One of the lost treasures of the historic county of Huntingdonshire is being brought back to life with the launch of a new book, featuring updated research by author Paul Middleton.
Inspired by his love of the Fens, doctor of archaeology Paul has delved into the story of Whittlesea Mere, the largest body of inland water in lowland England before it was drained in the 1850s.
Paul said: “Having settled in the Fens at the start of a career teaching archaeology and local history, I fell in love with the area’s farming landscapes and wide skies and was fascinated by the stories about Whittlesea Mere, a great lake which, though no longer there, was still talked about and loomed large in the popular imagination.”
The draining of the mere, which bordered the edge of the Fens near Stilton on the A1 and Yaxley, brought to an end a long, rich and thriving history of fishing, reed-cutting and boating, the management and control of which excited the interest of kings, was fought over by medieval abbots and monks, by 17th century drainers and local communities and rival landowners.
Once drained, the mere continued to influence farming practice, hindered the smooth running of the main railway line to the north and bequeathed to the nation in its surroundings what have now become two important nature reserves at Holme Fen and Woodwalton Fen.
Now, in the 21st century, recognition of the area’s unique ecological and educational potential has seen the creation of a major environmental restoration project, the Great Fen Project.
An earlier study of this rich landscape was published in 1987, but has been out of print for many years. Much new research has been carried out since.
Paul, a former lecturer at Peterborough Regional College, said: “Two years ago, in discussion with friends at the Fenland Trust, we agreed that the story was important enough to re-tell for a generation which now has the opportunity to experience the environmental, social and educational benefits of one of the country’s most significant re-wilding undertakings – the Great Fen Project.
“During my research for the new book, I have been privileged to have access to documents, maps, archives and stories passed down by many generations of people who have called the Fens their home.
“I hope this publication will bring much pleasure both to local residents, justifiably proud of their heritage, and also to any who visit the area with a desire to know more about its history and, in particular, Whittlesea Mere – one of the wonders of Huntingdonshire.”
Paul is hosting an official book launch at the Admiral Wells pub, in Holme, on November 21, from 6.30pm onwards. The book will be available, priced £8.50, through local outlets and on the Amazon and Waterstone websites.