Canwick Sewage Works

This week we don rubber gloves and hard hats to bust a few myths at the Canwick Sewage Works on Washingborough Road where we discover the little miracle that happens each time you flush the toilet.  We also reveal which 1970s glam rock star eats child portions of fish fingers and how 97.8% of Lincolnites have seen Sharon from EastEnders with more of your #FamousLincoln celebrity sightings, plus another round of A Question of Lincoln… click the player below to listen online or download from iTunes






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The History of S12

by Joanna Hughes of the Lincolnshire Archives

Like several of the other gridsquares covered so far, this area around the sewage works at Canwick, was, for many centuries defined by its geography, lying as it does at the base of the Witham valley. The River Witham’s much narrower now but this marshy area gives you some idea of how wide it would once have been.

Rising up above this boggy ground (pardon the pun!) to the south of our gridsquare is the escarpment, the ridge, upon which Canwick now stands, and this higher dryer land would have provided the perfect terrace for earliest communities to build their dwellings, with the wetland below providing them with fish, waterfowl, fuel and building materials. There’s been evidence of early human activity found all around this area. Archaeologists discovered two decorated Bronze Age axes on the site of the sewage works. These are now in the British Museum.

The area has been used for centuries for grazing livestock, where cattle could get fat on mineral-rich grass, to be found in the marshy vegetation; the area’s still known by its sixteenth century name of “The Cow Paddle”.

The modern day look of this area of Lincoln is actually testament to the nineteenth century expansion of the city and how the question of the waste which such a city created, was dealt with.

The arrival of the railways and engineering companies brought many people from the rural areas into the city to work in the foundries and factories. Housing couldn’t always compete with such influxes and the standard of building and sanitation for many city areas was substandard and a great health risk.

In the middle of the nineteenth century, several Acts of Parliament had closed down the already over-crowded city churchyards, whose putrefying inhabitants were posing a threat to public health, and which led to the creation of the Canwick cemeteries we know today, just to the east of our gridsquare.

What was now needed was an answer to the overcrowding of the living and the insanitary squalor in which they were being forced to live. Malnourished people were living in overcrowded, poorly ventilated rooms, with raw sewage and domestic refuse running down the streets and infecting the drinking wells. These were the breeding grounds for rats and diseases such as cholera, small pox and typhus flourished – the Victorian death rate of the labouring classes was soaring at a sinister rate.

Initially little was known about what caused the diseases, let alone how to cure them...yet as research progressed throughout the nineteenth century, and the authorities eventually made the connection of insanitary living conditions with increase in disease and death, still little was done to deal with the problem. Even when the Public Health Act and subsequent sanitation reports all cried out, (along with the victims themselves), for something to be done, progress was slow. The effectiveness of the Act took a long time to gather momentum because it depended so much on local initiative and was seen to lead to considerable expense. Then the pressure of national outrage eventually forced many slow-to-act city corporations to put money into sanitary improvements which eventually led to the sewage works at Canwick and the spreading grounds used for the treatment and disposal of sewage - situated, you’ll note, like the cemeteries, at a healthy distance, on the fringes of the city.

So next time you go ten pin bowling, and you pass the cemeteries and sewage works, just think how much they symbolise the struggle to clean up the city, to make it a healthier place for its people to live and work in.