The Wilts & Berks Canal Trust are a great bunch of ‘waterway people’! They invited me to give a presentation at their recent AGM and have been good enough to put a copy of it on their website.
It was an interesting day and it was good to catch up with John Laverick, a former Chairman and now Vice President of the W&BCT and a colleague of mine in old BW days.
The Wilts & Berks Canal received its Act in 1795 and it’s the only narrow canal in the South of England. It ran for 51 miles from Semington on the Kennet & Avon to Abingdon on the Thames, with 42 locks and numerous wooden lift-bridges. A further link was made, via the North Wilts Canal, to the Thames & Severn at Latton. Trade was never as substantial as hoped, although coal from Somerset was important. Following a dramatic failure of the Stanley aqueduct in 1901, traffic dwindled and ceased altogether in 1906 and the Wilts & Berks closed in 1914.
For decades the line of the canal slowly mouldered until, in 1977 the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust was formed and has been working steadily towards restoration ever since. Over 100 members of this motivated, well-organised Trust attended the AGM and one of the high points of the day was a tour of the canal between Wichelstowe and Swindon, taking in a new lock and channel, lined with new houses. There are photographs of this on the W&BCT’s website, which is very informative and includes links to its excellent magazine, Dragonfly. It’s also got some fascinating historic documents, including the ‘Canal Rules & Byelaws June 1819’ which include instructions about not dropping paddles, keeping horses muzzled, giving way to laden boats and ‘that no lighted candle shall at any time be used in the Company’s Warehouses except in a lantern…in the presence of the Company’s Wharfinger’. Quite right too, given that canal warehouses occasionally handled gunpowder, amongst the usual commodities.
Over the past year the W&BCT’s branches have done much good work. Chris Coyle’s summary of their achievements is also on their website and includes the Wichelstowe canal link and the potential acquisition of the Peterborough Arms pub at Dauntsey Lock where the W&BCT will have its HQ and which will become a centre for canal activity, education and social events. Good luck to them; there’s plenty more to come from this flourishing canal trust!
Thanks to Kath Hatton for the lovely photo.
As national heritage manager, Nigel’s role is to lead the Canal & River Trust’s team of regional heritage advisers in England and Wales. He has over 25 years’ experience of working in the conservation, archaeology and interpretation of historic buildings and places. He is a member of the editorial board of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation. He has written numerous articles concerning heritage conservation and is the author of several longer published works, including the English Heritage Book of Canals.See more blogs from Nigel Crowe