Friday, 13 January 2012

Water Meadows "bedwork or floated water meadows"

It was said by the old men that the water should "trot" onto the fields, and "gallop" off.
On our low lying meadows there is still evidence of the very old style of management the "bedwork or floated water meadows" , where channels carry water onto the fields from the stream.

At the upstream end a sluice was built with simple grooves in the brickwork where balks of timber could be slotted in to hold the stream to a suitable hydrostatic head where by it was diverted along carrier channels around the edge of the meadow to be flooded, some times these would be along the top of formed humps to allow the water to reach the next fields. The levels as you can imagine are very critical, it was said by the old men that the water should "trot" onto the fields, and "gallop" off.

Standing water was not acceptable as it would kill the grass by starving the ground of oxygen, the running water carried nutrients in the silt and oxygen and other trace element that the meadows would otherwise not get. In the winter the flooding kept the frost out of the ground and the grass would start growing a lot earlier than non flooded fields. This would go on for a few weeks until spring when grass growth had started.

The main carriers tapered in there length with smaller carriers branching off towards the centre of the field again tapering off to nothing. Drainage channels were intersected (as with clasped hands) to carry the water back to the stream at the lower end of the system.
It can be seen in places where the carrier ditches were viaducted over some drainage channels and where when the main railway line was built around 1875, brick culverts were built to allow water to continue its route round to meadows up to half a mile of more from where it left the river.

In the village we have a Millennium Walk that follows the Millian Brook down from where the road fords it, to an area of grass, a picnic area, here the brook is fast flowing and stepping stone have been positioned to allow walkers to cross. Lower down where it is in a deep channel there is also a new footbridge.

Between the ford at the up stream end, and the foot bridge at the down stream end is a four acre meadow that has a small "bedworks" flooding system which the committee is exploring the possibility of bringing it back into use.

The brickwork cheeks of the old sluice have all but gone and would have to be rebuilt, and the main carrier channel that runs round three sides of the meadow have been filled in, but most of the branch carrier channels are still evident as are the drainage channels and the main drainage channel down the centre of the field.
First job to reinstate it would be to establish the level of water needed to flow into the main carrier, when dammed up at the sluice the water will backup up the stream to the ford, as long as the depth of water in the ford is not affected it would be feasible to carry on with reinstating the channels and the sluice.
This would bring back a very old management tool that had been in use for around two hundred years it got neglected when machinery and tractors took over from the horse and cart, so this system has not been activated or utilised in the last seventy five years.

From the Millian Brook around forty acres would have been flooded from three or maybe four sluices, on each one the water returns to the main flow of the brook.
Another system ran from the river Sow, and that covered getting on for a hundred acres with one of its main carries running under a brick culvert under the main West Coast main railway lines. From a vantage point you are able to see the pattern of the channels that had been established before the railways were cut through the countryside.

The Railway Across The peat bog

Its nice to look at very old maps, all faded and dog eared,
See what has change over the years, and what has disappeared,
Most roads and lanes are still the same, so are most the fields,
Village houses have increased, built in corners quite concealed.

Can see where the railway has, cut through field and ditch,
Diagonally they run to it, and a culvert they did pitch,
A hundred and seventy years ago, they dug a line right through,
With bridges over on a bank, and some went under too.

Across the peat bog they had dug, and filled it up with stone,
To this day now the rails sink, the levels they need to hone,
Most of the work was by hand, and horse and cart as well,
Men of steel they must have been, the tales they had to tell.


You must not know too much or be too precise or scientific about birds and trees and flowers and watercraft; a certain free-margin, and even vagueness - ignorance, credulity - helps your enjoyment of these things.
Walt Whitman (1819 - 1892)

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