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The “Great Drowning” of Thorney Fen

1770

Information

A large piece of Morton’s Leam, a proctective bank running along the River Nene south of Thorney, gave way leaving a gap 130 yards long and 36 feet deep.  Water rushed into the fen, and all the area for several miles was about six feet deep in water.  People fled for safety to the Abbey Church in Thorney, and also other buildings on the higher ground, and the whole area could not be farmed again until spring 1773.  It is recorded in Fenland Notes and Queries in 1893 by a local farmer, Samuel Egar.





Burghley House

1587

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Burghley House was built by William Cecil, later Lord Burghley, Elizabeth I's Secretary of State and closest adviser. It was originally designed in the shape of an 'E' to honour the queen, although she was never to visit. However, Queen Victoria was one of many high-profile visitors to the house and she planted a tree in the family's personal gardens at the back of the house. The gardens and park of Burghley House were laid out by Lancelot 'Capability' Brown in the 18th century, in line with many great houses of the time. William Cecil's descendants still live in the house and hold the Burghley Horse Trials every September, which have been running since 1961.  





Russell Family Sell Thorney

1910

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The Russell family, Earls and Dukes of Bedford, had control of the village and parish of Thorney from 1550 until 1910, when an ongoing agricultural depression made it a financial drain on their finances. The Crown offered to buy the land from the current Duke, but he felt they had severely undervalued the lot. The land, totalling approximately 20,000 acres with 220 holdings, was sold between 1909-1910, mostly to local tenant farmers. The Duke went on to sell much of his other lands and properties over the next few years.





John Speed’s Map

1610

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The earliest known map of Peterborough is that created by John Speed. The main city centre streets can be recognised, as can several buildings including Peterborough Cathedral and St John's church. The cross keys symbol on the top left of the map is still visible around the city today on buildings and lamp posts.





Resources

Borough Fen Iron Age Fort

300BC

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In the Middle Iron Age a local tribe established a fortified enclosure on the Fen edge between the Welland and the Nene. With an internal area of 3.8 hectares it was a significant feature of the local landscape. Today the fort can be clearly seen in aerial photographs. The site is bisected by Decoy Road; to the west the site is on protected land, under pasture. To the east it has been more affected by plough damage.





Resources

Settlement in the Early Bronze Age

2500-1500 BC

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During the Neolithic the local population had grown from hundreds to perhaps a few thousand people. This process gathered pace in the Bronze Age, which is named after the arrival of metal-workers in Britain, around 2500 BC. As the population grew it became necessary to divide-up the landscape into field systems; some of the earliest fields in England are found in Peterborough. Meanwhile North Sea levels were steadily rising and the nearby floodplain of the River Nene became permanent Fen. Animals were grazed on its lush summer pastures. Major sites of this time have been found at Fengate, Must Farm and Bradley Fen.





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Later Bronze Age Population

1500-800 BC

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By 1500 BC the lower Nene Valley and Fen-edge regions of Peterborough had become one of the most prosperous landscapes in prehistoric Britain, fertile and rich in resources. The local population was well into the thousands and there were tens of thousands of cattle and sheep grazing the elaborately arranged field systems around the Fen margins. Most of the farms and settlements were on the drier, flood-free margins of the wetlands, but a few were constructed over the water on wooden piles, such as the one at Must Farm.  





Resources

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.





Resources

Boroughbury Barns

1300

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Godfrey of Croyland, Abbot of Peterborough is credited with building the farm that became known as Boroughbury, in what is now the southern end of Lincoln Road. He built a house, a dovecot, two large ponds and a water mill, as well as two large barns, which are thought to date from around 1320. One of the barns was said to have been destroyed in the Civil War, but the other survived until 1892, when it was pulled down and replaced by the Rothesay Villas, which incorporated some of the stone. W.D. Sweeting commented that the barn resembled 'a wooden church with aisles'.





Borough Fen Duck Decoy First Mentioned

1670

Information

The Duck Decoy at Borough Fen has been in use for centuries, although the first reference to it was in 1670. It was originally built to facilitate the capture of ducks which were destined for dinner tables, but now it is used to help capture and ring ducks for conservation purposes. The decoy appears quite remarkable on maps: it is made of a central pond with 8 curved, narrowing arms radiating from the centre. The arms or 'pipes' were tapered and curved so that ducks could be encouraged down them and easily captured. The last known use of the decoy for its original use was in 1951.