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Hawkesbury Junction Conservation Area

Transcript from Coventry City Council 1984 brochure GVA 992 7.84 K.B. , with updates where needed. 


Hawkesbury Junction has been an important link in the regional and national canal network for about 200 years.  Today the boat traffic is almost entirely made up of leisure craft, but the Junction's reason for being was commerce.  The junction is formed by the meeting of the Coventry Canal and the Oxford Canal, and it is known locally, together with the area immediately around, as Sutton Stop.  This is also the name of the private unmade road which gives access to the area, both being named after the Sutton family who were well known lock-keepers for over half of the nineteenth century.  Because of its unique character, and its historical associations with the early years of the industrial revolution and the development of the canal system, Coventry City Council and Nuneaton Borough Council, in September 1976, jointly designated the locality as a Conservation Area, as the area lies across the administrative boundary between the two authorities.

Historical Background

The Coventry Canal was begun in 1768 with the aim of opening up the North Warwickshire coalfield for development, though more visionary people such as the pioneer canal engineer James Brindley saw it, and the Oxford Canal, as part of a major route connecting London and the south with the rapidly expanding industrial centres of Northern England, via the large waterway systems of the Rivers Thames and Severn in the south and Rivers Trent and Mersey in the north.  This concept was known as the "Grand Cross".  By the end of 1769 the first boatloads of coal were passing through Hawkesbury between Bedworth and Coventry's Bishop Street Canal Basin.  The Oxford Canal was started at Longford in 1769, the first 10 miles being completed by 1771, including the Hawkesbury section.  Due to the inability of the Coventry Canal Company and the Oxford Canal Company to agree about tolls, the two canals ran parallel to each other only a few feet apart, from Hawkesbury to Longford. Following a court injunction taken out by the Coventry Canal Company, the two canals were joined in 1777 at Longford.

A view of the conservation area from the Oxford Canal

The first junction at Hawkesbury was made in 1803 and in the 1830s the Oxford Canal was shortened and the Coventry Canal Company asked the Oxford to sanction a new wider junction at Hawkesbury.  This was agreed subject to the protection of the latter's tolls; the present junction was made in 1836 and the connection bridged in 1837.

In the early days of the two canals there were probably no buildings at what is now Hawkesbury Junction, but by the 1830s the Engine House, the Toll Offices of both companies, and what is now the Greyhound Inn, with some of its outbuildings, were all in use.  The presence of the Toll Offices and the Inn resulted from the activity around the "stop locks" on both canals. The Inn, with its stables, was probably built to serve the increasingly regular overnight stops of barges at the locks and the local coal miners.

The boat traffic on the two canals waxed and waned according to the various circumstances in the nineteenth century, but certainly from about the mid-century the general trend in tonnage was downward as a result of intense competition from railways, with occasional temporary halts in the trend, e.g., the two world wars.  After the Second World War the commercial traffic had declined to a mere trickle and indeed it was only the upsurge of boating for pleasure on canals that saved local canals from extinction.

Britannia Bridge

The feature of the last few years, at Hawkesbury as elsewhere, has been the greatly increased interest in canals in general and in canal cruising in particular.  The conservation of historic canalside environment at the junction is a consequence of these interests and the growth of the conservation movement generally. 

The area now and its buildings

Perhaps the most immediately striking feature in the conservation area is the elegant bridge over the actual junction of the two canals.  This cast iron structure is a fine example of the Victorian engineer's art, and has a span of 50 feet.  The bridge was cast at the Britannia Foundry in Derby, and was erected for the Coventry Canal Company in 1837, at a cost of 630.  The abutments are made of red hand-made bricks with a semicircular blue brick coping.  This style of bridge, and combination of materials, was adopted between 1800-1840 on some of the Midlands canals; their use in this bridge shows a lightness of design unexpected with such heavy materials.

The Greyhound Inn and 18 Sutton Stop

The Greyhound Inn and 18 Sutton Stop together form a terrace of two storey buildings which are listed Grade II buildings of architectural and historic interest.  The terrace has smooth rendered walls and "rusticated quoins".  The windows are mostly simple casements though the Inn has two bay windows on the ground floor.  The main doorway has now been restored to its original position as part of the recent major renovation of the building.  Inside the pub some of the old features have been retained such as a fireplace and some high back wooden settles.  At the rear survive old farmbuildings, reminders that early publicans of the inn were also farmers.

Pump House

The engine or pump house is perhaps the most unusual and interesting of all the buildings in the conservation area, both historically and architecturally.  The lean-to at the rear is the oldest part and housed the first engine to be installed in 1821.  This was a Newcomen type engine which had already seen around one hundred years' service at one of the local collieries.  It was named "Lady Godiva" and used to raise water into the canal from a stream flowing underneath.  By 1837, however, this supply proved inadequate, a 114 foot shaft was sunk and a new, more powerful engine installed alongside "Lady Godiva" in the handsome three-storey building which now fronts the canal.  In 1913 this water supply failed due to the sinking of the new Coventry Colliery and the engine house fell into disuse.  The newer engine was scrapped during the Second World War.  "Lady Godiva" remained in place until 1963 when it was moved to Dartmouth, the birthplace of Thomas Newcomen, as the centrepiece of a memorial museum.

4-14 Sutton Stop

 The cottages at 4-14 Sutton Stop are also listed Grade II buildings, of two storeys built in chequerboard brickwork, with a slate roof hipped at each end of the terrace.  It is thought that these were originally associated with the old Victoria Colliery which lay on land to the rear.

32 Sutton Stop

32 Sutton Stop fronts directly onto the Coventry Canal almost opposite the junction and at a point where the canal is wider than average.  The building is a mid-nineteenth century two storey house with later additions to the northern facade.  It has served three main uses: the storage of gunpowder until 1850; the fitting out of canal barges from 1850-1930; since l930 it has been used for residential purposes.  The outline of a canopy can be seen at first floor level, this once housed winches for the moving of large items of cargo from barges to the upper floor level.  The double doors on the ground floor provide evidence of the previous commercial use of the building.  After a long period of vacancy and dereliction, this house has now been restored, as part of the adjacent new residential development (on the Bedworth side of the Conservation Area).

Lock Cottage

The site of the lock cottage, by the side of the stop lock on the Oxford Canal, was occupied fairly early in the history of the canal, but it is not clear whether part or the whole of the existing building is original.  The style of the present building appears to date it as being of mid to late nineteenth century construction.

Enhancement and the Future

In declaring a Conservation Area a local authority commits itself not only to preserve but also to improve the environment where possible and to ensure the retention and continued satisfactory use of its buildings and spaces.

Since designation in 1976 the following major enhancement works have been carried out by the two councils, the British Waterways Board, the West Midlands County Council, Bass, Mitchells and Butlers Ltd. and various other agencies:

1977......  - Undergrounding of overhead wires and cables and improvement of Sutton Stop roadway.
1978  - Refurbishment of bridges and canalside features and landscape improvements to peninsula area.
1981  - Rehabilitation of Nos. 4-14 Sutton Stop.
1983  - Refurbishment of the Greyhound Inn.
1984  - Landscape improvements along Sutton Stop, rationalised car parking arrangements in central area. Remodelling of sanitary block.
1985 - Partial remedial work and basic restoration of the Engine House, jointly funded by British Waterways Board, the Engine House Trust and the two Councils
1989-90  - New 9-space car park provided with improved pedestrian access to Coney Lane Bridge, benches and tree planting; a new welcome sign was also erected at the junction of Sutton Stop and Grange Road
1992 - further discussions with BWB and English Heritage about continued restoration of the Engine House; grant aid possible for a preliminary archaeological excavation and documentary research (required prior to any repairs)
1995 - Drivers Jonas co-ordinated a regeneration study of the Junction and the surrounding areas of derelict land for the two Councils and British Waterways.
1996 - Nuneaton & Bedworth Borough Council produced a booklet of 'Development & Design Guidance' for the Conservation Area. Another scheme for restoring the Engine House was put forward by British Waterways and Sansome Hall.
1998 -

Road improvements and new lighting to the section of Sutton Stop between the Junction and Grange Road.


For further information about the Conservation Area contact either:

Mark Singlehurst,
Conservation Officer,
Civic Centre 4,
Much Park Street,
Tel.: (024) 7683 1265


The Chief Planning and Development
Council House,
Coton Road,

End of transcript - other information below

See also Sutton Stop Description  for photos and comments on walks.

Good for Dogs rating: 2 dogs

Plenty of scope for walking dogs, especially in the areas to the south of the canal.


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