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PROJECT HEREWARD - A short history 1993 to date

 November 2014 sees the start of a new and exciting chapter in the history of Project Hereward.  Our goal is to re-open the presently neglected and impassable Middle Level / Great Ouse navigation link via the Forty Foot River between Horseway Lock and Welches Dam Lock.  - A NEW DAWN for a project that has already achieved so much.

 Project Hereward was first established over twenty years ago at the start of a successful and enduring partnership between East Anglian Waterways Association and Peterborough branch of the Inland Waterways Association.

 Close co-operation and joint funding between the two associations had enabled a turning point for boats to be provided at Ashline Lock on the Middle Level in time for the 1993 IWA Festival at Peterborough.  At the festival EAWA showed pictures of a 70ft narrowboat using the new turning point, to the amazement of sceptics who thought it impossible for a boat of this length to navigate the right-angled bend at Briggate.

 Thoughts turned to enabling full-length narrowboats to pass right through the Middle Level to the Great Ouse system, saving a potentially hazardous trip out into the Wash. EAWA commissioned engineer Roy Sutton to report on work needed to lengthen Ashline and Marmont Priory locks.

 EAWA Chairman, Roger Sexton launched PROJECT HEREWARD at the National Waterways Festival in August 1993.  A pledge of 2,500 was received from the Well Creek Trust with a generous donation from Fox Boats at March.  The Middle Level Commissioners agreed to extend both the locks if the estimated total cost of 72,000 could be raised from donations, corporate sources and local government.  By the following summer more donations and pledges had swelled the fund to well over 6,000.  The momentum was established. Sources of further funding were now actively explored leading to a grant from the Rural Development Commission and Fenland Tourism.  Fenland District Council, always a great supporter, pledged 1,000 and most importantly initiated a grant application to the European Commission.

 Poor soil conditions at Marmont Priory lock meant that the Middle Level Commissioners had to revise their estimate for this lock to 55,500 but they agreed to pay 12,000 towards the cost.  By April 1996 confirmation had been received of European funding of 50% of the cost and the Rural Development Commission raised its contribution to 12,000.  With the major grants added to generous individual donations work could start in October 1996 and by the following Spring Marmont Priory Lock was partially refurbished and extended to 92 feet.

 With over 6,000 remaining in the fund held by EAWA, more generous donations and further European funding works to Ashline Lock were completed by April 1999.  PROJECT HEREWARD celebrated completion of its first major goal.  The last barrier to full-length boats navigating the Middle Level to and from the main canal system had been removed. But there was more to be done.

 Thoughts turned to the possibility of creating a navigable link between the rivers Nene, Witham and Welland.  This ambitious project would later form the basis of the Environment Agency’s ‘Fenland Waterways Link’ project.  The first major step would be to enable passage to the South Forty Foot at Boston’s Black Sluice.  So at the 2001 IWA Festival at Milton Keynes, Roger Sexton launched Project Hereward 2 to promote this scheme.  On the 30th of March 2009 the new lock was opened marking completion of the first stage in this ambitious long-term project.  Project Hereward will continue to promote and encourage further progress on the Fens Waterways Link.

 At present the only navigable link from the River Nene to the Great Ouse is through Well Creek, itself saved from closure in 1970 by the Well Creek Trust. The Trust restored navigation to the creek in 1973 and continues to do sterling work in protecting and enhancing the waterway for all users.   There are now over 1,000 boat passages each year through this route. However, Well Creek is not without its problems; it is shallow and has several low bridges but if serious bank erosion or other issues were to occur the Middle Level navigation link would be closed to all. 

 The alternative link, used by all boats before the restoration of Well Creek is via the Forty Foot River from Horseway Lock and through Welches Dam Lock into the Old Bedford River and Old Bedford Sluice.  The historic Forty Foot River was one of Cornelius Vermuyden’s first Fenland drainage channels, dug in the 1600s.  Horseway Lock is maintained by the Middle Level Commissioners and is in working order for boats up to 60 feet.  Welches Dam Lock (47 feet) was refurbished by the National Rivers Authority with voluntary assistance from IWA and EAWA in 1991. 

 The Forty Foot channel between the locks is subject to leakage, thought to be due to underlying gravel beds.  For some years the Environment Agency, under an agreement with the IWA, restricted passage to a few pre-notified weekends when water levels could be raised sufficiently.  However, in 2006 the Environment Agency, apparently concerned by serious loss of water from the Old Bedford and danger of flooding farmland sealed off Welches Dam Lock with a piled cofferdam without notice. Navigation was no longer possible despite this being a Statutory Public Navigation.  Since then the three-kilometre waterway between the two locks has become choked with weeds and silt – a sorry sight – and there has been some deterioration to Welches Dam Lock.

 In 2014 the latest phase of Project Hereward was launched by EAWA and Peterborough branch of the IWA with support from the Great Ouse branch.  Originally given the title Project Hereward - A New Dawn, it has now been amended to better identify the restoration scheme.

Project Hereward - Welches Dam to Horseway is progressing steadily with significant landmarks in 2015 and 2016 including commisioning of technical reports and a drone survey of the entire length of the Forty Foot.  The project also received a generous private donation towards the restoration of Welches Dam lock.