Spalding’s maritime past

It’s the 1800s and the wealthy merchants are living in large houses along London Road, The Terrace and High Street in Spalding.

The river Welland itself is a hive of activity, with as many as 30 or 40 vessels moored up all the way up to High Bridge, with goods being loaded and unloaded into warehouses, possibly using a crane at the bottom of Herring Lane.

The Breeze, one of the sailing vessels that came into Spalding in the 1800s.

The Breeze, one of the sailing vessels that came into Spalding in the 1800s.

Some of them may have been waiting for a good tide, and some could have gone half way up the river and moored near Wykeham, ready for the next day’s tide. In the meantime, there was The Ship at Wykeham where they could slate their thirst and share mariners’ tales.

The shipping created jobs for local people, not only those employed in the warehouses along the river, but what were known as “higglers”, or people on hire for work, who would walk along the towpaths, helping to tow the vessels.

One of those master mariners and ship’s captains was the great great grandfather of Keith Seaton, who lives in Belgrave Road in Spalding. Keith is volunteer reserve warden for Arnold’s Meadow Nature Reserve in Clay Lake and one of the directors of Chain Bridge Forge.

He has also completed over 50 years’ service with the Sea Scouts, leader of the group in Spalding from 1962 until 1981.

That was his only connection to the sea, he thought, until he started unearthing his family history and its links with the sea.

His research has finally come to completion and is in a book, due out in November, called The River Welland, Shipping & Mariners of Spalding.

Keith’s great great grandfather was a master mariner from the 1840s onwards, with shares in several vessels, but it was the Breeze he handed on to his son – what was called a ketch, with a large mast at front and a little mizzen mast aft.

Keith’s great grandfather continued the trade, taking produce up and down the coast and bringing back coal from the north. Ships also went to places like Belgium, bringing back produce like wine.

Keith said: “It ended with great grandfather because by the end of the 1800s shipping had declined so much because of the railways and there were only one or two sailing vessels coming in.”

Keith says commercial shipping finished completely by the late 1940s and at the same time a swing bridge across the river was fixed and lock gates were installed so the river was no longer tidal.