Believed to be the first artificial navigation canal in Britain, the Foss Dyke links the Rivers Witham and Trent, and was probably dug by the Romans around 120AD. Nearby Lincoln (Lindum Colonia) was one of the four most important Roman cities in England, built on one of the few hills in the fertile East Anglian plains.
After straightening and deepening the Witham to connect Lincoln to the sea, the next obvious step for Roman engineers was the Foss Dyke.
This gave access to central England via the navigable Trent.
Unlike most more recent canals the Foss Dyke also acted as a major drainage channel. It entered a long period of decline after the Romans left, but in 1121 Henry I is recorded as ordering the 'scouring of the channel'.
It was restored again in the late 17 th century, but by 1735 it was impassable to boats and perilously close to being lost for ever. Fortunately, its importance as a drainage channel saved it from obscurity, and in 1741 it was leased to a certain Richard Ellison.
The Ellison family operated the navigation for more than a century, once hiring Marc Isambard Brunel to carry out a survey. But in 1848, like many other UK canals, the Foss Dyke fell into the hands of its new competitor, the railways.
It was owned by the Great Northern Railway until nationalisation in 1950.
Commercial traffic virtually disappeared after the First World War, and no doubt the railway's directors would have been happy to let it silt up.
Once again, however, the Foss Dyke's vital drainage function saved it from the fate of so many other railwayowned canals.