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Kennet & Avon Canal

The Kennet & Avon Canal comprises of canalised sections of the rivers Kennet and Avon and an entirely man-made section of canal linking Newbury and Bath.

Things to do nearby

Facts & Stats

86.6 miles

(139.2 km)

The length of the Kennet & Avon Canal that is navigable.

107 locks

Caen Hill

The Caen Hill Locks on the Kennet & Avon Canal are one of the longest continuous flights of locks in England.

1990

Year re-opened

The Canal was re-opened by the Queen in 1990 after being closed since 1951.

From Semington to Monkton Combe

The Kennet & Avon Canal connected with the Wilts & Berks Canal (under restoration) at Semington, and with the Somersetshire Coal Canal (derelict, other than moorings at the junction) at Monkton Combe.

The canal was closed to through traffic in 1951 despite the then newly formed IWA identifying it as being at risk. Following forty years of campaigning and voluntary restoration work, it was reopened by the Queen in 1990.

 

The restoration of the Kennet & Avon Canal

Tom Rolt navigated the Kennet & Avon to Hungerford in March 1940 and spent 12 months there while working at Aldbourne in Wiltshire.  He completed the last chapters of his book Narrow Boat while his boat, Cressy, was moored below Hungerford Lock.  The canal was not used much in those days and the journey from Reading was not easy.

IWA’s first newsletter, Bulletin, published in 1946 named the Kennet & Avon as one of the canals most under threat.  In January 1948, IWA founder Robert Aickman and John Gould spoke at a public meeting in Newbury about the neglect of the Kennet & Avon Canal. The charity also opposed proposals to extract more water from the river Kennet.

Since nationalisation the Railway Executive had run the former Great Western Railway waterway.  They claimed that boats longer than 69 feet could not pass through the locks.  They also banned boating on Saturday afternoon and Sundays.  However, more boats were now using the Canal.  The problems were raised in parliament by IWA member J A Sparks MP.

In November 1949, John Gould bought narrowboats Colin and Iris and started trading between Newbury and Birmingham. He was followed in February 1950 by John Knill on Columba, carrying salt between Northwich and Newbury.  Their business was disrupted in May 1950 by the closure of the canal between Heales Lock and Burghfield Lock as a result of the poor condition of the locks. The Docks and Inland Waterways Executive which had issued the notice, did not seem in a hurry to carry out repairs.  Questions were raised in Parliament about the closure, but this was the end of this route from Reading to Bristol for the next forty years.

In 1955, a report was issued by the Board of Survey recommending that the Kennet & Avon Canal should be abandoned, except for the river Avon section.  In response, IWA advocated a National Waterway Conservancy to look after all the waterways,  pointing out that it is cheaper to restore and use waterways than to eliminate them.  When the new Transport Commission Bill was published at the end of the year, the Kennet & Avon Canal was the only major waterway proposed for closure.

In March 1956, the House of Commons removed the provisions to close the Kennet & Avon Canal from the Transport Bill.  This was off the back of a motion proposed and seconded by two MPs who were IWA honorary members.

In 1964, with IWA’s support, the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust, (formed in 1962) started to organise restoration projects using volunteer labour.

In 1966 Sulhampstead Lock was rebuilt and a start was made on re-puddling the dry section at Limpley Stoke.

Volunteer labour continued to make its mark in 1968 with work being done on Bath Locks on the Kennet & Avon Canal also Burghfield and Sulhamsptead locks were restored and reopened. The obstruction of Bridge Street Bridge at Reading was resolved by the building of a new bridge.

In May 1974, further stretches of the Kennet & Avon Canal were reopened.

In 1978, the restoration of the canal continued to progress with the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust claiming it was possible that it could be open by 1981 or 1982.  The opening was actually delivered in 1990 by H M Queen Elizabeth.

After the canal was opened there was still much work to be done to bring it up to standard, including the provision of a more secure water supply.  This problem was partly addressed by a back pumping scheme on the Caen Hill locks at Devizes.  The Heritage Lottery Fund made a grant of £25 million in 1996 for improvements to the canal, but despite the campaigning efforts of the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust, IWA and others, parts of the Canal still remain to to be upgraded to Cruiseway status.

Waterway notes

Maximum boat sizes

  • Length: 70′ 10″ (21.6 metres) – Lock 100 (Sulhamstead)
  • Beam: 13′ 8″ (4.2 metres) – Lock 41 (Boto X Lock on the Caen Hill Flight)
  • Height: 7′ 10″ (2.4 metres) – Bridge 83 (Hungerford Station Road)
  • Draught: 4′ 1″ (1.24 metres) – cill of Lock 44 (Sir Hugh Stockwell Lock on the Caen Hill Flight)

Navigation authority

Branch

Restoration Group

Funding of Canal & River Trust waterways

IWA was instrumental in Canal & River Trust receiving a sufficient funding package from Government when the new charity was set up in 2012 to run the waterways previously managed by British Waterways.

Waterway restoration

Restoring the UK’s blue infrastructure – our inherited network of navigable canals and rivers – is good for people and places.

Waterways heritage

Our waterways heritage is what makes Britain’s canals and rivers special and it must be actively protected – through the local planning system and sufficient funding – for the future.

Waterways in Progress Grant: Wilts & Berks Canal

£13,960 was awarded the Shrivenham Canal Park Project as part of IWA’s Waterways in Progress Grants.