First 300 metres on Wootton Bassett Town Council land, 1991-1993
Other parts of the Wilts & Berks Canal had already been working on restoration for some time by 1983, when members in Wootton Bassett had the first glimmer of hope. At the AGM it was reported that Wootton Bassett Town Council had been trying for fairer terms for a lease on the Scotlands Farm area east of the County Council’s depot, so that work could start there. However, the Town Council had identified some unregistered ‘white land’ adjacent to the railway half a mile further east, and laid claim to it.
We are grateful that Councillors Eric Hodges and Linda Kinder and the then town clerk fenced the unregistered land and claimed 'adverse possession'. Even now, there are some stretches of what's known as 'white land' along the canal line where no-one knows who claims ownership.
Once the Town Council had legal ownership of this piece of land, plans were drawn up to restore the canal from Hancock’s Water for 300 metres, most of it closely parallel with the Great Western Main Line. Just beyond its eastern end were the remains of an arched structure named Woodshaw Bridge whose arch had long since failed. Even though this was also on 'white land', the farmer had claimed it and had placed a makeshift bridge of steel joists with railway sleepers on top, as seen here. By the 1990s the steel joists had been removed.
Fast-forward to late 1989, and the Work Party Organiser Peter Smith announced in Dragonfly 35: “A new group has formed up at Wootton Bassett, led by John Allen. They are hopeful of getting permission to start work on the Templars Firs section soon, and a visiting party has been provisionally scheduled for 13-14th October to make an initial impact on the site."
By June 1990, John Allen reported: “… a great deal of work continues on the Canal at Templars Firs with some 600 yards now cleared away to reveal many new and fascinating brick features that we will in future spend time on excavating out and recording the functions that served them well 200 years ago.” In November, the local MP Richard Needham was photographed visiting a working party that included Venture Scouts.
Later in 1990, permission was finally granted for restoration of the Town-Council-owned section at Templar's Firs subject to insurance cover being arranged – but work was delayed a year while researching 100-year flood requirements. The land around the original spill-weir was cleared in 1991, revealing the brick inverts. Rebuilding the spill-weir took until 1993, as did work on the wing walls of ‘Buxton Bridge’ to the west.
During 1993 the canal was fully dredged; the towpath was laid with help and fund-raising by sixth-formers from the local Comprehensive.
In 1994, Town Mayor Bernard Male announced his 'chain gang' to take place on Saturday April 16th, to remove fallen trees and tree-stumps between the watered section and Harris Croft Farm.