Sources - Waterboards - The Netherlands

Research topics sources can be used for 

Property and property transfers

Who owned and used the lands within a waterboard? Was society dominated by a group of small landowners working their own lands (a peasant society) or by a few large landowners, exploiting the lands with the help of leaseholders and landless labourers (a capitalist society)? Were lands divided into ever smaller plots in the course of time, or consolidated? It was vital for waterboards to know who owned and used the land, as the costs of water management had to be divided amongst those who profited from the drainage system. Many sources therefore document landownership.

Dijkboeken, hoefslagboeken and precadastral sources can be used to study the equality or inequality among landowners; the part of land used by lease holders; and the relative importance of groups of land owners like local population, urban dwellers, and religious institutions (E.g. De Wilt, 2005, on the hoefslagboeken concerning the dike along the Maas. Also: Van Bemmel, 2009, on the dijkboeken concerning the dike along the Lek). If series covering a longer period are available, they can testify to processes of land consolidation or division. They can also be used to study the way land changed hands (transmitted to heirs or sold to strangers), and family relations. Maps often show how the land was divided into parcels. A stunning example is the map of Delfland, made by Cruquius in 1712 (see De Bont, 2000, Annexes). Smaller maps can carry information on land usage (agriculture, cattle-breeding, forestry or other activities) and names of owners or users. 

Financing water management

How much did water management cost and how heavy was the tax burden on the land owners (the costs relative to the profits from the land)? Who had to pay? Who collected the money and did the bookkeeping? Were bookkeeping methods simple or refined? Did financial scandals occur and if so, how should they be explained? Was it profitable to invest in new land gained from the sea or from lakes? This and other aspects are treated by Van Tielhof (2009a).

To answer such questions it is best to start by examining the year accounts. They can be used to analyse the costs of water management and to study the bookkeeping methods. The oldest accounts of droogmakerijen can be used to estimate the investments in land reclamation. Van Zwet thoroughly studied the costs of land reclamation in the Schermer and the other big seventeenth-century projects in Noord-Holland (Van Zwet, 2009). To see what kind of people invested in new land reclamations, it may be helpful to study octrooien. They also provide information on the financial or other compensation third parties were entitled to when incurred damages from a drainage or embankment project (Van Cruyningen, 2006, 129-30). 

Technical evolutions

What kind of sluices were built, and when was the poldermill introduced in a certain polder? When was wind power replaced by steam power? Big investments like a new mill, a sluice or a steam engine are found in year accounts and their annexes. These sources also list the salary of the millers, indicating the number of working mills. They reveal if it was timber, brick or stone with which dikes were made (Zeischka, 2006; Fransen, 2006). Sometimes technical drawings are found among the annexes. Regulatory sources like keuren contain prescriptions about, for example, when the poldermill should or should not be used. Within regional waterboards it was forbidden to use the mill when the water level in the drainage canals was too high and could not cope with more water from the polders (Postma, 1989, 378-84). Keuren also describe the minimum length and width of dikes. Maps can show technical details of water works, not documented in written sources, and can inform about their exact location. See for example the exact location of dozens of small windmills on a seventeenth-century map of a region near Leiden (Van Tielhof and Van Dam, 2006, 137).


> To Description of sources


> Back to Sources - Waterboards