Branches West Vale Restoration
Restoration of the Canal Section from Shrivenham Arch Bridge to Bourton Wharf (1992-94)

sr2bw 01Having made a good start on our first major project, the dredging of the section between Stainswick Lane and Station Road, the Branch was keen to progress the adjacent canal section.


This length is approximately 1100 metres; from the Arch Bridge on Station Road to where the canal line is lost under Townsend Road (the road from the A420 into Shrivenham) near to the site of Bourton Wharf - the roads in this area being altered in the 1980s for the Shrivenham / Watchfield bypass.

Bourton Wharf itself is much altered from this old sketch - the lift bridge is of course long gone, but at least part of the wharfinger's cottage remains, built into a much extended private residence. The photograph, taken in 2000, shows the north wall of the original cottage.

      sr2bw_03sr2bw_02

In 1992, the canal channel was clearly visible for much of its length as it is in a cutting. Like the adjacent length, it was infilled with silt, undergrowth and overgrown, coppiced willows; the towpath was not discernable as the bank had washed down and small trees and scrub had taken over.
Here, the towpath was to the north side of the canal, crossing to the south side at Station Road Arch Bridge and crossing back to the north at Longcot Top Lock. This change of sides was to avoid building an additional bridge over the Longcot Arm, which goes north from the canal about 3½ km east of the Station Road Bridge.

 

sr2bw_04

 

Additionally, the canal was totally infilled 300m west of Station Road Bridge by the bridleway from Shrivenham to Bourton village; know as Steppingstone Lane. Originally a brick-arch bridge carried this right-of-way over the canal but the bridge was demolished by the County Council in the 1950s in order to save on maintenance costs and the canal reduced to a culvert.

 

Clearance work started with the WRG 1993 New Year work party, following funding being obtained from the Civic Trust Local projects Fund and various Branch fundraisers.

 

sr2bw_06sr2bw_05The spring of that year saw the beginning of the stump pulling by tractor, this not being very successful due to the angle of pull from the top of the bank. Stump pulling continued slowly during the summer using hand winches and was finally completed during the autumn.

  

The willow stumps around Station Road Bridge - Spring ‘93

 

sr2bw_07

Looking west from Station Road Bridge - Autumn ‘93

 

sr2bw_09

sr2bw_08Dredging of the canal was then planned for the spring of '94 but had to be abandoned due to very wet weather and flooding of the site. However, once underway, dredging progressed relatively swiftly and was completed by June '94.

 

 Dredging from Station Road Bridge

 

 

 

sr2bw_10  sr2bw_11

Looking west again from the bridge and looking east towards the bridge - January ‘95

 

sr2bw_12

Apart from maintaining access from Station Road to the site of Steppingstone Lane Bridge (along the south side of the canal), little further restoration has been carried out on this section as it was decided that the blockage caused by the bridleway crossing should be addressed before reinstating the towpath on the north side. The building of the replacement brick-arch bridge has been a major project for the Branch over several years; full details of the rebuild can be found here.

The rebuilt Steppingstone Lane Bridge - 2010

 

Worthy of mention is perhaps the little matter of THE BOMB!  In the spring of '95 a Branch work-party was walking the canal bank and came across a metal object that looked like a shell, presumably it had been dredged from the canal the previous year. A call to the police was not taken too seriously for the date was 1st April! However, in time, two officers turned up, had a quick look, then quick calls to base to call the "bomb squad". Due to the proximity of the railway line and the A420, there was even talk of closing these down! Eventually, two chaps from the Royal Logistic Corp's Bomb Disposal Unit arrived from Tidworth, picked up the device and pronounced it to be a 1944/45 RAF practise bomb (type 616). These small bombs contained phosphorous and glowed on decent so that the bomb-aimer could watch the trajectory. The bomb squad kindly took it away for disposal in case it still contained some nasty stuff. Was the RAF practising on knocking out Steppingstone Lane Bridge? Maybe, but fortunately we have not found any more, yet!


sr2bw_13  sr2bw_14  sr2bw_15

 

Station Rd Bridge - west elevation 2002

Station Road Bridge with the section in water - 2002

 

 

 

 

 

 

A leaflet for a walk incorporating the part of this section from Station Road to Steppingstone Lane Bridge is available to download here.

At the present time, there is no public access along the canal beyond Steppingstone Lane, although clearance work has now been restarted to extend the towpath westwards.

 

Future Plans

The Branch is planning to rework this section when a formal lease has been agreed. The towpath will be reinstated on the north side of the canal and eventually, the section will be re-dredged to remove the encroaching silt and reed. The plan is to include sufficient land to enable the canal to be diverted away from the A420, under a new road bridge (and around the site of Bourton Wharf) to rejoin the original line approx. 600 metres north-east of Acorn Railway Bridge (where, in time, another diversion and new tunnel will be required for the canal to pass under the railway line).