A brief history of the Kennet & Avon Canal



Following our enjoyable outing on the Kennet & Avon Canal on a horse drawn barge we thought members might like a brief history of the Canal itself.


The Kennet and Avon Canal is a historic waterway in southern England. It was originally constructed in the late 18th century as a navigation route between the cities of Bristol and London. The canal spans a distance of 87 miles (140 kilometers) and connects the River Kennet in Reading with the River Avon in Bath. Construction of the Kennet and Avon Canal began in 1794 and took several years to complete. It was designed to provide a direct link between the industrialized regions of the Midlands and the major ports of Bristol and London. The canal was also intended to serve as a transportation route for goods such as coal, timber, and agricultural produce. The canal’s construction was a major engineering feat of its time, involving the excavation of numerous locks, tunnels, and aqueducts. One of its most notable features is the Caen Hill Locks, a flight of 29 locks near Devizes that allows boats to ascend or descend a steep hillside. These locks are considered a remarkable example of Georgian canal engineering. During the 19th century, the Kennet and Avon Canal flourished as a vital trade route, bringing economic prosperity to the towns and villages along its course. However, with the advent of railways in the mid-19th century, the canal’s commercial importance declined. By the early 20th century, the canal had fallen into disrepair and was largely abandoned. In the latter half of the 20th century, efforts were made to restore and reopen the Kennet and Avon Canal for recreational use. The restoration project was a significant undertaking, requiring extensive repairs and the rebuilding of many structures. Today, the canal is a popular destination for boating, walking, and cycling, attracting both locals and tourists who appreciate its scenic beauty and historical significance. The Kennet and Avon Canal stands as a testament to the ingenuity and vision of its original builders, and its rich history continues to be cherished and enjoyed by people from all walks of life.