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CHER Number:07034
Type of record:Monument
Name:Swaffham Bulbeck Lode

Summary - not yet available

Grid Reference:TL 53 66
Parish:Swaffham Bulbeck, East Cambridgeshire, Cambridgeshire

Monument Type(s):

Full description

1. Although Swaffham Bulbeck Lode functioned as a fen drain in the medieval period it is probably of Roman origin and was not constructed for this purpose. There is no evidence for Medieval drainage, the earliest work apparently being of the C17 when a large rectangular area of about 411 acres near the SW end of the fenland was allotted to the Adventurers (TL/545-/655-). This area was granted in 3 lots in 1637 following earlier attempts at drainage(CRO, R59/31/9/1A). but work was probably not started until 1651when the allotments were ordered to be divided by 10ft wide ditches; it was completed in 1655 - 1656 (CRO, R59/31/9/6). The land was originally drained in 2 directions: the NE side was drained by clearing an old water-course known as Head Lake which flowed NE towards Upware along a line now followed by a road from High Bridge Farm (TL/543-/660-; the SW side was drained by a new cut which ran NW from the Adventurers' Lands almost to Swaffham Bulbeck Lode where it joined a new 12ft wide cut, flowing NE, which also drained the Adventurers' Lands to the SE (in Lode, Stow cum Quy, Fen Ditton and Horningsea parishes) before passing under Swaffham Bulbeck Lode in a tunnel and discharging into Head Lake Stream (TL/548-/674-; CRO, R59/31/9/5). This part of the Adventurers' Lands was almost the only fully-drained and cultivated area of fenland in the parish from the mid C17 to the end of the C18. For most of this period the Bedford Level Corporation was responsible and considerable sums were spent by it on clearing the Head Lake Stream (e.g. CRO, R59/31/10/7 (1698)). An area of land of about 24 acres between the fen edge and the Adventurers' Lands(TL/555-/640-) was probably drained and divided by 1683 (CUL, Ely Church Commissioners Records No 1383) and certainly by 1800. In1767 the responsibility for draining of the area passed to the Swaffham and Bottisham Drainage Commission following an Act of Parliament. The Commissioners abandoned the main drainage channel across the parish from the SW, and the Adventurers' Lands were subsequently drained by the Head Lake Stream alone (CRO, Map of Swaffham and Bottisham Fens, 1800). In 1801 the common fields of the parish were enclosed by Act of Parliament and the common fenland was divided, allotted and drained. The Head Lake Drain was retained for this purpose. In 1821 the Drainage Commissioners constructed the steam-engined pump at Upware (Swaffham Prior (77))and a drain, known as the Engine or Commissioner's Drain, was cut across the fenland from SW to NE (TL/5350/6582 - TL/5390/6628),passing under Swaffham Bulbeck Lode in a tunnel. The Head Lake Drain was then abandoned. The 2 main stages of reclamation of the Swaffham Bulbeck fens are traceable, but some minor drains have since been added. The compact shape of the Adventurers' Lands, enclosed by a continuous drain, contrasts with the irregularity of the early C19 drainage systems.

<1> RCHM, 1972, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of Cambridgeshire. Volume II. North-East Cambridgeshire, 113 -114 (plan, ill) (Bibliographic reference). SCB13360.

Sources and further reading

<1>Bibliographic reference: RCHM. 1972. An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of Cambridgeshire. Volume II. North-East Cambridgeshire. 113 -114 (plan, ill).