Early attempts at Drainage

The first major attempt to drain the Black Sluice Area was by the Earl of Lindsey in 1635 - 1638.

The Earl of Lindsey and others contracted with the Lincolnshire Commissioners of Sewers to carry out a main drainage scheme for the reclaimation of 36,000 acres of land in Holland and Kesteven in what is now the Black Sluice Area.

This area was referred to as the "Lindsey Level" in Dugdale's "History of Imbanking and Drayning" and consisted of common lands in the parishes or "Towns" in Holland and Kesteven.

These lands had been subjected to centuries of flooding and overflowing and were of little agricultural use.

A main drainage scheme of some magnitude was required to improve these lands, but the cumbersome administrative machinery of the Commissioners of Sewers had proved inadequate to sponsor the necessary works.

The Earl and his associates carried out and paid for the scheme previously agreed with the Commissioners, in consideration of land grants.

The scheme included the building of the first Black Sluice probably known as "Skirbeck Sluice". The South Forty Foot Drain was cut through Holland Fen from Boston to Great Hale and two drains southwards to Guthram (known as the Double Twelves) and the Clay Dyke Drain were cut.

The works met with opposition from the landowners and were largely destroyed. This may be why the area became known as Black Sluice after the burnt out sluice at Boston. Parliament repudiated the Contract with the Earl and the scheme fell into disuse for a period of over 100 years.

The works, which cost £45,000, were later re-used as the basis of the 1765 Black Sluice Scheme.

The inadequacy of the River Witham prompted an attempt in 1720 to drain the fens north of the Kyme Eau by means of a drain cut through Holland Fen to discharge at Boston.

Earl Fitzwilliam cut the North Forty Foot Drain and constructed Lodewicks Gowt Sluice to discharge into the River Witham at Boston on a site adjacent to the present Grand Sluice.

This work proved inadequate for its purposes but was the forerunner of the 1761 River Witham Scheme.

The North Forty Foot Drain is now the main pump drain to Cooks Lock Pumping Station and Holland Fen Pump draining some 10,000 acres of Holland Fen.

The Eighteenth Century Acts

The pressing land drainage needs of the eighteenth century revealed the inadequacies of the Commissioners of Sewers to undertake the necessary works. Their powers were mainly supervisory, fresh legislation was required to carry out new works.

The first of the Eighteenth Century Acts was the Witham Act of 1762 constituting the Witham General Commissioners.

The River Witham was released from the control of any Commissioners of Sewers.

The Act constituted the Witham Second and Sixth District Commissioners, now part of the Black Sluice Area, and these Commissioners looked after Holland Fen, South Kyme, Great Hale, Little Hale, Heckington, Ewerby, Howell and Asgarby.

The Act implemented the proposals of Messrs John Grundy, Langley Edwards and John Smeeton for straightening and improving the River Witham and its tributaries and the construction of the Grand Sluice at Boston.

These works safeguarded Holland Fen and the other lands from the overflowing and flooding of the River Witham and its tributaries and paved the way for the Black Sluice Scheme of 1765.

The Great Flood of 1763 revived the necessity for a major land drainage improvement for what is now the Black Sluice Area.

On 28th April 1764 a meeting of land proprietors was held at Donington pursuant to an advertisement for that purpose. The meeting considered a report made by Mr Langley Edwards for providing a better and more effective discharge of the waters now draining through Lodewick and Redstone Gowts and for the safety of all the lands chargeable by Redstone Gowt Law.

Lodewick and Redstone Gowts were the principal sluices discharging into the River Witham at Boston from what is now the Black Sluice Area.

The lands chargeable by Redstone Gowt Law, were the lands subject to pay drainage taxes to the Commissioners of Sewers.

The proprietors sponsored a private act of Parliament authorising the carrying out of a main drainage scheme for the Black Sluice Area.

On 17th June 1765 the first meeting of the Black Sluice Commissioners was held pursuant to the Act of Parliament 5 Geo. III Cap. 86. The Act defined the taxable boundary of the Commissioners and discharged the lands from the jurisdiction of the Commissioners of Sewers. The taxable area was approximately 64,000 acres, and the drainage taxes were 9d., 4d. and 3d. per acre.

The Act authorised the carrying out of the main drainage scheme set out by Langley Edwards which adapted much of the work previously carried out by the Earl of Lindsey in 1636.

A new sluice was constructed at the lower end of the South Forty Foot on the spot where the old Black Sluice formerly stood. The sluice was built with a centre opening of 19 feet and two side openings of 14 feet width with a cill level of -3.5 O.D. Newlyn. The width between the outside abutments was 56 feet.

The South Forty Foot Drain was scoured and cleansed from Boston to Great Hale (8 miles), and a new length of the South Forty Foot Drain was cut from Hale Fen southwards to Guthram (13 miles). The Highland streams were scoured and embanked (65 miles).

This work cost more than the estimated cost of £16,000. The initial works were financed by the issue of Bonds bearing interest at 5%, but it became necessary to increase the drainage taxes under the Black Sluice Act of 1770 to meet the cost.

The Black Sluice Area was then provided with a main drainage system and Commissioners with the necessary authority and finance to maintain it.

At the time of the passing of the Black Sluice Act, the system of draining the Farm dykes and drains was by means of windmills driving scoop wheels. Edward Hare's maps of the Black Sluice Area dated 1783, show 46 mills draining an area of 32,000 acres. The total acreage then drained by windmills was probably in the region of 50,000 acres. The Bourne Fen Award dated 1766 refers to "Guthram Engine", "Hockerston's Engine" and "Pepper's Engine" in Bourne Fen, driving 15 feet diameter scoop wheels, draining an area of 3,000 acres.

These mills or "engines" as they were called were constructed and maintained under the terms of the Parish Award.

The Opening of the Grant Sluice at Boston on the 15 th October 1766 marked the first stage of improvement in the River Witham, upon which the drainage of the Black Sluice Area chiefly depended.

The Grand Sluice excluded the tide from the river above Boston, thereby safeguarding the Holland Fen Area from tidal flooding.

Below Boston the tidal river channel was shallow and tortuous, and protection from the tide was provided by sea banks under the jurisdiction of the Boston Court of Sewers.

The creation of the Boston Harbour Commissioners under the Boston Port Act of 1766 was undertaken for the benefit of navigation in the Haven. The Boston Harbour Commissioners, however, initiated the straightening of the tidal river below Boston for improving the navigation, which also benefited the discharge of waters from the Black Sluice by lowering the tide levels at Boston.

The Second Black Sluice Act of 1770 increased the Drainage Taxes to 1/6d, 9d and 6d per acre for the completion of the Black Sluice Scheme, and further highland streams were taken over.

In 1800 the Black Sluice Commissioners considered the flooding of Bourne North Fen from the Bourne Eau in the south of their area.

The maintenance of the north bank of the Bourne Eau for a length of 3 miles had become the responsibility of the Black Sluice Commissioners by way of the Black Sluice Act of 1765. The Bourne Eau is an embanked river with a catchment area of 3,600 acres, and the North Bank was founded on a peat sub-soil which was constantly settling, and this defeated all attempts at raising the height. The Black Sluice Commissioners suffered considerable trouble from the overflowing and breaking of the bank, thereby flooding Bourne Fen (4,000 acres) where the land level was only 0.0m O.D. Newlyn. To relieve the flood levels and the pressures on the banks, the Bourne Eau Navigation Trustees agreed to the Black Sluice Commissioners erecting a part of pointing doors on Tongue End Sluice in the Bourne Eau and the construction of an overfall in the Bourne Eau bank discharging into the Weir Dyke in Bourne Fen. The overfall was constructed with a crest level of +14.3 O.D. Newlyn and probably consisted of three timber sluice doors with a total width of 20 feet. The overfall was made redundant by the Bourne Eau Pumps in 1966, which discharged the water into the River Glen.

On 10th November 1810 an extraordinary high tide occurred in the River Witham and the Wash. The tide reached a level of +17.33 O.D. Newlyn in the River Witham. The sea banks were overtopped and breached and a considerable area of agricultural land was inundated to the east of Boston, which area was then under the jurisdiction of the Court of Sewers and is now part of the Black Sluice Area.

The following is an extract of a report to the Court from the Dykereeve of Kirton:-

    "Last night (10th November) a very extraordinary high tide occurred occasioned by a violent gale of wind and nearly the whole of the sea banks within the said Wapentake was overflowed and several large breaches were made therein particularly in the Parishes of Skirbeck Quarter, Wyberton, Frampton, Algarkirk and Fosdyke, and the adjacent country was inundated to a great extent.."

A "Wapentake" was a Saxon administrative division or "Hundred". The Kirton Wapentake, 23,000 acres, came within the jurisdiction of the Boston Court of Sewers, until they were abolished in 1934, when approximately 12,000 acres of the area were brought under the jurisdiction of the Black Sluice Internal Drainage Board.

The "Dykereeve" was an official appointed by the Court of Sewers for each parish to supervise the drains and banks in the parish and collect the drainage taxes imposed by the Court, usually a few pence per acre.

The tide of the 10th November 1810 rose to approximately the same height in the River Witham as the tide of 31st January 1953.

In 1820 the Boston Court of Sewers fixed the height of the sea banks at +19.33ft O.D. Newlyn or 2 feet above the level of the 1810 tide. Stones were ordered to be built into the Roman Bank in the various Parishes to record the level to which the crest of the sea bank was to be maintained. The Roman Bank was under the jurisdiction of the Court of Sewers and remained so until taken over by the Witham and Steeping Rivers Catchment Board in 1930.

A tide of similar height to that of 1810 occurred in 1820, and caused severe damage to the banks and lands in the Court of Sewers area.

At around the same time the Boston Harbour Commissioners carried out works for the straightening of the River Witham tidal channel (The Haven) for the improvement of the navigation of the river. These works had a beneficial effect on reducing the level of low tide at the Black Sluice, Boston. The Black Sluice Commissioners were later to join in the scheme for the improvement of the tidal portion of the River Witham below Boston.

The straightening works through Burton's Marsh were 800 yards long and allowed Boston Corporation to reclaim 300 acres of land, which is now Lenton's Farm, on the south side of the river.

A second cut 800 yards long through Corporation Marsh enabled a further 150 acres of land to be reclaimed on the south side of the river in 1866, which is now Slippery Gowt Farm.

Recurring flooding and agricultural losses continued in the Black Sluice area, and the Black Sluice Commissioners again needed to consider improving the main drainage of their area. The Commissioners considered reports by their surveyors, Mr W Lewin and Sir John Rennie in 1843 and 1845 respectively for the cutting of a catchwater drain to intercept the highland waters from 60,000 acres from entering the Black Sluice system. A Parliamentary Bill to give effect to these proposals was not carried.

In 1846, the Black Sluice Commissioners accepted a Report by Mr W Cubit on a scheme for improving the drainage of Black Sluice area by an improvement of the existing works. This Scheme included the construction of the present (Third) Black Sluice at Boston, with 2 No. 20 feet sluiceways fitted with timber pointing doors on the tidal side and 1 No. 20 feet Navigation Lock. The sluice was built immediately to the south of the 1765 sluice, with a cill level of 9.5 ft O.D. Newlyn of 6 feet lower. The South Forty Foot Drain was lowered 6 feet at the Black Sluice giving a bottom gradient of 3 inches to a mile, together with the improvement of the tributary drains.

At the time of writing of the 1846 Report, steam was beginning to be used as a motive power for land drainage. W H Wheeler makes reference to the Drainage Engine in Bourne Fen (4,000 acres) as follows:-

A 15 feet diameter iron scoop wheel 4' 3" wide with 30 scoops 3' 10" long with a dip of 2 feet and a lift of 4 feet, head and dip together 6 feet. The wheel was driven by a Butterley Condensing Steam Engine 30 N.H.P. boiler pressure of 6 lbs. per square inch. The engine had a 45" diameter cylinder. The engine ran at 19 revolutions per minute and the wheel at 4 revolutions per minute. The coal consumption was 2 tons per day.

This was the first use of steam motive power for land drainage in the Black Sluice Area. The Engine was erected in accordance with the provisions of the Bourne Fen Drainage Act 1841.

In South Kyme Fen (2,000 acres) W H Wheeler referred to a 20 N.H.P. horizontal steam engine driving a centrifugal pump manufactured in 1874 by Tuxfords, the Ironfounders of Boston. This was an early type of submerged centrifugal pump and was described as having a 36" disc discharging 2,000 cubic feet per minute or 56 tons per minute 5 feet high. In terms of land drainage pump rating the output was 10 cusecs per thousand acres. This pump was working when it was taken over by the Black Sluice Board in 1935. It was then driven by a 50 horse power single cylinder horizontal hot bulb paraffin engine. The drive was by means of an inclined belt driving the pump pulley which was situated approximately 12 feet below engine room floor level, the pump was solidly built into the race of the scoop wheel which it had replaced. Discharge was vertically upwards through a trap door, there was no suction or discharge piping.

A map of the Black Sluice Area dated about 1856 showed 9 steam drainage engines and 8 wind drainage engines, draining an area of approximately 18,000 acres.

In 1880 the River Witham Outfall Improvement Act was constituted which gave the powers to carry out the making of a new cut approximately 2 miles long at the outfall of the River Witham, extending from Hobhole Sluice seawards to Clayhole. This work cost £161,000 and the Black Sluice Commissioners contributed £65,000 towards the cost of the works which reduced the Black Sluice low tide level by 4 ft.

Between 1910 and 1920 the interior Boards began to install oil and paraffin engines to drive the pumps which were used to pump water from the interior areas into the South Forty Foot Drain, and by the time the Black Sluice Internal Drainage Board was formed in 1935 there were 15 such engines operating alongside the South Forty Foot Drain.

The whole character of the Black Sluice Commissioners was changed when the Black Sluice Internal Drainage Board was constituted under the provisions of the Land Drainage Act 1930.

The Black Sluice Commissioners had functioned as a minor catchment board, maintaining highland watercourses and banks within their area and supervising Interior Board.

The Black Sluice Internal Drainage Board took over the duties and liabilities of the Interior Boards and over the next 30 year period divested themselves of their liabilities in connection with the passage of highland water through their area, in order to confine their duties to lowland watercourses and pumps.

In 1939 following further difficulties with the drainage, a report by F H Tomes culminated in the Black Sluice at Boston and the South Forty Foot Drain from Boston to Guthram being taken over by the Witham and Steeping Rivers Catchment Board with a view to the construction of the Black Sluice Pumping Station and the widening of the South Forty Foot Drain from Boston to Donington Bridge.

In 1946 the Black Sluice Pumping Station came into operation together with the widening of 11 miles of the South Forty Foot Drain from Boston to Donington Bridge. The Black Sluice Pumping Station was equipped with 3 Ruston vertical five cylinder 900 horse power diesel engines driving 100" diameter vertical spindle pumps. The work was carried out and financed by the Witham and Steeping Rivers Catchment Board at a cost of £374,000.

An extraordinary high tide occurred on the 31st January 1953 which caused widespread damage and loss of life in areas north of Skegness and on the Norfolk coast. A tidal surge of approximately 8 feet in height was created on the Lincolnshire Coast by low barometric pressure in the North Sea and a north east wind, Force 9-10. The tide in the River Witham rose to + 17.40 ft O.D. Newlyn.

The only damage to the Black Sluice area was overtopping of private sea banks on Battery Farm, near Boston, and Bradley's Farm on Wyberton Marsh, flooding approximately 120 acres.

Between 1950 and 1958 the Board constructed six electrically driven land drainage Pumping Stations and one diesel Pumping Station to improve the drainage of approximately 11,000 acres of low lying land. The remaining land depended on very old pumps and gravity drainage to Black Sluice.

The Black Sluice outfall pumps had operated for ten years to relieve the flood levels in the South Forty Foot Drain and tributaries but the resulting water levels were not sufficient to drain the land to the standards required by modern agriculture.

Therefore at their meeting on 21 st December 1960 the Board adopted a scheme estimated to cost £1.4 million for the provision of interior pumps in the Black Sluice area with a view to bringing the drainage of the area up to modern agricultural requirements by controlling water levels to 3 feet below the lowest land level under run-off conditions of 20 cusecs per 1,000 acres. The scheme involved the pumping of an additional 70,000 acres of land into the South Forty Foot Drain, together with the replacement of existing pumps. The Lincolnshire River Board was approached and agreed to install an additional two 100" pumps at the Black Sluice Pumping Station and improve 7 miles of the South Forty Foot Drain from Donington Bridge to Rippingale Running Dyke to deal with the additional discharge. It was also agreed that the Lincolnshire River Board would take over from the Black Sluice Board and raise the banks on 41 miles of highland drains, in anticipation of higher flood levels.

This work was carried out between 1962 and 1968 and proved itself when higher flood flows in 1968/69 were dealt with within a margin of safety.

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