Coordinates: 52°24'54?N 0°20'24?E? / ?52.415, 0.34
Originally a small hamlet on the banks of the River Great Ouse, the village of Prickwillow had an estimated mid-2005 population of 440. It lies in the south of the Fens, 4 miles (6.4 km) east of the city of Ely in Cambridgeshire, England, and is home to a large drainage engine museum.
Evidence for very early settlements near Prickwillow was unearthed in the 1930s, when an archaeological dig took place at Plantation Farm and Peacocks farm, by the A1101. This provided evidence for Roman and even three levels of prehistoric settlements just to the east of the village.
The modern parish of Prickwillow was formed in 1878. The name is said to be a reference to the 'prickets' of willow -- long thin skewers used to make thatch -- that grew in the surrounding marshy land.
Prior to the 19th century, the River Great Ouse flowed east of Ely as far as Prickwillow, before rejoining the modern course of the Ouse at Littleport. In 1829-30, however, the river was diverted north from Ely, and the original channel ploughed and filled in. Today's village lies on the site of the old riverbank, with evidence of the original course remaining in the name of the roads (e.g. Old Bank) and the meandering edges of the neighbouring fields (visible on this satellite image).
A view over the River Lark from the bridge at Prickwillow.
Much of the Prickwillow area lies below sea level so, in order to ensure that the land remained arable, a series of steam pumping engines were installed at the base of the newly dug drain, linked to the River Lark. The first of these was the Side Lever Steam Engine, installed in 1831. This was replaced in the 1880s by the Beam Steam Engine, which itself was replaced in 1924 by the powerful Mirrlees, Bickerton and Day Diesel. With a weight of 25 tonnes and a nominal power output of 250bhp at 250rpm, this engine ran until the 1970s, when it was replaced with automatic electric pumps.
The Mirrlees diesel engine remains the centrepiece of the village's Museum of Fenland Drainage, and is believed to be the only example of a blast-injection engine remaining in working order. The museum also contains other diesel engines, dating from 1919, recovered from other local pumping stations, and restored by volunteers. The Mirrlees engine remains in working order, and is demonstrated to interested visitors on several days throughout the year.
In the 1920s, it was reported that the constant draining of the land resulted in the peaty soil sinking by 2 inches (51 mm) every year. The local school buildings and St. Peter's Church, built in 1862 and 1866 respectively, as well as many of the local houses, were built on piles to ensure stable foundations. Two steps were built up to the front door of the vicarage, but many more had to be added as the land gradually sank. In addition, owing to the high water table, church burials take place in the more elevated settlement of Ely.
The B1104 between Prickwillow and neighbouring Isleham is reputedly the most subsidence affected road in the country; so undulating is the 6.4-mile (10.3 km) drive that some have experienced bouts of motion sickness equal to that of shipping
- , Cambridgeshire County Council Research group. "Cambridgeshire Population and Dwelling Stock Estimates and Forecasts". Accessed May 7, 2007.
- , Fowler, Gordon. (1934). The Extinct Waterways of the Fens: A paper read at the Afternoon Meeting of the Society on 13 November 1983. The Geographical Journal.
- , "Diamond 44 -- A Celebration of the 1944 University Boat Race". Accessed 7 May 2007.
 External links
Website of Prickwillow Village Council