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Water level regulating sluices now icons in Dutch landscape

Well-represented in Dutch surname system

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

Later this year, on October 6 to be exact, Dutch waterworks enthusiasts have scheduled the fifth annual Sluisdagen, literally the Sluice Days. The event, organized by a foundation created to generate interest in these Dutch landscape features, joins a growing number of special days during which the public is invited to become more acquainted with the subject at hand, be they windmills, pumping stations, castles, historic farmsteads or monuments in general. A surprising range of Dutch surnames owes its origin to this Dutch landscape icon.

Each year so far, the Sluisdagen have focused on one particular sluice. This year, the attention will be focused on the sluizen in Vlissingen, Zeeland, a complex across from the city's railway station.

Although many say that The Netherlands is as flat as a pancake, some areas are significantly lower than others. Much of the difference in elevation, especially in the coastal provinces, can be attributed to human intervention. Specific areas with a build-up of peat soil were stripped of this layer by peat cutters, who let it dry before shipping it to the cities as fuel to heat homes and ovens. Peatless areas often turned into lakes, the Nieuwkoopse Plassen, now a prime water sport area, is one such example. Other areas were turned into fertile polders, often lying several metres below the national water table. Still other parts of the country are naturally less flat, showing varying elevation differences. Sluiswachter.

To make waterways better accessible year round, the Netherlands has been experimenting with various types of water level controls. A sluice is just one several of options and a great improvement over the dams, which served as a water barrier but also blocked boat traffic. Sluices which accommodate boat traffic are best known because they tend to be focal points in their community. These sluices generally were operated by one or more sluice attendants, in Dutch called a 'sluiswachter,' often depending on the number of doors in the sluice installation. The (lead) attendant lived in company housing, next to his place of work.

The article continues with various aspects of the ‘sluice’ and similar control mechanism in Dutch waterways and how these have made their way in the Dutch surname base. To receiving the entire article, subscribe to the Windmill Herald and request a copy of this article as well as part of the introduction package. This article is part of an ongoing series on Dutch surnames.