Coventry Canal #2

Coventry Canal #2

The Coventry Canal opened in 1769, that’s 250 years ago. Its architect, James Brindley, worked on the scheme for a few months before being sacked. It must be the only occasion which this most notable engineering genius was told he was no longer wanted. The first part of the canal from Bedworth into Coventry was ready by October 1769. 

‘Two boats laden with coal were brought to this city from this side of Bedworth. Being the first ones, they were received with loud cheers by a number of people who had assembled to witness their arrival.’

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.

This is a post about the five and half miles of Coventry Canal in the city itself. I originally did this post in 2006 – its reissue in 2019 was for the canal’s 250th anniversary.

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.

Swan Lane basin towpath bridge.

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 thanks to Club Line the 5 and half miles from Hawkesbury to Coventry basin at least saw some boat traffic in the 1970’s where there would otherwise have been none. That at a time when the local council was itching to have the canal filled in.

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.

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.

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

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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

View of the Coventry Canal by the footbridge. This bridge was formerly part of a railway that served Longford Power Station. The Oxford Canal once ran alongside in parallel along the right hand side.

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.

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.

Photo I took of the engine house in the 1970s. We were in fact doing some survey work on this particular day. At left (in the grass) is Michael Heath (chairman of the canal society), possibly the other figure nearer the footbridge is C.R. Thomas.

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.

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!

Coventry Canal map seen at Hawkesbury.

Originally published, 2006. Updated 2019 and 2022.