Photo: Illustrative image for the 'LIFE AT BUTLERS - 09' page

End piece - clay soil and what to do

By Martin Edgar


It is probably worth a word about the drainage works that Father undertook on the heavier land, such as Cow Meadow, either during or just after the war. He started off by mole draining. A steam traction engine would puff up the Chase and out to the field. It would have a winch on the back and would pull the mole drain itself. This was a bullet-shaped piece of steel about 2" in diameter, welded onto a 2 foot deep plate. The traction engine would be set up at one end of the field with the mole at the other, the winch cable would be laid out and the mole winched through the soil two feet down. It would leave a neat hole through the clay soil, which would keep open for a number of years. Repeat every 10 to 20 yards.

A more expensive, but more effective and permanent, solution which Father and Bill turned to was tile draining. Here, a 4" wide trench would be cut across the field and successive clay tile drains would be fed in, each about 3" in diameter and a couple of feet long. Repeat as above. Back fill, and you have a good drainage system.

An ancient method was to plough the land "on the stetch". You would open up the land as usual, first furrow one way and next furrow the other so that the soil was always thrown in towards the centre. You would carry on until the ploughed land was only 20 or 30 yards across, and of course the full length of the field. Then open up a new land. The following year, you would open up each land at exactly the same place. In this way, after a year or two, the field became a series of long raised beds with the intervening furrows acting as drains. The effect lasts a long time, and in a couple of fields we could still detect the gentle rise and fall in levels even though that field had been last ploughed on the stetch many years before.

A less effective cure for sticky and solid clay that Father tried was to spread the land with chalk (or possibly gysum). Apparently this changes the physics of clay in some way so that the fine particles of clay do not stick together so thoroughly. He did not try this much, so I suspect it did not work very well.

We did use gypsum for the East Coast floods. In 1950 a combination of a very high tide and strong easterly winds caused widespread flooding in East Anglia as the water came over the tops of the sea walls, and in many places the sea walls collapsed. Potton Island, Foulness and Canvey Island were totally flooded and their sea walls had large gaps, with the tides flooding in and out for several days. At Butlers, the tide just topped the sea wall but the wall held and only a few acres were flooded. But it did mean that this land was then contaminated by salt and normal crops would not grow on it. The cure was to treat the land with gypsum, which chemically neutralised the salt after a year or two.

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'LIFE AT BUTLERS - 09' page



Chapter title, click title to go there


01How we got there
02What was there 
03 Early years
04 The war
05 Peacetime
07Year 1950 
08Year 1953, and working at home 
09End piece - clay soil and what to do 
10Years 1954 to 1957 
12Editorial postscript
all chaptersLife at Butlers - the complete 12 part article  
This page was added by Bob Stephen on 14/09/2018.
Add a comment about this page

If you're already a registered user of this site, please login using the form on the left-hand side of this page.