Here at Welford Junction we cross from Northamptonshire into Leicestershire. This set me wondering how many counties we will cross on our trip from Reading to Ripon. We started in Berkshire, and have been through Oxfordshire, Warwickshire and Northamptonshire. Still to come we’ve Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire (the county boundary follows the River Trent, so I can count that one so long as we keep to the right through Gainsborough), Humberside (shame it’s not a shire), South, West and North Yorkshires.
Wow. That’s eleven counties!
With the weather forecast looking a bit grim for today we decided to stay put. As it turned out we could have moved on a bit and stayed dry; we would have been moored up by the time the thundery showers arrived this afternoon. Still, I got a few more little jobs done.
Welford Junction from Bridge 42
The through route from Norton Junction to the Trent near Redhill is made up of four separately constructed waterways. The first was the Loughborough Navigation, built to connect the town to the Trent and using much of the River Soar with short cuts for the locks. Opened in 1778 it was primarily used for coal from Nottinghamshire.
Following on from the success of this navigation, a further section, known as the Leicester Navigation, connected Loughborough to the city at West Bridge. This also used a combination of artificial cuts and natural watercourses, including a short length of the River Wreake, and opened in 1794.
The next stage was the Leicestershire and Northamptonshire Union Canal, proposed to run from Leicester West bridge to Northampton and the River Nene. Beset by financial difficulties it only reached Debdale in 1797 after four years. Meanwhile the Grand Junction Canal was being built, heading north from London to ultimately arrive at Birmingham.
An engineer from the GJCCo, James Barnes, was asked to review the route of the L&NUC, and he proposed a route to connect with the GJC at Norton Junction, with short branches to Market Harborough and Welford. The experienced engineer, Thomas Telford, revised the route, suggesting it go via Market Harborough, rather than past it with a connecting branch. This latter proposal was accepted, and work commenced. But delays and escalating costs saw the canal only reach Market Harborough before the project stalled again in 1809.
By this time the Grand Junction Canal had been operating very successfully for four years, and the owners were frustrated at not having access to the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire coalfields via the unfinished route. Barnes and Telford were brought back in, and a new Act of Parliament authorised for the original Barnes’ route from Foxton to Norton Junction. This was named the Grand Union Canal, and was finally opened in 1814 after four years of construction.
Railway competition hit the southern section harder than a lot of other canals, and in 1894 the company accepted an offer of £18,000 for the L&NUC and the Grand Union. They then became known as the Leicester Line of the Grand Junction Canal.
Although unprofitable, the canals gave the GJCCo a more valuable asset. Reservoirs at Saddington and Welford provided the lifeblood of canals, water. This fed into the northern summit of the GJC, supplying the thirsty broad locks either side.
With the formation of the Grand Union Canal Company in 1930 absorbing the Grand Junction Canal (and a lot more besides) the original, earlier Grand Union has become known as the Old Grand Union to save confusion.
We’ll be heading off to Foxton tomorrow.
Locks 0, miles 0