The Ouse Washes Website

an independent research and information project

The Sixteen Foot Drain

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This watercourse is not actually part of the Ouse Washes but it is one of several where there are sufficient connections to warrant some mention on this site.

It was mostly cut in 1651 during Vermuyden's second phase of drainage works in the Bedford Level,  running nearly 12 miles from a little way north of the Forty Foot River in the south to Popham's Eau near Three Holes in the north. Contrary to many accounts, it doesn't seem to have been connected to the Forty Foot River until the Middle Level Act of 1844 authorised that.

Most waterways in the Fens have more than one name, and this is no exception. It is show on Thomas Badeslade's 1723 map as "Thurlos Drain" (or "Thurles Drain", difficult to read the reduced size copy I've seen); the Middle Level Act of 1810 refers to just "Sixteen Feet River"; and Samuel Wells in 1830 refers to both "Thurlow's Drain, or Sixteen Feet River". On OS maps it was "Sixteen Foot River" in 1824 but since 1901 (at least) it has been "Sixteen Foot Drain", and I will use that later variation on this page.

The drain is navigable but there are no public moorings. Unusually for fenland drains, ithas no locks or sluices. It is a popular fishing venue, notable for Zander.

In c1844-8 the Middle Level Commissioners had a new channel, the Middle Level Main Drain, cut from the northern end of the Sixteen Foot Drain (the line of Pohams Eau was changed to allow for that) to Wigginhall St. Germans where the waters have to be pumped via a huge pumping station (rebuilt 2011, and said to be one of the largest in Europe) up into the tidal Great Ouse.

Oh, the connection that warrants inclusion on this site? Well, the Sixteen Foot Drain connects to the Forty Foot River, which connected with the Old Bedford River/Counterdrain (OBR/CD) via a lock at Welches Dam until c2003. Since then, the limit of navigation has been Horseway Lock where the Middle Level's responsibility ends and the EA's begins.  The short stretch from there to the OBR/CD has dried out and the lock at Welches Dam is closed and sealed off. The EA say their part of the Fort Foot leaks, and the lock was unsafe.

page last updated
17 February 2014

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Name or location MLC
OS map ref type construction built
Bensons Fm     road      
Mount Pleasant Br     road      
Honey Br     road      
Boots Br 31 TL 4459 9120 road built  by Isle of Ely County Ccl 1931  
Pooles Br     road      
Railway bidge     rail   c1840s
Stone(a?) Br     road      
Bedlam Br 17 TL 4679 9478 road   1968  
to Chapel of Ease Fm     road      
nr Wheatsheaf     road      
Iron Br     road      
Cotton Corner     road      

During the late 1970s/early 1980s MLC did extensive works on the drain (as elsewhere in their district) and nine old bridges/culverts which were in poor condition and severely restricted flow, were demolished and replaced by eight new reinforced concrete structures.

Boots Bridge (MLC ref no 31)

OS map ref TL44599120
An OS Bench Mark, flush bracket S8411 is in the west end of the north parapet wall, facing in.

Bedlam Bridge (MLC ref no. 17)

OS map ref TL46799478

Cotton Corner

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Pumping Stations

From south to north discharge from/to1 OS grid ref built, power output2
owner (IDB)

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Slackers (Irigation inlets)

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Pubs & Inns

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Churches & Chapels

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Most of the rivers and drains of East Anglia are listed and their courses described on the "Wisbech and the Fenlands" website, which also has a wealth of historical information about the area.
Text and photos except where noted © Eddy Edwards, 2010-12.

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