Heritage Open Days of 2014 this Weekend!

Like last year, many heritage attractions are free to explore, usually for longer opening times with possible special exhibitions and access to places usually closed to the public all weekend for the Heritage Open Days! It is a special annual weekend supported by English Heritage since 1994 and you can visit the Heritage Open Days official website. This year it runs from Thursday 11th – Sunday 14th September. logos

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Ely Cathedral above the market. Source: Pete Johnstone

With open nights on Friday evening, open tours on Saturday and open houses on the Sunday, an interesting Ely Heritage Weekend is coming up! On Friday evening, you can experience Oliver Cromwell’s House, Ely Cathedral, The Stained Glass Museum and Ely Museum at the unusual hours of after closing time. The Saturday has lots more things going on! Bookings for places are advisable as they are different and enjoyable guided tours around Ely, in the Courthouse, the 15th century Old Palace and the West Tower in Ely Cathedral. The Ely Museum also has a guided tour alongside many activities. On the Sunday, Ely opens its 14th and 16th century houses at 7 & 9 Silver Street, Ely’s Old Porta entrance and the 14th century chapel that are rarely opened to the public. Additionally, a tour around St Peter’s Church and riverside walk with the Environment Agency and Cambridgeshire ACRE is on. Pre-booking is essential with all of Sunday activities.

The Chatteris Library is showing photographs of how the buildings in Chatteris changed over time.

March offers around 20 events and activities this year including a trip with a local historian to learn about the town’s influential Gray family, a gentle walk on architectural details of the buildings along Station Road, a walk seeing the railway and water voles, children’s activities and a toys exhibition at March and District Museum – see The March Society website.

Heritage Open Days in Fenland poster. Source: The March Society

Fenland Heritage Open Days booklet front cover. Source: The March Society.

The Capital of the Fens – Wisbech – have many things open and to see for the weekend. A wide range of buildings are open such as Wisbech Castle, Masonic Lodges and Council Chambers, which has displays of furniture, historical styles and various artefacts to view and learn from. The other venues open from the public ranged from a theatre – the Angles Theatre – to all the National Trust properties, including the one usually closed to the public. A guided tour and apple tasting at The Orchard and the various churches and museums in Wisbech with their individual features, characters and various kinds of history exhibited through talks to demonstrations will be specially available for the public this Heritage Open Days weekend too. Of particular interest, “Vivian” the fire engine that served Wisbech in the 1930s to the 1960s is on display.

The Fenland Heritage Open Days booklet that cover the rest of Fenland for can be consulted for further information.

The Ramsey Rural Museum is open on the Sunday and there will be a great range of ways to discover Ramsay‘s heritage including a Great Fen exhibition trailer and learning about the two world wars.

St Ives opens a number of their religious and town buildings for most of the weekend, including a mosque that opens on the Sunday and exhibitions in the Corn Exchange, while Holt Island Nature Reserve is open all weekend with a basket weaving display. The flyer can be downloaded here.

In Houghton, National Trust’s Houghton Mill is free and themed Victorian with costumed actors and available toys for children to play with, and the Mill will work to produce flour.

Have a great one!

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:

imagehandler

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.

flag-fen-life

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.

fenland

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.

Other Landscape Partnership schemes in East Anglia

Heritage Lottery Fund

Including the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership (OWLP), there are currently four Landscape Partnership schemes in the East of England. They are:

  • Managing a Masterpiece (Stour Valley; completed : summer 2013)
  • Touching the Tide (Suffolk Coast; started delivery phase this spring)
  • Breaking New Ground (The Brecks; in development phase)
  • Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership

As there are synergies with what the OWLP scheme is trying to achieve, I thought it would be interesting to show what else is happening in the region. Over the last few months the central OWLP team has also been in regular contact with staff at the Breaking New Ground and Touching the Tide schemes, who have been very helpful with information exchange.

Each of the landscape Partnerships are very different in the type of landscapes it focuses on, ranging from the coastal landscape of the Touching the Tide, the dry scrubland of the Brecks, to the flood plain and Fenlands of the Ouse Washes, area. The Managing a Masterpiece manages the landscape as fabulously painted by John Constable who painted the old building and waterways of this landscapes. All have had a different story to tell; with the funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund each of the landscapes are brought back to life, with the involvement and help of the local communities and business.

Map of the existing Landscape Partnership schemes within East Anglia:

Map of existing Landscape Partnership in East Anglia

Map of existing Landscape Partnership in East Anglia

The Brecks

Breaking New Ground covers 1000 square kilometres in the Brecks, in the heart of East Anglia.

The climate here is semi-continental, which means that the weather is colder than the UK average during winter and hotter in summer. The Brecks can also experience extreme changes in temperature throughout the year with the possibility of frost during almost any month, which in conjunction with the low rainfall in East Anglia makes it the driest part of the UK.

The Brecks have nutrient poor soil however it is a good habitat for rabbits and there are ancient Pingos, formed at the end of the last Ice Age; these are not common across the UK as most have been built on or removed. The resulting Pingo ponds are home to some unique species of wildlife, many of which are rare and some of the beetles have survived here since the last Ice Age.

Brecks Landscape Source: www.brecks.org

Brecks Landscape Source: http://www.brecks.org

In the 1660s, the area experienced huge sandstorms what with the area being largely made up of sandy soils. As a result, sand dunes were formed on Lakenheath Warren in the 1660s. These were spread over a thousand acres and the sand was blown as far as Santon Downham and partially buried villages and blocked the Little Ouse River. Extensive planting of trees in the area has stopped sandstorms occurring. The last mobile sand dune system can be seen at Wangford Warren Nature Reserve.

The Brecks has the potential to support over 300 tourist-related business, however it is one of East Anglia’s hidden gems: it is obscured by trees, resulting in rail and car travellers passing by, generally not knowing what lies behind the line of trees en route to more well-know areas such as the Norfolk Coast and the Broads. The area behind the trees, nevertheless, is a world of forest adventure; miles of tracks and paths forming a great attraction with an amazing fun world of history for everyone to get involved in.

In late July 2013 The Brecks Partnership and Greater Anglia put an image of The Brecks on the side of a train travelling between Cambridge and Norwich, as this is the line which passes through the Brecks. The aim was to promote the area to a wider audience and the train will be running until the end of July 2014 promoting the Brecks along the way.

Train with the The Brecks logo  Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sinkplunger/9730654292/

Train with the The Brecks logo. Would this also be an idea for Ouse Washes LP area, another hidden gem in the region – what do you think?
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sinkplunger/9730654292/

 

Touching the Tide

The Touching the Tide Landscape Partnership scheme is within the Suffolk Coast & Heaths AONB area and is situated along the Suffolk Coast between Covehithe and Felixstowe.

The development phase was completed in November 2012 and funding was given to go forward with the delivery phase. The Touching the Tide Landscape Partnership has received £900k to support the 3 year project which started in spring 2013 and is due to end in spring 2016.

The scheme intents to invest in skills, businesses and the environment. The project money will be used to restore and conserve heritage assets which make the coast special, for example the Martello Towers as well as the shingle beaches which contribute to the sense of wildness that people value in the character of the landscape. The funding will also be used to work with local communities to inspire them to share stories of the area’s history to younger members of the community, as well as helping to conserve the local heritage by working with art projects and archaeological digs. All these projects encourage the local community to work together and to feel proud of their heritage. By the end of the 3 year project the aim is to have made a real difference to people’s understanding of this very dynamic coastline, so they can help in shaping its future.

Managing a Masterpiece

The Managing a Masterpiece Landscape Partnership scheme focused on the Stour Valley; it started in 2010 and ended in summer 2013. Their Vision is for a landscape cared for and celebrated by the local community, having been provided with knowledge, skills and opportunities needed to manage and enjoy it. The area has inspired generations of artists such as John Constable because of it natural beauty and historic structures, riverside trees, rich heritage of meadows and the field boundaries.

managing a masterpiece

The objectives for Managing a Masterpiece were:

  • Understanding the historic evolution of the landscape and the way traditional land management has shaped it;
  • Conserving or restoring the manmade and natural features that create the historic character of the landscape;
  • Celebrating the cultural associations and activities of the landscape area;
  • Encouraging more people to access, learn about, become involved in and make decisions about their landscape heritage;
  • Improving understanding of local craft and other skills by providing training opportunities.

There were 7 overarching projects (each with further projects within) which formed the Managing a Masterpiece Landscape Partnership scheme, all of which explored different parts of the landscape and which focused on:  Landscape lessons; Historic Landscape Study; Building History; Slimy Posts and Brickwork; Hidden History; Stripping Back the Layers; and Medieval Masterpieces. Each of the projects were carried out by local communities: the more they contributed the more they appreciated its value and wanted to continue their involvement with the local heritage after funding stopped.

During the years of the Landscape Partnership over 3,500 volunteer working days were completed throughout all of the projects, half of which were carried out during several archaeological projects.

Landscape of Managing a Masterpieces Source; http://www.managingamasterpiece.org/

Landscape of Managing a Masterpieces Source; http://www.managingamasterpiece.org/

 

Legacy of the Landscape Partnership schemes in the region

All of the above Landscape Partnerships schemes are aimed at involving people in their local heritage and landscape and providing access to the area so that more people are able to enjoy the environment in which they live, while at the same time giving the project volunteers the opportunity to learn new skills. The Landscape Partnership schemes do not finish once the funding stops as it is hoped that after 3 years of funding people are more knowledgeable and inspired about the area and will continue to look after the environment in which they live.

At the Ouse Washes Conference at the beginning of September there were some inspiring comments showing that people want to continue the project work after the end of the 3 years of HLF support. One person commented “My enthusiasm has grown after today. Think about branding of the scheme and of a sustainable legacy” with another saying, “Overall an exciting project- Wish it was longer than 3 years”. The Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership scheme certainly aims to get more people interested, excited and proud of their local heritage and support people in looking after the Ouse Washes into the future once the 3 year project is finished.

Related articles

What is in a name? The Ouse Washes

Heritage Lottery FundHave you ever wondered where the Ouse Washes got its name? The Ouse is the name of the river, which has already been discussed in the previous Blog “The Ouses of Britain”. This blog looks at the meaning of the word “Washes”.

Natural England describes a washland as ”an area of flood plain that is allowed to flood or is deliberately flooded for flood management”; this is indeed the main purpose of the Ouse Washes; to stop the fens from flooding.

The Ouse Washes has been classified as a floodplain which is different from a water meadow, but both have water flowing over them seasonally. The difference is that in the Ouse Washes the water can often be stagnant for a period of time while in a water meadow the water is always moving over the land and never becomes stagnant.

Water meadows are often found where there is a spring or a stream flowing over land at a slow rate and these areas are not meant to be flooded. The water flows through the grasses which grow in the water meadows thereby reducing the impact of frost on the plants during early spring so enabling the grass to grow (and thus harvested) several weeks earlier than usual. In the summer, during dry spells, the water flows through the roots meaning that the plants are watered and are also able to get nutrients and silt from the flowing water which has a positive result in reducing the risk of the level of nutrients in the water becoming too high which could cause eutrophication. This also means that plants on water meadows are fertilised so increasing the growth of the grass and plants and making more and more nutritious grass available for livestock to feed on through the summer.

Most floodplains exist naturally and are areas where water is stored when rivers burst their banks. However, the man-made Ouse Washes is purposely flooded thereby reducing the amount of water in the Great Ouse River in times of high rainfall upstream, stopping the flooding of surrounding farmland and settlements. It is usually only flooded during the winter and during the summer it is used as grazing land for livestock (although recent years have seen many unseasonal flooding events – see e.g. this previous post photo). The Ouse Washes is able to hold 900,000 cubic metres of floodwater from the River Great Ouse which would otherwise flood the fields of the Fens.

Other Washes in the UK

The Nene and Ouse Washes are the only two washland areas in East Anglia; both are located in the Fens and were built to control the flooding of the Fens.

Nene Washes

The nearby Nene Washes are part of the River Nene which is the 10th longest river in the UK. The reason for the formation of the Nene Washes in the 18th century was to drain the Fens to allow the land to be suitable farming. The Nene Washes are used in the same way as the Ouse Washes, however it has a shorter length and only covers an area of 15 square kilometres, but it is still an important site for wildlife such as birds during the winter and summer and also prevents the Fens from flooding.

Washes and Nene Washes as ‘Core Areas’ within a Fen-wide ecological network source: http://www.lincsfenlands.org.uk/index.php?page=BiodiversityFensFuture

Washes and Nene Washes as ‘Core Areas’ within a Fen-wide ecological network source: http://www.lincsfenlands.org.uk/index.php?page=BiodiversityFensFuture

Shrinkage of the peat

The Land around the Nene and Ouse Washes has been sinking since the Fens were drained and the agricultural use of the resulting fields has caused a further decrease in the level of peat.

What are the main causes of the Fens subsiding? A relatively recent report provides several related reasons:

  • Shrinkage has occurred in the Fens as the removal of the water from the peat has meant that there has been internal shrinkage at a rate of 1.8 cm/yr.
  • Compression has happened after the removal of water, as the buoyancy effect has been reduced due to the removal of the water which held the weight up, so as the water was removed the peat shrank as the large weight was no longer partially suspended.
  • Oxidation of the peat caused when the water was removed as before the drainage the water did not contain oxygen so there were aerobic conditions underneath the peat which slowed the decomposition. By removing the water the speed of the decomposition of material increased causing the land to sink.

Others lesser components of wastage of the peat include

  • Wind erosion; loose surface soil due to strong winds
  • Accidental burning of dry peat

The Fens will continue to sink as it is continuously farmed and drained. The best evidence for the peat shrinkage is shown by the Holme Post: it was drilled through the peat down into the clay in 1851 in order to monitor the peat loss. The post now rises 4m above the ground and provides an impressive record of the ground loss in the Holme Fens. This area of the Fens is the lowest point of all land in Britain as it is 2.75 metres below sea level.

Holme Post over years from 1850 to 2000 Source: http://www.emgs.org.uk/files/local_geology/15(1)_holme_post.pdf

Holme Post over years from 1850 to 2000 Source: http://www.emgs.org.uk/files/local_geology/15(1)_holme_post.pdf

In the summer the Ouse Washes and the Nene Washes are used for grazing animals which has meant that most of the land has not been ploughed for centuries, which has resulted in both Washes being at a much higher level than the surrounding Fenland. This is clearly shown in the below image which demonstrates that the washes have preserved more of their original peat layers than the surrounding arable farmland.

The ranging depths of the peat across the Fenlands Source: http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/Fenlandpeatassessment_tcm9-236041.pdf

The ranging depths of the peat across the Fenlands Source: http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/Fenlandpeatassessment_tcm9-236041.pdf

New Heritage Lottery Fund projects in the Fenland area

Heritage Lottery FundIn East Anglia two other Heritage Lottery funded projects have started recently. As there are clear links with our work in both projects, I wanted to share this with you as well. These are Fenland Lives & Land and Eighth In The East; both projects are looking at the history of the area, with the Fenland Lives & Land looking at different aspects of life in the Fens in the past and the Eighth In The East looking at the history of the World War 2 US Airfields in East Anglia.

Fenland Lives & Land

With the Fenland Lives & Land project there are exhibitions going in a range of museums, communities and schools across the Fens, celebrating the extraordinary landscape of the area and which will be going for 3 years; its launch was last week Thursday.

The five exhibitions are focused on the following five themes:

  • Constructing the Past: Ancient Crafts and Engineering
  • The Wild Fens: A Journey back to Ancient landscapes
  • Living on Land & Water: Discover a World of Waterways
  • Trading Stories: A Century of Fenland Shops, Pubs and Trade
  • Bread or Blood

Each of these themes will be explored in different parts of the Fens, from the history of the ens to what was being sold in traditional shops and pubs throughout the centuries, to changes to Fenland farms over time with the effect of the Downham Riots of 1816 which resulted because of the hard economic hardship faced by farms, workers and soldiers who were returning from the Napoleonic Wars. These exhibitions will be going on for 3 years all across all Fenland museums.

For more information, see the project’s website (http://www.fensmuseums.org.uk/index.aspx) and this useful leaflet (http://www.fensmuseums.org.uk/documents/Fenland_Generic_Leaflet.pdf).

Eighth in the East

This project was recently awarded £575,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to record the history of East Anglia airfields used by the United States during World War 2. The project aims to work with local museums to get stories of Americans who served and the stories of local people who lived near the bases between 1942 and 1945.

The project will look at the 67 airfields in the East which provided bases for USAF bombing raids over Germany. About 200,000 US personnel served in East Anglia in what became known as the ‘friendly invasion’.

This is a 3-year project and hopefully by the end of the project there will be a large amount of information about that time in East Anglia. With this information there cycling and walking tours may be created to these sites and museums will have more information on want was happening in East Anglia during the ‘friendly invasion’ by the Americans.

USA

World War II US airfields in East Anglia project to record history. Source:http: //www.idaventry.com/pin/world-war-ii-us-airfields-in-east-anglia-project-to-record-history/

Look here (https://ousewasheslps.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/hidden-heritage-mepal-airfield/) for an earlier blog post about the WW2 use of the airfield in Mepal, which is located within the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership area.

Stories from the Horseman’s Mouth

Heritage Lottery FundIn terms of heritage, it is all happening in Littleport! Recently, I reported on the now completed HLF-funded project which resulted in the documentation of the remarkably well-preserved Family Adams shop in Littleport – see here for the previous blog post on this.

The shop window at the old Family Adams shop currently displays images, artefacts and information for a new local project: ‘The Horseman’s Word’, which aims to research the golden age of the Fenland Heavy Horse. Recently, the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded a grant to the Field Theatre Group in Littleport to carry out this project.

The Field Theatre Group’s project ‘The Horseman’s Word’ will bring together a range of people, researchers, archivists, historians, film makers, curators, photographers and heavy horse experts. In this, the Field Theatre Group will work closely with ADeC over the next 18 months to deliver this exciting new project. ADeC is also a key partner in the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership scheme. The Field Theatre group’s project has clear links to the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership scheme.

HMW Outside the Bull Public House junction Wisbech Rd and Camel rd

2 men and cart, outside the Black Bull, Wisbech Road, Littleport. Image courtesy of the Littleport Society.

The Fenland area has a rich heritage related to horses and horse keeping; heavy horses in particular have helped shape the land as we experience around us now.

horesmans-postcard-wright

Saddlery, Main St, Littleport, 1912 Image courtesy of the Littleport Society.

The project aims to shine a light on the unique relationships between horses and Fen Folk, also uncovering myths, folklore and magic associated with the horses. the project focuses on ‘the golden age’ of  the heavy horse between c1850 and 1950.

A series of community history gathering workshops will be held in Ely (20 & 27 July), Wisbech (29 June and 13 July) and Prickwillow over the next couple of months. Do come along and share your stories and artefacts; they may well find their way into the documentary DVD, touring exhibition and online archive which will be created as part of the project.

Find out more about the community workshops here:

final flyer cover HMW

The official launch of the Horseman’s Word project is coming Saturday, 1 June, 2-5 pm, in Littleport Village Hall. There you can meet the project team and be entertained with songs and stories from the golden age of the Fenland Heavy Horsemen. Find out more about this event here.

The Field Theatre Group has got very good experience in community projects. One of their previous projects, Common Grounds, resulted in film showing a range of stories, focusing on land workers and Fenland life at the turn of the last century. Another interesting production was Landlines, the Field Theatre Group’s multi-media touring production, incorporating actors, film footage, music, poetry and songs to bring to life the Fen landscape, its people and places. Learn more about the work of the Field Theatre Group here.

Want to know more about ‘The Horseman’s Word’? Click on the below image, which is taken from the Horseman’s Word’s flyer:

final inside flyer jpag

Related posts:

Fenland History on Friday lectures continued

Heritage Lottery FundI am pleased to announce the continuation of the highly successful Fenland History on Friday lectures series throughout April and May. As before – and highlighted in this previous blog post -, these lectures are held in Ely Library from 10.30 to noon. All are welcome (£2.50 on the door).

The following interesting topics remain to be told:

April 19th         Mainly Manea: reflections on a fenland settlement – Ursula Berry

April 26th        Cromwell’s settlers, 17th-century Thorney: the hidden story of the Huguenots who settled on the drained Fenland  – Margaret Fletcher

May 3rd            Leonard Jenyns, the Gilbert White of Cambridgeshire – Richard Preece

May 10th          Reflections on the stories and characters of the Bedford Rivers – Mike Petty

Download here the flyer for this series: Fenland History on Friday Poster April and May 2013

For more information, check out www.cambridgeshirehistory.com/MIkePetty, or contact Mike Petty on 01353 648106

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Fen landscape; taken at Wicken Fen. Photo by Patricia Kreyer, all rights reserved.