The Story of the Eau Brink Cut, a short channel which diverted the River Great Ouse from a long semi-circular course directly to the sea at King’s Lynn.
Three Million Wheelbarrows
‘Three Million Wheelbarrows’ is the story of the Eau Brink Cut, a short channel which diverted the River Great Ouse from a long semi-circular course directly to the sea at King’s Lynn.
For centuries, the River Great Ouse had flowed through East Anglia providing vital transport to and from the port of King’s Lynn, but frequent floods along its course destroyed vast areas of rich farm land in Norfolk and the neighbouring counties. As the floods increased, Fenland landowners planned to improve drainage by straightening the river to hasten its flow. This was bitterly opposed by the merchants of King’s Lynn who feared that it would result in currents so violent that ships would be endangered and the harbour destroyed.
The River Great Ouse itself chronicles its resistance to man’s control while engineers offered radically conficting solutions to the problem. The river’s evocative commentary frames a story of human frailty overwhelmed by concerns that subversive ideas drawn from the American and French Revolutions would take hold in the Norfolk countryside. The measures to counteract social unrest in Britain following the Napoleonic Wars finally resolved the fate of the River Great Ouse and its Eau Brink Cut.
Now, the river continues to offer a cautionary message about the perils of accelerating natural change and the consequences of man’s activities on our environment.
Author, Kathleen Saunders, is a local historian who has lived close to the river for the last 30 years. Crossing it numerous times on her journey into Kings Lynn, she became fascinated by the history of the river and by its changing moods. ‘To me,’ she says, ‘it developed a personality of its own.’ The publication of ‘Three Million Wheelbarrows’ in June 2021, marks the bicentenary of the opening of the Eau Brink Cut.