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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.





The Praetorium at Castor

230AD

Information

Underneath St Kyneburgha's Church, Castor are the remains of one of the biggest buildings in Roman Britain. Parts of its walls still can be seen in various parts of the village. The site has been explored over several hundred years with early antiquaries confused by what the mosaic floors and several bath houses all meant. We now know that the site was probably part of a vast Imperial Estate from where much of the fenlands was governed. The building appears to have been the administrative centre of this estate and was where a procurator would have held court and possibly lived. The building on the top of the rise, where the church now stands, would have been seen for miles as a symbol of Roman power and authority.





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St. John the Baptist Rebuilt

1407

Information

The citizens of Medehamstede, lived to the east of the abbey and what is now the Cathedral, on the edge of the fenland. After the great fire of 1116, the inhabitants were moved to the west of the abbey where the land was drier. Unfortunately they did not move the church to the west, and for several centuries the inhabitants of the town had to walk round the vast abbey grounds to reach their isolated church. This was made more difficult by flooding from streams that ran in front of the church, making attendance problematic in the winter. A petition was made to move the church to the west of the abbey, which was granted by the Bishop of Lincoln in 1402. The new church was built using stone from the old one and the Becket Chapel, as well as oak from Abbot William Genge's park. He dedicated the church to St John the Baptist on 26th June 1407. It was originally built with a large leaded spire, which was conspicuous from some distance. Unfortunately, due to instability, it was removed in the 1820s, but it can be seen in John Speed's Map, A Prospect of Peterborough and an old photograph.





Car Dyke Creation

60AD

Information

Car Dyke is a vast canal approximately 85 miles long stretching from the River Witham south of Lincoln to Waterbeach near Cambridge. There is a huge amount of uncertainty about when the canal was built, or its use, but it was present in the Roman period.
Theories
The canal follows the western edge of the fenland, hugging the 6m level, which was also thought to be the edge of the Iron Age coastline. The two main theories regarding the canal are that it was used for transportation, or for drainage. There is some suggestion that it was in place in the Iron Age, but there is little to support this theory. An alternative theory is that it marks a boundary line between large Roman Imperial estates to the west of the fen edge and Boudiccan tribes in the east. This idea would date the structure to as early as 60AD.
Where Can I View Car Dyke?
Car Dyke is still extant in several places in and near Peterborough. Frank Perkins Parkway follows the line of Car Dyke for several miles before it gets to Eye, where it turns sharply to the west and continues along the edge of Paston, Gunthorpe and Werrington until it reaches Peakirk. From Peakirk much of the canal is only discernible using crop marks, regaining its structure again in Lincolnshire. Much of the visible structure is scheduled, but can be walked along. Some of it exists within private property and cannot be accessed.





Notes and Queries About the Fenlands

1889

Information

The journal 'Fenland Notes and Queries' was first published in April 1889 and printed in Peterborough by George Caster. The journal, published quarterly, was created to bring together facts and stories relating to the fens. The information was provided by a large group of contributors, many of them clergy, some women and some anonymous. The fenland area covered by the journal included the counties of 'Huntingdon, Cambridge, Lincoln, Northampton, Norfolk and Suffolk.' (1) Intended to be of interest to antiquarians, the journal also proved popular with 'others interested in the history and folklore of the district.' (2) The journal, or magazine as it was termed, was compiled into volumes, the first covering the years 1889 to 1891. In total seven volumes were created, the last completed in 1909. The first issues were edited by W. H. B. Saunders, who was succeeded by Rev. W. D. Sweeting of Maxey. Thankfully all of the volumes are available to read online and can be searched easily for places and people. There are many references to Peterborough and surrounding villages which can tell us more about life in the past. In Volume Seven the lyrics and notes are written relating to a May Day Garland Song which it was claimed was 'sung by the children when carrying the garlands round the city'. (3) The recording of songs is an often forgotten element of recording and one of the many features that makes the volumes so valuable.
References
(1) Fenland Notes and Queries, Vol I, Ed W. H. Bernard Saunders, Publisher G. Caster, 1991, preface (2) Fenland Notes and Queries, Vol I, Ed W. H. Bernard Saunders, Publisher G. Caster, 1991, p2 (3) Fenland Notes and Queries, Vol VII Ed. Rev. W. D. Sweeting, Publisher G. Caster, 1909, p24-25