The Great Fen
The Great Fen or simply the fens or the fenland, stretches across a huge area of the eastern counties, in Huntingdonshire, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Lincolnshire and the Soke of Peterborough in Northamptonshire. It is a low-lying area, much of it below sea level, a naturally marshy region. Once the Great Fen was a vast landscape of marshes, bogs and reeds, with seasonal fields and small farms amidst the waters, all cut through with innumerable channels; slow-moving rivers and man-made lodes, from which occasional islands emerged on which stood the fenland villages.
The whole occupies an area of nearly 1,500 square miles. Ultimately the land drains down to the Wash and it is around the Wash that the Great Fen spreads to east into southern Lincolnshire and west into northern Norfolk and but far further south deep into Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire, to the edge of Huntingdon and of Cambridge.
Almost all of of the fens were drained several centuries ago. The result today is a vast, flat agricultural landscape.
An individual fen is the local name for an individual area of marshland or former marshland, often bordered by slightly higher, habitable land.
Most of the Fenland lies within a few feet of sea-level. As with similar areas in the Netherlands], much of the Fenland originally consisted of fresh- or salt-water wetlands, which have been artificially drained and continue to be protected from floods by drainage banks and pumps. Even with these protections, floods which leave many square miles under water are frequent in parts, not least in the Bedford Levels.
- 1 Farming
- 2 Landscape
- 3 Formation and geography
- 4 History
- 5 Draining the Fens
- 6 Modern farming in the Fens
- 7 Reflooding the Fens
- 8 Fen towns
- 9 Huntingdonshire=
- 10 The Fens in fiction
- 11 Similar areas
- 12 Outside links
- 13 References
With the support of the drainage system, the Fenland has become a major arable agricultural region, one of the best in Britain for grains and vegetables. The Fens are particularly fertile, containing around half of the Grade 1 agricultural land in Britain.
Without artificial drainage and flood protection, the Fens would be liable to periodic flooding, particularly in winter due to the heavy load of water flowing down from the uplands and overflowing the rivers. Some areas of the Fens were once permanently flooded, creating small lakes, while others were only flooded during periods of high water.
In the pre-modern period arable farming was limited to the higher areas of the surrounding uplands, the fen islands and the so-called Townlands, an arch of silt ground around the Wash where the towns had their arable fields. Though these lands were lower than the peat fens before the peat shrinkage began, the more stable silt soils were reclaimed by medieval farmers and embanked against any floods coming down from the peat areas or from the sea. The rest of the Fenland was dedicated to pastoral farming, fishing, fowling and the harvesting of reeds or sedge, for example for thatch. In this way, the medieval and early modern Fens stood in contrast to the rest of southern England, which was primarily an arable agricultural region.
Since the advent of modern drainage in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the Fens have been radically transformed, so that today arable farming has almost entirely replaced pastoral and the economy of the Fens is heavily invested in the growing of crops such as grains, vegetables and some cash crops such as rapeseed or canola.
The Fens are very low-lying compared with the chalk and limestone uplands that surround them – in most places no more than 30 feet above sea level. Indeed, as a result of drainage and the subsequent shrinkage of the peat fens, many parts of the Fens now lie below mean sea level. Although one writer in the seventeenth century described the Fenland as all lying above sea level (in contrast to the Netherlands), the area contains the lowest land point in the United Kingdom, in Holme Fen, in Huntingdonshire, at around 9 feet below sea level.
Within the Fens there are a number of low hills, which were islands in the fen before the fens were drained; in those days the islands remained dry when the low-lying fens around them were flooded and it is on the islands that fenland villages were found. The largest of the fen-islands is that of Ely, on which the cathedral city of Ely stands; the Cathedral stands at its summit, at 128 feet above mean sea-level.
The names of the villages give clues to the days when they stood on islands; many have names ending "-ey", which the Old English -eg, meaning "island", amongst them Ely, Ramsey, Huntingdonshire, Stuntney, Coveney, Sothery, Hilgay, Pidley and Thorney.
Drainage in the Fenland consists of both river drainage and internal drainage of the land between the rivers. The internal drainage was organized by levels or districts, each of which includes the fen parts of one or several parishes. The details of the organization vary with the history of their development, but the areas include:
- The [[Bedford Levels|Bedford Level or Great Level is the largest region of fen in eastern England: including the lower drainage basins of the River Nene and the Great Ouse, it covers approximately 500 square miles. It is known as the Bedford Level after Francis Russell, 4th Earl of Bedford, who headed the adventurers (investors) in the seventeenth century drainage in this area. His son, the First Duke of Bedford, became the first governor of the Bedford Level Corporation. In the seventeenth century, the Great Level was divided into the North, Middle and South Levels for the purposes of administration and maintenance. In the twentieth century, these levels have gained new boundaries, and include some fens which were never part of the jurisdiction of the Bedford Level Corporation.
- The South Level lies to the southeast of the Ouse Washes and surrounds Ely, as it did in the seventeenth century.
- The Middle Level currently lies between the Hundred Foot Washes and the Nene, but historically lay between the Ouse Washes and Morton's Leam, a fifteenth century canal which runs north of the town of Whittlesey.
- The North Level now includes all of the fens in Northamptonshire and Lincolnshire between the Nene and the River Welland, but originally included only a small part of these lands, and included those of the ancient parishes of Thorney, Cambridgeshire and Crowland, but excluding most of Wisbech Hundred and Lincolnshire, which were under their own local jurisdictions.
- Deeping Fen, in the southern part of Lincolnshire, lies between the River Welland and the River Glen with its tributary the Bourne Eau.
- The Black Sluice District, much of which was known as the Lindsey Level when it was first drained in 1639, extends from the Glen and Bourne Eau to Swineshead. Its water is carried through to The Haven at Boston.
The above were all re-drained at one time or another after the Civil War of 1642-1649.
- The Witham Commission Fens:
- First District: from Washingborough to Billinghay Dales;
- Second District: Blacksluice – Holland Fen;
- Third District: north of the River Witham above Bardney;
- Fourth District: East, West and Wildmore Fens and the Townland from Boston to Wainfleet;
- Fifth District: Kyme Eau to Billinghay Skirth;
- Sixth District: Blacksluice – Helpringham Eau to Kyme Eau.
These latter areas were drained in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Formation and geography
At the end of the most recent Ice Age, known in Britain as the Devensian, ten thousand years ago, Europe was attached to Britain by the ridge between Friesland and Norfolk. The topography of the bed of the North Sea indicates that the rivers of the southern part of eastern England flowed together and were joined by the waters of the Rhine, and thence through the English Channel. From the Fens though the waters flowed northward along the modern coast, and into the northern North Sea basin. As the ice melted, the rising sea level drowned the lower lands, leading ultimately to the present coastline.
These rising sea levels flooded the previously inland woodland of the Fenland basin, and over the next few thousand years led to extensive development of both salt-water and fresh-water wetlands. Silt and clay soils were deposited by marine floods in the salt-water areas and along the beds of tidal rivers, while organic soils, or peats, developed in the fresh-water marshes. Fenland water levels peaked in the Iron Age; earlier Bronze and Neolithic settlements were covered by peat deposits, and have only recently been found.
During the Roman period, water levels fell once again, and settlements were possible on the new silt soils deposited near the coast. It may be the Romans who dug the first lodes through the land, for transport in the fenland. Water levels rose once again in the early medieval period, by this time artificial banks protected the coastal settlements and the interior from further deposits of marine silts, though peats continued to develop in the freshwater wetlands of the interior fens.
The wetlands of the fens have historically included:
- Washes: these are places such as tidal mud flats and braided rivers, which are sometimes exposed and at other times covered with water.
- Salt marsh: this is the higher part of a tidal wash, on which salt-adapted plants grew.
- Fen: this is a broad expanse of nutrient-rich shallow water in which dead plants do not fully decay, resulting in a flora of emergent plants growing in saturated peat.
- Moor: this developed where the peat grew above the reach of the land water which carried the nutrients to the fen. Its development was enabled where the fen was watered directly by rainfall. The slightly acidic rain washed the hydroxide ions out of the peat, making it more suitable for acid-loving plants, notably Sphagnum species. This is exactly the same as bog, but the word moor was applied to this acid peatland occurring on hills. The moors disappeared in the nineteenth century, and it had been thought that the Fenland did not have this kind of peat, until archeological and documentary evidence demonstrated that it did until the early nineteenth century.
- Waters: these have included:
- Creeks; tidal inlets which reached from the sea into the marsh. The Townlands and in some places, the fen, and seem to have been named only if big enough to be regarded as havens;
- Shallow lakes which were more or less static but aerated by wind action;
- Many rivers, both natural and (from Roman times on) artificial.
Major areas for settlement were:
- Townlands; a broad bank of silt (the remains of the huge creek levees that developed naturally during the Bronze and Iron Ages), on which the fen dwellers built their homes and grew their vegetables;
- Fen islands: areas of higher land which were never covered by the growing peat;
- Fen edges: uplands surrounding the fens.
In general, of the three principal soil types found in the Fenland today, the mineral-based silt resulted from the energetic marine environment of the creeks, the clay was deposited in tidal mud-flats and salt-marsh, while the peat grew in the fen and bog. The peat produces black soils. A roddon, the dried raised bed of a watercourse, is more suitable for building than the less stable peat.
Since the 19th century, all of the acid peat in the Fens has disappeared; drying and wastage of peats has greatly reduced the depth of the alkaline peat soils and reduced the overall elevation of large areas of the peat fens.
There is evidence of human settlement near the Fens from the Mesolithic on. The evidence suggests that Mesolithic settlement in Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire was particularly along the fen edges and on the low islands within the fens, to take advantage of the hunting and fishing opportunities of the wetlands.
Ancient sites include:
- Flag Fen, a Bronze Age settlement in Cambridgeshire.
Roman farming and engineering
The Romans constructed the Fen Causeway, a road across the Fens to link what later became East Anglia with the Midlands; it runs between Denver and Peterborough. The Romans also linked Cambridge and Ely, but generally their road system avoided the Fens except for minor roads designed for exporting the produce of the region, especially salt, beef and leather. Sheep were probably raised on the higher ground of the Townlands and fen islands, then as in the early nineteenth century. The Roman period also possibly saw some drainage efforts, including the Car Dyke along the western edge of the Fenland between Peterborough and Lincolnshire, but most canals were constructed for transportation.
How far seaward the Roman settlement extended is unclear owing to the deposits laid down above them during later floods.
Early post-Roman settlements
The early post-Roman settlements were made on the Townlands. It is clear that there was some prosperity there, particularly where rivers permitted access to the upland beyond the fen. Such places were Wisbech, Spalding, Swineshead and Boston. All the Townlands parishes were laid out as elongated strips, to provide access to the produce of fen, marsh and sea. On the fen edge, parishes are similarly elongated to provide access to both upland and fen. The townships are therefore often nearer to each other than they are to the distant farms in their own parishes.
The Dark Ages and Middle Ages
After the end of Roman Britain, there is a break in written records. It is thought some of the Britons may have moved west into the Fens for refuge from the Angles, who were migrating across the North Sea from Germany to create a new kingdom in East Anglia.
Some authorities assert that the names of West Walton, Walsoken and Walpole hint at the native British population, the Wal- coming from the Old English wealh, meaning "foreigner". Others assert that the villages are close proximity to old Roman sea walls, suugesting the Old English weall for "wall". Another suggestion has it from the Old English welle; a "well".
When written records resume in Anglo-Saxon England, the names of a number of peoples of the Fens are recorded in the Tribal Hidage and Christian histories. They include North Gyrwe (Peterborough and Crowland), South Gyrwe (Ely), the Spalda (Spalding), and Bilmingas (part of south Lincolnshire).
In the early Christian period of Anglo-Saxon England, a number of Christians sought the isolation that could be found in the wilderness that the Fens had become. These saints, often with close royal links, include Guthlac, Etheldreda, Pega, and Wendreda. Hermitages on the islands became centres of communities which later became monasteries with massive estates. In the Life of Saint Guthlac – a biography of the East Anglian hermit who lived in the Fens during the early 8th century – it is stated that Saint Guthlac was attacked on several occasions by people he believed were Britons living in the Fens at that time. However, Bertram Colgrave, in the introduction to one edition, doubts it because of the lack of evidence of British survival in the region and the fact that British place names in the area are "very few".
Monastic life was disrupted by Danish raids and settlement, but was revived in the mid-10th century monastic revival. In the 11th century the whole area was incorporated into a united Anglo-Saxon England. It remained a place of refuge and intrigue. It was here that Alfred Aetheling was brought to be murdered and here where Hereward the Wake based his insurgency against Norman England.
Fenland monastic houses include the so-called Fen Five (Ely Cathedral Priory, Thorney Abbey, Croyland Abbey, Ramsey Abbey and Peterborough Abbey) as well as Spalding Abbey. As major landowners, the monasteries played a significant part in the early efforts at drainage of the Fens.
The Royal Forest
During most of the twelfth century and the early thirteenth century, the south Lincolnshire fens were afforested. The area was enclosed by a line from Spalding, along the River Welland to Market Deeping, then along the Car Dyke to Dowsby and across the fens to the Welland. It was deforested in the early thirteenth century. There is little agreement as to the exact dates of the establishment and demise of the forest, but it seems likely that the deforestation was connected with the Magna Carta or one of its early thirteenth century restatements, though it may have been as late as 1240. The forest would have affected the economies of the townships around it and it appears that the present Bourne Eau was constructed at the time of the deforestation, as the town of Bourne, Lincolnshire seems to have joined in the general prosperity by about 1280.
Draining the Fens
Early modern attempts to drain the Fens
Though some signs of Roman hydraulics survive, and there were also some medieval drainage works, land drainage was begun in earnest during the 1630s by the various investors who had contracts with King Charles I to do so. The leader of one of these syndicates was the Earl of Bedford, who employed Cornelius Vermuyden as engineer. Vermuyden did not begin the drainage at its first stage in the 1630s but his expertise, honed in the great works carroied out in the Netherlands, were of the greatest service in the second phase of construction in the 1650s. The scheme was imposed despite huge opposition from locals who believed that they were losing their livelihoods in favour of already great landowners.
Two cuts were made in the Cambridgeshire Fens to join the major river the Great Ouse, to the sea at King's Lynn; the first was the Old Bedford River and it was to be followed by the New Bedford River; the latter also known as the Hundred Foot Drain. Both cuts were named after the Francis Russell, 4th Earl of Bedford who, along with some gentlemen adventurers (venture capitalists), funded the construction and were rewarded with large grants of the resulting farmland. The work was directed by engineers from the Low Countries. Following this initial drainage, the Fens were still extremely susceptible to flooding, so windpumps were used to pump water away from affected areas.
The adventurers were rewarded with grants of land in the newly drained fens, which today still gives us the name of Adventurers Fen.
Their adventurers' initial success was short-lived. Once drained of water, the peat shrank, and the level of the new fields sank. The more effectively the fens were drained, the worse the problem became, and soon the fields were lower than the surrounding rivers. By the end of the 17th century, the land was under water once again.
Though the three Bedford Levels together formed the biggest scheme, they were not the only ones. Lord Lindsey and his partner Sir William Killigrew had the Lindsey Level inhabited by farmers by 1638, but the onset of the Civil War permitted the destruction of the works until the 1765 Act of Parliament that led to the formation of the Black Sluice Commissioners.
Many original records of the Bedford Level Corporation, including maps of the Levels, are now held by Cambridgeshire Archives and Local Studies Service at the County Record Office in Cambridge.
The major part of the draining of the Fens was effected in the late 18th and early 19th century, again involving fierce local rioting and sabotage of the works. The final success came in the 1820s when windpumps were replaced with powerful coal-powered steam engines, such as Stretham Old Engine, which were themselves replaced with diesel-powered pumps and, following World War II, the small electric stations that are still used today.
The dead vegetation of the peat remained undecayed because it was deprived of air (the peat being anaerobic). When it was drained, the oxygen of the air reached it, since when the peat has been slowly oxidizing. This, together with the shrinkage on its initial drying and the removal of soil by the wind, has meant that much of the fenland lies below high tide level. As the highest parts of the drained fen are now only a few feet above mean sea level, only sizeable embankments of the rivers, and general flood defences, stop the land from being inundated. Nonetheless, these works are now much more effective than they were. The question of rising sea level under the influence of global warming remains.
The Fens today are protected by 60 miles of embankments defending against the sea and 96 miles of river embankments. Eleven internal drainage board (IDB) groups maintain 286 pumping stations and 3,800 miles of watercourses, with the combined capacity to pump 16,500 Olympic-size swimming pools in a 24-hour period or to empty Rutland Water in 3 days.
Modern farming in the Fens
As of 2008, there are estimated to be 4,000 farms in the Fens involved in agriculture and horticulture, including arable, livestock, poultry, dairy, orchards, vegetables and ornamental plants and flowers. They employ about 27,000 people in full-time and seasonal jobs. In turn, they support around 250 businesses involved in food and drink manufacturing and distribution, employing around 17,500 people.
Over 70% of the Fens is involved in environmental stewardship schemes, under which 270 miles of hedgerow and 1,780 miles of ditches are managed, providing large wildlife corridors and habitat for endangered animals such as the water vole.
Reflooding the Fens
One fen remains much as it would once have been: Wicken Fen. Water is pumped into this fen and it is owned and managed by the National Trust. It produces a remarkable wildlife habitat and an insight into how the vast fenland would once have looked when it was a harsh, unforgiving, barren land and not the abundant farmland of today.
In 2003, the National Trust began its Great Fen Project, intended to flood much of the grade 1 farmland of Cambridgeshire and return those parts of the fens to their original pre-agricultural state.
The theory propounded by the Trust and those working with it is that periodic flooding by the North Sea, once renewed the character of the Fenlands; it was characterized conventionally by the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica as "ravaged by serious inundations of the sea". The Trust's approach is to allow a little farmland to be flooded again and turned into nature reserves. By introducing fresh water, the organizers of the project hope to encourage species such as the snipe, lapwing and bittern. Endangered species such as the fen violet will be seeded. It will however not produce even a bushel a wheat, barley or oilseed rap, not a single head of onions or turnip, not a single potato, or any of the food to feed the nation for which the modern fens are famed.
The Fens Waterways Link is a scheme to restore navigation to some of the drainage works. It is planned to bring the South Forty-Foot Drain and parts of the Car Dyke into use as part of a route between Boston and Cambridge.
Many historic cities, towns and villages have grown up in the fens, sited chiefly on the few areas of raised ground. These include:
- Chatteris, a market town;
- Ely (meaning "Isle of Eels"), whose cathedral – one of the Fen Five Monasteries – is known as the "Ship of the Fens". Centre of the Isle of Ely;
- Littleport, a large village approximately 6 miles north of Ely;
- Little Thetford, settled on a boulder clay island within the fens since the Bronze Age, 3 miles south of Ely;
- March, a market town;
- Thorney, one of the Fen Five Monasteries; later model village and agricultural estates of the Dukes of Bedford;
- Whittlesey, a market town; annual Straw Bear Festival;
- Wisbech, a market town which calls itself "capital of the fens".
- Ramsey, a market town; one of the Fen Five Monasteries;
- Bourne, a market town;
- Boston, port;
- Crowland, one of the Fen Five Monasteries; also a medieval triangular bridge;
- Holbeach, a market town;
- Long Sutton, a market town and home to UK's largest food cannery;
- Market Deeping, a market town;
- Spalding, a market town, famed for its annual Flower Parade;
- Peterborough, the largest of the many towns along the fen edge and sometimes called the "Gateway to the Fens"; its cathedral was one of the Fen Five Monasteries.
The Fens in fiction
Some authors have featured the Fens repeatedly in their work. For example:
- John Gordon, adolescent fiction writer and author of The Giant Under The Snow, has drawn inspiration for many of his supernatural fantasies from the Fens. His books with Fenland themes include: Ride The Wind, Fen Runners and The House On The Brink, which is based on Peckover House in Wisbech.
- Peter F. Hamilton sets a number of his science fiction novels in the Fens, including Mindstar Rising and A Quantum Murder.
- Bill Hussey set two horror books, Through a Glass Darkly and The Absence, in the Fens.
- Jim Kelly set both The Water Clock and The Moon Tunnel in the Fens.
- Philippa Pearce, a children's author, set many of her books in the Fens, for example Tom's Midnight Garden.
- Gladys Mitchell, prolific writer of detective fiction, took her eccentric sleuth, the psychiatrist Mrs Lestrange Bradley, to the Fens in several books, notably The Worsted Viper, Wraiths and Changelings and The Mudflats of the Dead.
- Nick Warburton has written a series of radio plays entitled On Mardle Fen, one of the longest running series of plays on BBC R4.
Individual novels are set in the Fens:
- Sabine Baring-Gould: Cheap Jack Zita;
- Penelope Fitzgerald: The Bookshop;
- Hal Foster: Prince Valiant;
- Martha Grimes: The Case Has Altered, set in and around Algarkirk, Lincolnshire;
- Charles Kingsley: Hereward the Wake;
- Louis L'Amour: Sackett's Land;
- Simon Marriott Woller
- Sile Rice: The Saxon Tapestry, about Hereward the Wake;
- Dorothy Sayers: The Nine Tailors;
- Graham Swift: Waterland (made into a film);
- Robert Westall: Futuretrack 5.
Films set in the Fenlands include:
- Dad Savage (1998), set and filmed around the King's Lynn area.
- Waterland (1992), based on Graham Swift's book with the same title. Many of its scenes were filmed at Holbeach Marsh on the edge of the Wash.
In Somerset, the Somerset Levels stretching from the Bristol Channel into the heart of Somerset, have many similarities to the Great Fen. Here too is a flat sea-level landscape which has been drained to turn fen into rich agricultural land.
| ("Wikimedia Commons" has material|
about The Great Fen)
- Geograph covering map of the Fens (clickable map linking to photo galleries)
History and archaeology
- Flag Fen Archaeology Trust website
- Ely Internal Drainage Board
- Middle Level Commissioners
- North Level District Internal Drainage Board
- Black Sluice Internal Drainage Board
- Witham First District Internal Drainage Board
- Witham Third District Internal Drainage Board
- Witham Fourth District Internal Drainage Board
- Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve (National Trust educational site)
- The Great Fen Project website
- RSPB Ouse Washes
- Wildfowl and Wetland Trust Welney
- Wise, John; Noble, W. Mackreth (1882). Ramsey Abbey: Its Rise and Fall. Huntingdon: Ellis & Cooper. ISBN 0-904701-10-7.
- Christian, Anne Hait (1984). The Search for Holmes, Robson, Hind, Steele and Graham Families of Cumberland and Northumberland, England. La Jolla, CA: Search. p. 7. ISBN 0-9613723-0-3.
- H.C. A discourse concerning the drayning of fennes and surrounded grounds in the sixe counteys of Norfolk, Suffolke, Cambridge, with the Isle of Ely, Huntington, Northampton and Lincolne. London: 1629. Reprinted in 1647 under title: The Drayner Confirmed, and the Obstinate Fenman Confuted.
- "UK's lowest spot is getting lower". BBC. 2002-11-29. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/2529365.stm. Retrieved 2010-03-26.
- "An Act for settling the Draining of the Great Level of the Fens called Bedford Level", 1663, reproduced in Samuel Wells, The History of the Drainage of the Great Level of the Fens called Bedford Level, (London, 1830), Vol.2, pp.383ff.
- Bedford Levels information from Ordnance Survey 1:50 000 First Series Sheets 142 (1974) and 143 (1974). Lincolnshire information from Wheeler, W.H. A History of the Fens of South Lincolnshire 2nd edn. (1896) facsimile edn. Paul Watkins (1990) ISBN 1-871615-19-4
- David Hall and John Coles, Fenland Survey. An essay in landscape and persistence. Archeological Report 1. English Heritage, 1994.
- Christopher Taylor. The Cambridgeshire Landscape. Hodder and Stroughton, London, 1973. p30.
- Hall, David; John Coles (1994). Fenland survey: an essay in landscape and persistence. English Heritage. ISBN 978-1-85074-477-1.
- Simon Young, AD500 p.245 (Notes & Sources) references Life of Saint Guthlac (Cambridge University Press 1956), pp. 108–11.
- A Popular Guide to Norfolk Place-names: by James Rye: Published by Larks press, Dereham, Norfolk, 2000 ; ISBN 0-948400-15-3
- Bertram Colgrave (ed). Felix's Life of Saint Guthlac, (c730)]. Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-31386-5
- "ULAS – Thorney". University of Leicester Archaeological Services. 2007-02-26. http://www.le.ac.uk/ulas/projects/thorney.html. Retrieved 2011-03-17.
- Map showing location of Kesteven Forest on the web site of St John's College, Oxford
- Margaret Albright Knittl, "The design for the initial drainage of the Great Level of the Fens : an historical whodunit in three parts", Agricultural History Review, 55:1 (2007), pp. 23–50. Abstract
- "Historyof the Black Sluice Internal Drainage Board". http://www.blacksluiceidb.gov.uk/the-drainage-board/history.html.
- "Why Farming Matters in the Fens (2)" (PDF). NFU East Anglia. 2008. http://www.nfuonline.com/Regions/East-Anglia/News/Why-farming-matters-in-the-Fens(2)/. Retrieved 2011-03-17.
- William Dugdale (1662). History of Imbanking and Drayning of Divers Fens and. Marshes. London.
- Wells, Samuel A. (1830). A history of the drainage of the Great Level of the Fens called Bedford Level. 2. Fleet Street, London: R.Pheney. ]
- Wheeler M.Inst.C.E, William Henry (1896): A History of the Fens of South Lincolnshire, being a description of the rivers Witham and Welland and their estuary, and an account of the Reclamation, Drainage, and Enclosure of the fens adjacent thereto. (2nd ed.). Boston, Lincolnshire
- Page, William; Proby, Granville; Inskip Ladds, S., eds (1936). A History of the County of Huntingdon. Victoria County History. 3. pp. 249–290: "The Middle Level of the Fens and its reclamation". http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=66187. Retrieved 30 December 2010.