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Historical Association: talk on Wilts & Berks Canal

Melksham and District Historical Association’s March meeting was a talk and slide show by Chris Coyle, titled ” Wilts and Berks Canal: Melksham to Pewsham.”

Chris gave us an insight into the history of the canal that went from Semington to the River Thames at Abingdon. The canal was constructed primarily to transport coal from the Somerset coal fields. The Wilts and Berks maintained the same size as the Somerset coal canal which was only 7ft wide, so the barges were a lot narrower than the ones on other canals.

Construction of the canal started in 1796 and the canal opened in 1810, only 14 years to construct a canal 70 miles long by just using man power, mostly Irish workers, called “Navvies”. Today we use canals for pleasure, but they were constructed just as a means of transporting goods quickly around the country, before the railways took over.

There has been quite few sections of canal opened for pleasure boating; the main obstacles are the routes through towns, which have mostly disappeared under housing development notably, Swindon, Chippenham and of course Melksham. The planning of the route from Semington through to the River Avon in Melksham is well advanced and in a few years we should see canal barges on the river in Melksham.

Our next meeting is on Thursday 21st April, when Nick McCamley will give a talk and slide presentation called “The underground worlds of Corsham.” Nick will unravel the mysteries of the vast underground “secret” world beneath the Corsham area.

Tony Box