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History

How the Marsh came to be what it is today

Originally this whole area had a thin cap of Arden Sandstone which during, or towards the end of the last ice age eroded away in parts, exposing the softer red marl beneath. This distinctive red soil stretches from West Worcestershire into Herefordshire and typifies our landscape.

Once the marl was exposed it would have quite rapidly eroded in the post glacial flood period, leaving small ranges of hills where the sandstone had survived intact. Shallow basins were formed, the largest of these being the Longdon and Eldersfield areas. At the time these would have been huge lakes, and further meltwaters washed gravel and debris down from the Malverns to deposit a layer of stone and clay over the marl.

The waters found an exit to the Severn just north of Longdon and cut a deep valley through this low range of hills. As the level dropped, shallow lagoons would have formed with the aquatic plants typical of such areas. Plant debris and silt accumulated to form the clay layer which "flattened" the marsh at an elevation less than 15m above sea level. These plant layers can be seen in the clay in most shallow excavations.

Springs feeding the local brooks emerged from the underlying marl slightly saline and high tides could wash back into the area creating brackish conditions. This supported an unusual range of plantlife, some traces of which still exist.

As we move forward to the Iron Age, the area would have been swampy and covered in large reedbeds plus some rough grazing in summer. The higher ground all around was well occupied at this time and it is reasonable to assume that early hunters would have ventured into the marshes and camped on its shores. A few pottery finds back this up.

The Romans had a major impact in the area and numerous finds indicate their presence. The pottery finds tend to be on the edges of the Marsh, indicating that it was still too wet for any permanent habitation.

By medieval times we begin to get some documented evidence but it remains sparse although it appears greater use was made of summer grazing.

It is likely that from about 1600, parts of the Marshes began to be enclosed. This would begin as simple stock restraint and develop onto more formal enclosures. Coupled with this would be early attempts at drainage probably of individual pools to assist flood run off. The Dutch engineer Cornelius Vermuyden apparently held land in the area from 1629 to 1632 but there is no evidence of any overall drainage plan at that time.

Through the 1700's several attempts were made to draw up drainage schemes but no works evolved from them. By this time most of the area would have been divided up into damp pastures but it was not until 1836 that an enclosure provision was made to tidy up some remaining areas in the centre. These would have been the wettest and therefore least valuable parcels.

Accounts from the 1860's describe deep ditches and regular inundations.

The 1861 Land Drainage Act sparked off the first serious attempt at an overall scheme and in 1862 the Longdon and Eldersfield Drainage Board was formed. Their initial findings showed that the cut to the Severn needed to be deepened and most bridges and culverts should be rebuilt to correct levels. By 1874 most of the work had been completed including rebuilding some 40 bridges, many of which are still in use today.

The Marshes were now "drained" but still flooded and central parts remained wet.

 

 


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