Photo: Damien Walmsley
The decline of canals in the first half of the 20th century was one of those things that people seemed to take for granted, a natural consequence brought about by improvements in rail and road transport. As a result, some canals fell into such states of disrepair they were effectively abandoned. But after the Second World War, a grass roots restoration movement sprung up determined to save the nation’s canals. One of their first great campaigns centered round the Stratford-Upon-Avon Canal, which was derelict in 1930 but revitalised by 1964, when it was officially reopened by the Queen. It’s now seen as a prime example of the second life given to our country’s canal system.
The Stratford-upon-Avon Canal was completed in 1816 and divided into a southern and northern section by Kingswood Junction. Over its full length of 25.5 miles, the canal connects the Worcester & Birmingham Canal at Kings Norton to the River Avon at Stratford. By the 1930s, the southern section was derelict while the northern section was rarely used after 1939.
The newly formed Inland Waterways Association decided to make the canal’s decline a major feature of their campaign to revive and restore defunct canals by turning them into places for leisure boating. Initial focus was on a faulty lift bridge that blocked navigation in the northern section, before attention switched the southern end where broken locks saw several sections run dry. Plans to abandon the southern section were put to rest when the National Trust agreed to take on the necessary restoration work, beginning in 1961. The canal was reopened in 1964 in a ceremony involving the Queen that has been seen as a turning point for the waterways movement, a justification of decades of hard work as well as inspiration for the work yet to come.
The Stratford-upon-Avon Canal, now looked after by the Canal & River Trust, now provides a through route from Warwickshire to the Severn and travels through some beautiful countryside, including the conservation area of Wootton Wawen, before ending in Bancroft Basin in the centre of Stratford, home of Shakespeare. Architectural highlights include the unique barrel-roof lock cottages and split bridges, designed with a gap so tow ropes could pass through.
You can read more about the Stratford-Upon-Avon Canal on our website.
Each year, we hold a number of free Open Days for the public. We’re inviting you along to take a look behind the scenes and find out what it takes to keep our canals and rivers open to everyone. Find an Open Day near you.