The Scots Magazine 61: 320-322 (May 1799)

An Account of the most approved Mode of Draining Land, according to the System practised by Mr Joseph Elkington: With an Appendix, containing Hints for the farther Improvement of Bogs and other Marshy Ground, after draining; together with Observations on hollow and surface Draining in general. The whole illustrated by explanatory Engravings. Drawn up for the Consideration of the Board of Agriculture and internal Improvement. By John Johnstone, Land-Surveyor. 4to. 1l. 1s. Boards. Nicol.

THE subject of this publication is of great importance: it has excited and will continue to excite, the attention of intelligent country-gentlemen; who, by their spirited and well-directed exertions to drain those parts of their estates which were wet and boggy, will improve their rentals, and increase the productiveness and salubrity of the country. Till of late, the art of land-draining, in order to discharge Cultivated or cultivable land of its superfluous water, had not been well understood: but two gentlemen, nearly about the same time, and nearly in the same way, made a discovery which threw considerable light on the subject, and has since served to point out the proper practice. Dr Anderson, in a late work intitled "A Practical Treatise on Draining Bogs and Swampy Grounds," deems himself the first discoverer, but it appears that the idea which is the basis of the improved mode of draining land suggested itself to Dr Anderson, as he himself tells us, in the year 1764; and by the treatise under review, it is shewn that Mr Elkington (originally a farmer in the county of Warwick) was led to the practical adoption of it, by an accidental discovery in the year 1763.

This new principle of draining, by tapping springs, or by perforating with an auger through a retentive into an absorbent or porous stratum, being ascertained, its application in theory is obvious: but it will require some judgment to direct its practice. Mr Jobnstone represents Mr Elkington, to whom Parliament has awarded 1000l., as having been peculiarly fortunate, not only in the original discovery, but in the various and extensive use which he has made of it. This work is an exhibition of his system drawn out into actual practice; and there are many to whom it will be very acceptable. The letter-press, assisted by the plates, will explain the draining process requisite for wet soils of every description and in every situation: but, without the plates, the detail would not always be very intelligible. We shall not, therefore, notice the various instances in which Mr Elkington's principle has been applied with effect, but content ourselves with an extract explanatory of the principle itself.

Wetness in land proceeds from two causes, as different in themselves as the effects which they produce.

It proceeds either from rain water stagnant on the surface, or from the water of springs issuing over, or confined under it. On clay soils, that have no natural descent, wetness is commonly produced by the first of these causes; but, in a variety of situations, it may proceed from the latter.—But,

The principles of Mr Elkington's art are so closely connected with the nature of springs, that, without a knowledge of these, and the causes producing them, it is impossible to practise it with either success or advantage; for surface draining, where the wetness proceeds from subjacent water, is only alleviating the effect, in place of removing the cause. It will therefore be necessary, in the first place, so far to ascertain the nature of springs, and their connection with the formation of bogs, as to enable the practical drainer more easily to comprehend the theoretical part of Mr Elkington's system.

From its general external appearance, and by the perforations that have been made in it by quarries, wells, and other subterraneous pits, the earth is known to be composed of various strata, which being in their nature of opposite consistence, are distinguished by the names of porous and impervious. Those strata, which, from their more open composition, are porous, and capable of receiving the rain water that falls on them, include rock, gravel, sand, and such marles as are of an absorbent quality Clay, and a certain kind of gravel having a proportion of clay in its composition, which, by binding and cementing the small stones together, renders it equally close and tenacious as clay itself; with such rock as is of a close and compact nature, without any fissures in it, are the principal strata that most resist the reception of water, and that are capable of retaining it on their surface till exhaled by the sun, or carried off by suitable drains, and are termed impervious.

Springs therefore originate from rain water falling upon such porous and absorbent surfaces, and subsiding downwards through such, till, in its, passage, it meets a body of clay or other impenetrable substance, which obstructs its farther descent, and here, forming a reservoir or considerable collection of water, it is forced either to filtrate along such body, or rise to some part of the surface, where it oozes out in all those different appearances that are so frequently met with. This is evident from the immediate disappearance of the rain water, as it falls, on some parts of the ground, while it remains stagnant on others, till carried off by evaporation; and from the strength of springs being greater in wet than in dry seasons. Hence, after incessant rains, they are observed to break out in higher situations, and, as the weather becomes drier, give over running out, unless at their lowest outlets. The strength of springs also, or quantity of water which they issue, depends chiefly on the extent of high ground that receives and retains the rain, forming large reservoirs, which affords them a more regular supply. Thus bog-springs, or those that rise in valleys and low situations, are much stronger, and have a more regular discharge, than those which break out on higher ground, or on the sides of hills.

Independent of these causes, there are certainly great springs contained in the bowels of the earth; otherwise, how could the many rivers, that intersect it, be supplied with such vast quantities of water as they discharge, the rains falling on its surface, or the dews that descend, not being adequate for that purpose? But, as this may be considered among those arcana of nature which have not yet been sufficiently explored, and lying at too great a depth to affect the surface, it comes not within the limits of the present inquiry.

With the nature and causes of springs, that of bogs is intimately connected; for where springs breaking out in the manner above described, run over a flat surface of clay, and cannot get off with sufficient rapidity, or are not confined to a narrow channel; the superabundance of water must cause the dissolution of all the coarse vegetables it produces, which, together with part of the natural soil itself, is formed into a peat earth, every year increasing in depth; and the extent of such bog or morass is according to the quantity of water, and to that of the flat ground on which it is formed. The great object of Mr Elkington's system is, that of draining such bogs, by cutting off entirely the source of the springs or subterraneous water that cause the wetness, either by flowing over the surface, or by its being long confined under it. If the springs have a natural outlet, the object of the drain is, to lower and enlarge it, which, by giving the water a more free and easy channel, will sooner discharge and draw it off, or will reduce it to a level so far below the surface, as to prevent its overflowing it.

Where the springs have no apparent outlet, but are either confined so far below the surface, as to injure it by constant moisture, or by oozing out imperceptibly through any small pores of the upper soil, the object of the drain is, to give a proper went to that water, and to extract more quickly and more effectually what has before been pent up in the bosom of the soil. The object of the auger, which in many instances is the sine qua non of the business, is simply to reach or tap the spring, and to give vent to the water thus pent up, when the depth of the drain does not reach it, where the level of the outlet will not admit its being cut to that depth, and where the expence of cutting so deep would be very great, and the execution of it very difficult.

As the whole depends upon the situation of the ground to be drained, and the nature and inclination of the strata of which the adjacent country is composed; as much knowledge as possible must be obtained of these before the proper course of a drain can be ascertained, or any specific rules given for its direction or execution.

By Mr Johnstone's account, Mr Elkington does not merely content himself with discharging water from soils in which it is injurious, but endeavour, to convert what has hitherto operated as an evil into a real good, by making it serve the purposes of irrigation, of supplying ponds, or reservoirs, or houses, or for turning mills.

A description is given, with plates, of the level, augers, and other instruments, employed in Mr E's mode of draining; by which many large tracts of wet and boggy land in the kingdom have been effectually laid dry and brought under tillage; as is evident from subjoined extracts taken from the Agricultural Reports.

This useful work is enriched by its Appendix, containing, in 19 sections, many hints, remarks, rules, and directions, relative to the practice of hollow draining; which will be of great use to the young land-surveyor, or to the gentleman who wishes to superintend his own improvements.