In 1954 the British Transport Commission planned to close the canal, but this triggered a major outcry. John Gould appealed to the High Court for an injunction to prevent the BTC allowing further deterioration of the Kennet and Avon. He delivered a petition of 20,000 signatures to The Queen. Questions were asked in parliament, and a Committee of Inquiry was set up.
A new dawn in the life of the Kennet and Avon canal was about to appear.
Volunteers were enthused to begin the process of clearing the canal of years of debris. In 1961 the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust established; in 1963 the Kennet and Avon was taken over by "British Waterways".
Restoration work began. After huge endeavours by keen volunteers and other professional workers, the restoration gathered pace.
Re-opening at Hungerford:
On 20 July 1974 the canal was officially re-opened to Hungerford wharf (175 years after its original opening to Hungerford).
The 'Rose of Hungerford': The Rose of Hungerford trip boat has played a key part in the enjoyment of the canal at Hungerford. It was launched at Great Bedwyn in Aug 1982, and the Official Commissioning of the "Rose of Hungerford" took place at Hungerford on Sat 6 Mar 1983. See
- "The 'Rose of Hungerford' takes to the water", NWN Aug 1982.
- The invitation to the Commissioning, 26 Mar 1983.
- "Hungerford's canal boat is christened", NWN 31 Mar 1983.
- "Rose of Hungerford" promotional leaflet, c1983.
Work continued to restore the entire canal to service, and on 4 August 1990 the re-opening of the entire canal was celebrated at Hungerford wharf.
Grand Re-opening at Devizes:
The grand official opening was by HM The Queen on board The Rose of Hungerford at Caen Hill on 8 August 1990 - recognising both the importance of Hungerford in the original conception of the canal, and the fact that it was at Caen Hill that the canal had been completed in 1810 (180 years earlier).
The restoration had taken about 30 years of hard work, but even then it was not absolutely complete. Much further work was required to install back pumps at several locations, and to improve further various locks and bridges. The Kennet and Avon project was successful in achieving the largest ever National Lottery funding - £25 million in 1998.
Now fully restored, the work of ongoing maintenance continues.
The canal is in greater use now than at any time in its 200 year history. Its activities include:
- Narrow Boats
- Day trips (e.g. The Rose)
- Fishing (Hungerford Canal Angling Association was
formed in 1900)
In 2010 the Kennet and Avon Canal was reclassified from "remainder" waterway to "cruiseway" status – ensuring its future funding.
Its engineering highlights include:
- Caen Hill flight
- Avoncliff Aqueduct
- Dundas Aqueduct
- Bruce Tunnel
- Crofton Pumping Station
- Claverton Pumping Station
Above all, it passes through some magnificent scenery. The bicentenary was recognised by Kirsten Elliott in her book "Queen of Waters".
In 2003 the brick road bridge over the canal was strengthened by specialist structural engineers Bersche-Rolt.
In Oct 2003 a car parked on the wharf rolled back and teetered on the edge of the canal. See "Just inches away from disaster", NWN 23 Oct 2003.
In 2012 the new "Jubilee Footbridge" was built alongside (but not touching) the original 1799 road bridge.
The Rose of Hungerford:
The "trip boat" from Hungerford wharf is named "The Rose of Hungerford" - the name chosen following a public balot.
Iris Lloyd, with thanks to Sarah Warburton, kindly researched (2020) more information about the boat:
"The Rose of Hungerford is a traditional canal boat that is owned by the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust and run and maintained by fully-trained volunteer members of the Hungerford branch.
It was built by Peter Nicholls at Napton, Warwickshire, was launched at Great Bedwyn in 1982 and commissioned at Hungerford Wharf in 1983, now its home mooring.
It is 55’ (16.7m) long and 10’ 6” (3.2m) wide. Its original engine came from an ex-London taxi, then a Shire 40 engine was fitted in 1997 and lasted 20 years.
It is now powered by a Barrus Shire 50 Diesel engine (50bhp at 3000rpm), fitted in 2017.
The boat was named for John O’Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster, the third of the five sons of King Edward III who reached adulthood, who gave the Commoners of Hungerford fishing rights on the River Kennet (now strictly controlled). These rights were granted in addition to the grazing and hunting rights already received.
The red rose is the symbol of the House of Lancaster (the white rose is the symbol of the House of York), and since then has been a symbol of Hungerford. A red rose is presented to a reigning monarch whenever he or she visits the town.
The current Duke of Lancaster is Her Majesty the Queen. She travelled on The Rose when officially opening the restored Kennet and Avon Canal at Caen Hill, Devizes, on 8th August, 1990, 30 years ago. In 2013, The Kennet and Avon Canal Trust was honoured by Her Majesty, who awarded the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, the MBE for voluntary groups. In 2014, The Princess Royal visited the Trust’s Headquarters in Devizes to present the Award.
During lockdown, the Rose was treated to six new door panels, for the side and engine doors, beautifully painted with traditional roses by Bradford-on-Avon based signwriter, Ginny Barlow."
For more about "The Rose" (and information on boat trips locally) see The Rose of Hungerford website.
- Volunteers clearing the choked canal at Caen Hill, 1955
- The canal at Crofton choked with weed, 1964. (Photo by Brian Hawkins)
- Hungerford Marsh lock, 1964. (Photo by Brian Hawkins)
- Hungerford Town lock, c1965.
- Restoration of Woolhampton lock
- Restoration of Heale's
- Hungerford Lock, showing the 2nd World War Pill Box, c1970.
- Re-opening of the canal to Hungerford wharf, 20 July 1974
- The canal breached when the pod of a dredger broke the 1910 elm culvert under the canal near St Lawrence's church, 1980
- The canal above Town lock empty following the breach near St Lawrence's church, 1980
- Unloading the pre-fabricated swing bridge on the wharf, prior to installation near St Lawrence's church, Apr 2010
- The new swing bridge in place near St Lawrence's church, May 2010
- Celebrating the re-opening of the entire Kennet and Avon canal, at Hungerford wharf, 4 Aug 1990
- The Queen travelling in the Rose of Hungerford at Caen Hill flight for the official re-opening of the entire Kennet and Avon canal, 8 Aug 1990
- Kennet & Avon Canal Photo Gallery (for additional archive photographs)
- "The Kennet & Avon Canal", by Kenneth R. Clew, David & Charles 1973.
- Invitation to Official Commissioning of the "Rose of Hungerford", Mar 1983
- Rose of Hungerford promotional leaflet, c1983
- "Queen of Waters", by Kirsten Elliott, Akeman Press 2010
- The Bruce Trust - A charity providing wide-beam canal boats on the Kennet and Avon Canal for hire for self catering holidays by disabled, disadvantaged or elderly people and their carers.
- Survey of Canal Wharf, Aug 1964. by Robson, Paul & Palmer, St Nicolas' House, Newbury. (Kindly provided by Iris Lloyd, Sep 2016) (In Kennet & Avon Canal Photo Gallery