Waterside properties

"If one examines mercantile or industrial properties in the 1828 valuation, their history is likely to vary according to the general location. Properties on the south bank in St Swithin's are unlikely to be more than 30 years old. Properties on the Brayford or the upper Witham may go back as far as 1745. Properties in St Swithin's on the north bank are liable to have a far more complex history, with origins before 1745, followed by half a century in which St Swithin's was something of a backwater".

Waterside Properties

R C Wheeler


Before the railways arrived, any business in Lincoln that involved the receipt or dispatch of heavy goods benefited greatly from a location by a navigable river so that goods could be loaded and unloaded directly. This was recognised in the numerous property descriptions commending a site as 'a most desirable situation for any mercantile purpose' [1]. Towards the end of this period, we have a detailed description of these properties from the rating valuation of 1828, ordered by the new Lighting and Paving Commissioners. The historian using this source is inclined to wonder whether the structures and uses he finds described are long-standing or recent. As it happens, the changing nature of trade to and from Lincoln provides some firm indications of this, although there are many loose ends still to be addressed.


In the mid-17th c., all trade by water used the Witham. Under an Act of 1671, Lincoln Corporation was able to take the Fossdyke under its control, to widen and deepen it, and to collect tolls. The amount of traffic on that waterway remained small until 1714, when new locks appear to have maintained a greater depth of water. From then on, 2000 tons or so generally moved on the Fossdyke. It is thought that Lincoln's coal consumption in this period was around 8000 tons: more than three-quarters of this must have continued to arrive via the Witham.

When men paying toll on the Fossdyke can be identified as Lincoln residents, they belong to the parish of St Swithin. This suggests that the Fossdyke trade was in the hands of men already engaged in trade by the Witham. The natural base for such activity would be the north bank of the Witham below the busiest part of the city. Here there would be ample space for them to moor their boats and establish coal yards - the majority of watermen also functioned as coal-merchants. Those who engaged in the freight of merchandise would need a warehouse to store such goods until they were collected; but quantities were fairly small and an outbuilding to the waterman's house might suffice.

It is worth explaining a few terms that were used quite precisely in this era. A merchant bought something in one place and transported it to another to sell it. (Someone who bought and sold without moving things was a dealer.) Freight was transporting someone else's property for a fee. Merchandise is generally used for miscellaneous goods, typically quite valuable in proportion to their weight and typically much less than a boatload. Goods by itself is sometimes used to mean merchandise. The freight of merchandise was higher per ton than for bulk commodities to reflect the extra trouble and because speed and reliability mattered more to the owners than paying the absolute minimum. The merchandise traffic on a route was a natural monopoly: whoever ran the most boats could offer the speediest transit and the most complete arrangements for the receipt and safe-keeping of the goods.

The working capital needed to become a coal-merchant was modest: even for the larger Witham boats at this date, a boat-load of coal would be worth less than £20. Granted, this was more than a labourer might earn in a year, but these things are relative; the working capital for a wool-merchant or even a grocer was vastly greater. The coal business was also commercially straightforward: the price at Lincoln was equal to that at Boston plus the cost of carriage, plus a modicum of profit. The coal-merchants seem to have avoided beggar-my-neighbour competition; they also refrained from taking excessive profits - it was too easy for others to move in on the trade if it became too lucrative. A minor complication is that coal was actually two commodities. Sea-coal was shipped by sea from collieries in the north-east and was a premium product, at least in the eyes of domestic users. Pit-coal came from the collieries north-west of Nottingham via the Trent and the Fossdyke. But the above remarks remain broadly true. There was no great commercial skill in being a coal-merchant; there was much more skill needed to operate a fairly small boat on what could be quite rough waters and to arrange for lighters to be available when a boat needed to be lightened to pass shallows. All the men engaged in the coal trade in this period referred to themselves as watermen rather than merchants.

As implied above, I have not found any direct evidence of before 1745 for waterside property used for purposes of trade; the presumption is that the north bank of the river in St Swithin's was the only area so used. I should be glad if any contrary evidence could be brought to my attention.

When the Grundys surveyed the Witham in 1743 they measured the depth of water under High Bridge as just 4 inches. That would make it difficult for boats arriving by the Fossdyke to reach St Swithin's. Was there any sort of wharf above High Bridge where boats could be unloaded? Or was shallow water at High Bridge generally accompanied by shallow water in the difficult sections of the Fossdyke so that no boats could pass anyway?

Coal & Corn

In 1741, the Corporation leased the Fossdyke to Richard Ellison[2], who undertook to widen and deepen it to take boats drawing 3ft 6in. This represented a huge improvement, only made viable by traffic increasing three-fold as soon as the waterway reopened in 1745 and then more than doubling again over the following decade. Where did this extra traffic come from?

It was doubtless convenient for the watermen that they no longer needed to transship goods from the larger boats at Torksey in order to transit the Fossdyke; but the saving that resulted was not going to make a massive difference to price or volumes. What may be of more importance is that Ellison was part of a consortium leasing the River Dun Navigation. This particular consortium is known to have operated some boats of its own. Lessees' boats did not pay tolls - or if they did the money simply went from one hand to the other - and they could use this freedom to develop new traffic which otherwise would not have been viable. In 1743, it was advertised that the Newark Boat Company (an organisation not known otherwise) was offering Yorkshire coal at Newark,[3] a place supplied hitherto from Nottingham. Evidently there was a move by some of the Yorkshire collieries, whose coal had hitherto only been consumed locally, to break into the market in the Trent Valley previously dominated by Nottingham, and this move might be associated with Ellison's consortium. If Yorkshire coal was cheaper at Newark, it was certainly cheaper at Torksey and hence at Lincoln. It is indeed known that, when the Fossdyke reopened in 1745, coal was sold in Lincoln at 13s per chaldron, the price before having been 21s.[4] Hence the initial increase in Fossdyke traffic can be be accounted for by the Yorkshire coal having captured the whole of the Lincoln market, previously supplied largely from the Witham.

In terms of its trade, Lincoln had been turned round and now faced the Trent rather than Boston. What is more, with the Fossdyke so much deeper than High Bridge, the Fossdyke boats needed to be based on Brayford Mere or the Upper Witham. This was exacerbated by a feature at Brayford Head called the 'natural staunch' - effectively a dam which helped keep up water levels in the Fossdyke. In winter it was possible to get boats through, but this was used merely as a way of making deliveries to waterside properties below High Bridge.[5]

To make provision for boats needing to berth above Brayford Head, Ellison's reconstruction of the Fossdyke included a new wharf. This was placed in the rural portion of St Mary-le-Wigford's parish, just before the Fossdyke joined the Brayford. It was not the ideal position for users, but Ellison seems to have wanted the wharf entirely under his own control, rather than seeking a lease from the Corporation of land adjoining the Brayford itself. One gains the impression that the striking reduction in the coal price in Lincoln was not something that happened by trusting to market forces: Ellison's consortium probably organised the boats, they organised the wharf where they docked, and they may even have traded in coal on their own account. The boats were probably Yorkshire keels: they needed to be able to operate on the lower reaches of the Trent, and the Lincoln men had no experience of that kind of boat. There is fragmentary genealogical evidence that points to Knaresborough, a town on the River Don with a boat-building industry; there could well have been a lot of Knaresborough men running that first generation of boats.

Capturing the Lincoln coal market will explain the initial three-fold increase in Fossdyke traffic; it won't explain the subsequent further doubling. For this we must look to corn. As the towns of the West Riding expanded, they outgrew their local corn supplies, and that pushed prices up. The boats carrying coal to Lincoln were otherwise empty for the return journey; their operators bought corn in the Lincoln market and the consequent rise in price prompted Lincolnshire farmers to grow more corn. As late as the 1730s, there had been negligible movement of corn along the Fossdyke and what little there was might be moving one way as much as the other. By 1760 we have the first references to northward corn traffic.[6] Originally this may have been opportunistic and occasional; it soon became routine. From 1767, we have a reference[7] to two inns, the Crown, (Robert Berridge) and the New Pack Horse (Joseph Widdowson and James Scarth) with coal yards, and granaries new-built, along with a warehouse in the case of the Crown. The New Pack Horse had ceased to be an inn, and also had a 'cinder-yard'. Cinders (half-burned coal, with the sulphurous parts burned off) had been used for malting but had largely been superseded by coke fifty years earlier. Perhaps the Yorkshire coal was less suited to the making of coke than the Nottinghamshire, or perhaps the term remained in use for the yards, even though their contents had changed. We know all this because the owner, John Robinson, was bankrupt and the properties were advertised for sale. The combination of coal-yards and granaries (in the absence of any mention of malting or brewing) suggests that these inns were acting as the retail distributors for the coal, and were collecting the corn for northward shipment.

The value of a boatload of corn was of the order of £150. Buying corn in advance to ensure that it was in hand for the next - five, say - trips would cost £750. It can be seen that the working capital required for the corn & coal trade was vastly greater than that for the simple coal trade. The risks were greater too: a fall in the market price between the time a merchant bought and the time he sold could result in a substantial loss. On the other hand, the barriers to entry, combined with the fact that Lincoln prices and prices in the West Riding were largely independent of one another, offered the scope for large profits.

Whatever arrangements were made for the transport of the first Yorkshire coal to Lincoln are unlikely to have lasted long. Anything the consortium leasing the River Dun navigation might do could be copied by the consortium leasing the Aire and Calder. Moreover, the principal markets for corn, Wakefield and Leeds, were on the Aire & Calder system. This is likely to have led to a situation where the best destination for a load of corn was not the best place to procure coal. Lincoln's exports of corn were less than its appetite for coal. So there may have been a division between the 'simple' coal merchants and the corn-and-coal merchants. Or it may have been a division between those trading to the River Don, who might take the occasional load of corn to Rotherham when prices there were favourable, and those trading to the Aire & Calder, for whom coal was merely a convenient return load.

That division must have been made more rigid by the opening of the Chesterfield Canal in 1772. This canal, whose sole raison d' être was that it enabled the collieries near Chesterfield to undercut all other suppliers to the Trent Valley, was mostly a narrow canal. The boats that traded to Yorkshire were too wide to reach Chesterfield, whilst the narrow-boats were utterly unsuited to sail on the lower Trent.

The Witham 1745-95

It is to be presumed that, with the reopening of the improved Fossdyke, trade by the Witham fell off massively. In any case, the Witham below Chapel Hill was silting up fast; by the mid-1750s, the river had abandoned its old course and was flowing across the country to the North Forty Foot drain. Perversely, this may have assisted traffic at Lincoln, by impeding traffic from Boston to Horncastle and Sleaford, which therefore looked to Lincoln for their coal supply. Certainly, in the year 1764-5, 7000 tons was handled at Stamp End.[8] Some of this may have been exceptional traffic (eg limestone) occasioned by major construction at Boston; and traffic certainly increased after the new cut of the Witham was opened in February 1765, but it seems likely that normal traffic was running at 4000 or 5000 tons, even before the new cut was opened. Only a small proportion of this was through traffic to Boston. There is a solitary mention of Tattershall Bridge as the commonest destination. That suggests transshipment, with goods continuing by road to Horncastle or Sleaford.

There was an expectation that the improvements made to the Witham under the 1762 Act would increase trade. It seems to have had the opposite effect. Toll accounts survive for another isolated year, 1774-5, but are difficult to compare because the basis for collecting tolls had changed. Nevertheless, on any plausible assumptions, traffic had actually declined, especially at Lincoln. The most plausible explanation is that the new toll structure made it cheaper for Horncastle or Sleaford to fetch coal from Boston, probably in a manner which did not use the Witham at all.

Traffic remained in the doldrums until the second half of the 1780s, when it almost doubled, starting a meteoric rise which by 1810 would take toll receipts to ten times the level of the 1770s. This can only be explained by the corn-and-coal trade reaching beyond Lincoln to the Horncastle and Sleaford markets.

Waterside properties 1745-95

Initially, if coal was arriving at Ellison's new wharf, coal merchants may have continued to use their existing premises in St Swithin's. However, it would soon be apparent that it was better for a merchant bringing in coal by the Fossdyke to have waterside premises above Brayford Head. The ideal would be a house on the west side of the High Street with a plot running back to the Brayford. Most such houses would be in the parish of St Mary-le-Wigford, but the southern end of St Benedict's or the northern end of St Mark's would be satisfactory. Plots on Newland backing onto the northern side of the Brayford - so in St Martin's - would be less central but the greater availability of space might be important for, say, a timber merchant.

As it happens, we can trace the fortunes of one of the St Swithin's properties. The Boyce (or Boys) family had been important coal merchants in the early part of century, declining to the second rank,so far as we can tell from the Fossdyke figures alone, in the 1730s. John Boyce died in the early 1740s leaving his property to his daughter. The premises, excluding the house, were let to John Bannister, whom we may assume to be a waterman. In 1745[9], the daughter sold the property to Richard Bullen, a maltster and common (ie wholesale) brewer, who continued to let part to Bannister. Thus in this case we see an industry that could benefit from a waterside location taking up some of the coal yard, while a portion was retained as the base for a waterman. Indeed, it would not be too fanciful to envisage Bannister bringing in boatloads of barley for the maltings from Tattershall Bridge.

A related issue concerns the transit of coal from Brayford Pool to the Witham. There are occasional references to coal-porters and the argument seems to have been deployed that a through navigation was positively undesirable because the existing arrangements helped provide employment for the poor. But does that mean that coal was carried from the Brayford to wharfs in St Swithin's or was it simply carried from one boat above the 'natural staunch' to another boat moored below High Bridge? Indeed, one wonders whether lighters of shallow draught, and capable of being taken over the 'natural staunch' at least in winter, would not be less laborious. It would be worth collecting together the rather elusive references to coal-porters to see whether close examination might not yield some answers.

The Position in 1795

In 1795, the government decreed that registers of canal boats should be drawn up. Lincoln's is one of those that survive. It provides an imperfect census of the boats operating to Lincoln - imperfect because boat owners were free to choose where they registered them.

The first thing that stands out is that almost all owners described themselves as merchants; just four boats were owned by men who referred to themselves as watermen, which had been the normal expression eighty years before.

The register records the place to which boats went.

6 went down the Witham, to Sleaford or to Boston.

2 went to Rotherham on the River Dun navigation.

30 went to towns reached via the Aire & Calder, Wakefield, Leeds and Halifax being the most important,

2 went up the Trent, one continuing past Nottingham to Shardlow.

4 went down the Trent, two merely to Gainsborough, the other two to Hull.

Finally, 15 narrow boats went to the collieries near Chesterfield.[10]

What is striking is the dominance of the Aire & Calder system. That represents the corn-and-coal trade. The boats plying to Chesterfield will be in the simple coal trade. The Hull, Gainsborough and Boston boats will predominantly have been fetching goods that have arrived at those ports by sea.

Corn-and-coal was all the rage, and had been for at least a decade: in 1787 property in St Peter-at-Arches had been advertised: "near Brayford-Head, very conveniently situate for the Coal and Corn Trade".[11] The advertisement is no more honest than such advertisements are these days: any property in St Peter-at-Arches with a waterside position would necessarily be below the 'natural staunch' so boats from the Fossdyke would not be able to unload directly. But the real problem was that, once the trade had become known as highly profitable, too may people were tempted to take part; prices rose in Lincoln and fell in Yorkshire; and the profits evaporated. Eventually, the farmers themselves got the idea that it might be more profitable to sell their corn in distant markets. Such a wish led to people like Thomas Gibbeson (1819) offering their services as corn-factors; it would be good to know whether there are earlier advertisements of this nature, or offers to freight corn to places like Wakefield.

It is striking how few of the owners operating to places on the Aire & Calder refer to themselves as 'corn and coal' merchants. One calls himself a corn-merchant; several others call themselves coal-merchants. It may perhaps be seen as a natural reticence stemming from a time when the profits that could be made were something to be kept quiet about. One other thing that stands out about the old-established merchants is the extent of their commitment to particular routes. Thus in 1795 Thomas Greaves ran six of the nine boats operating to Leeds; at his death he owned property there. He no doubt had a near-monopoly of the merchandise traffic from Leeds, but that is not enough to explain how he was able to acquire the Red Hall estate at Bracebridge Heath, worth in excess of £12,000. The money to acquire so prestigious a property can only have come from a long period of successful trading in corn. Likewise, four of the six boats trading to Halifax were operated by the partnership of Eastland & Hall. When John Hall made his will in 1788 he entrusted the education of his children to his widow and to two Halifax merchants in the wool and cotton trades; it seems almost certain that he intended his children to be educated in Halifax. Again, the only boats trading to Hull were those of James Cuttill, a coal and timber merchant, who had given his daughter in marriage to a Hull mast-maker.


Most of the corn sent to Yorkshire appears to have been barley, which on arrival was converted to malt. Malt weighs less than the barley used to produce it, so is cheaper to transport, but the fuel used in malting it was cheaper in Yorkshire. It is not clear what it was that changed the economics but by 1828 the vast majority of merchants were shipping malt rather than grain, and were producing that malt themselves.[12]

Advertisements often give the size of the cistern used for steeping the barley: 13 qtrs[13] was quite common, but the larger maltings might be double this size. The grain was typically steeped for 4 days - one advertisement is explicit on this point. The growing floors seem to escape mention in advertisements, although grain typically spent some 16 days there. 200 sq ft per qtr was generally reckoned as necessary. [14] Thus a 13-qtr cistern would need a 3-storey building, 15ft by 30ft for the growing floors. The kiln is often mentioned, apparently standing in for the entire maltings. What with time in the kiln and miscellaneous processes, something like 7 times the capacity of the cistern would be in the process at any one time. The granaries or warehouses are frequently specified in advertisements: something like 80 times the cistern content is usual. That corresponds to over a year's production. (Maltings shut down during the summer.) Because farmers would sell their crop after threshing, and this would be done in batches over the winter, it is clear that they expected to have sold it all by the end of the winter and maltsters needed enough in stock to last until the next winter.

The valuation placed on a maltkiln (assumed to stand for the whole maltings) suggests a capital value of about £1000 for a 13-qtr establishment. The barley in a full warehouse would be worth £1500. It would seem therefore that the capital tied up such a maltings would be around £3000. A large one could be double that. Furthermore, there was considerable skill involved in producing malt. Effectively the merchants had become industrialists operating in the food processing industry. The extreme example of this is John Coupland, who in 1820 opened a massive new maltings with a cistern capacity of 70 qtrs, linked by its own canal to the upper Witham and with all the other buildings on a proportional scale. Coupland really was an industrialist: in 1825 he acquired his own colliery in the Erewash valley. These new men managed without the sort of links and networks that the likes of Thomas Greaves had built up over a lifetime: if they saw an opportunity, they would move in to exploit it. They did not always get it right: bankruptcies seem to be all too common in this era.

In tracking the shift from corn to malt, we have a problem in that maltsters had been around for a very long time. They needed coke for their kilns and some of them had been bringing in coal for re-sale. Descriptions in sale advertisements make it difficult to distinguish men of this type from corn-and-coal merchants who were switching to malt. In fact, it may be such a maltster who pioneered the trade to Yorkshire. We have already encountered Richard Bullen in 1745, buying premises in St Swithin's. Before 1760, he had built a house in St Martin's which he left to his younger son. The next generation, P & J Bullen, were running boats to Halifax in 1795; were they based at that same St Martin's property? (The 1828 Valuation shows a block of Bullen property east of Beaumont Fee House. This may merely represent a later investment: in 1760 it would be an odd place to establish a son in any form of trade.) Property advertisements from when Philip Bullen retired in 1800 show that the St Swithin's maltings had a capacity of 50 quarters/week, which is large for that date and probably in excess of the requirements of his own brewery. So was Philip Bullen shipping malt to Halifax in 1800? And might that trade go back even to 1760?

The Beards have a claim to be among the earliest shippers of malt and, once again, they were not merchants of the normal sort. Brought up at Breadsall Priory near Derby, the three brothers were in partnership as coal merchants in Lincoln by 1790. They were operating boats to Chesterfield, which suggests they were simple coal merchants. However, 'simple' is perhaps a misleading term, because their mother came from Staveley and a court case[15] shows they were negotiating bulk contracts, perhaps fixed-price contracts for deliveries spread out over an entire season. In 1799 they sold most of their Derbyshire property, which would have provided the necessary capital for them to enter the malt trade. We know that two of the brothers traded independently - the third vanishes from the scene - and both built substantial maltkilns (as well as very fine houses). Unfortunately the earliest definite evidence for maltkilns is of 1818, immediately after Samuel's death. That they had been in this business since about 1800 seems probable but cannot be proved.

One approach is to compare the references to corn merchants with those for malt merchants. Statistics have been limited to firms known to be operating as coal-merchants but excluding those known to be brewers. References to granaries where there is no mention of malting have been taken to imply involvement in the corn trade. References to warehouses have been disregarded unless there is mention of what was warehoused. On that basis, firms (or sole traders) were categorised as 'G' (coal & corn), 'M' (coal & malt) or 'GM' (coal, corn & malt). Those involved neither with corn nor with malt were ignored. Percentages for periods up to 1827 are as follows.

Waterside properties

Sample sizes in each period vary from 5 to 10, so proportions are inevitably noisy. However, it is clear that although malt rises steadily in importance, corn remains dominant until about 1820. One problem with this approach is that most of the advertisements describe premises of merchants who are retiring or going out of business for other reasons; so the data tend to be backward-looking. It implies that 1820, or thereabouts, marks the end of the coal-and-corn merchant, not the arrival of the corn-and-malt merchant.

Evidence pointing to an earlier date comes from a modest Lincoln waterman, John Marshall, who in 1799 had his boat 'gauged', a process establishing how its water-line rose with the weight of its cargo, something needed for boats travelling up the Erewash Navigation to collect coal. He declared that since 1796 his boat had been employed in the coal trade to Lincoln and taking "malt, &c, back to Shardlow". The expression is somewhat formulaic: the coal will not have come from Shardlow in the first place but from the Erewash Valley. Nevertheless, the reference to malt is almost unique. This was a 53-ton boat, so could easily have been carrying 1000 tons of malt a year for onward shipment to Lancashire, equivalent to the output of five typical maltkilns. However, in 1814, Marshall had the boat re-gauged and declared this time that since 1796 it had been employed taking "corn, &c" back to Shardlow. So had there been a sudden spike in Lancashire malt prices about 1799, or had the clerk - who was really only interested in the coal - simply written down his standard formula for the return load? It might be worth adding that in 1841 William and John Marshall - the next generation? - were maltsters based in St Swithin's.

Waterside Properties after 1795

In 1795, the Witham was opened up between Brayford Pool and Stamp End in a complicated deal mostly paid for by the Horncastle and Sleaford Canals and the Witham Navigation. This made the St Swithin's waterside eligible once more as a base for merchants, although passing under High Bridge was at best a nuisance and in winter could be a major challenge. Between 1795 and 1830 trade on the Fossdyke almost quadrupled, and although much of this was accounted for by through trade to the Witham there was a growing requirement for waterside sites. The wharfs on the upper Witham extended southwards to St Botolph's parish, while in St Swithin's the south bank, though relatively inaccessible, was developed. The new areas seem, unsurprisingly, to have a large number of maltkilns. The south bank in St Swithin's was favoured by the more noxious enterprises like bone mills and iron foundries. It would be good to have some early dates for premises on the south bank, likewise for St Peter-at-Gowts and St Botolph, to help date this movement more precisely.


If one examines mercantile or industrial properties in the 1828 valuation, their history is likely to vary according to the general location. Properties on the south bank in St Swithin's are unlikely to be more than 30 years old. Properties on the Brayford or the upper Witham may go back as far as 1745. Properties in St Swithin's on the north bank are liable to have a far more complex history, with origins before 1745, followed by half a century in which St Swithin's was something of a backwater.


The purpose of this paper was to explain the pattern of mercantile and industrial properties with waterside locations in the 1828 Valuation. In the interests of tidiness, it is worth a few words on the developments in the last couple of decades before the arrival of the railways.

First, the trade in wheat to Lancashire, predominantly Manchester, grew in importance. It went back at least to 1796, and probably to the opening of the Erewash canal in 1779 which made Nottinghamshire coal competitive once again if there was a return load to be carried. The Stamford Mercury of 17.9.1819 carries an advertisement by J Clifton operating boats to Nottingham and offering his services as a corn-factor on the Nottingham market. It seems to imply that farmers might prefer to sell their grain at Nottingham as the first stage en route to Manchester via the Trent & Mersey Canal, in preference to Lincoln or Wakefield.

Just as it was cheaper to ship malt than the equivalent quantity of barley, so it was cheaper to ship flour than wheat. In 1836, TM Keyworth, in partnership with Charles Seely, erected Lincoln's second steam mill. Larger than the existing one, it was intended to supply Manchester: Keyworth's brother was established in Manchester to handle sales there. The result was that, by 1844, the majority of the wheat that passed through the Lincoln market was bought by millers, and the greater part of the flour they produced went to Lancashire.[16] The same source notes that by this date the greater part of Lincoln's barley and malt was also going to Lancashire.

The third change was the opening of the Leeds & Selby Railway (1834), which offered an alternative route to Leeds, followed by the Manchester & Leeds Railway in 1841. Together, they provided a faster route to Manchester than the Trent & Mersey Canal, and probably a cheaper route too. It is striking that Stalybridge is sometimes listed as a destination for a portion of the Lancashire-bound produce. Stalybridge was the first town of significance across the Pennines on the Manchester & Leeds Railway. Selling grain there only made sense if the grain was travelling via Selby.

The quantity of barley and malt exported is recorded as being a little over 7000 tons. A rough calculation suggests that the maltkilns listed in the 1828 Valuation had the capacity to produce something like that quantity; and only about 1000 tons would be required for Lincoln's own breweries. The implication is that malt volumes cannot have grown much after 1828.

A fourth change was that, starting in 1840, Richard Ellison IV made major improvements to the Fossdyke, widening it and deepening it to take boats drawing 5ft6in. Comparable improvements had already been made to the Witham. That made High Bridge (still only 3ft6in deep) a problem once again: boats might need to be lightened to pass. Conversely, an empty boat might be too high in the water to pass under it.

It was not a good period for the traditional merchants, based on coal and corn. The only substantial new business was the supply of flour to Lancashire, and Keyworth & Seely had that sewn up, with a mill of a size and efficiency no one else could match.

Worse was to come with the arrival of the railways. Not only did these carry coal but they (or at least the Great Northern) traded in it as well. The traditional coal merchants could not compete and went out of business or transformed themselves into coal retailers, based at a railway coal yard. The railways erected grain warehouses as well. Quite how that trade was conducted is less clear, but even if corn merchants in the strict sense of the word survived, the former rich pickings had vanished.

What remained was predominantly the traffic from Hull. Keels could load directly from ships and unload to riverside premises - preferably above High Bridge - at an operating cost the railways could not match. They might be a little slower, but for animal feed or for timber speed was unimportant. And that set the pattern for the next hundred years.


[1] This one from the Stamford Mercury (hereafter SM) 7.2.1806.

[2] Before the work was completed, Richard Ellison senior was succeeded by his son, known to historians as Richard Ellison II. They worked in harmony and I shall refer to both here simply as Ellison.

[3] Stamford Mercury, 15.12.1743.

[4] Remarkable occurrences that have happened at Lincoln. (John Smith, printer, 1805) quoted in Lincs Chronicle 7.1.1887. There is a version of the original dated 1837 at LCL UP 421. The chaldron in question was probably of about 26cwt.

[5] TNA RAIL 885/1, Witham Navigation Minutes, 22.2.1781.

[6] It is mentioned by one of the objectors to the 1762 Witham Bill, describing the traffic that used to flow on the Witham before it had deteriorated in the mid-1750s.

[7] SM 8.10.1764, p4, col1.

[8] LAO 5LRA 1/135 & 136.

[9] LAO Hill 4/4

[10] There was a statutory requirement for boats to be registered in 1795. There was no requirement thereafter, but the Lincoln register continued for a few years. The statistics quoted exclude any entries made after 31 Dec 1795.

[11] SM 14.12.1787.

[12] Of 23 coal-merchants (a limitation made to exclude maltsters who were primarily brewers) 3 dealt in grain alone, 6 in grain and malt, 8 in malt alone. The other 6 were simple coal merchants.

[13] The quarter is a measure of volume, but 5 qtrs of barley weighs about a ton.

[14] Amber Patrick, Maltings in England, SHER Rpt 1, 2004.

[15] SM 19.3.1802

[16] Sir Francis Hill, Victorian Lincoln, 1974, 105-109, based on Seely's statements at a railway meeting.