This contour canal was one of the earliest canals to be built. Its purpose was to transport coal from the Coventry coalfields to Banbury, Oxford and the Thames. It was completed in 1790 but soon experienced competition from the Grand Junction Canal, which offered a shorter route to London. The northern section of the Oxford Canal was shortened in the 1830s, hence the occasional missing bridge numbers. Commercial carrying waned after the First World War but, nevertheless, continued into the 1960s. When the southern section was in danger of closure in the 1950s, IWA won one of its first campaigns and the canal was designated a Cruiseway in the 1968 Transport Act.