A landscape shaped by man
In 1797 Horsey was a wild and desolate place, known locally as the Devil’s Country due to its wild and lawless nature. The Enclosures Act paved the way for the land to be drained and changed the area forever.
Horses, floods and sickness
The name Horsey means ‘Horse Island’ and it is believed that Horsey was originally a stud or grazing area for horses. Mortality was high, with insects carrying fen plague, also known as marsh malaria. With only seven cottages and a small farmhouse, Horsey was not somewhere people wanted to live.
At this time, it was effectively still an island, surrounded by marshes with just one road in and out of the village that was often flooded for most of the year. The vicar of the parish reported that he nearly drowned on three occasions while travelling to the church to give his sermon.
Reshaping the landscape
Enclosure and drainage in the 18th century would do away with this unmanaged landscape, leading to a loss of animals and plants, many of which we now consider rare. It also meant the end of a way of life for the local people who lived here and made their living from the marshes.
Farming became easier and livestock was introduced but the sea was always a threat. When exceptionally high tides and storms coincided, the sea would break through the narrow strip of dunes, causing severe flooding, most recently in 1938.
Only in the 19th century did the sea defences and land drainage become sufficiently effective to allow for the construction of roads to neighbouring villages. But with climate change causing more frequent storms and sea level rises, the risk of flooding in this low-lying area remains high.
The 21st-century landscape
Having grown in size and now an attractive tourist destination, Horsey has changed significantly. With the land drained and a proper access road built, many tens of thousands of visitors flock to the area each year, a far cry from 200 years ago. Yet Horsey Windpump continues to stand watch over the village and mere, as she and her predecessors have done for more than 300 years.
Drainage mills at Horsey
There has been a drainage mill on or in the vicinity of the site since the early 1700s. The current mill is the third or fourth mill to exist here, with the original having been built between 1730–40.
These have been referred to as the New Mill, the Great Mill and the Black Mill. Horsey Windpump was built in 1912 by local millwright Dan England and has endured a dramatic history since.