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Stamford Canal
from Deeping St James to Stamford, Lincolnshire, UK
associated engineer
Daniel Wigmore
date  circa 1663 - 1670
UK era  Stuart  |  category  Canal/Navigation works  |  reference  TF147096
ICE reference number  HEW 1945
Stamford Canal is thought to be the earliest post-Roman canal in England. Its use as a commercial waterway pre-dates the Industrial Revolution by about a century. Traces of the original route are visible, though little of the channel and only one of the locks survives intact.
The canal, also known as the Stamford & Welland Canal and the Welland Navigation, covered 15.5km of Lincolnshire from Deeping St James westwards to Stamford.
The River Welland was once navigable from its estuary on The Wash, near Fosdyke, upstream as far as Stamford (55km). Over time, the river silted up and its upper reaches became impassable.
In the 16th century, rivers provided the main arteries for transporting goods. So establishing a commercial trade route across the county to the sea was important. In May 1571, Queen Elizabeth I passed the Welland Navigation Act to that end.
Nothing happened until 1621, when King James I granted Stamford a Royal Charter, which ratified the Commission of Sewers' 1620 permission to construct a 10.5km long new cut (canal) separate from the river. The work was estimated to cost £2,000, with tolls set at 3d (1.25p) per lock.
Despite reports in 1623 that the work was in hand, little was done until 1663. In April 1664, the Stamford Corporation leased the navigation to alderman and cloth merchant Daniel Wigmore (died 1687) for 80 years at an annual rent of one shilling (5p). He completed the project at a cost of over £5,000 and was entitled to collect river tolls as recompense.
Wigmore seems to have been well regarded and been mayor of Stamford three times — in 1667-8, 1677-8 and 1684-85. His scheme consisted of two stretches of river navigation separated by a new canal.
The first section of river navigation began at Low Lock (TF164089) in Deeping St James and continued for 3.2km to Market Deeping. A second lock (TF148095), Briggin’s Lock or High Lock, halfway along this stretch survives.
The new canal cut started (TF136099) at the west end of Market Deeping and followed an 11km course on the north side of the river past West Deeping, Tallington and Uffington to the east side of Stamford. This section had 10 locks, four of them adjacent to mills — Market Deeping Mill (TF133099), Molecey’s Mill (TF124098), West Deeping Mill (TF108086) and Hudd’s Mill (TF042074).
At the west end of the canal, 1.3km of the river was made navigable again from the last lock near Hudd's Mill to Stamford Bridge (TF030069).
The canal channel had sloping earth sides and was lined with blue clay, puddled to make it watertight. The 12 lock pens had mitred gates operated by chains, similar to those invented by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), and it's thought to be the first time such gates were used on an English canal.
In general, the lock pens were about 26.2m long with gated openings 3.4m wide. The exception is Briggin's Lock, which is only 17m long.
The canal crossed the River Gwash (TF048076) south of Newstead Mill. Both watercourses were at the same level, and at the intersection the river channel divided into two streams. One ran to a sluice and the other flowed over a weir. The weir ensured that the canal’s level was maintained and the sluice could be used to alleviate flooding.
The canal route also crossed four roads — at Deeping St James, West Deeping, Tallington and south of Uffington. The road between Uffington and Barnack was carried over the canal on a bridge (TF066069), though the other crossings may have been fords originally.
Stamford Canal was the longest locked canal in England when completed, probably in around 1670. It was much used by 1673, when Richard Blome (1641-1705) described the River Welland as "now made navigable, which affordeth no small advantage to the town and adjacent places". The main trade downriver was flour and malt, with coal, timber and limestone being taken upriver.
In 1699, water engineer Thomas Surbey (d.1703) visited Stamford and studied the end lock at Hudd's Mill. His notes and drawings indicate that pairs of timber gates were hung from stone abutments at the ends of the lock, while earth embankments formed the sides of the lock chamber. An arched timber footbridge crossed the lock pen.
After Wigmore's death, his son-in-law Charles Halford applied for a new canal lease of 80 years. Negotiations with Stamford Corporation dragged on, but in 1703 it was agreed that Halford could have a new lease — if he paid a fee of £100, repaired the bridge at Hudd's Mill and reimbursed the corporation for work done on the bank near Stamford Bridge.
Early 19th century proposals to link the Stamford with the Oakham and Grand Union canals, creating a through route from the Midlands to The Wash, did not come to fruition.
The canal had remained in private hands and, from 1815, the various owners' efforts at maintaining its banks were dwindling. By 1832, trade had halved and the reduced tolls compounded the ongoing maintenance problem. By 1850, the waterway was described as "almost derelict".
Trade along the Stamford Canal declined further as railways advanced across the country. The Midland Railway's Peterborough to Syston line passed through Uffington and Stamford in 1848. And the east coast main line of the Great Northern Railway opened a branch line to Stamford in 1856.
By 1860, the locks were leaking and the canal was difficult to navigate by boat. In 1863, all water-borne trade ceased. In April 1865, it was intended to sell the canal at auction in 24 lots as "valuable Building Ground and acquisitions to the Estates through which the same passes".
However, the sale never took place owing to disputes over the actual ownership of the canal, its structures and the land over which it passed. In addition, stagnant water in the open channel was causing concern for health, as it was rapidly becoming an open sewer and refuse tip. Eventually, on 24th December 1868, a new sale was announced and a list of landowners along the canal was published. Most of the lots failed to be sold.
The continuing stench from the polluted water, coupled with outbreaks of typhoid, prompted calls for the canal to be drained and infilled. The local council first met in 1894 to consider the matter but nothing was done until the 1930s. The long history of Stamford Canal has been characterised by much discussion and rather less action.
There are currently no plans to restore navigation from Deeping St James to Stamford.
Research: ECPK
"The Stamford Canal", edited by Keith Simpson, Deepings Heritage, Deeping St James, 2010
"The History of Stamford", published by John Drakard, Stamford, 1822
reference sources   CEH E&C

Stamford Canal