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The Leicestershire line of the Grand Union Canal meanders from Leicester to Market Harborough passing through the Parish of Smeeton Westerby from a point southwest of the Smeeton Road Bridge (No. 70) to Debdale Wharf.

In 1793 an Act of Parliament was passed enabling the construction of the Leicestershire and Northamptonshire Union Canal. This new section of canal was intended to link the Soar Navigation near Leicester to the River Nene in Northamptonshire.

Construction of the Leicestershire and Northamptonshire Canal commenced and by 1797 the canal had reached Debdale where the Debdale Wharf Inn and a warehouse had already been built.

Debdale Wharf Inn
ebdale Wharf Inn

In 1799 James Barnes, an engineer working on the Grand Junction Canal (stretching from Braunston in Northamptonshire to the River Thames at Brentford), was asked to find a route for the Leicestershire and Northamptonshire Canal to reach the Grand Junction Canal at Braunston in Northamptonshire. In 1802 he produced a proposal, to route the rest of the canal to Norton on the Grand Junction Canal, with a branch to Market Harborough. Another engineer, Thomas Telford, was asked for his opinion and he proposed a change of destination to Norton Junction for the join to the Grand Junction Canal. This route was agreed and in 1805 finance was raised and construction resumed. In 1809 the canal reached Market Harborough when once again construction was suspended.

By this time the Grand Junction Canal from London to Braunston in Northamptonshire had been completed and opened. A route for joining the Grand Junction and Grand Union Canals was discussed and it was decided that a separate company ‘The Grand Union Canal Company’ should be formed. A Bill was put before Parliament to authorise a new canal, known as the Grand Union Canal.

The Act of Parliament received Royal Assent on 24 May 1810. The Act was ‘An Act for making and maintaining a navigable Canal from the Union Canal, in the parish of Gumley, in the county of Leicester, to join the Grand Junction Canal near Buckby, in the county of Northampton.’

The canal link from Braunston to Foxton was completed and opened by 1814. This provided a direct route for the transport of industrial products and coal from the East Midlands to London.

The Grand Union Canal was never a commercial success and so with the development of the railways, trade using canals from the1830’s declined. In the years following, several proposals were made to speed up travel on the canal including the building of the Foxton Locks Inclined Plane.

During the 1950s and 1960s freight transport on the canal system declined rapidly. The Transport Act of 1962 transferred the canals to British Waterways. The 1960s saw the canal leisure industry begin to grow and this was acknowledged with the Transport Act 1968, Part Vll and Schedule 12, Part ll, ‘Cruising Waterways’. This Act required British Waterways to keep the waterways fit for cruising. This included the Leicester Line section of the Grand Union Canal. An example of the growth of the canal leisure industry can be seen at the Debdale Wharf Marina which has been operating at Debdale since 1974.


The Canal and River Trust
British Waterways

Published in Modern
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