GALLERY: Outwell historian William Smith brings to life history of Wisbech Canal in new book

Blackfriars Bridge.

Blackfriars Bridge. - Credit: Archant

A historian has produced a book which charts the history of the Wisbech Canal.

A Pictorial Journey down the Wisbech Canal, by William Smith, of Outwell, sheds light on how the canal, which ran from the River Nene at Wisbech to the Well Creek at Outwell, giving access to the River Great Ouse, came to be and the reasons for its demise.

Mr Smith first had the idea to write about the Wisbech Canal more than 45 years ago.

He said: “I went away with the army and when I returned in 1968 what was notable was that the railway had gone and the canal was being filled in. I though someone should make a note of that.

“This is the first book to be totally dedicated to this old waterway. I’ve spent about five years putting it together.”


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Plans for a canal in Wisbech were submitted to Parliament in March 1794. They were approved two months later and about £20,000 was raised to fund the project.

The canal, which was five and a quarter miles long and mostly built on embankments, was completed in 1796 and officially opened in 1797.

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Flood locks were constructed at both ends of the canal. The one at Outwell was 97 feet long, but the one at Wisbech was only 50 feet.

All traffic using the canal and the Nene River were required to pay a toll, which was used to maintain the waterways.

The canal, Mr Smith says, was a attempt to improve Wisbech’s status as a trading port but, by the end of the 19th century, it was making little to no profit, mainly due to competition from the Upwell tramway.

Canal traffic ceased in 1922 and was formally abandoned in 1926.

Wisbech Town Council debated the possibility of a highway on the canal as early as 1947. From 1951, it was gradually filled in using household waste and general rubbish.

Churchill Road was completed by 1968 and the filling of Wisbech Canal at the Well Creek junction in Outwell was completed by 1971, leaving the sluice buried but intact.

A new road approaching Outwell was built on the canal in 1989.

The book is available from Wisbech Museum, Etcetera Wisbech, Outwell Post Office, Brian Tweed and Upwell Post Office. Also, online at www.carrillson.co.uk

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