East Vale & Abingdon Branch
The East Vale & Abingdon branch chiefly covers the historic line of the canal through the Vale in the area around Wantage, Grove and villages to the west. Officially for internal purposes the boundaries are Baulking Road, Uffington to Jubilee Junction on the Thames.
East Vale & Abingdon Branch meetings are held on the 1st Wednesday of each month from 8pm at East Hanney Royal British Legion Mill Orchard, East Hanney, Wantage OX12 0JH. Normal meetings are a chance for a catch up about activities and to discuss up and coming workparties and outside events eg talks and walks. We have occasional speaker evenings. (Branch meetings in the British Legion are currently suspended due to the Coronavirus situation.)
The branch story
The East Vale & Abingdon branch includes the middle section of the canal through the Vale of White Horse in South Oxfordshire and covers the section from the Baulking Road , Uffington to the Thames at Abingdon. The branch area also covers the Wantage Branch including the historic Sack House at Wantage Wharf, our small museum. The canal was built from west to east starting at Semington near Melksham in 1795. Construction reached East Challow some 11 years later in 1806. Work continued including the mile long branch into Wantage and the canal was officially opened in September 1810 The East Vale section includes a large part of the “Seven Mile Pound” from Longcot Bottom Lock (within West Vale’s boundaries) through to Grove Top Lock, the Grove lock flight of six Locks and the two Locks. Only the Grove flight is accessible from public footpath.
Restoration projects in the East Vale
Our first restoration project was the Elm Farm Pound of some 400 yards between Grove Top Lock and Lime Kiln Lock. This forms a vital green barrier between Grove and Wantage and is a well-used footpath and amenity area. Our lease has currently expired but is in the process of renewal. We have continued permission to undertake maintenance and a full review of the pound will take place once the lease is back in place. This includes repairs to the dam at the entrance to Lime Kiln Lock and de-silting the canal bed, some 20 plus years after our original work here. The level of Mably Road to the west of Grove Top Lock necessitates a new route for the canal around the Denchworth Road/Mably Way Roundabouts. The site of the required bridge is protected in the outline planning for the Grove Airfield development.
To the west of Denchworth Road lie the various new housing developments. The historic canal route is protected, and a pre-planning application was submitted for the new route planned to run around the Mably Way Roundabout and through the green space to connect with the historic route. The route was part of the Arup Engineering Study commissioned by the Canal Trust and part funded by the S106 funding from the adjacent housing development to the north. The design of the housing estate now incorporating Badger Close off Downsview Road was altered by the lead architects for the estate to allow for the eventual canal construction.
In between the new housing developments, the historic line of the canal was filled in during WW2 with the construction of the Grove Airfield, as far as the site of Hunters bridge. Westwards from here the canal re-appears in a cutting, albeit not at the original canal level. After the site of Stockham Bridge the footpath once again follows the towpath proper. The initial stretch is now overshadowed by a further housing development on the southern side. Walkers will notice that they have gravelled the footpath as far as a crossing point from the estate to a planned green area on the northern side. Unfortunately the developers have not co-operated as regards the planned “ bridge” across the canal at this point.
From here the middle stretch to East Challow is owned by the Canal Trust. Signage is planned to be installed to show the boundaries. This stretch will be a East Vale project for late 2020/2021. This pound between Stockham and East Challow was dredged and the footpath cleared around 20 years ago and again is a well - used footpath and unofficial cycle path. The canal at East Challow disappears into the back gardens of Canal Way. The arch bridge
where the canal crossed below the A417 is long gone. The old Challow Brewery building later to become Nalder & Nalder Engineering remains to the north of the canal line and has now been converted into flats.
Crossing the A417 the footpath continues to follow the towpath line albeit that the canal itself is now within the gardens of the adjacent properties. It shortly returns to view. Almost the entire canal length between East and West Challow (west of Silver Lane) is now in the possession of the canal trust following the granting of a long lease. Full restoration is planned. This will involve at least one lift bridge and several weirs. The only road bridge needed is at West Challow. Full project plans have not yet been formalised but work is ongoing along the pound.
At Silver Lane, West Challow the public footpath ends however a permissive footpath leads along the canal towpath to the West Challow- Childrey Bridleway. Here you will find the temporary bridge installed to allow for the diversion of the bridleway in order to rebuild the long lost flat wooden bridge. Possibly originally an arch bridge (judging by the shape of the brickwork on the bridge abutments) it is shown on a 1914 Abandonment Plan for the Wantage Rural District Council as a flat plank bridge. This will be the design used for eventual re-instatement.
After the bridleway the canal route is on private land and not open to public access. A walk from West Challow village hall across the fields however leads to the Childrey New Road 600 yard section, some of which is public access due to the public footpath. At Childrey New Road we have a 600 yard stretch of restored canal ending at the eastern boundary with a new weir to control the water level and field drainage. This forms part of a good circular walk around Childrey.
We have our own branch marquee and displays which we use when we attend local fetes and shows. Eg The White Horse Show at Uffington and Childrey Fete.
We are delighted to have an almost continuous public footpath from Childrey New Road to Neville’s Farm bridge, a distance of around 4 miles (nearly 8% of the main line). The relevant maps are OS Landranger 174 or Explorer Map 170 ( Abingdon, Wantage and Vale of White Horse). A walk leaflet for a circular walk starting and finishing in Wantage is available on this website. Other parts of the towpath are on private land and we would ask that the owners’ privacy is maintained.
The Sack House at The Wharf
The sack house at Mill Street, Wantage, Oxon OX12 9GF is open from Easter to the end of November on the 1st and 3rd Saturday of each of month from 10am-2pm (currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions). The small building stood at the entrance to the canal wharf. It was used as a weighbridge, office, coal merchants and dates back to soon after the canal was built into Wantage in around 1810. There are various canal artefacts on display as well as information displays on the industrial archaeology of the wharf area, i.e. not just the canal but also the Flour Mill opposite as well. The name of the museum is taken from the enamel sign on the front of the building advertising the West of England Sack Hiring Company.