River Witham

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The River Witham is a river, almost entirely in the county of Lincolnshire, in the east of England. It rises south of Grantham close to South Witham, at SK8818, passes Lincoln at SK9771 and at Boston, TF3244, flows into The Haven, a tidal arm of The Wash. The river is navigable from Lincoln to Boston.

The name "Witham" seems to be extremely old, apparently predating Anglo-Saxon, Roman, and even Celtic influence.[1] The meaning is not known.


History of navigation

The Witham, which was tidal up to Lincoln, has been an important navigation since Roman times. Lincoln (Lindum), the meeting point of Ermine Street, joining London to York, and Fosse Way, leading to Leicester and Bath was an important Roman fort which became one of only four colonia in Britain. Most important Roman cities were situated near navigable water, which enabled goods to be transported in bulk, but Lincoln did not possess this advantage, and so the Romans constructed the Fossdyke from Lincoln to Torksey on the River Trent, improved the River Witham from Lincoln to The Wash, and built the Car Dyke from Lincoln to the River Cam near Cambridge.[2] The Witham thus gave Lincoln access to the east coast, while the Fossdyke gave access to the Trent and further on to the Humber.

Throughout the medieval period, trade continued, as evidenced by the importance of Torksey, which was a flourishing town, though now only a small village. However, the Fossdyke needed a lot of maintenance to keep it clear of silt. Henry I had overseen the scouring of the channel, and there were inquiries in 1335, 1365 and 1518, to consider the state of the Fossdyke and to compel the inhabitants of the region to maintain it. Lincoln was a centre for the collection of business taxes, but this came at the cost of maintaining the waterways, and having finally decided it was too large a cost, James I presented the Fossdyke to the City of Lincoln.[2]

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