Reclaiming a New World: Fen Drainage, Improvement, and Projectors in Seventeenth-Century England


in Early Science and Medicine
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The draining of the English Fens was one of the largest and most expensive agricultural improvement projects undertaken in early-modern England. Though the principal motivation was to make money from the improved land, many advocates of fen drainage emphasized the moral, utopian dimension of such projects, part of a much broader program for improvement and reform of all kinds to benefit the English Commonwealth. To those interested in pursuing good husbandry and agricultural improvement for their own sake, the Fens represented an unparalleled opportunity, a region of great potential yet unrealized. This article examines several texts advocating fen drainage written between 1580 and 1660, especially those published by Samuel Hartlib and his extensive network of correspondents, with particular attention to the non-financial reasons they gave for undertaking such projects.


Reclaiming a New World: Fen Drainage, Improvement, and Projectors in Seventeenth-Century England


in Early Science and Medicine

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References

17

 Hartlib ed.Legacie54.

28

 Hartlib ed.Legacie53.

30

 Thirsk“Plough” 306–13; see also Yamamoto “Distrust” 150–54; The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography s.v. “Walter Blith.”

31

 Blith“To those of the High and Honourable Houses of Parliament,” in English Improverfol. a v.

32

 Blith“The Epistle to the Ingenuous [sic] Reader,” in English Improverfol. a v.

33

 Thirsk“Plough” 309–11.

34

 BlithEnglish Improver Improved45–64; quotations on 49. The original orthography reads “Ingenuous” but I believe this is an error – the same error was made in the title of Blith’s “Epistle to the Ingenuous Reader” in English Improver.

37

 BlithEnglish Improver Improved16–7.

39

 Yamamoto“Distrust” 117–28; The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography s.v. “Cressy Dymock;” see also John Dixon Hunt “Hortulan Affairs” in Greengrass Leslie and Raylor eds. Samuel Hartlib 321–42.

42

 DymockDicoverie17–8.

43

 DymockDicoverie19–22.

50

 BlithEnglish Improver Improved52; Dymock Discoverie 2.

Figures

  • View in gallery
    The frontispiece to Walter Blith, The English Improver Improved… (London, 1652). Blith’s interest in fen drainage projects is suggested by the laborer portrayed at the lower right, using a trenching spade to dig a new drainage channel, as well as the surveyor working just below him, who is likely either plotting out a new drain or else dividing drained lands for enclosure. RB 600165, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

  • View in gallery
    Plan for an ideal, geometrically organized farmstead in the newly drained Fens, printed in Cressy Dymock, A Discoverie for Division or Setting Out of Land, as to the Best Form (London, 1653). RB 88473, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

  • View in gallery
    Plan for a series of neighboring farmsteads in the newly drained Fens, rationally organized and hierarchically arranged, printed in Cressy Dymock, A Discoverie for Division or Setting Out of Land, as to the Best Form (London, 1653). RB 88473, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.


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