PROJECT HEREWARD - A short history 1993 to date
November 2014 sees the start of a new and exciting chapter
in the history of Project Hereward. Our
goal is to re-open the presently neglected and impassable Middle Level / Great
Ouse navigation link via the Forty
between Horseway Lock and Welches Dam Lock.
- A NEW DAWN for a project that has already achieved so much.
Project Hereward was first established over twenty years ago
at the start of a successful and enduring partnership between East Anglian
Waterways Association and Peterborough
branch of the Inland Waterways Association.
Close co-operation and joint funding between the two
associations had enabled a turning point for boats to be provided at Ashline
Lock on the Middle Level in time for the 1993 IWA Festival at Peterborough.
At the festival EAWA showed pictures of a 70ft narrowboat using the new
turning point, to the amazement of sceptics who thought it impossible for a
boat of this length to navigate the right-angled bend at Briggate.
Thoughts turned to enabling full-length narrowboats to pass
right through the Middle Level to the Great Ouse system, saving a potentially
hazardous trip out into the Wash. EAWA commissioned engineer Roy Sutton to
report on work needed to lengthen Ashline and Marmont Priory locks.
EAWA Chairman, Roger Sexton
launched PROJECT HEREWARD at the National Waterways Festival in August
1993. A pledge of £2,500 was received
from the Well Creek Trust with a generous donation from Fox Boats at March. The Middle Level Commissioners agreed to
extend both the locks if the estimated total cost of £72,000 could be raised
from donations, corporate sources and local government. By the following summer more donations and
pledges had swelled the fund to well over £6,000. The momentum was established. Sources of
further funding were now actively explored leading to a grant from the Rural
Development Commission and Fenland Tourism.
Fenland District Council, always a great supporter, pledged £1,000 and
most importantly initiated a grant application to the European Commission.
Poor soil conditions at Marmont Priory lock meant that the
Middle Level Commissioners had to revise their estimate for this lock to
£55,500 but they agreed to pay £12,000 towards the cost. By April 1996 confirmation had been received
of European funding of 50% of the cost and the Rural Development Commission
raised its contribution to £12,000. With
the major grants added to generous individual donations work could start in
October 1996 and by the following Spring Marmont Priory Lock was partially
refurbished and extended to 92 feet.
With over £6,000 remaining in the fund held by EAWA, more
generous donations and further European funding works to Ashline Lock were
completed by April 1999. PROJECT
HEREWARD celebrated completion of its first major goal. The last barrier to full-length boats
navigating the Middle Level to and from the main canal system had been removed.
But there was more to be done.
Thoughts turned to the possibility of creating a navigable
link between the rivers Nene, Witham and Welland. This ambitious project would later form the
basis of the Environment Agency’s ‘Fenland Waterways Link’ project. The first major step would be to enable
passage to the South Forty Foot at Boston’s
Black Sluice. So at the 2001 IWA
Festival at Milton Keynes, Roger Sexton launched Project Hereward 2 to promote
this scheme. On the 30th of March 2009
the new lock was opened marking completion of the first stage in this ambitious
long-term project. Project Hereward will
continue to promote and encourage further progress on the Fens Waterways Link.
At present the only navigable link from the River Nene to
the Great Ouse is through Well Creek, itself saved from closure in 1970 by the
Well Creek Trust. The Trust restored navigation to the creek in 1973 and
continues to do sterling work in protecting and enhancing the waterway for all
users. There are now over 1,000 boat
passages each year through this route. However, Well Creek is not without its
problems; it is shallow and has several low bridges but if serious bank erosion
or other issues were to occur the Middle Level navigation link would be closed
The alternative link, used by all boats before the
restoration of Well Creek is via the Forty
from Horseway Lock and through Welches Dam Lock into the Old Bedford
River and Old Bedford
Sluice. The historic Forty Foot River was one of Cornelius Vermuyden’s
first Fenland drainage channels, dug in the 1600s. Horseway Lock is maintained by the Middle
Level Commissioners and is in working order for boats up to 60 feet. Welches Dam Lock (47 feet) was refurbished by
the National Rivers Authority with voluntary assistance from IWA and EAWA in
The Forty Foot channel between the locks is subject to leakage,
thought to be due to underlying gravel beds.
For some years the Environment Agency, under an agreement with the IWA,
restricted passage to a few pre-notified weekends when water levels could be
raised sufficiently. However, in 2006
the Environment Agency, apparently concerned by serious loss of water from the
Old Bedford and danger of flooding farmland sealed off Welches Dam Lock with a
piled cofferdam without notice. Navigation was no longer possible despite this
being a Statutory Public Navigation. Since then the three-kilometre waterway
between the two locks has become choked with weeds and silt – a sorry sight –
and there has been some deterioration to Welches Dam Lock.
In 2014 the latest
phase of Project Hereward was launched by EAWA and Peterborough branch
of the IWA with support from the Great Ouse branch. Originally
given the title Project Hereward - A New Dawn, it has now been amended
to better identify the restoration scheme.
Project Hereward - Welches Dam to Horseway is
progressing steadily with significant landmarks in 2015 and 2016
including commisioning of technical reports and a drone survey of the
entire length of the Forty Foot. The project also received a
generous private donation towards the restoration of Welches Dam lock.