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The Wilts and Berks Canal

The Wilts and Berks Canal was authorised by act of parliament in 1794, and officially opened throughout, from Semington on the Kennet and Avon Canal to Abingdon on the river Thames, on 10th September 1810. The engineer was Robert Whitworth, succeeded by his son William in 1799.

The canal proprietors foresaw their market as coal traffic from the Somerset coalfields and the Forest of Dean to Abingdon, and beyond to London and the Midlands. A second market was agricultural products from the countryside through which the canal passed to big cities such as Bristol and London.

In those days, the largest town near to the canal (from west to east) were:

Melksham - 5006
Chippenham - 3366
Calne - 3767
Wootton Bassett - 1244
Swindon - 1198
Wantage - 2339
Abingdon - 4356


The canal was 52 miles long, and rose from the Thames through 18 locks to a summit pound some 8.5 miles long through Swindon. It then dropped through a further 24 locks to Semington. Wantage, Calne and Chippenham were all on short branch canals; there were a further three locks on the Calne branch, but Wantage and Chippenham were both level.

The North Wilts canal, linking Swindon to the Thames and Severn Canal at Latton, was opened in 1819. It was 7 miles long, with 12 locks.

Locks were "narrow" - that is, they were 7 foot wide by 72 foot long, even though the Kennet and Avon, the Thames and Severn, and the River Thames could accommodate boats of twice that width at least. The greatest fall at a single lock was 10 foot 1 inch, at both Pewsham middle and bottom locks. Boats, which were all horse or donkey drawn from the towpath, could carry 25 to 30 tons of coal each.


The canal settled down to a moderate prosperity until around 1841 - at its peak in 1840, £24,000 was collected in tolls, but that had dropped to £6,900 by 1849 as competition from the Great Western Railway took away most of the business. The canal staggered on, and very occasional through traffic continued until the early 1901, when the Stanley Aquaduct over the river Marden, between Chippenham and Calne, failed and much of the canal was left dry. The canal was abandoned under an act of parliament dated 31st July 1914, and which point Coate Water reservoir in Swindon was transferred to the Borough and the rest of the lands released for sale.

Since abandonment the canal has gradually been taken over by nature. In many rural areas, restoration would be surprisingly easy, with little more than clearance needed. Towns such as Swindon and Melksham have been developed over the path of the canal, locks infilled with domestic rubbish and even blown up by the army for practise during the second world war. To the south of Swindon, the M4 motorway has been built across the canal and this would require major engineering for a re-opening. In towns such as Melksham, a new route would need to be found; many have been suggested and the current favoured option is along the river Avon through the town - but there is fierce local debate as to whether this would be a good idea; an alternative strategy to build a new canal to the east of the town would not, however, bring the benefit of the extra tourist business to the town.

Restoration work is underway already. From an inaugral meeting in October 1977, the Wilts and Berks Canal Amenity Group has grown into what is now the Wilts and Berks Canal Trust, committed to restoring the canal to its original condition. Some progress has been made already, but there's a long way to go yet. A target of completion by 2014 has been set, to allow us to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the abandonment with something much more positive - a full re-opening.

The Wilts and Berks Canal (it was always known as that - never as the Wiltshire and Berkshire) passed just a stone's throw from Well House Manor. As you walk from the hotel to the town centre, the road rises and falls to cross, at bridge height, the former path of the canal. Melksham wharf was located close by here. We've named our training and meeting rooms as "The Wilts Room" and "The Berks Room" in honour of the canal, its place in local history,and the hard work and aspirations for the future.

See also:
Wilts and Berks History
Robert and William Whitworth, engineers
The Wilts and Berks in Melksham
The reservoir at Coate Water
The canal at Calne

Further links (off site)
(written 2006-07-05, updated 2009-01-04)

 
Associated topics are indexed as below, or enter http://melksh.am/nnnn for individual articles
M100 - Introduction to Well House Manor
  [4715] Well House Manor - Still five out of five! - (2016-10-30)
  [4613] Our best hotel customers help us ... to help them ... be our best customers. - (2016-01-04)
  [4299] The Best Bed and Breakfast in Melksham? - (2014-09-19)
  [4147] A hidden hotel gem in Melksham - (2013-07-31)
  [3985] Special weekend at Well House Manor - come and see Wiltshire - (2013-01-20)
  [3864] Guest Guide for Well House Manor and Melksham - (2012-09-18)
  [3800] Fancy a weekend away? Try Well House Manor in Melksham, Wiltshire - (2012-07-09)
  [3765] Christmas in June? Melksham hotel bookings and Santa train - (2012-06-15)
  [3611] A customer thanks Well House Manor - (2012-02-13)
  [3202] Telling you something about us in just one line - (2011-03-15)
  [3115] Perl, Python, PHP, Lua, Linux, and more - and business hotel too. Menu for 2011 - (2010-12-31)
  [3014] Well House Manor - the next six years - (2010-10-24)
  [2978] Christmas 2010 - Well House Manor, Melksham, Hotel - (2010-10-01)
  [2941] Wedding season in Melksham - somewhere good to stay - (2010-08-31)
  [2923] Fresh air and beautiful places in Wiltshire - (2010-08-15)
  [2425] Weekend and Christmas Promotion - Well House Manor Hotel, Melksham - (2009-09-26)
  [2125] We have lost a regular business guest - (2009-04-10)
  [2119] Make your business a DESTINATION business - (2009-04-05)
  [2076] A New Advert for Well House Manor - (2009-03-11)
  [1975] Well House Manor Hotel - on plan for 2009 business guests - (2009-01-03)
  [1968] Review of 2008 - (2008-12-31)
  [1866] What a difference a day made - (2008-11-02)
  [1706] The Story of Well House Manor - (2008-07-12)
  [1492] Well House Consultants Training and Hotel - 2008 news - (2008-01-01)
  [1388] Well House Manor - a year on - (2007-10-12)
  [1384] An email update for past guests and delegates - (2007-10-08)
  [1371] Hotel in Melksham at Christmas - (2007-09-29)
  [1332] Melksham Hotel - Five Star Kitchen! - (2007-09-04)
  [1261] High summer at Well House Manor - (2007-07-08)
  [1211] A lot has happened in a year - (2007-05-31)
  [1132] Well House Manor, Melksham, Art Gallery - (2007-04-02)
  [1112] Bank Holiday country breaks in Melksham, Wiltshire - (2007-03-17)
  [1072] Well House Manor in the Snow - (2007-02-09)
  [1069] Rail trouble forced me to buy hotel - (2007-02-07)
  [1018] Open Source Courses and Business Hotel - products and prices for 2007 - (2007-01-01)
  [1002] Meet the neighbours - (2006-12-20)
  [978] Wellhouse Manor, Hotel, Melksham - (2006-12-10)
  [940] Winter at Well House Manor - Open Houses - (2006-11-23)
  [902] Brand new hotel and training centre, Melksham - (2006-10-22)
  [891] Well House Manor Hotel, Melksham, Wiltshire - (2006-10-10)
  [756] Seeing the bricks for the trees - (2006-06-11)
  [677] Sympathetic development - (2006-04-09)
  [571] Well House Manor - (2006-01-21)
  [512] Exciting futures - the Well House Manor project - (2005-11-30)

M206 - Well House Manor - Swindon
  [4702] Up and down TransWilts - some pictures off the rails! - (2016-07-07)
  [4653] Coats of arms - towns and authorities in Wiltshire - (2016-02-21)
  [4265] A lovely meal in Swindon - just a short walk from the station - (2014-04-20)
  [3860] Melksham to Steam in Swindon, by train - great day out - (2012-09-16)
  [3641] Swindon to Trowbridge - transport and travel options - (2012-03-06)
  [1130] Science Museum - larger exhibits / store, Wroughton, Swindon - (2007-04-02)
  [1078] Wiltshire - multicultural community - (2007-02-13)
  [958] Plain Ole nice pictures - (2006-11-30)
  [950] Python and the Magic Roundabout - (2006-11-27)

Z521 - Navigable waterways - Canals, Rivers and Sea
  [4577] An update - Melksham Link Canal and river - (2015-11-14)
  [4472] Rosslare to Fishguard - foot passenger on the ferry - (2015-04-24)
  [3998] Travelogue - from the Netherlands to London via Hook and Harwich - (2013-02-07)
  [3815] The Melksham News - July 2012 - Part 2, TransWilts Rail, Wilts and Berks Canal - (2012-07-23)
  [3483] Canals, watererways in the Melksham area - (2011-10-16)
  [3482] Taking a boat down Caen Hill Locks - (2011-10-15)
  [3345] Cruising - (2011-07-04)
  [3282] The future of canal management and charities - Kennet and Avon Canal bias - (2011-05-08)
  [3266] Easter on the Canal - near Melksham, Wiltshire - (2011-04-26)
  [3183] Redevelopment on the banks of the Avon in Melksham - (2011-02-25)
  [3157] A new monopoly on the ferry to Northern Ireland - (2011-02-04)
  [3023] Autumn walk from Bowerhill - (2010-10-31)
  [2950] Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, turns first sod in Melksham Link Canal - (2010-09-09)
  [2807] Canal through Melksham - the options and issues - (2010-06-13)
  [2796] Sunday - waiting for the ferry. - (2010-06-06)
  [2730] Bird Watching on the Melksham Avon - (2010-04-18)
  [2588] Freddies Wood and the K and A Canal - (2010-01-17)
  [1986] Walk to Bowerhill - (2009-01-10)
  [1657] Farewell, Newcastle to Stavanger, Haugsund and Bergen - (2008-05-29)
  [820] Robert and William Whitworth - (2006-08-01)
  [776] Naming Rooms - (2006-06-24)
  [708] Linescapes of Mull - (2006-05-03)
  [598] Should we cruise around the world? - (2006-02-09)


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Remember a site's non-technical issues too
Perl delegate - much more than just a delegate
The Wilts and Berks Canal
Is Java the right language to learn?
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Shadow Transport Minister to visit Melksham
Hot answers in PHP
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This is a page archived from The Horse's Mouth at http://www.wellho.net/horse/ - the diary and writings of Graham Ellis. Every attempt was made to provide current information at the time the page was written, but things do move forward in our business - new software releases, price changes, new techniques. Please check back via our main site for current courses, prices, versions, etc - any mention of a price in "The Horse's Mouth" cannot be taken as an offer to supply at that price.

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