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The Stamford Canal was part of the Welland Navigation in Lincolnshire, England. It ran for 9.5 miles (15.3 km) from Stamford to Market Deeping and had 12 locks, two of which were on the river section at Deeping St. James. It opened in 1670, long before the canal age.
Plans to link it westwards to the Oakham Canal, northwards to the South Forty-Foot Drain and southwards to the River Nene in 1809 came to nothing, and it closed in 1863, soon after the arrival of the Midland Railway in the area. Its course and some of its structures can still be traced in the landscape.
The River Welland was one of the earliest on which improvements, in this case to allow navigation to Stamford, were authorised by an act of Parliament. The act was granted in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I in 1571, and the preamble explained how Stamford had prospered as a result of the river, but also stated that mills built between Stamford and Deeping had resulted in it no longer being navigable, as they had diverted the water. Powers were granted to restore the river using either the old channel or the new one, although it is not clear exactly what was meant by this. There is no evidence that any work was carried out under the terms of the act.
However, the powers were revived in 1620, when Stamford Corporation was given permission by the Commission of Sewers to build a new artificial cut, which would run from the eastern edge of Stamford near Hudd's Mill, to Market Deeping, where it would rejoin the river. The corporation estimated that it would cost £2,000 to carry out the work, and the act enabled them to charge tolls for its use, set initially at three old pence ((1.25 p) per lock, which could be charged once the work was completed. The decision was ratified in 1623 by a grant of James I, and the corporation expected to have the work completed by 1627.
However, they were unable to find a suitable contractor to carry out the work, and failed to reach agreement on terms with David Cecil in 1636, and two other potential contractors after that. Nothing happened until 1664, when an Alderman from Stamford called Daniel Wigmore took the job. He built the cut and 12 locks, which included the High Lock and the Low Lock on the river at Deeping St. James, at a cost of £5,000. In return for his expenditure, he was given the lease of the tolls for the next 80 years, for which he paid a rent of one shilling (five pence). The cut was the longest canal with locks in the country, when it was opened in 1670.
Its construction preceded the 'canal age' by around 100 years, making it one of England's earliest canals.
The canal enabled goods to reach Stamford from The Wash, which was 34 miles (55 km) away, by way of Spalding and Crowland. The lower 24.4 miles (39.3 km) used the course of the Welland, after which the two river locks and weirs at Deeping St. James were encountered. Beyond Market Deeping, the course consisted of an artificial cut with 10 more locks, by which it reached the eastern edge of Stamford, after which it rejoined the river to reach the town wharf. The length of the cut was 6.5 miles (10.5 km), although the length of the canal is usually quoted as 9.5 miles (15.3 km), to include the improved river sections at both ends. Just below Stamford, the canal crossed the River Gwash on the level. There was a weir on a bypass channel and a sluice on the main river channel, which enabled the river levels to be controlled, so that barges could cross.
Trade thrived, for Richard Blome recorded the prosperous Stamford malt trade in 1673. With the death of Daniel Wigmore, his son-in-law Charles Halford became the owner of the toll rights. In 1695, he was receiving between £400 and £500 per year, most of it derived from the carriage of sea coal. The trade amounted to 3,000 chaldrons that year, and he tried to get the tax on sea coal, which Parliament had approved, reversed. He did not succeed, and failed again in 1706, by which time he stated that the tax had decreased the amount of coal carried to just 500 chaldrons. Besides coal, the canal carried malt and agricultural produce, groceries, timber, slate and stone.
Boats used on the canal were small lighters, 35 feet (11 m) long by around 7 feet (2.1 m) wide, capable of carrying from seven to fourteen tons, and normally worked in trains of four vessels.
Although there are no known records of the actual construction of the canal, the lock at Hudd's Mill was documented by Thomas Surbey in 1699. Surbey was a water engineer, and made notes and drawings when he visited it, during a journey from London to York. The lock chamber was 86 feet (26.2 m) long and 11 feet (3.4 m) wide. The gates were hung on stone piers, but the banks between them were of earth. The gates were conventional 'V' gates, similar to modern ones, which included some sort of paddle, but did not include balance beams. Instead, a chain or rope was attached to the mid-stream edge of the gate and to the bank. While this would have made opening the gates possible, it is now obvious how they were shut. The measurements match those of the surviving structures, with the exception of Briggin's lock, which appears to only be 56 feet (17 m) long. There is no visible evidence that it was shortened at some point, nor any obvious reason why it would have been built shorter than all the others.
When the Melton Mowbray Navigation was being planned in 1785, there were discussions of a link to Oakham, which eventually became the Oakham Canal, and onwards to Stamford. The idea of a canal from Stamford to Oakham, 11 miles (18 km) due west, was revived in 1809, with plans for a 7-mile (11 km) link from Stamford to the River Nene at Peterborough, and a connection from near Market Deeping northwards to the South Forty-Foot Drain, from where Boston could be reached.
A bill for this, together with one for a rival scheme to link Stamford to the Grand Junction Canal, which also included a connection to the South Forty-Foot Drain, were put before Parliament in 1811, but neither met with any success. The idea was raised again in 1815 and 1828, but no further action was taken.
With the arrival of the railways, river trade declined. The Midland Railway reached Peterborough in 1846, and opened their line to Melton Mowbray, passing through Stamford, in 1848. Carriage of coal on the canal stopped, as the railways brought cheaper coal from the Midlands. The locks quickly deteriorated, and there were problems with leakage.
By April 1863, all traffic had ceased, and Stamford Corporation tried to sell the line at auction, but failed because their ownership of it was disputed.
Since its closure, the canal has largely disappeared but some parts are still viewable on maps and on the ground. The foundations of the two river locks are visible in the Deepings.
The river Welland is not currently navigable above Crowland but plans for the Fens Waterways Link include a new link upstream of here to above the Dog in a doublet sluice on the River Nene.
There are currently no plans to restore navigation to Stamford.