Go­ing loopy on the North Ox­ford

Canal Boat - - Restoration - WORDS & PIC­TURES BY MARTIN LUDGATE

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

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