The Holland Fen: Social and topographical changes in a Fenland environment, 1750-1945



Although much has been written about the consequences of drainage work carried out in peat fens, the result of eighteenth-century drainage and parliamentary enclosures in Lincolnshire silt fens has received little attention other than at a general level. This thesis explores the Holland Fen, to consider how an inflexible configuration of drainage and enclosure procedures in the eighteenth century was able to dominate the topography and all aspects of its social development and economy, for more than two centuries.
Central to this thesis are the complicated and unusual procedures taken by a group of eleven neighbouring parishes to drain and enclose a Lincolnshire fen in which they held undisputed common rights. How radical were these actions, and why were they taken? Particular use is made of contemporary documents including the drainage acts of 1762-6, the enclosure award and maps of 1769, various eighteenth-century London newspapers, and council minutes of a local borough. Data taken from proprietors' lists, census material, annual crop returns, and MAF documents reveal the progression of images of a confined and remote fen. These continue throughout its reclamation, challenges of extra-parochial areas, social development, economic growth and convoluted formation of civil communities.
While most studies of drainage and enclosure are only concerned with the first few years, or perhaps the first half-century after such events, the long-term nature of this topic, 1750-1945, has been determined by the direct interaction of these layouts with other important issues. These include plot sizes, leases, tenant rights, rebellion and social responses, migration, farm buildings, and farm servants in late-nineteenth century Lincolnshire. Local documents, photographs, diaries, and oral testimony contribute useful insights. Could an unyielding topography also influence religion, education, the triumph of local enterprise in a depressed economy, emigration, leisure, identity, coastal defences, and national security in wartime? This thesis claims research into lesser known fenlands is more likely to produce that wider range of information needed to fully appreciate the diversity of regional fenlands.







Brammer, Betty, “The Holland Fen: Social and topographical changes in a Fenland environment, 1750-1945,” Centre for Regional and Local History Theses and Papers, accessed June 13, 2024,