Trade upon the Sleaford Navigation was to be with the Midlands and Yorkshire. Agricultural produce from the Sleaford area, corn and other cereals, would be exported and coal, for both domestic and industrial purposes, imported. Most of the industrial development and growth happened at the terminus of the Navigation and by 1825 Sleaford had developed into a thriving market town as a result of the river and its trade. The population of Sleaford rose from 1,609 to just over 2,300 in approximately 25 years.
The importance of the corn trade to the Midlands is evidenced by the amount of warehousing for corn which appeared in Sleaford. The leasing contract of April 1808 for the Navigation’s warehouse states the many rules which the lessee had to adhere to specific to the goods which they handled. Corn, wheat, barley and oats are to be treated under one rule. Wine, perry, cider, tea, hops, rice, fruit, salt, malt, flour, oil, seeds, nails, and coal were to be considered as another group when calculating tolls. It seems highly likely that the contents of the second list were goods imported into Sleaford at that time.
By 1825 Francis Reast was using the Navigation to facilitate his trade in coal and corn by operating a packet service carrying both goods and passengers to Boston. In 1830 Reast had two steam packets ‘Three Brothers’ and ‘Off-She-Goes’ which left every Tuesday at 10am. John Smith of Eastgate was another wharfinger who was a regular weekly trader to Lincoln, Nottingham and Derby.
The introduction of oil seed from Hull and Grimsby to Simpson’s Oil Mill between Cogglesford Mill and Dyer’s Mill Locks served as another source of highly lucrative trade. The oil cake that Simpson’s manufactured was then exported to London. Wool was also carried on the Sleaford Navigation, requiring special warehouses to be constructed.
Just off Carre Street was the ‘Lee and Green Bottled Water Factory.’ Its success lay mainly in the fact that there was a very big Methodist temperance movement in Sleaford and safe drinking water did not become available until the end of the century. There was also a level of light engineering here too. In the 1850s William Henry Smith & Co. produced steam ploughs, the 1860s saw a brass and iron foundry owned by John Henry Payne and there were also four manufacturers of coaches and carriages, one of which was the Fox Brothers. According to the details of land ownership, the Payne family controlled much of the southern end of Carre Street. They were involved in a diverse number of businesses; manufacturing oilcake, trading coal and corn, milling, the iron foundry, lime burning and timber sales. The Paynes had a separate wharf and a number of vessels which aided the development of their business.
By 1836 the financial situation of Sleaford was strong, trade was booming and so were profits. A clear indication of this can be seen in the prices of the lease for control of Navigational tolls, warehouse and wharf. The lease of toll rights in 1829 saw a figure of £50 per annum, whereas 7 years later the lease was £1,340 per annum. Such was the level of trade upon the Sleaford Navigation that an office for the company was constructed in 1839. Contained within the building were a weighing machine, a weighing office and Clerk’s dwelling. Despite original plans for a ‘shed’, the finished building was a ‘suitable house’ as requested by the committee. The change in size and cost could have well been determined by the healthy level of trade that they were experiencing.