The Melksham, Calne and Chippenham Branch

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Despite the change of terminus, the Chippenham Arm (‘Ippy Cut’) was navigable from 1800 and carrying goods to and from the town. Goods such as corn, potatoes, stone, timber and even occasionally, cheese, are recorded as being transported by the Wilts & Berks; however, coal was by far the most important cargo.

Excellent quality Somerset coal from Radstock and Paulton, was carried along the Somerset Coal Canal, joined the Kennet & Avon Canal at Dundas, and finally exited onto the Wilts & Berks Canal at Semington. Demand for coal grew steadily, and in 1854, nine and a half thousand tons were delivered to Chippenham and Stanley Wharves.

Tolls were charged according to the tonnage carried, and general prices from Chippenham to London were advertised at £1, 13s, 6p per ton.

However, the canal was never a great commercial success. Built as a narrow canal to reduce costs, not being a direct route between major cities, and serving mainly rural communities, it suffered competition initially from the wider, more efficient Kennet & Avon Canal, and later, from the Great Western Railway.

Ironically, the building of the GWR saw one of the Wilts & Berks most profitable phases, as it was used to transport stone and other materials for the construction of its own demise. In fact, the canal continued to be profitable after the opening of Chippenham Station in 1841, but it was the completion of the Somerset and Weymouth Company branch line between Frome and Radstock in 1854 which created a distinct decline. This branch completed a rail link from the Somerset coalfields through Frome, Westbury, Trowbridge, Melksham and Chippenham, and by 1878, the tonnage of coal transported to Chippenham was less than 20% of the total in 1854.



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