Branches Melksham Calne & Chippenham
Melksham Calne and Chippenham News
Two Festivals Combine with Stunning Success
Wednesday, 16 September 2015 14:18

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 Last year, on the River Avon in Melksham Wiltshire, the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust held a River Festival to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the canal’s closure in 1914. This was planned as a stand-alone, one-off event, but was so successful, that the Trust was frequently asked when the next one was planned!

For the last six years, Melksham has also held a very popular Food and Drink Festival in the centre of the town. When this location was no longer available for 2015, Pam Wiltshire, previous chair of the Food and Drink Festival, suggested it would be a good idea to combine the two events for Melksham’s first Food and River Festival, an idea which proved to be a winning combination.

The Festival was organised over two days: Saturday 5th and Sunday 6th September. 
Saturday’s event, Littlefest, was a mini ‘regatta’ styled food festival including live music, a series of delicious tasters from Waitrose (the event’s main sponsors), ice cream or sorbet lemonade at CJ’s Café, plus a number of competitions and stalls by other local traders.

Chris Smith Branch Manager of Waitrose Melksham said: "We pride ourselves on how we can get involved with the local communities we do business in, and the Food and River Festival is an excellent example how these events can create a great community spirit. The Partners from the Melksham branch and local suppliers are very proud to show off what great products we sell.”

On the river, the Melksham, Calne & Chippenham Branch (MCC) of the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust organised boat trips, and the Wiltshire Youth Canoe Club (WYCC) offered try canoeing sessions. Lisa Davis from WYCC said: “We were pleased to be asked to join in the Festival again this year. We had 70 people try canoeing and, out of that number, 30 of them said they were interested in attending club sessions. We are already looking forward to next year’s event.”

The boat trips proved a great success, with more people wanting them than spaces available on the Sunday, although there was spare capacity on the Saturday. Brian De’Ath, the Chair of the MCC River Team who organised the river displays and activities said: “It was a lot of hard work, but the outcome on the days exceeded all our expectations. It is an important event for the Trust as well as the Branch as it gives us a chance to show the public just how much work, much of it unseen, is going on to deliver a canal for Melksham.”

MCC also provided a very popular display stand with detailed information on the Melksham Link Project, which caused huge local interest, and Frankie, the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust’s honorary canal horse, made a guest appearance.

Michelle Donelan, the MP for Melksham and Chippenham, visited the event and helped to present a cheque for £430 to the Food & River Festival. She then went on to crew the trip boat Damselfly for a special cruise, when MCC Branch hosted the Melksham Carnival ‘Royal Family’. They were accompanied on the trip by the press, as befits any Royal Family.

Sunday, the main event day, saw the arrival of nearly 60 stalls, selling a variety of great food and drink and offering cooking demonstrations; there was also face painting and a fun fair for the children.

One highlight of this year’s festival saw brave competitors with a passion for pungent peppers, test the strength of their taste buds by eating chillies of increasing intensity, all of which were provided by the Wiltshire Chilli Farm.

Thomas Chiad was crowned winner and won a £150 voucher for the local pub the Milk Churn for his attempt at eating a reaper chilli which exceeds 1.5M on the Scoville scale!

On the river, in addition to the boat trips and canoeing, there was a display by the Bradford-on-Avon Sub Aqua Club, and a cruise past of visiting wilderness boats and steam launches.

The sun shone, the river sparkled, music played, much food and drink was consumed and enjoyed, and a great time was had by all, thanks to the efforts by the event organisers, MCC & Trust volunteers and Melksham Council.

Adrienne Westbrook, the Chair of the Organising Committee said: “The weather was out of this world, and the festival was incredibly well received by the people of Melksham and surrounding areas who came out in force to support the day – we estimate over 6,000 people attended. It has taken a year to plan and obviously it has been hard work but the biggest worry for us was the weather. We were so happy that it was beautifully sunny and the day went without a glitch from the time the traders were setting up to the balloon release at the end of the day.

“We are so pleased with the success of the event that the Committee have agreed to run it again next year. It is too early to at this stage give more details of the event format, but the date has been fixed for the 4th September 2016”. 

Topping out ceremony Cocklemore Brook Culvert
Monday, 29 June 2015 00:00

Winter storm damage demolished part of the culvert that carries Cocklemore brook under the canal at  Pewsham Locks.

Thanks to financial support of the Yorkshire Building Society’s Living Legacy fund and much hard work by the volunteer team the culvert has been completely rebuilt.

Before the structure is buried ( for at least another 200 years!) a topping out ceremony took place, on Friday 3rd July,  where Lee Hathaway from Yorkshire Building Society,  Local MP Michelle Donelan and the Mayor of Chippenham David Powell admired the rebuilt structure and thanked the volunteer team for their hard work

Read Full Press release 

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Local generosity helps Canal Trust raise over £3,000 at Charity Auction
Thursday, 02 April 2015 06:35

The second MCC Charity Auction, held on 26th March, and it was a great success in so many ways. The event organised by Jeff & Lynda Daws who set a target of getting 80 Lots. A target which the rest of the team thought might be a challenging but the opposite was true and we ended up with 87 Lots on the night. The generosity of people and companies was simply amazing, including our Patron, who donated a Highgrove Champagne Tea package. Success number 1

The next challenge was to fill the room with eager punters. At the first auction, 3 years ago, we had 50 people attend but this time we had nearly 100. Val Melville had worked tirelessly on the PR front and produced articles which appeared in all the major Wiltshire newspapers, waterway magazines. All this effort culminated in our Chairman, Derek Flexer, being interviewed on BBC Wiltshire Radio, which as you will see later was a real bonus. Success number 2

Finally, Jeff had another target for us to achieve. Jeff wanted to raise £3,000 which was £1000 more than our first auction total. On the night we raised £3154. There were three specialist items that did not reach their reserve and they will be auctioned at the Chippenham Auction Rooms in the near future. So with a bit of luck we may get near the £3,500 mark. Success number 3

What of Derek’s interview? One of the star Lots was John Laverick’s offer for 4 people to experience a chance to steer and fire the engine of his steam launch. Derek Flexer highlighted this Lot during his interview with the BBC. This was listened to be a lady driving back to Swindon from London who immediately contacted us a put in a bid for this Lot. She wanted it as a birthday present for her husband who is a steam enthusiast. She was willing to pay a lot of money to get this experience which she won with a tremendous bid of £400. It pay to advertise! Success number 4

Clearly, many hours hard work were put in by Jeff’s team to achieve these successes but they were sustained in their efforts by the support that came from people outside of the Trust. So some thanks are due. First to the Angel Hotel, who let us use their facilities free of charge and set everything up on the night. Then there was our auctioneer, Gordon Brockman, who skilfully and with a lot of humour encouraged people to part with their money. He is a real star. Our thanks to him and Chippenham Auction Rooms for their continued support and also to Strakers who sponsored the printing of our catalogue. There was also a team of backroom boys & girls who produce poster and flyers, then distributed them around the area and a host of other tasks that made the evening run smoothly. Thank you all.

Finally a great big thank you to all those who tuned up on the night and made the evening the undoubted success it was and a special thanks to Jeff & Lynda for volunteering to lead this event. Well done everyone. 

Malcolm Hitchinson

WBCT/MCC Events Committee Chair


The Press release 

Thanks to the generosity of local businesses and individuals, local canal restoration charity, the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust, raised a total of over £3,000 at their recent auction held at The Angel Hotel in Chippenham.

The event was held to raise funds to support the promotion and restoration of the Wilts & Berks Canal, particularly as local branch, the Melksham, Chippenham & Calne Branch, has recently stepped up its restoration efforts. As well restoring a collapsed 200 year old culvert, volunteers have started work on the immense task of rebuilding the first of the three locks at Pewsham near Chippenham.

Jeff Daws, auction organiser said: “We were amazed at how generous people were both by donating brilliant items and experiences, and also by bidding for them on the night – either in person, or via commission bids. We would like to thank everyone: the donors, the bidders, the Angel Hotel, and Strakers Estate Agents.”

“Gordon Brockman from Chippenham Auction Rooms was our brilliant auctioneer. He worked incredibly hard during the evening; he had over 80 lots to sell, and had to persuade buyers to part with their hard-earned cash. He did this with humour and professionalism, entertaining an audience of about 100, most of whom went home very pleased to have secured a bargain.” Thanks to everyone’s fantastic support, the evening exceeded all our expectations. All money raised will be used locally to help restore and promote the Wilts & Berks Canal.”

2014-09-07 Melksham_River_Festival_8118One star item of the night was the exciting opportunity to have a hands-on experience on-board the steam launch Scathtan. Scathtan is a genuine coal-fired steam launch, powered by a miniature steam engine of the type used on Titanic. Her owner, John Laverick, Vice President of the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust, donated this as a unique opportunity, and he was delighted that Scathtan had helped to raise such a fantastic amount for this exciting, community restoration project. Despite the link with Titanic, he assured the winning bidders that an iceberg-free voyage would be guaranteed!

HRH onboardlogo2_croppedTheir Royal Highnesses Prince Charles and Camilla Duchess of Cornwall donated a Highgrove Garden Tour and Champagne Tea for two people. The lucky winning bidders were Jack and Gail Richmond, who said “We are very pleased to have supported the work of the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust by successfully bidding for a visit to Highgrove House gardens with a champagne tea - we hope the plants will talk to us on the day!”

HRH the Duchess of Cornwall, is patron of the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust, and has previously supported the Trust by opening the restored Double Bridge, naming the Trust’s trip boat Dragonfly, and turning the first sod for the new Melksham Link, which is currently awaiting planning permission.

Malcolm Hitchinson (Chair of MCC Branch Events Committee) said: “We were thrilled to be given this splendid item for our auction, and are sure that the winning bidders will have a wonderful experience at Highgrove. John Laverick has also been a tremendous advocate and ambassador for the Trust for many, many years, and we would like to thank him for donating his time and sharing his beautiful heritage steam vessel Scathtan.”

Other very popular lots were: tickets for the Chippenham Folk Festival, golf at the Bowood Course (donated by Lord Lansdowne), and a tour of the Royal Navy Historic Flight Hangar at Yeovilton. This is not normally open to the public, and generated an enthusiastic bidding war by several auction-goers keen to get a close view of the historic Swordfish, Sea Fury, Sea Hawk and Chipmunk.

The Melksham, Chippenham & Calne Branch of the Canal Trust has recently stepped up its restoration efforts. As well as restoring a collapsed 200 year old culvert, volunteers have started work on the immense task of rebuilding the first of the three locks at Pewsham near Chippenham. 

Members of the public are warmly invited to join the MCC Branch on their annual Sponsored Walk to Lacock at 10:00am on Sunday May 10th, when members will be on hand to explain plans and progress, especially at Pewsham Locks.

Melksham River Festival Report & Photos
Friday, 29 August 2014 00:00

2014 Melksham River Festival 6th & 7th September

Wilts & Berks Canal Trust Commemorative Event

Leekes of Melksham assure success of River Festival -  See Details


 Video and Photos

The Independent Melksham News"First ever Melksham River Festival hailed a huge success"

Read article in The Melksham Independent News

"ORGANISERS of Melksham's first River Festival
have hailed it a success after huge crowds turned out to
watch the entertainment. 
Organised by the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust
on the banks of the river Avon in Melksham, attractions included
canoeing and scuba diving demonstrations, steam boats,
illuminated boats, live music and much more".
Photo and Report from The Melksham Independent News Wednesday 10th September
Read Report on the Festival by Val Melville- originally published in Dragonfly - the Magazine

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Hope for £55m boost for Melksham if canal flows through town
Wednesday, 04 June 2014 08:58

Latest News from This is   Wednesday June 4th

Hope of £55m Boot for Melksham


And again on Friday June 7th

Canal may lock £55m boost for Melksham.




Report on Pewsham Heritage Open Day
Sunday, 01 June 2014 00:00


Gazette & Herald Friday 27th June

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Children making bricks
with Mike Stone
from Chippenham Museum
& Heritage Centre
On Friday 20th  and Saturday21st June, the sounds of hammering,
sawing and blacksmithing rang out once again at Pewsham Locks,
after 100 years of silence following the abandonment of the Wilts & Berks Canal.
The ambitious plan to recreate the characters and activities
connected with Pewsham, and then to invite schools
and the local community, was made possible by the efforts of
volunteers belonging to the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust,
supported by many members of the local community
and funded by a Heritage Lottery Fund Sharing Heritage Grant.
Visitors had the chance to try their hand at brick making with William Cullis,
making a metal hook with Charles Isaac, log sawing and drilling
with Alfred Hodgson, bridge building with John Smith,
clay puddling with Stephen Holland, tying a decorative dragonfly
with James Silk, fishing with John Tuck and boat gauging with
Samuel Brown. All were people who actually lived and worked on or
near the canal at Pewsham, their stories researched and
provided by local historians Ray Alder and Jan Flanagan.  


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Teamwork: using a brace and bit to drill a hole in a log

          Other notable characters with fascinating stories were Ambrose Neate
(local hero, himself only 12 years old, who tried to save a drowning child),
Elizabeth Rawlings (born on a boat at Pewsham),
Sarah Brown (badly injured during a break-in at the lock cottage)
and Mr Ralph Hale Gaby, one of the earliest subscribers to the canal company.
Children listened enthralled, fascinated by the tales of the people who built and operated the canal.
120 children, dressed in Victorian costumes, and from four different schools,
had arrived at the site on foot and spent a wonderful day
getting muddy, painty, using ‘proper’ tools and learning
how to decorate plates canal-style, card, spin, weave, crochet
and make lace. They eventually went back to their various schools tired,
very hot, but very happy. 

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Children dressed in Victorian costumes about to start their exciting day

          Gaye Webb is a teacher at St Peter’s School.
She said: “It felt like we were on the set of Larkrise to Candleford with the scenery and costumes on Friday. The canal is such an important part of our town’s heritage and when fully restored will provide so much for our community as well as bringing people in from other areas.” 


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Frankie the canal horse in his bonnet to keep off the flies

Dan Wrixon, teacher at King’s Lodge said:
 “On our return to school, we chatted about the day and the children were able to recall lots of learning about the canal and the activities they had participated in. They were keen to go home and tell mums and dads too! We'll keep an interest in the future progress of restoring the locks.”
Saturday was the longest day of the year, and the second of
the Open Days. Over 300 people attended, travelling on foot,
by bike, by car or on a free minibus from the Town Centre".

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Testing the clay puddling with 'Stephen Holland' aka Sassan Panahinejad

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Val Melville, volunteer with WBCT
and Chippenham Deputy Mayor
Mr David Powell who opened the event
Val Melville is a volunteer with the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust.
 She said: “We were absolutely thrilled with the success
of the Community Open Day. The atmosphere was brilliant with
so many cheerful visitors, traditional music, Frankie the canal horse
on the towpath, the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust,
Chippenham Museum & Heritage Centre and Ellendale Environmental,
plus all the fantastic activities.
We would like to thank Councillor David Powell Deputy Mayor for opening the event,
and Cherry Ann Knott from the Heritage Lottery Fund, who
spent several hours looking at all the activities on offer.
It was wonderful to see so many visitors enjoying themselves
whilst learning about their heritage; so many more local people now know
about the canal and its importance to the history of Chippenham.
All the hard work by the volunteers has proved very worthwhile
and we would like to thank the local community for their support
and interest in our project to restore the locks and
the rest of this significant industrial heritage site.”


Using  a doubled end saw

Nerys Watts, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund South West said:
 “Sharing Heritage is a wonderful opportunity for communities to delve
into their  local heritage and we are delighted to be able to
offer this grant so that the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust
and Chippenham Museum can embark on a real journey of discovery.
Heritage means such different things to different people
and HLF’s funding offers a wealth of opportunities for groups
to explore and celebrate what’s important to them in their local area.”

Read more about this in "This is Wiltshire"  19th June



Local Children Explore Canals at Chippenham Museum
Wednesday, 05 March 2014 08:01


IMG 3613Children from Chippenham and the surrounding area, and even some from as far away as Swindon and Weston-super-Mare, recently experienced a tremendously successful series of canal based activities in Chippenham Museum & Heritage Centre.

The Half Term activities were organised by the museum and the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust, and were funded by a Heritage Lottery Fund Sharing Heritage grant.

Activities such as making model narrow boats, tying knotted key rings, painting canalware and taking part in a mini archaeological dig, were all planned to help children have fun, while learning more about their local heritage, especially the role of Wilts & Berks Canal in Chippenham.

IMG 3648On Thursday, ‘Alice Ashe’, a resident of Chippenham, visited the museum and enthralled children with her opinions on the canal people – she was not very complimentary about their behaviour, and had even had to move away from the Market Place because of the unsavoury nature of the canal wharf!

The three days proved incredibly popular, with over 120 children and 75 adults attending the event, organised to commemorate 100 years since the abandonment of the canal.

Melissa Barnett is the curator of Chippenham Museum & Heritage Centre.

She said: “This is such a wonderful project which is introducing children to an important but largely forgotten part of their heritage. There are so many exciting stories that can be told about life on the canal and traditional skills that can be passed on. I was so pleased to see the museum buzzing with happy children proudly showing off their crafts and look forward to the family events in June where there will be even more activities.”

Val Melville is a volunteer with the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust.

Chippenham workshopShe said: “We were delighted with the tremendous response to the Activity Days! The children were so excited by the activities and really enjoyed finding out more about the canal; everyone went away very enthusiastic about what they had made and learnt.  It was a pleasure to work with the museum for this event, and it was brilliant to be able to use their excellent education facilities to host the workshops.  We are now looking forward to our Heritage Open Days on 20th & 21st of June, when local schools and the community are invited to visit Pewsham Locks to experience storytellers in period costumes, traditional music, craft demonstrations and workshops.”

Nerys Watts, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund South West said: “Sharing Heritage is a wonderful opportunity for communities to delve into their local heritage and we are delighted to be able to offer this grant so that the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust and Chippenham Museum can embark on a real journey of discovery.  Heritage means such different things to different people and HLF’s funding offers a wealth of opportunities for groups to explore and celebrate what’s important to them in their local area.”  Click Gazette & Herald (right) to read the article

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Heritage Lottery Fund Grant Will Celebrate “Hidden Gem” of Former Waterway
Thursday, 06 February 2014 13:47

The Wilts & Berks Canal Trust is one of the first groups in the UK to receive a Heritage Lottery Fund
Sharing Heritage grant.

Sharing Heritage is a new funding programme to help people across the UK explore, conserve and
share all aspects of the history and character of their local area.

Delivered in partnership with Chippenham Museum and Heritage Centre, Pewsham Locks: A Centenary
Commemoration project will receive£7,900 to mark one hundred years since the abandonment of the
canal in 1914. The Trust also hopes it will encourage interest in the ongoing restoration campaign.

Events will include a series of fun activities in the museum during the February half-term, culminating in
Open Days at the locks themselves on Friday and Saturday June 20-21. 

Kath Hatton  is the Trust's fundraising director and a member of the Melksham, Chippenham & Calne
branch.She said: "We are delighted by the generous support of the Heritage Lottery Fund and look
forward to encouraging interest in this hidden gem. Many people are aware of the existence of the
canal but few know about the history of the locks, which once lifted narrowboats almost 29 feet on
their journey between Melksham and Chippenham.There was a boat-building and repair business,
saw-pit, carpenter's workshop, lime kiln, dry-dock and a lock-keeper's cottage, the remains of which
can still be seen today.We hope the Open Days will include storytellers in period costumes,
traditional music, craft demonstrations and workshops.Local primary and secondary schools will also
be invited to get involved in role-play activities and challenges.The aim is to encourage people to learn
more about their heritage and understand the significance of the site, and perhaps inspire them to join
the ongoing restoration campaign."

Melissa Barnett, curator of Chippenham Museum and Heritage Centre, said: "This is a fantastic
community-led project that will introduce more people to a largely unsung and unexplored part of our
local heritage with an exciting range of activities and events.Chippenham Museum is delighted to be
supporting the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust with this project and with its long-term plans to protect,
conserve and improve this part of the canal system.”

Nerys Watts, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund South West said: “Sharing Heritage is a wonderful
opportunity for communities to delve into their local heritage and we are delighted to be able to offer
this grant so that the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust and Chippenham Museum can embark on a real journey
of discovery.Heritage means such different things to different people and HLF’s funding offers a wealth
of opportunities for groups to explore and celebrate what’s important to them in their local area.”

Read the "This is Wiltshire" article from 10 February 2014

 For further information on the Canal Trust activities, email Kath Hatton 

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