Εικόνες σελίδας
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

there not being a full Commission, prompt attention was delayed. A couple of labourers, John Cole of Barking, and James Harvey of Plaistow, were set to work on each side of the gap so as to meet in the middle, but for want of knowledge and experience in marsh-walling, they failed to effect the repair. John of Ghent, a Dutch engineer, Mr. Trundle, with Mr. Stiers, of Dartford, were then employed under the direction of Mr. Fleming, a farmer of Barking, assisted by a marsh-bailiff named Thorne. They fixed a sluice, but with lack of judgment, and it blew up with the first tide. The gap had now grown to the size of twenty feet, and soil from the neighbouring fields soon

[graphic][merged small][merged small]

began to be washed into the Thames. Other contractors tendered their services, and Mr. John Ward, of Hackney, M.P. for the City of London, 1708-9, and a Mr. Jackson, were finally entrusted with the task. A number of piles were driven, pontoons of ships were sunk, and quantities of chalk, clay, and other material thrown in, but the piles were not well backed on the inside, and in about a month the water forced its way through the interspaces, and gulled or deepened the gap to the extent of forty feet and upwards. Thus, what was at first only a small breach in the wall, grew and increased until it became a serious menace to property and life.

The Commissioners had incurred great expense in the

prosecution of these attempts; they had levied as much as £28 per acre on the land, and the charges became insupportable. The sufferers presented, through their representative, a petition to Parliament, in which were set forth "the grievances under which they were crushed," and they asked that they might "be relieved of land-tax for these said drowned lands, until they be regained." Other parties were also implicated in the difficulty, for a new danger threatened. A report from William Boteller, water-bailiff to Sir Samuel Stainer, Knight, Lord Mayor of London, as Conservator of the river Thames, stated some awkward facts:


Sandy Creek, in the Level of Dagenham, hath done very great damage to the river, which visibly appears for four miles below and two miles above the breach. From the lower end of Bugsby's Hole to the uppermost ballast wharf by Woolwich, which is a mile and a half in length, ships, before the breach, drawing twelve or fourteen feet of water, used to ride at anchor with safety, and now it is choked up with sand and earth that in most places it is not above five feet at low About half-a-mile from the breach mouth down to Dagenham Jetty, a place where His Majesty's ships used to ride at anchor with the biggest merchant ships, is now almost choked up, and a great bank of sand and earth appears dry before low water; and although many thousand tons have been taken up yearly by the ballast men, yet it daily increases." He concludes by saying: "All which is humbly submitted to your Lordship's wisdom and consideration. This 6th March, 1713. (1714, new style.)

As the water rushed in and out of the breach, and meandered over the marshes, so much was the head of water lowered in the navigable channel. Banks arose in the water-way, much to the detriment and safety of shipping. Pilots took alarm. They conferred together, and resolved to petition, alleging "That from our own observation, as well as the frequent complaints made, the River Thames is very much prejudiced by the breach at Sand-Creek in Dagenham Level, in the County of Essex, and that if some speedy care is not taken, the navigation of the said river will be much endangered by great quantities of sand and earth which is carried out at the mouth of the said breach and is lodged in the river."

Ordinary endeavours to stem the inroads of the water having proved insufficient, the evil now promised to become a national calamity, and a clamour arose for special legislation to ward off the danger. The land-owners' petition shewed that by direction of Her Majesty's Commission of Sewers they had raised £40,000, and had succeeded, after six years, in stopping the

[blocks in formation]



breach by 29th October, 1713, but on the following 15th February a great storm broke down the walls, and once more let in the tide. By annual loss of rents and by payment of land tax for the flooded grounds, they had also lost heavy sums. Constant complaints of captains and pilots reached the Trinity House, and eventually raised the activity of the Elder Brethren. Their clerk, Richard Noyes, wrote " If the breach be not quickly

[blocks in formation]

restored, it will, in all probability, force a way or passage into
the adjoining Flete, called Rainham Creek; the consequence
whereof may be a further prejudice to the said River Thames.
Trinity House, 4th May, 1714."
Two years or more
later it was urged "that
the breach in the levels of
Havering and Dagenham hath already done very great damage
to the navigation of the Thames; and will, if not speedily
stopped, be more and more prejudicial to it. The lands over-
flowed are between 1,200 and 1.300 acres; and it is manifest

that since the breach happened, which was about nine years ago, the ebb tides have made great and deep canals in the said Levels." Again, another document says, "The preservation of the navigation of the River Thames is of the last consequer.ce to the trade of the whole kingdom; and it is notorious that the keeping open this breach has done very great damage already."

Thus arose a consensus of opinion among watermen, pilots, captains, merchants, Elder Brethren, and all connected with commerce and navigation; that the need of the river was pressing; that the means of amendment were insufficient; that some lively remedy must be adopted if the River of Thames was to hold its own as the great highway to the capital of the kingdom. Owners and occupiers of the marsh-land could do no more, for the Levels were already overburdened with rates. Nothing short of legislation would suffice to avert this manifest national disaster, which the longer it was neglected the worse it grew. At last Parliament awoke to the danger which beset the trade of the realm. "An Act for the speedy and effectually preserving the navigation of the river Thames, by stopping the breach in the Levels of Havering and Dagenham, in the county of Essex,"* was passed to arrange for special duties to be levied during a period of ten years, or until the evil was abated. preamble is pertinent to our subject, and runs thus:


"Whereas the preservation of the river of Thames is of the utmost importance as well to the City of London, as to the trade of this whole Kingdom, and whereas in the year 1707, by a violent inundation of the said river of Thames, there happened a great breach in the walls or banks of the levels of Havering and Dagenham in the County of Essex, next adjoining to the said river, whereby one thousand of acres of land in the said levels is overflowed, and the same if not speedily remedied will tend to the apparent hazard of the navigation of the said river by the continual quinties of earth and gravel which every tide are brought from the said breach, and have already occasioned a shelf or sandbank to grow up near the mouth of the said breach, which reaches almost half across the river in breadth, and near a mile in length, insomuch that if the said breach is not stopped and the walls and banks made good again, the navigation of the said river of Thames is in danger of being utterly destroyed." It was thereupon decreed that “from and after the 18th day of July, 1714, there shall be paid by the Master of every ship or vessel which shall come into the Port of London (except colliers, fishing vessels, ships or vessels in ballast only, and coasters), the duty of threepence for every ton of the burden of the said ship or vessel for every voyage inward; and the person or persons appointed collector or collectors thereof shall give to every such Master a receipt of the sum of money so paid that, it may be allowed to him by the merchants or freighters of the said ship or vessel, who

*13° Anne c. 20.

are hereby directed to allow the same to the said Master accordingly, and that every coaster who shall come into the said Port of London (except colliers, corn vessels, ships or vessels in ballast only, and fishing vessels), shall pay the duty of three shillings and no more for each voyage they shall make to the Port of London. And be it further enacted by the Authority aforesaid that for and during the said term of ten years there shall be paid by the Master of every collier ship, or vessel, laden with coals or culm, for all coals or culm imported, landed, or discharged at or within the said Port of London, the rate of duty for every chalder of coals or culm shall be one penny for every chalder of coals or culm which shall be so imported, landed or discharged."

To carry out the purpose of the Act, an influential body of trustees was nominated by the Statute; the names included those of the Lord Mayor and the Recorder of London, several Lords of the Admiralty, Elder Brethren of the Trinity House, and a great number of country gentlemen, mostly from Middlesex and Essex, upon whom powers were conferred for the execution of the Act. These trustees met at the Guildhall, in August 1714, and notified in the Gazette that they were willing to receive tenders for stopping up the breach. The lowest tender, that of Mr. William Boswell, was accepted by the Board, and he signed a contract, dated 5th August, on 7th October, 1714. So far, little time had been lost, for the trustees had used all expedition. But Boswell, who had rashly undertaken to complete the work in fifteen months, was unsuccessful in his design, and after a lavish expenditure of materials and money, he, like his forerunners, had to abandon the enterprise at the expiration of his term. In November 1715, two other contractors came forward, and were rash enough to tender their services, which, however, were not accepted.

The trustees now realised their grave position. They felt that the eyes of merchants, of shippers at the Royal Exchange, as well as of the Essex land-owners, were anxiously watching their proceedings. They sought to lighten their responsibility by calling in as assessors three men of experience and standing -Brigadier Richards, Surveyor General of Ordnance; Colonel Armstrong, a noted engineer; and Sir Jacob Ackworth, Chief Surveyor of the Royal Navy. Strengthened by this addition they again invited tenders, and finally accepted that of Captain John Perry, whose contract for £24,000 had already been rejected in favour of Boswell's for £16,500.

Perry was skilled in marsh draining. He had constructed extensive dykes and canals in Russia, under the employ of the

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »