Having developed immensely over the past two millennia, the Brayford Waterfront is now one of the most vibrant and exciting parts of Lincoln. It is no longer surrounded by housing, mills, breweries and engine sheds but by a 21st century university, stylish restaurants and internationally renowned hotels.
The first known settlement in Lincoln, dating back to the first century BC, was around the Brayford Pool area, giving the original name for Lincoln, Lindon: 'Lin' meaning pool and 'don' meaning at the foot of the hill. Timber houses and pottery have been found dating back to that time on the east of the pool. In fact, the famous Witham Shield, belonging to a local tribe's chief, was found in this area which dates back to 300BC and is now housed in the British Museum.
In 48 AD the Romans conquered Lincolnshire and built a fort on the site of Lincoln. Although by the late first century the area was pacified, Lindon grew into a large and prosperous town and reached the peak of prosperity in the early 4th century with a population of between four and six thousand. Lindon was an inland port and so the Romans deepened the Witham so ships could reach the town from the sea. They also dug the Foss Dyke to link the Witham with the River Trent.
The Romans left Britain in the early 5th century but the importance of the port in Lindon remained as the medieval city of Lincoln was built on the area’s wealth, which came mostly from wool that was traded up and down the River Witham and across the Brayford Pool. The walls of the medieval city were extended to the Brayford, where they stopped at Lucy Tower, which today is remembered as Lucy Tower Street.
The Brayford's name dates to the 10th century when the city was occupied by Vikings. Their name for the pool, which was much larger in their time, was 'Breit-ford' which means 'where the river is broad and fordable'.
Although Lincoln boasted the fourth busiest waterfront in the country in the mid 13th century, gradual decline and the demise of the wool trade painted a bleak picture for the future of Lincoln.
However, in 1744 fortunes changed as the Foss Dyke was dredged and reopened and a new era for the Brayford began. The Brayford Pool was lined with warehouses, mills, granaries, breweries and maltings, whilst sailing barges and later steam boats brought goods to and from Lincoln. The 18th and 19th century were trading heydays for the Brayford Pool, when it was once again an important inland port. By 1817 the gardens of the north and the east banks had been replaced by industries served by huge sailing barges.
In 1846, the beginning of the end for Lincoln's lucrative cargoes was signalled by the forming of the Great Northern Railway Company. Whilst the railways created further industrial expansion, and the Brayford's prosperity continued well into the 20th century, the barges could eventually no longer compete with the rapidly developing road and rail networks. The Brayford area once more fell into decline; mills and many other businesses closed and the water became punctuated by half submerged, derelict barges.
By 1964, the Brayford Wharf area was in such a poor state it was proposed that it should be filled in and turned into a car park. However, in 1969 the Brayford Trust was established and restoration of the Brayford Pool began with its establishment as a Marina for pleasure boats.
Most of the buildings on the east wharf survived up to the early 1970's and until 1972, when Wigford Way was constructed, traffic used to pass over a swing bridge. The last early waterside structure on East Wharf was demolished in 1993 and the Royal William IV Public House is the only pre-1945 building that can be seen today.
In 1995, the Lincolnshire Foundation was set up and given the task of making the dream of a university in Lincoln a reality. The city and county raised £32 million to pay for the first stages of the University of Lincoln and the building work began on derelict former railway land on the south side of the Brayford. In 1996, Her Majesty the Queen opened the first University building and the campus has continued to develop since, spreading over the railway line and down along the Foss Dyke Canal.
For more information on the history of the Brayford Waterfront, see the Lincs to the Past website.