Kennet & Avon Canal

Tom Rolt had navigated the Kennet & Avon to Hungerford in March 1940 and had spent 12 months there while working at Aldbourne in Wiltshire.  He completed the last chapters of his book Narrow Boat while Cressy was moored below Hungerford Lock.  The canal was little used in those days and the passage from Reading was not without difficulties.

IWA's first Bulletin in 1946 identified the Kennet & Avon as one of the canals most under threat and took action on the state of the canal.  In 1948, at the end of January, Robert Aickman and John Gould spoke at a public meeting in Newbury about the neglect of the Kennet & Avon Canal. IWA also opposed proposals to extract more water from the river Kennet.

The Railway Executive, which had run the former GWR waterway since nationalisation, claimed that boats longer than 69 feet could not pass through the locks.  There were also other restrictions, such as banning navigation on Saturday afternoon and Sundays.  However, more boats were now using the Canal than for many years before, including Hesperus the narrow boat of IWA Council Member Colonel Lord Bingham.  The issues were raised in parliament by IWA member J A Sparks MP.

An IWA Kennet & Avon Branch was formed in January 1949.  In November 1949, John Gould bought the 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.  This commercial enterprise was disrupted at the end of May 1950 by the closure of the navigation between Heales Lock and Burghfield Lock due to the condition of the locks. The Docks and Inland Waterways Executive, which issued the notice did not seem in a hurry to carry out repairs and questions raised in Parliament about the closure, which was to prove to be the end of this route from Reading to Bristol for the next forty years.

Although the locks were officially closed, several boats passed through them during this period including one on its way to the first IWA Festival of Boats at Market Harborough in 1950.  This secured the award for the most enterprising and meritorious journey to the rally for its owner Charles Poulter.

In 1951 IWA's internal dispute between the 'priorities' and the 'save every mile' camps, which saw the departure from the Association of Tom Rolt, Charles Hadfield and many others, also caused the loss of the IWA Kennet & Avon Branch and the foundation of the Kennet & Avon Canal Association.

In 1955, a special interim 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 and pointed out that it is cheaper to restore and use waterways than to eliminate them.  By the end of the year, when the new Transport Commission Bill was published, 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.  The motion to do this was proposed and seconded by two MPs who were IWA honorary members.

The Bowes Report was published in 1958 and lifted the threat of clousure from most of the canals in Group 3 of Lord Rusholme's Board of Survey.  The most prominent exceptions to this being the Forth & Clyde Canal and the Kennet & Avon Canal.  The same year Captain L R Munk was elected IWA Chairman then was elected Chairman of the Kennet & Avon Canal Association.

In 1962 the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust was formed to take the place of the former Kennet & Avon Canal Association.

The long standing obstruction at Bridge Street Bridge in Reading was still causing a block to craft wishing to enter the canal in 1964, but the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust, with IWA's support, started to organise restoration projects, jointly with British Waterways, using volunteer labour.

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

Voluteer 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.

Traffic lights were installed in Reading in 1975 at each end of the narrow and fast running brewery cutting.  A substancial portion of the cost came from Captain Munk's testimonial collection, which he gave as a memorial to his late wife Marion.

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.

1990_k_and_aIn August 1990, H M the Queen re-opened the Kennet & Avon Canal - see photograph.

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 Cain Hill locks at Devizes.  The Heritage Lottery Fund made a grant of £25 million in 1996 for improvements to the canal, buit despite campaigning effforts of the Canal Trust, IWA and others parts of the Canal still remain to to be upgraded to Cruiseway status.

Before & After

The photos below show Caen Hill Lock Flight at Devizes on the Kennet & Avon Canal, before and after restoration.