A Brief History of North Level District I.D.B.

In September 1629, the Privy Council made a contract with Vermuyden, the famous Dutch Drainage Engineer, for the draining of the Great Level (Bedford Level), the reward for which was ownership of much of the land. There was a public outcry against a foreigner receiving recompense of 95,000 acres of English land, and the Commissioners of Sewers, formed under the Land Drainage Act of 1585, withdrew from the proposal, but agreed to make contract with Francis, Fourth Earl of Bedford.

The proposal was to make “Summer Lands”, i.e. land fit for grazing in Summer, but liable to flood in Winter.

Windmill on the FensIn January 1630, an agreement was made whereby the Earl together with thirteen Co-Adventurers, including Vermuyden, who was also engaged as Engineer, should undertake the draining of the Great Level. Work was commenced in the north of the Great Level in 1630 and declared complete in 1653, when the Adventurers took possession of the land. The land remained in the possession of the Earl until this Century, when it was sold to the tenants.

Around the turn of the 17th Century, a gradual change was seen to be taking place in the North Level, with the introduction of windmills (engines) and horsemills to drain the land. The provision of “engines” by a landowner was often prejudicial to other landowners and in three recorded sessions of the Bedford Level Corporation of 1700, 1701 and 1708, forty four windmills and thirty seven horsemills were ordered to be stopped up.

Steam powered pumps were used for land drainage purposes in Holland before 1800, and they were soon introduced into this country. One of the first to be operational was in the North Level at Sutton St. Edmunds Great Common in about 1820. Incidentally, Sutton St. Edmunds was one of the first areas in the Country to have a wind powered pump. By 1828, the River Nene Outfall had been improved as far as Gunthorpe Sluice (North Level Main Drain Outfall) and to take advantage of this the Main Drain and other major drains together with a new outfall sluice were constructed.

Tycho Wing, Agent to the Duke of Bedford, was the main driving force and he engaged John Rennie to execute the works. Tycho Wing is commemorated in many local place names, principally Wingland to the east of the Nene Outfall to the Wash. After the completion of these works, the clearance level in the Nene was lowered by ten feet, and the level in the North Level Main Drain by eight feet. Drainage of the North Level became possible entirely by gravity. There followed a transformation in the land drainage of the area and the health of the inhabitants.

Further improvements were carried out from 1857 to 1862, and 1881 to 1883, in generally lowering and improving the drainage system. In 1880, Sir John Coode recommended the installation of steam pumps at Cross Guns, to more effectively drain the Knarr Lake area, but no works were carried out on the proposal until 1936, when the North Level Commissioners looking for more modern standards of drainage, to enable arable farming to be increased, approved the report by Farran that pumping stations be erected at Tydd at the main outfall to the Nene, Cross Guns, Dog-in-a-Doublet and a booster station at French Drove. These works were commenced in 1938. This system worked efficiently until on 10th July, 1968 rainfall of 4.15 inches was recorded at Thorney. At that time, the annual weedcutting was not completed and hence channel capacity was reduced. The adverse conditions continued until by September “nil” soil moisture deficit was recorded at a time when the ground water table is usually at its lowest. Rainfall continued to be heavy and field surface flooding occurred and most of the land was waterlogged. Enormous acreages of crops were lost.

The previous North Level Commissioners called upon the then Welland and Nene River Authority Engineer, Harold Clark, to prepare a report in the improvement of drainage in the North Level. By entrusting the work to the Welland and Nene River Authority, a broad approach was possible to safeguard existing drainage interests on both rivers and utilise the full range of discharge facilities available.

Clark’s Report was published in 1969, and adopted by the Commissioners and subsequently the North Level Internal Drainage Board.

Clark recommended the hiving off of about 5,870 Ha. of the catchment to the River Welland, to reduce the load on the existing system and avoid the re-sectioning of the North Level Main Drain, enlargement of Cross Guns Catchment and the diversion of the Padholme area and new industrial run-off from Peterborough to the River Nene near Peterborough together with the pumping of areas of Tydd and Leverington to the Main Drain.

In 1972, work commenced on the series of improvements proposed by Clark to bring the land drainage of the 32,000 Ha. of the North Level up to a standard of 1.40 cubic metres/s/1000 Ha., (20 cusec/1000 acres) (equivalent to 0.5 inches of rainfall in 24 hours).

At that time, the North Level area was drained by three pumping stations, all erected under the 1938 scheme, discharging to the Nene at Tydd, Cross Guns and Dog-in-a-Doublet, (the latter two named after pubs). All three stations were overloaded by present day standards, their capacity being only 0.84 cubic metres/s/1000 Ha., (12 cusec/1000 acres) and this was reduced in some cases where the old diesel engines could not be run at design speed. The channel approach conditions were also not ideal, being too narrow and hence tending to “starve” the pumps.

The arterial drainage channels were constructed to the old design standard and hence their improvement was also necessary, to enable them to carry greater design flows. In addition, lower water levels were needed because of greater design freeboards and shrinkage of the peat soils.

The improvement of the North Level Main Drain and New South Eau feeding it at Cloughs Cross presented a considerable problem, with a length of 16 miles needing improvement in unstable soil conditions and the close proximity of public roads, the cost of re-sectioning would have been prohibitive. The only sensible solution was to reduce the flow in the channel to give the design levels with the minimum channel improvements.

To this end, two areas totalling 5,887 Ha. at the western side of the area were diverted to the River Welland at Postland and Newborough by new pumping stations and a reversed arterial drainage system. Discharge of North Level water to the River Welland had always been resisted by the River Authority, even though the Postland and Newborough areas were only a few metres from the Welland banks. The Authority was concerned that additional flows in flood times would aggravate the flooding situation in Deeping Fen and Spalding Town.

However, improvements to the discharge arrangements to the Welland Washes at Cowbit and Crowland in 1974 with the construction of two automatic syphons and restrictions on pumping during major River floods enabled the Authority to permit the discharge. Continuing the policy of reducing the load on the Main Drain System, the Cross Guns Catchment area was increased to 6,640 Ha. from 6,040 Ha., a new station built and the channel works improved. The new station was completed in 1977, and consists of six identical pumps, three powered by electricity and three by diesel, to give at least half capacity during times of power failure.

With the reduction in catchment and the consequential reduction in discharge, the Main Drain Channel System required minimum improvement. The Tydd pumping station at the main outfall to the River Nene had a capacity below the required design standard, and having been installed in 1938, the plant was reaching the end of it useful life. However, the cost of renewal of the plant was very high so the plan at this station was to install one 3.65 cubic metres capacity electrically powered pump and electrify two of the diesel pumps to give the old diesel engines some relief from daily duty, and extend their life by approximately twenty years. This work being completed in 1986.

The expansion of Peterborough to the west of the area presented a problem with additional surface water run-off from the Eastern Industrial area of Peterborough. The drainage system was not designed for this type of discharge, with its high urban peak flows. The construction of a station to discharge the peak would also have been expensive, therefore a surface water storage reservoir was constructed which reduced the peak flow from 5.7cubic metres/s to 2.0 cubic metres/s. This flow was pumped to the River Nene via the Padholme Pumping Station, a 3 cubic metre/s station. An area of 610 Ha. of agricultural land was also drained to the station which had previously been in the Dog-in-a-Doublet Catchment. This station is maintained and operated by the Environment Agency.

The Dog-in-a-Doublet Old Pumping Station is situated on the River Nene just downstream of the Dog-in-a-Doublet Sluice, the main outfall sluice to the River Nene. The station was built on the site of the lock to the Thorney River which was navigable at one time to Thorney. The old lock pen is now used as the outfall to the station, the walls and copings are still visible. The station has a capacity of 2.2. cumecs and a catchment area of 2,484 Ha. Constructed in 1938, the station is now nearing the end of its life. However, due to further development within the Dog-in-a-Doublet catchment it became clear that in order to give the developers a 1 in 100 year storm protection the current pump capacity at the Dog-in-a-Doublet new pumping station is not going to be adequate. Therefore, the old station will be refurbished and updated to increase its pump capacity.

The new automatic pumping station and associated drain improvements were completed during 1982. There are 2 No. 692mm. dia. and 2 No. 556mm. dia. pumps at the station. The pumps were manufactured by Sulzer Bros. (U.K.) Ltd. with the larger pumps discharging 1.10cumecs each and the smaller ones 0.70 cumecs each. They are driven by 140kw and 90kw electric motors respectively.

The station drains a total area of 2484 hectares with a lowest land level of 0.0m.O.D.N. The maximum design water level at the station is –1.80m O.D.N. and the High Tide Level in the adjoining River Nene is + 4.00m O.D.N. i.e. some 5.80 metres higher than the normal maximum pumping level.

The freshwater supply from the river Nene to Thorney River and the land drainage system is provided my means of a single 550mm. Dia. Steel pipeline, with valves and collecting chamber to control discharge to Thorney River and/or the Middle Drain.

Moving further north, the Northside area was served by two old pumping stations at Mouth Lane and Rummers, both discharging to the River Nene. The Rummers station was an old steam station dated 1864, but was later powered by electricity and diesel, all the old steam plant has long since disappeared, although the square chimney is still standing.

The improvement scheme for this area allowed for the abandonment of the Rummers station and the construction of a new station at the Mouth Lane site, and the excavation of new or improved arterial channels to serve a revised catchment area of 1,437 Ha.

The station contains two similar pumps with a total capacity of 2.0 cubic metres/s. One is powered by diesel power and one by electricity.

The Tydd area of 4,789 Ha., situated to the north of the Main Drain, discharges by gravity direct to that drain. 1,880 Ha. of the area has suffered from poor drainage due to insufficient freeboard between land levels and main drain water levels, and the development close to Shire Drain has prevented improvement schemes from being carried out on that channel. The improvement scheme selected, after consideration of several options, was the construction of the Poplar Pumping Station, to discharge from the low land to the Main Drain, and the addition of Denhams Pumping Station to boost the flow in the Shire Drain and avoid expensive drain works. The remaining 2,909 Ha. drain satisfactorily to the Main Drain by gravity.

The Poplar Pumping Station, situated near Tydd Fen Bridge, has a capacity of 1.6 cubic metres/s., and a catchment area of 1,119 Ha. The booster station (Denhams Pumping Station) has a capacity of 1.05 cubic metres/s and a catchment area of 761 Ha.

The last area to be considered was the Leverington area, which lies south of the Main Drain. Here there are areas of land with insufficient freeboard, with the existing gravity discharge and a pumping station has been constructed to lower drainage levels. Willow Holt Pumping Station has a capacity of 0.82 cumecs and a catchment area of 590 Ha.

The North Level Area was split into pumped catchment areas served by either Main River or I.D.B. Pumping Stations and the Welland and Nene River Authority acted as Consulting Engineers to the North Level I.D.B. for the design and construction of all pumping stations, I.D.B. Engineering staff dealing with arterial drainage improvements.

The Pumping Stations of Tydd, Mouth Lane, Cross Guns and Dog-in-a-Doublet received main river grant aid with the North Level I.D.B. financing the remainder of the cost, the River Authority supplying design and supervisory staff.

The I.D.B. Pumping Stations of Poplars, Denhams and Willow Holt received I.D.B. grant aid with North Level I.D.B. financing the remainder, W.N.R.A. being paid Consultancy Fees for design and supervision.

The North Level I.D.B. are responsible for the running costs, maintenance and repairs of all stations.

On 10th February 2006 the North Level Internal Drainage Board and the Westside Marshes Internal Drainage Board were amalgamated to form the North Level District Internal Drainage Board.

Mr Paul Sharman
Chief Executive
Mob: 07730309872
Mr Jon Stubley
Operations Engineer
 Mob: 07894684274
Mr N Day
Works Supervisor
Mob: 07834869229
General Enquiries:
Tel: 01733 270333 Fax: 01733 270231
Audit Enquiries
External Auditor
Littlejohn LLP - 020 7516 2200
The office is open between
8.30am and 4.30pm Monday to Friday