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River Welland

The River Welland is a river in the east of England, some long. It rises in the Hothorpe Hills, at Sibbertoft in Northamptonshire, then flows generally northeast to Market Harborough, Stamford and Spalding, to reach The Wash near Fosdyke. For much of its length it forms the county boundary between Northamptonshire and Leicestershire, Rutland, Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire. It is a major waterway across the part of The Fens called South Holland, and is one of the Fenland rivers which were laid out with washlands. There are two channels between widely-spaced embankments with the intention that flood waters would have space in which to spread while the tide in the estuary prevented free egress. However, after the floods of 1947, new works such as the Coronation Channel were constructed to control flooding in Spalding and the washes are no longer used solely as pasture, but may be used for arable farming.

The Environment Agency is the navigation authority for the river, which is navigable as far upstream as Crowland, and with very shallow draught to West Deeping Bridge. The lock around the weir there is not usable. The traditional head of navigation was Wharf Road in Stamford.[1] The management of the lower river has been intimately tied up with the drainage of Deeping Fen, and the river remains important to the Welland and Deepings Internal Drainage Board,[2] for whom it provides the final conduit to the sea for pumped water.



The origin of the name for the river is unknown but appears to be Pre-English. In Old English the form was Weolud and may have changed to the Middle English form due to folk-etymology or Scandinavian influence.[3][4]


The River Welland, with its tributaries, form a river system with a catchment area of . Within this area, of waterway are designated as "main river", and are therefore managed for flood control by the Environment Agency. Of this total, the below Spalding are tidal, and have sea walls to protect the adjacent land from flooding, while are fresh water, but run through low-lying land, and are therefore embanked. Within the catchment area, are below sea level, and would be flooded without such defences.[5]

The basin runs in a broadly south-west to north-east direction, with an extension to the north around the West Glen and East Glen rivers. The underlying geology consists of Lias clays at the western end of the catchment, with Lincolnshire limestone in the centre, including the valleys of the Glen. The eastern third is mostly alluvial soils, and it is this part that relies on artificial pumping to prevent flooding. Rainfall over the area varies between per year, which is quite light, and because the land is efficiently drained during the winter months, there are few reserves, making the area prone to drought in the summer months.[5]


The Welland rises in the Hothorpe Hills, close to the contour, near Welland Rise, Sibbertoft in Northamptonshire.[6] Within , the small stream forms the border between Northamptonshire and Leicestershire. It flows westwards, before looping round, passing through the grounds of Hothorpe Hall in Theddingworth, now a conference centre, to flow generally eastwards through Lubenham to Market Harborough. The county border leaves the river on the west side of Market Harborough, as the town is wholly in Leicestershire, and picks it up again on the east side. The River Jordan joins the Welland in the centre of Market Harborough, flowing northwards to the railway station. Langton brook and another stream join from the west near Welham, after which Macmillan Way, a long distance footpath, crosses on its way from Abbotsbury in Dorset to Boston, Lincolnshire. Medbourne Brook joins from the north, after which the county border leaves the river again briefly to the north of Cottingham.[7]

The Welland passes to the north of Corby near Rockingham, and then to the south of Caldecott, where it becomes the county border between Northamptonshire and Rutland, and the Eye Brook joins from the north. As it flows past Harringworth, the river forms two channels, with the county border following the smaller, northern channel. It is crossed here by the Welland Viaduct, with its 82 brick arches, which was completed in 1879,[8] and carries the Oakham to Kettering Line over the valley. Continuing past Barrowden and Duddington, it flows northwards briefly to be joined by the River Chater at Ketton. The county border again leaves the river to the west of Stamford while below the town the river forms the border between Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire.[7]

Just before Stamford, the Great North Road, now labelled the A1, crosses the river, and a pumping station on the north bank at Stamford Meadows has pumped large quantities of water to the Rutland Water reservoir since its construction[9] in 1975. Stamford was the lowest point at which the river could be forded so the Roman Ermine Street crossed the Welland here. The A16 road crosses the river by a three-arched stone bridge designed by Edward Browning in 1845.[10] Beyond Stamford, Hudd's Mill marks the point at which the Stamford Canal left the river. The present mill building dates from 1751 and 1771.[11] The River Gwash, which the canal crossed on the level, joins from the north, and the remains of the canal follow the river on its north bank. Below Uffington, the county border follows the old course of the river, first to the south to Tallington and then to the north, while the main course now flows along the Maxey Cut to Peakirk. The old course consists of two streams, fed by sluices from the Maxey Cut, which meander to The Deepings. The eastern stream supplied power to Lolham and Maxey mills, while the western stream did the same for West Deeping mill and Molecey's mill, which still retains its 17th century undershot waterwheel, modified in the 19th century to Poncelet's improved design, and the only surviving waterwheel of its type in Lincolnshire.[12] At the western edge of Market Deeping the two streams join, and they are also joined by the Greatford Cut, which has carried the waters of the West Glen river since the early 1950s.[7]

After the remains of Deeping High lock and Deeping Low lock, there is a junction where the old course, the Maxey Cut, the South Drain and the Folly River, also a drain, meet. The river is officially navigable below this point.[13] Through Crowland and Cowbit to the edge of Spalding, the river is laid out with washlands,[14] which were historically used as pasture, because the river was allowed to flood the land when tidal levels prevented the water discharging into the sea. The river is bounded on the north and west by a bank, while the New River, a drainage channel to the south and east of it, is bounded by another bank. The land between the channels forms Crowland High Wash, Crowland Fodder Lots and Cowbit Wash. The southern bank is variously named Corporation Bank, Wash Bank and Barrier Bank. Passing through Spalding, where most of the flow is diverted through the Coronation flood relief channel, the town is protected by Marsh Road sluice and a sea lock to the east. It is joined by the River Glen and the Risegate Eau drainage channel before reaching the final bridge at Fosdyke, after which it flows into The Wash.[7]

Beyond the river banks, much of the fertile arable land is composed of marine silt, which suits the bulb-growing for which Spalding is famous. The commercial growing of bulbs was pioneered in the 1880s, with the first large-scale tulip fields introduced by Sam Culpin in 1907. At its peak in 1939, there were of bulb fields, and 3000 tons of flowers were exported through Spalding railway station. Tulips were grown on around in 1965, but this had reduced to less than by 1999.[15]


The Welland (Weolud) is first mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 921 AD.[3]

Richard de Rulos, who was Lord of Deeping Fen during the reign of William the Conqueror erected a strong embankment to prevent flooding of the meadows adjoining the river, which then became fertile fields and a pleasure garden.[16] During the reign of Henry III (1207 1272), complaints were made that of the two channels below Crowland, the one to Spalding was more favourable to the passage of barges, but the Abbot of Crowland had obstructed and narrowed its course by planting willow trees.[17] In the fourteenth century, Spalding was charged with failing to scour and repair the river, causing damage to the King's liege people, but argued that because it was tidal at this point, it was an arm of the sea, and so they were not responsible.[18]

The river was one of the earliest to be granted an act of Parliament for improvements, to allow navigation to Stamford. The act was granted in the reign of Elizabeth I in 1571, and detailed how Stamford had prospered as a result of the river, but also stated that mills built between Stamford and Deeping had resulted in it no longer being navigable, as they had diverted the water. Powers were granted to restore the river using either the old channel or the new one, although it is not clear exactly what was meant by this. There is no evidence that any work was carried out under the terms of the act.[16]

The remains of the low locks at Deeping St James
The remains of the low locks at Deeping St James
The powers were revived in 1620, when Stamford Corporation was given permission by the Commission of Sewers to build a new artificial cut, which would run from the eastern edge of Stamford near Hudd's Mill, to Market Deeping, where it would rejoin the river. The decision was ratified in 1623 by a grant of James I, and the corporation expected to have the work completed by 1627. However, they were unable to find a suitable contractor to carry out the work, and failed to reach agreement on terms with David Cecil in 1636, and two other potential contractors after that. Finally in 1664, an Alderman from Stamford called Daniel Wigmore took the job. He built the cut and 12 locks, which included the High Lock and the Low Lock on the river at Deeping St. James, at a cost of 5,000. In return for his expenditure, he was given the lease of the tolls for the next 80 years, for which he paid a rent of one shilling (five pence). The cut, known as the Stamford Canal was the longest canal with locks in the country at the time, and trade thrived, for Richard Blome recorded the prosperous Stamford malt trade in 1673.[19]

The people of Market Deeping, Deeping Gate and Deeping St James, together with other villages along the river presented a petition to Elizabeth I, requesting that the fens should be drained, as the banks of the river and of the neighbouring Glen were in a poor state of repair. They suggested that Thomas Lovell should undertake the work, which he did, at a cost of 12,000, for which he received of the land which was reclaimed as a result of the work. Unrest in the early 1600s resulted in most of the works being destroyed, but in 1632 a group of adventurers led by the Earl of Bedford were granted permission to drain Deeping Fen, South Fen and Croyland. The work included making the Welland deeper and wider from Deeping St James to its outfall beyond Spalding, and the construction of side drains. These included a drain running from Pode Hole to below Spalding, which is still known as Vernatt's Drain, after one of the adventurers called Sir Philibert Vernatti. Although declared completed in 1637, efficient drainage would have to wait until the construction of Pode Hole pumping station in 1827.[20]

At Crowland the river used to split into two channels, one broadly following the present course of the river, and the other joining the old South Ea to reach the River Nene near Wisbech. Dugdale, writing in 1662, described the Spalding channel as "a most slow course".[21] The river no longer flows through Crowland, but there is a triangular bridge in the centre of the town, which spanned the junction.[22]

Spalding had been a port from before any of the river improvements were made. The townspeople had refused to repair the river during the reign of Henry III, as they claimed it was part of the sea here. Its importance as a port increased with the river improvements and the Stamford Canal, and although it did not have a customs house, by 1695 it had various officials who acted as customs officers for goods arriving at the quays and warehouses. Exports included oats, coleseed, rape oil, hides and wool, with a much greater variety of imports, including stone, timber, coal, groceries, glass and beeswax. More exotic imports included French and Spanish wines, and some of the first imports of tea, coffee and chocolate.[23]

Deeping Fen

The drainage of Deeping Fen was again addressed in 1664, when the Deeping Fen Act awarded the Earl of Manchester and others of land in return for the drainage works. They were also obliged to maintain the banks of the river, to ensure that both the Welland and the Glen were kept clean and free-flowing, and to ensure that no tolls were charged for navigation on any part of the river below East Deeping. The inadequacy of the outfall and a spate of bad weather stopped them from completing their task. They tried renting out the land they had been granted, but many tenants were unable to pay the rent, due to the poor state of the drainage which reduced crop yields.[24] In April 1729, the Deeping Fen Adventurers received a letter from Captain John Perry, expressing the opinion that the only way to improve the drainage was to improve the river outfalls, and proposing the construction of scouring sluices on the river at Spalding, on Vernatt's drain at its outfall, and on the River Glen at Surfleet. Perry was an engineer of some repute, who had set the standard for engineering reports in 1727, when he published his recommendations for the North Level of the Fens. His plans were approved, and the Adventurers offered to give him land covering nearly in payment for the work. He sold one third of the land to finance the project, and began work in 1730. Cowbit sluice on the Welland had six wide gates which were operated by chains connected to a treadwheel. At high tide, water was penned in Cowbit Wash, between banks which were set well back from the main channel. The bed of the river below the sluice was loosened by dragging wooden rollers with iron spikes over it. At low tide, the sluice gates were opened, and the flow scoured out the silt for some downstream. A navigation lock was constructed beside the sluice, so that vessels could still gain access to the river above. Perry died in February 1733, and was buried in Spalding churchyard.[25] The lock lasted until it was removed by the Welland commissioners in 1813.[24]

Perry was succeeded by John Grundy, Sr., who published a paper in 1734 on flow in open drains. He calculated theoretic flow rates, and then used observation in the field to modify the results. He oversaw a programme of repairs to the Deeping Bank, which ran for along the north and west side of the river, while John Scribo was employed to do the same for the Country Bank, which ran for on the south and east. Grundy made the river deeper above Spalding, and also constructed a sluice and reservoir at the mouth of the Glen. The reservoir covered and provided water to scour the channel below the sluice.[26] His son, John Grundy, Jr., took over after the death of his father in 1748, and spent nearly 10,000 on bank repairs between then and 1764. He rebuilt Perry's sluice soon after 1750, with taller doors and a set of tide gates to prevent the tide moving upstream, and rebuilt the navigation lock in 1754. After 1764, Thomas Hogard became the Surveyor of Works, but Grundy continued to act as a consultant engineer.[27]

Hogard devised a scheme to cut a new channel from the junction of the Welland and the Glen to Wyberton, on the estuary of the River Witham below Boston. At the end of the cut, there would be a huge sluice and a navigation lock. The Adventurers asked Thomas Tofield for a second opinion, who suggested a shorter cut from Spalding to Fosdyke. They requested help from Grundy, who proposed a cut to Fosdyke, and that the outfall of Vernatt's drain should be moved downstream. Improvements to the drain were carried out under an act of Parliament obtained in 1774, and an act was obtained in 1794 to sanction the Wyberton cut, although the work was not carried out, and Grundy's cut was built under a new act of 1801.[28]

Several prominent civil engineer considered the problems of Deeping Fen and the river outfall at the end of the 1700s. Two reports were produced, one by George Maxwell, and the second by Edward Hare, who had been assisted by William Jessop and John Rennie. They formed the basis for the Deeping Fen Act of 1801. The channel above Spalding was made deeper, the north bank was made stronger, and the North and South Drove Drains were enlarged through the fen. One of Rennie's recommendations had been to replace the windmills which drove the drainage pumps with a steam pumping station at Pode Hole, but this was not implemented. After reports by Rennie and Thomas Pear in 1815, and by Rennie alone in 1818 and 1820, the provision of steam engines was authorised by an act in 1823. The trustees appointed by the 1801 act continued to manage Deeping Fen until they were replaced in 1939 by the Deeping Fen, Spalding and Pinchbeck Internal Drainage Board,[29] subsequently renamed the Welland & Deepings Internal Drainage Board.[30]

The Outfall

Plans to re-route the outfall along a new channel which would meet the River Witham at The Scalp, near Boston, were authorised in 1794, but the money could not be raised at the time, due to the financial crisis caused by the French Wars.[31] Grundy's shorter channel had been finished by 1810, improving both drainage and navigation. James Walker reported in 1835 on further improvements, making the recommendation that the river below Spalding should be constrained between high banks, so that the scouring action of the water would dredge its own channel. Rather than excavating, which he estimated would cost 70,000, he suggested using fascines made of thorn branches, around which silt would be deposited. Such a scheme would only cost 13,000, and the work went on for many years.[32] The effects of the embankments had resulted in the bed of the river below Fosdyke being around lower by 1845.[33] In 1867, the River Welland Outfall Act enabled the trustees to raise money to repair the walls where the tide had washed away some of the fill behind the fascines. A dredger was employed between 1889 and 1890, which had been invented by a Mr. Harrison, the Superintendent of Works.[32]

With the passing of the Land Drainage Act in 1930, the Welland Catchment Board was created. They had spent 91,537 on the outfall by 1937. Towards the end of the Second World War, E. G. Taverner, the chief engineer for the Drainage Board, devised a plan to relieve flooding in Spalding by creating a bypass channel, and building the Greatford Cut to divert the waters of the West Glen river into the Welland upstream of Market Deeping. The scheme cost 723,000, and the Coronation Channel around Spalding was opened in September 1953. Fulney lock was constructed at the same time to exclude the tide from the upper river,[32] as was the Maxey Cut, an embanked channel that bypasses the villages of Market Deeping, Deeping Gate and Deeping St James.[34]


The bridge connecting Deeping St James and Deeping Gate crosses the old course of the River Welland. The river as far as Stamford was used by the Romans for navigation, as it formed part of a system including the Car Dyke,[13] which ran along the western edge of the Fens and crossed the river near the modern Folly River. Navigation to Stamford was improved by the canal. Boats used on the canal were small lighters, around wide, capable of carrying from seven to fourteen tons, and normally worked in trains of four vessels. With the arrival of the railways, river trade declined. The Midland Railway reached Peterborough in 1846, and opened their line to Melton Mowbray, passing through Stamford, in 1848. Carriage of coal on the upper river stopped, and the locks quickly deteriorated. By April 1863, all traffic had ceased, and Stamford Corporation tried to sell the line at auction, but failed because their ownership of it was disputed.[35]

Trade on the lower river was carried in barges and keels. In 1802, vessels carrying 60 tons could reach the port facilities at Spalding, but this had decreased to 40 tons by the 1820s when the river was in a worse state. Nevertheless, in 1829, 250 vessels brought 12,523 tons of goods to the port, and 7,138 tons were carried away aboard 143 vessels. By 1835 this had risen to 23,387 tons arriving on 465 vessels, and 10,928 tons leaving aboard 232 vessels. With later improvements, barges and sloops of up to 120 tons could use the port. Because the river was maintained for drainage, some commercial traffic continued despite the railways, and tolls of 478 were collected on 11,690 tons in 1888. Coal for Spalding gasworks arrived by boat until the early 1900s, and the last regular trade was the carriage of corn, hay and straw from Spalding to Fosdyke, where the cargo was transferred to larger ships. All commercial carrying had ceased by the end of the Second World War.[36]

Vessels of and drawing can reach Fulney lock at high water. The lock is and at normal summer water levels, can accommodate boats drawing . The river is officially navigable to the point at which the Folly River joins it, by boats up to long. Headroom on this stretch is severely restricted, at . Smaller boats such as canoes, which can be carried around obstructions, can continue up to Stamford,[13] but they must use the old course of the river through the Deepings, rather than the Maxey cut.[37]

Below Spalding, there were no restrictions on headroom, which allowed small coasters to reach the town. The bridge at Fosdyke was a swing bridge, to comply with the provisions of the Fosdyke Bridge Act of 1870. The demise of such traffic allowed it to replaced by a fixed bridge with headroom of , but the powers of the original act had to be rescinded, and the Port of Fosdyke Act was obtained in 1987 to allow this to happen.[38][39] The redundant wharfs at Fosdyke have been developed to provide moorings for yachts and other pleasure craft.[13] The lock at Fulney has three sets of gates, two pointing towards the sea, and a third between them which points upriver. The lock can thus only be used when the level below it is higher than the level above it, and as the tide falls, the intermediate gate closes to prevent its use.[37]

The principle of there being no tolls for use of the river was established by the 1664 act of parliament. This was reversed by the 1794 act, which imposed high tolls, until they were reduced by the provisions of an act of Parliament obtained in 1824.[31] The river is now managed by the Environment Agency between Stamford and just below Fosdyke bridge, and a licence is required to use it. From there to the Wash, it was managed by the Port of Fosdyke Authority,[13] but since they went into administration, the Environment Agency have also managed the section from Fosdyke Bridge to below the Whaplode River.[40]


The river, in its upper reaches, supports a wild brown trout population. Chub and perch dominate the middle reaches around Stamford, with pike, perch and zander inhabiting the lower lengths around Spalding.

A collaboration between the Welland Rivers Trust, the Wild Trout Trust and the Environment Agency has resulted in the construction of a rock ramp, to allow migrating sea trout to pass up the river beyond the weir on the Maxey Cut, which was acting as a barrier. Some 300 tons of rock, with 50 tons of finer material forming a top layer, were used to create the ramp. The finer material ensures that water mainly flows over the ramp, rather than through it. The ramp also enables young eels or elvers to move up the river, and provides habitat for stone loach and bullheads.[41]

Large numbers of swans and geese use the river around Crowland, and out to sea. Smaller populations of each can be seen around the Stamford Meadows, and further upstream.

On the south bank of the river below Fosdyke bridge, the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust have established Moulton Marsh nature reserve, on a strip of land where soil was excavated to raise the banks in 1981. Habitat is provided by some broad-leafed woodland, covering , several salt-water lagoons and tidal scrapes, covering , and of saltmarsh. A variety of birds can be seen, including Little Grebe and Water Rail, which spend the winter on the lagoons, while the scrapes, which consist of shallow pools and muddy shorelines, are visited by Common Redshank and Little Egret.[42]

Between the river mouth and the River Witham, a large expanse of saltmarsh provides breeding grounds for Common Redshank, Eurasian Oystercatcher and Reed Bunting in the summer, and Eurasian Wigeon, Mallard, Common Shelduck and Common Teal in the winter. Birds of prey such as Hen Harrier and Merlin feed on the flocks of Linnet and Twite, while the mudflats support Dunlin, Whimbrel, and Bar-tailed Godwit. The Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust have a reserve there,[43] which is next to RSPB Frampton Marsh, a reserve managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.[44]

Tributaries of the River Welland

Points of interest

See also



External links

cs:Welland (p tok Severn ho mo e) sw:Mto Welland pl:Welland (rzeka w Anglii)

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