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The Ashby-de-la-Zouch Canal is a 22-mile (35 km) long canal in Englandmarker which connects the Leicestershiremarker village of Snarestonemarker with the Coventry Canal at Bedworthmarker in Warwickshiremarker. The canal used to travel 8 miles (13 km) further north to Moiramarker, just outside the town of Ashby-de-la-Zouchmarker, but this section was affected by mining subsidence, and was progressively closed between 1918 and 1966.

The abandoned section is the subject of a restoration project and is the first canal where a new section has been authorised under the Transport and Works Act (1992). The Transport and Works Order was obtained by Leicestershire County Council, as some of the original route has been infilled and built over, and restoration therefore involves construction on a new route through the centre of Meashammarker.


The canal starts at a junction with the Coventry Canal just outside Bedworth and travels north-east for about 7 miles (11 km) through the town of Hinckleymarker. It then continues to run north through largely rural and remote countryside for another 15 miles (24 km) until reaching its terminus at Snarestone. Near Sutton Cheneymarker Wharf, it passes the foot of Ambion Hillmarker, the site of the Battle of Bosworth Fieldmarker. At Shackerstonemarker, it passes the station that is the HQ of the Battlefield Line Railwaymarker.



In the last half of the eighteenth century there had been an increasing need for transport to exploit the coal reserves at Ashby Wolds and lime from the quarries north of Ashby-de-la-Zouch. It was not, however, until 1794 that William Jessop and Robert Whitworth proposed a canal from the Coventry Canal near Nuneatonmarker. (Robert Whitworth was later remembered with the naming in 2002 of Whitworth Avenue on the new George Wimpey development in Hinckley, which overlooks the Ashby Canal). Its course, though meandering, was to be substantially level until the last four miles (6 km), where it would climb to a summit at Ashby Wolds. This summit level would be supplied by a steam-engine pump from a nearby reservoir. It would continue for four and a half miles to a junction on the far side of Ashby-de-la-Zouch. One branch would run to Coleortonmarker and thence to Cloud Hill, near Breedon-on-the-Hillmarker. The other would run to Ticknallmarker.


The Act having been passed in that year, Jessop withdrew, and Whitworth carried on with the assistance of his son. By 1797, however, it was clear that the costs had been seriously underestimated. Moreover, many shareholders had not honoured their pledges, and the country was in the grip of one of its periodic financial crises.

All work was stopped, except on the lower part, and consideration was given to using railways (or wagonways as they are now known). Fortunately the necessary wording had been included in the Act. However, Whitworth's proposals, somewhat incompehensibly, were for lines independent of the canal. One would run from Ticknall to the River Trent; the other, following a plan which had previously been suggested by Jessop for the Earl of Stamford would run to the Trent from the Cloud Hill quarries.

In 1798, Thomas Newton had taken over from Whitworth and was asked to investigate the possible lines for railways which would serve the canal at Ashby Wolds, then in September, Benjamin Outram was asked to advise.

The lines finally built ran from the Willersley Basin through Ashby to a junction at Old Parks, thus eliminating the long canal loop through Ashby Wolds and Blackfordbymarker. One branch ran through Lountmarker to Cloud Hill, replacing the proposed canal and its diversion through Coleorton. The other branch led from Old Parks to Ticknall, with branches to the quarries between Calke Abbeymarker and Staunton Haroldmarker. As built the lines measured twelve and a half miles.

Outram's engineer for the line was John Hodgkinson who was experienced in the work, but problems arose because the committee insisted that it should proceed on all sections of the line simultaneously, which made supervision difficult. Moreover, perennially short of money, they were dilatory in making decisions and providing funds, which caused Outram problems at his Butterley Works as he was having to refuse contracts, so that he could be ready to provide the canal with material, as and when it was authorised. During this period of delay, the labour costs and the price of iron also rose.

Originally intended to be the three foot six inch (1068 mm) gauge usual at that time, Outram recommended in 1799 that it should be four feet two inches (1322 mm), forecasting that, within a few years, railways would be the principal mode of transport throughout the country. Even though Outram's experience of his treatment by the canal proprietors must have spoilt his satisfaction on the completion of the lines, they were arguably a major achievement and a model for railways in the future. The proprietors also must have been somewhat scarred, inexperienced as they were in the financing of major capital works.

Later history

The canal was opened in 1804 and it took several years for the venture to become successful, with a dividend not being paid until 1828. In 1846 it was taken over by the Midland Railway company for just £110,000, a considerable loss for the owners, who had paid £184,000 in construction.

In 1864 the Midland replaced the section from Ashby to Worthington, enlarging the Old Parks tunnel, running it on through Melbournemarker to Derbymarker. The remainder of the lines were kept for local use, the branch to Ticknall closing in 1915.

Its railway owners did not invest sufficient money in the canal to maintain it properly, preferring to see traffic being carried on the railway, and so its condition gradually deteriorated. In 1918 a major breach caused by mining subsidence caused the last few miles of the canal near Ashby to be abandoned. The canal was nearly closed completely: only the strategic importance of the coal supplies during the First World War allowed it to survive. In 1944, the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) railway, which by then owned the canal, closed down several more miles of its northern end. Further closures followed in 1966, largely owing to mining subsidence.

Traces of the old railway can still be seen, particularly towards Ticknall. A low embankment, still with some stone sleeper blocks crosses a field and a tunnel under the drive to Calke Abbeymarker. There is also an arch bridge in Ticknall village where the line ran into the quarries.


Now the mining industry in the area has gone, there are plans to re-open the canal to the National Forest visitor centre at Moira, about one mile (2 km) short of its original terminus at Spring Cottage. Between 1999 and 2005, a stretch of the canal near Moira was restored and re-filled with water, passing the historic Moira Furnacemarker. However, the A42 main road has been built across the canal's formation making a complete re-opening unlikely in the near future. In October 2005, Leicestershire County Council obtained a Transport and Works Order to enable them to purchase land and construct 2.5 miles (4 km) of canal from Snarestone to Measham. Initially, this will follow the original route, but will diverge near Measham, to use the track of a redundant railway. The new canal will pass through Measham Station and cross the High Street on an aqueduct. It now seems only a matter of time until complete restoration will be accomplished.

The Transport and Works Act Order was introduced by the British Parliament in 1992 as a way of simplifying the legal processes for railway and canal projects, and works which interfere with navigation rights. Although a number of railway projects had previously been authorised under this legislation, the Ashby Canal Order obtained by Leicestershire County Council was the first time that construction of a canal had been authorised in this way. Re-construction of the first of the infilled section began on 26 February 2009, after a grant from the East Midlands Development Agency was secured. The £0.5 million project involves the provision of stop gates, a new slipway, an improved winding hole and a wetland nature reserve, running parallel to the canal and connected to it.


See also


  1. Leicester County Council business plan
  2. Department of Transport, A Guide to Transport and Works Act Procedures
  3. Leicestershire County Council press release
  4. Towpath Telegraph, Waterways World Magazine, April 2009

  • Clinker, C.R., and Hadfield, C., (1978) The Ashby-de-la-Zouch Canal and its Railways Bristol: Avon-Anglia Publications & Services. Reprinted from (1958) the Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society.
  • Schofield, R.B., (2000) Benjamin Outram, Cardiff: Merton Priory Press

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