Canal Conservation Area

Ended on the 30th September 2018
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Summary of Special Interest

The opening of the Warwick canals was marked by cannons and ringing of bells at a ceremony on the eve of the new century as, on the 19th December 1799, a boatload of coal travelling south from Staffordshire met a boatload of lime travelling north from Napton. The connections were part of a network of waterways that helped transform the means by which goods and materials were transported towards the end of the 18th and early 19th century.

The twenty five years from 1790 to 1815 saw profound change emerge in both ideas and events that swept Europe and beyond. Political events, war with France, the French revolutions cry of liberty and equality, Erasmus Darwin and Kant's evolving scientific and philosophical ideas, and an emerging middle class. Rapidly developing Engineering innovations given impetus by the Coalbrookdale bridge over the Severn in 1779. The impact of the Lunar Society in Birmingham

In Britain the industrial revolution and expanding empire in India and elsewhere, despite the independence of America, brought about capital investment in projects. Mass production and mass consumption required transport to get the goods to market and the coal and minerals to industry. The rise in population meant farmers delivering foodstuff to the growing towns, and getting the night soil away again.

Enlightened industrialists like Robert Owen at New Lanark built a settlement for his workers and their families, with school, community hall and co-operative shop, to show by example how the lives of the poor could be improved through design according to ethical values. But essentially it was the pursuit of profit, a return on investment, that drove the ingenuity and resourcefulness that created the infrastructure to bring forward industrialisation. In 1790 France had 8 cotton mills to England's 200 and 1000 Spinning Jennys compared to Britain's 20,000. France was an agricultural economy with little infrastructure, so 85% of the population lived in small settlements.

In the context of the Midlands, the Canals are of considerable architectural, historic, archaeological, social and scenic interest. The influence of canals was phenomenal, completely revolutionising industrial transportation and thus having a profound effect on the location of industries. The impact on Leamington of the canal, from its completion in 1800, was no less spectacular. The wharfs quickly became important focal points for industry and facilitated the growth of settlements.


  1. The Warwick and Stratford canals significance as part of the late 18th, 19th and early 20th century canal network, the key infrastructure that made possible the development of the country.
  2. Its importance as a historic record of the most dominant pre-railway freight transport network, that retains original features including aqueducts, bridges, toll houses, lock cottages, cuttings and embankments.
  3. Its major contribution to the growth of Leamington from a village of 315 people at the start of the 19th century when the canal arrived;
  4. Its present-day use as a popular leisure resource for walkers, cyclists, pleasure boaters and anglers;
  5. The historical and architectural interest of the canal as a structure; aqueducts, lock flights and tunnel;
  6. The special interest of the canal as designed landscape, the canal setting and relationship with the historic estates close to the waterways including National Trust properties at Packwood and Baddesley Clinton;
  7. The special interest of the 21 broad locks at Hatton, and 25 on the Warwick and Napton stretch of the Grand Union, together with an aqueduct 27 feet above the River Avon and also a metal trough carrying the main line canal over the main line railway; a splendid brick railway viaduct; a tunnel with separate horse tunnel, and numerous brick bridges.
  8. The Stratford upon Avon canal through the district also includes distinctive split bridges, and unique barrel vaulted cottages as well as 30 narrow locks. The Stratford is also the example of how volunteers saved the canal and reversed decline under railway ownership, adoption by a trust, returned to national ownership.
  9. Key Views to landmarks such as St Mary's church from the lock flight at Hatton.
  10. The changing setting of the canals as a linear progress from Birmingham and the metropolitan city fringe, through rural landscapes down to Stratford, or to Warwick where it largely skirts the higher ground at the centre of the town then crosses the river Avon and passes through Leamington alongside the river Leam before climbing east through farmland towards the junction with the Oxford Canal;
  11. Economically as an example of how a collection of local Warwick citizens created canals that overcame the regions topography to connect the Birmingham watershed to the navigable rivers.
  12. As an example of interwar investment in modernisation of locks to improve the link between the manufacturers of the Midlands to London and the world beyond.
  13. The designed landscape of waterway, trees and hedgerows and the waterways role as a wildlife corridor particularly through urban areas. Many stretches of the navigations possess the attractions of a natural river rich in aquatic and waterside flora and fauna and Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
  14. Despite their inception at a time of change from agrarian to industrial activity, the Stratford canal is particularly noted for its visual charm, meandering for most of its length through the quiet pastoral landscape of Warwickshire with very limited hints of the coalmines and heavy goods that prompted its creation.
  15. The immediate effect was the reduction in the price of coal, so that it became possible to set up industry in country towns like Warwick, away from coal fields. One of the first factories in Warwick employed a tenth of the population, over five hundred hands. As a consequence, in the first thirty years of the century the population of Warwick increased from 5592 to 9109 in 1831.

The appraisal explores the 18th,19th and 20th century historic and the present day environments, in order to understand better historic and current activity, and the resulting form and what contributes to the setting of the canal. This approach recognises distinctive character areas. Because of the decline of some early industry and subsequent replacement development, the canal remains as the corridor of open space linking a series of different functioning environments, in some ways capturing the vitality that accompanied its creation and the evolution of the urban areas. What comprises a heritage asset's setting may change as the asset and its surroundings evolve or due to the varying impacts of different proposals; for instance, new understanding of the relationship between neighbouring heritage assets may extend what might previously have been, as the asset becomes better understood. The CAA will be lodged with Warwickshire County Councils Heritage Environment Record. HERs are a primary source of information for planning, development-control work, and land management.

The objective of an appraisal is to record, understand, analyse and define in depth the special interest and traits which make up the character of a conservation area, to identify the pressures and challenges that may threaten its survival and to recommend courses of action which will aid in achieving sensitive management, preservation and enhancement (the latter fulfilling duties imposed by section 71 of the 1990 Act). Historic England's advice encourages a more consistent approach to the identification and management of local heritage assets across England. It signals a move away from the buildings-led approach to local listing to encompass the full range of heritage assets that make up the historic environment and ensure the proper validation and recording of local heritage assets and their context. The context of a heritage asset is a term used to describe any relationship between it and other heritage assets, which are relevant to its significance, including cultural, intellectual, spatial or functional. They apply irrespective of distance, sometimes extending well beyond what might be considered an asset's setting, and can include the relationship of one heritage asset to another of the same period or function.

The NPPF states that the setting of a designated heritage asset can contribute to its significance. Settings may also be nested and overlapping. what matters and why is also defined through understanding morphology, regularity and density of street pattern and other communications; positioning of buildings in relation to plots and sight-lines; building scale and density, and their relationship to street width; Buildings: functional types including plan-form, particularly where townscape character has been shaped by cycles of change and creation over the long term. Setting in urban areas, given the potential numbers and proximity of heritage assets, is therefore intimately linked to considerations of townscape and urban design and of the character and appearance of conservation areas. The character of the conservation area, and of the surrounding area, and the cumulative impact of proposed development adjacent, would suggest how much impact on the setting should be taken into account. The NPPF states that the setting of a designated heritage asset can contribute to its significance.

What comprises a heritage asset's setting may change as the asset and its surroundings evolve. Extensive heritage assets, such as landscapes and townscapes, can include many heritage assets and their nested and overlapping settings, as well as having a setting of their own. Its importance lies in what it contributes to the significance. A conservation area will include the settings of listed buildings and have its own setting, as will the village or urban area in which it is situated and views identified in character area appraisals or in management plans.

Landscapes that display a long and continuous history of evolution, together with those that are characterised by a clear and consistent pattern of key elements, tend to be more sensitive to change than those that have fewer distinguishing features.

Where new development is planned conservation area appraisals should help inform and guide research that provides a useful design resource to those proposing it, and those determining applications. Failure to mention a particular element or detail must not be taken to imply that it is of no importance to an appreciation of character or appearance of the Conservation Area and thus of no relevance in considering planning applications


The conservation area appraisal gives an outlines history of the canals and the settlement and explains what makes it special, with some general guidance on managing change and carrying out development in the conservation area. The analysis makes use of historic mapping and brings together existing sources using a layering of information, so that the narrative is not over burdened with footnotes, but signposts how to find out more from information in the HER.

Warwickshire's historic mapping allows us to look back at the pattern of development from the time of the 1880's. earlier mapping is also available to understand the changes that familiar places have undergone since the canal was constructed, and to establish a perspective of time. A CA is an enduring designation that needs reviewing in the future so it captures the way the historic asset evolves over the next twenty, fifty, a hundred years. By looking at change we can build a picture that transcends what we see today, and understand how effective stewardship can be with constructive conservation.

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