The History of Witham Fourth District Internal Drainage Board:

60 BC

Romans occupied the area but there is no proof of drainage works as such. Wainfleet was an important port to serve Lincoln and the river Witham was made navigable from Lincoln to Dogdyke. Car Dyke was cut on the western edge of the Fens for navigation.

Boston did not exist.

420 – 866

The Saxons inhabited the area, their settlement names terminating in “ton”, “ley” and “fleet”. In 654 St.Botolf founded a monastery.

866 – 1050

This was the period of invasion by the Danes who sacked many of the Fenland monasteries including St. Botolf’s and occupied settlements on the higher ground in places with names now ending in “by”. King Alfred the Great defeated the Danes in 878 but allowed them to administer lands adjacent to and in the Fens (Danelagh) but the Saxons also remained and the monks returned. King Canute allotted Common Rights in the Fens and parcelled the land to surrounding parishes.


Norman Conquest. Numerous lands were granted to the Normans. In 1086 the Domesday Book was compiled and recorded, churches existing at Butterwick, Fishtoft, Leverton, Skirbeck, Stickney, Steeping, Stickford, Sibsey, Thorpe and Toynton St.Peter.

11th/12 Century

During this period the monks made various attempts to drain the land and protect it from sea and river flooding, it is from this period that the earliest mention of the sea bank is made, referred to now as the “Roman Bank”. The duty of repairing banks and sluices devolved upon frontagers, but the works were neglected and many petitions were put to the King by people who suffered flooding.


A sluice was built below Boston to increase scour in the River Witham for the benefit of navigation.

13th Century

Commissions of Sewers were set up. These were the earliest drainage authorities with powers to investigate drainage problems, direct by whom works were to be carried out and assess the method of payment. (These Commissions were renewed by succeeding sovereigns until Henry VIII made them permanent in 1531).


Boston and district was overwhelmed by a sea flood “caused by much wind”.


Inquisition held at Boston into condition of Great Sluice.


Inquisition at Bolingbroke presented a verdict to the Kings Bench at Lincoln showing “that the marshes of the East Fenne and West Fenne, and also divers lands, meadow and pastures lying in the towns of Leed, Wrangle, Friskeney, and Waynflete betwixt the waters of Wytham and Waynflete, were drowned by a great inundation of water so that all inhabitants of those towns did wholly lose the benefit of their lands through defects of a certain floodgate at Waynflete which was to narrow and that it would be necessary to have another erected with the towns of Leek, Wrangle, Friskeney and Waynflete, and al others having rights of common, making a contribution to the cost.


Court at Sibsey Hall found that the Abbot of Kirkstead had neglected to repair the Witham banks near Langwarthe Grange so that the river flowed into the West Fen.


King’s Court at Bolinbroke fined the inhabitants of Boston and Skirbeck for neglecting to repair the New Gote Sewer in Sibsey.


Sluice built across the river in Boston by the Dutch engineer, May Hake, to stop the time An acre rate was levied on local parishes to pay for it.


From the Duchy of Lancaster records it appears that an attempt was made to drain the East and West Fens by enlarging certain drains.


One of these drains was the Maud Foster, cut from the Boston Haen to Cow Brygge. Queen Elizabeth I ordered a report on the condition of the East and West Fens but no action appears to have been taken.


King James X declared that he would undertake to drain these Fens but the House of Commons rejected his proposals and he confined his activities to the Great Level in Cambridgeshire.


Court of Sewers at Boston found that the lands of the West and East Fens were overflowed with water and that they were capable of recovery. A tax of ten shillings an acre was levied for repairs to the natural outfalls and other works. Sir Anthony Thomas with others then undertook to drain these Fens and began by erecting a new Maud Foster outfall sluice and widening the drain. The works of Sir Anthony Thomas are indicated on a map in Dugdale, dated 1661.


Adventures broke down the sluices and the matter was taken to the House of Commons. The Commoners commenced proceedings under common law against the Adventures in which they were successful and the Court of Sewers resumed charge of the district.


Court of Sewers held that various works should be carried out including a new Maud Foster sluice and drain improvement.


Head of Medlam Drain improved and a cut made to Cherry Corner and sluice removed to allow West Fen water to flow down Mill Drain to Maud Foster sluice. Attempts were made to drain other parts of West Fen to Cherry Corner but this was opposed by Boston Corporation who required water to flow through the town for navigation and this was upheld by a Court. This controversy raged for some time and on one occasion led to rioting near Sibsey.


An Act of Parliament was passed which, among other things defined the boundaries of the Fourth District of the Witham Commissioners. This excluded the East Fen and the Court of Sewers area. The same Act provided for the appointment or election of both General and District Commissioners to deal with works and to raise taxes to finance them.


Grand Sluice, Boston opened.


Mill Drain deepened and partial drainage of East Fen diverted in this direction, only to be blocked off by the Fenmen whose livelihood of fishing, fowling and reedcutting was threatened. During the late eighteenth century several reports were prepared on the condition and drainage of the East and West Fens and finally, upon the instigation of Sir Joseph Banks, Mr John Rennie recommended a scheme which, after some modification and much discussion, was put into being by Acts of Parliament in 1801 and 1803, under the direction of the Commissioners.


The main Act was passed which defined the works and also extended the Fourth District to include East Fen.


Hobhole Sluice opened.


New Maud Foster Sluice opened.


Boston flooded by storm tide.


East and West Fens reported to be in good condition.


Sea banks raised two feet above 1810 tide level.


5,000 acre District was taken into the Fourth District and Thorpe Culvert was built.


Land Drainage Act amended the powers of Courts of Sewers.


Skirbeck Court of Sewers issued a Verdict detailing all maintained watercourses in the parishes of Boston East, Skirbeck, Fishtoft, Freiston, Butterwick, Benington, Leverton, Leake, Wrangle, Friskney and Sibsey. Towards the middle of the nineteenth century it became evident that conditions in the East Fen were deteriorating due to some shrinkage and to the poor condition of the Witham outfall below Hobhole sluice. With the advent of the steam engine power became available for pump operation.


Witham Drainage (Fourth District) Act passed which provided for steam pumping engines to be installed at Lade Bank, and for channels etc. to be constructed to allow West Fen water to flow to Hobhole Sluice instead of Maud Foster sluice in adverse conditions. Pumping station commissioned in September. Witham Outfall improvement Act passed to authorise channel improvements.


Boston Dock opened.


Steeping River Act passed to authorise new outfall sluice and channel improvements.


Witham Drainage (Hobhole Sluice) Act to authorise additional and deeper sluice tun to take advantage of improved river channel.


Meeting place of District Commissioners changed from White Hart, Spilsby to Witham Office, Boston.


Royal Commission set up to investigate drainage Organisation in England and Wales – Court of Sewers, elected Drainage Boards and Drainage Authorities by Act were reviewed.


Land Drainage Act passed setting up Catchment Boards and internal Drainage Boards. Fourth District to now include Skirbeck Court of Sewers area.




17th APRIL – FIRST MEETING OF THE BOARD Held at 50 Wide Bargate, Boston. Subsequent meetings were held at the Witham Offices, Boston until September 1936.


September – meeting of Board held at new offices, 47 Norfolk Street, for the first time.


Thorpe Culvert Pumping Station commissioned by Catchment Board.


New Lade Bank Pumping Station commissioned oil engines.


Extensive flooding caused by heavy rainfall on melting snow.


Nunns Bridge constructed first restressed concrete structure in Britain. Wainfleet/Wrangle reclamation scheme funanced by frontagers. Hobhole Pumping Station scheme approved.


North Sea tidal surge overtopped banks but no serious breach into Fourth District.


New coastal area of 6,700 acres taken into Fourth District,


Hobhole Pumping Station commissioned and old sluice sealed off.


Wrangle Horseshoe Pumping Station commissioned.


36 inch diameter electric Pump commissioned at Lade Bank.


New workshop constructed at Lade Bank depot.


Leverton, Benington, Butterwick reclamation financed by frontagers.


Leverton and Benington Pumping Stations commissioned.


Flooding in East Fen due to rain and melting snow.


Storm tide surge flooded parts of Fourth District in Boston town.

Board resolved to carry out detailed investigation into East Fen drainage.


Extensive flooding in East and West Fens due to heavy rainfall.


New pumping station commissioned at Thorpe Culvert (Anglian Water Authority). Contribution by Witham Fourth.


Report by Sir Murdoch MacDonald & Partners issued on East and West Fens Drainage Improvement. Boston East submersible pump commissioned.


Ministry of Agriculture approved Lower Hobhole Cowbridge Drains Improvement Scheme. Work commenced.


Electric pumping station at Hobhole commissioned. Witham Fourth host the Association of Drainage Authorities Demonstration.


Littlemoor Lane, Sibsey pumps commissioned.

Tow additional electric pumps at Lade Bank Pumping Station commissioned. Board received Borough of Boston Civic Design Award for renovation of buildings at Lade Bank Pumping Station and Depot, 20th November.


Scheme to transfer water from Witham at Dogdyke to Boards system commissioned.


Major Drain improvement Scheme completed.


Flooding adjacent to the Catchwater drain in Stickford, Hagnaby, Stickney and Sibsey areas, due to heavy rainfall.


Cleansing Maud Foster by National River Authority commenced.


New Telemetry System Installed


Drain Mudding Scheme started. Boston Development Improvement Scheme started.


On the evening of 5 December 2013 a storm surge down the East Coast coincided with a high tide, to produce a 6.08m tidal surge along the coast and up the Haven in Boston town.  There were three breaches of the embanked sea defences at Wrangle and Boston Haven and water over topped at Grand Sluice Bridge and at the Stump in Boston leading to the flooding of 800 properties in Boston.  Tidal water of almost 3 feet deep came along Norfolk Street and into the Witham Fourth Office car park but not into the building, where several local people took refuge from the flood water overnight.


Hobhole Pumping Station  refurbishment was completed including new sluice doors, replacing tidal doors, new deisel tanks and a new cooling system totalling £700,000, using Defra funding


Raised 5.8km of sea defences at Wrangle to 7.2 metres to protect a vulnerable part of The Wash defences.  Using Defra and EU funding of £1.7M and the co-operation of landowners behind the bank (providing spoil for completion of the project), this scheme was completed by the Board on behalf of the EA with support from Lincolnshire County Council. An excellent partnership scheme.


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