The Fenland area of Southern Lincolnshire is a land of wide open skies, and vast expanses of flat, mostly agricultural countryside. The area is very low-lying, and without artificial drainage and flood prevention, much of the area would regularly flood, especially during times of heavy and prolonged rainfall.
There are indications that show the area around Pinchbeck and Spalding was embanked and drained in Anglo-Saxon times, and by the time of the Doomsday Book in 1086, settlement in the area was well established. There were other drainage works in medieval times, but land drainage began properly during the 17th century. Wind-driven pumps were used until the 1820’s when they were replaced by coal-powered steam-engines, like the 20 horse-power rotative beam engine on display at the Pinchbeck Engine Museum, which was built in Leeds in 1833. The engine drained the Pinchbeck Marsh, and then discharged the water into the Blue Gowt, which joins the River Glen at Surfleet. The Pinchbeck Engine was replaced by an electric pump in 1952. In 1979 the Pinchbeck Engine Museum was opened and is run by the Welland and Deeping Internal Drainage Board. The Engine has been restored, and is gear-coupled to a 22 foot scoop wheel, which would have lifted the water 8 foot, and on average raised 3 million tons of water from the land every year, at a rate of 7,500 gallons per minute! Unfortunately the chimney was demolished in 1952, and no attempts were made to preserve the twin-furnace boiler which dates from the 1890’s, so the engine is now demonstrated using an electric motor. The boiler would have used 1 cwt of coal an hour, which initially came by barge but later by narrow-gauge railway line. The coal store is now the Museum of Land Drainage, and around the side of the building is the original blacksmiths shop, which looks like the blacksmith has just left it for the night!
While we were in Lincolnshire last week, we visited the Pinchbeck Engine Museum, and had a personal and very informative tour of the complex. Although it was raining, we spent a fascinating hour or so looking at the various exhibits.
If you’re in the area (near Spalding, just off the A16), it’s well worth a visit. Be aware however, that it is not open every day, so do check before you go.