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.
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.
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
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.