For thirty years traffic on the canal grew and grew, with annual receipts between 1824 and 1839 for example in excess of £42,000 with a dividend of 3%.
However as soon as the Great Western Railway started operating from London to Bristol in 1841, the competition started affecting canal trade. Ironically much of the canal company’s profit in the late 1830’s, came from transporting those self same materials that were used to build the railway.
For the next ten years the canal company fought back against railway competition by reducing tolls and introducing its own fleet of barges.
Increasing fly-boat services and extending passenger carrying facilities were other methods of remaining competitive that were tried.
Losing out to the GWR
Later as matters got worse there were staff cuts and wage reductions, and canal traders increasingly turned to the railway, viewing it as a more economical means of transporting their goods.
Railway Take-over and Operation
In 1852, the GWR obtained Parliamentary approval to take over the whole canal. The canal company shareholders were guaranteed an annual payment, and the GWR promised to keep the canal in good repair and try to run it in a business like way. However as profits gradually disappeared, they too began to cut staff and reduce repairs.
By 1906 tolls on the K&A were higher than those on similar waterways.
By 1914 railway competition had closed both the Somerset Coal Canal and The Wilts and Berks.
By 1920 some trading still existed on the K&A, although tolls had by then been raised by 150%.
Maintaining the canal
Obligations in the Act, together with local opposition prevented the canal being closed in 1926 and in 1929, the last major canal trader forced the GWR to honour its maintenance obligations, although trade was not encouraged.
The Kennet and Avon during World War Two
During the Second World War, the K&A was used as a second line of defence against possible invasion. Pill boxes were strategically sited along the whole length of the canal, and concrete obstructions placed across canal bridges.
Much of the material used for these structures was carried on canal boats.
Lack of maintenance
During the years 1945 to 1948, the canal suffered even further decline due to a lack of maintenance and use although a number of smaller traders still used the waterway.
As a consequence of railway nationalisation in 1948, the K&A came under the management of the Railway Executive and later under the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive (DIWE). For a short while there was an upsurge in canal trading, when a number of enterprising businessmen found cargoes to carry.
However from the early 1950’s the DIWE effected a number of closures for repairs, and this made trading more and more difficult.
These repairs were never satisfactorily carried out, and in 1955 the Transport Commission went to Parliament to close the canal.
A few years later and after considerable campaigning, the restoration of the Kennet and Avon Canal was started and the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust formed. After several decades of fundraising and hard work, the Kennet and Avon was eventually re-opened by Her Majesty The Queen in August 1990.