The Pendon Museum

The canal is a major feature in the Vale Landscape


An article by Martin Heard which appeared in the Dragonfly in 1994, issues No52 & 53, explained the history of the Pendon Museum at Long Wittenham near Didcot, and its plans to include some Wilts & Berks Canal features into its major exhibit - ‘The Vale Scene’ (circa 1930).  Although Mr. Heard assures me that there is still some two year’s work to be done to complete the scene, a great deal of progress has been made since that article first appeared.

Several members wrote to me recently regarding the museum and an article which appeared in the museum’s magazine ‘The Pendon Paper’ (Autumn 98). A summary of that article is printed below.

The beginnings of the model canal in ‘The Vale Scene’ were, in a sense, by chance and the features fragmentary.  However, in about 1980, when Angus Pilton and museum founder, Roye England, were on one of their periodic trips around the Vale, they spotted Wharf Farm just north of Uffington, whose house and its adjoining buildings had belonged to Uffington Wharf.  We were asked to measure and draw them for Chris Pilton to model.  During the background work we found an old photograph showing the house and buildings complete with the wooden lift bridge over the canal.  It was at that point, I think, that we first had the idea of a section of canal that would bring together as many different features as possible, and would thus form a major feature in the landscape.

Shortly after this, we accompanied Howard Fuller on a tour of the Vale led by Nigel Hammond, a local historian.  One of the stops was at the site of the Childrey brickworks with its derelict kilns and old drying shed.   We simultaneously had the same idea: ‘We must have this for Pendon’.  When we realised that the brickworks were separated only by a field from a small wharf on the canal, it slotted into place in the mind’s eye as a canal-side feature.  The brickworks were extensively rebuilt in 1926 and would have been in full production in 1930.

Finally, we had a stroke of luck: we found several old photographs of Grove Top Lock in the collection at the Vale and Downland Museum at Wantage.  These showed not only a single-storey lock cottage which was just what we were looking for, but also a rather fine ‘tail bridge’ which carried the towpath across the canal at the bottom end of the lock.  The cottage was of brick and slate with a tiled rear extension, but the bridge was built of large ashlar blocks of limestone.  The quality of these old prints was so good that individual bricks could be seen with a lens, and detailed drawings of both cottage and bridge were made.  The cottage and tail bridge will be placed alongside the nearest lock, and will be clearly visible.

The remaining major features are the four locks which, although drained and rather overgrown in 1930, would still have been structurally in quite sound condition with the gates in position, either open or shut, and the above-ground paddle-gear still visible.  We know from the Canal Association’s photographic collection that some of these details survived into the 1970s and 1980s, and at Ardington Marsh Lock one of the bottom gates still survives to its full height.  We are extremely lucky that two of the best-preserved locks on the canal, Ardington Top Lock and Ardington Marsh Lock, are in our own area.  They have escaped the otherwise almost inevitable robbing, vandalism, and back-filling because of their remoteness, each being almost a mile from the nearest road.

This opportunity convinced us that we should try to produce full drawings of the structure of a typical Wilts and Berks lock for the Museum’s records, although the detail would be considerably greater than required by the modeller.

Two other features of the canal will appear in the foreground of our landscape.  The hulk of a sunken narrow boat lies alongside the long-unused wharf of the brickworks.  By 1930 the bricks were transported by lorry, and Austin Attewell has had a suitable model made.  At the point where the canal disappears through the windows of the low gallery there is a ‘winding hole’ for turning the 70-ft narrow boats, and this provides a home for Malcolm Smith’s swans.

Martin & Mary Heard

Martin Heard explains the features in the photograph below.


In the foreground, two houses stand between the turnpike road and the canal bed.  These actually stand, in real life, in a similar position between the A420 and the canal below Marston bottom lock.  The brick house, built in 1891, was probably not directly connected with canal work but the white, rendered cottage, standing at right angles to the road and the canal, appears to be a rather earlier building and could well have been associated with the canal.

Immediately above these buildings is the front view of the house and outbuildings at Uffington Wharf, which still survive as ‘Wharf Farm’.  The canal itself is spanned by a model of the road bridge on the B4000 which still stands to the south of Shrivenham and whose environs had very luckily been cleared by the W&BCAG shortly before the Pendon survey was made.

Beyond the bridge, in the top left hand area of the picture. ‘The Carpenters’ Arms’ is sited.  This pub stands, in real life, just north of the GWR main line, not very far from the Marston locks.

Finally, the unfinished work on the far side of the canal will be the lane leading to a detailed model of the Childrey brickworks which stood quite close to the canal at New Bridge, just below Childrey.  All the models represent the buildings and features as they would have appeared c.1930.

Out of the picture the canal goes under one span of Acorn Bridge on the A420, as it was before the dual carriageway was built, before passing through four locks based closely on the two Ardington locks.  An authentic lock cottage and lift bridge are to be incorporated into the scene.

(reprinted from the Spring 1999 edition of Dragonfly.)


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