbreviation Leics.) is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan county in the East Midlands, England. The county borders Nottinghamshire Nottinghamshire (; abbreviated Notts.) is a landlocked county in the East Mid ...
. This proposal however never came to fruition. The River Swift, however is still an important feeder to the northern Oxford Canal, via the now unnavigable Brownsover Arm; a part of the canal which was bypassed when the canal was straightened.


Commercial use


Heyday

For the next 15 years the Oxford Canal became one of the most important and profitable transport links in Britain, with most commercial traffic between London and the Midlands using the route. Its principal traffic was
coal Coal is a combustible black or brownish-black sedimentary rock, formed as stratum, rock strata called coal seams. Coal is mostly carbon with variable amounts of other Chemical element, elements, chiefly hydrogen, sulfur, oxygen, and nitrogen ...
from Warwickshire. It also carried
stone In geology, rock (or stone) is any naturally occurring solid mass or aggregate of minerals or mineraloid matter. It is categorized by the minerals included, its Chemical compound, chemical composition, and the way in which it is formed. Rocks ...
,
agricultural Agriculture or farming is the practice of cultivating Plant, plants and livestock. Agriculture was the key development in the rise of Sedentism, sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of Domestication, domesticated species created food ...
products and other goods. A much more direct route between London and the Midlands, the
Grand Junction Canal The Grand Junction Canal is a canal in England from Braunston in Northamptonshire to the River Thames at Brentford, with a number of branches. The mainline was built between 1793 and 1805, to improve the route from the English Midlands, Midlan ...
, was completed in 1805, connecting Braunston to London in much less distance. Much of the London-bound traffic switched to this faster route, as it avoided the passage of the River Thames which still had many
flash lock A flash lock is a type of lock (water transport), lock for river or canal transport. Early locks were designed with a single gate, known as a flash lock or staunch lock. The earliest European references to what were clearly flash locks were in ...
s. This greatly reduced Oxford Canal traffic south of Napton. However, the short section between Braunston and Napton became the link between the Warwick and Napton Canal and the Grand Junction Canal, making it part of the busy direct route between Birmingham and London. Despite these developments, the Oxford Canal remained highly profitable during this period; from 1824 to 1826, the company paid
dividend A dividend is a distribution of Profit (accounting), profits by a corporation to its shareholders. When a corporation earns a profit or surplus, it is able to pay a portion of the profit as a dividend to shareholders. Any amount not distributed ...
s of up to 55% to its
shareholder A shareholder (in the United States often referred to as stockholder) of a corporation is an individual or legal entity (such as another corporation, a body politic, a Trust law, trust or partnership) that is registered by the corporation as the ...
s. The Grand Junction and Oxford canal companies were bitter rivals. When
Parliament In modern politics, and history, a parliament is a legislative body of government. Generally, a modern parliament has three functions: Representation (politics), representing the Election#Suffrage, electorate, making laws, and overseeing ...
considered the
Act of Parliament Acts of Parliament, sometimes referred to as primary legislation, are texts of law passed by the legislative body of a jurisdiction (often a parliament or council). In most countries with a parliamentary system of government, acts of parliame ...
for the building of the Grand Junction, the Oxford Canal successfully petitioned to make the Grand Junction pay "bar tolls" to the Oxford Canal to compensate for the loss of traffic south of Napton. Traffic from Birmingham had to use of the Oxford Canal to get from Braunston to join the Grand Junction at Napton. The Oxford Canal exploited this by charging high tolls for Grand Junction traffic on this short section.


Straightening

The Oxford Canal was originally built as a contour canal, meaning that it twisted around hills to minimise vertical deviations from a level contour. This meant however that the canal followed a very winding and circuitous route: Although the distance between Coventry and Napton was only as the crow flies, the distance by the original route of the canal was . This mattered little when the Oxford Canal had no competition, however, with increased canal competition, and one eye on the developing railway network, the company decided to straighten the route. In 1827
Marc Isambard Brunel Sir Marc Isambard Brunel (, ; 25 April 1769 – 12 December 1849) was a French-British engineer who is most famous for the work he did in Britain. He constructed the Thames Tunnel and was the father of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Born in Franc ...
(father of
Isambard Kingdom Brunel Isambard Kingdom Brunel (; 9 April 1806 – 15 September 1859) was a British civil engineer who is considered "one of the most ingenious and prolific figures in engineering history," "one of the 19th-century engineering giants," and "one ...
) re-surveyed the northern section of the canal between Braunston and Hawkesbury Junction to straighten it out and reduce navigation time. The following year another survey was carried out by
Charles Vignoles Charles Blacker Vignoles (31 May 1793 – 17 November 1875) was an influential British railway Rail transport (also known as train transport) is a means of transport Transport (in British English), or transportation (in Am ...
. The work to straighten the canal was carried out between 1831 and 1834, the majority of the work being in the Rugby area, and this reduced the distance by . The original tunnel at Newbold-on-Avon was abandoned when the canal was straightened, and replaced by a new one on a different alignment. The south portal of the old tunnel can still be seen next to the churchyard. The old line of the canal was either abandoned, or remained in use as arms serving various village wharves. The section south of Napton was never straightened.


Slow decline

The straightening of the canal coincided with the beginning of the
railway Rail transport (also known as train transport) is a means of transport Transport (in British English), or transportation (in American English), is the intentional Motion, movement of humans, animals, and cargo, goods from one location t ...
age, and the opening of the
London and Birmingham Railway The London and Birmingham Railway (L&BR) was a railway company in the United Kingdom, in operation from 1833 to 1846, when it became part of the London and North Western Railway (L&NWR). The railway line which the company opened in 1838, betw ...
in 1838, signalled the end of the dominance of the canals. However, despite the railway competition, the total tonnages of cargo carried on the canal did not decline immediately, and in fact continued to rise for some time, however, the company was forced to slash its tolls in order to remain competitive, and this put an end to the large profits which had previously been made, although ironically the railways provided a new source of income to the canal, who paid them to provide water for their locomotives at Rugby. Traffic on the canal remained such that the three locks at Hillmorton, the first on the canal after the stop lock at Hawkesbury Junction, became severely congested. The solution to the congestion was to duplicate or twin the existing locks at Hillmorton, creating three pairs of two parallel narrow locks, which allowed twice the traffic to pass the lock at any time. The work to double the locks was completed in August 1840. In 1842, nearly 21,000 boats passed through the locks. In 1833 a section of the new line of canal in Barby Fields near Dunchurch was used as a test site for a new
wrought iron Wrought iron is an iron alloy with a very low carbon content (less than 0.08%) in contrast to that of cast iron (2.1% to 4%). It is a semi-fused mass of iron with fibrous slag Inclusion (mineral), inclusions (up to 2% by weight), which give it a ...
boat, ''Swallow'', built by Graham and Houston. Drawn by two horses, the boat completed a distance of 1.5 mile in 7 minutes 35 seconds, a speed of almost 12 miles per hour. Traffic on the Oxford Canal held up reasonably well in the face of railway competition compared to many other navigations, but did see a gradual decline; in 1838, 520,000 tons were carried, which declined to 482,000 tons in 1868. However, income declined much more sharply due to the company slashing its tolls; takings which had gone from £18,478 in 1791/3, and then risen to a maximum of £90,446 in 1827/29, then fell to £26,312 in 1855. Nevertheless, the company was still profitable, and was able to pay dividends. The northern section of the Oxford Canal between Coventry, Braunston and Napton remained an important trunk route, and remained extremely busy with freight traffic until the 1960s. The staple traffic was coal from the
Warwickshire Warwickshire (; abbreviated Warks) is a Counties of England, county in the West Midlands (region), West Midlands region of England. The county town is Warwick, and the largest town is Nuneaton. The county is famous for being the birthplace of W ...
and
Leicestershire Leicestershire ( ; postal abbreviation Leics.) is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan county in the East Midlands, England. The county borders Nottinghamshire Nottinghamshire (; abbreviated Notts.) is a landlocked county in the East Mid ...
coalfield A coalfield is an area of certain uniform characteristics where coal is mined. The criteria for determining the approximate boundary of a coalfield are geographical and cultural, in addition to geological. A coalfield often groups the seams of ...
s to London via the Grand Union Canal. However, the southern section from Napton to Oxford became something of a backwater, and carried mostly local traffic.


20th century

In 1934, the Braunston-Napton stretch of the canal was taken over by the recently formed
Grand Union Canal The Grand Union Canal in England is part of the Canals of the United Kingdom, British canal system. It is the principal navigable waterway between London and the Midlands. Starting in London, one arm runs to Leicester and another ends in B ...
company, and widened as part of that company's London to
Birmingham Birmingham ( ) is a City status in the United Kingdom, city and metropolitan borough in the metropolitan county of West Midlands (county), West Midlands in England. It is the second-largest city in the United Kingdom with a population of 1. ...
main-line. In a bid to raise funds to overcome an arrears of maintenance, in 1936, the Oxford Canal Company decided to sell off their terminal basin at Oxford. In 1937 Baron Nuffield (Later Viscount Nuffield) bought the canal basin at Oxford for £133,373 (). In 1951 he filled it in and built
Nuffield College Nuffield College () is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford The University of Oxford is a collegiate university, collegiate research university in Oxford, England. There is evidence of teaching as early as 1096, makin ...
on part of the former coal
wharf A wharf, quay (, also ), staith, or staithe is a structure on the shore of a harbour or on the bank of a river or canal where ships may dock to load and unload cargo or passengers. Such a structure includes one or more berths ( mooring locati ...
. Coal traffic was relocated to a canal wharf in Juxon Street, in
Jericho, Oxford Jericho is an historic suburb of the English city of Oxford Oxford () is a city in England. It is the county town and only city of Oxfordshire. In 2020, its population was estimated at 151,584. It is north-west of London, south-east of ...
. The goods wharf and the remainder of the coal wharf are now under a public car park that Nuffield College lets to Oxford City Council. For this reason, the canal today ends abruptly in central Oxford. Many Oxford Canal boatmen and women favoured horse traction long after those on other canals had changed their narrowboats to diesel power. In the 1930s, only around one in thirty of the boats trading on the canal's southern section was mechanically powered. One narrowboat carrying coal on the Oxford Canal was drawn by a
mule The mule is a domestic equine hybrid between a donkey The domestic donkey is a hoofed mammal in the family Equidae, the same family as the horse The horse (''Equus ferus caballus'') is a Domestication, domesticated, odd-toed un ...
until 1959 and was the last horse-drawn freight narrowboat in
Great Britain Great Britain is an island in the North Atlantic Ocean off the northwest coast of continental Europe. With an area of , it is the largest of the British Isles, the List of European islands by area, largest European island and the List of is ...
. This boat, ''Friendship'', is preserved at the National Waterways Museum, Ellesmere Port. The Oxford Canal remained independent until it was
nationalised Nationalization (nationalisation in British English) is the process of transforming privately-owned assets into public assets by bringing them under the State ownership, public ownership of a Government, national government or State (polity), ...
in 1948 and became part of the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive, later the
British Waterways Board British Waterways, often shortened to BW, was a statutory corporation wholly owned by the government of the United Kingdom. It served as the navigation authority for the majority of canals of Great Britain, canals and a number of rivers and doc ...
. The Oxford Canal remained profitable until the mid-1950s, paying a dividend right up until nationalisation. As with most of Britain's narrow canal system, the Oxford Canal suffered from a rapid decline in freight traffic after the
Second World War World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a world war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. It involved the World War II by country, vast majority of the world's countries—including all of the great power ...
. By the mid-1950s very few narrowboats traded south of Napton and the southern section was at one point being threatened with closure, although the northern section (Napton to Coventry) remained well-used by commercial traffic until the 1960s.


Revival

During the 1960s pleasure boating began to grow in popularity and replace the old trading boats, After a fact-finding cruise on the canal,
Barbara Castle Barbara Anne Castle, Baroness Castle of Blackburn, (''née'' Betts; 6 October 1910 – 3 May 2002), was a Labour Party (UK), British Labour Party politician who was a Member of Parliament (United Kingdom), Member of Parliament from 1945 United ...
(Minister for Transport) rejected a proposal for closure. The canal was designated as a cruiseway under the
Transport Act 1968 The Transport Act 1968 (1968 c.73) was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom The Parliament of the United Kingdom is the Parliamentary sovereignty in the United Kingdom, supreme Legislature, legislative body of the United Kingdom ...
, which defined at as being a waterway to be maintained for leisure use. The canal is now thriving. In the summer it is one of the most crowded canals on the network.


Oxford Canal Walk

The towpath of the canal, with a extension from Hawkesbury Junction to Coventry on the towpath of the Coventry Canal, forms the Oxford Canal Walk. The stretch from Oxford to
Kirtlington Kirtlington is a village and Civil parishes in England, civil parish in Oxfordshire about west of Bicester. The parish includes the Hamlet (place), hamlet of Northbrook. The United Kingdom Census 2011, 2011 Census recorded the parish's populat ...
, where the Oxfordshire Way meets the canal, is also part of European walking route E2. The Canal Walk is popular with geocachers with many
Geocache Geocaching is an outdoor recreational activity, in which participants use a Global Positioning System The Global Positioning System (GPS), originally Navstar GPS, is a Radionavigation-satellite service, satellite-based radionavigatio ...
sites located alongside the canal.


See also

*
Canals of Great Britain The canals of the United Kingdom are a major part of the network of inland waterways in the United Kingdom. They have a varied history, from use for irrigation and transport, through becoming the focus of the Industrial Revolution, to today's ...
* Eagle Ironworks, Oxford *
History of the British canal system History (derived ) is the systematic study and the documentation of the human activity. The time period of event before the History of writing#Inventions of writing, invention of writing systems is considered prehistory. "History" is an umbr ...


References

Notes Bibliography * * * * *


External links


Canal & River Trust webpage about the Oxford Canal

images & map of mile markers seen along the Oxford canal
{{Authority control 1790 establishments in England Canals in England Transport in Oxfordshire Tourist attractions in Oxfordshire
Canal Canals or artificial waterways are waterways or engineered channels built for drainage management (e.g. flood control and irrigation) or for conveyancing water transport vehicles (e.g. water taxi). They carry free, calm surface flo ...
Canals in Warwickshire
Canal Canals or artificial waterways are waterways or engineered channels built for drainage management (e.g. flood control and irrigation) or for conveyancing water transport vehicles (e.g. water taxi). They carry free, calm surface flo ...
History of Oxfordshire
Canal Canals or artificial waterways are waterways or engineered channels built for drainage management (e.g. flood control and irrigation) or for conveyancing water transport vehicles (e.g. water taxi). They carry free, calm surface flo ...
Canal Canals or artificial waterways are waterways or engineered channels built for drainage management (e.g. flood control and irrigation) or for conveyancing water transport vehicles (e.g. water taxi). They carry free, calm surface flo ...
Banbury Rugby, Warwickshire Canals opened in 1790 COxford