Hatfield Chase

Hatfield Chase was a low-lying area in South Yorkshire, England which often flooded and is chiefly known from the Battle of Hatfield Chase in 633. It was a royal hunting ground until Charles I appointed the Dutch engineer Cornelius Vermuyden to drain it in 1626. This changed the whole nature of a wide swathe of land including the Isle of Axholme and caused legal disputes for the rest of the century.

History of the Drainage

Hatfield Chase lay above the confluence of three rivers, the Don, the Torne and the Idle, which meandered into the Trent near its entrance to the Humber. The whole of this area, apart from the Isle of Axholme, is less than 10 feet above sea level and was therefore subject to frequent flooding. Although the area included some common land it was unlawful to take fish or game though many locals gained their livelihood by fishing and fowling [ [http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/BELGIUM-ROOTS/1999-08/0935614817 Rootsweb: Belgium-Roots-L The Draining Of Hatfield Chase ] ] the area which was unsuitable for agriculture.

The circumstances of Charles' appointment of Vermuyden to drain this area in 1626 are obscure. A story that he had accompanied an earlier royal hunting party is almost certainly fictional. ["Sir Cornelius Vermuyden" (J. Korthals-Altes, 1925; Williams and Norgate, London)] But the king was keen to make his assets profitable and the contract divided the land into three parts, one for the king, one for the adventurers who would drain the land and the remainder for those locals who had interests in the land.

Vermuyden brought over a number of Walloon partners, known as the Participants, who took shares and performed the drainage work, including a number of Huguenot families fleeing from religious persecution who settled at Sandtoft [ [http://privatewww.essex.ac.uk/~alan/family/G-Sandtoft.html Sandtoft - LIN ENG ] ] . The work was substantially completed by 1628 at a cost of £400,000 [ [http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/mss/collections/water/collections/hatfield-chase.phtml Hatfield Chase Corporation, 1538-1973 - Water Resources - Manuscripts & Special Collections - The University of Nottingham ] ] .

The eastern branch of the Don river was blocked and the banks of the northern branch into the River Aire were raised ["Read's History of the Isle of Axholme", ed C Fletcher, 1858] . The River Idle was blocked and its waters were diverted into the River Trent at Stockwith along the Bycar Dyke. The Torne was straightened by cutting a drain which emptied via a sluice into the Trent at Althorpe. Additional drains were also dug which also emptied into the Trent here. In 1629, a Court of Sewers for the Level of Hatfield Chase was established by Royal Warrant.

The drainage transformed the whole area, creating rich agricultural land where there had previously been swamps though it was still subject to periodic flooding.

Many local people were not very happy with the outcome. Those entitled to common rights, mainly from the Isle of Axholme, claimed they had been allotted the worst land. There were complaints of flooding from those further down the Don in the villages of Fishlake, Sykehouse and Snaith. Recrimination against foreign settlers was encouraged by those who had lost their fishing and other livelihood.

The most significant change was the diversion of the Don into the River Ouse at Goole in 1633 which Vermuyden had to pay for. This eventually became the wide Dutch River after several drains were swept into one following a great flood.

After various lawsuits and petitions, locals took action during the confusion of the Civil War and flooded Hatfield Chase by raising floodgates and damaging banks and sluices. Riots broke out when the courts finally ruled against them in 1650. Peace was restored, but lawsuits continued for the rest of the century and were not finally resolved until 1719.

The Court of Sewers continued until the 19th century when it became the Hatfield Chase Corporation and this survived until 1941 when it was incorporated into the Trent River Catchment Board. Today the watercourses of Hatfield Chase are managed by the Corporation of the Level of Hatfield Chase Internal Drainage Board.


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