With the opening of the £27,000 pumping station near Brotherhouse Bar, the drainage of the Crowland and Cowbit Washes is now complete. In the days before the Adventurers started engineering the drainage of Deeping Fen and the containing of the River Welland, the ‘hideous fens’ and ‘oft-time clouded with moist and dark vapours, having with it divers … crooked and winding rivers. The Welland, among others, was prone to flood, particularly in the winter and spring, as a result of which ‘wash’ lands were left along the main rivers as natural flood reservoirs. Being liable to flood the whole area was under grass, producing huge crops of hay, and extensively grazed in the summer. And Fen winters have been much more severe than recently, so that skating on Crowland and Cowbit Washes was a normal winter sport. Not that they were frozen all the time; the sheets of water were attractive to large numbers of wildfowl. The days of decoying birds with specially built pools in low wood went out towards the end of the last century. The decoys provided thousands of duck and geese for the London markets.
The problem was how to get large number of birds from the from the open washes. The answer.’Big bertha’, the home-made punt gun. These blunderbusses, sometimes made of waterpipe, were mounted on a punt or, in frosty weather, on a sled mounted skates. These weapons, loaded with anything from lead shot to scrap iron, had a range of over 100 yards and must have had a very considerable recoil.
By laying low in the punt, or along the sledge, it was possible to propel it with paddles or sticks quite close to the birds on the water or ice. Those which were not shot were picked off with the 12-bore which can also be seen in the boat.
In the days before plover were protected by law, those birds were a delicacy fetching a high price. The Fenman with his tame decoy birds, his hide in the willows, and his imitation of the bird call on his homemade whistle –‘all tricks of the trade’ passed from father to son reckon on making a reasonable living in the winter.
Those days, when these pictures were taken in the first decade of this century, are now long past, but the annual flooding of Crowland and Cowbit Washes was normal until 1953.
Then a major improvement scheme on the Welland, including the cutting of the Coronation Channel to divert the flood waters round instead of through Spalding, Was completed. The washes have not flooded since and the area, some 2,500 acres, had quickly come under the plough. Arable farming demanded a lower water table and a more efficient drainage system than grassland farming.
Consequently the Deeping Fen Drainage Board carried out improvements to the New River and the main tributary drains. The pumping station at Lock’s Mill, installed in 1939, was not designed to drain the washes for arable farming. Today very valuable crops are grown on the washes including sugar beet, potatoes and bulbs. To safeguard these crops Brotherhouse Bar was built capable of pumping down to a much lower level than was previously possible. It is capable of pumping out 80 tons of water a minute.
However, to the professional drainage engineer, the two washes are still a safety reservoir and still very much part of the overall drainage. system. Should there be a repetition of the winter of 1946/47 for example, it may be necessary to flood the washes again.
Looking across the Welland to the new pumping station at Brotherhouse Bar, with the bank on the other side of Cowbit Wash beyond.
(Photo Deeping Fen Drainage Board)
Source: David Robinson in Lincolnshire Life Sept 1968
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