As originally constructed, the northern section of the Oxford Canal from Hawkesbury to Napton junction closely followed the contours. From Hawkesbury to Hillmorton it took the line of the 300ft contour; then, having ascended through three locks; it followed the 325ft contour to Napton. A 16 mile flight for a crow became a 44 mile voyage for a boat.
To combat a proposal made in 1827 for a London & Birmingham Junction Canal, a wide waterway designed by Thomas Telford, which would have bypassed the Oxford completely, the Oxford Company decided to modernise its own canal. Within a few months plans were produced to shorten the line by nearly 14 miles, with embanked cuts and large aqueducts replacing the meandering loops. Although the London & Birmingham proposal eventually came to nothing, the Oxford went ahead with its scheme which, in view of the profits the company was making, it could well afford. In May 1834 the new line was opened. Not all the planned alterations were effected and the line was shortened by just over 11 miles.
Many traces can still be found of the Oxford Canal’s disused loops. On the northern outskirts of Rugby the B4112 Rugby-Newbold road edges up close to the canal. Here the original line swung abruptly south in front of the Barley Mow and the Boat Inn.
The north portal of the old Newbold Tunnel was on the north side of the road; the tunnel took the canal under the road and the churchyard emerging in a field on the southwest side of the church, where the brick south portal can still be seen. The tunnel, some 400ft long, was altered during construction for fear it would affect the stability of the church. The northern section was wider, with a flatter arch; the southern part was made elliptical and the width of the wooden towpath was reduced.
When visited in 1980 the tunnel was open but it has subsequently been bricked up to prevent access with two small holes in the brickwork to allow bats to use the tunnel.
From the south portal the depression of the canal bed can be seen making its way through the fields. It ran up close to the Rugby-Nuneaton railway line, was bridged by the minor road from Newbold to Little Lawford and rejoined the present main line on the west side of the B4112 road bridge.
On the new main line the tunnel was replaced by one of generous dimensions with a towpath each side of a channel wide enough for two narrow boats to pass.
- Lost Canals and Waterways of Britain by Ronald Russell ISBN 0 7153 8072 9
- Landscape Detective by Anthony Burton & John May ISBN 0 0491 4061 2