The Staploe Hundred

The draining at Chippenham was not immediately successful, however: "Necessary as drainage is to fen-lands, there are instances of its having been absolutely ruined by it; a remarkable one is at Chippenham, at Mr. Tharp's mill, where a very deep cut was made to carry off the tail water; the effect on the land each side (a fen moor) is, it cracks in summer to that degree that it produces nothing, and no cattle can go upon it in safety; when, therefore, fen is drained, it is necessary to have a command of water to be kept within a foot of the surface. Mr. Tharp has done this with great judgement by sluices".

Gooch does not give any other examples of the advance of drainage in our area. By the 1830's the installation of steam-pumps was keeping flooding under better control. In 1832 a sixty horse power engine began to drain 7,000 acres of "Middle Fenn near Soham, about five miles from Ely" and in 1838 a forty horse power engine was being installed at Soham Mere, then described as of 1600 acres. Gooch had described Soham as containing "superior pastures" on the fen edge. But that the area was still unpleasantly flooded was brought home by articles in the Lancet in November 1853, explaining the Cholera outbreak. The picture they give of life in Soham and Isleham is unpleasant in the extreme.

"On an inspection of the town (of Soham) which contains a population of about 4,700 souls, Dr. Lewis, states, that the crying evil - the prime cause of the virulent form of the epidemic now raging - is the quantity of stagnant water met with at every step. The whole town is an assemblage of open ditches.

"The water in many of these is perfectly saturated at the present time with decomposing animal and vegetable matter. - - Nothing short of a thorough system of drainage - - - can put this place into a satisfactory and sanitary condition". 35 people died of Cholera. Gooch, incidentally, had said that the water at Soham was 'very bad'.


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