The history of the Well Creek

The Well Creek historically is a stretch of waterway from Salter’s Lode to Outwell where it joined the Medieval Nene. The Well Creek is a tidal branch off the Well Stream. It petered out or stopped at Nordelph. After the alteration of the flow of the rivers to Kings Lynn  in the late 12th century the Well Creek was extended from Nordelph to Salter’s Lode. The waters of the Cam or Granta, Wissey, Western Ouse and Lark collectively called the Well Stream meandered across Fenland from Littleport to join the Nene at Shrewness Point in Wella (Upwell) before joining the Well Creek at Outwell and discharging into the sea at Wisbech. Wella in the 13th century consisted of what is known today as Upwell, Outwell, Welney, Christchurch, Euximoor, Three Holes, Lakesend, Tipps End and Nordelph. The major alterations to the waterways at Littleport in the 13th century, the digging of Pophams Eau in 1606 followed by the mid 17th century drainage undertakings that cut through the Well Stream and finally the digging of the Middle Level Main Drain in the mid 19th century starved the Well Stream of its water causing its decline. This once mighty natural waterway carrying water from the surrounding high ground that transported the stone to build Ely Cathedral was unable to support transportation after the mid 17th century.

The building of the Wisbech Canal from Outwell to Wisbech in the late 18th century straightened the remaining waterway and gave new hope of success but the relentless silt issues could not be overcome causing great losses for the investors. The coming of the tramway from Wisbech to Outwell and then on to Upwell in 1884 caused the demise of the Wisbech Canal. The Old Nene and the Well Creek were used for transportation up to the mid 1950s carrying coal for the drainage pumps and sugar-beet to the beet factories at Ely and Wissington but modern transport made this mode of transporting goods uneconomical. A decision was made in the late 1950s to fill in the Wisbech Canal and by 1970 the plan was completed. During the filling of the Wisbech Canal, proposals were being made to fill in the waterway known locally as the Well Creek from Marmont Priory Lock to Salter’s Lode Lock.

This waterway falls under the remit of the Middle Level Drainage Board and many commissioners argued that the waterway was too high for natural drainage and could see no good reason for keeping it. A group of protesters held a meeting in Beaupre School, Outwell and agreed to vehemently fight the Well Creek filling proposal. “It was the action of those protestors that saved the Well Creek“. Following a public inquiry in September 1969, Norfolk County Council stated that “The Well Creek must not be closed”. The Well Creek Trust was formed on the 23rd March 1970 its aim is; to ensure the survival of this ancient natural river for all time.

There are only two inland links between the tidal Fenland rivers Nene and the Great Ouse. Route one is from Earith to Denver along the unpredictable almost straight tidal New Bedford River (100 foot). Route two is the journey through the picturesque Middle Level system via the Well Creek taking in the beautiful area known by the Saxons as Wella.

                                      Text and illustration provided by William P Smith – 6 June 2010 (c)