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Forty Foot Lock at Welches Dam

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1892 map
An 1892 map of the area


Vermuyden's second phase of works to drain the Bedford Level included digging a channel named the Forty Foot (or Vermuyden's) Drain from Ramsey to the Old Bedford River, joining the river via a lock built in 1651 at a place that later became kown as Welches Dam.
outer gates of lock in 2011 by Eddy Edwards Photo: EE, Apr 2011

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houses in 2006 by Eddy Edwards
Photo: EE, March 2006
The west bank of the Counter Drain looking South. From left to right: in the distance is the lock entrance with a bridge over it; next is the old Lock-keepers Cottage; then  ?; nearest is a house named Princess Victoria, once a pub.
inner gates of lock in 2011 by Eddy Edwards Photo: EE, Apr 2011
Inner gates, one open, one closed


Known as the Forty Foot Lock, it was rebuilt in 1991 by the National Rivers Authority (NRA). Since 1997 is has been owned by the NRA's successors, the Environment Agency (EA) which now calls it Welches Dam Lock. They have erected a very comprehensive prohibition sign but otherwise have sadly negleted it.

In 1996 an NRA report stated that high seepage losses of water in the Forty Foot River made it impractical to keep the channel open for navigation at all times. Entry into the Forty Foot from the OBR would be arranged in agreement with the Inland Waterways Association (IWA) on about 20 week-ends a year, assuming sufficient water available [from the Counterdrain/OBR] to fill it.

It was still navigable, with difficulty, in 2001 - see Tuesday Night Club cruise page for full report on a trip from the 16 Ft Drain to the Old Bedford with lots of photos. However a few years later (2005?) the lock was sealed off with steel piles, and so it remains today. The drain is now dry and choked with reeds up to the next lock, Horseway, where the EA's jurisdiction ends and the Middle Level Commissioners takes over. It may be co-incidence, but from there onwards the drain is full of water, and the Lock and river banks looked cared for.

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warning sign at lock in 2011 by Eddy Edwards Photo: EE, Apr 2011
They've missed out "No Boating"
The words "Welches Dam" have been taped over the original "Forty Foot"
  Refurbishment of the lock was discussed at the EA's Anglian (Central) Regional Flood Defence Committee meeting in January 2010. During a discussion on finance a committee member expressed concern that the Committee would contribute £150,000 towards the cost as the gates had been closed for 5 years and not used for flood discharge.

Officers confirmed that the gates had been closed for 5 years but advised that they had started to deteriorate which could cause them to leak and ultimately fail. Officers agreed that further information on the consequences of asset failure and the case for flood risk benefits would be needed before Members took a decision.
Text and photos except where noted © Eddy Edwards, 2010-12

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March 2015 Update
An ambitious plan has been launched to restore the lock and the river up to Horseway Lock by Project Hereward - A new Dawn.

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Related pages on this website
Horseway Lock
Welches Dam - area overview
Related external websites
Tuesday Night Club cruise page