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Company of Proprietors of the Oxford Canal Navigation


Records of the Company of Proprietors of the Oxford Canal Navigation



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The Oxford Canal was conceived as an extension of the Coventry Canal that had begun construction in April 1768. This new route was intended to carry coal south to Banbury and Oxford and give Midlands' boats access to the Thames and London. In October 1768, James Brindley's report and survey was enthusiastically received by subscribers to the proposed canal and in April 1769 the Oxford Canal Company obtained an Act to join the Coventry's line at Longford and build a waterway to Oxford. The development of both the Coventry and Oxford was delayed by a dispute over the junction between them, planned at Bedworth. The quarrel, over tolls, led to the junction eventually being relocated to Longford, which ensured that the Coventry could collect tolls on Oxford-bound coal from the Bedworth colliery. By March 1771 ten miles of the canal had been completed, with Napton being reached in August 1774. The Company was not without financial difficulties and it was only with additional funds from shareholders and raised by mortgage that the line reached Banbury in March 1778, a distance of 63 ¾ miles. The main engineering works undertaken were the 12-arched aqueduct, known as Brinklow Arches, and four tunnels: Newbold, Wolfhampcote and two at Fenny Compton. After a delay, work continued in 1785 when a new junction was made with the Coventry at Hawkesbury, nearer Bedworth - a more sensible location that eliminated most of the parallel lines that had existed since the Longford junction was built. In the same year a survey was undertaken to determine if the Cherwell could be made navigable to complete the Banbury-Oxford stretch. Although it was decided to use the river for a mile near Shipton, a canal was ultimately chosen. Finally, in January 1790, the canal reached Oxford. A junction with the Thames was established in 1796 via the Isis Lock and Sheepwash channel, although in 1798 the company also leased the quarter-mile Duke's Cut, built independently in 1789 near Wolvercote by the Duke of Marlborough to link the canal to the Thames. At this point the Oxford was 91miles long with 43 locks, all narrow except the Isis lock, designed for Thames barges, although later this was narrowed. The first eleven years of its life saw trade on the canal develop well. The arrival of the Grand Junction Canal in 1800, linking Braunston to London, effectively bypassed the southern half of the Oxford Canal, although trade on the northern part benefited from the junction at Braunston. There was also local traffic, mainly in coal, to be developed on the Thames itself. After 1810, however, the company began to face competition here from coal carried by the Wilts & Berks and the Kennet & Avon canals. By 1829 fears of increased competition and the increased traffic on the northern section of the line led the company to seek improvements to its waterway. The Oxford Canal was originally built to the contour method favoured by Brindley, which not only meant that the level remained fairly constant, but that the canal could call at many villages and wharves along the route. The drawback to this approach was lengthy transit times. Following a survey by Sir Marc Brunel and Charles Vignoles, an Act was secured in 1831 to shorten the route by over 14 miles. Improvements were concentrated on the busy route north of Braunston and included the construction of a new tunnel at Newbold and an iron aqueduct over the Rugby-Lutterworth road, along with the widening of the Brinklow Arches by embanking one side. The new line opened in February 1834, leaving sections of the old route as branches off the main canal. Further improvements were carried out in 1836, to Hawkesbury junction, and in about 1840 a quarter-mile private canal was added to connect the canal to Wyken New Colliery along with a 3/8-mile arm to Alexandra colliery. With the coming of the railways, countered by toll reductions, the canal's receipts started to drop from 1842. However, dividends were still well maintained until 1892. After this, increased pressure from the railways and lower tolls under the Railway & Canal Traffic Act contributed to a decline. Nevertheless, whilst the level fell, dividends were maintained until nationalisation. Trade began to seriously decline after World War II but commerce continued well into the 1960s. When it was threatened with closure, the Oxford was one of the first successes of the IWA which ensured the canal was designated a Cruise way under the 1968 Transport Act.