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The Life and Work of James Abernethy, C.E., F.R.S.E

TOURING the construction of the Alexandra Dock at Hull, Mr. Abernethy was also acting as consulting engineer to the new dock at Boston, the designs for which had been prepared by Mr. W. H. Wheeler, M.I.C.E., who also superintended the work throughout. The port, which is situated on the mouth of the river Witham, shortly before it reaches the Wash on the east coast, was at one time one of the chief places for the import and export of goods from Flanders and the Low Countries. Large quantities of wine from the Rhine and Elbe for the use of the monasteries, and merchandise from the Continent were delivered at Boston and Lynn; while corn, wood, leather, and other goods were exported in return. But from the fourteenth century it began to decline as a commercial port, its trade being diverted to other places, though a considerable trade remained till the increased draught of ships, difficulties of navigation, and the want of floating accommodation, had nearly reduced it to the condition of an inland town. In 1880 an Act of Parliament was obtained for improving the outfall of the Witliam, which being obliged hitherto to find its way to the Wash through a mass of shifting sands, afforded a very imperfect discharge, and in times of heavy rainfall the lands were constantly flooded. The Outfall Board was constituted of representatives from the Witham Drainage and Black Sluice Tiust, the two principal drainage sj-stems, and the Boston Harbour Commissioners. A new cut, about three miles in length, was commenced from the point where the harbour authorities’ previous improvements in training the river had ceased, and extended into deep water as advised in 1793, and subsequently by Mr, Rennie and Sir John Hawkshaw. This cut is 130 feet wide at the bottom with slopes of 4 to 1, and has 27 feet of water at high water of ordinary spring tides, the width of the top of the cutting, which is level with ordinary high water, being 300 feet.

This improvement of the Witham, rendered feasible the construction of a dock at Boston, and from its geographical position as the nearest port to the coalfields of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire on the one side, and the Continent on the other, it is well situated for the export of coals, salt, machinery, etc., and the import of timber, grain, and agricultural produce, in return.

The Corporation of the town in their capacity of Harbour Commissioners, obtained the Act to make the dock in 1881, the money to be raised on the security of the harbour tolls and borough revenue. In the House of Lords, the Bill was strongly opposed by the Ocean Dock Company, who in the same Session were promoting a Bill for a dock lower down the river, but the Boston Dock Bill passed, and work was commenced in 1882. This consisted of a dock 825 feet long by 450 feet at the widest end, the area being nearly seven acres; a lock 300 feet by 50 feet, with two pairs of gates, the depth of water at the sill at ordinary spring tides being 25 feet, excavation and dredging of the bank at its entrance, a swing bridge 12b feet long across the river to connect the dock with the goods yard of the Great Northern Railway, and two miles of line. The dock walls are 32 feet 6 inches in height from the toe to the coping; 13 feet 6 inches thick at the base, and 6 feet at the top, having a batter on the face of 1 in 4 for the first 10 feet above the floor, and 1 in 16 for the upper part, and were constructed of concrete formed of 5 parts of burnt clay ballast, 1 part of sand, 2 of sea shingle, 1 of Portland cement.

As the concrete was deposited, rough blocks of concrete stone, as taken from the quarries near Sleaford, were embedded, the quantity forming one-fourth of the whole mass, no stone being allowed to be near the face or within 6 inches of another stone. The foundations and braces of the lock were made of similar concrete to that employed in the dock wails, out in the case of the lock, the walls were faced throughout with Staffordshire blue bricks, the blocks of brickwood for the facing being alternately, 1 foot 6 inches and 3 feet, while the sill and hollow quoins were of Cornish granite. The dock gates were built of pitch pine with green-heart heel mitre posts and bottom ribs, each gate measuring 29 feet 6 inches in length, 32 feet in height, and 2 feet 7 inches in depth at the lowest part. Mr. C. D. W. Parker, C.E., was resident engineer during the principal part of the time, when he obtained an appointment at the Hull Docks, and was succeeded by Mr. R. J. Allen, C.E.



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