The Coventry Canal was a vital link in James Brindley’s scheme of canals to join the major rivers of the Trent, Mersey, Severn and Thames (later known as Brindley's Grand Cross). With the Oxford Canal it formed the strategic fourth arm of the cross after completion of the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal in 1772 and the Trent & Mersey Canal in 1777. The Act was passed in 1768 and construction began but the proprietors had the temerity to sack Brindley in 1769 and sometimes seemed more interested in their local trade than completing the through route. Having built the canal out from Coventry to the coalfield at Bedworth it had reached Atherstone in 1771 where the money ran out and construction stopped for many years. They then became embroiled in a long running dispute with the Oxford Canal about the location of their junction, resulting in the ludicrous situation of the two canals running parallel for over a mile to Longford and it was not until 1785 that the present junction at Hawkesbury was made.
By 1782 frustrated by the lack of a link to London and an eastern outlet from Birmingham the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal and Trent & Mersey Canal got together to put pressure on the Coventry Canal to complete their route. The outcome was an agreement for the Coventry Canal to complete to Fazeley, the Birmingham & Fazeley to continue building beyond Fazeley along the Coventry’s line as far as Whittington Brook, half way to Fradley, and the Trent & Mersey Canal to build the other half from Fradley to Whittington Brook, which was all completed by 1790. Meanwhile the Coventry Canal had found the money to buy back the Fradley to Whittington Brook section but not the section built by the Birmingham & Fazeley, resulting in the anomaly that persists to this day that the Fazeley to Whittington Brook section of the Coventry Canal is legally still part of the Birmingham & Fazeley and is still labelled as such on Ordnance Survey maps. For the canal user the most notable consequence is that the Coventry Canal bridges are all numbered whilst the Birmingham & Fazeley bridges are named, so there is 5½ miles between bridges 77 and 78 with about 15 un-numbered bridges in between ! The historically significant end-on junction at Whittington Brook was unmarked until 1990 when an inscribed boundary stone was provided by IWA Lichfield Branch on the 200th anniversary of completion of the canal.
Several private branch canals were built by colliery owners in the Nuneaton-Bedworth area including the Griff arm in 1787, the Newdigate Colliery Arm and the remarkable Arbury or Newdigate canals; a 6 mile complex of canals at various levels with 13 very small locks built between 1764 and 1795 on the Arbury Hall estate. All these colliery connections, completion of the through route to Oxford in 1790 and a junction with the Ashby Canal in 1804 ensured that the Coventry Canal became one of the most profitable of canals. The example of its large dividends contributed to the ‘Canal Mania’ years of 1793-4 when many more useful, and a few not so sensible, canal schemes were promoted around the country.
Today, the Coventry Canal is becoming increasingly popular. The old coal mining and quarrying areas around Bedworth, Hartshill and Polesworth have greened over, the urban sections in Coventry are being regenerated whilst Nuneaton, Atherstone and Tamworth retain many canalside open spaces, and in between is much attractive countryside. As well as remaining a key link in the network, more boats are being based on the canal as a convenient central location and with access to one of the longest level pounds on the system.