Water, Water Everywhere
Prior to the 17th Century life in East Anglia had been dominated by the vast lowland marshes called the Fens. These flooded on a regular basis and, although they provided the local population with livelihoods based on fish, fowl and building materials, the floods were unpredictable and caused many deaths by drowning. Many landowners wished to make the area more productive through conventional agricultural practices, which could only be achieved through large-scale drainage schemes.
Work to drain the Fens had begun in the years preceding the outbreak of the civil war. Led by the Earl of Bedford and the Dutch engineer Vermuyden, the project had had the backing of King Charles 1st. Oliver Cromwell, as a man of the Fens, took an active interest in the project but was initially against the scheme, mainly because the king's involvement. However, after the execution of King Charles, Cromwell gave his full support to Vermuyden, and work to drain the Fens began again in earnest.
Despite Cromwell's reassurances, many Fenlanders were fiercely opposed to the draining, believing it would deprive them of their traditional means of livelihood. Acts of vandalism against the dykes, ditches and sluices involved were common, but by the end of the 17th Century much of this hugely ambitious project had been completed.
Wind engines were originally used as the power source to raise water, with their great sails scooping water up and across into higher drains. Later, steam pumps powered these windmills instead, followed by diesel and electric pumps as time went on. Over the years, as it was realised that the Fens were still sinking, and the riverbanks still high, new sluices were built and drainage is now mechanical.
In 1947 none of the drainage measures in place could cope with terrible flooding, and many parts of the Fen land were completely flooded. Work goes on to this day to prevent this tragedy occurring again.
The following books and videos are available from the Tourist Information Centre. Please contact the Tourist Information Centre for details on how to order:
Book and Videos available from TIC
|Water Water Everywhere, Trevor Bevis||£3.90|
|The Draining of the Fens, Trevor Bevis||£3.90|
|The Black Fens, H.J.Mason||£1.95|
|The River Makers, Trevor Bevis||£3.95|
|Prisoners of the Fens, Trevor Bevis||£2.40|