The Ouse Washes Website

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The Middle Level of the Bedford Level and the Middle Level Commissioners

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The central and largest section of the 'Great Level of the Fens' reclaimed by drainage during the mid-17th Century is 'The Middle Level' (ML). The area is to the west of the Old Bedford River, so it is NOT part of the Ouse Washes, but some water is transfered into and out of the Washes, and that affects operations within the Washes.

ML has a catchment of just over 170,000 acres (70,000 hectares), all dependent on pumped drainage, and 120 miles (190 km) of major watercourses of which 100 miles are 'statutory navigations'.

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frontispiece of the Middle Level Acts 1810-1874
Frontispiece of The Middle Level Acts book published 1875


Originally a division of the Bedford Level Corporation, and managed by them, the Middle Level gained some self control under an act of Parliament of 1810, and was finally separated completely from the BLC under another act of 1862 which came into force in 1864. There were others Acts in 1844, 1848, 1967 and 1874. The provisions of all these acts are contained in the 1875 publication, see on left.

Management is by the the Middle Level Commissioners (MLC) whose members are mainly land-owners, farmers, representatives from industrial organisations and  nominees of local authorites. A Board of 14 commissioners is elected annually.

The MLC is administered from its offices in March.

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The Middle Level area and IDBs
The Middle Level area and IDBs, 2012

The Middle Level Main Drain

Completed in 1848, this was a major improvement to Vermuyden's earlier works. It was an extension of the Sixteen Foot drain and was designed to lower the water level by 6 feet. To achieve that it had to be cut under Well Creek at Upwell.

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Wiggenhall St.Germans Pumping Station

In 1934 a huge pumping station was completed at Wiggenhall St. Germans after 4 years construction work, to lift water into the lower reaches of the Great Ouse River. It was the largest land drainage pumping station in the country, and after several upgrades it could, in 2007, pump at the rate of 1 million gallons per minute.

However it needed to be replaced, and in January 2007 work began on preliminary ground works and a new access roadway to avoid construction traffic passing through the adjoining village. On completion in late 2009, the old station was demolished.
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Text and photos except where noted © Eddy Edwards, 2010-12

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