click photo to enlarge
Historians, like many people, often look for the easy life. When they come to write about a subject they tend to favour those that are well documented by contemporary primary sources and extensively covered by subsequent secondary sources. You might think that there is nothing wrong with that providing it produces useful additions to our understanding of the past. But, there is a danger, particularly when looking at a subject over a period of several centuries, that the later phases, where extensive written documentation survives, are given an emphasis and importance that isn't always warranted.
Take the draining of the Fens. Many people's knowledge of this undertaking begins with the "adventurers" who, in the seventeenth century raised money and made use of Dutch and English engineers to build large drains, such as the one in today's photograph, and ends with the conversion of the marshes, meres and seasonal pasture into some of England's most productive arable land. What is less widely appreciated is the fact that this was the third phase of drainage and "improvement". The Romans began the project, but their causeways and the Carr Dyke constitute the few remains of their work in this area, and there is no contemporary documentary evidence. The medieval monasteries undertook the building of extensive embankments and drains, the scope of which we don't fully appreciate. There are those who believe that their contribution to the conversion of this "waste" into farmland was at least as significant as the work of the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, and possibly more so. Rather more of the medieval work can be seen in the form of, for example, old sea banks and the Midfen Dyke, but little documentary evidence remains, and so it is given much less emphasis than the later works.
The South Forty Foot drain was begun in the 1630s and extended and enlarged in subsequent centuries. It is a conduit that takes the water from subsidiary drains and deposits it in The Haven at Boston, where it joins the flow of the River Witham out into The Wash and the North Sea. My photograph shows the Drain at a point next to Neslam Bridge, half way between Billingborough and Gosberton. The inlet on the left is the waterway, called Billingborough Lode, feeding into the canal-like watercourse. I stopped to take a photograph from the bridge, but noticing a track to the water's edge, perhaps made by an angler, I went down into the vigorously growing reeds. The quality of light there was different, vivid and wonderful, and intensified by the yellow flowers of oilseed-rape growing along the top of the bank. I returned to the car happy to have secured this shot.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen
Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 11mm (22mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/640 seconds
Exposure Compensation: -1.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On