Reasons to be thankful for drainage boards in South Holland

Access difficulties sometimes means that Welland & Deepings Internal Drainage Board cannot get equipment to a drain ' and it's down to manpower. Photo: Welland & Deepings Internal Drainage Board.
Access difficulties sometimes means that Welland & Deepings Internal Drainage Board cannot get equipment to a drain ' and it's down to manpower. Photo: Welland & Deepings Internal Drainage Board.

Deeping St Nicholas farmer Nicholas Watts writes about the work of past generations that meant this area was safe from flooding when elsewhere in the country was not so lucky.

In south Lincolnshire we have had our wettest January for 58 years.

We must be very thankful for not having any floods. To see the water rising and coming into one’s home must be heart-wrenching and my sympathy goes out to the thousands of people who have been flooded.

Between the two World Wars the River Welland was in a poor state, and whenever there was much rain it would overflow into Cowbit Wash. The river was just not wide enough, especially through Spalding, to take all the water that came down from Leicestershire.

Cowbit Wash is the area of land on the right-hand side of the bank as you go on the old road to Cowbit from Spalding. It extends from Locks Mill, on the outskirts of Spalding, all the way to Deeping St James, a distance of 14 miles, and on average it is about 600 yards wide. It was designed to take the flood waters of the River Welland, just as Welney Wash is designed to take the flood waters of the River Great Ouse.

During World War 2 a scheme was devised to widen the River Welland but was not activated until after we had that terrible flood in 1947 when the bank of Cowbit Wash between Cowbit and Crowland burst, flooding thousands of acres of farmland.

The plan was to widen the Welland from Fosdyke to Tallington, build bypasses round Spalding and Market Deeping, and install lock gates on the side of West Marsh Road at the cost of £1.5million. It was all completed by 1953, hence the name The Coronation Channel. This scheme has been so successful that Cowbit Wash has never been flooded since.

We were lucky that the River Welland needed such drastic dredging when the country needed food: food was rationed, nearly everyone in their spare time would be growing vegetables in their gardens. The country was hard up but it found the money for this scheme so that there would be less flooding and so we could grow more food.

Every farmer, drainage and river authority was given grants to drain the land so more food could be produced. In some cases grants of up to 90 per cent were given to install new pumping stations and widen our drains and through the wisdom of some of our farmers and drainage board engineers we grabbed hold of this money and installed large pumps and widened our drains to cope with the largest of deluges. The most impressive of these pumping stations locally is at Pode Hole, which was completed in 1967.

Building and widening is one thing; maintaining the drains is just as important and no one can say that our local drains and pumping stations are not maintained. They are run by local people whose livelihoods depend on the water being pumped and making it flow out to the sea.