9. Reclaimed Land.

Many of our counties bordering on the sea have suffered, and are still suffering, very severe losses from the erosive action of the waves. In Norfolk and Suffolk this is very strongly marked and has become a very serious problem. Nottinghamshire, owing to its inland position, is not confronted as yet with any difficulties of this kind and no land has become lost to the county as the result of natural processes. On the other hand much has been reclaimed by man from a condition of swamp and marsh.

In the early periods of the county’s history much of the land, especially in the north, was in such a condition. Wherever a river ran through low land the country was flooded from time to time. This was the case throughout the vales of the Trent, the Idle, the Smite, and the Devon. After the flood much water still remained on the land, converting it into perpetual marsh.

The country north of Gringley and along the lower reaches of the Trent was exposed to an additional cause of flooding. A large portion of it was only a few feet above the sea level. When the spring tides came in they raised the waters of the Trent and Idle as much as five or six feet. The land was therefore regularly covered with water at least once a fortnight. In some places this occurred twice every twenty-four hours.

The first efforts to reclaim this land seem to have been made by the Romans, for it was they who constructed the Bycar Dyke and the Fosse Dyke.

Tide-gates on the Idle at Misterton Soss.
Tide-gates on the Idle at Misterton Soss.

After this no serious attempts were made, except perhaps by the monks, until the reigns of Elizabeth and James I. During the reign of the latter, Dutch methods of draining were adopted in many parts of England, and great schemes were devised and carried through by the Dutch engineer Vermuijden. To his skill this county is said to owe the Morther Drain. But it is possible that this is to be identified with the Bycar Dyke of the Romans. It is deep and canal-like and runs alongside the Idle, but at a much lower level. The water from fourteen and a half square miles of fenland south of the Idle flows into minor drains and from them into the Morther Drain. About a mile up the Idle is Misterton Soss. Here there is a pumping station which raises the water from the low level of the drain to a height sufficient to enable it to flow away into the Trent. North of the Idle the drainage system is connected with that of the extensive area in South Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire known as the Levels of Hatfield Chase.

Alongside the four rivers mentioned above, strong flood banks have been constructed to hold back the high waters from the land. The tributary streams enter the rivers through tunnels in these banks. At the mouth of each tunnel is a strong door which opens only outwards. The streams are thus able to discharge their waters into the river; but the flood water merely closes the door, and is thus prevented from flowing through on to the land. These doors are called flood or tide-gates. The best example is seen at Misterton Soss (p. 35). Here great tide-gates stand in the arches of a bridge across the Idle. When the tide sweeps up the river it automatically closes the gates and the country beyond is saved from flooding.

The tidal water brings with it much silt from the Humber. Wherever the water rests for a while this silt is deposited, often to a depth of an inch during one tide. This “warp,” as it is called, makes fertile soil. Occasionally therefore a farmer will allow the water to pass through the gates on to his land.

Advantage is also taken of this to make the tide mend damaged portions of the river’s bank. Bundles of brush-wood are fastened in the place. The tide deposits silt between and on the brushwood and thus builds up a good bank as seen in the foreground on the right in the illustration on p. 16.

Finally, careful deepening of the channel of the Trent by dredging has made it possible for flood waters to flow away more rapidly. Many square miles of the most fertile land in the county have by these means been rendered available for cultivation.