Wiltshire, England
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Wiltshire And Berkshire Canal, Wiltshire, England         OS Map Grid Ref:
 The County of Wiltshire
1:5,000   Photo
1:10,000   Photo
1:25,000     Photo
1:50,000     Photo
1:100,000     Photo


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The fifty-two-mile (83.2 km) length of the mainline Wilts. and Berks. Canal was constructed to connect the Kennet & Avon Canal at Semington near Melksham to the River Thames at Abingdon.

On of many such projects during the age of "canal mania", the Wilts. and Berks. was proposed at Wootton Bassett Town Hall on January 30th, 1793, by the Wilts and Berks Navigation Company which was composed of landowners and others with commercial interests who saw large profits to be made by the cheaper transport of goods and an increase in property values along the canal's path.

A number of other canals were completed in the area about this time. The Thames and Severn Canal, completed in [[1789]], linked the Thames near Lechlade (via the Stroud Water Navigation) to the Severn Estuary. The main line of the Somerset Coal Canal was opened in [[1806]] and the Kennet and Avon Canal was completed four years later.

Robert Whitworth was a pupil of the pioneering engineer James Brindley.

The canal's route was surveyed by Robert Whitworth and his son William. Building began at Semington in [[1795]] using bricks made locally along the route from Kimmeridge clay. The canal reached Chippenham in [[1798]], Swindon in [[1804]] and Abingdon six years later. Including six miles of branches to Calne, Chippenham, Longcot and Wantage, the canal cost a total of �250,0000.

The building of the canal boosted the Swindon quarrying industry as Swindon stone was used for the construction of the canal bridges, the canal offices at Swindon Wharf and the paving of other wharves in the heighbourhood.

A new canal was proposed to link the Wilts. & Berks. to the Thames and the Severn by-passing the Upper Thames Navigation. Called the Severn Junction Canal and renamed the North Wiltshire Canal, it's nine mile length was built between [[1814]] and [[1819]] to link Latton to the north of Cricklade and Swindon. The North Wilts was incorporated into the Wilts. & Berks. Canal in [[1820]].

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Although traffic along the Wilts. & Berks Canal grew steadily before the arrival of the GWR at Swindon and for a period after, it was never a financial success.

Old Swindon was a small market town which suffered from poor transport links with the rest of the country and its principal industry was quarrying. The arrival of the Wilts. & Berks. Canal through the northern, low-lying, part of the parish in [[1804]], the better communications benefitted the economy of the town. The GWR's line ran just to the north of the canal and the easy access this offered to Somerset coal could not have failed to influence Brunel's decision to site the locomotive works in this north-eastern corner of Wiltshire.

In the latter part of the [[19th century]], financial losses led to change of ownership of the canal and its decay. By [[1906]], all traffic on the canal had ceased.

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As well as the canal, many of Hooper's photographs show rural views and several the centre of the town.

By [[1906]], all traffic on the canal which had been in difficulties during the latter part of the [[19th century]] had ceased and as part of Swindon Corporation's move to close the Wilts. & Berks Canal by Act of Parliament in [[1914]], the well-known Swindon photographer William Cooper was commissioned by the Corporation to make a series of photographs of the delapidated canal. Some of the photographs of the Wilts. & Berks. Canal commissioned by the Corporation have been loaned from the Local Studies Collection of Swindon reference Library to the exhibition about the canal at the Swindon Museum, Old Town.

Swindon Corporation bought that portion of the abandoned canal which lay within the Borough, together its associated buildings and Coate Water for £10;,000.

The tow path of the old canal became an official footpath and in urban areas, the canal became filled with domestic refuse and parts of it were built over. Adjacent to Wharf Road in Wroughton, the canal was filled in with clay which had been excavated during the building of the "Pressed Steel" factory (now the Rover (BMW) works). In rural areas, the line of the canal is still evidenced by the tow path, rows of trees and depressions in the fields.

The bricks of which the canal locks were constructed were sometimes taken for house-building; the Swindon writer and poet Alfred Williams built his South Marston home of bricks from a nearby lock which he purchased for the sum of £32.

In Swindon, all but four bridges where the roads abutted them at raised levels (Cambria, Milton, Whale and York Road bridges) were lowered.

During World War II ([[1939]] to [[1945]]) many of the locks and other structures of the defunct canal were used for military exercises and became severely damaged by explosives.

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This time-line has been generated for this page from our general time-line
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1793Wiltshire and Berkshire Canal proposed to link the Kennet and Avon Canal to the river Thames at Abingdon
1795Building of the Wiltshire and Berkshire Canal begins at Semington
1798Wiltshire and Berkshire Canal reaches Chippenham
1802Completion of the Calne branch of the Wiltshire and Berkshire Canal
1804The Wiltshire and Berkshire Canal reaches Swindon
1820North Wiltshire Canal incorporated into the Wiltshire and Berkshire Canal
circa 1900Calne branch of the Wiltshire and Berkshire Canal falls into disuse
1901Collapse of the Stanley Aqueduct between Chippenham and Calne prevents through passage on the Wiltshire and Berkshire Canal
1914Wilts and Berkshire Canal abandoned by Act of Parliament
2000Publication of Wilts and Berks Canal by L J Dalby

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Recommend a Book for this Page

Wilts and Berks Canal
  by L J Dalby, 2000, Oakwood Press, ISBN 0853615624

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