Stenwith Lock House, in 2007
A time capsule
Pictures of the lock-keeper’s cottage (the Lock House) at Stenwith, by Lock 13 on the Grantham Canal, have been posted in this website’s Archive as “BOT196: Stenwith Lock House, in 2007“.Please follow the link to look through the entire set.
They are photographs taken by Mrs Margaret Langton and Neil Fortey in the spring of 2007, at the time when the cottage was empty following the departure of Sidney Damms, its last resident. Afterwards, the house lay empty until recently, and suffered vandalism and then in 2017 a serious fire. It is now thankfully being restored and made habitable once again.
We are most grateful to Margaret Langton for making us aware of the Lock House and the Damms family who had lived there, and to Brian and Janet Dammes for enabling us to scan the pictures in Margaret’s photo album.
The Lock House
The Lock House was built on land on the left-hand (southern) side of the canal where it goes through locks above (south east of) Muston canal bridge. This crudely triangular area is bounded by Stenwith Canal Lock (Lock 13) and the stream known as the River Devon, which passes through a conduit beneath the canal at this point. On its westward side the plot has a straight boundary with adjacent farm land.
During the 1930s, the occupants of the lock house were Jack and Margaret Topps: Jack was affectionately known as “Lockie Topps”. It is not certain when they left the house, but Sid Damms said that he had been there some 50 years before 2007, so it seems likely that the Damms family moved in some time in the late 1950s. By this time, traffic had ceased and the lock was falling into decay. The male members of the Damms family worked as labourers, but it is unlikely that they had much to do on the canal itself.
The canal is undergoing restoration by the Grantham Canal Society, the current phase being the rebuilding of the locks along the Woolsthorpe to Muston Bridge section of the waterway. Lock 15 has been completed, and work is under way on Lock 14, with Lock 13 scheduled to begin when funding has been secured. One consequence of this has been creation of a roadway from the road by Stenwith Mill Farm across the formerly open pasture to the works site between locks 14 and 13. This also gives access to the Lock House, which is allowing the house to be re-roofed and generally restored by its new private owner.
The Damms family
The last inhabitants of the Lock House up to the spring of 2007 were two bachelor brothers Sidney and Ronald Damms. Ronald died in 2004, aged 78, but Sidney stayed on until alone for three more years until he was taken ill and moved to a care home in Sleaford, where he died in 2010, aged 92. During their last years at the cottage, Ron and Sid where visited by Mrs Margaret Langton, a long-time friend, and it was she who raised the alarm when Sid was found to be seriously ill and in need of hospital treatment. After treatment in Grantham Hospital, he went to live at Oakdene Nursing Home, Sleaford, until his death in 2010, at age of 92. According to Sidney Damms’ obituary, the brothers had lived in the cottage for some fifty years.
Up until 2007, there were no services to the cottage. Water was taken from the canal and filtered through a bed of pebbles and sand outside the kitchen window. Their toilet was an old-fashioned outside ‘privvy’ standing to one side of the cottage. Lighting was by oil lamps. Coal, once delivered by barge, was used for cooking and heating. There was no road to the cottage. Access was on foot by crossing the gates at Lock 13 and then opening the gate through the canalside hedge that hid the cottage from view, or across the rough pasture between the cottage and the lane at Stenwith. Ron and Sid had a home-made hand-cart they used to drag across the pasture and then along the lane to the store at Woolsthorpe. For evening entertainment, they had a wind-up gramophone. Theirs was a lonely and simple life, cut off from the modern world, but they were content with each other’s company and to fend for themselves. They had done farm work all their lives, and had the income they could earn as a labourers augmented, most probably, by Sid’s military pension as an ex-serviceman and prisoner of war.
Ron and Sid were sons of John William (b.1879 Sibsey, Lincolnshire) and Ada Mary Damms (nee Francis). Ada may have been born in 1883 at Grantham, the seventh of eight children of Thomas Francis, a gardening labourer originally from Ingoldsby, Lincolnshire. John and Ada married in February 1905 when they lived at Retford’s Cottages, Bottesford. There were nine children, ‘Willie’ (Thomas William, born 1905), Gladys (b.1908), Hilda (b.1909), Edith Mary (b.1913), Sidney (b.1915), Ellen (b.1917), Edward Ernest (b.1919), Elsie (b.1923) and Ronald Henry (b.1925). As a general farm labourer, their father had to move at intervals to where there was work. Thomas William was baptised at Wanlip, near Leicester (on the 12th July 1908), as were his younger sisters Gladys and Hilda.
Thomas William (Bill) Dammes lived at Normanton, Bottesford, in 1939. In the census he gave his date of birth as 26th October 1906, his occupation as a general farm labourer, a “register lad”. With him in 1939 were his wife Phyllis Mary Dammes (nee Newcombe), their two-year old daughter Phyllis Mary and one other (record closed). They were married in 1935 in Grantham district. ‘Willie’ may also have been the Bill Dammes who in 1925 attested and joined the Royal Artillery, service number 1060127: no further details of his army career have been found. William Damms died in Grantham on the 27th July, 1994, aged 88 or 89, and is buried in St Sebastian’s churchyard, Great Gonerby.
Sid Dammes was born in 1915. He died in 2010 in Pilgrim Hospital, Boston, aged 94. He was a veteran of the Second World War, who returned to Britain in 1945 having being held prisoner by the Japanese army for more than three years since his capture during the fall of Singapore in February 1942. No military service records have been found for either Edward Ernest or Ronald Henry.
The family moved several times, presumably when John William moved to a new employer, particularly if accommodation would be provided. In 1905 they were at Retford’s Cottages, Bottesford, then from 1906 to 1909 at Wanlip, near Leicester. They then lived successively at Hill Farm, Bottesford, then Jericho, Barkestone-le-Vale (dates uncertain). By the time of the 1939 register, they had moved to Greenwoods Barn, Denton, where John William and Ada Damms were living with Edward and Ronald, plus one other (record closed). After 1945 they lived at Belvoir Village, but had moved finally the Stenwith Lock Cottage before 1960.
They were at Stenwith when John William Damms died in 1959. Ada died in hospital in 1967. After this, Sidney and Ronald stayed on at the Lock House, where Ronald Damms died in 2004, and Sidney lived on until 2007, which was also the year his brother Edward died.
During their years at the Lock House, Sid and Ron acquired a trove of old farm machinery and materials, which they kept in a range of sheds that they had built using spare beams, wood and even posts made from spare telegraph poles. Nothing went to waste. One shed had piles of boxes that had been used to store military explosives, and had a “Danger Radioactive Materials Keep Clear” sign propped up outside, all perfectly harmless (we hope). Next to the sheds, smothered in trees and branches, was a Fiat motor car, presumably beyond use.
Sidney Damms died in 2010, aged 94. His obituary reads: Mr Sidney Dammes [the name has been spelt Damms and Dammes] of Oakdene Care Home, Sleaford, has died at Pilgrom Hospital, Boston. He was 94.
Born at Bottesford to Ada and John Dammes, he was the fifth child and one of nine siblings.
The family lived at Hill Farm, Bottesford, and father and sons worked on the land for the Cole brothers. They later moved to Jericho, at Barkestone-le-Vale, where they were employed by the Rowbotham family, living and working on the farm. Later the family moved to Greenwood Barn, Denton, working for Arthur Sheardown at Denton Lodge.
In November 1937 he joined the British Army as a gunner in the Royal Artillery and completed his training at Woolwich, later transferring to Yorkshire and Staffordshire then sailing for Singapore. He was in the Far East when war broke out and after an honourable surrender he was taken prisoner by the Japanese on February 13th, 1942. He was first taken to Kepel Harbour and then Saigon, Hanoi and finally Bangkok, where he worked on the Bangkok to Moulmine railway, known as the Burmah railway.
After the Second World War he had various jobs. He worked for the Electricity Board, Corby Steel Works and the Belvoir estate. His final employment was for W.J Roberts as a labourer on various sites.
The family had moved to Belvoir village and then finally to Lock Cottage, Stenwith, where Mr Dammes lived for fifty years without electricity and mains water, cooking on an open fire – but a life he enjoyed. Following a stroke he was admitted to Grantham Hospital and then to Oakdene Care Home, where he enjoyed life and always appreciated visits from family and friends. The Rev Paul Botting conducted the funeral service at Grantham Crematorium.
Sidney had become a prisoner-of-war with the fall of Singapore in 1942. His three years of captivity, included a prolonged spell working on the Burmah Railway. On Friday 22nd October 1943, the Grantham Journal reported: Good News of Son – News has been received that Gunner Sidney Damms R.A., second son of Mr and Mrs John W Damms, Denton Lodge, previously reported missing, is a prisoner-of-war in Japanese hands. One of a family of nine, Gnr Damms before volunteering for the Forces before the outbreak of war, was employed by Mr A. Sheardown, farmer, Denton.
Sidney survived his hardships and returned to England in 1945, as recorded by the Grantham Journal on Friday October 26th 1945: “Ex-P.O.W.’s Return – After an absence of more than seven years, three as a prisoner-of-war in Japanese hands, Pte. Sidney Damms arrived at the home of his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Damms of Denton Lodge, on Saturday. Pte. Damms, who was a time-serving soldier, and was stationed at Singapore, was taken prisoner when the great naval base was captured, and his parents did not hear a word respecting him until a month ago when a telegram arrived informing that he was safe and well …”
A Listed building
Historic England designated the Lock House on the Grantham Canal, Stenwith, a Grade II Listed Building in December 2013 because of its historic interest, rarity and completeness, describing it as an unaltered and un-enlarged canal building dating to the most prolific period of canal construction, which appears tohave suffered little alteration, externally or internally. … the original interior plan survives, together with early fixtures and joinery.
From the listing description, we learn that the Lock House housed the keeper (and, presumably, his family) responsible for Lock 13 on the Grantham Canal, opened in 1797, the longest of the ten canals in the region engineered by engineer William Jessop. It was most profitable in 1841, but traffic declined following its acquisition by the Grantham to Nottingham Railway in 1861. It was finally closed in 1936 by the then owners, the London and North East Railway. British Waterways placed the canal in a ‘remaindered’ state in 1968, keeping it in water but not in a navigable state. Development brought with it a range of buildings needed to service and maintain the canal.
It is not known when exactly the Lock House was built, but it appears to date to the end of the C18 or the early C19, a little after the opening of the canal, and to have remained in use until at least the operational decline and closure of the canal in the early C20. Management of traffic through locks was often complex and time-consuming, with the lock keeper being responsible not only for traffic but also for the sound condition of the lock.
The Lock House is built of red brick with gable chimneys and a pantile roof. The exterior appears to have had an external render which has now largely decayed. The house is of single room depth, with an off-centre doorway facing away from the canal within a single-storey gabled porch. The porch gives access to a narrow central hall passage and a dog-leg stair. Either side of the hall is a ground-floor room, each with a hearth in the end wall. Beyond the north-west room is the added lean-to with its hearth. The staircase gives access to three upper floor rooms, the two bedrooms at either end of the upper floor opening off a landing located above the hall. The building retained original four-panel doors, moulded architraves, and hearthside cupboards. Its ground-floor rooms retained cast-iron ranges, whilst the first-floor rooms had small hearths with substantial contemporary surrounds.
… in a state of dilapidation
There are descriptions posted on the internet by an anonymous researcher, ‘HughieD’, in 2014 and 2018. In April 2018, the ‘Derelict Places’ and ‘28 Days Later Urban Exploration’ websites both published a blog by ‘HughieD’ which gives a short account of the lock house and its dilapidation, accompanied by a series of striking photographs showing the condition of the building at that time – follow the link to have a look at these. ‘HughieD’ commented that, the lock house hit the news in 2007 when it failed to sell at auction at a guide price of £250,000 due to the lack of running water, electricity, bath-room and road access. Previous owners included John and Margaret Topps. The nearby lock was previously referred to as ‘Jack Topp’s Lock’. After its failure to sell at auction the cottage it remained empty and started to fall into disrepair. Ironically the cottage became Grade II listed in December 2013. It lay abandoned and rather forlorn; its garden overgrown and extensive outbuildings falling to pieces. All of the windows in the house itself smashed but due to the roof being mostly intact, the structure of the house wasn’t too bad. Its fate was sealed however in Spring 2017 when it suffered a pretty serious fire.
‘HughieD’ had also visited the empty lock house before, notably in 2014 when he posted an earlier set of pictures on the Derelict Places website:
There is also a photograph of the lock house taken after the fire in 2017 taken by Simon Cobb, posted in Wikimedia Commons (reproduced in this post).
Restoration of the lock house
In Summer, 2020, after being empty for some thirteen years, and following the fire in 2017,the Lock House is undergoing refurbishment which includes constructing a new roof, following planning approval by South Kesteven Council in 2019.