History of the Society

Old City Basin from bridge No. 1

During the rebuilding programme, after the second world war, the Coventry city council put forward a plan that surrounded a modern traffic free centre with a ring road. This new road was to be built across the canal, which unlike the old medieval city centre and cathedral had survived the blitz.


Local members of the I.W.A. including David Hutchins, who worked for the council and Bert Dunkley, a local canal enthusiast, started campaigning to save the canal.

The I.W.A. supported this campaign and held its National Rally in the Coventry basin. The event attracted a large number of boats and thousands of visitors to the rally site. This interest in the canal was harnessed by the formation of the Coventry Canal Society with Bert Dunkley as its first chairman.

Refurbished City Basin from bridge No. 1

The then Lord Mayor of Coventry, Pearl Hyde, was invited to the rally and became a committed and enthusiastic supporter of the Society and canals in general. She later went on to set up the Pearl Hyde Trust that provided canal trips for disabled people in a specially adapted narrow boat. The fight to save the canal took two long years during which time it was under continual threat of being unfilled and built over. The Coventry Canal Society was very active in promoting the advantages to the city of a local canal. Eventually opinions changed and the future of the canal was secured.

Wyken basin today

In 1958 the society rediscovered the Wyken arm, a disused and overgrown colliery canal just south of Hawkesbury junction on the North Oxford canal. Society members cleaned out and restored the arm as moorings for members’ boats. The first ever canal restoration project by volunteers. Members of the society and others were concerned about the Hawkesbury engine house falling into decline and set up the Engine House trust.

Part of mosaic in City basin

Later the society incorporated the trust and now the pump house has since passed into private hands and has been the subject of a number of development plans – all of which have so far failed.

The Society supplied most of the boats on the first two protest cruises during the early days of the Stratford canal restoration project. They also provided labour for the Stourport canal restoration work and later went on to become involved in the planning for the re-development of the Coventry City basin in the late 80’s and the redevelopment of the canal corridor and the art trail in the 90’s.

Part of the city mosaic

The Society was active in preventing the weighbridge office building in the city basin from demolition. They negotiated a lease with British Waterways and restored the building as a small museum & gift shop. Currently the building is under repair again and will re-open as an information/education centre. On the death of Joe and Rose Skinner, the last of the ‘Number Ones’, the Society launched a fund to purchase their boat, ‘Friendship’, and presented it to the Waterways museum at Ellesmere Port.

‘Panther’ out and about

The Society today provides advice in all development work taking place along the canal corridor within the city boundary. The Society successfully fought for the retention of the wharf at Hawkesbury junction and is now actively ensuring that the housing development taking place at this site does not destroy its unique heritage. The Society has always been active in maintaining the Coventry canal and still carries out monthly canal clearance work parties with its own heritage narrow boat ‘PANTHER’.