The Coventry Canal

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The Coventry Canal was one of the country’s earliest waterways to be opened following the success of the Bridgewater Canal. The section from Coventry to Atherstone was opened in 1769, and the rest of the canal followed as time went on eventually bringing it a total of 27 miles to Fradley junction (not forgetting the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal company had to build a bit of canal to link up the missing bits of the Coventry!) The first part of the canal opened 26th October 1769.

In celebration of that 250th anniversary, this is a post about the five and half miles of Coventry Canal in the city itself. I did this post in 2006 – because the first time I encountered the Coventry Canal was in 1976, thus that article was a 30th anniversary of that particular occasion. Its been updated with larger pictures. The historic pictures that were originally seen on this post are to be featured in a second part.

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The terminus in the centre of Coventry overlooks the city centre. It is quite a dramatic setting and it is just a short walk over the ringway footbridge to the large shopping precinct and the cathedral, Spon Lane, the Lady Godiva statue etc. To many of us who were involved in the work with the Coventry Canal Society, we knew the terminus as Bishop St Basin, for that was the name it had always been known by.

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The ‘new’ crane at Coventry basin.

For many years there were plans to demolish the historic warehouses on the south side. Instead these have been restored. The remainder of the basin has been redeveloped however, but retaining a canal theme throughout and having pleasant additions, such as the statue of James Brindley. Though I wonder if anyone wants to be confronted with Brindley’s backside?

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Brindley at Coventry Basin. The Coventry canal was the second of his vast network of waterways to be opened.

Of course he is facing northwards towards the heart of his ‘grand cross’ of canals. Although I’m not so sure about the swing bridge, I suppose one can say that the Coventry Canal has almost never been without a swing bridge. It could be said to be a replacement for the one at Polesworth. The basin now has three main entrances, two vehicular and one pedestrian, with a clock tower at the basin’s extremity. The original entrance still exists but is no longer used.

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The restored canal warehouses.

The Coventry Canal was one of the country’s earliest to be opened, being in use long before Brindley’s other canals including the Trent and Mersey, Staffordshire & Worcestershire and Oxford Canals – therefore Brindley has special significance as the only other canal completed prior to this one had been the Bridgewater Canal.

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Bridge No.1 which guards the entrance to the canal basin.

The canal leaves the basin and immediately enters a stretch where visitor moorings are now available in addition to those provided in the basin itself. One of the surprising things about this stretch is the amount of new housing that has sprung up where there was once industry typical of that found along the entire 5 and half miles.

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These photographs were taken in September 2006 and there was still some construction work underway – the section at Electric Wharf just round the corner from the basin had not yet been finished. What is surprising is that the canal is mostly clean now, a far cry from the 1970’s when we used to have to tackle the most unimaginable rubbish possible using Bert Dunkley’s Prince and a mud boat.

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View of two of the city’s three spires from the canal. There used to be a better view before the advert hoardings were put up. In many ways the piece de resistance has been spoilt.

I only lived in Coventry for a short time but helped out vigorously with the works parties and remember the numerous indemnity forms that had to signed and sent off to British Waterways at their Rotton Park Reservoir offices in Birmingham. This paperwork was essential in order to allow us to work on the canal. The 5 and half miles wasn’t the only stretch the canal society worked on – I organised a big clean up at Atherstone which included painting the lock gates.

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The last remaining building from the Daimler factory – the power house

Electric Wharf. No such wharf of that name existed in the canal’s heyday. Its however the site of the Daimler factory, and the large pillar on the left,
on top of which a sculpture of an early Daimler can be seen, probably based on its first production model of 1897.

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Monument to Daimler by the canal at Electric Wharf.

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The new footbridge at Electric Wharf. It was not even open when this picture was taken.

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Narrowboat heading southwards near Bridge no 2.

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View of Bridge 2, known as Cash’s Bridge, with modern corrugated pipeline. Above can be seen the imposing structure known as Cash’s.

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Dolly the Mule – she was the one who towed the Skinner’s boat ‘Friendship.’ A number of boatmen on the Coventry and Oxford canals preferred mules or donkeys to horses.

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Cash’s Lane Houses. These were unusual in that they had the accomodation on the lower floors and the workshops on the upper floors, as denoted by the very large windows.

This section was one of the Coventry Canal Society’s worst nightmares for its clearance parties. In the 1970’s it was always full of rubbish, combined with a numerous number of motor bike riders who enjoyed the high speed chase down the Exhall straight and the ensuing bends that followed towards the Stoney Stanton Road.

Working on the towpath was a difficult job. There used to be a large amount of industry along here too, however one of the highlights was the Foleshill railway, which ran alongside the canal for some distance. Even long after the railway closed one of its engines ‘Henry’ used to stand on a plinth by the canal, reminding us of its former days chugging along the canal.

It was not far away to the south that the Coventry Canal suffered one of its worst ever breaches, on the night of 15/16th December 1978 with water flooding Foleshill Road and the surrounding streets. It took a lot of legal wrangling before the breach could even be repaired and the canal reopened. Building work apparently destablised the canal and caused it to fail. The canal was not reopened until September 1979

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The bend before Foleshil Road. Although it has not got a name one could easily call this section Henry’s Corner. This was where for many years the steam locomotive, an 0-6-0 tank by that name, stood on a plinth after it had been pensioned off from service on the Foleshill railway. This was the site of Courtaulds Factory and as well as the railway it was served by boats. The factory closed in 1991. That railway ran along the north side of the Coventry Canal from ‘Henry’s Corner’ for a considerable distance.

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Foleshill Road bridge. This substantial flotilla of polystyrene was making its way south. The bridge is known as the Prince William Henry.

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Bridge 4 – Stoney Stanton Road – complete with graffiti, pipes and other paraphernalia.

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Original milestone near Swan Lane. The 25 miles denotes the distance to Fazeley Junction. One of the better examples of the various milestones along the canal.

Though the Coventry Canal is 37 and half miles long its only the first bit to Fazeley that has these milestones. From Fazeley to Whittington the canal was actually the Birmingham and Fazeley canal. That was built because the Coventry canal had run out of money. The section northwards through Huddlesford to Fradley was the Coventry canal’s own, built at a later date.

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Swan Lane basin towpath bridge.

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Swan Lane basin is where the former Club Line hire boats were based. I worked here for about a year in the 1970’s painting their brand new boats. Like most other hire boat companies, Club Line’s boats were built on site. The business was run by two generations of the Neale family, and the younger Reg Neale was my employer. It was due to Club Line that the 5 and half miles at least saw some regular traffic in the 1970’s where there would otherwise have been none.

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Bridge 5a is one of two additonal bridges that straddle the Exhall straight. Originally there was just the one! Bridge 5a has been around since the 1960’s.

The Exhall Straight begins at Swan lane and the canal is virtualy straight for almost a mile. The old Rover works once stood on the west side of the canal after the new bridge ‘tunnel’ at Heath Crescent. Bridge 5, known as Red Lane bridge, was the only one to be found on the Exhall straight. It now has these two newer neighbours either side.

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The other newer bridge on the Exhall straight. Its certainly longer than some of our shortest canal tunnels! This is Heath Crescent bridge and the reason for its large size is due to a roundabout

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This is Navigation Bridge where the canal passes under Stoney Stanton Road for the second time.

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The new crossing at Phoenix Way, known as Spring Road bridge. This is the A414 – which was moved from Foleshill Road onto a new route partially following the canal.

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This section passes another of Courtaulds works. Its almost complete – chimneys and fascinating arrays of pipework. Look out for the seats on this section made out of pipes!

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Bridge Eight. The canal passes under Foleshill Road for the second time (actually it passes under that particular alignment three times, the third bit being known as Longford Road.)

The canal passes Judd Lane bridge and Lady Lane footbridge, as well as crossing the River Sowe on a minor aqueduct, before reaching Longford bridge, where there was once a junction with the Oxford Canal. Both Coventry and Oxford canals’ rivalry meant that they could not agree on a more convenient junction, so the two canals ran parallel with each other for a mile from Hawkesbury to Longford. This state of affairs remained until they could agree on a connection at Hawkesbury.

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Longford bridge looking westwards. Notice the sign on the bridge (it can be seen on most of the canal bridges) it looks like a snake but it actually depicts the Coventry canal’s five and half miles! Its one of those art trail signs that detail the various exhibits to be found along the canal.

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I dont know if Patrick Riley was a real navvy! But nevertheless here’s an interesting tale with a bit on Brindley added as an afterthought! This sign is almost opposite the Engine Pub at Longford.

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The Longford Engine Pub. Moorings on the offside are available.

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Two views of the Coventry Canal by the footbridge. This was once part of a railway that served Longford Power Station

The canal through Hawkesbury Junction has changed such a lot. There used to be a substantial stretch of the old Oxford canal that remained as a depression to the south of the junction. A long gone composite timber and steel railway bridge crossed both of the canal alignments and it was easy to envisage the two canals as they headed south to Longford. The bridge has gone, part still remains as a footbridge and the old Oxford alignment has become a picnic area. There is a new basin nearby called Exhall Marina.

The area around Hawkesbury, also known as Suttons Stop, has seen new housing crop up to the west, improved moorings introduced, better car parking facilities, a new police station in the former toll house. The splendid Horsley Ironworks footbridge stands across the junction as always. It used to be painted in blue but now its in the obligatory black and white.

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View looking north to the Engine House. The Coventry Canal Society spent years campaigning for the retention of this building, which the council so badly wanted to knock down! It used to have a Newcomen steam engine, which can now be seen in the museum at Dartmouth. The Coventry Canal heads northwards past the engine house towards Bedworth. The Oxford Canal starts to the right on its 77 mile journey to Oxford.

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Side view of the junction footbridge. This carried the Coventry canal towpath over the Oxford Canal. The area was virtually countryside when I first knew it. There were just a couple of factories opposite and one house (see below) Now as one can see, there is new housing, making it a prime property hotspot!

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Coventry Canal map seen at Hawkesbury.

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