Wilts & Berks Canal: East Vale & Abingdon Branch
By Richard Shackleton
The track can be heard here: Wilts & Berks Canal
More information about the canal can be found here: Wilts & Berks Canal East Vale & Abingdon
The text is as follows:
Welcome to the Wilts and Berks Canal Trust. My name is Richard Shackleton and I am the Chair of the East Vale and Abingdon Branch, which includes the stretches of canal around Wantage and Grove.
Within Wantage, we own and run the Sack House Museum, which is set back about 30 metres from Mill Street on the other side of the street from Clark's Mill. This small building stood on the edge of what was a large canal basin in Wantage but is now all filled in and built over.
The sack house was principally used by a sack hiring company, which hired out sacks to those who wanted to transport goods by canal. When the sacks arrived at their destination, an initial deposit, paid for the sack, could be redeemed by handing it back to a local branch of the same sack hiring company. The building also acts as a coal merchants, and there was a weigh bridge outside. It dates back to soon after the canal reached Wantage, which was around 1810.
In the museum, there are various canal artifacts on display as well as information displays about the Wilts and Berks canal in general. The name of the museum is taken from the enamel sign on the front of the building advertising the West England Sack Hiring Company. The museum is open on one Saturday a month during the summer. The canal did not come into Wantage, but skirted to the north of the town, close to the roundabout of Mably Way junction with Denchworth Road. From near that roundabout, there was a branch which terminated at the Wantage Basin. Unfortunately, this branch has now been filled in, but one can follow much of the historic route through housing estates.
The overall canal runs from the Kennet and Avon Canal near Melksham going through Swindon, past Wantage and Grove, and on to join the River Thames at Abingdon. Construction work started at Semington on the Kennet and Avon Canal near Melksham in 1795. The new canal reached East Challow some 11 years later in 1806, continuing east to the Thames, and was officially opened in September 1810.
Later, when canal traffic was largely superseded by the railways, the canal declined in use and was formally abandoned by an Act of Parliament in 1914. The act was sponsored by the Swindon Corporation, which gained control of all the land within its boundary. In other areas, ownership returned to the owners of adjacent land, as is the case for our length of canal. While in some parts, much of the canal was filled in, in our area, the canal is largely intact, but overgrown, though the structures are inevitably in poor condition. In a few cases, roads that once cross the canal with humpback bridges are now uniform gradient main roads. These will cause significant obstacles to full navigable restoration.