NOTES FOR A TALK TO IWA (Notts & Derby Branch) 17th April 1998.



Though I once worked on the restoration of the "Grantham'' I am now going to speak to you as an AMATEUR ARCHAEOLOGIST. GAG is a small amateur group working out of Grantham. We started on this study, so far from base, in 1992 on being informed about humps & hollows in Uffington Park by Tony Hurley, the then Community Archaeologist for the area. We were on the look out for a summer activity.

In this project we have been much helped and indeed have been steered out of a mistaken course by Barry Barton of the Lincolnshire Society for History & Archaeology Industrial Archaeology Section, and several other members of that august body who have joined us in surveys.


I will start with a brief geography and history and a description of sources and of the studies made on site. A break will follow which will allow you a chance to look at our "presentation”h. Some of the things shown will appear on the screen but if you can see the originals you may be better able to judge our working methods. Following the break I will take you for an 8 mile walk along the course of the canal.


Stamford is one of the five towns of this country distinguished by being a European Heritage site. It is so because it has so many fine stone buildings. It was prosperous in the 14th Ct. and its prosperity derived from the wool trade with continental Europe. Getting this bulky material to the ports was difficult over land with no roads of quality The way much of it was done was along the rivers. The river WELLAND must have served STAMFORD well. As exports were cut back, traffic on the river dropped away and as

rivers do the Welland must have slowed down and wriggled about so that by the 17th Ct. it was practically unusable for transport. At the same time water mills were built; 5 at least between Stamford and Deeping St. James. Every mill had its own mill stream diverting a good part of the river flow and leaving substantial lengths of the river shallow and unusable in dry weather.

So when Good Queen Bess was on the throne the merchants of Stamford looked about them and came to the conclusion that if they were to regain past prosperity they might do well to get the river into navigable shape again.

So it was quite a step into uncharted waters for the men of Stamford to petition Parliament for a license to cut a new canal. But they did and in 1571 an act was passed granting the right for a trust to improve the navigation of the Welland between Stamford and Deeping St. James or, if it seemed more promising, “gto cut a new canal“g between the two thus avoiding problems with the mills.

But there were difficulties:- Money, probable hostility from the former riparian owners, uncertainty about how this new sort of project should be put in hand. Who was knowledgable enough and willing to take on the building contract?

So for fifty years nothing happened but in 1618 James I revitalised the existing permissions and set a toll of 3d per vessel to be paid at every lock.

In August and September 1620 ''Commissioners at a general session of Sewers did enact ... (as they had right to do) make a river or new cut of such breadth & depth as to them seemed fit and convenient for the passage of boats, bellingers, lighters and other vessels...from the river Welland (by Hudds Lock)... and back to the Welland beyond Market Deeping Mill at the Town end"

Mr Daniel Wigmore of Stamford was then appointed to carry out the works and was later to collect tolls. IT IS STILL 150 YEARS BEFORE THE BRIDGEWATER CANAL WAS COMPLETE

Navigation seems to have been complete by 1660 and a toll lease settled in 1664. (Navigation was ended in the 1850s for sale in 1861.

There are only two navigation canals in Britain that compete with the Stamford & Welland for recognition as the earliest. We are not certain about the exact dates of the construction of its various parts of the S & W but what remains of its locks MUST BE CONSIDERED as one of the earliest if not the very first pound lock built on a newly cut canal. Canals were the beginning of the Industrial Revolution


The most important source is the remains of the canal themselves. As soon as we could we walked the line of the canal as nearly as we could get, permission being required for some lengths. Numerous visits have been made later as more precise locations have been established and we can claim now to have seen the whole of its original course.

We first consulted the current O.S. 1:25000 Pathfinder map for the area. This shows some lengths of the canal and footpaths beside it or near to.

We next sought help from the Lincolnshire Archives Office in Lincoln and were there able to see and trace ~ a very useful but for us at first a misleading document. This was a survey dated 1810 prepared by B. Bevan (Surveyor) as a Proposal for a navigation from Market Harborough to the Wash''.This is a remarkable document some 10 or 12 ft. long. We decided to restrict our interest to to the Stamford / Market Deeping length. It showed the canal and towpath in some detail with 12 locks (wait for later remarks),

Note: There were 12 locks. The one in Tallington wasn’ft visible by that date so his numbering was incorrect. The latest numbering starts at Hudds Mill going from 1 to 12.

Using the Pathfinder map we checked out the Bevan survey for general accuracy. This was done by locating two reference points which appeared on both; the bridge at Stamford and the intersection of roads in the middle of Market Deeping. These gave us two O.S. grid points. These were located on the Bevan survey so allowed us to draw the O.S. grid over it. Using the grids as the basis we reduced the OS to the same scale and traced the one on the other to find an excellent correspondence. Bevan was pretty well, perhaps surprisingly right and could be followed as a guide to what had been there by 1810.

At this stage, reading the title of Bevan's survey ... ''Project'' ... and its date ... "1810'' ... we thought we were looking a new canal of "The Great Canal Age”h; however we then asked Mr. Barry Barton to join us for one of our monthly meetings at The Blue Bull in Grantham and he, from his already extensive knowledge, pointed out that The Stamford and Welland was not just another closed canal from around 1900, but was the relic of one of the first (post Roman) canals in Britain and as such of immense historical importance!

Barry Barton then lent us a splendid set of O.S. 1:2500 (25”h) maps dated round about 1910/20 which show the canal and tow-path etc. in good detail where traces still remained. (By this time it had been closed some 50 years and parts had been obliterated or changed).

We also found copies of equivalent but earlier maps of the Stamford end where after closure the line of the Essendine/Stamford railway was to be taken across the head of the canal (1852) and a later map showing the area of the top lock taken over to become part of the town sewage works!

We have a photo-copy of a sketch drawing (in archives at York) dated 1699 made by Tho. Surby. He made this when he was on his way from London to York to give advice on water engineering. On his way he stopped at Stamford and went to see the top lock on the canal making a comprehensive sketch presumably for his technical use. That he did so surely establishes the innovative importance of the canal.

This is a most important piece of information for not only does it show the general construction of the lock chamber with turf sides and stone buttresses at both ends it shows side hung paired gates opening against the water flow with paddles in the gates and what looks like a fixed man-bridge across the lower abutments. This may have been to provide access to Hudds Mill from the main road. The lock size agrees with other information we have from the site and it should be noted it shows the water flow coming from the Stamford side. An interesting point is that there is no extended top beam for opening the lock gates.

There are references to the canal in several books, eg Charles Hadfield's "The Canal Age'' (where again 12 locks are mentioned), And several descriptions of the canal by local people, eg. Miss Mary Downes writing in 1973 (a monograph never published).

There is an extensive archive in the Town Hall at Stamford known as "The Smith Collection'' and the Stamford Museum has some useful information.


Before we set out along the canal I must point out that its course is accompanied by a public footpath for only about a third of its length. Elsewhere it is necessary to get permission for access or risk trespass!

We begin at the western end where before the Welland was connected to the canal and became its main feeder an opening from the river to feed Hudds Mill already existed (and still exists). From this a feeder was made to top lock (1). This eventually became the site of settlement beds of the town sewage works (which have since been moved elsewhere) and is now largely a wilderness without signs of the canal.

A wide path leads eastwards along the foot of made up ground and can now be identified as the line of the canal only from the maps. Beyond the stile the path, now ill defined can be seen as a faint depression with a slight bank on its south side. This is the filled in bed of the canal.

A few hundred yards from the start this shallow depression takes a sudden sharp turn to the north and drops into the remains of the deep cut of the canal until it comes to the new line of the River Gwash. This presented us with one of the most intriguing conundrums of our study. Mr. Bevan's survey of 1810 shows canal and stream meeting without any culvert or bridge. He also shows (incorrectly) the top lock facing towards this place so that it raises the question was the Gwash a, or perhaps, the main feeder for the canal? Later study proved that Bevan showed the top lock facing the wrong way. Never the less until recently it seems that the Gwash did enter the canal at about the same level and some sort of controllable weir was constructed there to allow excess Gwash water to overflow the canal bank and take its natural course to join the Welland. It was also there, of course, to prevent the canal water running away down the route of the stream.

The bit of ground over which the Gwash flowed is now dry but the stream's ox-bowed and twisty course has left traces that can be easily seen on the ground and is shown on the 25 in. O.S. map of early this century. The Gwash now has a new course in a straight deep cutting.

About 200yds further on one comes to the standing remains of a carriage drive bridge over the canal with stone abutments. Looking back towards the Gwash crossing there is a good view of the bed of the canal with the remains of the upstanding banking on both sides. We still have to make a detailed survey of this feature but rough measurement shows it to have about 11 ft. between the sides which is the same as at the locks gates. The date of this structure is not known but the stonework is similar to stonework remaining at the West Deeping lock.

You will have noticed that in this area the canal takes a sharp sweep to the north returning southward after the junction with the Gwash. Why the constructors should have so much diverted its course is not clear but it seems probable that it was to avoid marshy ground caused by the original discharge of the Gwash or so they could construct this junction before the river started to meander. From the bridge the cut which is well marked with a difference between the bottom and the top of the embankment of about 8ft. takes an expected course along the contours of the slope of the river valley. In some places the cut is entirely down into the natural ground but for much of this mile or so the south side is an embankment which carried the towpath while the north side is cut into the natural ground level

The canal now crosses the line of the Uffington / Barnack road. It does so by passing under the road carried on a stone bridge. Unfortunately though the bridge is still there and we assume in good condition, it is not really visible as someone, only about 20 years ago we are told, decided to fill in the cut on either side of the bridge up to the level of the parapet and the whole is overgrown with shrubs. The bridge is said to be dated at 1729. What was there during the previous fifty or so years? It is a pity it is covered as a measured survey would have confirmed the canal width, how the towing path was allowed for over the bridge and given a good idea of the head clearance allowed. (No other bridges remain on the canal). Sometime we would like to arrange an excavation.

The cut can now be traced for about a mile eastward passing Copt Hill Farm. (No public footpath here). The length includes the position of two locks, (2 & 3). The stonework and shape of the chambers have gone but their mapped positions are reflected in a widening of the channel and probable changes in the bed level but the condition is poor and much obstructed with fallen trees etc. The position of lock 2 is also marked by a small copse in a muddy pool which may be the remains of the lock or a winding-hole or wharf. Towards the end of this stretch the south side of the cut is again made of an embankment as it again lies on the slope down to the river. It is very easy to go on walking along just below this embankment beyond the point where in fact it becomes a modern flood barrier. But about half a mile beyond lock 3 the canal took an unexpected sharp bend to the north and crossed a field to reach the A17 where it again turned sharply to run beside the road eastward. Where it reached the road was the position of another lock (4). None of this is now visible but the farmer told us that he had in-filled the cut as it crossed his field only some 20 years ago. The length beside the road has disappeared under road widening but may account of wide verges here. Another half mile brings you to Tallington.

The bed can be traced in Tallington on both side of Bainton road, close to the A17. To the west it is seen as a depression now partly taken up in private gardens. (And where lock 5 was still buried – but now excavated!) On the east, its line starts as a public footpath running through an orchard where the hollow of the bed shows up well. Beyond the orchard it runs out into the fields and continues to be well marked until it comes to Mill Lane where the footpath is diverted down towards the mill. The cut originally ran straight on beyond the line of BR mainline tracks. Here it is possible, if you take your life in your hands, to cross the large embankment on which some four lines of track are laid. (Here Mallard broke the world speed record for a steam train and fast trains now regularly dash by at over 120 mph.) The canal was closed in 1861. What was the situation of the railway then?

Was there ever a bridge? If so where is it now? The position of this crossing, as it happens is very close to the position of lock 6. A further search in the area is indicated. We must find a railway buff to help us. (It should be noted that the track is around 20 ft. above ground level).

From the railway, by consulting the maps, it is possible to follow the line of the canal along field boundaries as far as West Deeping.

At West Deeping is the best part of the remains of a lock (7), one of the few parts to be bought at the closing sale and so now in private ownership it became part of a romanticised garden. The canal water supply seems to have been largely cut off by the sale or appropriation of the higher parts and within the garden the bed and lock chamber were filled in leaving only a small channel. Also some of the stonework was used to make an archway and not so long ago a suspended walkway was fixed to run through the lock chamber. Never the less the lock is largely complete in its structure. But the best part of the stone abutments at both ends remain in place and they determine the width and length of the chamber and show where the gates were fitted. These we have surveyed in detail down to the existing ground line. The results are sufficient to prove the lock is in line with other information we have from elsewhere.

The old canal bed above the lock, though much modified even to the extent of being fixed up with an old gravestone or two, still provides a small rill which runs through the lock. It is stopped at the eastern end where a wall has been built to replace the lower gates. There is now a piped culvert which takes it below modern tennis courts towards the original road crossing, ie. through an area that was probably a wharf.

The lock stonework, which may be described, in general, as squared, blocked ashlar, is interesting as the four discrete parts (two jambs to each gate) are different. The finish of the stonework differs; we assume it was supplied from different quarries. There has been some settlement and efforts have been made to prevent this with the use of iron cramps. It is possible some of these were included from the start or at least from early in the building as some appear to have been included in the lower courses. Full excavation would be needed to answer this query. Also the forms of the four discrete parts are different.

The top and bottom gates have the expected differences arising out of the flow direction and the way the gates opened. At the upper end (west) the north and south sides seem to differ but the north side has been extensively altered so it is difficult to tell. Of course there may have been a functional difference arising out of which side the towing path ran. (we are not yet sure). At the east (lower) end the difference may have arisen from the opening into the (?) winding hole not being symmetrical and the carefully made slope up to the top level of the masonry on the south side may have been necessary to lift the tow path to above the level of the full lock.

Apart from clearing out the overgrowth of shrubs etc. we have done no excavation though this would be very revealing. Eg. it should be possible to get down to the sills to show how these were constructed and how the gates were waterproofed. This would also show what difference in water level was catered for and give an idea of the best water depth. Excavating would be possible but is beyond our present capacity as it would mean digging down at least 10 feet.

There seems to have been no bypass allowed for in the masonry and there seems to have been no paving provided under the sweep of gate beams but as Surby's sketch shows ropes or chains to open and close the gates this is not surprising. We intend to publish a report on this survey which will include our drawings.

There must have been some sort of bridge where the canal crossed the village street in West Deeping (King Street; Roman road) but no clear sign remains of this. From here on the canal wandered through a farmyard in a way we are not quite clear about as its line is confused with the mill stream to Molecey's Mill It seems to proceed north eastward to the Mill on the A17 running beside the mill stream but being separate from it. About halfway along this stretch there is some stonework which probably marks the position of a lock (8) and in this area also, where the mill stream diverts somewhat, crop marks in the adjacent field probably mark the original line of the canal. The next lock (9) was near the mill.(The canal's separation from the millstream is as would be expected from the original intention of avoiding the system of mills). From here it is about a mile and a half to Market Deeping.

There seems to be some water in the canal at Molecey's Mill but on the Market Deeping side it is an identifiable shallow ditch which passes through the grounds of Market Deeping Mill (mill demolished) where it has been incorporated into the garden and then as rough ditched area to join the River Welland at a lock (10). (not to be seen).

From here the navigation is a river navigation. A lock was provided at Deeping St. James made at the side of the river with a weir across the river. Here, in the built up area the river was so narrow and restricted by buildings on both sides that there was not space enough for a turf lock so Briggin's lock (11), is all masonry (now modified and without gates). This lock though of similar width to the others is much shorter and so presents a puzzle; it must have been radically altered at some time.

Finally about a mile further on is Low Lock (12). This is more or less out in the country so there was plenty of room for a turf lock which is what was provided. It has been much altered by building into it an adjustable weir. To do this the upper gate has been removed stonework has been mostly taken out and at the lower end the western side of the stone work has been removed; (See photo prints) However its eastern side is in good order and it is possible to see the whole of the remains of the lock chamber. (Some of the turf sides seem to have been strengthened with rubble stonework)

We measured the remains of this lock and we present a drawing showing the comparative size and shape of this lock with lock 7 (West Deeping) and lock 11, Briggin's


I have not dealt with associated buildings as we have not seen any that are without doubt part of the canal works. (Tolls seem to have been taken at each lock; where were the toll keepers? There is one house in Deeping St. James which overlooks the canalized river and is said to have belonged to a barge owner. It has an oriel window from which the master is said to have watched the traffic. There is also an old warehouse-like building by the bridge in Market Deeping which may be associated. This would take our study rather outside what we have set ourselves but is an interesting subject and one that falls within the ambit of Industrial Archaeology.


There is some information about craft and prime movers but variations are so many perhaps none are quite reliable. Eg. one source refers to barges up to 20 ton, 5 drawn by two horses. Another says boats lashed together in pairs (15 ton each) and there are others. But it is clear that horses were the main motive power. In the end building stone seems to have been one of most carried loads.

 < Back 


 < Back               Notes for a talk on the Stamford Canal

 The Stamford Canal << The earliest proper canal in England? <<