The Stamford Canal: overview

The Stamford Canal, part of the Welland Navigation, ran from Stamford to Market Deeping where it joined the River Welland to Spalding and the coast. Claimed to be one of the earliest post-Roman canals in England, it was in use for nearly 200 years from at least 1673 until 1863 – lasting much longer than later constructions. It played an important role in the area’s commerce long before the ‘canal age’ of the Industrial Revolution. The canal’s significance as a ‘Historical Engineering Work’ is recognised by the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Stamford Canal is listed as HEW 1945.

1824 First edition Ordnance Survey map showing Navigation

1824 First edition Ordnance Survey map showing Navigation between Stamford and Deeping St James

Stretch of the canal restored in Mill Spinney, West Deeping

Part of the canal in Mill Spinney, West Deeping

Who wanted a canal? The merchants of Stamford wanted the town to prosper as it had in the Middle Ages and to do this they needed to transport goods between Stamford and Market Deeping, connecting with the River Welland to reach the ports of Spalding, Boston and the Wash.   The River Welland was no longer navigable, being too shallow, full of silt and divided for watermills.  Permission was granted in 1571 by Elizabeth I to make the river navigable.  The route of a ‘new cut’ was confirmed in the reign of James I, in 1623.

When was the canal built?  Work was done over many years, hindered by lack of money and interruptions including the Civil War.  It was fully navigable by 1673.

Illustration of a lighter by Derek Abel

Illustration of a lighter by Derek Abel

How was it used?  The canal was used by flat-bottomed barges called Fenland lighters.  The lighters were hauled along in a line of four, roped together, by one or two horses walking along the towpath.  In places, sail and manpower might be needed.

Who used the canal?  Farmers, coal and timber merchants and other tradesmen were the watermen’s main customers.  The canal was ideal for bulky goods like coal, slate, lime and timber; and agricultural produce, like barley and malt for the breweries in Stamford and Market Deeping.

What did it cost?  Watermen had to pay tolls to use the canal.  In the early days it was threepence a ton at each lock. (Threepence is 1.25 decimal pence, worth more than £1 in 2013). Later, tolls varied with the load.

The railway crossed over the canal at Tallington. Until 2011 there was a pedestrian crossing, from which this photograph was taken, looking east towards West Deeping

The Great Northern Railway, opened in the 1850s, crossed over the canal at Tallington. Until 2011 there was a pedestrian crossing, from which this photograph was taken, looking east towards West Deeping

Why did the canal close?  The canal was costly to repair and keep clear of silt.  Roads got better and railways were quicker for transporting heavy goods.

What happened to the disused canal?  It caused a lot of problems!  Stamford Corporation wanted to auction off the canal in 1865, but was prevented by legal action through the Court of Chancery at the request of Lord Lindsey. Only a few landowners bought their sections of the canal; other parts were simply taken over – the ‘Boaty’, in West Deeping was eventually registered as belonging to West Deeping Parish Council in 2007.  Some researchers say the bed and banks of the canal could not be sold because its royal charter gave the land to Stamford ‘forever’.  Some sections reverted to ditches, others got filled in or built over.  Where rubbish or flooding caused a nuisance, there were complaints of insanitary conditions and unpleasant smells.

Today there are still traces of the canal course.  Anyone who remembers the working canal has now long gone, and all but the oldest and most curious residents of West Deeping and Tallington believe that it’s just a ditch.  But if you know where to look, you can find the traces – and what makes our bit of canal a cut above the rest is that you can see the remains of 2 locks!  If you want to explore the canal route where it passes through West Deeping and Tallington – download the Stamford Canal leaflet

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