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Bedford level

Bedford level was by far the most ambitious drainage scheme attempted in the Fens. A group of ‘adventurers’, under Francis, 4th earl of Bedford, was granted authority in 1630 to proceed and Vermuyden, the Dutch engineer, put in charge. The main objective was to shorten the course of the river Ouse in order to increase its outfall: the most important cut was the old Bedford river from Earith to Salter's Lock, 21 miles long, and bypassing Ely. There was strong opposition from local people, acute financial and technological difficulties, and an interruption caused by the civil wars. The work was officially declared complete in 1652, though much of the reclaimed land was of dubious value and maintenance proved expensive, because of silting and peat shrinkage. See also Cambridgeshire.

J. A. Cannon

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