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Narrow boat hire for Oxford Canal holidays

Hire A Canal Boat are delighted to offer luxury canal boat holidays along the Oxford Canal –where you can experience the finest narrowboating holidays. Take a relaxing break on one the country's finest waterways with either your family or friends. Before taking the plunge and hiring a narrow boat from us why don't you take a little time out to get an idea about what you might experience on canal narrowboat holiday on the Oxford Canal.

History of the Oxford Canal

The Oxford Canal is one of Britain’s most picturesque waterways. It lazily traverses the landscape through mainly quiet and rolling countryside (some would argue with an element of justification, England’s most attractive) for a total of 77 miles. This ‘narrow’ canal connects with the Midlands canal system at Hawkesbury Junction near Coventry whilst in two separate locations at the southern end, meets the River Thames in world famous Oxford. The city itself was founded over a millennium ago.. During the early industrial days now long gone, the canal was the main transport route from the English midlands to the south of England before being superseded in 1805 by the more direct Grand Union Canal. It is now one of the most beautiful and popular cruising canals. In other words, there are lots of boats and it is busy!

The Oxford Canal, which mainly passes through Northamptonshire, Warwickshire and Oxfordshire was built early on during the initial period of "canal mania". It follows the contours around hills (a contour canal) as opposed to having the cuttings and embankments so evident in later canal construction. As a result, the course of this waterway meanders and is very winding in places. It could easily be mistaken for a river in some parts. A perfect example of this is obvious when cruising near Napton. The Napton Windmill, only a few miles distant, is visible for hours and in many directions as the canal twists and turns

The northern section begins just below Napton locks and the nearby town of Braunston is an old canal town that is well worth checking out. The heavily meandering section near Rugby was straightened out in the nineteenth century and in so doing, almost halved the length of the original route. Circle of light on the Oxford canalThe tunnel is at right angles to the original one lost through the straightening process and is of fairly generous dimensions, having a towpath on both sides. The local Rugby Council together with British Waterways has created a very effective 'Circle of Light' in the tunnel. The Oxford Canal joins the Coventry Canal at Hawkesbury Junction. It is worth noting that the section above Napton-on-the-Hill forms part of the Warwickshire Ring

The actual construction of the Oxford Canal was carried out in a number of stages over a period of more than twenty years. In 1769 an Act of Parliament gave permission for the Oxford Canal to be built, the Parliamentary campaign having been promoted by Sir Roger Newdigate MP. He was also the chairman of the Canal Company and the intention was to link the industrial Midlands with London using the navigable River Thames from Oxford. Construction began shortly after near Coventry.
James Brindley originally surveyed the route and he supervised the initial construction ably assisted by his brother-in-law ,Samuel Simcock.  Unfortunately,  Brindley died in 1772  at which point Simcock took over and eventually completed the canal. Within a couple of years though, the canal having reached Napton, the company was starting to run out of money.

It was then that a second Act of Parliament was passed to allow the company to raise more funds. Construction then re-started and by 1778 the canal had reached Banbury, a medieval market town with some very attractive pubs for today’s discerning ale drinker. However, further financial problems meant that work on the final stretch to Oxford did not begin until 1786 after much upheaval.

Canal at Banbury junctionThis section of the canal from Banbury and on to Oxford was then built as economically as possible. When it was possible to do so, wooden lift or swing bridges were built rather than the more expensive brick ones. Deep locks were used wherever possible, with single gates at either end instead of double gates. Further, a stretch of the River Cherwell at Shipton-on-Cherwell was incorporated into the canal. This certainly reduced construction costs though the unpredictability of the river itself makes this section of the canal more difficult for boaters to use. This was a definite false economy the adverse effects of which continue to be felt to this day.
In 1789, the Oxford Canal finally reached the outskirts of Oxford itself when a coal wharf was opened at Heyfield Hutt. The final section into central Oxford was opened on New Year’s Day, 1st January 1790.

The ensuing 15 years witnessed the Oxford Canal becoming one of the most important and profitable transport links in Britain, with most commercial traffic between London and the Midlands using the route. Principal traffic was coal from Leicestershire and Warwickshire but also included stone, agricultural products and other goods.

A much more direct route between London and the Midlands, the Grand Junction Canal (to become the Grand Union) was completed in 1805. The majority of the London-bound traffic subsequently switched to this quicker and more economical route, thus avoiding the passage of the River Thames.

Napton junction

The effect was to greatly reduce traffic on the Oxford Canal south of Napton. However, the short section between Braunston and Napton became the link between the Warwick and Napton Canal and the Grand Junction Canal (Grand Union), making it an integral element in the busy direct route between London and Birmingham. It is easy to appreciate why the two companies involved, the Grand Junction and Oxford enterprises were bitter rivals. When Parliament considered the Act of Parliament to facilitate the building of the Grand Junction, the Oxford Canal company successfully petitioned to make the Grand Junction pay tolls to the Oxford Canal to compensate for the loss of traffic south of Napton.
.Traffic to Birmingham had to use the five mile section of the Oxford Canal to get from Braunston and then to join the Grand Junction at Napton. The Oxford Canal Company therefore exploited its position and compensated itself by charging exceptionally high tolls for Grand Junction traffic on this short section.

.Amazingly, the northern section of the Oxford Canal between Coventry, Braunston and Napton continued to operate as an important trunk route, remaining extremely busy with freight traffic until the 1960s. The staple traffic continued to be coal from the coalfields of Warwickshire and Leicestershire transported to London via the Grand Union Canal. However, the southern section from Napton to Oxford really became a backwater and carried only local traffic in the main.

Canalside at JerichoIn 1937, the soon to be Viscount Nuffield purchased the canal basin at Oxford. In 1951 it was in-filled and the Nuffield College was built on part of the former coal wharf. The coal traffic was then relocated to a separate canal wharf in the Jericho area of Oxford, quite often seen in the television adaptations of Inspector Morse. What remained of the coal wharf together with the goods wharf are both now ‘subnerged’ under a public car park that Oxford City Council leases from the Nuffield College.
The Oxford Canal remained profitable until the mid-1950s and was still paying a dividend right up until it was nationalised in 1948, becoming part of the British Waterways stable. In common with most of Britain's narrow canal system, the Oxford Canal witnessed a rapid decline in freight traffic following World War II.. By the mid-1950s, there were so few narrow boats trading south of Napton that the southern section was threatened with closure. During Harold Wilson’s administration though, the then Minister for Transport, Barbara Castle, rejected a closure bid after a fact finding mission saw the potential and evidence of a new growth in leisure boating. However, the Northern section of the canal (Coventry to Napton) busy and well-used by commercial traffic even during the 1960s.
As previously stated, the Oxford Canal is now thriving. In the summer it is one of the most crowded canals on the network. Of particular note is the old canal village of Thrupp, the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill at Blenheim Palace, the large USAF base between Lower and Upper Heyford and the amazing ‘Ladder Bridge’ near Wormleighton, constructed entirely of wood and famous for its ‘sag’. Folk music fans will love Cropredy, a tiny two pub village that hosts Fairport Convention and thousands of fans every August. It is also the site of the famous Civil War battle in 1644 and has been voted the UK’s most popular waterside village.
The Oxford Canal, overflowing with charm and character is now thriving again.


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