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A Monk Drowned in the Fens

1104

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The Annals of the Abbey of Thorney recorded important events for the monks of Thorney Abbey. In 1104 they stated a monk named Master Walter, and five servants, were shipwrecked and drowned in the mere called Saltana. Mere is an old name for a lake. The lake, now drained, was probably south of Whittlesey. The annals do not state how the monk drowned, but monastic clothing is not particularly well-suited to swimming.





The First Farmers of the Neolithic (New Stone Age)

4000 - 2500 BC

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Farming arrived in the Peterborough area around 4000 BC. The first farmers were a mix of in-comers from Europe and local people who had acquired the new skills of agriculture and animal husbandry. They grew wheat, barley and oats and kept cattle, sheep and pigs. Their farms – and several are known - were mostly confined to the east of Peterborough, around Fengate, Whittlesey and Eye. They consisted of small oval houses, within garden-like plots where crops were grown. Animals were kept in larger open areas away from the crops. Pigs would have roamed the woodlands around the farms. They buried their dead beneath mounds, known as barrows, or in open graves. The first farmers introduced pottery-making to Britain and also produced fine flint tools with long, knife-like blades. By 3000 BC they had felled most of the trees that grew in the area and the landscape was dominated by large, open pastures.





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Pachycostasaurus dawnii

150 million years ago

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This fossil was found locally at the brick pits in Kings Dyke in 1994. Scientists studied the bones and found that this was a unique beast: a new type of pliosaur not found before. Pliosaurs were a group of plesiosaurs, skilled in ambush and the fast pursuit of their prey.  They had thin bones which were designed to reduce the weight of their skeletons. Pachycostasaurus Dawnii was found to have elements of its skeleton which were thickened rather than thin.  This has suggested to scientists that it would not have been a fast swimmer, but instead a slow stable swimmer. When new types or species are found, the scientists that have described them also get the chance to name them. Pachycostasaurus dawnii was named after its discoverer; local palaeontologist, Alan Dawn.





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Flag Fen

1300-900 BC

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Flag Fen is a superbly preserved Bronze Age structure. It consisted of a causeway whose posts were arranged in five rows running in a straight line from Fengate to Northey a distance of a kilometre. In the middle of this causeway was a huge wooden platform. The construction of this causeway started in 1300 BC (at a time when Tutankhamen ruled Egypt) and continued for 400 years. The structure was probably a boundary as well as a causeway and may also have formed a defensive palisade to protect the richly resourced Flag Fen Basin. It is, however, likely that it was also used as a shrine or temple, as hundreds of offerings of high status and valuable items, bronze tools, weapons and jewellery, were offered to the waters between the great posts. This continued long after the causeway itself had gone out of use.





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Must Farm

800 BC

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During the later Bronze age most of the farms and settlements in this area were on the drier, flood-free margins of the wetlands, though a few were constructed over the water on wooden piles. One of these small settlements (of some ten houses) has been found at Must Farm on the western edge of Whittlesey. Around 800 BC the houses caught fire very soon after they were built (whether the fires were accidental or deliberate is still under debate) and the entire platform collapsed into the waters below. Because of the fire and the waterlogged conditions the houses collapsed into, Must Farm is a beautifully preserved  archaeological site; it has been described as the Bronze Age Pompeii as the fantastic amount of finds ( including wood, pots, food, jewellery and even fabric)  have revealed a great deal about Bronze Age life and trade. Near to Must Farm, along the channel the River Nene took in antiquity, archaeologists discovered nine intact Bronze Age log  boats, all fashioned from hollowed-out tree trunks, which were sunk over a period of 600 years. These boats are currently undergoing conservation at Flag Fen, where they are on display.





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Death of Sir Harry Smith

1860

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Harry Smith was born in Whittlesey in 1787. In 1805 he joined the 95th rifles as a lieutenant serving in South America and from 1808 in Spain and Portugal. In 1812 he married a well-born Spanish girl, Juana Maria de los Dolores de Leon, and she remained with him on nearly all his subsequent travels. Before fighting at the Battle of Waterloo as a Brigade Major, he served in America and was present at the burning of Washington. After the Napoleonic War he served in South Africa as a provincial governor then in India as deputy-adjutant-general. He was made Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, then served as High Commissioner and Governor of Cape Colony where he and Juana are memorialised in the names of the towns of 'Harrismith' and 'Ladysmith'. In this country he is remembered in the name of the Sir Harry Smith College in Whittlesey. As an interesting aside, his love story with Juana was the basis of a novel, 'The Spanish Bride' by Georgette Heyer (1940).    





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