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Boston - The Small Town With A Big Story

 The Straightening of The Haven 

Richard Austin

The Haven is the stretch of the Witham between the Grand Sluice and the outfall to the sea. As its name implies it was a place of safety for shipping. By 1800 The Haven between Skirbeck Church and the Wash had become wide and split into many tortuous channels. Silt and sand had accumulated over time and Boston had become almost unusable as a port. This deterioration of the river outfall also led to greater flooding problems inland.

Ruston steam excavators cutting new channel for The River Witham

Three Ruston Steam Excavators at work cutting the new channel for the River Witham. (courtesy of Alison Austin)

Boston Corporation commissioned the engineer, John Rennie to survey the Haven and to draw up plans to create the deepest and straightest possible channel for the 13.5 miles from the Black Sluice to the Wash. He determined that one option was to straighten and shorten the channel between Skirbeck Church and Hobhole and then make a new cut from there to the Wash, to the point now known as Cut End. The alternative was to dig an entirely new direct course to the North of the Haven also starting at Skirbeck Church. The Corporation chose the first option. This reduced the channel distance by 4.5 miles. However it was 1830 before the work began and 1884 before it was completed.

The first 800 yard cut was made in the central section between the far end of where the Sewage Farm is now and the Hobhole outfall. This took three years and shortened the channel by 1.5 miles. Work on the stretch past the Landfill Site was started in 1841 where a straight channel was largely achieved by fascine work, only excavating where necessary. Fascine work consists of placing bundles of sticks, known as kids or faggots, on the outside bend of the river bank to encourage silt to accumulate amongst them, this gradually straightens the channel and is a cheaper method where it can be done.

This is an image of the map around Boston, UK that shows point of interest from the Black Sluice. Certain points of interst are the land fill sight, the bank of Haven before it was straightened out and many more.

The mouth of Witham showing details of its older course and its outfall into the wash.

The section alongside the Haven Country Park and past the sewage works was finally straightened by fascine work in 1860. During this thirty year period the silting up of the Haven outfall through ‘The Scalp’ became worse and in 1868 there was one day when the tide did not even reach the Boston Town Bridge. The final new cut from Hobhole to the Wash was completed between 1880 and 1884. Three Ruston Steam Navvies were used, working side by side in the bed of the new cut. Eight locomotives, numerous horses and men were also employed. Both ends were dredged.

The first ship to sail up the new channel and into the newly constructed dock on 20th December 1884 was the 1,700 ton Myrtle with a cargo of cotton seed. This immense engineering project took 90 years to plan and complete. In so doing it exceeded the strategic aims of Rennie. It produced a self-scouring channel, solving the silting up problems of The Haven, which still requires little dredging. It also reduced the height of the water at the Grand Sluice by 1.2m to the benefit of land drainage over a large area.

 Discover More! 

History of The Black Sluice

The first major attempt to drain the Black Sluice Area was by the Earl of Lindsey in 1635 - 1638.

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The Pilgrim Fathers Memorial (Haven Park)

The Pilgrim Fathers Memorial is located on the north back of the The Haven river. It commemorates the attempt to find religious freedom by English Protestant Seperatists in the 1600s. It was erected in 1957 on the 350th anniversary.

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The Port of Boston

For most of Boston’s thousand years the port was on the banks of the river Witham where it passed through the town centre. Several features of this riverside port still remain.

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The Grand Sluice

Also known as the Great Sluice, the Grand Sluice was constructed on the River Witham in 1766.

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