The Commons & Horse Fens

Present Day Status & Recent Use

East Fen Common - Panoramic View 2012

Panoramic View of East Fen Common 2012

In 1943 the Agricultural Executive Committee had taken over the Shade, Angle, Qua Fen and East Fen Commons and now had to consider what steps should be taken to ensure the proper use in the future of the land requisitioned during the war years. Two courses were open to them: the land could be allowed to go back to its former state (which had been very poor, "gone with thistles and covered with ant hills") or the Ministry of Agriculture could buy it and let it to a farmer to cultivate.
The chairman of the Parish Council reminded the meeting: "If you agree that any portion of these commons should go, you will lose a heritage that has been handed down from time immemorial."
After lengthy discussion, it was agreed that the Shade, already under cultivation, should be bought by the Ministry of Agriculture but that Angle, East Fen and Qua Fen should be returned to the commoners, and it was resolved: "that this meeting desires that the commons be reinstated as they were in 1939, and a scheme formed for the Parish Council to administer them on behalf of the commoners.
As long as the manorial system lasted, the commons were vested in the Lord of the Manor. In the 1950s the then Lady of the Manor relinquished her responsibility and a Scheme of Regulation was drawn up by Newmarket Rural District Council, with powers to administer delegated to Soham Parish Council.

The commons are still administered by Soham Town Council, though not to everyone's satisfaction and during the 1960's, 1970's and 1980's controversy continued over: encroachment, access, straying animals, drainage (or lack of it), illegal grazing, need for cattle grids, rubbish dumping, etc. and matters seem to have reached a head in the early 1970's, when it looked very much as if Soham might lose its commons altogether.
Perhaps we may draw some comfort from the consultation draft of the East Cambridgeshire Local Plan (1991), which designates Soham as a Rural Growth Settlement but which states as one of its policies that:
"No development will be permitted on the Commons and any development proposal within the vicinity of the Commons will not be permitted if it would adversely affect their character and setting."
The Commons and Horse Fens are threatened constantly by the rising demand for development land but thanks to Sir Thomas Chicheley and Sir Jonas Moore, the current local plan for East Cambridgeshire and a review of the conservation area it seems, for the moment, that they are safe.

Notes taken from 'Open Field, Horse Fen and Common - The survival of an open field system at Soham (Cambs)' by Anne Syme.

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