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Company of Proprietors of the Grand Junction Canal


Records of the Company of Proprietors of the Grand Junction Canal



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Administrative /​ Biographical history

The Grand Junction was proposed in 1791 in response to the need for a shorter route between the Midlands and London. Its enabling Act was passed in 1793 when William Jessop was appointed principal engineer, with James Barnes as the resident engineer. The canal, with the exception of Blisworth tunnel, was complete by 1800. At Blisworth a double track tramroad was used until the tunnel opened in 1805. The canal was 93 ½ miles long with 101 broad locks and the iron aqueduct at Wolverton was finally completed in 1811 following the collapse of a masonry aqueduct in 1808. In 1799 a 6 ½ mile long navigable feeder was opened from Wells at Wendover to the summit at Tring with 1 stop-lock. The 10 ½ miles long Buckingham branch was opened in 1801 with 2 narrow locks. Also in 1801, a 13-½ mile long level branch to Paddington was completed, which left the main line at Bull's Bridge and passed through London to a basin at Paddington. In 1804 a 5/8-mile branch was opened to barracks at Weedon, followed in 1815 by a five-mile branch with 17 narrow locks to Northampton that left the main line at Gayton and a 6 3/8 mile long branch with 16 narrow locks to Aylesbury. The last branch to open was the 5-mile long Slough branch, opening in 1882. The route over the Chilterns involved heavy lockage and this, along with the summit at Daventry, required a plentiful water supply. The Paddington branch was supplied with water from the River Brent and reservoirs at Ruislip, Aldenham and Hendon. The Tring summit was fed by local reservoirs and the wells at Wendover, and the Daventry summit was also fed by local reservoirs. Early in the life of the canal, traffic was heavy as the North and the Midlands had direct access to London for the first time. The heavy traffic caused serious water shortages, necessitating new larger reservoirs at Tring built in the 1820s and 1830s and the use of pumping engines to pump lockage water back up to the summits. The canal came under the threat of railways and other canal schemes from as early as 1824. In response the company considered locomotive haulage and tunnel tugs, eventually making improvements by duplicating Stoke Bruerne locks in 1835, Marsworth Locks in 1838 and those down to Stoke Hammond by 1839. The duplications were, however, short lived as by 1850 all had been filled in. In 1838 the London & Birmingham Railway opened and in the face of this opposition the Grand Junction agreed to toll reductions and went into carrying in 1848. From 1864 steam boats working with butties were used but carrying was given up in 1876 due to lack of profit. However steam tunnel tugs were used in Blisworth and Braunston tunnels from 1871. In 1894 the company bought the Grand Union Canal and the Leicester & Northamptonshire Union Canal, following encouragement from Fellows Morton & Clayton who promised to put wide boats on the line if improvements could be made. By 1900 an inclined plane to take wide boats past the Foxton locks had been completed and authorisation had been given to widen the locks at Watford. The traffic promised did not develop and in 1902 Watford locks were rebuilt but to a narrow specification. By 1910 the plane at Foxton had closed and traffic was using only the narrow locks. The First World War caused many problems for the company: skilled men were called away, traffic levels dropped and tolls were frozen. In 1917 the canal came under government control, which meant that loss of profits was compensated for. In 1920 a major increase in tolls was authorised and government control of the canal ended. In 1925 a committee was set up to investigate a merger of the Grand Junction with the three Warwick Canals. On the committee was Wilfred Curtis (also chairman of the Regents Canal & Dock Company), who suggested that the Regents company should buy the Grand Junction. This was agreed to and in 1926 the Grand Junction agreed to buy the Warwick Canals, which were under joint control at the time. In the event the Regents Canal & Dock Company bought the Warwick Canals as well as the Grand Junction and the Act to authorise the takeover received Royal assent in August 1928. On January 1st 1929 the combined canals became The Grand Union Canal Company Limited. The Grand Junction transferred its assets to the new company and then converted itself into a limited company, which remained as an independent property company until 1971 when it was in turn taken over by Amalgamated Investment & Property Company Limited for £28 million. For more information, see Alan H Faulkner 'The Grand Junction Canal' (WH Walker & Brothers Limited, 1993) and Edward Paget-Tomlinson 'The Illustrated History of Canals & River Navigations'.

System of arrangement

The company filing system could not be ascertained for the majority of records, but where possible the original filing system has been recreated, which resulted in the records being divided into subject groups.