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two hundred years ago, as it is now by any manufacturer of the hole and cor. ner political petitions of the present day. It is matter of fact, however, that the number of those who dissented were three times as many as those who had given in their names, had every one of them been the signature of per. sons who possessed right of Common. Those persons who refused to consent claimed their right of Common under the ancient Deed of Sir John Mowbray, by which he, having made what is termed in law an approvement to himself of part of the said commonable grounds, and disposed of the remainder to his tenants, all future Lords* were debarred from making any further approvement.
This was the state of the case before Vermuyden commenced his operations. One thing is self-evident, that the original grant recognized this right of the Commoners ; and that a very great majority of them never consented to receive any compensation either in money or land. I think it right to call attention to this fact, in order that a correct opinion may be formed of the conduct of each party in the following history: for it appears to me that the authors who have written on this subject, overlooking the peculiar circumstances in which the Commoners were placed, and fixing their attention solely on the vast improvement which might be expected, as the necessary consequence of this undertaking, to the surrounding country, have represented them as a set of " monstrous barbarians,” who, to maintain the ancient state of things, had recourse to the most violent means. I allow that the means made use of were most unjustifiable ; but I contend that these were not resorted to until the persons who did so had suffered great injury, and received abundant provocation. Others have said that the rights of the Commoners, if such there were, rested on nothing better than the “interpretation of a clause in an old Deed, which had become the subject of antiquarian lawt." If by antiquarian law is meant a law which had become
antiquated * These are the words of the Deed: “That the said Sir John and his Heirs shall not approve any Waste, moors, woods, waters, nor make any manner of approvement of any part, within the said Isle
+ See Hunter's History of the Deanery of Doncaster, vol. 1.
antiquated or obsolete, they assert what is altogether untrue, for about this time the law was, and I believe still is, in full force, and the Commoners had a trial, verdict, judgment, and execution upon it, at the bar of the Exchequer.
It was not, however, to be expected, that Vermuyden*, “secure of his Majes. ty's favour, and resting on the authority of his inexhaustible treasure,” would give up his project for want of the consent of the Commoners, which, how. ever, would have been an effectual bar to his obtaining an Act of Parliament at the present day. Accordingly he brought over from Holland a great number of workmen and implements of drainage, who sailed up the Trent in a number of vessels, facetiously termed by the Author of the History of the First Nine Years of the Drainage, “ a Navy of Tharshish.”
The original plan of the drainage seems to have been this. The level was first to be relieved from the waters of the Torn, the Idle, and the southern branch of the Don; and then sufficient drains were to be made to carry off such waters as fell from the heavens upon the surface of the Level itself. To accomplish the first part of this plan, the waters of the Idle were diverted out of their old channel, and conveyed by a drain cut parallel to the old Bykersdyke, to the Trent at Stockwith ; and to prevent them overflowing the Isle in time of floods, a strong embankınent was made. This was done at the extreme south part of the parish of Haxey; and the place, from that circumstance, has ever since been called Idle Stop. A sluice was also erected at Misterton, to prevent the tides from flowing beyond that point. The southern branch of the Don was blocked up not far from Hatfield, and its water attempted to be conveyed into the river Ayre, at a place called Turn-bridge. The waters of the river Torn, which joined the Idle near Wroot, were all that now remained to be disposed of. This was attempted by means of the drains made to carry off the surface water, which fell upon the Level from the heavens: a double drain was cut from Idle Stop, in a northerly direction, to a place called Dirkness, near Sandtoft, which then turned due east to the Trent at Althorpe. The waters of the Torn were conveyed by a tunnel over
* History of First Nine Years of the Drainage.
one of these drains into the other, and so passed along with the surface water to the Trent. Two other drains conveyed the waters from the neighbourhood of Hatfield to Dirkness; and another drain those from Thorne, in a direction due east, by means of a separate outfall at Althorpe. At Hirst, in the parish of Belton, these drains from Idle Stop and Hatfield united, and ran parallel to that which came from Thorne: one was called the South Double River, and the other the North Double River. The surface waters on the low grounds in the parishes of Haxey and Owston, were conveyed by a drain called the Snow Sewer to the Trent at West Ferry.
The great error of this plan was draining into the Trent at Althorpe: so much so that when it was determined that the drains should take an easterly direction at Dirkness, all advantages to the Isle Commoners was at an end. They ought to have pursued a northerly direction, and taken the natural outfall of the southern branch of the river Don, below Adlingfleet, where the doors might always have been open during a great part of every ebb of the tide, and where the river freshes or floods could never have kept them shut.
We are not aware, at the present day, of any obstacle which could have prevented Vermuyden cutting his drains through the parishes of Crowle and Luddington, greater than that which he encountered in taking them through Belton and Epworth to Althorpe ; but it is not improbable that from the continual tendency of embanked rivers to raise their beds, the outfall at Althorpe may be much worse now than it was two hundred years ago.
There were, however, two other very serious defects. The drain which was to convey the waters of the Torn across the Isle Commons to the Trent was neither wide enough nor deep enough; and the outlet into the river Ayre, which was to convey the waters of the southern branch of the Don, had a similar fault.
The first of these defects not only prevented the Isle Commoners from receiving any benefit from the drainage, but made it to them the cause of a very serious injury, inasmuch as the new drain for the Torn being formed on higher ground, lands which before were dry now became flooded. The second defect over-whelmed the inhabitants of Snaith, Fishlake, and Sykehouse, in Yorkshire, with ruin and desolation.
This plan, however defective, was rapidly proceeded with, so that before the close of the second year from its commencement, it was so far completed that a Commission was issued in order to survey and divide the same. “Cornelius Vermuyden,” says Prymne, “ to the great surprise of the whole nation, and to the vast advantage of the country round about, which before was but barbarously and thinly inhabited, poor and beggarly, and at the incredible labour and charges of above £400,000 * did dis-chase and drain Hatfield Chase, whose name deserves a thousand times more to be honourably men. tioned and received in all histories, than Scaurus was in those of Rome, for draining a great lake in Italy not a quarter so big as this.” That the large deep pools of water were drained off the Chase, we are willing to allow ; but that this was done to “the great benefit of the country round about,” is an assertion which we can by no means admit. The very reverse was the fact, as the History which I am about to relate will abundantly prove.
The Commissioners were the Viscount Aire, Sir John Saville, Sir Ralph Hansby, and Sir Thomas Fanshaw. They proceeded with their task amidst the loud complaints of the inhabitants, who alledged that the work could not be said to be completed, for that instead of the water being conveyed away, it was only removed from the new lands to be spread upon the old: and when they had assigned the thirds to the respective parties, they were charged with having sacrificed the interest of the natives, by assigning to them only the lowest and worst lands. This dissatisfaction of the Coinmoners soon produced acts of open violence and outrage.
A manuscript written by one of the original Proprietors gives us the following account of some of these proceedings. “While the great projector was actively employed in this undertaking, he found himself mightily an. noyed by the gnats and flies, that is the common sort of the inhabitants, that set upon him when he should rest ; for they finding these mounds of earth, cast up for his ease and security, would prove their utter ruin, and dam that water upon their ancient lands above, which should lay upon his improvement below, they disturbed hiin in his works, and when that would not do, in great numbers'they burnt his carts, and barrows, and working instruments, in great heaps by night.”
* Fifty-five thousand eight hundred and twenty-five pounds was the sum expended in making the drains. The afore-mentioned sum of Prymne probably includes the repairs of banks, purchase of and and other heavy expences. Reading says, in his Memorial to the Court of Sewers, above £300,000. * Robert Portington was second brother to Roger Portington, of Tudworth. During the civil war, he was major in Sir Wm. Saville's regiment. He was a valiant soldier, and plundered the Isle of Axholme. He was in the fight at Willoughby,—was there taken prisoner, and sent to Hull, where he lay until the King was restored : and then coming over Booth Ferry, or, as others say Whitgift, he there received in his hand the bite of an ape, that was then by chance in the boat, which gangrened shortly after, and carried him to his grave. Prymne's Diary.
The first disturbances which took place seem to have been allayed by em. ploying the people, and giving them such high wages that to use the words of the author before quoted, “they did not see the ruin which before they were so apprehensive of.”
When that part of the plan began to be executed which consisted in stop. ping up the south channel of the river Don, and forcing its waters into the river Ayre, these disturbances broke out afresh. They were not now confined to the lower orders; but some of the better sort of the ancient freeholders were implicated in them, and particularly Robert Portington*, a justice of the peace, one of the ancient family of that name at Barnby-upon-Dun, which appears in all its generations to have consisted of the sons † of violence and misrule, so far forgot what was due to his character and station, that he openly countenanced these lawless proceedings, and was personally engaged in them. He was indicted with others, by the Attorney General, at the suit of Vermuyden, before the Council Board, in the presence of the King, for beating, wounding, and killing divers of the workmen employed in this undertaking; and it was moved against Portington, that he should be put out of the Com. mission. He was, however, only bound over to keep the peace, and ordered to continue in Commission so long as he behaved himself well.
The following year, 1630, the inhabitants of Sykehouse, Fishlake, Stainford, Cowick, Snaith, Baln, Pollington, and divers others of the West Riding
·† Hunter's History of the Deanery of Doncaster, Vol. 1.