Last Friday and Saturday, the sounds of hammering, sawing and
blacksmithing rang out once again at Pewsham Locks, after 100 years of
silence following the abandonment of the Wilts & Berks Canal.
The ambitious plan to recreate the characters and activities connected
with Pewsham, and then to invite schools and the local community, was
made possible by the efforts of volunteers belonging to the Wilts &
Berks Canal Trust, supported by many members of the local community and
funded by a Heritage Lottery Fund Sharing Heritage Grant.
Visitors had the chance to try their hand at brick making with William
Cullis, making a metal hook with Charles Isaac, log sawing and drilling
with Alfred Hodgson, bridge building with John Smith, clay puddling
with Stephen Holland, tying a decorative dragonfly with James Silk,
fishing with John Tuck and boat gauging with Samuel Brown. All were
people who actually lived and worked on or near the canal at Pewsham,
their stories researched and provided by local historians Ray Alder and
Other notable characters with fascinating stories were Ambrose Neate
(local hero, himself only 12 years old, who tried to save a drowning
child), Elizabeth Rawlings (born on a boat at Pewsham), Sarah Brown
(badly injured during a break-in at the lock cottage) and Mr Ralph Hale
Gaby, one of the earliest subscribers to the canal company. Children
listened enthralled, fascinated by the tales of the people who built
and operated the canal.
120 children, dressed in Victorian costumes, and from four different
schools, had arrived at the site on foot and spent a wonderful day
getting muddy, painty, using ‘proper’ tools and learning how to
decorate plates canal-style, card, spin, weave, crochet and make lace.
They eventually went back to their various schools tired, very hot, but
Gaye Webb is a teacher at St Peter’s School.
She said: “It felt like we were on the set of Larkrise to Candleford
with the scenery and costumes on Friday. The canal is such an important
part of our town’s heritage and when fully restored will provide so
much for our community as well as bringing people in from other areas.”
Dan Wrixon, teacher at King’s Lodge said:
“On our return to school, we chatted about the day and the children
were able to recall lots of learning about the canal and the activities
they had participated in. They were keen to go home and tell mums and
dads too! We'll keep an interest in the future progress of restoring
Saturday was the longest day of the year, and the second of the Open
Days. Over 300 people attended, travelling on foot, by bike, by car or
on a free minibus from the Town Centre.
Val Melville is a volunteer with the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust.
She said: “We were absolutely thrilled with the success of the
Community Open Day. The atmosphere was brilliant with so many cheerful
visitors, traditional music, Frankie the canal horse on the towpath,
the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust, Chippenham Museum & Heritage
Centre and Ellendale Environmental, plus all the fantastic activities.
“We would like to thank Councillor David Powell Deputy Mayor for
opening the event, and Cherry Ann Knott from the Heritage Lottery Fund,
who spent several hours looking at all the activities on offer.
“It was wonderful to see so many visitors enjoying themselves whilst
learning about their heritage; so many more local people now know about
the canal and its importance to the history of Chippenham. All the hard
work by the volunteers has proved very worthwhile and we would like to
thank the local community for their support and interest in our project
to restore the locks and the rest of this significant industrial
Nerys Watts, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund South West said:
“Sharing Heritage is a wonderful opportunity for communities to delve
into their local heritage and we are delighted to be able to offer this
grant so that the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust and Chippenham Museum
can embark on a real journey of discovery.
“Heritage means such different things to different people and HLF’s
funding offers a wealth of opportunities for groups to explore and
celebrate what’s important to them in their local area.”
For further information on the Canal Trust activities, email Kath Hatton at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information about the local Branch of the Trust you can visit their Web site www.melkshamwaterway.org.uk