200 years since the path of a Norfolk river was changed
- Credit: Mike Page
King's Lynn Town Hall will be lit up to mark 200 years since a river was diverted - changing the town forever.
The 200th anniversary of the Eau Brink Cut, a channel which diverted the River Great Ouse directly to the sea at King's Lynn, will take place later this month.
Its story has been brought to life in a book written by author Kathleen Saunders from Clenchwarton to coincide with the bicentenary.
Three Million Wheelbarrows is a dramatization of events about the River Great Ouse from 1775 to 1821.
Work on the project included King’s Lynn’s first bridge over the River Great Ouse, the Freebridge to Marshland, which opened on June 28, 1821, and the opening of the Cut on July 31, 1821.
And to mark this significant event, West Norfolk Council plans to illuminate King’s Lynn Town Hall on June 28.
Originally, the River Great Ouse coming from Downham Market to Wiggenhall St Germans turned towards the Tilneys, and around in an arc to Clenchwarton, then West Lynn.
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The Eau Brink Cut took the river from Wiggenhall direct to a bend just before West Lynn, which made the river flow more quickly to the Wash and improved drainage from the areas of land that drained into it.
But Mrs Saunders said its success was limited.
She said: "The Bridge was part of the requirements of the Eau Brink Act 1795.
"When it opened, the 12-mile detour to Wiggenhall to cross at the nearest bridge across the River Great Ouse was no longer necessary.
"Soon after, a bridge was built at Sutton Bridge, completing road access between Norfolk, Lincolnshire and the northern counties.
"Drainage in the Fens was always an issue which engaged those who saw potential in the land as an agricultural asset.
"There’s a very long history which included the two Bedford Rivers and much else.
"The phase I’ve written about was from 1775, when progress was delayed by many of those involved going off to fight in the American War of Independence, then other conflicts including the Napoleonic wars."
The author said her research into the history of the river inspired her to write the book to highlight parts of a bigger story, the environmental issues and the "fascinating lives" of some of the people involved, adding that the dramatization of events made it more accessible history.
She said: "Many writers have commented that the River Great Ouse seems to have a personality because it can look so different depending on the tide, season and weather."
Three Million Wheelbarrows explores a "bitter dispute" involving landowners who wanted to straighten the River Great Ouse to improve drainage and protect their crops from flood.
But the author explained that the merchants of King's Lynn Corporation feared straightening the river would create such violent currents that the harbour and barge transport network would be destroyed.
She added: "It required a massive feat of negotiation by the most elite local characters and Britain’s legendary engineers to satisfy both factions."
The book also explores an environmental theme narrated by the River Great Ouse itself - telling of its resistance to "human control and the impacts of our activities on the environment".
Mrs Saunders said this was important to highlight as today concern was growing that climate change would bring floods back to the area, with transport across the river remaining "vital" to reduce social isolation and promote sustainable development.
A spokesperson for WNC said the council was discussing arrangements about commemorating the event, with further detail to be released closer to the time.
They said King's Lynn Town Hall would be lit up on June 28 to mark the anniversary of the opening of the bridge.
Mrs Saunders will be invited to the Town Hall to speak with Mayor of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk Harry Humphrey about her book.