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
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.