Saturday, May 16, 2009

Draining the Landscape: Part One

Sometime ago my head was so stuffed with speculations about earthworks and so intent on pinning down previously undiscovered archaeology that I might have inadvertently, just a little bit, perhaps, have misinterpreted some Victorian herring-bone drainage cuts at Rossall School for mediaeval plough lines.
Look, it could have happened to anybody! Nobody’s perfect (although, of course, I come about as close as it’s possible for one human being to get).
Anyhow, because of that, I decided to dig out some old stuff that I’d written and drawn up for the museum ages and ages ago; a sort of refresher course so that I wouldn’t make the same mistake again.
And now it’s your turn to suffer. (I don’t see why I should be the only one.)
So, in order to turn the boggy Fylde landscape from unusable marsh into something more arable local farmers have been draining their fields since mediaeval times. It wasn’t until the mass production of tile pipes in the 1840’s, however, that field drainage really took off.


(Can you see what I’ve done there? I’ve added a subheading and turned it into a fantastically hilarious pun, like they do in the newspapers. You’ll thank me for this, one day, I’m sure of it.)
The first job that needed to be done in order to drain a field was to dig a large ditch along one of its sides. This ditch would channel the water to a nearby river or stream. The ditch was excavated using an enormous ‘Ditch Cutting Spade’ (such as the one illustrated below) that was specially designed for the task. Presumably it required a bloody big sod to operate it as well.

Once dug, to prevent the ditch or ‘dyke’ from silting up again, regular maintenance was required. ‘Pon Scoops’ or ‘Pan Scoops’ (see below – I’ve gone to a lot of trouble here to make this informative and interesting at the same time, so I hope you appreciate it) were used to fish unwanted blockages from the channels (watch it!) allowing the water to drain freely away. Looks like the sort of spoon you’d expect Dawn French to eat her breakfast with really, doesn’t it?


(See…I’ve done it again. Eat your hearts out Daily Mirror staff!)
With the ditches in place the next step was to channel the water into them from the rest of the field…er…obviously. In order to accomplish this, pipe-layers would first dig into the soil using a ‘Long Mouth’ spade such as the one below as demonstrated by my old departed mate Neil Thompson. (Or an illustration of him, at any rate.)

These spades were designed to dig a trench just wide enough to accommodate the pipes, which explains their weird shape. They varied in size according to the width of the pipes that needed to be laid.
Spades with long thin blades (like the one above) were known as ‘Topping Spades’ whilst the shorter, fatter blades were called ‘Bottoming Spades’. (Insert your innuendo here, but keep it to yourselves, eh?)
Once the trench had been dug the ‘Levelling Spade’ or ‘Drag’, shown below, was used to even up the base.

This odd shaped tool also removed any stones and gravel from the trench floor. The technique was known as ‘Crumbing Up’. (Don’t ask, because I don’t know why. I just get told these things. After a while you learn to stop asking stupid questions in the hopes that it’ll all be over soon.)
Speaking of which, it’s probably time for a few days break. (I reckon we deserve it after that.) Don’t forget to call back for the second and concluding part of this article. It’s bound to improve. No seriously…


Jayne said...

All they seemed to do here to drain swamps from fields was to chuck all their household rubbish in....and bajillions of shards of Victorian pottery (were wives in the habit of chucking the crockery at hubby?).
That Levelling Spade could double as a hook for my MIL....

Brian Hughes said...

"...were wives in the habit of chucking the crockery at hubby?"

Probably cat owners. We've got about two dozen broken saucers blocking our garden grid that the various local moggies have sent flying off the wall in an attempt to consume as much chicken as felinely possible.

John said...

Perhaps your Moggie sings at night, and the crockery was pitched at him as a deterrent?

Anyways, a delightful(ly short) post, easy to read thanks to your subheadings, and informative as well.

Only problem is, you stopped short of explaining that there herring bone thingy you started with, which was the 'hole' point, innit?

Bad form, Old Man. We wants answers!

JOHN ;0)

wv = augatics isn't that part of the Seniors excercise program down at the pool?

Andrew said...

Mercifully short, there were some big pictures. My area of expertise is unblocking gutter grates with my shoe clad foot. Nothing better than watching a bank up of water suddenly drain away. Given how little it rains here now, unblocking a gutter drain is better than doing the biz. I have been known to dig a channel to drain away some water. Much fun.

Brian Hughes said...

John and Andrew,"...a delightful(ly short) post..."
"Mercifully short..."

Why do I get the impression that a tour of European field drain systems isn't high on your 'Things to Do before you die' lists...?

John said...

Jes Kidding, Brian. I DID ask for more, didn't I? Such as that explanation about the confusion over the Herringbone pattern, and you're Eureka moment of discovery, etc, et all...

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...


To be honest I can't remember what's in the second half of this article, to be honest. I fell alseep myself in the middle of writing it.

Jayne said...

Can I borrow the Drag?
Have been threatened by Feral Beast to an impending visit to the in-laws sometime in the very near future....some of them are such drags and crumbs...

WV =fleaesse...yes, even Blogger can sense the doom cloud over my shoulder!

Brian Hughes said...


Now I know there's a conspiracy. The word verification people have obviously been spying on my cat.

Anonymous said...

Is your telephone machine working?

Brian Hughes said...


If you mean my answering machine, and if you also mean then that you've left a message on it to which I haven't responded, then the answer is probably not.