17th April 1794. Kennet and Avon.

Crofton Pump House, Great Bedwyn, Wilts.in steam 1999. Now modern electric pumps do the work.

Crofton Pump House, Great Bedwyn, Wilts.in steam 1999.

A survival of the great steam age can be seen at Crofton, Wiltshire where the piston operated Boulton and Watt, engine pumped water into locks of the Kennet and Avon Canal.

Now electric pumps do the work.

Kennet and Avon

Kennet and Avon Canal with red line showing how the canal filled the gap between the two rivers

1810 was a memorable year for Devizes, Wiltshire as it saw the opening of the Kennet and Avon Canal, designed by John Rennie. It required 29 locks to navigate and provided the vital trade link between London and Bristol.

Interminable Locks

Interminable 16 locks at Caen, Devizes.

It was back in 1794 that Today the Royal Assent was granted to the Kennet and Avon Canal Act.

The Canal was first mooted in the time of the first Elizabeth to take advantage of the proximity of the two rivers, 3 miles apart at their closest.

In 1626 Henry Briggs surveyed the site, but died before any measure could be taken.

A canal was seen as a necessity especially as any sea alternative was subject to French enemy ships, gales and privateers.

After the 17thc Civil War four Parliamentary Bills were presented but dropped after opposition from local gentry, farmers and traders worried that cheaper water transport would affect the new Turnpike Roads thus reducing fees; they were also concerned about cheaper Welsh food imports.

In its early days The Kennet and Avon carried agricultural produce and Somerset coal to London and elsewhere. It also helped the transport of Bath Stone to adorn places like Devizes.

Decline came with the coming of the Great Western Railway, which bought the canal in 1851 on the condition it would be maintained in a navigable state, but it was found to be increasingly unprofitable.

The new railway age was now to satisfy the demand for a quicker system of transport, especially with the new markets opening up in the coal areas of Midlands and South Wales and associated expanding iron industry and a population’s demand for grain and meat.


The full navigable waterway of the Kennet and Avon with its 105 locks, extends from Bristol following its natural river course of the Avon before the Canal links to the Kennet at Newbury, then via the Thames to Reading and eventually to London.

The big challenge was the climb of nearly 330 feet from the Avon Valley to Devizes necessitating the famous ‘Caen Ladder of Locks’. Within 2 ¼ miles there are 29, only one fewer than the flight at Tardebigge on the Worcester and Birmingham the longest in England.

Ref: Flashback Daily Telegraph. 10th Aug 2013 Magazine.

Ref: wikipedia.org/kennet_and_avon/Map Image.

Ref: tripadvisor.co.uk/Locks Image.

Ref: wikipedia.org/crofton_pumping_station/Pic Image.



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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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