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Canals: Grand Junction Canal Part 1

The first plan for a direct line from the middle of the Oxford Canal to London was in 1791. At that time loads for London travelled along the Oxford Canal to Oxford and were then transhipped into barges for the River Thames. The river was not kept up to the standard of the new canals and problems with shallows, lack of water and locks meant that progress was slow. A new route could avoid the Thames and cut up to 60 miles from the journey.

There were soon several competing plans for canals to London and two Bills were put to Parliament. After considerable lobbying, the Grand Junction Canal Act was passed on 30 April 1793. The 90 mile route from Brentford to Braunston had been surveyed twice, by Jame Barnes and by William Jessop. Work started almost immediately at both ends, over 30,000 labourers being employed. At the north end Braunston and Blisworth Tunnels were to cause problems. At Blisworth, there were difficulties with quicksand and the contractor made errors in alignment that left a wiggle in the tunnel. Despite this the route was open through the tunnel to Weedon in June 1796. Blisworth tunnel collapsed in January 1796 and it was decided to start again. A road and then a tramway were built over the hill to carry goods from boats at either end, so that the canal could be used. Blisworth Tunnel was the last section of the canal to be opened and took until March 1805 to finish. The rest of the line had been open in 1800, though the crossing of the River Ouse at Wolverton caused problems until 1811.

The canal was planned to meet the Thames at Brentford. Soon after construction was started, it was decided to build a branch into more central area of the City. The Paddington Branch was open in 1801, a basin and warehouses built at the terminus. The canal was to eventually extend further into London, eventually connecting up with the docks via the Regents Canal.

The Grand Junction was in a strong position. nearly all traffic for London from the Midlands used it.


Canals: Grand Junction - Part 2