Facts about Wells-next-the-Sea
The name is Guella in the Domesday Book (half gallicised, half Latinised from Anglian Wella, a spring). This derives from spring wells of which Wells used to have many, rising through the chalk of the area. The town became Wells-next-the-Sea from juxta mare in the fourteenth century to distinguish it from other places of the same name. It appears as Wells Next The Sea (no hyphens) on the Ordnance Survey maps of 1838 and 1921. When the Wells and Fakenham Railway was opened on 1 December 1857, the terminus was given the name of Wells-on-Sea. In 1956 the Wells Urban District Council voted to (re-)adopt the name Wells-next-the-Sea, and this has been the official name since then.
The North Sea is now a mile from the town; the main channel which once wandered through marshes, grazed by sheep for hundreds of years, was confined by earthworks to the west in 1859 when Holkham Estate reclaimed some 800 hectares of saltmarsh north-west of Wells with the building of a mile-long bank. This reclamation was claimed to have reduced the tidal scour though the West Fleet which provided much of the water entered the channel to its north.
Because the town has no river running through it, Wells relies on the tides to scour the harbour. The problem of siltation had preoccupied the merchants of the town for hundreds of years and occupied the attentions of various engineers, leading eventually to disputes which came to court in the eighteenth century. Sir John Coode, who had been knighted for his work on the completion of Portland harbour was recruited to solve its siltation problems in the 1880s. No attempted solution proved permanent. The growth of faster marine traffic whose wake washes at the banks of the marshes has widened the channel and reduced tidal flow further.