Until the middle of the eighteenth century, industrial development in the Warwickshire and West Midlands region was constrained by a lack of good transport facilities, particularly for bulky raw materials such as coal. Roads were generally in a poor condition and, apart from the River Severn on its western boundary, the area was devoid of river transport. However, the undoubted success of the Bridgewater Canal, opened in 1760, sparked off a development of artificial waterways from which the area was quick to benefit.
As a result, Warwickshire is crossed by several of major canals. The earliest of these was the Coventry Canal which started construction in 1768 but, due to financial difficulties, was not finally completed from Fradley Junction on the Trent & Mersey Canal to the canal basin in Coventry until 1790. At Hawkesbury Junction, north of Coventry, the canal made a junction with the Oxford Canal which runs south to meet the River Thames at Oxford. The Oxford Canal also ran into financial difficulties and although open from Hawkesbury to Banbury by 1778, the canal did not reach Oxford and the Thames until 1790.
Two separate projects, which together form a link from Birmingham to the east, are the Warwick & Birmingham Canal, opened from Digbeth in Birmingham to a basin at Saltisford in Warwick in 1799 and the Warwick and Napton Canal running from the Saltisford Basin to a junction with the Oxford Canal at Napton Junction, also opened fully in 1799.
Another important link which runs partly through Warwickshire is the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal, running from central Birmingham to join the Coventry Canal at Fazeley near Tamworth, opened in 1789, which provided an outlet for traffic from Birmingham to the north-east.
The final canal to run though the County was the Stratford on Avon Canal. This canal commences at a junction with the Worcester & Birmingham Canal east then south to reach the River Avon at Stratford upon Avon. Once again, the construction of this canal was affected by shortage of finance and it was constructed in three phases. Starting in 1793 from the Birmingham end, it opened as far as Hockley Heath in 1796. Construction restarted in 1800, reaching Kingswood and a junction with the Warwick & Birmingham Canal and after further delays, the final section from Kingswood to Stratford was opened in June 1816.
Surprisingly, all these canals are still open to traffic although today the traffic is almost entirely leisure cruising, a far cry from the intensive commercial traffic of the early days.
The WIAS database contains many examples of canal infrastructure including locks, aqueducts, tunnels, bridges, buildings and reservoirs.
Warwickshire Canals: examples of infrastructure on WIAS database
|Hatton Locks||A flight of 21 locks lowering the Warks & Birmingham Canal 147 ft. down into the Avon valley||Available at this link|
|Edstone Aqueduct||The longest cast iron aqueduct in England||Available at this link|
|Shrewley Tunnel||A short tunnel at Shrewley with a unique towpath tunnel||Available at this link|
|Hawkesbury Junction Bridge||Hawkesbury Junction Bridge||Available at this link|
|Coventry Canal Basin||Containing some examples of original warehouses||Available at this link|
Warwickshire Canals: further information
|Cragg, Roger||Civil Engineering Heritage West Midlands||Philimore 2010|
|Hadfield, Charles||Canals of the West Midlands||David & Charles 1985|
|Priestley, Joseph||Navigable Rivers and Canals||David & Charles (reprint) 1969|
|Cumberlidge, Jane||Inland Waterways of Great Britain||Imray Laurie 1998|
|Compton H||The Oxford Canal||David and Charles|
|Hadfield C & Norris J||Waterways to Stratford||David and Charles|
|WIAS Database||See under: Canals: Aqueducts/Bridges/Buildings/Earthworks/Locks/Reservoirs/Routes/Tunnels||Available at this link|