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The Grantham Canal

Although the Grantham Canal is to the south of the southern boundary of Barrowby parish it would nevertheless have brought many advantages to the residents as the wharf at Harlaxton was easy to access, making the transport of goods in and out much cheaper.

In the middle of the eighteenth century Grantham's coal supplies were transported from elsewhere in Lincolnshire along the Trent and then by horse-drawn carts. Road haulage was relatively expensive and so coal in Grantham could be twice the price of that in Nottingham.

As a result in 1792 a group of local businessmen sought an Act of Parliament to create a canal from Nottingham to Grantham. However this was defeated because if conflicted with the interests of the Witham Navigation Commissioners (concerned about the depletion of water levels) and various Lincolnshire coal merchants.

The following year a revised Bill, which had clauses to mitigate these concerns, received Royal Assent. An initial investment of £75,000 was quickly raised, with a £30,000 contingency available if needed. Construction started later the same year, 1793, and was completed in 1797. In the event only £24,000 of the contingency was needed.

Starting near Trent Bridge and rising 140 feet through eighteen locks, the distance to Grantham is 33 miles. Reservoirs providing almost all the water were constructed at Denton and Knipton. It is the longest of ten canals engineered by William Jessop in south Nottinghamshire and adjoining counties. Unexpected problems arose at Cropwell Bishop and Cropwell Butler where gypsum in the soil reacted with the waterproof clay lining, resulting in leaks.

The Harlaxton cut.

Between Barrowby and Harlaxton a deep 'cut' allows the canal to pass over the Witham-Trent watershed. Most of this cutting is only wide enough for a single vessel, but two passing places were created in 1801.

The main cargoes were coal, stone and lime (mostly to help fertilise fields but also used for mortar). Also carried on the barges to help fertilise arable land was 'night soil' Nottingham's residents created far more waste than the city could dispose of locally until piped sewage was installed. Allowing for time to load and unload – no mechanical aids in those days, just shovels, barrows and carts – it took about five days to go in each direction. Not exactly speedy, but commercially-viable at the time.

The canal company was profitable, although not exceptionally so compared to, say, the Soar Navigation in Leicestershire (where in good years the dividend equalled shareholders' original investments). The Grantham canal's best year was 1841 when income peaked at £18,000.

But major changes were on the way. In 1850 the Grantham to Nottingham railway opened. Just eleven years later, in 1861, the railway company bought out the canal. The inevitable was delayed until 1936, when a Closure Act was passed, but requiring two feet of water to be maintained for agricultural needs. During the 1950s forty-six of the sixty-nine bridges over the canal were flattened. The A52 around Nottingham has severed the connection to the Trent while the Grantham wharf has been filled in and is now used for commercial premises.

The former wharf in Grantham photographed in February 2022.

The level of the canal was considerably higher than most of the town was at the time it was built. This photograph was taken from the same place as the previous one, but looking east instead of west. The elevation is similar to the railway track. The banks of the canal were at least six feet higher.
To have brought the water level down would have required several locks which would have been impractical. A similar arrangement of somewhat 'out of town' (at least when constructed) wharf on a nearby hill exists at Market Harborough.

The original bridge at Hickling.

The replacement flattened bridge at Hickling, Nottinghamshire.

A more picturesque view of the same bridge. Just because...

In 1963 ownership of the canal passed to British Waterways. Since the 1970s two voluntary groups have done extensive work to restore parts of it. Two stretches are now navigable to small vessels, including a 4.4 mile section nearest Barrowby, after Lincolnshire County Council funded the rebuilding of the overbridge at Casthorpe (completed in 2009). Reportedly the whole length to West Bridgford is navigable by canoe. The towpaths can be walked or cycled for the full length.


Wikipedia entry for the Grantham canal

Grantham Canal Society

towpath walk Redmile to Grantham

If you think I've got something wrong – or can add additional information or photographs – then please email me:– bobtrubs@indigogroup.co.uk.

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what's new?

Articles about Barrowby

Barrowby's location and geology

summary of prehistoric Barrowby

summary of Roman Barrowby



Seventeenth and eighteenth centuries

Nineteenth century

nineteenth and twentieth century population

Twentieth century

guided walks in and around Barrowby

there's more could be said...


index of surnames in Cryer 1979

Articles and web links for nearby places

rare seventeenth fonts at Muston, Bottesford and Orston from Project Gargoyle Newsletter 2020

Ironstone quarries of Leicestershire
YouTube video

Wyville's wells

Harston's Anglo-Saxon carvings

Bottesford's effigies

Grantham Canal Society

The Grantham Canal
All you need to know – and more – from Wikipedia

Croxton Kerrial manor house excavations
photos and brief details from Leicester Mercury.
By 2021 the remains had been consolidated and there are annual open days.

Harlaxton History Society

Bottesford History Group

Grantham Civic Society

Grantham Museum

Heritage Lincolnshire