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The History of the Grand Union Canal.

These pages cover the history of the Grand Union from it's creation in 1929. Separate history pages, linked from the bottom of this page exist for each of the constituent companies.

In 1929 after 15 years of collaboration, the Grand Junction and Regents canal companies decided that a merger would be the best way forward to secure the future of both canals. So, the Regents Canal bought the Grand Junction Canal and all of its arms and branches for £801,442. The whole network was reformed as the Grand Union Canal. Later that year the new company bought both of the Warwick Canals (which formed part of the main line to Birmingham) for £136,003.

In 1932 expansion continued when the Grand Union Canal bought the Leicester and Loughborough (River Soar) Navigations and the Erewash Canal for a total of £75,423. This meant that main line routes from London to Birmingham and to the River Trent were all owned by one company for the first time - except for the 5 mile stretch of the Oxford Canal between Braunston and Napton. The new Grand Union Company attempted to buy the whole of the Oxford Canal but the agreement fell through due to a number of technical reasons.

The new combined canal was over 300 miles long.

A key aim of the take over was to create a route capable of taking 14 ft barges or two narrow boats from London to Birmingham. Plans were announced to improve the Warwick canals and a Government loan under measures designed to relieve unemployment was granted. In 1931 the Grand Union obtained the required enabling act. Though work was completed by 1934 wide boats were unable to use it commercially, but pairs were greatly speeded up by up to £1,000,000 worth of work.

Between Birmingham and Napton 52 narrow locks were replaced by 51 new locks. Depth was increased to 5 foot 6 inches. Over 26 miles of pilling was done.

Meanwhile south of Braunston work was done to ensure depth was always 5 foot 6 inches.

Plans were made to improve the Leicester route as well. However the government refused a request for a grant of £144,000 towards the costs of widening Faxton and Watford locks. So no further action was taken here.

In 1931 attempts were made to buy the Oxford canal but to no avail, possibly due to problems with property in Oxford. But in its act the Grand Union was empowered to carry out improvements between Braunston and Napton at their own expense.

The new company also (re)started carrying goods itself. They bought up Associated Canal Carriers Ltd. and became the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company Ltd, or GUCCCo. in 1934 'The Grand Union Carrying Co. Ltd'. Eventually up to 186 pairs of a new improved design. They secured several new traffics in the 1930's.

In 1936 after 60 years, the use of steam powered tug boats in the Grand Junction Canal's tunnels came to an end.

In 1937 the owners of the Cromford Canal announced their intention to close down the whole of their canal. This raised a few objections, not enough to change the plans of the owners but enough to persuade them to offer the line to the Grand Union Canal. However, it would appear that the Grand Union Company were not interested and there was no take-over

The Grand Union Carrying Fleet had certainly slowed the decline of these canals. However with the Second World War men again left the canal. In 1942 it came under the control of the Ministry of War Transport. All through the war the company made a loss and no dividends were paid to shareholders from 1933 onwards.

In 1948 all canals were nationalised as part of the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive. Then in 1955 the canals were separated into British Transport Waterways and in 1963 this was replaced by British Waterways.

Commercial traffic however declined. The last commercial narrow boat on the Erewash canal was in 1952. Traffic such as the Steel was lost to road transport and in March 1969 the last regular commercial traffic - the cement from Southam to Sampson Road Birmingham came to an end.

However in line with the decline of commercial traffic has been an increase in pleasure traffic.

In 1962 the BTC closed down the top section of the Erewash Canal from Langley Mill to Gallows Inn.. However, the closed stretch of the Erewash Canal had to be fully maintained as it provided the main water supply (from Moorgreen Reservoir) to the still open sections of the canal below Gallows Inn. The water supply was also used by numerous industries in the area and, because of this, boats could still (with prior permission from the BTC) use the upper section long after its "closure. In 1971 Langley basin and lock was restored and the continued use of the canal by pleasure craft secured.

In 1978 Braunston Tunnel was closed for repair work and was not to reopen until 1980. Then in 1980 Blisworth tunnel closed for repair work and did not reopen until 1984.


Nicholson Guides to the Waterways.

Roots & Routes, Peter Hardcastle's Website



Some pictures of this canal?

Bull's Bridge to Marsworth / Paddington Arm. / Marsworth to Gayton / Aylesbury Arm

Gayton to Norton / Norton to Braunston / Braunston to Napton /Napton to Warwick / Warwick to Lapworth

Lapworth to Camp Hill. / Camp Hill to Salford / Digbeth Branch.


More information from Reed Boats about this canal.

General information


History of the separate canals which make up the present Grand Union canal.

Grand Junction - London to Braunston. / Regent's Canal - In London.

Warwick & Napton Canal - That canal. / Warwick & Birmingham Canal - That canal .

Grand Union Leicester section - From Norton to Leicester. / The River Soar - From Leicester to the Trent.

The Erewash Canal. - Continuing north of the River Trent.


Find our information about other canals on the canal index page.


If you have any questions then do ring us on 07977 229103
or email us at

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