Grand Union Canal

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The canal at Braunston

The Grand Union Canal in England is part of the UK Canal System. It is the main connecting link for English inland navigation between the economic and industrial centers of London and Birmingham . The canal is 220 km (137 miles) long and has 166 canal locks. Branch channels lead u from the main line. a. to Leicester , Slough , Aylesbury , Wendover and Northampton .

The name "Grand Union Canal" was originally the name of a canal that still exists today as a section of the branch canal to Leicester. Nowadays this is called the Old Grand Union Canal.


The Grand Union Canal at Westbourne Park, London
The Grand Union Canal at Westbourne Park, London
A lock at Apsley

In the middle of the 19th century, the privately financed narrowboat canal companies felt the emerging competition from the railroad. A large part of the freight and passenger traffic shifted from inland shipping, the narrowboat, to the faster and more modern railroad. At first, the only thing that occurred to the canal companies to stay in the market was to lower their freight rates. With the expansion of highways and the truck as its means of transport in the early 20th century, another solution had to be found in order to remain competitive. In this situation, the canal companies of Regent's Canal and Grand Junction Canal decided to merge and modernize the canals they operate. The canals should be deepened and widened and the bridge and lock dimensions adjusted to the wider canals. In addition, the previous standard inland waterway, the 21 m long but only 2.1 m wide narrowboat, which achieved a horse-drawn payload of 30 t, was replaced by a broad boat (or wide beam boat) with a payload of 66 t be replaced. However, the completion of the modernization program was stopped by the Second World War, so that the narrow diesel-powered narrowboat with non-motorized escort ship (the "butty") remained the standard barge on the Grand Union Canal until the end of commercial freight traffic in the winter of 1962/63. Only the extension of the locks to a width of 4.27 m from the Thames to south of Birmingham (Camp Hill) has been realized. Even today, only narrowboats can get to Birmingham itself.

The Grand Union Canal in its current form emerged from the merger of various canals on January 1, 1929:

Greater London

Main line

  • Warwick and Napton Canal - acquired by Regent's Canal Company in 1927
  • Warwick and Birmingham Canal - Acquired by Regent's Canal Company in 1927
  • Birmingham and Warwick Junction Canal - acquired by Regent's Canal Company in 1927
  • Grand Junction Canal - Acquired by Regent's Canal Company in 1927

Leicester Branch Canal

  • Old Grand Union Canal - Acquired by the Grand Junction Canal Company in 1894
  • Leicestershire and Northamptonshire Union Canal - acquired by Grand Junction Canal Company in 1894
  • Leicester Navigation - Acquired by Grand Union Canal Company in 1932
  • Loughborough Navigation - Acquired by the Grand Union Canal Company in 1932
  • Erewash Canal - acquired by the Grand Union Canal Company in 1932

An approximately 8 km long section of the Oxford Canal between Braunston and Napton is still part of the main route of the Grand Union Canal. At times there were plans to acquire the Oxford Canal and the Coventry Canal by the Grand Union Canal Company; However, these were not carried out until the nationalization of the canal system in 1948.

The section of the main line between Brentford (London) and Braunston (formerly the Grand Junction Canal) was already a "wide" or "broad" canal, the locks of which were two narrowboats next to each other or one "wide" boat from the start with a width of 4.27 m.

The older section of the canal between Braunston and Birmingham was built as a narrow canal. Its locks only took a narrowboat up to 2.10 m wide. A parliamentary law from 1931 authorized the modernization of this section of the canal to double the width of the lock and deepen the canal bed; this was completed in 1937.

The modernizations carried out in this section of the Grand Union Canal were not carried out in the other parts of the canal system. The Braunston - London section was not deepened and the locks north of Camp Hill to Birmingham remained as narrowboat locks with a width of 2.10 m.

The side canal from Norton Junction to the River Trent, known as the "Leicester Line", is a "narrow" canal between Norton and Foxton. From Foxton to Leicester, it's a “wide” channel. From Leicester to the Trent, the river Soar has been canalized and equipped with “wide” locks. A law of 1931 allowed the continuous expansion to “wide” locks, but this has not yet been implemented.

The Grand Union Canal was nationalized with most of the other canals in 1948 and administered by a government agency (now British Waterways ). Commercial freight traffic ultimately did not recover from the harsh winter of 1962/63 , which kept the canals frozen for weeks. In the 1970s, the last remaining freight companies stopped operating.

Nevertheless, the Grand Union Canal is more vital today than ever before, as recreational shipping has now far surpassed the absolute number of former commercial cargo ships. The neighboring communities recognize the leisure and recreational value of the canal and are investing in maintaining and improving the infrastructure. Even the complete new construction of an approx. 26 km long connecting canal from Milton Keynes to Bedford to the River Great Ouse is under construction, the first newly projected canal in England for almost 100 years.


  • Hugh McKnight: The Shell Book of Inland Waterways . 2nd Edition. David & Charles PLC, 1981, ISBN 978-0-7153-8239-4 . , there pp. 283-304

Web links

Commons : Grand Union Channel  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files


  1. BBC: Route chosen for £ 150m link canal, accessed April 25, 2014 (en.)