900 years of Castlefields
As the local names suggest (Castle Hill, Castle House, Castlefields), it is believed that in medieval times a Castle existed on the narrow plateau of high land that the River Marden curves around to the west of Calne Town Centre.
Documentary evidence suggests that a Castle was present in ‘Cerne’ in 1139, a mis-spelling of Calne, but to date no physical evidence has been identified to substantiate this.
Typically at that time of “turbulent baronage”, it is considered possible that the castle’s presence was short lived, as is consistent with the better documented evidence of the Malmesbury Castle.
In more recent history the present Castlefields Park area was formerly the lawn and garden area of Castle House. Castle House is believed to have dated from the early part of the 17th century, when the first known documented owner was Walter Norbourne MP for the then Borough, who died in 1659. During the 18th Century the House was added to substantially, with a façade attributed to Robert Adams, It was occupied by H G Harris who was associated with the development of Harris’s pork processing factory which dominated the centre of Calne for over 100 years and was the main employer in the area up to 1983 when it closed. Though Castle House was considerably altered in the 1970’s the original façade still remains and overlooks the Castlefields Park area.
The earliest map of Calne, dated 1763, clearly shows the curved Southern and Eastern boundary of Castlefields, which marked the extent of the formal gardens of Castle House in that direction. The existing stone wall which now delineates the park boundary to the south and east, was probably constructed between this time and 1810, when the Calne Branch of the Wilts and Berks Canal, running parallel to the boundary, was completed. Marden House, the former Wharf Office serving the canal, is now a grade II listed building, and part of its former garden are also to be incorporated in to the Castlefields Park area.
North Wilts District Council acquired the Castlefields Park land for public enjoyment through a series of conveyances between 1965 and 1983. The whole park is within the designated Calne conservation area and is listed in the current Local Cultural Strategy Action Plan.
Following Wiltshire's re-organsation to a single authority in 2009 the park was owned and managed by Wiltshire Council until, In October 2011, ownership was transfered to Calne Town Council.
The Wilts and Berks Canal
Calne was located on a branch of the Wilts and Berks Canal, the second of Wiltshire’s canals. As authorised by an act of 1795, the route was from the Kennett and Avon Canal at Semington, near Trowbridge to the Thames at Abingdon via Melksham, Dauntsey, Wotton Bassett and Swindon. In part it followed the line originally proposed for the Kennett and Avon Canal before an alternative route was adopted. Full construction of both canals was completed in 1810, with the Calne and Chippenham branches being completed in 1801. The route of the Calne branch passes through Castlefields and it was originally linked to the River Marden and the wharf at Calne via a lock and a short channel. The lock is still identifiable though partly buried, but the sluices by which the water levels were controlled have now been removed.
The Wilts and Berks was a narrow canal taking craft up to 30 tons. The whole route was 51 miles, whilst the Calne branch was three and one eight miles long with three locks. The principle cargo was coal transported to the wharves such as Calne from the main distribution points on the Kennett and Avon. At various times passenger services were also known to have been in operation.
With the onset of railway construction in 1835, the decline in the use of the canals in the region started. Eventually the canal company was sold in 1874, and between then and 1906 when operations finally ceased it passed through the hands of several owners, who tried unsuccessfully to make it financially viable. The last straw being the partial collapse of the Stanley aqueduct, which cut off the water to a substantial part of the canal system, previously supplied through the Calne Branch from the River Marden.
The Wharf in Calne remains identifiable but now incorporates a modern residential development whilst Marden House, the former Wharf Office serving the canal, survives and is now a Grade II listed building. The towpaths of the canal also exist alongside of the route through Castlefields. The point at which the canal crosses the modern western boundary of Castlefields is marked by Chaveywell Bridge, which is constructed in red brick and contemporary with the original waterway construction.