Holding Water

is good justification for this marina on the outskirts of Devizes: it is, in fact a holding pond for the Kennet and Avon Canal, which passes through the centre of town.

The Kennet and Avon connects the Thames (at its Reading confluence with the River Kennet) with the Bath and Bristol Avon - thus connecting London and the North Sea with the Severn Estuary and the Atlantic. It has had a chequered history.

A Kennet Navigation connecting Reading to Newbury opened in 1723 and an Avon Navigation from Bristol to Bath opened four years later. But it wasn't until the end of the 18th century that it was finally decided to link the two. The completed canal opened for business in 1810.

It was never a rip-roaring success. Although there was considerable logic in barging goods across the heart of Southern England, passage along the Kennet and Avon was relatively expensive. High prices were necessary to pay for the two pumping stations (at Claverton, near Bath and at Crofton on the Marlborough Downs) which were needed to keep the canal topped up with water.

The canal had to cross the chalk hills of the Downs. The engineer (John Rennie) had cut a few corners in his construction, and the canal leaked - so the pumping stations had plenty of (expensive) work to do.

Incidentally, one of the engines at the Crofton pumping station is an 1812 Boulton & Watt - the oldest steam engine in the world still in use, doing its original job. The Canal Trust still runs this engine on on special 'steaming weekends'. The other steam engine at Crofton is a new-fangled thing by Harvey's of Hayle - installed in 1845. However, these days, regular water supplies are provided by electric pumps.
Only a few decades after opening, the K & A faced much greater problems - direct competition from the railways. Brunel's Great Western Railway covered the same distance in a fraction of the time. The canals could move goods more cheaply, but they were clearly a thing of the past.

In 1852, the GWR bought the canal. Not surprisingly, they didn't invest much time or money on its upkeep.

Nonetheless, the canal struggled on for a century, until, finally, the Docks & Inland Waterways Executive announced that the Kennet and Avon Canal was closed until further notice - on 31st of May 1950.

Reflections Reflections The Blue Line The Blue Line
© David Craig Send me a message