Eric Ash

Transforming the Future of the Fens: Drainage, Improvement, and Projectors in Seventeenth-Century England

The seventeenth-century drainage of the English Fens (c. 1625-1660) wrought one of the largest and most profound alterations of the countryside in early modern European history. The principal motivation for the drainage, of course, was to increase the agricultural productivity of the land, and thereby to raise its monetary value. For some, however, the drainage offered an even more promising opportunity to reimagine and transform the land and its inhabitants. These projectors sought to forge a deeper conversion of the Fens, making them not just more profitable, but more rational and orderly as well. This paper will examine the drainage project as an imagined re-creation of the English Fens, an attempt to render them not just more arable, but more perfect in every way. The more ambitious projectors combined ideas from diverse fields such as husbandry, technology, economics, mathematics, and even theology to envision the newly drained Fens as an ideal agricultural model.