The seventeenth century saw many improvements being made to the land. In East Anglia, no single economic proposal matched the ‘great designe’ for the drainage of the Fens, which resulted in a demand for highly detailed maps of the area north of Cambridge. The ambitious drainage scheme was undertaken as a private venture by a group of wealthy men led by Francis Russell, 4th Earl of Bedford, and involved creating a new, straight channel which was named the Bedford River.

Russell died in 1641 and the English Civil War interrupted the work, but in 1649 his son the 5th Earl resumed the project. In 1650 Sir Jonas Moore was appointed Surveyor.