Engineered by William Jessop and completed in 1794, the Sleaford Navigation connected the town of Sleaford to the River Witham and the inland waterway system, bringing trade and prosperity to Sleaford. In the 1830s, local pride in the waterway was expressed by the building of Navigation House in the town. Following restoration by North Kesteven District Council, this is now a visitors' centre and chronicles the history of the navigation.
Sadly, the wider commercial viability of the navigation was brought to an end when the railway reached the town in the 1850s. Income from tolls fell and the Navigation Company, anxious to avoid incurring further loss, ceased trading in 1881. However the navigation was not formally abandoned and local use of the waterway for trade continued into the mid 20th Century.
Of the original 12 miles, 8 have now been restored to navigation by Sleaford Navigation Trust and boats can reach as far as Cobblers Lock. The lock has been rebuilt but flood prevention work is needed to the banks above before gates can be installed at Kyme Lower Lock, also known as Bottom Lock and since renamed Taylors Lock, was initially restored in 1987 but refurbishment, including new gates and landing stages, took place with funding secured through the Lincolnshire Waterways Partnership in 2008.
At the same time, a lifting bridge and slipway were installed at the original head of navigation in Sleaford with a funding package made up of support from Lincolnshire Waterways Partnership, IWA and Waste Recycling Environmental Ltd (WREN). An earlier purchase of the freehold of the top 1.5 miles of riverbed, supported by an IWA grant and individual donors, helped to make this possible.
The long-term aim of the Trust remains full restoration of the navigation from Chapel Hill on the River Witham into Sleaford.