The East Anglian Waterways Association

Promoting access to the navigations of East Anglia for all

 Email EAWA

Search this Site with PicoSearch

HomeAbout UsLatest NewsEast Anglian WaterwaysThe EasterlingJoin UsDirectorsNW & DilhamWork PartyLinksForum

Bourne Eau History

The town of Bourne grew up around the springs that make St Peters pool. This pool is the source of the Eau. After leaving the pool it powered three Mills. Baldock's mill, Cliffe's mill, used for crushing bark for tanning, and Notleys flour mill. The spring water also supplied local fish farms. In the mid 1800's it was also bottled and sold as Bourne Table Waters. After leaving Notleys mill the Eau runs alongside Eastgate where the navigation begins.

The Eau wasn't Bournes first waterway, the town sits on the Roman Car Dyke. Though some say that the Car Dyke was a drainage ditch and not used for navigation.

The Roman Morton-Bourne Canal was maybe the earliest navigation from Bourne to the Sea. The sea in the Middle ages being quite close to Bourne only at the end of Bourne North fen. It was used to carry salt mined at Morton. The course of this canal can be clearly seen on google earth. It ran in a straight line from Near Queens bridge Bourne to a long gone tidal river in Morton fen.

Thankyou Peter Sharpe - for your help in the accurate positioning of the
Morton-Bourne canal on Google Earth.

The Eau, a three and a half mile navigation carried goods to the River Glen and on to Fosdyke connected to the sea via the Wash. The Glen also connects to the Welland making a navigable link with Crowland and Stamford.

The Eau had two locks, though I can't find any trace of them. Old folk of the Eastgate area, now long gone, told me that there used to be a lock where the weir is under Mays bridge.
Mr Peter Sharpe gave me some information about the lock that was near the Glen junction.. He remembers fishing from the top of it in the 1960s and describes the lock gates at the end of the Bourne Eau as being a large wooden structure. Not like a modern lock, probably more of a flood barrier. He says "I doubt if you needed a lock for boats, as there was no incline for them to get through."

TW Mays Woolstaplers and Fellmongers.
Washing skins on the North bank of the Eau. Before 1908.

It looks to be a boat moored just beyond the leanto. I shall try to get a clearer copy of this picture to confirm if it's a working boat or not.

The same view in 2008.

Inside the skin shed.

In 1938 there was a pageant on the Eau.
This photo depicts the Monks taking the body of Hereward the Wake to Crowland Abbey for Burial.

The first legislation covering the Bourne Eau was an Act of 1781. Trustees were empowered to clean out the navigation and charge tolls.

21 George III Cap. 22, Royal Assent 29th March 1781

THIS river proceeds from the navigable River Glen, in Deeping Fen, in a north-western direction to the town of Bourn. It is three miles and a half in length, and nearly straight. It appears by the preamble of the only act relating to this navigation, entitled,' An Act for improving the Navigation of the River coiled Bourn Eau, from the town of Bourn to its Junction with the River Glen, at a place called Tongue End, in the county of Lincoln,
That it had been previously used as a navigation, but that it had become of little use, in consequence of being nearly choked up by mud, and other obstructions; the above recited act, therefore, gives authority to trustees therein named, to make good the navigation by scouring, cleansing, and making the same 5 feet deep and 30 feet wide, where its present banks will admit of it.


For all Goods, Wares, Merchandize or Commodities whatsoever

Two shillings and Six pence per Ton.
And so in proportion for any greater or less Weight than a Ton


The trustees, in whom this navigation is vested, are the lord of the manor of Bourn, with the members for the time being; the owner of Bourn South Fen Pastures; the lord of the manor of Bourn Abbots, with its members, and nine other persons, three to be chosen annually by each of the parties above-mentioned; also all other persons who shall be holders of £100 stock, to be raised for the purposes of this act The sum of £60 per annum is paid to the trustees by the owners of an estate of eight hundred and sixty acres, situate on the banks of the river, and which, at the time the act was obtained, belonged to Sir Gilbert Heathcote, Bart, in quittance of the obligation he was under of keeping in repair a considerable portion of the north-west bank of this navigation, and which, in consequence, devolved upon the trustees. The Marquis of Exeter also pays to the trustees the sum of forty shillings annually on a similar account.
The principal use to which this navigation is put, is to facilitate the conveyance of the surplus agricultural produce of the fens, to the port of Boston, (to which it has communication by the River Glen) and to supply Bourn and its environs with groceries and other articles.

From around the sixteenth century the Eau was used to carry corn, wool and skins to the Glen and Welland, also to Boston port. Coal was brought to the coal wharf in Eastgate. Until it became easier to bring in coal by train. A passenger boat was in service on market days.

The Glen often flooded with water backing up the Eau into Bourne.

To control the flooding self-acting doors were installed at the Glen/Eau junction. Then in the 1860’s a sluice was installed cutting off the Eau from the Glen and ending any through navigation to and from Bourne.

Present situation of the Eau.

Being a river it is still much as it was, watered along its whole length, though now very shallow and narrow. Both its locks have long gone. Mays road bridge with the weir under would be a major construction job to make the river navigable again.

Getting around the pump at the Glen junction would also be a major work.

It's very disappointing to see a house being built on the historic quay.

Old riverside buildings just past Mays Bridge.

The Eau now has become very weedy and shallow. and is now quite narrow.

The water level is much higher than the surrounding fields. The small grass banks were often breached in times of flood.

The pump that cuts off the Eau from the Glen.


The Future.

The Fens Waterways Link when complete will make restoration of the Bourne Eau together with the Welland and Stamford Canal very worthwhile.
Lets hope the future brings boats back into Bourne and Stamford. The Fens Waterways Link I.W.A.
Steve Machin, who wrote this article, would be pleased to hear from anyone who would like to share information on the Bourne Eau, Stamford Canal and associated waters.
Please email him on

The East Anglian Waterways Association is a believer in "Waterways for All" - promoting access to our navigations for the community - whether walkers, nature lovers, anglers, canoeists, boaters or gongoozlers.  We work with and support many local societies, trusts and other user bodies in the area  -  Please visit our LINKS page for more information.
©2013 - East Anglian Waterways Association Limited - Reg. 895405    -     Registered Charity No. 251382