Tag Archives: The Fens

A Novel by Anthony Trollope, The Australian Outback and Mepal A Village In The Fens

The village of Mepal sits on the eastern edge of the Hundred Foot Washes, in days gone bye the traffic to and from the City of Ely would trundle through the village passing over the Old and New Bedford Rivers and the Three Pickerels public house.

St Marys Church, Mepal

St Marys Church, Mepal

On the western edge of the Hundred Foot Washes you will find Engine Bank which runs northward along the Counter Drain and The Old Bedford River (River Delph) taking you passed the Mepal Pumping Station and Fortrey’s Hall, onto Welshes Dam and Welney in Norfolk.

Mepal Pumping Station

Mepal Pumping Station

John Fortrey a London merchant built the hall and his son Sir James Fortrey was responsible for extending the building, there is a plaque in the small church of St Marys, Mepal to Sir James commemerating his adventures, the Fortrey Family were heavily involved along with the Duke of Bedford in the drainage of The Fens.

Fortrey's Hall

Fortrey’s Hall

Fortrey Hall and the surrounding area is featured in Anthony Trollope’s novel John Caldigate which was first published 1879, not as well-known as his Barchester Chronicles but can be recommend as good read on a cold winters evening, it takes in places as far apart as the Australian Outback, Newmarket, Cambridge and The Cambridgeshire Fens. The description of the area in the novel in my view is not very flattering and certainly not one in which I agree!

“Folking is not a place having many attractions of its own, beyond the rats. It lies in the middle of the Cambridgeshire fens, between St. Ives, Cambridge, and Ely. In the two parishes of Utterden and Netherden there is no rise of ground which can by any stretch of complaisance be called a hill. The property is bisected by an immense straight dike, which is called the Middle Wash, and which is so sluggish, so straight, so ugly, and so deep, as to impress the mind of a stranger with the ideas of suicide. And there are straight roads and straight dikes, with ugly names on all sides, and passages through the country called droves, also with ugly appellations of their own, which certainly are not worthy of the name of roads. The Folking Causeway possesses a bridge across the Wash, and is said to be the remains of an old Roman Way which ran in a perfectly direct line from St. Neots to Ely. When you have crossed the bridge going northward,—or north-westward,—there is a lodge at your right hand, and a private road running, as straight as a line can be drawn, through pollard poplars, up to Mr. Caldigate’s house.”

From: Anthony Trollope’s John Caldigate, Chapter I: Folking

 

 


Web Sites of Interests:

Parks and Gardens Fortreys Hall

Mepal Parish Web Site

Mepal

Ouse Washes Mepal Pumping Stations

Wilburton, Cambridgeshire

Wilburton sits north of The Great River Ouse on the southern ridge of The Isle of Ely between Newmarket in the south east and Huntingdon in the west.

Ideal for Mr Collins and Charlotte.

It is true today as it was in the nineteenth century that it is “a very neat place.” In times past you would have found three public houses, a bakers, a butcher shop, a Blacksmiths and a Railway Station, today it boast a general store and post office, The Kings Head Public House, Two Motor Engineering Workshops and a Garden Centre which incorporates a Restaurant and coffee shop.

The Baptist Chapel was built in 1843 and has become a centre for village life in recent years. The Church of St Peters lies at the west end of the Village and is part of The Grunty Fen Parish of Churches, it is a fine edifice to the glory of God and it has to be said that we have always found it open when visiting.

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Wilburton is endowed with some very fine houses including the manor house which dates back to the sixteen hundreds.

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The History of the village is as rich as the fenland soil that surrounds it and has connections with the Kings of England. Between 1486 to 1500 Bishop Alcock of Ely was Lord of the Manor, He entertained King Henry VII and the young Prince Henry soon to be known for His many wife’s and The Dissolution of The Monasteries, when they came to visit the shrine of St Etheldreda at Ely.


Web Links:
Visit Ely: Wilburton
British History Online: Wilburton

The Element of Surprise, A Pair of Sturdy Boots and Winters on Leith Walk.

Life is full of surprises, when you think that the whole world has gone to Lucifer’s party someone will thank you for opening the door to allow them to enter the doctor’s surgery first, a car will give way to you as you try to cross the Zebra crossing or the supermarket shopper will give you the first pickings of the last remaining Greek yogurt on special offer.

But surprises do not come any larger than when your better half takes you shopping to select and purchase a pair of brand new walking boots in your size.

Now do not get me wrong, it is not that my wife is slow to shower me with gifts, the opposite is true, in all our married years and there are many I have been blest abundantly.

It is the nature and the timing of the item.

At my time of life and bearing in mind that autumn has now arrived (yes it can be applied metaphorically) surely it should be carpet slippers, a thermal vest or a new pair of woollen pyjamas not a pair of well shod hiking boots with a pedigree fit for the Cuillin Mountains.

Once the astonishment had diminished, I was left contemplating that there is a lot to be eternally grateful, for one the landscape of the fens in which we live is flat and inclines are limited both in nature and size, the winters in Cambridgeshire are never as severe as a December evening in Leith and last but not least my soul mate still thinks I am good for a few miles yet.

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The River Great Ouse Cambridgeshire


The Crest of A Scottish Clan, A Peel of Bells, Lord Peter Winsey and The Art of Cation Writting.

Walking in the Cambridgeshire fens along the Ouse Washes between The Bedford Rivers is always a comfort to a weary soul and evocative of The Nine Taylors by Dorothy L Sayers especially when the washes are in full flood.

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With camera in hand it is always tempting to capture the wide open space, the large sky, reflections in the flood plain or Fortrey’s pumping station standing on Engine Bank against a cloudy sky.

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There are endless possibilities in the detail of the landscape like the bee seeking substance from the thistle on the bank of the hundred foot drain. The problem arises when trying to find a caption appropriate for the composition.

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Now as mentioned this is the land where Lord Peter Wimsey applies his analytic mind to discovering the location of the Wilbraham emeralds and the murderer of the butler Deacon but try as I may I can find no correlation to the thistle and the bee but if we take a leaf out of Lord Peter’s book and apply some meticulous reasoning, like the landscape itself there are endless possibilities.

Shakespeare’s Midsommer Nights Dream could be applied where Bottom states

Mounsieur Cobweb, good mounsieur, get you your

weapons in your hand, and kill me a red-hipped

humble-bee on the top of a thistle; and, good

mounsieur, bring me the honey-bag. Do not fret

yourself too much in the action, mounsieur; and,

good mounsieur, have a care the honey-bag break not;

I would be loath to have you overflown with a

honey-bag, signior. Where’s Mounsieur Mustardseed?

or we could turn to the poet Ted Hughes for The Thistle

Against the rubber tongues of cows and the hoeing hands of men

Thistles spike the summer air

And crackle open under a blue-black pressure.

Not to mention Sylvia Plath for the bee or perhaps Emily Dickinson

and her poem entitled There is a Flower that Bees Prefer

There is a flower that Bees prefer —

And Butterflies — desire —

To gain the Purple Democrat

The Humming Bird — aspire —

And Whatsoever Insect pass —

A Honey bear away

Proportioned to his several dearth

And her — capacity —

Her face be rounder than the Moon

And ruddier than the Gown

Or Orchis in the Pasture —

Or Rhododendron — worn —

We could even use a quote or two from A A Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh due to his love of honey and his friend Eeyore’s passion for thistles.

If we were looking for a more modern example then A Single Thistle by Raymond A. Foss could be appropriate but as he reminds us, if we need reminding that the thistle is the flower of Scotland

therefore it has to be the motto and the crest of The Clan Fergusson as this uses both the bee and the thistle and also appeals to my Scottish roots.

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Title: dulcius ex asperis

Caption: A Bee on a Thistle

The crest of The Clan Fergusson

Their Motto: dulcius ex asperis (sweeter after difficulties).

Found living on The Ouse Washes, The Fens, Mepal, Cambridgeshire


Dorothy L Sayers Cambridgeshire Connections

Bluntisham

This was the home of Dorothy L Sayers writer and creator of the aristocratic detective Lord Peter Wimsey.

St Marys Church Bluntisham

St Marys Church, Bluntisham, Cambridgeshire

Her father was rector of St Marys Church Bluntisham between 1897 and 1917 before moving to the Parish Church in Christchurch.

He was responsible for the partial restoration and expansion to a ring of eight bells in 1910 which was only completed in 2004 when the bells were rehung in a new iron frame. This made a full circle ringing possible for the first time for 160 years. Perhaps an inspiration for his daughter’s novel The Nine Tailors.

St Mary's Church, Bluntisham, Across The Flooded Great River Ouse.

St Marys Church, Bluntisham, Across The Flooded Great River Ouse. Cambridgeshire

It is said that the names of some of her characters in The Nine Taylors were inspired by the stone masons inscriptions in Bluntisham Churchyard a walk through the long grass failed to discover a H. Gotobed or an Ezra Wilderspin, but when all hope was almost lost we stumbled on a Thoday, a pity that it was not a William or James or even a Mary.

Cambs-Churches

Grave Stone, St Marys Church, Bluntisham, Cambridgeshire

Christchurch

Christchurch Village Sign

Christchurch Village Sign, Cambridgeshire, England

The Christ Church, Christchurch,

The Christ Church, Christchurch, Cambridgeshire, England

Henry and Helen Sayers moved from Bluntisham to Christchurch in 1917 and was rector there until his death in 1928.

Dorothy L Sayers it is said preferred Bluntisham, but was a frequent visitor to her parents home in Christchurch. She is said to have stated; “Christchurch is the last place God made, and when He’d finished he found He’d Forgotten the staircase!”

Henry Sayers photograph can still be seen in the vestry, the commemorative tablet to the couple was placed by parishioners at on the west end of the nave. They are buried in a grave on the north east side of the churchyard which was originally unmarked but their last resting place is now celebrated by a marble stone bearing their names.

March

St Wendra Church is situated on the outskirts of the fenland market town of March. Now surrounded by housing mainly of the modern variety, but this does not detract from the experience of crossing the threshold and encountering the heavenly angles suspended in all their glory.

Saint Wendreda's Church, March,

St Wendreda’s Church, March, Cambridgeshire.

They are justifiably world famous and have been admired by many, notably Sir John Betjeman and Dorothy L Sayers .

St Wendreda's Church

Angle Roof, St Wendreda’s Church, March, Cambridgeshire

Cambs-Churches

Angle Roof, St Wendreda’s Church, March, Cambridgeshire

Miss Sayers has Mrs Venables the rectors wife in The Lord Peter Wimsey novel The Nine Tailors compare the hummer beamed angle roof in Fenchurch St Pauls with those of Needham Market and March

“of course the angel roof is our great showpiece, I think myself it is lovelier than the ones in March and Needham Market”.

We did try to make our own comparison by visiting the church in Needham Market, Suffolk but found it locked with no indication who held a key, perhaps we may try an other day.?

Cambs-Churches

St Wendreda’s Church, March, Cambridgeshire.


An Irish Original, A Castaway, Dorothy L Sayers and An Unexplained Coincidence.

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My reading list has always had an eclectic feel, is subjected to whims of fancy and unexplained meanderings. Some would says it is undisciplined and chaotic, lacking structure although in my defence I do have a comprehensive reading list.

I have been spending sometime in the company of Leopold Bloom of Dublin of late, I have to be  frank and say it is an experience not without its difficulties. Now I have read The Dubliners and was entertained and pleasantly surprised but Ulysses, to be honest I have closed the covers (Switched Off The Kindle) for present at the end of Part Two with the intention of reacquainting myself at a later date when I can collect my thoughts and courage and rejoin Bloom and Stephen in Episode sixteen.

To try to find an antidote to post modernism I though being shipwrecked on a desert Island would be a perfect solution and therefore decided Robinson Crusoe would be ideal.

Now you would think after spending time in the company of Daniel Defoe I would be ready to return to The Great Northern Railway Station, but I found that The Life of D L Sayers was a more attractive proposition, so wandering of into The Fens, Bluntisham, Oxford, Christchurch Cambridgeshire and the world of Lord Peter Wimsey developed an appetite for detective fiction, so was inspired to take up The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins.

I do not know if you believe it is fate, Devine providence or pure coincidence but it did come as a comfort that I was not the only lost soul like Gabriel Betterridge who had sought comfort and inspiration in the company of Robinson Crusoe.

Today we love what to-morrow we hate,
Today we seek what to-morrow we shun,
Today we desire what to-morrow we fear.

Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe.