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When the Romans settled in Lincoln (Lindum Colonia) they widened and straightened the Witham to drain their settlement, circa 120 AD. This made a waterway to the sea, so they then cut the Westward channel known as the Fossdyke. This linked Lincoln with the Trent and the Humber. Later, in the 700's, the Danes invaded the Fens and travelled inland on the navigations. And later still, the Normans relied on them to carry stone for their developments at Lincoln.
Improvements made in 1671 included a navigable sluice or lock at Torksey, and warehousing and wharves were built at Brayford Pool in the centre of Lincoln.
However, by the reign of Edward III the waterways were in a dilapidated state. Landowners were made responsible for their maintenance, but even the monks of the Fens could not achieve the task. Meanwhile, Lincoln, with its economic downturn, appealled to the King, James I, for help. James I responded by handing over the ownership of the Fossdyke to the Mayor and Corporation of Lincoln. In 1753 a survey was carried out on the two waterways and concluded in the straightening and deepening from the sea to the Trent. To protect the waterway from the tides, the Grand Sluice was conceived, and opened in 1766 at Boston.
Connection to the River Witham at Brayford was hampered by the small bore and depth of High Bridge, a medieval structure just below the pool. The channel through it was made deeper in 1795, but John Rennie (the elder)'s plans to demolish it in 1803 were not adopted. The canal was leased to several generations of the Ellison family, who profited from the tolls but failed to maintain it. When the railways arrived in Lincoln they leased the canal for 894 years, at £9,570 per year.
Although cargos of coal and wool moved to the railway, the carriage of grain continued, and the last commercial operation was in 1972.
The Brayford Mere Trust have turned Brayford Pool from a rubbish-filled eyesore into an attractive marina, and the Lincolnshire Waterways Partnership are opening a footpath and cycleway from Lincoln to Torksey, with the section to Saxilby expected to be finished in April 2011.