THE heritage of a historic Midlands canal junction has been recognised with a prestigious commemorative plaque.
Hawkesbury Junction, north of Coventry city centre, is the link between two of Britain’s oldest canals – the Coventry Canal, built to transport coal from the Warwickshire coalfield and the Oxford which, for many years, was the principal route to and from the River Thames and London.
Today the junction is a peaceful place for local people to escape to but it was once one of the most hotly disputed sections of canal in the country. Each canal was run by separate companies and so the junction was the scene of fierce disputes over who collected the tolls.
In 1803, the junction was moved but there remained an unintentional 7 inch discrepancy between the water levels of the two canals, only overcome by the construction of an additional lock – which is still in place.
Today the junction is designated as a conservation area with a spectacular iron bridge, pumping station and historic ‘Greyhound Inn’, as well as the lock itself. As part of the unveiling of the ‘Red Wheel’ – the 94th to date – members of the Coventry Canal Society operated the lock and sold refreshments in aid of Birmingham Children’s Hospital.
The commemorative plaque, known as a ‘Red Wheel’, has been awarded by The Transport Trust, in conjunction with the Canal & River Trust and the Coventry Canal Society. The Transport Trust, whose Patron is HRH Prince Michael of Kent, has, for over 50 years, been the only body committed to the conservation, restoration and promotion of Britain’s transport heritage, nationally and across all modes of transport – by land, sea and air.
President of the Trust, Sir William McAlpine, explains “The country’s 18th century canal network played a crucial role in the transport of raw materials and finished goods and, in turn, to the Industrial Revolution and the development of the British Empire. Fortunately, whilst much of our transport heritage has been lost, much – including Hawkesbury Junction – remains and it’s our role to raise the profile of such sites with a younger and wider audience.
Nigel Crowe, national heritage manager, for the Canal & River Trust said; “Hawkesbury Junction has a wonderful, colourful history and it’s great that the Transport Trust have recognised its importance with this plaque. The junction played a really vital role in the development of the area and continues to play an important part in local life today. The plaque is welcome recognition of the junction’s history but also gives a real boost to all the local volunteers that give their time to help us keep the area looking it’s best.”
The ‘Red Wheel’ programme and its supporting website www.transporttrust.com are designed to raise awareness and appreciation of the achievements of our forebears – and maybe to encourage more students to aspire to careers in engineering and logistics.”