The Upper Avon Navigation
The Upper Avon Navigation, being the intermittent adaptation from the Post Medieval to the Modern periods, of the River Avon, to make it navigable between Stratford on Avon, Evesham and Tewksbury.
1 In 1636 Wm. Sandys got from Stratford Corporation to make the River Avon navigable. His work resulted in 43.5 miles of water from Stratford to Tewkesbury being passable. It is not really certain what he did – possibly the gates and locks which existed until 1820-30 in the upper Avon were his work. Harington says he made sluices in Bidford and Welford, so presumably he improved on the mill water courded there, however these would probably predate the large locks to be found later in these positions.
By 1664 the Avon had come via a series of transactions eventually to a syndicate wishing to further improve the navigation. Hadfied guesses their work was to build 30 ton locks at Grange, Welford, Luddington, Stratford, and Luddington Weir. The engineer was probably Yarraton.
After 1664 40 ton barges could apparently navigate the Avon. there was no horse-towpath, so power was wind or human derived.
In 1813 Wm James bought the Upper Avon probably considering his interests in the Stratford Canal, and postulating a junction between the two. The junction was authorised in 1815 and opened in 1816 (See WA 4339). After the junction was opened trace was hampered by the nature of the Avon, in 1822 the stretch was closed for six months and £60 000 was spent on repairs to the locks.
Increased tolls past Stratford, and competion from The Worcester and Birmingham canal meant trade was poor. A syndicate bought James’ share in 1825. Further improvements had been carried out between 1823-5 when the chanel was deepened and Lucy’s Lock (WA 4341) doubled. In1827 new secondary locks were built at Welford amd Luddington.
In 1843 the Stratford Canal Company took the lease but losses were such that it relinquished it in 1847. By 1857 the owners had virtually abandoned the river and could get no one to buy it.
In 1859 the OWWR bought the Avon, having previously bought the canal. By 1875 it announced that the river was to be abandoned and thereafter it fell into ruin.
The renovation of the Stratford Canal prompted the renovation of the navigation along the Avon and in 1974 it became navigable to Evesham as part of the Avon ring. Six locks were rebuilt or built in totally different positions to the old ones, and often the old overflow weirs were removed. The locks were built by a team of volunteers, prisoners and servicemen.