Photo: David Dixon
There are many heroes of the canals, none more so than James Brindley, fondly referred to as ‘England’s first engineer’ and ‘father of English canals’. Born in Derbyshire and raised in Staffordshire, this self-taught engineer was commissioned by the Duke of Bridgewater to construct Britain’s first true canal, which opened in 1761. Brindley then helped establish a network of over 360 miles of waterways, kickstarting the Industrial Revolution and contributing to Britain’s prosperity before the railway era, which began in the 1850s.
One of the canals that Brindley helped to build was the Coventry Canal in 1768 (although he didn’t complete it), and you’ll find a 7ft bronze statue dedicated to the great man in the canal basin in Coventry, recently named UK City of Culture 2021. The sculpture portrays Brindley, dressed elegantly in 18th-century garb, poring over canal plans at a desk. It was created by world renowned sculptor James Butler.
The statue is one of 39 artworks by local artists along the Canal Art Trail, which runs for 5.5 miles from the basin to Hawkesbury Junction. Start at the Lock Gates, pass the James Brindley statue then work your way past the City Basin Mosaic and The Journeyman sculpture, which portrays the range of tools used by the navvies that built the waterway. Further along this waterside gallery you’ll find a more unusual artwork under Navigation Bridge, called The Navigator. It is a solar-powered light sculpture, which, when triggered by passing boats and pedestrians, projects arcs of light that follow the elliptical profile of the bridge’s underside.
Find out more about the Canal Art Trail in Coventry