The first stretch of waterway navigable to long boats entered the county in 1778. It followed the River Soar, with slight diversions, from Trent Lock to Loughborough. The town immediately benefited with cheap coal being brought in by barge from the Trent Coalfields along the Soar Navigation. In 1794, the river was canalised from Loughborough to Leicester, ending at the West Bridge Wharves. It was planned to continue the canal, linking the River Trent to London. However, it was to be a long time before the plans actually succeeded.
At this time, England was at war with France, and most of the state money was being put into fighting. There was a lack of labour, and money. Many landowners did not want canals to run across their land. In Foxton, a local landowner John Palmer was determined to keep the canal away from the village. He managed to convince the local people that their land would be taken from them, the ground would be damp, and the village water supply would be cut off. He succeded, and in 1797 the canal was stopped at Kibworth. In 1809, another attempt was made to extend the canal, this time reaching Market Harborough, but the project couldn’t get past the town.
Finally, in 1814, the canal was continued, with a new name – “The Grand Union”. It entered Northamptonshire after passing through the Husband’s Bosworth Tunnel and the flight of locks at Foxton, where the canal is raised 75 feet by 10 locks. The canal reached Long Buckby, where it joined another link, providing a route linking the Humber and the Thames.
In 1900, after complaints that it was taking too long to get boats through the locks at Foxton, a new incline was built, with two large counterbalanced tanks of water, each holding two narrow boats. As one went down, the other was pulled up, aided by a small steam engine. In 1910, as canals became less popular, the incline was closed down, and the locks were once again the only method of passing.
There are many other canals running through Leicestershire. We will feature these soon!
Article by Daniel Spencer