Have a meander along your river

Do you live in or near Welney, Denver, March or Ely? They have something in common… Can you guess what they all have? Rivers! They all have their own character and issues. Would you like to enjoy and learn about your local Fenland rivers?

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This is a chance to enjoy a lovely, informative and sociable walk along some of our local rivers whilst discussing and gaining an understanding of issues and impacts upon these and other Fenland rivers and on the Ouse Washes. It will be a laid-back endeavour with stops to view the scenery and features, or to chat and take photographs.

The Ouse Washes

The Ouse Washes. Image by Bill Blake Heritage Documentation, all rights reserved.

A partnership (The Water Care Partnership) is working to investigate and work towards solutions for the problems these rivers face and which have been pointed out by the Environment Agency. This is where you and your ideas and involvement comes in! It is important to consider local communities’ perspectives and skills in the care and management of these valuable natural resources.

Everyone and anyone are welcome on these ‘Riverside Walks and Talks’ however the walks may not be suitable for some people like wheelchair users. Light refreshments will be provided and you can find out how to get involved with protecting your local environment.

There are four walks around the area, all of which will be approximately 2 miles and may take up to 2.5 hours.

Welney – Sunday 14th September 10am

“A catchment based approach to the Old Bedford and Middle Level catchment”

River at Welney

River Delph at Welney

Riverside Walk and Talk Invitation – Welney

Ely – Sunday 14th September 2pm

“Our part in the bigger picture”

River at Ely

River Great Ouse at Ely

Riverside Walk and Talk Invitation – Ely

Denver – Saturday 20th September 10am

“A catchment based approach to the Old Bedford and Middle Level catchment”

River at Denver

The Tidal River and New Bedford River at Denver

Riverside Walk and Talk Invitation – Denver

March – Saturday 20th September 2pm

“A catchment based approach to the Old Bedford and Middle Level catchment”

River at March

River Nene at March

Riverside Walk and Talk Invitation – March

Bookings are now being taken for the Riverside Walk and Talk events hosted by Cambridgeshire ACRE for the Water Care Partnership. Places are limited and so to book your place(s), please visit: www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/walkandtalk. For more information on the work of the Water Care Partnership please visit www.watercarepartnership.wordpress.com. If you have any questions regarding any of the walks, please contact Jennie Thomas (Jennifer.thomas@cambsacre.org.uk or 01353 865044).

Rich Soil Rich Heritage – Free Film

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Opportunities to view the 45 minute film called “Rich soil, rich heritage” all about the district and how it has been shaped by the many different people who have come here over the past 350 years.

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Enjoy!

 

Hidden Heritage: the disused Ely and St Ives Railway

LogosIt seems a long time ago that I wrote for the Ouse Washes LP blog, but in fact it was only last summer when I was working with Mark as a summer placement on the development phase of the scheme. I wrote some articles on the hover train and the airfield at Mepal and to continue the theme of hidden heritage I thought I would look at the disused Ely to St Ives railway.

1860s: construction of the Ely to Sutton line

The line opened between Ely and Sutton in on 16th April 1866 and was the idea of two local landowners, Frederick Camps of Haddenham and Oliver Claude Pell of Wilburton. The original route was to, logically, go along the ridge from Ely to Sutton via Witchford, but due to the fact that the two main backers were from Haddenham and Wilburton that route was dropped in favour of one that went south of the ridge. This change proved to be a vital factor in the lack of success of the line; more about this later.

The Ely, Haddenham and Sutton Railway Act was passed on 23rd June 1864 and the construction contract was given to W.S.Simpson, Park Farm, Ely for the sum of £48,000. Great Eastern Railway was contracted to run the service and provide the rolling stock and manpower for 50% of the gross receipts. A third class return fare from Sutton to Ely was 2 shillings and at the time was around one fifth of the average farm worker’s wage. In the first year income was very low with twice as much being earned from freight than from passenger services.

1870s: extension of the line to St Ives

In 1875 an application for an extension of the line to St Ives was put to parliament and permission was given on 7th April 1876, construction started in that year and the extension was opened on 10th May 1878.

The new line was originally due to have just one station between Sutton and St Ives at Bluntisham but an extra station was built at Earith on the request of a local landowner who sold the land at a reduced rate. The line opened on Friday 10th May 1978 although passengers did not take advantage of the new service until the following Monday when St Ives market was on!

Even after the new line was opened passenger traffic remained low and freight was the mainstay of the railway. The lack of passengers was probably due to the position of the stations; Stretham, Wilburton and Haddenham stations were all at the end of the village or considerable distance away, the same can be said for Earith as it was at the Hermitage where the marina is now.

The line running through Earith

Earith Station, with the rail line running around Earith

Post WWI: Falling passenger numbers

Freight increased during the First World War due to home-grown produce being carried but after the war passenger numbers decreased dramatically, which was also not helped by a bus service that started in 1919.

The numbers continued to fall during the 1920s and the service for passengers was finally closed in 1931, although goods traffic continued. There were some special passenger services put on for excursions; Mepal resident Roly Ransome, for instance, remembers day trips to Hunstanton from Sutton station on Sundays during the summer.

Closure of the line

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The Second World War saw an increase in freight to service the airfields at Mepal and Somersham, but after the war road transport became cheaper and more widespread and eventually the line closed from Sutton to Bluntisham in October 1958. Goods such as sugarbeet and vegetables continued to be carried from Sutton to Ely but the amount decreased and the whole line was shut in July 1964.

What’s left in the landscape?

There are still remains of the track bed and stations but much of it was put back to arable land and the stations became private dwellings or commercial premises. The line was always affected by a lack of income and was really only supported by the freight traffic for many years.

I wonder how popular a line from Sutton to Ely would be today?

Please let us know if you have any memories or stories of the line.

Related posts:

Fenland History on Friday Lectures programme 2014

Logos A new series of Fenland History on Friday lectures has recently started again!

Below is an overview of the remaining lectures which are planned over the next months.

Each lecture will take place in Ely Library on Friday morning, 10.30 to noon, £2.50 on the door. All are welcome.

  •  Jan 31        Hugo Brown – Spalding: the man who made directories
  •  Feb 7          David Jones – Hideous Cambridge: a city mutilated
  •  Feb 14        Jacqui Huggins – Life and times of a fen girl: songs of the strawberry fields and more
  •  Feb 21        Shirley Brown – Trumpington: researching and illustrating a village’s development
  •  Feb 28        Mike Petty – Fenland books, paper and digital: what’s been written, where are they
  •  Mar 7          Lorna Delanoy – Changes in a fen village over the last century
  •  Mar 14        Roger Mould – Warboys and fenland archaeology: a community project
  •  Mar 21        Mike Petty – From Littleport to the sea: reflections on the river
  •  Mar 28        Ken Rolfe – Geology and landscape of Cambridgeshire: an introduction
  •  Apr 4          TBC
  •  Apr 11        TBC
  •  Apr 18        no meeting
  •  Apr 25        Jonathan Spain – The Haslingfield shrine
  •  May 2         TBC
  •  May 9         Gordon Philips – Enid Porter and Cambridgeshire folklore: a project

The full programme, with contact details for Mike Petty, the organiser of these lectures, can be downloaded here (Word, .2 MB) : Fenland History on Friday 2014 spring programme revised

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Pope’s Corner, at junction of the Old West and the Cam, c1880. Reproduced with kind permission from Mike Petty.

Ely Dry – Essex Wet: the Great Ouse Cut Off Channel

LogosIf you are regularly driving down the A10 between Ely and King’s Lynn, you may well have noticed, between Hilgay and Denver, a large sign next to a stream notifying that you are crossing the Cut Off Channel.

Have you ever wondered, like me, what’s the story of this relatively wide piece of water? Well, search no more, because here we will be lifting some of the mysteries.

Sign along A10, just north of Hilgay, when crossing the cut-off channel. Source: Google maps.

Sign along A10, just north of Hilgay, when crossing the Cut Off Channel. Source: Google maps.

In fact, the below information has been kindly supplied by Chris Holley, a Stretham-based local historian, who for many years has been researching engineering and other fascinating features in the Fen landscape. A few years back he wrote a substantial report just about the Cut Off Channel, from which the below information has been obtained. He provided me with a copy earlier this year, which has helped me to understand the history and functions of this intriguing canal.

Aftermath of the 1947 floods

A detailed study of drainage problems and ongoing flooding incidents in the Fens was carried out after a series of bad floods in 1936, 1937 and again in 1939, the Sir Murdoch MacDonald Report on Flood Protection published in 1940. Investment in flood prevention was, however, delayed by the Second World War. Following the very bad floods of March 1947 the MacDonald report was reactivated.

Vermuyden’s unbuilt solution

Cornelius Vermuyden, portrait, photo credit Valence House Museum. Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/sir-cornelius-vermuyden-15951677-133559

Cornelius Vermuyden, portrait, photo credit Valence House Museum. Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/sir-cornelius-vermuyden-15951677-133559

Despite Vermuyden’s 17th century large-scale drainage works, the Fens failed to remain dry, with bad flooding episodes happening regularly. This was not Vermuyden’s fault, since one of his proposals had simply never been built.  His drainage map, published in 1642, clearly shows a planned catchwater channel to collect flood waters from three rivers to the east of the Fens (the then-called Mildenhall, Brandon and Stoke Rivers) and divert them via a relief channel to north of his planned Denver Sluice.

The 1940 MacDonald report recommended building just such a cut off channel, collecting water from the same three rivers, now named the Lark, Little Ouse and Wissey.

A map from Cornelius Vermuyden, from his 1642 'Discourse Touching the Drayning of the Great Fennes'; Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC. Source: http://www.dbnl.org/tekst/_low001200301_01/_low001200301_01_0016.php

A map from Cornelius Vermuyden, from his 1642 ‘Discourse Touching the Drayning of the Great Fennes’; Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC. Source: http://www.dbnl.org/tekst/_low001200301_01/_low001200301_01_0016.php. The red arrow indicated Vermuyden’s proposed ‘cut off channel’. Note that north is to the right on this map.

In addition, this report also recommended building a new Relief Channel to take their surplus flood water away from the Fens and up to Kings Lynn, as well as improving the existing Ten Mile and Ely Great Ouse rivers from Denver to south of Ely.  Work on all three flood defence elements started in 1954 and finished ten years later, in 1964.

The Cut Off Channel’s functions

In short, the Cut-off channel was built to serve two functions:

  1. To relieve the River Great Ouse from the threat of rising floodwater
  2. To deliver excess water to reservoirs in Essex
Taken together, the two different uses of the Cut Off Channel serve to both keep Ely dry in winter and keep Essex wet in summer. Water flows northwards to prevent flooding during winter times, and flows southwards in summer times to deliver water in Essex.
Some amazing engineering has gone into ensuring that both functions can be carried out. The channel runs across 35 miles of fenland from Downham Market to Mildenhall, with numerous sluices along the way. The southern part also goes largely underground before arriving in Essex.

Great Ouse Cut Off Channel: northwards flow for Ouse flood protection

Since it is estimated that 40% of flood waters in the Fens come from the three eastern rivers (the Lark, Little Ouse and Wissey), the importance of the cut off channel for flood prevention becomes clear.

map showing cut off channel

Map showing the Cut Off Channel, in relation to the Great Ouse and its tributaries, the Lark, Little Ouse and Wissey. Source: report Chris Holley, 2005.

When the Great Ouse Cut Off Channel is flowing northwards for Ouse Flood Protection, the water flows starts at the Lark Head Sluice on the River Lark at Barton Mills, when the sluice is opened.  There are four weirs to control the water levels during the considerable fall between the Lark at Barton Mills and the Little Ouse at Hockwold.

River Wissey

At Stoke Ferry, the River Wissey flows in an aqueduct over the Cut Off Channel. Image by Chris Holley.

The Cut Off Channel then flows northwards and intersects the River Little Ouse at the Hockwold Sluice at Hockwold, and then intersects the River Wissey at the Wissey Sluice at Stoke Ferry, and thence to Denver Sluice.

Cut off Channel seen from A10, flowing west towards the Denver Sluice. Photo by Chris Holley

Cut off Channel seen from A10, flowing west towards the Denver Sluice. Photo by Chris Holley

At each of these intersections, the Cut Off Channel goes underneath the Little Ouse and Wissey rivers in a siphon or U-tube, and can draw water from the two rivers when the appropriate sluice gates are opened and closed.

The Relief Channel starts at Denver and takes water from the Cut Off Channel through the Impounding Sluice, and/or from the Ely Ouse through the A G Wright Sluice, down to the Tail Sluice at Saddle Bow near Kings Lynn.  The Relief Channel acts as an
additional flood water storage reservoir, which can be evacuated out to sea at
low tide.

Cut Off Channel

Section of the OS map showing where the Cut Off Channel joins other waterways at the Denver Sluice complex. Source: report by Chris Holley.

Denver Complex 2

Close-up of Denver Sluice complex, showing the various waterways coming together at this important node. Source: report by Chris Holley.

Great Ouse Cut Off channel: southwards flow for Ouse-to-Essex water transfer

Essex regularly suffers from droughts in summer. In 1964 it was realised there was insufficient water to support expansion, development and growing consumer demand in south Essex.  In 1968 it was proposed to reverse the flow and use part of the Cut Off Channel to take surplus fresh water southwards from the Great Ouse at Denver Sluice and  deliver it down to existing reservoirs in Essex.

The Ely Ouse To Essex Water Transfer Scheme was completed in 1971, taking water down to Abberton Reservoir 87 miles south, and to Hanningfield Reservoir 90 miles south.  Although existing watercourses are utilised for about two-thirds of the distance, a new tunnel and new pipelines and storage tanks all had to be built.

When the flow of the Cut Off Channel is reversed southwards for Ouse To Essex Water Transfer, water is diverted through the Diversion Sluice at Denver and flows up the Cut Off Channel, through the siphon under the River Wissey at Stoke Ferry, to Blackdyke Intake at Feltwell, between Stoke Ferry and Hockwold.

Black Dyke intake

Representation showing the physical layout of the shaft at Blackdyke Intake, the tunnel, and the uptake shaft at Kennett Pumping Station. Source: report by Chris Holley.

Water is extracted from the Cut Off Channel at Blackdyke Intake, where it plunges 90 feet down a huge shaft into a long tunnel under the hills and under the A11 near Newmarket, to Kennett Pumping Station.  At Kennett, water is pumped 280 feet up to the surface again, then by pipeline under the hills by the A14 to Kirtling Green Outfall and Kirtling Brook, where it joins the River Stour to Wixoe Pumping Station near Haverhill. From Wixoe Pumping Station, water flows by various means to three Essex reservoirs.

Want to know more?

If you would like to know more about the history of and engineering works along the Cut Off Channel, Chris Holley has produced a richly illustrated and detailed 92-page report, titled ‘Ely Dry – Essex Wet: the Great Ouse Cut Off Channel’. You can contact him for more information, or to purchase a copy through chrishcs@btinternet.com

A synopsis of Chris’ report can also be downloaded here: Cut Off Channel Synopsis 2

Interpretation board at the Denver Sluice, explaining the origin and function of the Cut off channel

Interpretation board at the Denver Sluice, explaining the origin and function of the Cut off channel. Image by Chris Holley.

Upcoming events in and around the OWLP area

LogosThere are several interesting events in and around the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership scheme area which I thought people might be interested in hearing about:

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WWT Welney’s swan feeds. Source: http://www.caravanclub.co.uk/

WWT Welney: Not only are the ever popular winter swan feeds back on the menu (see here for the scheduling of the regular, daily feeding sessions) , this Saturday and Sunday (16 & 17 November) will also see a special event, the ‘Festival of Swans’, with wildlife photography courses, storytelling, face painting, ‘guides in the hides’, nature detective walks and much more – see here for the full programme.

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Famous Fenland site Flag Fen. Source: http://pryorfrancis.wordpress.com

At the Brook in Soham the famous archaeologist Francis Pryor will give a talk this Friday evening, 15 November (18:30 – 21:00), about the ‘Mysteries of the Fens’. See here for further details. Francis writes:

The Fens are seen as a once-wet wilderness where the people have webbed feet and yellow faces, living in mud cottages and living off eels. In short, the reputation of the Fens is grim and bleak. The reality was altogether very different. In the Middle Ages the area was prosperous, largely due to the wool and textile trade, which is why it still boasts some of the finest churches in the land. The Fens have also produced vast quantities of Bronze Age metalwork, and the huge hoard of Iron Age gold from Snettisham is unrivalled anywhere in Europe

Mike Petty alerted me to the new series of Fenland History on Friday lectures, held in Ely Library from 10.30 to noon  every Friday throughout this winter; £2,50 on the door:

  • November 15: David Rooney, Henry Morris and the fight for the countryman’s college. The fascinating account of one man’s struggle for education for all, and the betrayal of his ideal.
  • November 22: David Edwards, Something about Gravestones. Some gravestone mainly in the March/Chatteris area which are either interesting in themselves, or the manner of the deaths of their occupiers, or their lives, from a boxing champion to a Major General.
  • November 29: Philip Saunders, Fen Drainage archives – documenting fenland’s past. A unique insight into the original sources for fen drainage available in Cambridgeshire’s Archives.
  • December 06: David Barrowclough Ely: the hidden history – the latest archaeological discoveries.
  • December 13: David Taylor, The Lancaster Bomber and Witchford Airfield – the new book.

For more details, contact Mike Petty – 01353 648106 or mikepetty13a@gmail.com

Also this Friday 15 November, a Lecture organised by the Ely branch of the local Wildlife Trust BCN, Fenland: That sinking feeling, by coastal ecologist Dr Pat Doody. 7:45pm – 9:30pm at Ely Museum. For further details, see here.

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On-going exhibitions about ‘Fenland, Lives & Land’ can be seen in the area’s many museums. For more information about the five travelling exhibitions, see here. See also this previous post.

Heritage Open Days in the area

Heritage Lottery Fund

This weekend sees the annual Heritage Open Days, where many heritage venues are opening their doors for free. Please check out the national website (https://www.heritageopendays.org.uk/) for ideas for your area.

We have already selected some events in and around the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership area you might be interested in:

Ely this weekend is celebrating its rich heritage with a range of events, with its museums and local houses opening their doors for longer, giving you more time to see the local heritage.

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Ely Museum, as part of Heritage Open Days, is holding an event for all ages and are staying open for longer so you can experience a night viewing: on Friday the 13th after 5 pm it is free to enter Ely Museum! This weekend at the Ely Museum is also the last chance for you to see its exhibition about the Old Goal: the last chance this year to experience what life at the museum was like when it was a prison.

Oliver Cromwell’s house is opening its door for evening visits as well, so you can experience the house as it get dark which adds to the atmosphere to the house with its rooms from the 17th century. If you dare visit the haunted bedroom at night! To finish off your tour of the Oliver Cromwell house try a sample of Cromwell’s Cider and listen to the medieval tunes of Ely’s Authentic Pied Piper.

Ely’s Silver Street Cottages are privately owned dwellings which are open this weekend, giving you a chance to visit some cottages that are from the medieval period dating from the 15th and 16th centuries. On the first floor of these building are wall paintings dating from this period.

Prior Crauden’s chapel is open this weekend in Ely Cathedral which is rarely open to the public. The 14th century chapel is impressive with wall paintings and a medieval tiled floor entrance to the chapel is free, but if you want a guided tour there are limited spaces (to book a guided tour, visit http://www.elycathedral.org/).

Ely’s Stained Glass Museum currently hosts an exhibition of painted heads and faces on glass from the medieval period to the present day. This exhibition will be running till the last Sunday of September.

Prickwillow Engine Trust has an exhibition of 6 large diesel pumping engines; all British built from the early to mid 20th century and which were rescued from the Fenland pumping station. The Mirrlees engine is the original engine and was installed at Prickwillow in 1924; the others have been recovered from other sites around the Fens. These pumps were used to drain the Fens. For more information about Prickwillow Engine Trust museum visit http://prickwillow-engine-museum.co.uk/engines.html.

National Trust’s Houghton Mill is located on the Great Ouse River just west of St Ives and has been there for 1000 years; it was saved by the local community from demolition and has inspired artists and photographers for generations. Come and experience the sounds and atmosphere of a working mill and have a go at making flour and enjoy the setting of it next to the river.

This weekend at The Norris Museum in St Ives as part of the heritage weekend there is an event ‘Call the Midwife’; so come to the Norris Museum and see how midwives looked after mothers and their babies in the past and see the equipment they used. A retired midwife from the area will be there to talk to you about her memories.

Corkers Crisps are holding a local food fair to celebrate it launching the biggest bag of crisps in the world. The event at Corkers Crisps HQ includes local farm food from around the Fens and Cambridgeshire, live bands and a petting zoo; there is also a guided tour around the Corkers Crisps HQ at Willow Farm. For more information, visit http://visitely.eastcambs.gov.uk/events/biggest-packet-crisps-world-event-14th-september-2013.

With so much happening in the area around the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership, go and explore you local heritage for the day or evening. Let use know about your adventures.

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Oliver Cromwell’s Museum in Ely. Source: http://www.theguardian.com/enjoy-england/special-offers-april