Evidence from Archives

Without archival sources our knowledge of the Stamford Canal and Welland Navigation would be very limited! The visible evidence (the canal bed, the remaining locks and bridges) does not give us much to go on.  For example, without the documentary archives we could only guess at the reasons for building the canal or the dates of construction; if we relied only on the visible evidence we would know about only 4 of the 12 locks.

Looking at the archives from a number of collections, mainly in their original format –

  • we saw for ourselves what facts exist and where the gaps are
  • we could make our own Interpretation of the evidence
  • we raised questions about previous research and historical summaries
  • we found things that had been left out by previous researchers
  • we found opportunities for conjecture and creative thinking!
  • we found it frustrating not to be able to access some collections as freely as we would have liked – whether it was due to limited opening times, our lack of time or other reasons
  • we found it fascinating to put pieces of the jigsaw together, as for example we did at Stamford Town Hall when we matched the Welland Navigation Committee’s handwritten minutes with the original letters from people complaining about the state of the canal after its closure.

Examples of significant resources are shown below.  Other key resources for particular places and features along the canal route are referred to in those sections. Click on a resource below or scroll down the page.

All the archives and other references we have found (so far) have been listed in a “Boaty Archive”.  The most recent online version can be viewed as a PDF:   Boaty Catalogue V1.20. Use ‘find’ to locate items of interest. If you wish to view the catalogue in spread-sheet format, view images, or if you know of other relevant items to be added,  please email wdheritage@hotmail.co.uk .

Stamford Town Council Hall Books

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Enclosure Awards for Tallington and West Deeping

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Stamford Town Hall documents relating to the disposal of the Stamford Canal

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West Deeping Parish records (Vestry Meeting Minutes & Parish Council Meeting Minutes)

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Stamford Museum Collection photograph albums from the late 1970s

A collection of photographs taken along the course of the canal during the 1970s was handed into the public library at Market Deeping and were sent to Stamford Museum.  Now we know that the photos were taken by Richard Platt, who used them as a teaching resource.  What makes them so valuable?  It’s the attention to details (like bridge construction and evidence of wear by ropes used on the canal vessels), the observation of features that are no longer there (masonry blocks from the lock between West Deeping and Molecey’s Mill have since been removed by the farmer),  the record of the serious environmental hazards when parts of the canal were used as a rubbish dump and capturing an image that is no longer possible since a pedestrian crossing over the railway has been closed.  Thank goodness these photographs were rescued from the skip!

 

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Mary Downs’ dissertation in Stamford Museum Collection

Stamford Museum has got perhaps the only surviving copy of a dissertation, ‘The River Welland at Stamford’ written by Mrs Mary Downs in 1971 and submitted for a teaching qualification at Leicester College of Education. The Grantham Archaeology Group researchers discovered this when they were doing their research in the 1990s. Highly impressed with how comprehensive it was and how well-presented, they used it as a key source of information for their own investigations. The West Deeping project team, too, found many interesting details from Mrs Down’s project log and followed up on her references to documents in the Phillips Collection at Stamford Town Hall.

In 2013, with the help of an old telephone directory and a bit of detective work, Mrs Downs was traced to Sheffield where she had moved to be near her family. Although he could not unfortunately find any remaining papers or records, her son remembered being involved in the research!

mary_downs_portraitMy mother was a teacher at Kirkstone House School, Baston, in the 1970s. She had previously done a three-year teacher-training course and I think it was in the final year that she had to do a project and chose to investigate the history behind the Stamford canal. I can remember her poring over the local Ordnance Survey maps trying to work out the route of the old canal so that she could go and have a look at what remained. On several occasions I accompanied her on her reconnaissance.  I can recall one visit, it was a particularly windy, squally day and we got into her pale blue Fiat 500 to drive to West Deeping. We parked at the edge of a road outside the village and walked over to look at a weed-filled ditch which she excitedly declared was part of the disused canal “even though it doesn’t look much now”. I remember thinking that this was something of an understatement, but was won over when, back in the shelter of the car, she described with great clarity how the canal would have looked when it was operational and its importance to Stamford. Over a period of many weeks, my mother located all of the accessible parts of the remainder of the canal and then spent a lot more time at the library, talking to local people and writing down what she had found. My mother was very enthusiastic about the project and would be delighted to know that her work has helped others.

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Thomas Surbey’s 1699 survey in York City Archives

The discovery of this archive, which has provided such valuable Information for Stamford canal historians, was made in the early 1990s – not in Stamford, but in York.  Paul Hughes, a Master Mariner and a pilot of the Humber estuary was looking at river port development. During his research in York City Archives he came across a catalogue entry for ‘Accession 65: Survey of River Ouse 1699’.  It was a bound volume of manuscript, including a survey journal with charts, a set of instructions, a map, a report and a number of engineering diagrams followed by some memoirs of places visited  after a trip to York. It was the work of Thomas Surbey, an engineer commissioned by the City of York to improve the River Ouse and make the estuary navigable again. He travelled from London by stagecoach in May 1699, stopping off at various places en route – notably Huntingdon and Stamford where he took the time to observe the waterways  in operation and to make detailed drawings of locks.

In the journal, Thomas Surbey wrote: “Proceeded to Stamford Lodged all night here they Have locks also beginning 5 miles below ye town and are 15 in No and pay passage as at Huntingdon a farther account in ye following Draught …”.  Regrettably some of the information does not tally with the facts – the top lock at Hudd’s Mill is within 1 mile of Stamford, and we only know of 12 locks. However, further on in the volume are more details: “The description of a lock a little below Stamford being situate upon ye river for supply of ye Town.” “This lock is stone piers and earth banks between them. The boats they use here are sumthing less than those at Huntingdon for they carie from 14 to 13 ton. But they paie ye Same passage viz 3d p. ton at each lock and they have 15 locks in 5 miles. They trayle 2 boats lashed togeather as aforesaid with one horse  a boy to Drive and a man to guide”. Here again Thomas Surbey mentions 15 locks. It is possible he included 3 flash locks, thought by the industrial archaeologists to have been the means by which the navigation crossed the roads – Mill Lane and Bainton Road in Tallington, and King Street in West Deeping. In which case, it would be accurate to have said 15 locks in 6½ miles, the distance between Hudds Mill and Market Deeping Mill.

The drawing, Thomas Surbey’s  ‘draught’ in 1699, is the earliest and only illustration yet found of a lock on the Stamford Canal. The only image available to reproduce in the book published by Deepings’ Heritage was a photocopy taken in 1992. In 2016, the manuscript was re-catalogued and rehoused in the City of York’s refurbished archive collection at Explore York. A new set of photographs shows up the details of both text and drawings as best as possible with amateur equipment.

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Images from Survey of River Ouse 1699 by Thomas Surbey (By permission of City of York Council Archives)

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Contact the Archive collections:

Stamford Town Hall, St Mary’s Hill, Stamford PE9 2DR

Tel: 01780 753808  email: townhall@stamfordtowncouncil.gov.uk

The Town Hall is open for visitors 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday. To view the Archives phone or email for an appointment with John Hopson.

Lincolnshire Archives, St Rumbold Street, Lincoln LN2 5AB

Tel: 01522 782040 email: lincolnshire.archives@Lincolnshire.gov,uk

The Search Room is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. Phone or email to check arrangements for search room reader ticket and booking

Lincolnshire Culture and Libraries: Stamford Museum Store, Broad Street, Stamford

Not open to the public, except by special appointment. Contact Lincolnshire Libraries

Tel: 01522 782010

Spalding Gentlemen’s Society, 9 Broad Street, Spalding PE11 1TB

Tel:01775 724658 email: info@spalding-gentlemens-society.org

Open 09.00-12.00 on Monday mornings (not Bank Holidays) – for individuals but not groups. Other times for individuals and groups, by arrangement. Un-booked visits: the Society is normally open for individual visits one or two days during the national annual Heritage Open Day programme in September. Curator: T. Grimes

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