Templars Firs and the Canal

49_and_50_Templars_FirsWhen we started negotiations for our house in the road known as Templars Firs, our building survey stated that the house had been built ‘around 1955’. It certainly looked 20 years younger than other houses we’d seen in nearby Dunnington Road, also  backing on to the old Wilts & Berks Canal and built in the mid 1930s.

I recently found out that our house was much older, and I guess that the estate was planned some time after 1936 when Britain started to re-arm. On 30th September 1938, Neville Chamberlain famously waved his piece of paper at Heston Aerodrome and declared ambiguously: “Peace for our time”. However, I was reliably informed some years ago by someone close to his Government that it was code for “This gives us more time to prepare for war”.

War was finally declared on 3rd September 1939, and just four days later Wiltshire’s County Surveyor was informed by a letter from an architect that the Air Ministry wished to build an estate of houses in Wootton Bassett as soon as possible. The letter, sent on 6th September, was accompanied by a set of plans showing 50 houses in pairs, threes or fours. They weren’t sketched on the back of a fag packet, so I wonder: When were they first drawn up?

A frenzy of site and committee meetings followed, gradually tuning the plan before work started at the end of 1939 – and it looked nothing like the original layout seen here, with acknowledgments to the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre in Chippenham:


Initially, the Templars Firs estate was to be accessed by a long drive off Marlborough Road where Glenville Close has its exit. I’ll have to research the Planning Committee (or was it the War Committe?) minutes when I get time, to find out why the plans were changed. However, I suspect it had something to do with the sewage pipes which were to connect with an existing sewer leading north-south as seen above.

A revised plan, seen below, took an ‘L’ shape to the west of the north-south sewer pipe, but overlapping the north of the original plan; compare the distinctive boundary lines. The first version showed the pair of houses on the site of our semi facing westwards, but it was later changed to face north. Because the back gardens to the south were to occupy the old canal bed, unlike in the original proposal, No. 50 would have had a very long border with the restored canal – possibly enough to moor a full-length narrow-boat.

TF_First_Revision_with_detached_house_at_SWThere followed a lot of argy-bargy about drains, sewers and sight-lines, but the diagonal line taken by the trunk sewer remains to this day. Although there were several man-holes in back gardens, there’s also now an inspection cover well to the south of the old canal line. When the westward extension of the canal is built, this inspection chamber will have to be raised to the towpath level – but this will have to wait until the Council Depot is finally sold and developed – soon, please!

The extended canal will also have to deal with an electricity pole by the sub-station in the corner of the ‘L’, because one of its supports lies in the line of the waterway. The houses are all supplied by overhead lines that totally clutter up the view from Marlborough Road:


… not to mention the section of road beyond the ‘L’ bend:


If the original road layout had been accepted, then the canal-side landscape would have been quite different, as seen in this view from the narrow-boat ‘Nonsuch’ on 16th September heading towards the slipway. Instead of tracking a kingfisher along the trees on the right bank, I would have seen houses instead of trees, and a road coming right down to the water’s edge with its turning circle in the right foreground.


For whom was the Templar’s Firs estate built? Lyneham is close by, and a site for an airfield had been surveyed as far back as 1937. Work started in 1939, and the airfield was first opened with a grass landing area with the first aircraft arriving in April 1940. By October 1942 when it was equipped with hard runways, it became a transport base, flying the transport version of the four-engined Consolidated Liberator bomber. Some of these were flown as civilian aircraft by B.O.A.C. As a commercial apprentice, I’d joined B.O.A.C. in 1968 at a time when many of its aircrew had served in WWII. I wonder whether any of them had been quartered at Templars Firs?





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