HISTORY OF SOUTHERY AND THE FENS

THE FEN AREA

In a massive arc around the wash lies the great Fenland plain. Only 5% of the total area of England and Wales is classified as first class agricultural land, and yet almost the whole of the Fenland falls into this category. Today, these are England's most prosperous agricultural areas, but there plenty has been hard won.

This is the Fen Country where, down the ages, land and water have been in such precarious balance that the difference between fertility and flooding has been measured in centimetres. Here, generation after generation has seen its livelihood engulfed by the wild waters of disaster. Only in the last three decades has the area finally been made secure by modern engineering.


PREHISTORY AND THE ORIGIN OF THE FENS

We go back over Eight Thousand years to a period know as the Mesolithic or middle stone Age. The whole continent of Europe was vastly different from today. The British Isles did not exist, but was part of continental land mass. The coastline ran from Scandinavia round Scotland and Ireland southwards down to Spain. There was no English Channel and no North sea and the River Rhine flowed Northwards across a flat plain and out into the Northern Sea, west of Norway. Our Rivers the Ouse, Nene, Welland and other were tributaries of this great River.

Recent drainage works at West moor, Chatteris, showed the alternate layers of clay, peat, clay, and peat indicating the successive changes of condition. In the Fen clay the remains of marine animals such as Whales, Seals and Walruses have been found, and in the peat deposits those of Wild Ox, Wolves, Beavers and Bears.

Bog Oaks are not always Oak trees, but can be any kind of tree. Bog Oaks are still being dug up from the peaty parts of the fens. Trees can be as long as 20 metres long and a metre thick. The trees were buried a long time ago during an ice age, when the ice pack forced the trees down and buried with ice and soils. It seems as though the trees are coming up to top, but it is the soil shrinking and slowly exposing the oaks. Most of the bog oaks lay in the same direction but of coarse some of the trees would have fell before the ice pack came. And some would have been broke of just leaving the root of the tree with the main trunk being move any where from the root. These pictures sow some bog oaks being dug up from land close to the Sugar Factory.

On the same field as the trees were being dug up is a seam of sand winding across the field where once a river ran, because the river bed was hard and compact the soil as shrunk leaving the river bed higher than the soil now. This is why a lot of old roads in the fen area are so winding because they were built on riverbeds.

These rocks were dug up from the ground at about 5-6 Meters deep, when a reservoir was built quit near the village. Click on picture to enlarge.

Relics of prehistoric man have been found fairly frequently on gravel islands of the Fens and they are principally Neolithic or Late Stone Age. During each Ice Age the vast bulldozers of Ice-packs moved down over the hills grinding down the rock and forming the clay layers which lies under the peat beds until finally it retreated for the last time. However, the melting of the Ice caused a gradual rise of the sea level and the ocean flooded in between Britain and Scandinavia making the English Channel. During this period the original inhabitants, the short dark-haired Iberians had been pushed westwards by the Aryan Celts.

MATTOCK

This Mattock was found in the fen, east of Southery between the village and the old Sam Cut. Norfolk Museum Service look at it and send a report back.

I am writing about your antler tool. It fits into a well-known group of tools. They are thought to be Mattocks for digging rather than axes. They were fitted with wooden shafts.

Your Mattock is very similar to a number found particularly in the Thames in and around London. Some are known from the Fens, but all of a type, which are different; but thought to be of about the same date as yours.

Yours is made from the lower part of a Shed Red Deer antler; the two lowest tines have been removed and part of the beam cut at an angle to make a working end. The hole was drilled through in line with the tines.

It was thought that the Mattocks made from the lower end of an antler belonged to the Middle Stone Age, that is about 6000 to 4000 BC. However in recent years a number of these Mattocks have been dated using the radiocarbon technique. This has showed that the date range is between about 7000 BC to about 2000 BC. This Mattock was dated at about 3500 BC.

ROMAN AND SAXON TIMES AD 43

Invaded again by the Romans They pushed back the Britons and defeated them decisively at the Thames crossing near Brentford. It was not until AD 47 they turned North-eastwards to the Fens and the Iceni of Norfolk. His legions pushed steadily on but the tribesmen could not make any headway against the tribes of East Anglia and finally made peace and accepted the Roman rule.

The Romans now saw the possibility of East Anglia and the Fens for agricultural purposes. The Fens however were liable to floods, so there was a need for sea walls.

With the coming of the Saxons and the abandoning of Britain by the Romans, the Fens, where they had been drained, quickly reverted to primeval swamp once more. The Saxons did not have the engineering skills of the Romans and the Fens eventually became a resort of outlaws and other broken men. The only other settlers were the hermits who became Monks.

The Vikings.

850-1066 The Viking invasion was sudden and overwhelming once again the Jutland invaders using the Fenland rivers as a source of fast transport.

865 AD Norse invade East Anglia.

870 AD The great battle of Thetford finally overwhelmed the East Anglian resistance.

King Alfred the Great 871-899

875 AD New wave of Vikings arrived under Guthrum and Oscytel establishing themselves in Cambridge before striking south-west against Wessex. At the peace of Wedmore, Cambridgeshire became part of Dane law.
150 years of war ensued.

King Edward the Elder 899-924

905 AD Edward the Elder of Wessex entered the county, overrunning large areas of Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely up to the fenlands.

925 AD King Edward the Elder of England died and Athelstan became King of England

King Edmund I 939-946

940 AD King Athelstan of England died and Edmund became King of England

946 AD King Edmund of England died and Edred became King of England

955 AD Edred King of England died and Edwy became King of England

King Edwy 955-959

958 AD Edwy King of England died and Edgar became King of England

958-975 AD The abbeys that had been previously ransacked by the Danes were re-established by Edgar in greater number and estate. The new foundations included Ramsey and Chatteris. Ely was re-established in 974.

King Edgar the Peaceful 959-979

974 AD The Isle of Ely becomes a legal unit. This means that this is an area over which the abbot has exclusive jurisdiction. This effectively splits Cambridgeshire into two units, Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely.

King Edward the Martyr 975-978

14 APR 978 AD Athelred II becomes King of England.

991 AD Spirited defence of Maldon stops Danes.

13 Nov. 1002 AD Danes massacred in England.

1004 AD East Anglia spared from Danes by a major victory.

1010 AD Battle of Ringmere, near Thetford, Danes win East Anglia and start major moves into the fens, plundering, looting and killing

APR 1016 AD Athelred II's reign of England ends.

May 1016 AD Edmund Ironside becomes King of England.

30 Nov. 1016 AD Edmund Ironside's reign of England ends.

1 DEC 1016 AD Canute (Cnut) becomes King of England.

1016-66 AD Anglo-Danish monarchy established Ely as a rival to Bury St Edmunds as the foremost abbey and shrine in East Anglia. Edward the Confessor, and other royal children, were educated here. The abbots were great nobles, intimately connected with the fortunes of the monarchy.

12 Nov. 1035 AD Canute's (Cnut) reign of England ends.

DEC 1037 AD Harald 'Harefoot' becomes King of England.

17 Mar 1040 AD Harald 'Harefoot' s reign of England ends.

18 Mar 1040 AD Harthacnut becomes King of England.

8 Jun 1042 AD Harthacnut' s reign of England ends.

2 APR 1043 AD Edward the Confessor becomes King of England.

The Vikings arrived in force in East Anglia in 866, and in 870 they killed the East Anglian king, Edmund. However, it was not until after the Treaty of Wedmore in 878, agreed between Alfred the Great of Wessex and Guthrum of Denmark, that Viking settlement of East Anglia began in earnest. As the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle put it, Guthrum's Viking army proceeded to `share out' the land, which remained part of the Danelaw for the next 40 years.

With its rich soils and kind climate East Anglia had carried a large rural population in Roman times. After the drastic decline of the 5th century from the late Roman high point, a period of growth set in. Although this is less easy to see in the 7th than the 6th century, because burial with grave goods was becoming less common, by the 8th century Ipswich ware pottery, coins and metalwork once again enable us to see how widespread settlement had become. By the middle of the 9th century settlement had been established all over East Anglia in almost all the land units which were later to become parishes.

More dramatic evidence for the impact of the Vikings can be found in the growth of towns, beginning in the late 9th and early 10th centuries. Whereas only one place, the international port and industrial centre of Ipswich, can make claims to urban status before 878, by the early years of the 10th century two more large towns had emerged, Norwich in Norfolk and Thetford on the border between the two shires.

King Harold II 1066

THE MIDDLE AGES

William the Conqueror built Castles at Ely and Wisbech to control the Fens. A number of places in the Fens, those that stood on higher ridges are mentioned in the Doomsday Book.

The Folk who lived in Southery lived on Fish, Game, Water Fowl and a small amount of Farming. Many characters among the Fen man had their peculiar nicknames. One of them, "Chafer" legge, wore a moleskin waistcoat and an Otter-Skin cap and must have looked like Davy Crockett. Also "Swearing" Jack Cooper, "Roany" Smith the three Brothers "Muckey" "Traps" and "Barley" Porter and others.

The Fen men were variously called "Fen Tigers", "Slodgers", "Camels" and "Yellow-Bellies". No Fen man washed his feet if he could help it, he believed the practice was weakening.

In the 16th and 17th centuries the Fenland was not a hospitable areas. Upland river and gale-driven tide alternated their push and pull across large area, some of which were dry enough for summer pasture but submerged in winter, whilst others were flooded all the year round. Thus the scanty population, who called themselves the BREEDLINGS, developed a special, if harsh, way of life. They were a people apart, among whom other Englishmen rarely ventured. The Breedlings reacted violently to plans to drain the Fen area.

The first major attempt to drain the Fens was undertaken in 1630 by Francis, 4th Earl of Bedford, who was joined by thirteen associates or "Adventurers". Bedford engaged Sir Cornelius Vermuyden, from Holland as engineer.

Amidst the confusion of the Civil War, the Breedlings saw their opportunity for sabotage. When the War ended, Cromwel promptly set Vermuyden to work again. During the 1650's a network of Cuts, Drains and Sluices was completed. In 1651 the first Denver Sluice was constructed across the Ouse.

King William I (the Conqueror) 1066-1087

King William II 1087-1100

King Stephen 1135-1154

Empress Matilda, Queen of England 1141-1167

King Henry II 1154-1189

King Richard I (the Lionheart) 1189-1199

King John I (Lackland) 1199-1216

King Henry III 1216-1272

King Edward I 1272-1307

King Edward II 1307-1327

King Edward III 1327-1377

King Richard II 1377-1399

King Henry V 1413-1422

King Henry VI 1422-61, 1470-71

King Edward IV 1461-70, 1471-83

King Edward V April-June 1483

King Richard III 1483-1485

King Henry VIII 1509-1547

King Edward VI 1547-1553

Lady Jane Grey, July 1553

Queen Mary I 1553-1558

Queen Elizabeth I 1558-1603

King James I 1603-1625

King Charles I 1625-1649

This is how the fen would have looked.

Southery had it's own River once, in 1629 Sam's Cut was to run from Feltwell to the River Ouse, 20 feet wide and 6 Miles long. This gave the name to a part of land called the 20-foot.

This map was published in 1645 Note: Southery name Sudry


Oliver Cromwell 1649-1660

King Charles II 1660-1685

King James II 1685-1688

King William III Queen Mary II 1689-1702

In 1713 disaster struck again when a combination of high tides and exceptional floods burst Denver Sluice. Once again the tides could flow unchecked into the south level rivers. Land was inundated, much of it became derelict. In 1715 a 2.5m long Sturgeon was caught in Thetford Mill Pool.

Queen Anne 1702-1714

King George I 1714-1727

King George II 1727-1760

King George III 1760-1820

This map was published in 1772

1775 A considerable part of the turnpike road from Ely to Downham Market was completed.

1801 Population of 462 in Southery.

1809 The Lynn Union Coach route was established between Kings Lynn and Cambridge.

And for two days in 1816, following the end of the Napoleanic Wars, the peace of the town was disrupted by riots. Agricultural workers from Downham and neighbouring villages like Southery and Denver joined a widespread protest about the increasing difficulties they faced in scraping a living - fuelled by a recent rise in the price of flour.

This 1675 map was kindly donated to me by Mike Bossingham.

The map shows the main road crossing the river at the Ferry Boat Inn, I am looking into this.

King George IV 1820-1830

1821 Population of 663 in Southery.

King William IV 1830-1837

Windmills were first used to drain the Fens in the 18th century. This however, gave rise to another problem as the Black Fen fields began to shrink below the channels that drained them. The Black Fens gradually became an upside-down world with rivers higher than the surrounding land.

In 1816 hunger riots at Littleport and Ely spread to Southery, Brandon and Downham and were violently suppressed. A further depression hit the agricultural community in 1880. By 1906 the worst had passed and farmers again began to earn a decent living.

There were two main railway lines that skirted the edge of the black fen, one being the Ely to Lynn which was opened in October 1847 the other Ely to Norwich opened in 1845 passing Shippea Hill and Lakenheath.

The inhabitants was 739 in 1831

1831 Population of 739 in Southery.

1835 The Roal Mail Coach commenced running between King's Lynn and London.

Queen Victoria 1837-1901

1836 JOHN DIGGINS Landlord of the CROWN & ANCHOR WESTGATE STREET.
1836 - 1861 WILLIAM PECKETT age 60 Landlord of the OLD WHITE BELL Formerly the SILVER FLEECE & farmer 65 acres.

The inhabitants was 1023 in 1841

A Fen House.
A steam engine, of 60 horse power, was erected in 1842, for improving the drainage of the fens. Here is a link to Stretham Old Engine, it's not in the Southery Fen but the only one like it left in the Fens.

CLICK HERE

1844

The Old National School was built at the top of Upgate Street opposite the White Bell.

1845

1845 - 1851 JOHN STAPLES Landlord of the CARPENTERS ARMS MODNEY BRIDGE.

Here is a link to some info about 1845 Click Here

1845 JAMES BOWDEN Landlord of the CROWN & ANCHOR WESTGATE STREET. Age 48 in 1851
1845-1851 RICHARD WATSON Landlord of the VICTORY INN BEERHOUSE 13 FERRY BANK ROAD near WHITE BRIDGE age 48 in 1851.

The first railway to actually run into the fen was a junction half way between Shippea Hill station and Lakenheath running Northwest across the Little Ouse and ending at Shrubhill Farm in Feltwell Fen. It was in use by 1867 closed around 1880's because of the depression, but later reused by the Wissington Railway from the opposite direction. (More to come on Shrubhill later) A book about THE WISSINTON RAILWAY by Roger Darsley is well worth a read.

1845 - 1869 WILLIAM FEETHAM Landlord of the ANCHOR, LITTLE OUSE.
1845 - 1851 JOHN STAPLES Landlord of the CARPENTERS ARMS, MODNEY BRIDGE.
1847 The Lynn to Ely Railway was opened. 1851 EDWARD PORTER ( 49 ) Landlord of the NAGS HEAD 2 CHURCH STREET.

1854

FRANCIS SIMPER Landlord & Butcher of the BUTCHERS ARMS
1854 - 1871 SARAH PORTER Landlady of the VICTORY INN

1858

The new Church was built this year.

In 1870, a race was arranged between the skaters and the train, along the stretch of the river where the tracks run parallel. Inspite of sabotage attempts by train supporters, who through hot coals on the ice, the skaters won, with half a minute to spare!
1845 T. JONES Landlord of the CROWN & ANCHOR WESTGATE STREET.
1845 WILLIAM CREEK Landlord of the THE SHIP INN BRANDON CREEK.
1845 - 1869 WILLIAM FEETHAM Landlord of the ANCHOR LITTLE OUSE.
1851 Population of 1155 in Southery.
1851 - 1865 WILLIAM THORNHILL Landlord of the THE SHIP INN BRANDON CREEK.
1852 Breach of embankment. 7000 acres were inundated to a depth of 7 feet. 150 sheep were drowned and claims for recompense amounted to 21,000.
1854 Mr. Kirby, Headmaster of National School.
1859 Opening of new Church, cost 1,700 from public sub-scriptions.
1861 Population of 1164 in Southery.
1861 WILLIAM HARDY Landlord of the NAGS HEAD 2 CHURCH STREET.
1862 Lynn Railway became part of the Great Eastern Railway.
1864 90 Children attended the National School, taught by Eleanor and Thomas White.
1865 - 1871 Mrs MARY PECKETT Landlady of the OLD WHITE BELL
1869 GEORGE OSLER COLE Landlord of the CROWN & ANCHOR WESTGATE STREET.
1869 WILLIAM PORTER Landlord of the THE SHIP INN BRANDON CREEK.
1869 A market was held on Saturday for Corn and Cattle.
1871 Population of 1316 in Southery.
1871 - 1879 JAMES NORTON Landlord of the CROWN & ANCHOR WESTGATE STREET.
1871 WILLIAM SCOTT ROGERS Landlord of the SHIP INN at POPPYLOT.
1871 GEORGE CATTERMOLE Landlord of the CARPENTERS ARMS WESTGATE STREET.
1871 GEORGE BUCKINGHAM Landlord of the BUTCHERS ARMS Westgate Street.
1871 GEORGE FORBY Landlord of CARPENTERS ARMS MODNEY BRIDGE.
1871 WILLIAM BULLEN Landlord of the NAGS HEAD 2 CHURCH STREET.
1871 JOHN HOLLOX Landlord of the ANCHOR LITTLE OUSE.
1874 School Board formed the Rev. A.F.Julius, J Sayle, J Wootton, Mrs Brown and C. Porter, the clerk managed the School.

1875

Brandon Creek Primitve Methodist Chapel was built at a cost of 350 for 120 People.

1876

The School was built at a cost of 2,000 in Westgate Street. Mr and Mrs John Teeasel were in charge of the infants and large mixed Schoolroom. and the Old National School is now used for Reading and Library for 500 vlumes, also Sunday Schools.

1878 The highway between Southery and Feltwell became a hard road surface.
1879 Methwold Parish sent one member to Southery School Board. A photographer called to take the Childreb's likeness.
1879 - 1883 HENRY PRESTON Landlord of the THE SHIP INN BRANDON CREEK.& horse breaker.
1879 JAMES FEETHAM Landlord of the ANCHOR LITTLE OUSE.
1881 - 1896 JOHN PORTER Landlord of the OLD WHITE BELL.
1881 - 1891 JOHN WOODS Landlord of the CARPENTERS ARMS.
1881 MATTHEW DEARSLEY Landlord of the BUTCHERS ARMS Westgate Street.
1881 WILLIAM PORTER Landlord of the NAGS HEAD 2 CHURCH STREET.
1881 JAMES MAGGS Landlord of the SHIP INN at POPPYLOT.

1881

The population was 1176 the Clerk was Geoge Osler, Post Master Mary Ann Porter, head master John Tensel, Rev Archibald Eneas, Harness Maker George Attlesey, Blacksmith John Attlesey, Carpenter William Barrow, Grocer and Draper John Albert Barton, Carrier Albert Elmer Benson, Shop Keeper Thomas John Brown, Butcher Thomas Brown, Beer Retailer George Buckenham, Miller Martha Harris, Ferry Boat Inn and Shoemaker George Hartley, The Anvil and Blacksmith (pub) Little London James Osler, Miller (wind) George Robert Reeve, Crown and Anchor (pub) and Register Richard Larman.

The Pumping Engine pump was repaired and a new Wheel added at a cost of 2,000.

1881 - 1904 RICHARD PORTER Landlord of the VICTORY INN
1882 Wesleyan Methodist Church and schoolroom were built. Downham and Stoke and Stoke Ferry Railway Company was opened, joining Denver, Fordham, Ryston, West Dereham and Stoke Ferry.

1883 RICHARD L. REGISTER Landlord of the CROWN & ANCHOR WESTGATE STREET.

1883 The School Board comprised the Rev. A.E.Julius chairman, Mesrs John Wootton, Thomas Porter, T Russel, G E Daintree and J Boggers. Mr Harry Wayman was the clerk. 200 boys an girls attended the School and 65 infants the infant department.

An example of things to come was provided by Sam's Cut which drained naturally into the Gt. Ouse through Hunt's Sluice until 1883. Owing to the sinking of the Fen it became necessary to install artificial drainage, and in 1883 a dam with culverts was built across Sam's Cut at Hunt's Sluice, and an engine and pump erected. During the years that followed, however, the fen sunk so rapidly that the plant was unable to drain the Fen properly, the water not being able to get to the pump quickly enough. By 1913, the Fen had sunk 5 to 6 feet within the preceding 50 years, an additional pump had to be installed. In 1928, however, the drainage system had to be reorganized and the water diverted north into the River Wissey. A more powerful pumping engine was installed, and this was supplemented in 1938 by yet another pumping unit.

Hunts Sluice 1912

Southery is described in the Norfolk directory as 'a considerable village, on the London Road 7 miles south of Downham, on a gentle eminence surrounded by fens and marshes'.

1884

A Steam Engine Pump of 60-horse power was erected for improving the drainage of the Fens.

1888

1881-1891 FREDERICK THORPE Landlord of the CROWN & ANCHOR WESTGATE STREET.
1885 Mr William Challenger and Mrs Marina Challenger took charge of Southery School.
1888 WILLIAM HEATH Landlord of the THE SHIP INN BRANDON CREEK.
1891 Population of 1122 in Southery, which included 187 Porters, 56 Oslers and 42 Bells
1891 ALFRED HENRY PORTER Landlord of the NAGS HEAD 2 CHURCH STREET.
1892 Mrs MARTHA FOX Landlady of the CROWN & ANCHOR WESTGATE STREET.
1894 Mr and Mrs Stanley took charge of Southery School.
1892 JETHRO BOYCE Landlord of the THE SHIP INN BRANDON CREEK.
1896 JAMES WALLIS Landlord of the CROWN & ANCHOR WESTGATE STREET.
1896 JOHN OSLER Landlord of the THE SHIP INN BRANDON CREEK.
1896 Dr. Walter Edward Evans, who resided in Parsley House, was surgeon and deputy medical officer and public vaccinator for Southery and Downham union.

1899

The School was enlarged from 220 to 350 Children.