Tuesday 20 August 1991

Visit To Bradford On Avon And K&A Canal


The Kennet and Avon Canal near Bradford On Avon was the location for a Sunday afternoon stroll by Warminster History Society on 18th August 1991.

Organised by History Society member Danny Howell, the stroll began near Bradford Lock, and the walkers made their way north towards Bradford On Avon town centre.

A former wool town, it clings to the river Avon's steep-sided valley, with some of its oldest buildings clustering around the river crossing - the 'Broad' ford that gave rise to the name.

The entrance to the ford can be seen on the western side of its replacement, a 14th century stone bridge which was widened three centuries later. The chapel on the bridge dates from the same period when it became a lock-up or blind house, complete with two cells. The lock-up is topped with a fish-shaped weather vane.

After admiring the bridge, members paused to view the work of local artists on display in a nearby park, before crossing the Avon and making their way to the Shambles - now a row of picturesque shops, but where local butchers once set up wooden trestles to display their meat, hence the name.

The Post Office in the Shambles features an unusual date-stone of 1936; unusual because it denotes ER VIII - the uncrowned King who gave up the throne for the woman he loved.

Crossing over a busy road into Church Street, the walkers made the Saxon church of St. Laurence their next port of call. The church was rediscovered in 1856, when Canon Jones looked down on the town and espied the shape of a small church hemmed in by houses and cottages.

Canon Jones' discovery was given credence when in 1871 all vestiges of secular use had been removed and connection made with St. Aldhelm and a local monastery mentioned in a deed of 705 A.D. Alterations and face lifts not withstanding, this tiny church exudes both charm and mystery and its bold simplicity and tenacity are hard to forget.

After leaving the church, the walkers crossed a footbridge, seeing swans and ducks, before passing the town's swimming pool and joining the towpath alongside the river Avon. The sunlight on the water made for many moods, and dragonflies were plentiful.

The path led to the tithe barn. Its statistics are impressive: 168 feet long with a massive timber roof supporting 100 tons of stone tiles. It was built by the Abbey of Shaftesbury in 1341. Tithes (one tenth of annual produce paid to support the priesthood) are no longer payable, but few people leave the empty barn's simple but stunning interior without a sense of wonder.

Following the path through Barton Farm country park, beside the river for a while, the walkers later moved on to the Kennet & Avon towpath, which took them to a rather crowded Avoncliff.

John Rennie's aqueduct at Avoncliff stands in a magnificent setting, and is a good vantage point for seeing what is left of nearby flock mills, although the most northern one is a sorry sight today. Flock mills broke up old woollen materials as stuffing for recycling in cushions and mattresses.

After a cream tea in the garden of the Teasels at Avoncliff, the walkers retraced their footsteps back along the towpath, admiring the colourful painted barges in the glorious sunshine.

A vote of thanks for an enjoyable stroll was given by Warminster History Society Chairman Mike Ednay.