Going loopy on the North Oxford
In an 1830s modernisation scheme, the Oxford Canal was shortened by no less than 11 miles. But what became of the bypassed loops of the original canal?
If you happen to have been gazing northwards from the North Oxford Canal’s Hillmorton Bottom Locks recently, you might just have spotted that where the canal bends leftwards, another dried-up channel appears to lead straight ahead, with signs of the undergrowth having been cleared.
A few miles further north, as you passed Rugby, you’ll have seen an arm leading off west to the town wharf. And at the north end the canal, you couldn’t ignore the awkward junction layout at Hawkesbury. But while you were trying to wangle your boat around it, did you notice that there’s just a hint that maybe something used to carry on straight ahead, parallel to the Coventry Canal?
The Stretton loop is home to a boatyard... They might just look like the old arms, colliery basins or loading wharves but, in fact, they’re remnants of one of the most radical modernisation schemes of the main canal-building era.
Originally built in the 1770s, in the tortuously winding style of a contour canal (like the South Oxford to this day), in 1827 the North Oxford found its trade threatened by plans for a new and more direct route – the London and Birmingham Junction Canal. The Oxford company responded by planning to lop no less than 13 miles off its canal with a series of short-cuts to bypass the windings.
As it happened, the L&BJ failed to get its Act of Parliament (not helped by the discovery that its list of subscribers included some very dodgy characters – plus others who had never signed!) But, meanwhile, the Oxford went ahead with most of its plans, and in 1834 it opened around 11 miles of new cuts. Together with the straighter parts of the original route, these gave us the North Oxford we know today – and left the other 20-plus miles of the original route as a series of old loops, varying from a few hundred yards to several miles.
“But hang on,” I hear you say, “This is a restoration feature, not a history article. Surely nobody’s reopening 20-odd miles of abandoned loops replaced by more direct routes in the 1830s?”
Well, no. But it’s not actually true that they were all abandoned in the 1830s.
...while Lime Farm Marina occupies another Horseley Ironworks bridges mark many loops