the late 1700s, water borne transport was proving very successful
as a means of moving goods around the country. To the south, the
Severn and Avon had been used extensively for navigation for some
time, and Stratford was an inland port at which goods were transferred
to horse drawn coaches for transportation to Birmingham, and vice
was then connected northwards to the Trent and even to the Mersey
via the growing canal network by the 1770s. It was natural that
plans would be drawn up to connect Birmingham to the south by
canal as well, to the Avon, the Severn and to the Thames. Surprisingly,
it was latter which was achieved first, when the Birmingham and
Fazeley Canal, the Coventry Canal and the Oxford Canal provided
a through route to the Thames at Oxford in 1790.
challenge of connecting to the Avon was one of terrain and particularly
the notorious challenge of crossing the Cole and Blythe and the
substantial drops into Stratford and Warwick. Plans were, however,
approved in the 1790s.
In May 1796 the first 9 miles of the new canal opened from Birmingham
to Henwood, further progress being prevented by the collapse of
the newly built aqueduct over the Blythe, one of the factors that
led to the dismissal of engineer William Felkin that year. His
replacement, Phillip Witton, completed the task and the canal
opened to Warwick in 1800.
Warwick and Napton Canal opened that same year, providing connections
from the Avon to Birmingham and to the established Oxford Canal.
In that same year the Oxford canal was also connected to London
by the Grand Junction Canal, and the heart of the Midlands Canal
Network as we know it today was complete.
also meant that the principle of alternative and competing London
to Birmingham routes, firstly through Oxfordshire and Warwick
(and B93) and secondly though Hertfordshire and Rugby was established,
one that would be followed after half a century by the railways
and then much later by the motorway network!!
it was competition from the alternative that prevented the Birminghm-Warwick-Napton
route from achieving great success. It was a much shorter route,
but the number of locks, particularly the long flight at Hatton
to be faced not long after the short flight at Knowle, made it
a more arduous and time consuming route. As a result tolls had
to be kept low in order to compete, and profits were not great.
Early problems with water shortage, which led to the building
of the substantial summit feeder reservoir at Olton did not help
Stratford Canal opened in 1802 and connected to the Warwick and
Birmingham Canal at Kingswood Junction. The goal of connecting
the Avon to Birmingham had been achieved by two routes. and Knowle
saw much traffic move a couple of miles east, away from the turnpike
through the High Street and onto the canal.
wharves served the area, and evidence remains of the early Copt
Heath Wharf on Barston Lane just beyond the M42 towards Ravenshaw
and Kixley Wharf, near the end of Kixley Lane. Heronfield Wharf
was near where the Herons Nest is today and Knowle Hall had its
own wharf where the Kenilworth Road crosses the canal and where
the boat moorings are now.
New Years Day 1929, the canal got a huge boost when the route
from Birmingham to Napton route, the Grand Junction Canal and
the Regents Canal in London amalgamated into the new Grand Union
Canal. All of the locks from Birmingham to Napton were upgraded
to a new standard, making it part of one of the most important
canal routes in the country.
then, of course, traffic steadily declined and the two basins
in every lock were reduced to one again. But then traffic has
steadily grown once more, as leisure traffic has almost totally
replaced working traffic and, in the summer peak. queues are once
more forming at the locks at Knowle. Meanwhile, pubs like the
Black Boy have reverted to their traditional role of lubricating
the thirsty canal traveller.