The Melksham, Calne and Chippenham Branch

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Decline and Closure

Following the development of the railways, trade declined along the length of the Wilts & Berks Canal, profits dropped, and the company became less interested in the vital, but costly, task of maintaining the fabric of the canal. In 1874, water levels in the canal were described as so low, and locks and bridges so badly maintained, that it took 10 days to travel the 40 miles to Wantage, with high tolls being charged for the journey.

Neglect caused leaks and, landslips, and even flooding in the centre of Chippenham. By 1894, the locks were described as ‘dangerous’ and the bridges ‘out of order’ and some had been declared unsafe for public use. It was clear that closure had to be considered, although this was initially opposed, mainly by landowners and farmers, because of the loss of an important water supply.

The canal company was in favour of closure as it had become a financial burden, and in 1901, their cause was boosted by an apparent disaster: the collapse of the Stanley Aqueduct. This had carried the water supply across the River Marden, and now the canal emptied into the river below.

In the following years, the canal into Chippenham became an informal drain, an unofficial rubbish dump and a refuge for colonies of rats; it was eventually filled in and grassed over. The whole canal was eventually abandoned in 1914, when the Act of Parliament transferred Coate reservoir and the Swindon section to Swindon Borough, and the remainder mainly back to local landowners.



Doug Small         The Wilts & Berks Canal

Ray Alder             Chippenham and the Wilts & Berks Canal

Wikepedia            The Wilts & Berks Canal



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