Forming part of the Devizes flight - a total of 29 locks over a distance of 3.6km - Caen Hill lies on the 139km Kennet & Avon canal. The waterway was completed by John Rennie senior in 1810, to join the River Kennet and River Avon navigations.
It was the final link for the first east-west communication route in the country, connecting the River Thames in London to the Severn Estuary in Bristol.
Only four decades later however, canal use was falling into decline as rail became the favoured mode of transport. The Kennet & Avon was taken over by the Great Western Railway Company in 1852 so it could be slowly run down.
Kennet and Avon Canal Partnership project manager John Laverick says that although navigation was still possible down the neglected canal until the 1950s, it was extremely hazardous as many of the locks were in a dangerous condition and the waterway was subsequently closed at many locations. However, a group of individuals, foreseeing the potential of the canal system for leisure activities, successfully petitioned the Government against formal closure, which would have required an Act of Parliament. They formed an association, later to become the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust.
The Trust issued appeals and raised funds for restoration work but by the time of the 1968 Transport Act the canal was nevertheless classified as a 'remainder waterway' - little more than a drainage ditch.
By this time however, the Trust had gained the support of the recently- formed British Waterways Board, which joined the Trust in persuading the local authorities to become involved. As a result funds were acquired and restoration undertaken, preventing the canal from slipping into total dereliction.
A successful application from the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust, British Waterways, the local authorities and the Association of Canal Enterprises, (collectively known as the Kennet & Avon Canal Partnership) to the Heritage Lottery Fund finally changed the fortunes of the canal, providing £25M of the £29M being spent on the Partnership Project.
The badly-needed funding made it possible to plan for total restoration. Since the Partnership Project began in 1997, much has already been achieved on the canal. Progress has been made on the relining and strengthening scheme at Bathhampton (NCE 4 February 1999), with a large part of theoriginal 10km scheme now completed.
Dredging continues in the Wiltshire village of Send, and installation of a back-pumping scheme at the Bath flight of locks to maintain water supply is ongoing. Completion of the entire Partnership Project is dueby the end of 2002.