Wisbech Canal

A brief history of the Wisbech Canal

The concept of the Wisbech Canal was an attempt to improve the status of Wisbech as a trading port.

The Engineer Mr John Whitte prepared the plans for the digging of the Wisbech Canal in 1792. This was requested by the chairman of the canal company Revd Charles Lindsay. The plans included: Reconstructing the outfall branching off the tidal river Nene, the digging of a new channel approximately 5 miles long utilising parts of the old river where possible, construct six crossings over the canal of similar brick design, constructing sluice gates at either end of the canal, deepening and widening the old river from the Emneth-Outwell border (from the new roundabout) to the Nene/Well Creek junction near Outwell St. Clements church. These plans were submitted to parliament in March 1794 and it was authorised by an Act of Parliament in May 1794. Approximately £20,000 was raised to construct the canal. The funds were raised by the selling of shares in the Wisbech Canal Company at £105 per share. High demand for shares later elevated the price to £120 per share. Tolls would be required not only for the use of the canal but also for passage through the Old Nene and the Well Creek. The Wisbech sluice was 50 feet long and inauspiciously shorter than the Outwell sluice at 97 feet.

The canal was completed in 1796 and officially opened in 1797.

All canal traffic ceased in 1922 and was formally abandoned on 14 June 1926. In 1944 The Corporation gained parliamentary permission to take over the canal after shareholders could not be located.

Wisbech Town Council debated the possibility of a highway on the canal on 27 January 1947. In February 1951, Wisbech Town Council Highways and Lighting Committee with Borough Engineers revealed the estimate for piping and filling the canal from the Nene to Blackfriars Bridge would be £18,200. From 1951 the canal was gradually filled using predominantly 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 the 1989.

We recently released the publication A Pictorial Journey down the Wisbech Canal containing lots of additional facts and photographs which is available from our shop.