Narrowboat Tacet

Silent Movement - Our gap year travelling the inland waterways

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The Fens and a Fatality

On our way back along the River Lark we stopped at the little village of Prickwillow, an unprepossessing sort of place, but one which has an important role in the maintenance of the fens.



Before all the work of draining these large wetland areas the small village communities all had common land on the fens.  The rich fertile land gave them a good living, providing fish and birds for food, reeds for thatching and willow for basket making, hay for cattle and peat for fuel.



Attempts were made to build embankments and protect their land, but it often flooded, and because of the silt build up, navigation was difficult.

In 1650 the Dutch engineer, Cornelius Vermuyden came up with a plan to build drainage channels and put in sluices to drain the land, keep out the tides and open up navigation. There was much opposition from the local fenmen at the time. Only part of his original plans were carried through.

Extracting water from the fields and saving them from flooding created other problems. The peat soil shrank as it drained and now Prickwillow, along with many other parts of the fens, is below sea level. It is common for the fields to be lower and the river higher than the roads around here.


I must admit I was tempted to turn right not left as we walked into the village!P1090647


Much of the Prickwillow area lies below sea level and the drainage channel is 15ft below the river Lark, so in order to ensure that the land remained arable, a series of steam pumping engines were installed at the base of the newly dug drain, linked to the River Lark.






The Mirrlees diesel engine remains the centrepiece of the village's Museum of Fenland Drainage, and is believed to be the only example of an air-blast injection engine remaining in working order. The museum also contains other diesel engines, dating from P10906441919, recovered from other local pumping stations, and restored by volunteers. The Mirrlees engine remains in working order, and is demonstrated to interested visitors (that was Ian today) on several days throughout the year. Although today was not a scheduled working day the engine was being pressure tested for Health and Safety, so we did see it running.



The diesel engine followed the use of steam engines and wind powered pumps and has now been superseded by modern electric pumps.

Developments have continued over the years and after the devastating floods of 1947, the final improvements were made, going back to Vermuydens original plans.  The fens have been free of flooding since, with the EA managing the water levels and effects of the tides with the sluices. The main complex at Denver being the most important.


Around the village outside the museum, we came across the old telephone box, housing an art gallery.

P1090651 P1090653 P1090654 



The Baptist Chapel, which is in regular use each Sunday,



P1090655 P1090656

and the parish church, which is now closed.  It is an interesting building, made of flint, like those we saw back in Brandon.

Oh and the fatality as mentioned in the title?



This poor little fella,

brought onto the boat by Jumble, who was very proud of himself and was rather bemused by our dismay and subsequent removal of his trophy!

Poor moley.


  1. I hope you are going up to Judes Ferry, the river above the lock is the best bit. plenty of room to wind by the pub and they have a long landing stage. They also do nice food with a friendly landlord.
    see For the engines running at Prickwillow

  2. We did indeed get to Judes Ferry. Very nice. Thanks for link. The volunteers at Prickwillow work very hard keeping all the engines in such good condition.

  3. I'm relieved that the fatality was only a mole (sad though that is). When I first saw the title I was half afraid it might be Jumble (though I knew it wasn't as soon as the post began in normal informative, fashion).