The Melksham, Calne and Chippenham Branch

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Robert Whitworth had worked with famous canal engineer James Brindley, and followed Brindley’s example by designing narrow canals, mainly because they cost less, and used less water.

In 1794, Robert and his son William were appointed by the Wilts & Berks Canal Company as surveyors; Robert had calculated that there was a sufficient water supply, and after the Royal Assent, father and son became engineers for the project. When Robert died in 1798, William continued the task alone.

By 1797 the canal had reached Melksham, the three locks at Pewsham were underway, and Derry Hill Bridge at Forest Gate, under the current A4, had been completed.

After the death of his father the following year, William Whitworth reported to the canal company that the branches to both Calne and Chippenham were complete, and that the main line had reached as far as Dauntsey. Unfortunately for William and the canal company, the Town Council did not agree that the branch into Chippenham had been completed, and insisted that it must be extended from its termination at Little Englands, to Timber Street, just a few yards from Market Place. This required the building of a 90 yard tunnel under Wood Lane, and along with other setbacks, resulted in the need for the company to raise more funds through an additional share issue.

For more information about Chippenham’s tunnel, see:

The canal eventually reached Timber Street, Chippenham in 1803, within a few yards of the Market Place, where a new wharf had also been constructed.

By 1805, the canal was navigable as far as Swindon, and in September 1810, it was completed.

It later became apparent that Robert Whitworth had been over optimistic in his assertions that there was a sufficient water supply. Water was a constant problem for the Wilts & Berks, and eventually further funds had to be raised to build a reservoir near Swindon – now Coate Water Park.



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