The Melksham, Calne and Chippenham Branch

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The Wilts & Berks Canal was a ‘latecomer’, and was built towards the end of the era when most canal building took place. The initial plans (in the 1760s) were for a waterway to link Bristol and London, including a section between Bath and Chippenham using the River Avon and lengths of canal to avoid mills and shallow parts.

In 1788, an alternative, the ‘Western Canal’ was proposed from the River Thames at Newbury to Bath via Hungerford, Marlborough, Calne, Chippenham, Lacock, Melksham and Bradford on Avon. Unfortunately for Melksham, Chippenham and Calne, after much lobbying by merchants, the town council and MPs of Devizes, this route was then changed to run through Great Bedwyn and Devizes, and would become the now famous Kennet & Avon Canal.

In 1793, at a meeting in Wootten Bassett Town Hall, it was agreed to build a canal which would provide another, alternate link between Bristol and London via the River Thames at Abingdon. This was to be later named the Wilts & Berks Canal in the Act of Parliament, which received the Royal Assent in April 1795.

The story is that the canal was named the ‘Wilts & Berks’ rather than the ‘Wiltshire & Berkshire Canal’, because a clerk got fed up with writing out the long version.


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