Lands lately belonging to Sir C. Vermuyden, now John Gibbon 4,554

Mr Andrew Bocard & Mr John Corselis 3,600. Sir Philibert Vernatti 3,150

Mr Abram Vernatti 550. Mr Lucas Van Valkenburgh 1,247

Mr Marcus Van Valkenburgh 1,146. Mr Cornelius Van Beuren 1,300

Mr Matthew Van Valkenburgh 811. Mr Samuel Van Peenan 1,178

Mr John Van Baerie 1,000 Mr James Cambell Knt. 600

Messrs Isaac & Pieter Van Peenan 572 Mr Pieter Cruypennick 440

The Widow of Edward Bishop 400 Mr Marcellus Van Darin 400

Mr William Van Weeley 361 Mr Philip Jacobson 350

Sir John Ogle Knight 339 The heirs of Derrick Semey 300

Mr Abram Struys 250 Mr Leonard Catt 200

Mr Fabian Vliet 200 Messrs Roeloff & Sebastian Franken 200

The Widow of Michael Crayestteyn 200 Mr Abram Dolens 200

The Widow of Dionysius Vandale 160 Mr Jacob Struys 150

Mr Charles de Bruxelles 100 Mr Regnier Cornelisen Vos 100

Mr Wouter Degelder 100 The Professor Goel 100

Mr John Vandimen 100 The heirs of Jacob Droagbroot 80

Sir James Catts Knight 67.

Tomlinson gives another list on the same page of people in rents areas and by how much.

As stated, the people of the Isle of Axholme suffered immensely too and would not cease their struggles for compensation for a long time. If Vermuyden thought he had had a hard time of it already, he was unaware that worse was yet to come. Following the Mowbray Deed, see earlier, granting the common of the Isle of Axholme to its inhabitants forever, the said inhabitants did not recognise Vermuyden’s right through the king to compulsory take whatever land he needed for his drainage scheme, for whatever compensation price he deemed reasonable. Indeed, it was worse than the Isleonians originally thought, since they believed Vermuyden only required to cut drainage channels through their land, when in fact Vermuyden planned to claim all the land, since the king deemed their Deed invalid since the previous Mowbray had forfeited this land back to the Crown due to acts of treason, for which he was hanged.

From Sir Edward Osborne, survey in 1634, we get the following information also. The Hatfield open field system. In total there were 525 acres and three roods, additionally Stainforth and Fishlake had 370 and 264 acres respectively. Thorne had the least with only two fields amounting to 202 acres. Sir Edward ordered Vermuyden to rectify his ineffective drainage and settle the land claims, which Vermuyden refused to do. So, Sir Edmund sent him to jail until he saw the error of his ways and agreed to making Dutch River and other rectifications. Vermuyden, therefore did his last restorative work in this area a full 12 years on from commencement of the plans, so about 1638.

The land disputes however were still unresolved. The inhabitants of Epworth would agree to no compromise, or compensation, either in land or money (Tomlinson). The Commission appointed to allot the drained land, a third each to the king, Vermuyden and the commoners, allotted at first 6,000 acres out of the total 13,400 acres of the common to the commoners. The inhabitants totally rejected this and referred a complaint to the Attorney General Sir John Banks. He decreed that an addition 1,000 acres be allotted from Haxey Common as well as also Epworth South Moor and Butterwick Moor. Furthermore, he ruled that since the poor of Epworth, Haxey, Owston and Belton, all part of the Epworth Manor, would greatly suffer due to the now lack of fish, that the participants should pay for £400 for hemp to employ them in the making of sackcloth and cordage. (Tomlinson). Still unsatisfied the people still claimed the whole of the isle commons, citing the Mowbray Deed as always. They set to destroying the works of the participants in riots and some were arrested. About this time the Civil Wars broke out (1642-1646 and 1648-1649) and the Isleonians took against the king and Vermuyden and his drainage scheme and sided with the Parliamentarians.

Soon after the drainage King Charles I continued to disregard Parliament and tried to rule as an absolute monarch as in times past, as he believed was his right. The final straw was imposing new taxes which had not been approved by parliament, which he had disbanded in 1629, and which understandably many refused to pay. Almost without exception the people of Hatfield Chase and adjacent Isle of Axholme were already against the king on account of his and Vermuyden’s unfair imposition of the drainage of their land. King Charles was also unpopular with religious sects, as he tried to impose the Church of England universally and persecuted any others, particularly Puritan Protestants. As we saw with the immigration of workers for the drainage many of the Dutch and French were already escaping religious persecution from the Catholic Church on the continent. Huguenots could largely identify with Puritans and the Roman Catholic Walloons, though different were obviously still against the king. Methodism was not founded until over 50 years after the Civil Wars by John Wesley, from Epworth, Isle of Axholme. Therefore, the people here naturally supported the Parliamentarians (Roundheads) and riots then war broke out in 1642. The demands of the people were that there should be limits on the king’s power. Other troubles were happening in Ireland where Catholics were massacring Protestants, and to prevent this an army needed to be raised, but an army in the king’s name could not be trusted and so a parliamentary army was formed. Of course, this enraged the king and battles took place in England.

Oliver Cromwell, born 1599 was from East Anglia and a Member of Parliament for Huntingdon in 1628 and then for Cambridge from 1640-1649. He was related to Henry VIII minister Thomas Cromwell and so landed gentry (people with enough rent from their land as to not need to work for a living). His family circumstances had unfortunately left him poor and this is why he sold up and moved to rented accommodation at Huntingdon. He found faith with the Puritans and so opposed the king’s persecution. Cromwell joined the Parliamentary Army rising to captain. He was a fearless and enthusiastic cavalry leader and was always at the front of the charge, putting his faith in God’s protection. In 1644 the Royalists under Prince Rupert swept up the north-west of England and over the Pennines to relieve the besiegement of York by the Parliamentarians, which they did, and camped three miles west of the city at Marston Moor. The Parliamentarians met them, but battle did not commence immediately. When it did it was to be the largest and bloodiest battle of all the civil wars and saw Rupert lose his winning streak. They were not only defeated but routed as they fled back to York, with many more being struck down in the three-mile dash. The result of this was decisive and effectively meant the Royalists had lost all the north.

The success of the Parliamentarian army this time was put down to the discipline Cromwell imposed on his men. Rising in rank, he insisted that new recruits must have religious zeal and outstanding disciple. The men were ordinary common men, who were pious and their leaders were not gentry or aristocrats. They were not to mistreat civilians by plunder and rape, they must not drink or go with whores. This army was known as the New Model Army. By 1647 the war was all but over and negotiations began with the defeated, but uncooperative king. These talks went unresolved for a long time, as no one could decide what to do with the king. This did not sit well with some sections of the political movement, particularly the Levellers, who stood for equality between all men, particularly the vote, increased suffrage and tolerance of all religions. This group arouse in 1649 through protests to release the outspoken Parliamentarian John Lilburne from his numerous bouts in prison. Lilburne would not be silenced when he saw corruption. Whilst in prison he wrote his manifesto ‘An Arrow Against All Tyrants and Tyranny’. His supporter were Richard Overton, Willian Walwyn and Thomas Prince and for the most part had the support of the New Model Army. Things culminated with the publication of the ‘Agreement of the People’ which appeared at the Putney meetings in 1647. Parliament was mainly against the king’s trail and tried to find another agreement, but the king would still not cooperate. The New Model Army therefore stormed parliament with only those that supported the king’s trail allowed in to vote. This ‘Rump Parliament’ therefore passed a bill to put the king on trial. Cromwell seeing no alternative, came around to fully supporting this. The trial was on 20th January 1649, but the arrogant king refused to recognise its authority, declaring that since he was king, how could he be tried for treason? How could any court try a king? Cromwell had hardened his line by now seeing the king could never be trusted if allowed to continue to be monarch and would always seek more power over parliament and the people as he saw fit and so he forced a verdict which was given on 25th January to execute the king by severing of his head from his body and he was beheaded on 30th. The land was now a Commonwealth and Cromwell saw unfinished business with his army now, in Ireland, where the Protestants were still being massacred by the Catholics. He took the NMA over there and zealously fought the Catholic army. Here Cromwell’s disciplined army seemed to run riot, through rage, and many atrocities have been recorded. In 1653 he left Ireland and returned to London. On his return the reluctant Cromwell was hastily installed as Lord Protector. Cromwell died naturally in 1658 at 59, and Parliament then invited Charles II back from Scotland to retake the crown.

On his campaigns Cromwell passed through our region as De la Pryme says “Oliver Cromwell, that great rebell and villane, marched through Hatfield and Thorne with several companys of horse into ye north and came back the same way.”.

In a pretence to flood the land again, the commoners in 1642 circulated a rumour that Sir Ralph Hansby was in Doncaster with a Royalist army about to attack them. This army was from Nottingham. So, again using the Parliamentarian pretext they opened the flood gates at Snow Sewer and drowned the land to a considerable depth all around for 4,000 acres. They posted soldiers with muskets for seven weeks to shoot anyone who attempted to close them. The king at this time was in York arranging his supporters to vote in favour of war with his parliament.

“Seven of the inhabitants of the Manor of Epworth brought their actions at law against the said participants, for recovering of what had been previously settled by decrees, with their own consents.

Whereupon the said participants exhibiting their bill in the Exchequer chamber, for establishing their possession against those seven, obtained this order ; viz. that the Solicitor-General should proceed upon the same in that court with all convenient speed : and in the mean time possession of the lands in question to be held in quiet by the plaintiffs, as it had been formerly settled by the said court, and enjoyed at any time since the said decree made : and likewise, their suits at law should be stayed by the injunction of the same court until the hearing of the cause.

Upon which injunction the sheriff had a writ of assistance, and came with near a hundred persons to quiet the possession, and set up the banks of those 4,000 acres first laid waste. But one Daniel Noddel, solicitor for the before-mentioned inhabitants, hearing of the said sheriffs’ coming, got together about 400 men, and forced him with all his assistants to fly ; and having so done, demolished what he the said sheriff had before caused to be set up.

The participants therefore being thus forcibly kept out of possession brought their bill to hearing ; which the said Noddel discerning, he drew in to his aid Lieutenant Colonel John Lilburne (a person of a most turbulent spirit, and who since died a quaker) and Major John Wildeman ; and whilst the cause was hearing, joined with the said inhabitants in a further riot on the remaining 3,400 acres, impounding the tenants’ cattle, and refusing to admit of replevins [where a landlord has levied distress, the tenant may apply to the county court for replevin], and so forced them to what rates they pleased for their redemption.

Whereupon the said participants, not knowing otherwise what to do, complained several times to Michael Monckton, a justice of the peace in those parts ; who not only refused to grant any warrants, or pursue any legal course for their preservation , but on the contrary gave encouragement to the rioters ; and upon an indictment exhibited against some of them in the sessions for those outrages, which were found by the jury, some of the justices there sitting, thinking it fit to fine the delinquents at four or five marks a piece, the said Monckton moved openly that their fines might be but six pence a piece ; and insisted so earnestly thereon that the fine was imposed on them was no more than twelve pence a man.

Howbeit after this, viz. in February 1650, upon a full hearing in the Exchequer, a decree was made for establishing the possession with the participants ; which being published on the place in the presence of divers of the said inhabitants, the latter having gotten the influence of the said Lilburne, Wildman, and Noddel, declared that they would not give any obedience thereto, nor to any order of the Exchequer or Parliament, but said that they could make as good a parliament themselves, some pressing that it was a parliament of clouts, and that if it sent any forces they would raise men to resist them ; and thereupon proceeded to the defacing of the church at Sandtoft, and within ten days’ time did totally demolish the town itself with other houses thereabout to the number of fourscore and two habitations, besides barns, stables and outhouses, as also a windmill ; and destroyed all the corn and rape then growing on the said 3,400 acres ; the damage of all which amounted to fourscore thousand pounds, as appeared by testimonies of sundry witnesses.

All which waste and spoil being done the said Lilburne, Wildman, Monckton, and Noddel confederating together, made an agreement with several of the inhabitants of Epworth, that in consideration of 2,000 acres of the said land so wasted to be given to Lilburne, and Wildman, and 200 acres to Noddel, they the said Lilburne, and Wildman, and Noddel should defend them from all those riots past, and maintain the said inhabitants in possession of all the rest of the 7,400 acres ; and in accomplishment of that agreement sealed deeds accordingly.

And after this the said Lilburne and Noddel went to another lordship, called Crowle, where they agreed with some of the inhabitants thereof to get their commons again, as Epworth had done ; advising them to impound the tenants’ cattle and that if any replevin were brought they should impound them again, and break down their fences, eat up their crops, and so tire them till they had attorned tenants to them ; all which they accordingly did. The tenants therefore being thus terrified, and seeing their condition no better than their neighbours, took leases from Jaspar Margrave and George Stovin (two of Lilburne’s confederates) who gave bonds to save them harmless. And at the making of these leases Noddel declared openly in the presence of diverse persons that he would lay £20 with any man that as soon as Lilburne came to London there should be a new parliament, and that Lilburne being one of them should call that parliament to account ; adding further that they having now finished this of Lincolnshire (meaning gotten the land back) they would go into Yorkshire (i. e. the rest of the Level), and do the like there ; then they would give the Attorney General work enough to do.

And Noddel said at another time, that now they had drawn their case they would print it, and nail it to the parliament door ; then if members would not do them justice they would come up, and making an outcry pull them out by the ears. Having thus possessed themselves of the proportions above mentioned, they demised the several parts thereof to sundry persons, Lilburne himself repairing the house [at Sandtoft] which had been built for the minister, and almost pulled down by the rioters. He put his servants to reside and keep possession in it, and employed the church as a stable and barn.

All about that time, likewise, some of the inhabitants of Misterton pulled down another slues, neer that town, which occasioned the river of Trent to break down the banks and overflow the whole level, so that the barns and stacks of corn were drowned a yard high, at the least.

And thinking this not to be mischief enough, the inhabitants of the Isle of Axholme did about Michaelmasse in the year 1645 tumultuously throw down a great part of the banks, and filled up the ditches, putting in cattle into the corn,” &c.

Noddel brought two Complaint and Declaration pamphlets addressed to the Parliament of the Commonwealth of England, in 1653 and 1654, where Noddel stated he had been the commoners’ solicitor for the past eight years.

The legal proceedings for the Isle of Axholme commons dragged on much longer, until The Michaelmas Term 1651 and are detailed in Tomlinson. In the Court of the Exchequer the common-right owners had trail, verdict, judgement, and execution in their favour, in the name of Thomas Vavasour of Bellwood, whose ancestor Richard de Belwood, was one of the eleven parties to the deed of Sir John de Mowbray. (Tomlinson) This was not however the end of the matter.

The Council of State issued an order, dated August 1653, that “the forces of the Army assembled in the Level of Hatfield Chace within the counties of York, Lincoln, and Nottingham, or any of them, should aid and assist the officers of justice and the said participants for settling and establishing possession of the 7,400 acres of those lately improved lands within the manor of Epworth, and also for executing the decrees and orders of the said Court of Exchequer, or any courts of justice touching their possessions therein, for preventing such riots and outrages in the future. And in respect of the great damage suffered by the said participants and their tenants, they further ordered that the Commissioners of the Great Seal for the time being, should award a special commission of oyer and terminer [a commission to inform a court case] to the judges of assize for the said respective counties, to try rioters, and punish them according to law and justice ; and to enquire of the damages suffered, as aforesaid, by the participants and their tenants, to the end that they might have just reparation for the same.” (Tomlinson)

Nathaniel Reading Esquire came to this area at first to collect fee farm rents in arrears for the Earl of Antrim and was at first counsel for the commoners in the allotting of drained lands, he however became a participant and so later changed to Vermuyden’s side. In 1655 Nathaniel Reading was employed by the participants “to undertake ye subduing of those monsters” and wage war against the commoners. To do this legally he obtained writs of assistance and orders of the House of Lords, and deputations from the Sheriffs of the three counties. He bought horses and employed 200 armed men as an army, and sometimes hired more. They were paid £20 a year each and got their food as well. He also provided a chirurgeon (surgeon). He engaged the commoners in 31 set battles, in which several of his men were killed or wounded. There were a few more serious riots however, one of which resulted in the impounding of cattle and arrests of others who had not paid their scotts. At this around a hundred commoners came,

with swords, pistols, carbines, halberts [halberds] and other arms did, at Hatfield, in the county of York, assault and set upon persons appointed to keep the said distress, dangerously wound several of them, including the constable of the said town, who in your Highness name charged to keep the peace. And when on the 19th inst. the sheriff of the said county of Lincoln, in pursuance of a precept, assisted Mr Reading in taking another distress, several of the assilants aforesaid, to the number of forty or fifty, rescued that distress likewise.” (Tomlinson)

Eventually the Council of State appointed a committee who sent veteran Major-General Whalley with a real army to oppose the knight armies that had gathered at the Isle of Axholme as a base. Whalley with Cromwell had led the Parliamentary army with distinction in the first Civil War, in our area notably at The Battle of Gainsborough on 28th July 1643. They had commanded 1,200 at that battle.

Mr Reading though had repaired and restored buildings and lands (including a church) and all seemed quiet and well until 1688, except he was owed £3,000 by the participants, which they could not pay. The participants noted there was still riots, but to settle the matter the participants offered him a six-year free lease of land in Epworth Manor. Reading was extremely reluctant to accept this seeing the trouble it would cause him, but there were no other options for payment and so he accepted. Reading fenced and cropped 1,000 acres but was continual upset by assaults on him. He was shot at, his possessions vandalized, and his cattle killed, they cut down hundreds of his fruit trees and burnt the house while the family were in, but they escaped. They ransacked another house he had built further away on south side of New Idle Bank opposite Sandtoft Church (the latter on north side of bank of which nothing remains). Mr Reading obtained permission to arrest the ringleaders and got some imprisoned, and some outlawed (cast out of the manor) however the commoners got together to raise enough money for the outlaws to go to parliament with their case. Being outlaws they did not need to obey their (former) lord or anyone telling them not to do such a thing, and so could go to parliament.

The commoners took on Mr Popplewell as their solicitor, but in fact he wasn’t qualified. To pay Popplewell, the commoners fenced several hundred acres of crown and participants land, which Popplewell then rented out to them. Other attacks which included a great number of men led by Popplewell’s wife attacking the participants and burning crops and pulling down fences. This was one of the more serious charges against rioters and meant some were now held at Lincoln assizes, including Popplewell’s wife. In order to obtain their release, Popplewell engaged Coll Whichcott and Coll Pownall to broker a deal with Mr Reading. This was achieved by a payment of £600. They settled most disputes by a decree in 1692, between the three drainage partners eventually, but for some ongoing legal wrangles. Mr Reading died at Belton in 1712 aged above 100. Two years later King George I took the thrown and made the act of rioting illegal and sent Clayton’s Regiment of Foot (of which Mr Thomas Reading (son of Nathaniel) was Lieutenant-colonel) to encamp at Ross to defend lands and possessions. This worked and by 1719 the commoners’ case was thrown out with costs, and this finally settled things. So, the commoners did get back most of their lands but not this final bit. Most of the immigrant participants had by now given up and gone home, and others who were participants but not immigrants lost their money. Over a long time most of the lands became owned or rented by natives, often locals and though the commoners still resented the lost land they did not persecuted them. Of the immigrants that remained, in this country but not necessarily with any land now, the families Tomlinson knew still around were: Amory, Arneu (now Harnew), Brunyou (now Brunyee), Delonoy, Dumoulin (now Dimoline), Gelder, Egar, Impson (now Empson), Paine, Ogle, Taffinder, Tyson, Urrie (now Urrey) and others.

Tomlinson says of one of the main ringleader, John Lilburne, this:

One of the most remarkable demagogues who took part in these local disputes was John Lilburne, alias, “Freeborn John.” While an apprentice he gave signs of repugnance to restraint by complaining before the city chamberlain of his master’s harshness. Clarendon observes : - “This man, before the Troubles, was a poor bookbinder ; and for procuring some seditious pamphlets against the church and state to be printed and dispersed had been severely censured in the Star Chamber, and received a sharp constigation, which made him more obstinate and malicious against them.” While in prison he read with avidity all the virulent polemic discourses and libellous tracts which could be procured ; “from whence, with the venom, he had likewise contracted the impudence and bitterness of their style, and by practice brought himself to the faculty of writing like them : and so, when that licence broke in of printing all that malice and wit could suggest, he published some pamphlets in his own name, full of that confidence and virulency which might asperse the government most to the sense of the people, and to their humour.” The number of tracts written by and of him amounted to several hundreds. During the Civil War he entered the army, and was taken prisoner by the Royalists, when the Parliamentarians regarded him as a martyr ; to whom Lilburne, having bribed his jailor, escaped. Royalty being deposed, and episcopacy trampled down, Lilburne turned the power of his invective, first against the parliament, and afterwards against the Protector- always discovering some glaring abuse to be rectified. At length Cromwell was denounced as the most evil, treacherous, mendacious, hypercritical, and tyrannical of leaders. The Protector met these public aspersions with apparent equanimity, but nevertheless, set spies to watch all the movements of “Freeborn John”; so that there was accumulated abundance of evidence, as the judicial advisers said, to sustain a charge of High Treason. Lilburne having been arrested and committed to Newgate, the trail commenced. Lilburne pleaded Not Guilty, and “sharp answers to some questions of the judges shew’d that he had no reverence for their persons, nor any submission to their authority.” He defended himself with all the adroitness of an Old Bailey practitioner, and put on that assumption of virtue which could suffer anything for the common weal.

On reading a contemporary report of the trail, to furnish material for this note, it is difficult to say which feature has surprised me most, that complacency the prisoner manifested (feeling probably, that he had the jury and populace on his side) to wrest obliquely the evidence against him, or the manifest zeal of the bar and the bench (based upon the highest instructions) to obtain, at all hazards, a conviction. When the jury returned a verdict of Not Guilty, extraordinary efforts were made by the judges in order to reverse the decision, but arguments and entreaties alike proved unavailing.

Lilburne, although acquitted by the Jury, was considered by Cromwell too dangerous an adversary to be allowed his liberty ; he was sent “from prison to prison,” until the protector of England himself died.

That Lilburne was a capable man, although cantankerous, no one will deny. Butler in his “Hudibras” makes pointed allusions to Freeborn John. Judge Jenkins said of him, that if the world was emptied of all but himself, Lilburne would quarrel with John, and John with Lilburne. After his decease appeared the following memorial :-

Is John departed, and is Lilburne gone?

Farewell to both, to Lilburne and to John.

Yet, being dead, take this advice from me,

Let them not both in one grave buried be :

Lay John here, and Lilburne thereabout,

For, if they both should meet, they would fall out.”


Daniel Byford in his thesis asserts that for all its scope the Liens and Vermuyden drainage was a failure that did not deliver the amount of properly improved land promised and that this land anyway did not yield the supposed increases in produce. Floods were still common and unpredictable and worse large areas that formerly suffered little from flooding were practically flooded every year now. No one seemed happy with their land allocations, not the commoners or participants, and land consequently changed hands frequently or was let at the lowest ‘two penny rate’. Even the king got less than expected having to give back lands to both Hatfield and Isle of Axholme Commoners, but then wisely selling as fast as he could. The land was not properly improved and the return on invested money, after all rectification works was little or nothing. Vermuyden, as stated above did not actually finish his work fully in this area for a full 12 years (1638) due to correction of errors.

Vermuyden said “These waters, as well as the boggs and morasses which they helped form, were accumulated by the destruction of the great forest by the Romans; that the trees which they left standing, after having set the brushwood on fire, being destitute of that support, as well as scorched and partially killed by the flames were easily overthrown by the strong wind; all which trees falling across the rivers which ran through this low country, soon dammed up the same, turned it into a great lake, and gave origen to the great turf moors that are here, by the gyrations and workings of the waters, the precipitation there from of terrestrial matter, the consumption of petrification of rotten boughs or branches, and vast increase in water moss, which wonderfully flourishes and grows upon such rotten ground, which even now since the drainage, and since that country is laid dry for miles round-about – yet for all that are so turbid with water, and so soft and rotten, that they will scarce bear men to walk upon them.” (Tomlinson).

The Continuing Unpredictable Floods

Following the drainage and parallel with all the disputes of ownership, was the ever-present danger and unpredictability of the waters, even after so much work to try and tame them. Huge floods still occurred regularly, but now if anything were even more unpredictable due to all the alterations. This meant that often places that formerly didn’t flood now got the worst and places that used to flood, may still flood sometimes. The greatest floods that were recorded were in the following years: 1681, 1682, 1687, 1696, 1697, 1701, 1706.

That floods were common not just before the drainage but for many years after is related by Tomlinson through the register at Thorne.

“1681. Mem. A great flood, with high winds, did break our banks in severall places, and drowned our towne round, upon Sunday at night, being January the 15th.”

“1682. Mem. Our bankes did break in ye same places, and drowned our towne round, upon Thursday, April the 27th.”

De la Pryme records in his diary in 1687 his families own experience on their farmland thus.

“Towards the end of this year there happened a great inundation in the Levels by means of the much rains that fell, and the high tides, which increased the waters so that they broke the banks and drowned the country for a vast many miles about. My father and every one in general that dwell there lost very considerably in their winter corn ; besides the great expenses they were put to by boating their chattel [cattle] to the hills and firm lands, with the trouble of keeping them there two or three months. I have been several times upon these banks (which are about three yards in hight) when the water of one side has been full to the very tops, and nothing appeared of one side but a terrable tempestuous sea. The water remains about half a week, sometimes a week at its full height, whose motions some hundreds of people are watching at night and day. But if it chance to be so strong as to drive away before it, as it often dos, any quantity of the banks, then it drownds all before it, and makes a noise by its fall which is heard many miles afore they perceive the water. And in the place where it precipitates itself down it makes a pond, or huge pitt, sometimes one hundred yards about, and a vast depth, so that in that place, it being impossible for the bank to be built again, they always build it half round about the same. Many of which pitts and banks may be seen beyond Thorn, a markate town a little of of my town of Hatfield.”

“1696. Mem. That a great flood came onn very suddenly, and the highest that has been known, on Monday, the 13th December, in the night ; and on Wednesday, the 15th, broke our bank by Gore stile, and ran over the banks in many places besides.”

From De la Pryme again.

“1697. December 17, 18, 19, 20. On the 17th of this month wee had a very great snow, which was on the level ground about two foot and a half thick after a pretty hard frost, which, as it thow’d, froze again for several days. The 20th it thow’d exceedingly fast, upon which, there came so great a flood down that the like was never known. About forty-one years ago there was then the greatest flood that was ever remembered, but that was much less than this ; for this came roreing all of a suddain, about eleven o’clock at night, unto Bramwith, Fishlake, Thorn, and other towns ; upon which the people rung all their bells backward (as they commonly do in case of a great fire), but tho’ that this frighted all, and called all to the banks, and bid them all look about them, yet nevertheless the loss is vastly the loss is vastly great. The people of Sikehouse and Fishlake, though they had banks to save them, yet it topt all, drounded the people’s beasts in their folds and houses, destroyed sheep, and several men lost their lives, their houses in Sikehouse, and many in Fishlake, being drownded up to the very eves, so that they recon no less than 3000 pound damage to be done by the same in the parish of Fishlake. It came with such a force against all the banks about Thorn, which keeps the waters of[f] the levels, that everybody gave them over, there being no hopes to save them, and ran over them all along ; and the ground being so hard they could not strike down stakes upon the tops of their banks, to hinder the water running over. At last, it being impossible that such vast waters should be contained in such short and small bounds, it burst a huge gime close by Gore Steel, near Thorn, where had been a vast gime formerly, and so drounded all the whole Levels to an exceeding great depth so that many people were kept so long in the upper part of their houses that they almost pined, while all their beasts were drounded about them. It was indeed all over a very sad thing to hear the oxen bellowing, and sheep bleating, and the people crying out for help round about as they did, all Bramwith, Sikehouse, Stanford, and Fishlake over (as undoubtedly they also did in other places), yet no one could get to save or help them, it being about midd night, and so many poor people were forced to remain for several days together, some upon the top of their houses, others in the highest rooms, without meat or fire, untill they were almost starv’d. The slewse at Thorn had like to have gone away, which if it had, it is thought that it would never have been layd again, because that the whole country would have petitioned against it, because it keeps the wateroff of the Levels, for but for it they would be drounded as much as ever, so that it would be impossible for any to dwell thereon, and it is said on all hands that, if it had gone, all the whole country would have petitioned gainst its ever being built again, so that the Levels must thereafter remained as it was before before the drainage, a continual rendezvous of water ; and it is my belief that one time it will come to its ancient state again, which will be the ruin of all those that have land therein.

“The waters upon the banks by Thorn that besides it overruning all over, and besides the aforesayd breach, it has broke eight or nine breaches in the sayd bank between Thorn and Gowl, has driven away four rooms in New River’s great bridge, has broke all the banks and bridges of the whole country round about, sweeping all away before it. In Lincolnshire the Trent by the aforesayd melt of snow, has broke its banks near the town of Morton, hard by Gainsburrow, and has driven allmost the whole town away, drounding several men, women, and children. The banks of Bicar’s dike and Dicken dike are also broken bordering upon our Levels. In a word, the loss to the whole country hereabouts is above a million pounds, besides what it dos to the whole country round about out of our limits and circuits. All the most oldest men that are says that it is the vastest flood that ever they saw or heard of.”

From Thorne register again, in 1701.

“Jan. 18. Mem. That a great flood then came down, being Saturday, and broke the banks in the Ashfields, and ran over in many places besides” and “ 1706. A Memorandum. That on Thursday and Friday, being 18th and 19th daies of this inst July, there was a great flood, insomuch that the banke was in great danger.”

Another person living in the parish of Barnby Dun, wrote in their diary of another flood in 1740 on Wednesday 10th December.

“In the morning between two and three o’clock hearing somebody shout I stepped out of bed, and no sooner set my foot down upon the floor but perceived what was the matter for I had got into water four or five inches deep at least, and it continued rising so fast that when I went to fetch my father out of bed (whom I carried upstairs on my back) the water touched my bed-cords, and so continued rising. About noon it began to fall, and the night following it froze very hard, and so continued for some time till the roads were very good, and several people went to the coal-pits. The ice and snow were driven upon heaps on the marsh and frozen together, so that they appeared likeso many mountains. It did abundance of damage : we had a great deal of wood swum away, but found several heaps frozen together, and left in other places. But when the frost broke another flood followed, and took all away. This latter flood did not tarry long, but left the ground covered with ice until Christmas. Such winter did I never see before, for some days after the water began to fall, the ice kept cracking day and night, like unto guns discharging at a distance.”

Since these floods Tomlinson relates that “During the last century and a half about a dozen floods, of startling proportions, have inundated some portions of the Chace.” He continues then and states some factual observations about the waters here and their courses, which bear repeating in full here. “To prevent or restrain these periodical disasters has been the participants’ primary object ever since the Isle Commoners were quieted, and the Levels had peace. But the geographical difficulties which engineers had to grapple with were great. We must not forget that a very large acreage of cultivated land within the Chace lies several feet below the level of high water in the river Don, so that any extra freshets, accompanied by hig tides from the Humber, have proved a source of much anxiety. But since the river banks were raised, and the “new cut” made available, Don water was not the sole, or indeed the chief source of inundation. The rivers Idle and Torne, intersected by various important drains, empty into the Trent at Althorpe, Keadby, &c. Now high water at spring tides in the Trent at Keadby sluice, when the river is in its usual state, rises to the height of about eight feet above the general surface of low lands in Hatfield Chace ; but when the river is flooded the high water rises to a height of about eleven feet above the said surface. The river Torne, which is in some respects the most important medium of drainage within the Chace, discharges its waters through the sluice at Althorpe. Here, also, the New Idle empties itself, which stream runs nearly parallel to the Torne for eight or nine miles, throwing out a branch called the “ North Idle,” which latter forms a junction with the Keadby drain at Dirtness Bridge. Unfortunately, however, the outfall at Althorpe is about three feet higher than that at Keadby. Eminent engineers, including Smeaton, Stone, Thackray, Rennie, &c., made surveys and furnished plans, with a view of securing a more perfect drainage. Smeaton presented a report recommending that the river Torne and certain auxiliary drains should be deepened and widened. This scheme being partially carried out tended somewhat to relieve the low-lying districts from ordinary rainfalls ; but in great freshets the waters still overflowed the banks, and remained so long upon the land that the year’s crops were not infrequently ruined.”

Post Drainage Crops

Despite all the troubles, people had to eat and so tried to grow crops on the ‘improved’ grounds but with very variable results. Even the participants who put money into the drainage with Vermuyden struggled to get viable crops, as did Vermuyden himself on his lands he got or bought from the king. Indeed, much land was still so inundated as to be worthless, such as Uggin Carr, or practically worthless, only fit for rough pasture, poor hay or rude crops. This land was known as ‘two penny’ land because that was the rent for the year, which was the lowest rent then. Land attracting a higher rent was not immune to crop failure and it was customary for tenants to claim back some or all of the rents in bad years, according to their agreements.

The overwhelming main crop of the area following drainage and before large scale warping began was pasture and meadow, most of which was for cows and their hay. The dairy industry was small however, being mainly subsistence level as few people kept more than a handful of beasts. There were only two cheesemakers noted in the area. Cattle breeding for export around the country was very important. Oats were next in importance and consequently, the abundance of this crop meant many horses were kept for carriage, and horse breeding and export was fairly important. Hemp and flax were grown widely but in small amounts, being largely a cottage industry here. Barley was relatively unimportant; most ground was too wet for wheat. Other crops were grown on a smaller scale, but at this time mainly close to home (hence the term closes) and included potatoes and beans. Also kept at home or on the common were pigs, geese, ducks and hens but again generally only for domestic use. Hops were grown but was a very unusual crop. This information is largely from Byford’s Thesis and in it he goes into far more detail.

The population of Thorne in 1801 census was 2,655 and by the 1811 census 2,713 within 635 houses (1,219 males, 1,494 females). By the 1821 census there were 3,463 people and in 1829 about 4,000 (Casson).



Contemporary Glossary

In 1828 a grand new scheme was proposed for the warping of drained areas. Warping is a process of deposition of silt. This can either be done manually by spade and cart, which is obviously slow, and labour intense or where conditions allow the high tides can be used to flood the area. Once the tide has been let through a sluice and along a warping drain, it is let onto the area to be warped and the sluice closed. This allows the waters to become still and drop their silt. The waters are then let out on next low tide. This process is repeated as often as possible over a year or so, until the desired thickness of silt has accumulated, which may be one to three plus metres. Eventually, just about all the low-lying arable land of the chase area and adjacent parts in the Humberhead Levels were tidally warped.

The 1828 scheme was by Mr Creyke and Sotherton to warp 15,000 acres and also to improve the drainage on a further 100,000 acres and make some channels navigable. This scheme never got off the ground.

Following the drainage much later most farmland was warped and this greatly changed the range and quality of crops which could be grown for the better, Hemp and Flax became main crops with the market for them being at Gainsbrough. Wheat grew so heavy headed due to great fertility that it dropped its head to the ground and rotted. Wheat stems were twice as long as modern varieties. Following the introduction of potatoes, which were heavily adopted from 1800 in this area, they so drained the soil of nutrients that a following crop of wheat would not grow so heavy and made a much better crop. Cropping of potatoes was first followed by a crop of beans before wheat. The land was also heavily manured.

Up until enclosure the moorland scrub and woodland were cleared by landowners from their property into the moors, and if any peat was present, that dug (right of turbary) to the basal soil and sold for fuel all land thus ‘improved’ could be claimed. These strips were called cables and there were originally 46 such cables here. The length of this strip was not set, only the width and this was set at a Dutch cable (cavell) length (kabellengte) 232.3 yards (212.4 meters) which fits fairly well with spacing on the maps. This may possibly have been corrupted in English for instance in the name Jones’ (Johannes’s Liens?) Cable (cavell or kabel) later. The other measurement used by Vermuyden were acres which are 2.47 to the hectare, roods which equal 1012 metres2 or 40 square perches or quarter of an acre. Perches measuring exactly 5½ yards or 16½ feet or ¼ of a surveyor's chain. One acre was 160 perches (40 x 4 perches).

About mid-eighteenth century there were still three manors, Hatfield, Thorne and Fishlake and together they included seven townships.

P10 Early measurement units (

In 1813 Thorne parish held 6086 acres of farmland divided into: Grass 1936 acres and arable: wheat and rye 1000, oats 1000, fallow 850 (of which about 150 acres were sown with turnips), clover 700, barley 300, potatoes 150, beans 150 (Miller 1804).

In about 1839 Stonehouse tells us a good crop of good land in the Isle of Axholme was around “one hundred sacks of potatoes per acre is reckoned a good crop, four quarters of wheat a fair crop, from eight to ten quarters of oats, four quarters of beans, and about two tons of clover. A good crop of flax would produce from thirty-five to fifty stones per acre. Sixteen tons of carrots per acre is a very good crop. At the time Stonehouse wrote, Hemp was no longer grown and had given way to more profitable potatoes. Flax was still grown but much reduced.

A UK quarter is 12.7 kgs. One ton is 907 kgs. One stone is 6.35 kgs. One sack is 50 kgs.

The Inclosure Act of Hatfield Manor was in 1811 and enclosed 2,300 acres between the moors. Following this was the 1824 Ordnance Survey map, very little woodland is shown in the vicinity of the moors, except for the Western edge. This map just predates the next field Enclosure award for Hatfield, Thorne and Fishlake of 1825. Apart from that which is still extant, such as that around Bell’s Pond, was a particular interesting piece which sat on the W side of Thorne Waste Drain and immediately N of Elmhirst Pump. It was triangular in shape and the long side which abutted the drain was about 500m, with the shortest side to the south being about 200m this gives an approximate area of 9.5 ha. The wood was in an area known as Tweenbridge and called Elmhirst Plantation, but many locals called it Bluebell Wood as there were native Bluebells present. It seemed to have plenty of English Oak trees and this along with the Bluebells suggests it could have been at least in some parts on a quite ancient previous wood. Indeed, many huge oaks were hauled up from the peat here (see later). It was totally destroyed in the 1950 or 1960s for agriculture, the only vestige being the area at the N end and E of the drain now known as Woodpecker Corner and at Elmhirst were some big oaks from that period or before and others survived as they were on the moor side of Thorne Waste Drain, this drain was dug in 1815. Both native Hyacinthoides non-scripta and Spanish Bluebells Hyacinthoides hispanica are found here today. About 0.5 km into the field to the W were two very much smaller outlier bits of woodland of which I have no details. Heading further S along Thorne Waste Drain there was woodland in the area that is now Elmhirst Wood just N of Casson’s Garden. The largest piece of woodland marked though is from the present southernmost point of the moors mainly along the E side of Thorne Waste Drain with a bit on the W side also, known as Whitaker’s Plantation and extending to about 50 ha. This woodland reached halfway to North Soak Drain which later was transformed into part of the Stainforth & Keadby Canal. Only the small western part of the wood now remains (though altered in shape by slight extension) and still goes by the same name.

The Commoners Lament; The Goose and the Common (annon.)

The law locks up the man or woman

Who steals the goose from off the common

But leaves the greater villain loose

Who steals the common from off the goose

The law demands that we atone

When we take things we do not own

But leaves the lords and ladies fine

Who take things that are yours and mine

The poor and wretched don't escape

If they conspire the law to break

This must be so but they endure

Those who conspire to make the law

The law locks up the man or woman

Who steals the goose from off the common

And geese will still a common lack

Till they go and steal it back


They hang the man and flog the woman

Who steals the goose from off the common

Yet let the greater villain loose

That steals the common from the goose

The law doth punish man or woman

That steals the goose from off the common

But lets the greater felon loose

That steals the common from the goose

The law locks up the hapless felon

who steals the goose from off the common

but lets the greater felon loose

who steals the common from the goose

The fault is great in man or woman

Who steals a goose from off a common

But what can plead that man's excuse

Who steals a common from a goose

There is also the ‘Powte’s Complaint’ (anon.).

Powte means the Sea Lamprey Petromyzon marinus. This ballad was sung about the streets in the Fen towns in Vermuyden’s days. (Korthals-Altes)

Come, Brethren of the water, and let us all assemble,
To treat upon this Matter, which makes us quake and tremble ;
For we shall rue it, if’t be true, that Fens be undertaken
And where we feed in Fen and Reed, they'll feed both Beef and Bacon.

They 'll sow both Beans and Oats, where never Man yet thought it ;
Where Men did row in Boats, ere Undertakers brought it ;
Ceres, thou behold us now, let wild oats be their Venture,
Oh let the Frogs and miry Bogs destroy where they do enter.

Behold the great Design, which they do now determine,
Will make our Bodies pine, a prey to Crows and Vermine,
For they do mean all Fens to drain, and Waters overmaster,
All will be dry, and we must die - 'cause Essex Calves want pasture.

Away with Boats and Rudder, farewell both Boots and Skatches,
No need of one nor t'other, Men now make better matches ;
Stilt-makers all, and Tanners, shall complain of this disaster,
For they will make each muddy lake for Essex Calves a Pasture.

The feather'd fowls have Wings, to fly to other nations ;

But we have no such things, to help our Transportations ;

We must give place o grievous Case : to horned Beasts and Cattle,

Except that we can all agree to drive them out by battel.

Wherefore let us intreat our ancient Water-Nurses

To shew their power so great as t’ help to drain their purses

And send good old Captain Flood to lead us out to Battel,

Then Two-penny Jack, with Scales on ‘s Back, will drive out all the Cattle.

This Noble Captain yet was never known to fail us ;

But did the conquest get all that did assail us ;

His furious Rage none could assuage ; but, to World’s great Wonder

He tears down Banks, and breaks their Cranks and Whirligigs asunder.

God Eolus, we do thee pray that thou will not be wanting ;

Thou never said’st us nay-now listen to our canting ;

Do thou deride their Hope and Pride that purpose our confusion,

And send a Blast that they in haste may work no good Conclusion.

Great Neptune, God of Seas, this Work must needs provoke ye ;

They mean thee to disease, and with Fen-Water choak thee ;

But with the Mace do thou deface, and quite confound this matter ;

And send thy Sands to make dry lands when they shall want fresh water

And eke we pray thee, Moon, that thou wilt be propitious,

To see that nought be done to prosper the Malicious ;

Tho’ Summer’s Heat bath wrought a Feat, whereby themselves they flatter,

Yet be so good as send a Flood, lest Essex Calves want water.

Following the Enclosure Awards, most hedges in this planned countryside were planted, (Rackham 1986) and some woodland planting was undertaken as former open field, ridge and furrow systems and some common land was parcelled into private landholdings. The extent of the planned countryside in this area can be seen by the larger uniform oblong fields used for arable crops in the former Chase area as opposed to say Moss, Sykehouse and Fosterhouses area of small irregular shaped hedged fields of unplanned countryside. The latter unplanned countryside was mainly pastureland and therefore had hedges of old long before any enclosure. This land was not enclosed either because the land was not good enough for more profitable arable land or because it flooded in winter (as much of it still does, for instance Went Ings) and so was only fit for grazing or hay meadows.


Human Remains

The preserving nature of the acidic peat, preserves all manner of things, including human and animal remains. Several ancient bodies have been found in our local bogs.

Human Artifacts

It is natural to assume that in an area with so much human history that there should have been a diverse range of artifacts found from many different eras. Unfortunately, as archaeologists know only too well, the ravages of time means very little survives to be discovered, and anything preserved is buried out of sight. In the latter respect, in our peat bogs this is a good thing, as the acidic peat water is an excellent preservative. Peat has been dug and exploited for centuries for all manner of purposes, from the initial use of turbary, where it was dug and dried to be used as fuel for heating and cooking. Much latter, when coal took much of the fuel market from peat it was then exploited for horse bedding and was used for this in great quantities throughout the Victorian era. It was also used to improve heavy soils, and for growing of ericaceous plants in formal gardens, however it was deficient in nutrients so was not used more widely. This changed however with the addition of manufactured chemical nutrients being added to the peat in a factory like yard and the mix being bagged or carted to anywhere it was needed. This continues today, but not now fortunately from the Humberhead Peatlands which from around the turn of the millennium became a National Nature Reserves. Dense, deep basal peat has also been used in the manufacture of petrochemicals such as paraffin. This was a necessity during the WWII to run tractors on because imports had virtually stopped.

All this human excavation has turned up numerous natural and manmade objects. Some have been mentioned or alluded to in other parts of this article. Here, what little detail there is on these artifacts will be given, along with any references.

A little way out of our area over the Trent.

I also think proper to mention that the servants of Mr. George Healey, of Burringham, on the east side Trent, and near this Level, was digging up firewood in a large moor belonging to Burringham, and at the bottom of a fir tree root they found (as tho’ laid together) a British spear, a British axe, and two short swords or dirks, all of brass, which Mr. Healey made me a present of, and which I now have by me.” (Stovin)

potteries nearby at Cantley just to the east, and others near the vexillation fortress at Rossington Bridge.” (Roman Britain). Of the pottery quite a bit has been found and is on display in Doncaster Museum.

De la Pryme tells of a ladder that was found.

“About xx [20] years since also, in the moors at Thorne (near five foot in depth) was found a ladder of firr, of a large substance, with about xl [40] staves [steps], which were thirty three inches asunder [the width of the ladder] ; but so rotten that it could not be got up whole. And in Haxey Carr, at the like depth, a hedge with stakes and bindings.”

Historic Buildings and other Artificial Structures

There were many historic buildings which would have been of great interest to present day historians, but most have sadly been destroyed or been overbuilt on with more recent structures. Without going into more detail on other areas around Doncaster, some of which was touched on earlier, here mention will be made only of buildings in the actual greater Hatfield Chase area.

  • The Royal Palace

Dates back to king Edwin, so before 633. Apart from what has been noted before the last historical reference I can find is by de la Pryme who wrote in his diary in 1694. “there is part of the palace standing, being an indifferent large hall, with great courts and gardens about the same.” It was called the Lodge or Manor Place by Leland and would not have been Edwin’s original.

  • Hatfield Church

The original, probably wooden structure was built in Edwin’s reign so before 633. We know this, as in order to wed his wife he converted to Christianity and constructed the church. This is long gone but the remaining stone building is very old and parts date back to 1150. The rest was updated between 1480 to 1500 and as such is still in use today. This was the first church in this area and as such had parochial control over Thorne, Fishlake and Stainforth before they got their churches (Peck mainly). There is a large Norman oak chest with metal strapping made from an ancient oak pulled from the peat of the bog, still present. As elsewhere during Henry VIII Dissolution of the Monasteries, all valuables and lands were seized, clergymen were de-robed and forced to recognize the king’s superiority (over the church rather than the Roman Catholic Pope). Failure to recognize this usually resulted in death.

De la Pryme tells us “Before the time of Henry VIII. this church had many sculptures and pictures with verses, &c. inscribed on them, and the windows were of painted glass.

“Thus beautiful and glorious was this church, thus adorned with most excellent and curious pictures, enlightened with annealed windows, blest with sweet sounding organs and singers, honoured with the epitaphs and inscriptions of several great men. Thus it continued until towards the latter end of king Henry VIIIth’s time, and the beginning of Edward VI. and queen Elizabeth, that several persons were put in authority to cleanse all churches from the reliques of popery, &c. Under colour of this commission all the aforesaid curious pictures were taken out of this church, and either broken into pieces or sold ; all the inscriptions upon the walls were scraped out ; all the brasses upon the grave stones pulled up, because they had words “Orate pro anima,” [“Pray for the soul”] &c. on them, and were melted and sold ; all the images and reliques were pulled down, and the glass windows, that had any representation on them, broken in pieces. This sad and barbarous rage continued till the second year of Elizabeth, when she issued a proclamation against them. (Pryme, History of Hatfield p215).

“During the civil wars the Earl of Manchester’s regiment defaced the church.” (p68)

  • Thorne Church

This is a gothic period church mainly, so from the Eleventh century. The church is still present and in use (Peck).

  • Peel Hill Castle and Moat

This was the prison for Forest miscreants in Norman times, Eleventh century. The building is long gone and the orchard which was planted on its remaining mound, made from digging the moat, is mostly gone too, but some ancient fruit trees do survive. The area is a small grass park now next to the present mansion house. The name comes from a corruption of Pile, meaning a mass or stack of a building (ruins or base of) (Stovin).

  • Fishlake Church

A very important church, and one of the best remaining examples of its type in the world. Cluniac monks built it in about 1150 to 1170 and completed in 1175 (Fishlake, St. Cuthbert).

  • Stainforth Church

Probably Norman and still in use.

  • Finningley Church

Date built is not clear but the register starts in 1595, the church is still used today.

  • Austerfield Church

Anglo-Norman in date, built in 1080 but had improvements and a new roof in 1797 and still in use.

  • Sandtoft Church

One was at New Idle Bank opposite Mr Readings new house on north side of bank of which nothing remains.

  • Lindholme

See Peck.

  • Grove House

The house that Vermuyden had built and lived in, just off the present High Levels Bank road from Tudworth towards Sandtoft.

  • Gringley Manor House

Retains much of original Norman, and now a private home.

  • Sandtoft Road Chapel

A tiny Methodist building still present, but now privately owned.

  • British Moss Litter Company Mills

Was formed in 1896, an amalgam of the Hatfield Chase Peat Moss Litter Company and four others, to extract and process peat on the Hatfield and Thorne Moors. The Company had works at Moorends, Medge Hall, Hatfield Moors, Crowle Moors, Swinefleet and Macclesfield (Doncaster Archives/National Archives).

Water Management Structures

Remains from some earthworks suggest that some modification of the landscape occurred in this area during the Iron Age by native people. Much of their works has been lost or overworked since and so origins are much obscured.

The earliest artificial structures left in the study area relate to the Roman occupation era. People generally know of Roman roads, that were the first constructed hard surface roads of any length. In our area the Great North Road is the best example, stretching from London to the Scottish border and now largely incorporated into the modern A1. Local people are also aware of the Roman stone forts of the area too, the best example of which is York. In Doncaster far less is to be found because the fort here was made of the abundant wood, except Doncastle. This forts stone and the stone from the various ‘gates of the town were stolen and re-used in other buildings such as St Georges Church which is on the site of the former castle. Less well-known large scale Roman structures are though actually still present in this area. South of the River Don are many Roman embankments which may have been built over earlier smaller scale Iron Age works (The Research Resource). The Romans also had weirs built upon them. Parts of the embankments of the northern part of the River Don itself are thought to be Roman in origin too. Of other settlements in the area, there were several, as the following tells.

There is a small fortlet at Burghwallis, 6½ miles (11km) along the road north towards Castleford, a small villa at Stancil about four miles to the south, also potteries nearby at Cantley just to the east, and others near the vexillation fortress at Rossington Bridge.” (Roman Britain)

Of the pottery quite a bit has been found and is on display in Doncaster Museum.

From the Roman period to the Vermuyden era, there were of course many other attempts to control the waters of the area to mans’ advantage, often not successfully. This included many dikes and weirs but nothing like on the magnitude of the Romans or what Vermuyden later undertook. Indeed, most of the locals positively embraced the wild nature of the area including its abundant waters and adapted their living accordingly. The freedom this gave them made them protective of any largescale attempts at drainage and conversion of their living to an agrarian way of life. They did not want to be farmers and pay rents and taxes. Much of the alterations to water courses then in this intervening period came via traders who wanted better managed rivers for boats for the transport of their goods to market towns. This caused conflict with the locals particularly with regard to their fish garths, their netted or wooden traps to catch fish especially eels. Weirs at water junctions caused problems too and were sometimes ripped out by angry boatmen. Low bridges or fords caused other boating hazards and conflict, arched bridges were harder to cross with a horse and cart and cost far more to build and maintain.

There were also many raised tracks through the marshes, including the following longer ones. Thorne to Turnbridge, a causeway from Crowle to the River Trent, and similar from Thorne to Rawcliffe which is now the John/Johnny a Moor Long road.

  • Turnbridge Dike

An artificial waterway to the River Aire of ancient and unknown date, possibly of monastic construction to ease flooding.

  • Bykersdike or Bikersdike

Another ancient artificial structure possibly medieval in origin.

  • River Don

The most important river of the area by volume had its two eastern arms between Thorne and Hatfield Moors severed in 1626, with all the waters instead being channelled into the main northern arm which had been straightened and deepened and embanked. This then at its northern most end emptied into the River Aire and so NE into the River Ouse/Humber. Of course, this killed the three major meres between the moors and their dependant fisheries. The increased load of water flowed well enough until heavy rains in the hills of its source combined with high tides overwhelmed all enormously and caused the largest floods of those times. Some of the greatest floods were in the years 1625,

  • Ashfield Bank, Thorne

Built in 1626 this was one of the first structures to be built before the cutting off of the two eastern arms of the River Don. The bank is still present today, much as it was and is now a popular right of way where the public can walk through the countryside. The bank now has several curves in it, and these are explained due to breaches creating gores, or deep pools by the swirling of the waters. During bank repairs it was easier to build around these deep depressions than across as described earlier.

  • River Torne

Altered mainly in 1626 and 1768, greatly straightened, embanked and controlled into the Idle. It has a soak drain to protect land from flooding.

  • River Idle

Altered mainly in 1626 redirected by new cuts and channels into the River Trent. Later improvements were made known as the New River Idle. Much of its upper reaches beyond Doncaster, south of Bawtry are comparatively natural and much held by nature conservation bodies. Very recently European Beavers have been re-introduced.

  • River Went

Altered mainly in 1626 diverted and straightened and deepened, with some embankment but still a nice river.

  • Dutch River

Was reluctantly built a few years after the drainage by order of The Council of the North, who imprisoned Vermuyden until he agreed to do it and to meet all costs. Built in 1632 to 1635 at a cost to Vermuyden of £33,000. A latter works by Vermuyden, not as a canal for transport but to try and alleviate the flooding his works had now caused on the west of the River Don (northern arm) around Fishlake, Stainforth, Sykehouse and Snaith and Cowick. As straight as a canal and running NE to Goole. Between this and the canal alongside is an area of unused ground that has naturally regenerated woodland upon it and a cycle path.

Before hard surface covering for roads were invented by John McAdam, canals were the main arteries of the nation for heavy goods transport. Before steam engines took off in the industrial revolution of the Victorian 1800s, boats had sails or were pulled by horses that walked along the canals on towpaths. Nearly all towpaths these days, though unsurfaced or surfaced with loose aggregate, are public rights of way open to anyone on foot (Public Footpath) and for foot and non-motor transport (Public Bridleway) or all traffic (Byway).

In this area there are untold hundreds of miles of canals and dikes, with the major dikes large enough to take a small boat. Not all named drains are mentioned here, there are way too many, just the most significant ones.

  • Stainforth Keadby Canal and South Soak Drain

Originally rejected as it was though that its construction would interfere with current drainage works. It was eventually stipulated that a soak drain to prevent any possible flooding and catch seepage should be dug 20 yards south of the canal, and a lesser similar drain to the north. Construction completed in 1802. It is km in length. South Soak Drain runs parallel and south of this canal. It was built as a precaution of floods overflowing the canal and drowning the farmland. For much of its length the canal also has a soak drain to the north, which however is not as substantial or continuous.

  • New Fleet Drain

  • Aire & Calder Navigation Knottingley and Goole Canal

Construction completed in 1905 and runs parallel to the Dutch River terminating at Goole docks. It is km in length.

  • New Junction Canal

Construction completed in 1905 and runs in a direct line from Barnby Dun north-north-east terminating at Southfield Reservoir, near the River Went and River Aire and west of the River Don.

  • River Dun Navigation

Started in 1793 and finished in 1802. A not straight canal running East of the River Don until it joins/becomes the New Junction Canal at Kirk Bramwith, with another arm running north-east to Thorne where it becomes the Stainforth and Keadby Canal and heads east between the moors, in places in much the same route as the former two eastern arms of the River Don before terminating at Keadby at the River Trent.

  • South Engine Drain

Steam pumps were introduced on various drains in 1813, pumping into Trent.

  • Folly Drain

  • Three Rivers

Started in 1789 and finished in 1813. From near the A18 north-east to the River Trent at Keadby.

  • Thorne Waste Drain

  • Old Moor Drain

  • Hatfield Common Drain

Built after the great drainage by Hampe Steward for the lord of Hatfield John Gibbon

  • Warping Drains and Warping

The practice of warping land using tidal silts pushed in by the tides along specially dug ditches did not start in this area until 1750. Before then some warping using hand tools and carts had been done but obviously on a much smaller scale and at more expense.

  • Swinefleet Warping Drain

  • Durham’s Warping Drain

  • Shearburn & Pitts Drain

  • Leonard’s Drain

  • Chadwick Dike

  • Various Reservoirs & Quarry Excavation Ponds

There are few actual reservoirs built in the area, but an uncountable number of former quarries which are now recreational ponds of various sizes. Many of the larger of these were excavations for sand and gravel, or for limestone for construction works. The sands and gravel deposits sit largely in the area south and west of Hatfield Moors, and so in the southern area of the former chase. Generally smaller ones were the result of excavations for clays for the making of bricks which would be fired in kilns using local coppice wood and latter coal. These old-style bricks were nearly always stamped with the local company name and there were a great many of them. Their use was often in the immediate area as can be seen still today in the Victorian time houses, such as the former colliery houses at Thorne and Moorends.

  • Southfield Reservoir

This is a balancing pool for the canals in this area, New Fleet Drain which becomes further east when it straightens the Aire & Calder Navigation Knottingley and Goole Canal.

  • Seven Lakes Country Park

Located at Ealand near Crowle these are former brick works excavations. Now fishing lakes with many holiday cabin.

  • Lindholme Lakes Country Park

Former sand and gravel pits. Now fishing lakes with many holiday cabin.

  • Boston Park

The former sand and gravel pits that are on the southern part of what is now the Humberhead Peatlands National Nature Reserve, Hatfield Moors.


During the Twentieth Century however, nearly every hedge was grubbed out and woodland, previously planted mainly for game cover, much reduced. Even in the Twenty-first Century old hedgerows are still being ripped out, most notably in 2019 a hedgerow from Medge Hall NW to Pony Bridge. Very little woodland has actually been planted around the moors, though some farmers have proved the exception, some planting or extending existing wildlife or game cover to compensate a little for the removed hedgerows, for example at Top House Farm.

The majority of the extinctions (of insects mainly) from the local peat record are associated with ancient woodland habitat especially native pine forests. Many of the rare and nationally extinct beetle species also had a continental distribution and are not found in more oceanic western parts of Britain and NW Europe (Dinnin 1997).

After the Roman period and running up to the Norman period there was agricultural decline and forest grew back in swathes (Smith) and from then on increased mainly due to 35% (some say 50%) of the British population being killed off by plague, so that the population went from 4 million to maybe 2 million. From Domesday book we find that several parishes had in the Isle of Axholme wood and pasture a mile by one mile square, or even two miles square (Stonehouse). From then until the 16th Century, Leland (Henry VIII antiquarian) informs us “The principal woods of the isle (Axholme) is at Bellegrave Park by Hepworth (Epworth). There is also a praty wood at Crulle (Crowle), a lordship a late longing to Selleby (Selby) monasterie”.

Present Woodland at Thorne

Then up to the Victorian era, but the modern era is relatively unknown, from pollen, due to the removal of virtually all the upper layers of peat over most of the site. However, quite accurate maps appeared from this period on, and so do some written records, so all is not lost. In this study we are concerned with the period from just before historical times to present.

If we discount extensive scrubby birch which has invaded much of the site post peat winning and the scattered older birch and focus only on woodland not on pure peat, then there is not a great extent. A natural bog would have had a lagg margin where there would be an intergrade or ecotone from peat bog to mineral soil fen which would have been covered with carr woodland and open fen. This is almost totally absent today with only small areas of artificial fen which has developed on poorly human warped areas or where substrate has been excavated when ditch digging.

Will Pits

As mentioned this is one area of woodland that developed on poor warp land. Will Pits dates from around mid-19th Century warping period, though there may have been some willows there before this. The greatest area of woodland at Thorne is located at Will Pits, or Willow Pits as they were (not Will Pitts as given in some publications; Shearburn & Pitts engineers who did some of the drains and warping around here were not involved) on the east side of Thorne Moors. Here marginal warpland on the wrong side (west) of the warping drain was abandoned and left to overgrow. This woodland can therefore be dated to when Swinefleet Warping Drain was dug from 1821 to 1845 (the drain was extended a couple of times following the initial main cut) so around 200 years. The wood has a fairly diverse mix of trees for carr woodland which is often species poor due to usually poor soils and standing water, including in descending order of presence 5+ species of willows, Silver and Downy Birch, Alder, Hawthorn, English Oak, Holly, Elder, Rowan, Aspen, Alder Buckthorn and Yew. The odd bit of Rhododendron that had got hold here has been eliminated. The wood was much more extensive having been reduced by about a third in the 1980s by the peat company, with that area becoming Will Pits Scrape. The peat company also dug the fire water pits of the name, at least one of which is still a pond full of sticklebacks.

Pony Bridge Wood

The second largest area of mature woodland is situated in the SE corner, and though much of it is relatively young mature birch there are older sections. These older parts are like Will Pits, situated on poorly warped land that was not used for agriculture and includes some English or Pedunculate Oak and even some Sessile Oak. Other species are 5+ willows, Rowan, Hawthorn and Elderberry. Infiltrating from the margins is rhododendron, but this has undergone large scale management clearance work from the adjacent areas and although it won’t be eliminated for many years it is however just stumps with some regrowth in most parts now.

Limberlost Wood

A very nice woodland of mature birch in the southernmost part of Thorne Moors on mainly drier higher ground peat with little species diversity, there being odd Rowan and Sweet Chestnut present along with Common Hawthorn.


Formerly Casson’s Gardens; is a peat area in the south of Thorne Moors where there was much rhododendron, now much reduced, but also extensive areas of birch, with a lot of mature examples. Variety is somewhat limited and apart from the aforementioned species there is little else apart from some willows.

Woodpecker Corner

Though small this is the most diverse patch of woodland on the moors, being situated on warpland, some species not expected on the acidic peat include Beech and Common Lime. Other species not found elsewhere or rare on the moors includes Horse Chestnut, Swedish Whitebeam and Norway Maple. The wood may be a remnant of the much more extensive ‘Bluebell Wood’ which was razed half a century ago and covered Elmhirst and other areas W of Thorne Waste Drain to the extent of 9.5 ha and was largely native woodland predominately of English Oaks.

A survey with photographs was undertaken by myself in 1991 (as a young English Nature volunteer) of this wood and is included here, and it may be noted there have been small changes, mainly due to a few large trees being lost to fire (generally from misguided camp fires). There is much young growth of several species.

Former Colliery Area

Some woodland exists in this area on poor warpland, and the underlying clay, which in places is not very far down, has been exposed by ditch and pond digging. Bell’s Wood is the main area here. It is largely Sycamore with some lovely young oak woodland and much hawthorn. None of the woodland is particularly old and indeed most did not survive during the miners’ strike 1984-85. The now mostly coppiced woodland has regrown strongly. It does include a lot of Wild Privet and quite a few nice Hazel or Filbert bushes and two Sweet Chestnuts formerly trees but now coppice (and at least one sapling). A Norway Maple avenue was planted along part of the former colliery road. There are several mature Norway Maples. The only elms, Wych Elm, are found here and number 16, but with some of the largest already dying from Dutch Elm Disease.

Black Poplar Populus nigra hybrids (Populus x canadensis type) with N American Eastern Cottonwood P. deltoids exist on the eastern margin of the Moorends Colliery Recreation Ground, which most conform to the old variant ‘Railway Poplar’. White Poplar are found around the Recreation Ground boundary. On other colliery land covered with spoil it is mostly birch and willow scrub but also with plenty of young oak. On the level colliery spoil there are quite a lot of Cultivated Apple trees (40+), which have regressed to unrecognisable strains. There is a medium Lombardy Poplar Populus nigra ‘Italica’ on the flat colliery spoil and several smaller ones elsewhere and some Scot’s Pine and there are a few Dogwood. There are quite a few small Swedish Whitebeam (maybe 20). Field Rose is scarce but Dog Rose is present here and around other margins. Broom is present in some areas, such as along the former colliery road, Gorse is very rare. In Bell’s Wood there are 2 mature False Acacia. Wall Cotoneaster and Buddleia are widespread. There is at least one Himalayan and two Tree Cotoneaster.

Jones’ Cable

This is a one-mile strip of land belonging to Thorne Moorends Council its alternative name being Council Strip. It was for many years just a lane but eventually gained Public Footpath status and was a main access point to the NNR at Woodpecker Corner. It was originally 60 m wide. Forty years or more ago it consisted of a raised bank, which formerly was used for council tipping of mainly ash and rubble. On both sides were two large ditches and both were lined with huge mature very species diverse hedgerows particularly at the eastern end towards the moors. It was much barer to the west and overrun will Rosebay Chamerion angustifolium where ash had been dumped and towards the houses were many garden escapes such as Japanese Rose. It was devastated on 9th and 10th November 1984 when a local farmer decided to rip out the outer two most mature hedges and put plastic drainage pipes in the two outermost ditches and fill them with soil and claim the land for agriculture and also at around the same time removed the hedgerow from the end of this path to Woodpecker Corner and the two brick bridges at each end of this bit. The link to the north to the colliery area here was treated likewise. This theft quite rightly caused public outrage but following letters to the press, the council refused to take him to court but he was asked to plant some trees. About 200 tiny saplings of various species, some of which did not grow here before (Field Maple for example) were planted but were a sorry compensation for the mature oak, Ash and full-sized Hawthorn hedges lost. The result is a public footpath which is now only 45 m wide at its widest W end and only 30 m at the moors end, where a huge Dogwood grows. Eventually, when Tweenbridge Windfarm was built, it was extended to meet the moors at the colliery area, Bell’s, again.

Inkle Moor

This area is very interesting in that it retains the only vestige of old unwarped fenland in this area. The original covering of peat if any must have been removed long before any major drainage works. The reason this strip was spared from warping is that the owners would not pay Makin Durham to participate in the land improvement program. The area has been dug for clay for the local brick kilns, and therefore as a consequence has some interesting small water bodies, most notably Inkle Moor Pond. This pond has retained a remarkable relic assemblage of fen invertebrates and is one of the most important water bodies in Yorkshire for water beetles (Hammond 2017). The trees, particularly the Grey Willow are severely encroaching on this pond. Other common species include English Oak, Ash, and some large unclipped Hawthorn hedges. In amongst the hedges are other interesting species such as the 2 Cultivated Pears and a very large Crab Apple. Exotics include one mature Swedish Whitebeam, the largest of the moors, laurels and hybrid poplars. Along the margins with the railway are some very straight trunked tall White Willows, that resemble Cricket Bat Willow variety; though whether they are or not I cannot say.


The deep pools here were dug into the deepest depths of peat to harvest the densest basal layers, which contained natural peat wax which is a dark waxy substance extracted from the peat using organic solvents. Useful products extracted by heating the peat in a kiln and condensing and distilling the gases include: methyl or wood alcohol, ammonia or ammonium sulphate, and acetic acid or acetate of lime, which are obtained by treating the tar water or lighter distillates; and illuminating oils, lubricating oils, paraffin wax, phenol (creosote oil and carbolic acid), and asphalt, which are obtained from the tar (Davis 1953). These products were particularly important during the war years when oil was difficult to import and the paraffin from here was used to run tractors on the farms. After the war, when oil became easily available again, it was no longer practical or economic to continue and the industry died. Many trees here were of practical use with much Sycamore coppice present, some of which was last cut during the miners’ strike and Cultivated Apple and mature hawthorn hedges around small meadows. The very deep peaty pools have mature birches and young oaks around. There is also plenty of willow on the margins at the extreme south end of Longthorpe’s the largest single stem tree on the moors a huge White Willow.

North-Western Goole Moor

A spur of moorland juts N at the W side of Goole Moor, often referred to as Northern Goole Moor. It is perhaps the only area of virtually unworked peat on Thorne Moors, but seems to have been cleared of vegetation ready for warping as it is not shown on earlier maps, and a drain was dug across its south part going E-W. Being higher ground, it perhaps couldn’t be warped and was left to nature and is now a private area for pheasant shoots. The fact it was higher undisturbed ground means some very large trees have grown here, particularly about 7 English Oaks. These are all more or less on the line of the warping drain so may have grown up along it since that was dug. Other species include willows, with a huge example of White Willow present, a fairly large stand of Aspen, birches, some Alder (including a huge coppice which has the largest girth of any tree on the moors), Hawthorn and Elder.

Marginal Woodlands

Some remnants of wooded areas and of overgrown boundary features (perhaps along a warping drain or an isolated corner) hold a few nice trees. The most notable area is NE Goole Moor where some nice old Hawthorns are left from the boundary. Also present are a few mature White Poplar and some huge White Willows. On the actual peat moors there are only one or two Guelder Rose on the NW side but not far off, in less acidic farmland there is plenty. Gorse is scarce but present along Thorne Waste Drain between Woodpecker Corner and Elmhirst and also at the colliery area. Alder is scattered throughout all the edge of the moors.

Crowle Moor

Crowle Moor is owed by the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust and fortunately never suffer from open peat milling. Some private parcels of peat moor were still being extracted for peat even after the handover of Thorne Moors in 2005, but all have since been bought out and ceased. Crowle unlike Thorne has several houses with large gardens on its edge, with some exotic species planted there; for example Eucalyptus, laurels and co. whilst there are some exotics many have a lot of native vegetation such as birch, willow and pine. There is also a conservation grazing area with some Gorse which has been planted with standard native trees. Across Crowle Moor the species to be found are: Leylandii and other exotic evergreens, Scots Pine, White Willow, Grey Willow, Goat Willow, Golden Weeping Willow, (probably other willows too), Aspen, Silver Birch, Downy Birch, Common Alder, Beech, English oak, Cultivated Apple, other fruit trees in gardens, Rowan, Common Hawthorn, Gorse, Blackthorn, Japanese Cherry, laurel, Sycamore, Holly, Rhododendron, Dog Rose, Eucalyptus, Ash, Elder, Wild Privet, Garden Privet.

Introduced Non-Native Species of Trees and Shrubs on Thorne Moors

Some species have already been mentioned. The most widespread of introduced woody stemmed plants is Rhododendron Rhododendron ponticum and varieties thereof. This originated from two main sources and areas, namely the ‘gardens’ of Makin Durham on the W side and William Casson on the SW side. These gardens specialized in the propagation of ericaceous garden plants for sale to the public. Of course, on abandonment of the gardens the rhododendron ran riot over the peat moors covering around 200 hectares, before large scale clearance and control. Casson grew all manner of plants and his gardens were a place for rich locals to come and spend a day. Fire was always a constant hazard and Casson placed notices up which read.

Ye who come here to laugh and talk,

To smoke a pipe, or crack a joke,

I’d have you know it is my desire,

You do not set this place on fire.

Botanist also came, particularly to see Rannoch Rush Scheuchzeria palustris which was an extreme rarity even then, located at a bog pool a little way onto the moors.

Sheep’s Laurel Kalamia angustifolia is found in the S part of the moors towards Limberlost. There are about four Cherry Laurel Prunus laurocerasus bushes on the NW side of Goole Moor, none very big at present.

Present Woodland at Hatfield

Surrounding Hatfield is a more diverse landscape than found around Thorne Moors. This is mostly the result of natural land features such as old and existing river courses. Besides these linear features with often accompanying meadows there are the extensive deposits of sand and gravel which have been worked for a long time leaving a legacy of old quarry workings which have mostly turned into ponds and been developed for fishing, water sport, holiday chalets or nature conservation. Further variation is found with the small rises left by drifted deposits of glacial material, particularly Lindholme Island. The former airfield and prison area and gardens also contribute variety.

Lindholme Island

This was not surveyed by Ian McDonald for his Flora by Foot (2005-2006) as it is held privately. Some of it is SSSI however. This site (48.5 ha) therefore yielded some new species; all non-native however. A surrounding woodland comprises mainly Silver Birch with some Rhododendron. Most of the notable trees are near the buildings, except for the largest English Oaks, Stovin remarked in Gentleman’s Magazine 1747 that there were ‘a few old oaks’ (Peck 1813). Also, near the buildings are some planted non-native species, most of which are not found elsewhere on the reserve. Native species include Yew, Scot’s Pine, Beech and Common Lime. The largest oaks however are the trees which most draw attention with their impressive size. Non-natives include Monkey Puzzle, Leylandii, European Larch, Sitka Spruce, Corsican Pine, Cultivated Pear, Cultivated Apple, Cultivated Cherry, Portugal Laurel, Sycamore and False Acacia.

Sandy Lane

This appears to be a very old route (now private in long stretches) with extensive birch woodland along it, and a few big ones, but with also many mature trees of a few other species, which have either simply grown along the route or been planted. The track seems to follow the soil boundary here where it goes from the peat bog to the more sandy soils, which no doubt influences the range of species which may grow. As well as the Silver Birch, there are many mature Sycamore, but none of any particular large size. Similar can be said for the English Oaks of which there are less. The Scot’s Pine here are few, large, quite straight and spaced and may well have been planted. Odd Rhododendrons can be found too. Just off of Sandy Lane to the South less than 100m and on the boundary of the NNR and farmland, stands a truly impressive sized Wild Cherry, with several tree sized suckers.

Badger Corner

This area has quite a few hectares of woodland around it, some of the very nice young birch and oak woodland adjoining from the farmland is private but no doubt increases its usefulness for wildlife. Actually on the reserve it is nearly all dense youngish birch stands but there has been quite extensive thinning to benefit wildlife by NE.

Ten Acre Lake

The 10 hectare lake (more than one lake merged making the current lake much larger than the name) is surrounded on all sides by mature birch woodland, in places quite dense. Where this abuts private land, such as the airfield or farmland boundaries it seems to be older and have more diversity of species. Again this is no doubt aided by the transition from pure peat substrate to sand and gravel soils. Here can be found some nice but not remarkably sized oaks for example and some Rowan as well as 10 Wild Cherry, derived from suckers. There is also Scots Pine, Aspen, Alder, Holly and Rhododendron.

Stainforth Moor

This is an interesting area due to the marginal private houses and gardens with their specimen native trees and exotics.

Marginal Woodland at Hatfield

Around much of the perimeter of Hatfield Moors there is extensive birch woodland, often dense and young and generally on drier ground. This can extend over the boundary into private moor or farmland as at Hatfield Peat Works, Belton Moor, Sandy Lane, Roe Carr and New Porters or the prison area. There is also extensive woodland, with much oak along Roe Carr and North Idle Drain. Different species may be found in these non-peat areas such as the Lombardy Poplars at Canberra Farm or Wild Cherry near the prison.

Introduced Non-Native Species of Trees and Shrubs on Hatfield Moors

The most widespread of introduced woody stemmed plants is again Rhododendron Rhododendron ponticum and varieties thereof. At Lindholme Island near the buildings are some planted non-native species (some already mentioned), most of which are not found elsewhere on the reserve. Species include Monkey Puzzle, European Larch, Sitka Spruce, Portugal Laurel and False Acacia. Further to the south of the Island is a stand of mature Corsican Pines.


It is obvious from even a cursory glance at the history of our area and Britain and Europe in general that times past could be very turbulent and unpredictable in the extreme. The sword ruled and this filtered down through all levels, and if you stepped out of line or pretended to a higher position, then you had to be prepared to fight in battle. We like to believe we live in more settled times, but do we really? Even since WWII conflicts continued in Europe even to this day. It is not just the people who suffer either, the land suffers enormously too. Looking at the most recent and ongoing conflict in Ukraine, it is obvious the farming industry has been totally disrupted and we can be quite certain wildlife has suffered considerably as well. It is not just from conflict in protected reserves, but also in areas such as the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone where wildlife was thriving and several re-introductions of species such as European Bison and Wolf were going well. As well as physical damage to the forest and bogs there can be no doubt that anything edible has been mercilessly pursued to supplement bland army rations.

Looking specifically at the main event in the study area, the Vermuyden drainage scheme beginning 1626, it is obvious that he and Charles I were embarking on it for personal gain in a clear capitalist manner, which would be readily identifiable with business interests today. They had little regard for the people of the area and their claims to rights and the plans and subsequent allocation of ‘reclaimed’ lands were done with no dialogue with the locals and were carried out regardless of all their protestations. That the locals were very unfairly treated at all stages is quite clear and their loss of previously enjoyed rights and way of life was in no way compensated for by the ‘improved’ (for agriculture) land they were allotted. Not only this but nearby communities outside the drainage areas were also heavily adversely affected and treated with similar disdain. The lengthy legal battles which went on for decades eventually clawed back some concessions, some of which were large, such as the Dutch River cutting and increased common land returned.

Vermuyden, both in his language and actions and according to people familiar with him, was very confident and arrogant in his dealings, not only with the people he dispossessed but seemingly with his participants (business partner) in many instances. He was as we have seen taken to court by them. Many of the participants came out with imperfectly improved land and many tried to sell as soon as they got the deeds due to the ongoing disputes with the locals. Many lost some money and some lost all of it. Vermuyden was also taken to court for substantial unpaid labourers wages.

In our local area today, Vermuyden is used as a name of some significance (correctly) and he is held up as a businessman who did great good in our area ‘improving the waste’ to make it productive, which is more questionable. The fact that the ‘waste’ was already extremely productive seems irrelevant until the locals’ wealth could be measured and it could be taxed effectively to the gain of the Exchequer. That he was undoubtably an important character in local events cannot be denied, whether his influence was for the greater good of the area can be strongly contested. The losses suffered can maybe be better comprehended if we imagine what the landscape may have been like had this major drainage not taken place. Perhaps if we draw from a more famous example, it will become clearer. The fens of the Norfolk Broads, East Anglia (Norfolk and Suffolk) similarly had their peat removed and the land drained and ‘improved’ for agriculture, but the resulting pits became over centuries wildlife rich wetlands and are rightly celebrated as such today, with a recent National Park status adding credence to this. Our area which also lost its fens and much of its bogs and heath to agriculture and industry still retained two large peat bogs following Vermuyden’s vandalism. Unfortunately, these remaining areas did not remain untouched since then and peat exploitation on a large and later total scale extensively destroyed what wildlife had taken refuge here. Further, the remaining areas and smaller outliers became fragmented and cut off from each other, most notably between the moors by a canal, railway and then a motorway (eight lane including the hard shoulder) and a mile width of intensive industrial arable land. We are fortunate in recent years to have secured the remaining peat bogs as wildlife reserves and the great biodiversity that remains, though a shadow of what it once was is still rightly treasured as restoration continues.

To imagine what may have been a more northerly counterpart to rival the Camargue of France or Coto Doñana, Spain is painful. Many species we now think of as southern European actually occurred in lesser numbers in this more northern area then when good habitat was plentiful (however, being on the edge of their ranges meant they were naturally more vulnerable to decline) species such as cranes, storks, pelicans, spoonbill and crakes. There were also White-tailed Eagles and kites. There were breeding waders such as Ruff, Dunlin, Golden Plover and Black-tailed Godwit. Mammals would have included European Beaver, Otter and earlier Wolves and Brown Bear. Some are making progress returning after long conservation efforts including re-introductions. The tourist potential for such a region can easily be imagined as generating far more revenue annually than the intensive industrial agriculture that dominates the area today. With increasing awareness of the value of wild areas not just for their own sake but for the mental health and well being of all of us, these areas are now valued in ways above and beyond the simple metrics of biota they preserve. This widening and increasing appreciation of nature is not only valuable in the fight for their preservation but also has become increasingly important in the local economy and also in education. These wildlife reserves generate in many ways jobs and income from a wide range of areas both local and further afield. Peat also preserves history, and so is important in this context too.

It should also be borne in mind the increasingly valued role of nature to lock up carbon and prevent it forming the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. There are few better biomes equipped to facilitate this than peat bogs.

Climate change unfortunately is still happening, due to the failings of corrupt governments who sadly value their economies above anything other than remaining in power. We can only hope that the damage limitation will be small and that we and our biodiversity don’t suffer too much. It would be good, if probably unlikely, to hand on the planet’s biodiversity in a better state than we gained it and see these and other reserves’ wildlife flourish under the next generations stewardship.


Note: that much of the references used are from online sources of the originals, this being far easier now and less time consuming than travelling to libraries or institutions that hold them. Principal amongst sources of open and free access to old books and manuscripts is the vast online resource of Google Books. Wikipedia is also an excellent source of information.


Arksey Village A History

Axholme Info

Bateman, M.D., Buckland, P.C., Frederick, C.D., & Whitehouse, N.J. (2001) The Quaternary of East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire

Battle of Hatfield Chase

Byford, D. (2005) Agricultural Change in the Lowlands of South Yorkshire with Special Reference to the Manor of Hatfield 1600-c.1875 vol I & II. PhD.

Anonymous (but was definitely Casson, W) (1829) The History and Antiquities of Thorne – with some Account of the Drainage of Hatfield Chase.

Carruthers, B. (2013) The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Pen & Sword, Barnsley.

Cross, Nigel. Caractacus' Last Battle. Resources for

Crowle Community Forum

De la Pryme, A. (1701) in Philosophical Transactions No 275.

Ditchfield, P.H. (1897) Memorials of Old Yorkshire




Domesday Book (and Hatfield, Tudworth Green)

Domesday Map

Charles Cawley (2006-2021) Medieval Lands: England, Anglo-Saxon & Danish Kings,%20AngloSaxon%20&%20Danish%20Kings.htm Foundation for Medieval Genealogy

Eversham, B.C., P. Skidmore and P.C. Buckland (1995) Invertebrates as indicators of lowland bogs in eastern England: some British bogs in a European context. In: P.T. Harding and I. Valovirta (editors) 9th Colloquium of the European Invertebrates Survey: Bioindicators at a pan-European Level. Helsinki, 3rd-4th September 1993. Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, Abbots Ripton.

Fishlake, St. Cuthbert

Hinchliffe, J. 2020 pers comms.

Hunter, J. (Vol I 1828 & II 1831) The History and Topography of the Deanery of Doncaster.

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