Bower's Holderness drainage 1871

Drainage plans 16th century-1906

History of drainage

For centuries much of the area in and around Hull had been a patchwork marsh or swamp, comprising slow moving water courses with dozens of large and small meres. Flooding was a permanent feature. Much of Holderness would have been an expanse of shallow water known as carrs, while flood waters from the rivers Hull and Humber would reach far inland creating saltmarsh.

A number of improvements were made over the centuries to drain the land. One of the earliest schemes was carried out by the monastic community at Meaux Abbey from the 12th century. The monks cut a number of channels or linked existing streams to the River Hull. One such channel was the Eschdike (1160-1182), which linked the abbey to Wyke.

Despite improvements, the need to drain large parts of Holderness continued. Largely spurred on by making land profitable, it was during the 18th century that a number of drainage schemes were proposed, and undertaken. Perhaps the most well-known is that of the Holderness Drain which began in three phases in 1764. Other schemes were proposed and undertaken, including the intended drainage (and navigation) from Market Weighton to the River Humber (1772).

It is not clear whether all the plans and schemes were actually carried out. As a result some may simply be proposals rather than actually being implemented at the time, while others may have altered from the initial proposals. 

Hull History Centre holdings

The Local Studies Library has a number of plans for various drainage schemes from the 18th to the early 20th century. These include:

  • A plan and actual survey and with a scheme for drainage by Messrs Grundy and Smeaton, Engineers (1764) of the middle and North Bailiwicks of Holderness Ref: L MAPS/1/2
  • A plan of the Holderness Drainage in the County of York (1781) by A. Bower, Surveyor Ref: L MAPS/1/4
  • Plan of low grounds in several parishes with Holderness (1848) by P. Spencer Ref: L MAPS1/8
  • Plan of low grounds within the Beverley and Barmston drainage in the East Riding (1852) by Gregory Page Ref: L MAPS/1/9
  • Copy of plan showing land drainage in North and South Myton (c.1846) by George Wilkinson Ref: L MAPS/1/7
  • West District Drainage Plan No.1, general plan showing a line of outfall sewers (1862) Ref: L MAPS1/11
  • West District Plan No, 21, plan showing improved approach to the railway station from Prospect Street (1862) by C.E. Sharp Ref: L MAPS/1/13
  • Drainage of Hull (16th century) Ref: L MAPS/1/1

Related material

The Local Studies Library has a number of books on drainage or those that specially refer to land drainage. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Sheppard, June A., The Draining of the Hull Valley (1958) Ref: L 631.6(6)
  • Sheppard, June A., The draining of the marshlands of South Holderness and the Vale of York (1966) Ref: L.631.6(6)
  • Bower, A, The two acts of Parliament for the Holderness drainage and copy of arrangements with index and plan (1781) Ref: 631.6(6)
  • Local Board of Health Kingston upon Hull, The surveyors report to the Local Board of Health… on the subterranean survey of Myton and Sculcoates 11 June 1855 Ref: L.628.2
  • Foot Walker, W, The Lambwath Stream with the Foredike Stream (1981) Ref: L.631.6(6)
  • Starkey, David J et al., Hull: culture, history, place (2017) pp.19, 23, 25-25, 37


Although some maps may be copied in their entirety, please contact us for advice in the first instance.