The Staploe Hundred

In 1758 a special Act of Parliament was obtained 'for better draining them (the Fens) by Engines'. But the picture of the local Fens given by Vancouver in 1794 does not suggest a very happy position. Vancouver's report revealed that there were still 12,000 acres of fenland of one kind or another in our area in the 1790's - 9,400 acres of fen in Soham parish, 1,500 in Isleham, and 700 acres in Fordham, with small pieces in Chippenham and Snailwell. On much of this fen sheep were kept and they suffered from disease as a consequence; in Fordham there were "18,000 of the Norfolk breed of sheep, amongst which, great losses are often sustained, in consequence of their feeding upon the rotten, boggy sheep-walks, which, however, might be much improved, if not totally avoided, by a better drainage of the low lands". In Isleham and Snailwell special measures were taken to limit the effects of fen grazing: in the latter village, 1,200 sheep were "kept healthy by preventing them from feeding on the wet, moory, fen common; this would be drained, and improved to a very great advantage, were not the water penned back upon it, by a staunch, forming a fish pond, at Fordham Abbey". At Isleham 800 Norfolk sheep "as they are carefully prevented from depasturing upon the fens and low ground, are preserved in good health, sound and free from rot, and subject only in a small degree, to the diseases of the neighbouring villages".

But such husbandry meant that the fenland was not being used. The other use made of the fens was regarded by Vancouver as equally uneconomic. Isleham fen "amounting to 1,500 acres, has been greatly injured by the practice of cutting turf, and from the deplorable state of its drainage, but a small part of it is under cultivation". Chippenham's 200 acres produced "little else than sedge which is cut for thatch, litter or fuel". Badlingham contained "about 100 acres of meadow and pasture land, of a moory nature, affording some turf for fuel, but owing to the present want of draining - - these lands are no better than the fen".

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