Introduction to the geography and history of the village
Upwell is a quaint village in Norfolk. The Well Creek runs through Upwell and in the spring time the riverbanks are full of daffodils making it the most picturesque country village. The parish covers an area of approximately 7000 acres and is home to approximately 2750 residents, according to the 2011 census.
A Brief History Of Upwell Edited By W P Smith
Upwell, sits quietly in a corner of Norfolk at the edge of the Cambridgeshire Fens. It straddles the ancient waterway once called the Well Stream. The Well Stream joined the medieval Nene at Shrewsnest point (Workhouse Lane area) and flowed to Outwell then on to discharge into the sea at Wisbech. The waterway today is known as the Well Creek. The parish is on either side of the waterway which is accessible only from the Nene via Marmont Priory Lock and the Ouse via Salter’s Lode Sluice. The waterway formed the boundary between Norfolk and The Isle of Ely (Cambs) up to 1990 but is solely in the county of Norfolk today. The present waterway is highly valued by parishioners, its presence invoking pleasure and interest to many.
The Parish of Upwell consists of three villages, Upwell, Three Holes and Lakesend. Part of one street in Christchurch is also included in the parish. Historically the parish also included Welney and part of Nordelph. People have lived in the place we now call Upwell from at least the Neolithic period. The Well Stream is known to date from that time. With the inclusion of Outwell the entire area was called Welle up to the 13th century.
The Romans built the part of the fen causeway through Upwell from Peterborough to Denver some 24 miles long. There is much evidence at many locations still visible today.
In 970 records show that there was an inland port at Welle. In 974 the King, Edgar, may have caused the division of Welle. The area was divided between the Abbots of Ramsey and Ely. There were many disagreements between the two orders that eventually led to a spit from Welle hence (Out-of-Well) Outwell. There is no independent mention of Outwell and Upwell before the 13th century. The division still exists today between the two villages. Prior to the Bedford Level 17th century drainage work, much of the area was marshland. The inhabitants gleaned a living from the marsh using eels as currency. The fishermen of Welle paid sixty thousand eels a year to the monasteries of Ramsey and Ely.
A year after the Norman invasion of 1066 some northern Saxon barons intent on resisting William the Conqueror, sailed through the wash into Fenland. They elected Hereward the Wake their leader and pressed on south to their ultimate betrayal and defeat in Ely. In the early 13th century King John granted Welle a market elevating it to town status, there was a market held here every near the church every Wednesday. Henry VI even granted the town an annual fair which was held every year on 29th & 30th of June.
The change from marshland to fertile agricultural land began in 1630 when a group of “adventurers” coordinated by Charles I employed the Dutch engineer Cornelius Vermuyden to begin the drainage of the Fens. Despite Vermuyden’s work, nature contrived to ensure that the drainage work should continue as the dry peat shrunk and further lowered the level of the land.
Upwell did not escape the cholera epidemic in 1832. There is a plaque in St. Peter's Church commemorating the 67 victims, who are buried under a stone marked with a 'C' in the churchyard.
In the mid 19th century the Middle Level Drain was excavated to Drain Whittlesea Mere and to improve the Middle Level drainage system. Originally drainage depended on gravity but the shrinking of the underlying peat cause the land levels to drop. In the 1930's gravity had to be assisted by powerful pumps installed at St. Germans. The Middle Level Commissioners invited Lord James Russell to open the new pumping station on the 20th April 2011. His ancestor, the Earl of Bedford, was instrumental in the original scheme to drain the fens in the 17th century. The Upwell area is generally low lying but due to the successful drainage system it remains dry whilst many upland locations are inundated.