Leicester began to benefit greatly when the Grand Union Canal was built in the 1790’s. The Grand Union Canal was conceived as an idea that would effectively link up major parts of the country and join them in a network or waterways that could help transport important cargo between them. When the idea was first conceived it was designed to be that network which would create a system of major waterway arteries around the country as far as Birmingham and beyond.
Starting in London in the Paddington area the canal was to head west, toward Brentford in the ‘Brentford to Brauston’ stretch of the canal. This was one of the main arteries and headed through Hanwell, Norwood, Southall, Hayes, West Drayton and then swinging slightly northward into the Colne Valley, where it swung toward Cowley and then through Uxbridge and Denham.
Prior to the industrial revolution and the onset of the railways the canals and natural waterways of England were the only really safe way of getting goods from one place to another. The Grand Union was also laden with locks which helped to control the water flow and water levels so that canal boats—known as barges—could navigate different inclines. The locks would be operated by keepers along the route and opened from one end to allow the barge access. Once inside the lock would close and the barge would wait for the water level to match the exiting side before it could open the doors and be on its way.
Moving Goods from up and down the Country
Leicester was central to many transportation options prior to the railways. The Canals and waterways assisted companies who operated shipping in Leicester to get from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ no matter where they were. The main artery on the Grand Union was known as the Main Line and went toward Birmingham, where the it met up with the Oxford Canal, where the two run concurrently for a five miles stretch to Napton Junction. There, they part ways and the Grand union heads for Birmingham, while the Oxford takes a left turn toward Banbury. The Canals helped the country stay productive until the railways made life faster. Nowadays the canals are mainly used for leisure.
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