History of canal unlocked at Chippenham's 100th anniversary

This Is Wiltshire: Phil Newbury with his shire horse, Frankie Phil Newbury with his shire horse, Frankie

Volunteers playing the parts of lock keepers, blacksmiths and carpenters took a stretch of restored canal in Chippenham back in time to mark 100 years since it was abandoned.

The volunteers, from the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust, invited local schoolchildren to visit the Pewsham Locks last Friday and held a free open day for families the day after on Saturday.

Youngsters from King’s Lodge, Monkton Park, Derry Hill and St Peter’s Primary Schools dressed up in costumes and had a go at brick-making, puddling clay and sawing logs.

They used aluminium to make coat hooks, watched volunteers crocheting bonnets for horses and enjoyed a ride on Frankie the shire horse.

Branch chairman Derek Flexer said: “They made a fabulous effort on their costumes. Frankie was the star of the show. Flies used to irritate them so the boat men or the boat women used to crochet these covers for the horse’s ears.”

In its heyday, the Pewsham Locks site had a boat-building and repair business, a lock keeper’s cottage, lime kiln, dry dock, saw pit and carpenter’s cottage.

The day was funded with a £7,900 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and supported by Chippenham Museum who researched characters.

Mr Flexer said: “I was representing the canal agent or the lock keeper. Tolls boat-owners had to pay depended on how deep their boats were in water.

“I was saying to the children ‘have you been across the Severn Bridge? Does a motorbike pay the same as a lorry?’ and they said ‘no’.

“I know it was about going back in time, but what I was trying to do was relate the activities on the canal to what the children would be familiar with today. The canals were the motorways of the day.”

Val Melville, who helped organise the day, said: “The experiences the volunteers gave those children were amazing.

“They will never forget it.”

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