Swindon’s Magic Roundabout has acquired celebrity status with appearances on TV, a calendar and even a T-shirt, but in the 19th century a different mode of transport made its mark on the town as a network of canal bridges were built.

The Somerset coalfields provided the impetus for construction of the Wilts and Berks Canal, 52 miles of waterway from Semington Junction on the Kennet and Avon to the River Thames at Abingdon.

Work begun in 1795 and was completed 15 years later. The shorter North Wilts Canal opened in 1819, linking the Wilts and Berks at Swindon to the Thames and Severn Canal at Latton.

The Wilts and Berks Canal neatly bypassed the market town on the hill, but once development began north of Old Swindon, rows of terraced housing was built along its length with back gardens reaching down to the towpath.

The ancient Drove Road, dating back to Saxon times, remained a tree-lined lane throughout the 19th century and was the site of one of the earliest bridges over the two Swindon canals.

The narrow, stone-built construction was demolished between the world wars and is now the site of the Magic Roundabout.

In the same locality and built in about 1810 over the North Wilts Canal, the Marsh Farm or Shrivenham Road bridge was declared a grade II-listed building in 1986.

By the middle of the 19th century several of the Somerset coalfields were worked out and closed. With the rest of the haulage trade taking to the railways, the Wilts and Berks Canal Company struggled to survive. Shareholders proposed closing the company and in 1874 an application was made to the High Court of Chancery to sell and dispose of the canal. Provision for closure was urged should there be no interested buyer.

The last 25 years of the 19th century saw a second programme of bridge building in Swindon.

Cambria Road Bridge was built in 1877 and Queenstown Bridge in 1885 with the landmark Whale Bridge, commemorated today by yet another roundabout, built in 1893.

In 1907 the York Road Bridge was built to link housing developments on either side of the, by then, derelict canal.

This bridge was demolished in the 1960s during the construction of Fleming Way.

The canal was eventually closed by an Act of Parliament in 1914. A slightly misplaced early 19th century milestone declaring “Semington 26 miles” stands outside 2-6 Canal Walk, marking the canal route through the modern town centre. The Golden Lion statue, a 1970s replacement for an older version, stands near the site of the former Golden Lion Bridge, an iron lift bridge built in the GWR Works in 1870.