A volunteer who spends his weekends digging up the remains of a former waterway through Melksham is appealing for information for a new book.

Peter Williams has been a member of the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust for almost 20 years, spending his spare time helping to uncover the remains of bridges and towpaths.

However, he is now researching a book which will cover the entire history of the canal between Semington near Melksham and Lacock.

He has already unearthed documents and maps which have been hidden for decades and is appealing for people to come forward with further information which could help shed new light on the canal and the important part it played in the local community.

Mr Williams, 40, said: “It all started several years ago when members of the public approached the charity with letters and memories which revealed all sorts of things we hadn’t known before.

“Despite growing up in Melksham and moving to Chippenham I had never been aware how this formerly forgotten waterway had played such a major role in the development of the two towns.

“So I decided to research the entire history of the canal at a local level, stretching from where it joined the Kennet & Avon Canal at Semington to where the narrowboats unloaded their goods on the wharf at Lacock.

“I want to cover not just the construction and development but also how it disappeared almost without trace and how it’s steadily being rebuilt today.”

Archive photographs show that some parts of the canal through Melksham were still intact and full of water in the 1920s, before they were lost under houses and gardens. Plans for a new route are currently being discussed.

However, traces still remain today including the hump in Spa Road where there used to be a bridge over the canal by Melksham Wharf, the remains of the bridge parapet at the junction of Sandridge Road and Forest Road by the entrance to King George V Playing Fields, and the former junction with the Kennet & Avon where it widens below Semington Locks.

In the countryside between Melksham and Chippenham, some sections have already been restored and rewatered.

Mr Williams said: “We already have recollections of the canal going back to the early 1900s which have been passed down from generation to generation, and ghost stories relating to some of the locks and bridges.

“We have lots of old maps and documents, including some relating to Forest Lock Cottage in Melksham which were found in a Bath attic.

“The research has been great fun and very interesting. Now I’d like to see if anyone else has anything which they’d like to contribute.”

Mr Williams is particularly interested in tracing the descendants of local families who used to work on the canal, including the Theobalds of Semington, the Lewingtons of Melksham and the Bishops of Pewsham.

Anyone with any information can call Mr Williams on 01249 652248 or e-mail peter.williams@wbct.org.uk