River trade began in the Audomarois region as early as the Middle Ages, with an important crossroads between Saint-Omer and Aire-sur-la-Lys. Between 1753 and 1774, the Neuffossé canal was dug, linking the two cities for defensive purposes, then economically via the link with Lille from 1825. The route passes through the town of Arques, where a 13-meter slope must be crossed to climb the slope of the Aa valley. A series of locks with several successive sluices was installed, but the growth in traffic led to waits of 5 to 6 days, i.e. 100 boats!
To remedy this, it was decided to build an elevating machine. Although the initial plan was to double the number of lock chambers, the introduction of the Freycinet plan in 1879 pushed up the construction budget, and a new call for projects was launched. The elevator was built in 1887 by engineer Bertin, using a counterpart across the Channel, Edwin Clark, who had built a similar model at Anderton, one of the oldest in the world.