The origins of the Corporation can be traced back to 1626, when King Charles I granted the Level of Hatfield Chase to a Dutch engineer called Cornelius Vermuyden (1590-1677). Hatfield Chase was a marshy, low-lying area which often flooded, and Vermuyden was asked to drain the area and reclaim the land. The newly-drained land was then to be divided into three parts: Vermuyden was to receive one-third, the Crown one-third, and the remaining third was to be divided among existing tenants who claimed right of Common over the Chase.
The drainage scheme was funded by the sale of Vermuyden's land to a number of partners, known as Participants. Most of the earliest Participants were Dutch. The land owned by the Participants was called Scotted Land and was subject to the payment of scots, or taxes, to pay for the maintenance of the drainage works and any improvements subsequently carried out.
In 1629, a Court of Sewers for the Level of Hatfield Chase was established by Royal Warrant. Commissioners of Sewers were empowered to hold courts to oversee all issues relating to waterworks and drainage in their area, and were responsible for assessing and collecting the scots, employing engineers, and taking measures against Participants who did not comply with their orders. New Commissioners of Sewers for the Level of Hatfield Chase were appointed at various times up to 1858.
Many local people were very unhappy with the effects of the Hatfield Chase drainage scheme. The Commoners brought various petitions and lawsuits against the Participants from the 1630s onwards. One legal case was settled by a decree dated 20 February 1692/3. This divided certain pieces of land between the Participants and the petitioners. Various lands in the parishes of Belton, Epworth, Haxey and Owston (henceforth known as Decreed Lands) were granted to Trustees for the Participants. The rents and profits of these properties were applied to the maintenance of the drainage works, and helped to reduce the scots charged on the Participants' Scotted Lands.
Most Court of Sewers business in the early eighteenth century was concerned only with maintenance of the existing system. Various Acts of Parliament were obtained in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century to improve drainage in the area. The main Act was the Hatfield Chase Drainage Act 1813, its full title being 'An Act for the more effectually draining and improving Lands within the Level of Hatfield Chace, and Parts adjacent, in the Counties of York, Lincoln and Nottingham'. This Act gave power to appoint two Commissioners to put into effect various specified drainage improvement schemes, at a cost of £15,000. The works were to be paid for by assessments on the Participants' lands over and above existing scots. The Commissioners of Sewers were to retain responsibility for existing drainage works, and were to take over the new works once they were completed. Under the 1813 Act, a steam engine was erected in the south district of the Level to assist in pumping water. This was paid for by special engine-rates.
One of the advantages of cutting drains was that it allowed warping to take place (deliberate flooding of land in order to deposit layers of silty, earthy matter carried by rivers or tides, to improve the fertility of soil). Warping had always taken place on the Level of Hatfield Chase, but in 1854 an Act of Parliament was obtained, 'An Act to Warp and Improve Certain Lands in the Level of Hatfield Chase', which established the Hatfield Chase Warping and Improvement Company. The Company was empowered to purchase the Snow Sewer from the Participants and to use it as a warping drain to compulsarily warp certain adjoining lands. The Warping Company went out of business in 1916.
The 1813 Act of Parliament had helped to improve drainage in the Level of Hatfield Chase, but the Participants wished to do more, including erecting a steam engine to drain the north district of the Level. They also wanted to extend the financial liability for these works to other landowners and ratepayers in the Level, who also benefited from the improvements. Accordingly, in 1862, an Act of Parliament to Incorporate the Participants of the Level of Hatfield Chase was passed, 'to incorporate the Participants of the Level of Hatfield Chase; to authorize the Construction of additional Works of Drainage in the said Level; and to subject certain Lands therein to Taxation'.
The Corporation of the Level of Hatfield Chase replaced the Participants' governance of the drainage area. Nine Commissioners were elected to run the concern. Six were elected by the Participants, and three by landowners in the drainage area who did not own Scotted Lands (and who therefore had not previously been liable to fund the drainage). The Participants were still compelled to pay scots, engine rates and other rates. The tenants of unscotted land paid rates, but not scots. The area liable to pay rates to the Corporation was defined in the 1862 Act as the townships or parishes of Crowle, Wroot, Misson, Haxey, Epworth, Owston, Althorpe, Belton, Keadby, Armthorpe, Cantley, Auckley, Finningley, Rossington, Hatfield, Blaxton, Stainforth, South Bramwith, Fishlake, Sykehouse and Thorne - a far greater area than that covered by the Scotted Lands or Decreed Lands.
The last Commission of Sewers was granted in 1858, and the court was replaced by the meetings of the Corporation. At some point before 1941 the area became an Internal Drainage Board for the purposes of administration.
In 1941, the 'powers, duties, liabilities, obligations and property' of the Corporation were transferred to the Trent River Catchment Board and the River Ouse (Yorkshire) Catchment Board by statutory order under section 11 of the Land Drainage Act 1930. The last meeting held under the old arrangements took place on 18 February 1941.
The drainage area of Hatfield Chase in fact continued to be run in much the same way as before. Records from 1941 to 1973 refer to the Trent River Catchment Board (later Trent River Board, and later still the Trent River Authority) acting as the Corporation of the Level of Hatfield Chase for the area under its control. However, there was no longer an actual Corporation - it existed in name only. In 1974, responsibility for the drainage area was transferred to the new Severn Trent Water Authority.