W DUGDALE, a supporter of Vermuyden, nevertheless makes this observation, ‘There is no doubt that Vermuyden took too little account of the great advantages connected with draining to the Humber.
The alteration of the Torne was never a wise move. It remained a problematic area right up to recent times. He should have concentrated waters into the old River Don - and so out to Adlingfleet. It was navigable and could have remained so.’
It may be that Dugdale was perhaps oversimplifying matters here but one of Vermuyden’s own countrymen also comments, ‘Both the Torne and the Idle would have had a greater capacity as draining channels and a more rapid discharge than they now have if they had been planned to run in a northerly direction.
Vermuyden could have foreseen this and it is beyond comprehension that he should have neglected it. (Strong words indeed but his compatriot goes on) ‘I can only attribute the mistake to his strong desire to complete the drainage works with all speed and that he considered his system the quickest, cherishing the optimistic view that it would satisfy requirements.
The event proved the fallacy of this opinion though the system certainly proved to be a quick one.’
This series has tried to justify the claims of affected locals in Axholme that the King had no right to dispose of their legally granted common.
Here, flood waters aided their keeping of stock. Vermuyden ruined the benefits of their common land, and their fishing and fowling, a valuable source of income for the poor, was largely lost. Furthermore, these commons were reduced to between a half and a third of their former size.
The facts are that Vermuyden, in his own times, failed to make the drained fen of Axholme any more profitable than the undrained. The reputation of the Dutch engineer rests more in what he initiated than in what he achieved. That said however, what he planned and executed was indeed a great achievement and over some three centuries changes and modifications have transformed his groundwork into a very efficient drainage system, leading to a richness of arable farming. Over time Vermuyden has also enjoyed a higher regard accorded him in South Yorkshire than is the case in Axholme, perhaps because the former exercised a loyalty to the Crown through the Royal Hatfield Chace.
Next week Colin Ella begins a new series entitled, ‘The Way We Were’. Part 1 - A Budding Caruso.