Some History of Burwell

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The Village


... is attributed as having Saxon origins -- meaning ‘the spring by the fort’. The spring near to St. Mary’s Church may be the inspiration of this name and the church may stand on a pre-conquest fortified site. (Various sources)


Burwell Seed Wheat

From "General View of the Agriculture of the County of Suffolk", 1797
by Arthur Young, Board of Agriculture (G.B.) (B. Macmillan)

Wheat (pages 43-44)

"Burwell is in Cambridgeshire, on the border of Suffolk, near Newmarket Heath, a considerable part of which lies in Burwell parish, and where the greatest number of races are run: but as it is a place famous likewise for producing the best seed wheat in the kingdom, I shall take a pleasure ... in giving the best description of it I can.

Burwell, then, is a large parish, containing within bounds nearly 7000 acres, 3000 of which are arable, 5OO are pasture, and the rest are fen grounds. The arable land is divided into three shifts, two of which produce corn every year, viz. wheat and barley, and the third is fallow. The greatest number of acres under the plough are called white lands, as the appearance of the land in dry weather is white, on account of its being a shallow soil, lying near the white stone, and not being a spit deep in many places. There is another sort of plough land in the parish, which is called red land, lying down towards Newmarket Heath; but the quantity of this is very small, when compared with the white land, and its quality is far inferior.

It is the white land which produces the true seed wheat which is in great request in the north, on account of its becoming ripe much sooner than any other seed that is sown, and consequently makes an earlier harvest in a cold climate. This wheat bears the highest price in the market, and is threshed as soon as it is got into the barn, that is, it is only topped out, not threshed to straw, and the sheafs are tied up again, and laid up for some time before they are threshed again to straw, so that it is the ripest and best part of the ear from which the seed is obtained in the early threshing.

The reason why this white land wheat is so beneficial for seed, I humbly think, is owing to the saltpetre with which the soil is impregnated, arising from the white stone underneath it; and whas has confirmed me in this opinion is, that my house is built with the same stone, dug out of the pits, and the walls, in damp wxeather, are always wet with saltpetre, and produce a great deal of moisture after a frost. With regard to the method of cultivating the land here, there has been no alteration in that particular for these twenty-three years, the time of my residence in this parish." (Written by Mr. TURNER)

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The Devil's & Fleam Dykes

From "A Topographical Dictionary of England", 1831
by Samuel Lewis (published by S. Lewis & co.)

page 362:

"The most remarkable earthworks are the trenches that extended from the woods on the east side of the county [of Cambridgeshire] to the fens, the most entire of which is called the Devil's ditch; it runs seven miles, from Wood-Ditton to Reach, in the parish of Burwell, nearly in a straight line. Another trench, Fleam dyke, runs parallel with it, at the distance of seven miles, extending from the woodlands at Balsham to the fens at Fen-Ditton: a considerable part of it has been levelled."

History attributed to the Devil's, Fleam and other Dykes, described in 1841

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The Port of Burwell

From "The Batsford Guide to the Industrial Archaeology of East Anglia", 1980
by David Alderton, John Booker

page 40:

"The Lode End -- Burwell was a Fen port at least from the medieval period: the lode is most probably Roman."

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14th Century

From "The Estates of Ramsey Abbey", 1957
by James Ambrose Raftis, & M. M. Postan
(Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies)

Several mentions of land in Burwell, rents.

page 282:

"The Burwell villein lists for 1307 and 1324 may be found appended to the PRO account rolls of Holywell for the same years."

"Table LXIV ..... Early Fourteenth-Century Tenants and Tenancies at Burwell".

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Palimpsest Brass in St. Mary's Church, Burwell, c.1500

From "A Manual for the Study of Monumental Brasses", 1848
by Herbert Haines (The Oxford Architectural Society)

pages xxvi-xxvii

"The Chasuble or Chesible was put on over all the Eucharistical vestments, and was worn only at the celebration of the holy eucharist. ... was ornamented with orphreys, which wee placed either round the edges, or down the front and back in a straight line, or both. ... On brasses the chasubles are entire, and quite plain except the orphreys; in a few cases they are seen ornamented ... on part of the figure of an Abbot, c. 1500, the reverse of a palimsest brass at Burwell, Camb. ..."

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17th - 18th Century: Draining the Fens

"The History of the Drainage of the Great Level of the Fens, Called Bedford Level", 1830
by Samuel A. Wells (R. Pheney)

Appendix No. XV
page 141

From a Copy of Mr. Hayward's General Survey of the Level, taken A.D. 1635-6
"The Contents of the Fennes by Statute Measure both of Commons and Severalls. Begining on Norfolk side, on the east of the River Norf, Ouse."

page 172

Burwell towne, a common ffen more east, beyonde the river at Burwell Block : by Wickin Lode north and east; another Lode west; and the ffeild ground south
    -           -           -           -    421  0  0

The same towne, another common ffen adioyning more west : betwene Wickin Lode north, and Burwell high lode south; with a narrow gory point westward, at the meeting of the twoe lodes
    -           -           -           -   1120  0  0

The same towne and Reach, another common ffen adioyning more south : by the high ground east and part south; and Reach Lode on the south-west; with a narrow gory point westward at the meeting of the two lodes
    -           -           -           -   1434  0  0

page 264

Out of the common fen grounds of or belonging to Fordham, in the said county of Cambridge, lying between the fen grounds of Burwell and the hard lands near Wickin, twenty-seven acres at the west end of the same fen
    -           -           -           -     27  0  0

page 266

Out of the common fen grounds of or belonging to Burwell and Reach in the said county of Cambridge, seven hundred acres at the north-west part of the same fens abutting upon Wickin Lode and Reach Lode
    -           -           -           -    700  0  0

Appendix No. XVIII
page 367-8

An Act for the Draining of the Great Level of the Fens
Extending itself into the Counties of Northampton, Norfolk, suffolk, Lincoln, Cambridge, and Huntingdon, and the Isle of Ely, or some of them

Die Martis, 29 Maii, 1649 [Tuesday, 29 May]


"Whereas the said Great Level, by reason of frequent overflowing of the Rivers of Welland, Neane, Grant, Ouse, Brandon, Mildenhal, and Stoke, have been of small and uncertain profit, but (if drained) may be improved and made profitable, and of great advantage to the commonwealth, and to the particular owners, commoners, and inhabitants, and be fit to bear coleseed and rapeseed in great abundance, which is of singular use to make soap and oils within this nation, to the advancement of the trade of clothing and spinning of wool, and much of it will be improved into good pasture for seeding and breeding of cattle, and of tillage to be sown with corn and grain, and for hemp and flax in great quantity, for making all sorts of linen cloth and cordage for shipping within this nation; which will increase manufactures, commerce, and trading at home and abroad, will relieve the poor by setting them on work, and will many other ways redound to the great advantage and strengthening of the nation :

Boundaries of the Level

And first, to the end it may be known what that Great Level is, and for the ascertaining the extent, bounds, and limits thereof, and for prevention of all doubts, questions, and ambiguities touching the same, be it enacted, ordained, and declared by the authority of this present Parliament, that the moors, marshes, fenny and low surrounded grounds, bounding themselves ...

... the uplands of Mildenhall in the county of Suffolk, southward from Worlington Lode unto Burwell Block, upon the uplands of Freckingham, Isleham, Fo[r]dham, Soham, and Wicken in the county of Cambridge, and excluding the low grounds of Burwell, Lanward, and other places lying eastward from Burwell Block aforesaid; and from thence unto the Mill near Anglesey Abbey, upon the uplands of Burwell Reach, Swaffham Prior, Swaffham Bulbeck, and Bottesham in the said county of Cambridge ..."


Extract from the Act for the Draining of the Bedford Level
7 George III. (1767)

An Act for draining and preserving certain Fen Lands and Low Grounds lying in the South Level, Part of the Great Level of the Fens commonly called Bedford Level, and in the County of Cambridge, between the River Cam, otherwise Grant, West, and the Hardlands of Bottisham, Swaffham-Bulbeck, and Swaffham-Prior, East; and for impowering the Governor, Bailiffs, and Commonalty, of the Company of Conservators of the Great Level of the Fens commonly called Bedford Level, to sell certain Fen Lands lying within the Limits aforesaid, commonly called Invested Lands.


"WHEREAS certain Fen Lands and Low Grounds in that Part of the Great Level of the Fens, called the South Level, lying and being in the Township of Swaffham Prior, and in the several Parishes of Fen Ditton, Horningsea, Quoi, Bottisham, and Swaffham Bulbeck, in the County of Cambridge, containing in the Whole seven thousand Acres or thereabouts; about fifteen hundred Acres whereof are Common, and the rest are Severals, and which are bounded as follows; to wit,

From the Ferry-place at Clayhithe, between the upper and lower Parts of the inclosed Grass Grounds at the Bottom of Clayhithe Field, called Hardridge (most of them being divided about the Middle by Quicks and Hedges) to Common Hardridge Gate;
- and then along the Outring Ditch of North Hill Cloles next Hardridge Common (including all the said Common) to Bottisham Load, at a certain Place called Barr-Hill;
- and round from thence between the upper and lower Parts of Sheep-North Hill Grounds, and of the inclosed Grass Grounds called the Rough, which lie on the North West Side of the Common Rough (most of the said inclosed Rough Grounds being divided about the Middle by Quicks and Hedges) and are all on the South East Side of Clayhithe Field;
- and then crossing the Common Rough Droveway, from a Gate thereupon, in a straight Line over Horningsea Herdwalk, to an Holt at the upper End of an inclosed Ground of Thomas Panton Esquire, now in the Occupation of Thomas Grain;
- and along the said Holt to the hundred Acres of Adventure Land taken out of the High Fen;
- and so along the Outring Ditch, on the North West and South West Sides of the said Adventure Land, to an inclosed Ground of John Martin Esquire, in Quoi (a small Part whereof is Skirt Land, and the rest Fen);
- and then by the Edge of the Skirt Part of the said Ground, and along a Ditch between the upper and lower Parts of another Ground of the said John Martin Esquire, to the High-Fen Droveway leading from Horningsea to Quoi;
- and crossing the said Droveway, by the lower End of a Ground of the said John Martin Esquire, now in the Occupation of Mary Leach, to Lands of Thomas Panton Esquire, in Fen Ditton, called the Rush Grounds;
- and round the upper Sides and Ends of the said Rush Grounds, and lower Ends of other adjoining Lots (including the same) to a Lot belonging to Soame Jenyns Esquire;
- and up the Outring Ditch on the West Side thereof to Black Ditch Drove, and then by the said Drove to the Black Ditch;
- and up the same South ward to the next Division Ditch on the Quoi Side;
- and along the last-mentioned Ditch to the Skirts of the Uplands of Quoi-Hall;
- and then round the said Skirts to the afore-mentioned Droveway leading from Horningsea to Quoi;
- and so up the said Droveway to the low Droveway next the Fen;
- and then along the last-mentioned Droveway, and straight on from the upper End thereof to Bottisham Load Mill Dam;
- and so by the North Bank of the said Mill Dam to Dam Droveway;
- and by the said Droveway and Load Droveway to Bottisham Load;
- and then along the South West Bank of the said Load Eastward to the Common Gate below the Mill there;
- and so round the Skirts of the Uplands next the Outring Ditch of Bottisham Common, to a certain Gate called Cranney's Gate;
- and from thence up Cranney's Droveway to the inclosed Pasture Grounds of Soame Jenyns Esquire, called the Holmes;
- and then round the South West Side of the said Grounds and Skirts of the other Inclosures there to Docking Droveway;
- and along the said Droveway to the Corner of the eight Acres of inclosed Pasture next to Bottisham, 1 Piece;
- and from thence in a straight Line over the said Piece, and the one hundred Acre Droveway, by the South End of Lady Downing's Forty Acres, to the Bridge called Cow Bridge;
- and so directly across Swaffham Bulbeck Common to the Ditch at the Corner of the Abbey Closes by the Fen Gate;
- and then along the said Ditch or Run of Water to the Croyl Gate;
- and so by the said Run of Water, under the Skirts of the Highland, to Low Bridge Hole, at the Bottom of Swaffham Prior Town;
- and from thence, crossing the Winteway Droveway, along the Ditch at the South End of Low Bridge Hole Dolver to the Driest Droveway;
- and then by the Ditch or Run of Water at the Bottom of Master Allix's Meadow and along the Skirts of the Cakes's and other High Lands, to the Skirts of the Hardlands of Swaffham Prior Ditch Field;
- and then along the Skirts of the Hardlands at the Edge of the said Field to the End of Reach Town next the Fen;
- and so by the Point of the Dock to an ancient Sewer called Reach Old Load;
- and then along the said Sewer to a certain Place called Powt Hall;
- and from thence along the present navigable Cut, called Burwell New Road, to the East Bank of the River Cam, otherwise Grant;
- and by the said Bank to the Ferry Place at Clayhithe aforesaid;

have for several Years past been, and still are, commonly overflowed with Waters, through the Defect of their Outfalls to the Sea, by which Means the said Fen Lands and Low Grounds are rendered of little or no Value, to the Loss of the Publics as well as the great Damage and Impoverishment of the Owners of such Lands, and of the Inhabitants of the several Parishes and Places where the same do lie: And whereas the said Fen Lands and Low Grounds, cannot be drained and preserved without the Aid of Parliament: Therefore, to the End the said Fen Lands and Low Grounds may be drained, improved, and preserved, May it please your Majesty, that it may be enacted; and be it enacted by the King's most Excellent Majesty, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the Authority of the same, That the Lord or Lords, Lady or Ladies, of the several and respective Manors of Fen Ditton with Horningsea, Stow with Quoi, Anglesea in Bottisham, and Mitchell Hall in Swaffham Bulbeck, for the time being, or in his, her, or their Absence, their several respective Deputies appointed by Writing under their respective Hands; an Agent appointed by the Dean and Chapter of Ely under their Common Seal; two Persons, being Owners or Occupiers of Lands or Common Rights in each of the Parishes of Fen Ditton, Horningsea, and Quoi; three Persons, being Owners or Occupiers of Lands or Common Rights in each of the Parishes of Bottisham and Swaffham Bulbeck; and five Persons, being Owners or Occupiers of Lands in the Township of Swaffham Prior, hereby nominated and to be chosen as herein afterwards directed, shall be Commissioners for putting this Act, and all the Powers and Authorities herein after contained, in Execution."


Provided always, and be it enacted, That the said Commissioners shall not erect, or cause to be erected, any Engine or Engines, for draining or throwing the Water from off the said Fen Lands and Low Grounds into Reach Old Load, or into any other Load, Cut, Ditch, or Drain, without the Boundary of the said Fen Lands and Low Grounds; nor shall, by any Means whatsoever, suffer any Water to run Reach Old Load, through any Load, Cut, Ditch, or Drain, made or to be made within the Boundary of the Fen Lands and Low Grounds aforesaid, which shall or may discharge itself into Reach Old Load, or any Part of Burwell or Wicken Fens, unless the Owners or Proprietors of those Fen Lands shall, at any Time hereafter, cause the said Reach Old Load to be imbanked on the Burwell Side, and shall throw the Waters of Burwell or Wicken Fens into any Part thereof, or shall otherwise use the same, in such Case, the Commissioners, appointed for putting this Act in Execution, shall be, and they are hereby declared to be invested with all and the same Powers which the said Owners or Proprietors of Burwell and Wicken Fens shall use or exercise in respect to the said Reach Old Load, to all Intents and Purposes whatsoever."

And be it further enacted by the Authority aforesaid. That the said Commissioners shall, and, they are hereby required to make, keep up, maintain, and repair, or cause to be made, kept up, maintained, and repaired, out of the Monies collected by virtue of this Act, or to be borrowed on the Credit thereof, from time to time, and at all times hereafter, a strong and substantial Division or Partition Bank at such fit Place on the South West Side of Reach Old Load, as to the said Commissioners shall appear most safe and convenient, from the Hard Lands of Swaffham, East, to the Bank of the River Cam, otherwise Grant, on the West; and that they shall not at any Time, or upon any Occasion whatsoever, cut through or let down any Part of the said Bank, or permit to be cut through or let down any Part of the said Partition or Division Bank."

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18th Century: Memorial in Burwell Church

From "Memoirs of the Protectorate-house of Cromwell", 1784
by Mark Noble (Pearson and Rollason)
(Sold by R. Baldwin [etc.] London)

page 383

Sir William Russell, knt. sirnamed the black sir William, to whom king Charles gave the treasureship of the navy with sir Henry Vane; he was not ungrateful; he never deserted his royal master, for which he was stiled the cream of the Russells; his attachment to his sovereign occasioned his imprisonment by the parlement in 1646. He married Ann, daughter of ______ Bendysh, by whom he had an only child, a daughter, who died an infant, near whom he is buried, at Burwell, in the county of Cambridge*."

* In the chancel of the church of Burwell is a neat monument of marble, to the memory, I should suppose, of the lady of sir William Russell, knt. called the black sir William; and, if so, she must have lived to a great age. The inscription is:

Neare this Place
Lyeth the Body
of the Lady Russell,
who departed
this Life
August the 10th

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18th Century: Murder in the Lode

From "Walker's Hibernian Magazine", August 1786
Extract of a Letter from Cambridge, July 7.

"Tuesday evening, as two men were at work in the fens, about four miles from Burwell, in this county, they were alarmed with a cry of murder, and running towards the spot from whence the voice proceeded, they perceived a man, with a waterman's jacket coming out of the fen. He fled, and the men pursued, being on different sides of Reach Lode, perceiving they gained upon him, he quitted the bank, and hid himself in the fen, the hedge being high. The men, on their return to Reach, related what had passed, and the next morning some of their neighbours accompanying them to the place, they found the body of Elizabeth Hunt, a woman about eighteen years of age, a pauper in Burwell work-house, with her throat cut in a most shocking manner. He had endeavoured to conceal her in the sedge, but in his haste had left one hand uncovered, by which means she was found.

Suspicion immediately fell on John Miller, a young fellow who was employed in Brooke's sedge gang; and he was apprehended at Cambridge on Wednesday, and was committed for examination.

Yesterday the Coroner went to Burwell, to take an inquest on the body, when the Mayor accompanied him, and ordered Miller to be conducted, under the care of the goaler; and on the road Miller acknowledged the fact, and related the following particulars:

That he had known the deceased some years; that on Tuesday evening, as he was walking along the bank, she came up to him, and asked him, 'if he would take her instead of a broomstick;' that she took hold of his arm, and they, walked together for about two miles, when he threw her into Reach Lode, where the water was up to her breast; that she cried out, upon which he dragged her through the water, cut her throat, and covered her with sedge, as has before been related. That he then returned to his master's boats, when he pulled off his cloaths, turned in, and slept with one Adams, a boy belonging to the gang.

The Coroner's Jury brought in their verdict, Wilful Murder by George Miller, and he is committed to the castle to take his trial at the ensuing assizes.

Miller declared he never spoke to the deceased before the evening the murder was committed; and he gives no account what could induce him to perpetrate so horrid a crime. It having been reported, that he had attempted to debauch her, he declared he never made such attempt, nor did it once enter his thoughts."

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Late 18th Century Agriculture and Effects of Draining the Fens

Extracts from Charles Vancouver's Survey, 1794


[l. = £]

"Soham &c. (a fenside parish, on the border of Suffolk).
On the east of the town is found a black sandy moor, lying upon a gravel; on the west, a deep, rich, black mould, lying upon a blue clay or gault. The greater part of this land lies in pastures of the second quality, and containing two thousand five hundred acres, is rented at twenty-five shillings per acre. South of the village are about five hundred acres of the first-rate pastures, tures, which are rented at thirty shillings per acre; thence, extending southwardly, are about nine hundred acres of open field arable land, consisting of a rich deep, black mould, lying upon a clunch, proper for the culture of every species of grain, pulse, grasses, and garden stuff, which are rented at twenty-one shillings per acre. North of the village there are about three thousand acres of rich pastures, rented at twenty-five shillings per acre; thence extending northwardly, is an open arable field, of a deep rich and loamy nature, lying upon a tough clay, or gault. This field contains about three hundred acres, and is proper for the culture of wheat, beans, and pease, and is rented at twenty-one shillings per acre. The lands skirting upon the fens, contain about one thousand acres, and are rented at fifteen shillings per acre. The fen amounts to about eight thousand acres, and in its present condition, is not valued at more than four shillings per acre. The bad state of this fen is not attributed to any want of internal works, or powers for lifting the water, but to the constant pressure and soakage of the Highland waters, through the loose and neglected banks of the rivers Cam and Lark. The most inferior fens, and low grounds, in this parish, effectually drained, and properly cultivated, would on a certainty be improved to the annual value of twenty or twenty-one shillings per acre.

There are here about two hundred acres of rich pasture ground, belonging to the poor, and affording the possessors of a common right, the pasturage of three cows or two horses, no one eligible to hold any of these rights, who possesses or occupies four pounds per ann. There are besides about one hundred and fifty acres of horse common, depastured under a decree from the Court of Exchequer; both these tracts are richly worth, and are Valued at twenty-five shillings per acre.

Soham-mere, which was formerly a lake, is now drained, and brought into a profitable state of cultivation. The soil is a mixture of vegetable matter and brown clay; it contains about fourteen hundred acres, and is rented on an average, at fourteen shillings per acre. No enclosure of the open field has been proposed, nor is wished for, though the laying of the intermixed property together is much desired, - the same remark is made on other parishes.

The largest farm 250l.; for 21 years."

"Wicken (a fen side parish, in the Suffolk quarter).
A fen common, at present appropriated to the digging of turf, and cutting sedge, rushes, &c. contains about one hundred acres. One hundred and fifty acres of grass fen land, is annually mown for fodder, and when the fen is not drowned, is rented at five shillings per acre. High fen farm contains about three hundred and fifty acres, which are rented at six shillings per acre; this has long been in a state of uncertain cultivation, from the frequent drownings of the fens. At Spiney Abbey there are forty acres of enclosed pastures, rented at twenty shillings; thirty acres of skirty land, at ten shillings, and one hundred and fifty acres of fen, at six shillings per acre.

The largest farm 440l.; for 21 years."

"Burwell (likewise a chalk-land parish, bordering on the fens in the Suffolk quarter).
The fen contains about two thousand acres, a considerable part of which has been greatly injured by the digging of turf; it is constantly inundated, and valued at one shilling per acre. In this most deplorable situation it is considered by the principal farmers, to be far more productive, than if it were better drained, because the water encourages the growth of reed and sedge, which is cut by the poor people, and sent by water to the upper country, for the purpose of drying malt. Any attempt in contemplation for the better drainage of this fen, is considered as hostile to the true interests of these deluded people."

"Waterbeach (a fen parish near Cambridge).
On the west of this parish, and extending towards Landbeach, is a well stapled gravelly soil, proper for the culture of rye, barley, turnips, and clover; on the side binding upon the river Cam, a deep, brown loam, without gravel, lying upon a clay, and proper for the culture of wheat, beans, barley, and clover: these contain acres, and are rented at sixteen shillings per acre. About an equal quantity of enclosures in severalty, are rented at _____ per acre. One thousand eight hundred and fifty-two and a quarter acres of commons, divided into one hundred and nineteen and a half common rights, at fifteen and a half acres each, or eight cows and four horses, or twelve cows and eight sheep to each common right: about five hundred acres of these commons, are at present out of the reach of the winter floods; the remainder, which are subject to be drowned, can in no way be improved, until that evil be removed, and the commons laid into severalty.

To assist in some degree the drainage of the adjacent fen common, the chillerin, and the north fen, which latter is in severalty, a sluice should be erected at Harrimire head, to issue the waters of the fen into the river Cam, when the level is drowned, or when the water, which is frequently the case, rides higher in the level, than in the river just below. With regard to the scouring out of the bed of the old ouze, or west river, little advantage can be expected to result from that measure, except that, of a better supply of water, during the dry season of summer, to the adjoining country, as the waters descending by the present channel of the Cam, from a higher level, would on a certainty, (were the bed of the west river cleaned out) revert, or flow through it towards Hermitage. Had not the river Cam been diverted from its ancient and original course, from above Clay-hithe, leaving the hurds(?) of Denny-Abbey upon the east, and voluntarily discharging its waters into the ouze, below Cottenham common, the present evils in the navigation below Clayhithe, would not have existed, nor would the country, which is now a melancholy sacrifice to the diversion of that river, have been endangered."

"Fenny Ditton (a fen-side parish, a few miles below Cambridge).
There are about two hundred and fifty acres of enclosed arable, and pasture land, in severalty, which are rented at twenty-five shillings the acre, a kindly soil for the cultivation of ash, and elm; a few oaks, scattered about, appear likewise in a thriving state. The remainder of the enclosures, amounting to about one hundred acres, being subject to occasional inundations, from the river Cam, are not valued at more than eighteen shillings per acre. Formerly about two hundred acres of fen common were enclosed, but the very bad state of the general drainage since, has defeated the good effects, expected from this measure; the soil of these enclosed lands, is an absolute sea-silt, mixed with small marine shells, and vegetable matter, or turf-moor.

The largest farm 380l.; for 21 years."


"Without the evidence, of the interesting circumstance, above mentioned, it might seem to be almost certain, that the tide, heretofore, flowed to the furthermost extreme of the wide spread area which forms the subject under consideration; - and that the whole space, which is now occupied by fens and marshes, was an extension of the bay or estuary which separates the counties of Lincoln and Norfolk."

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Early 19th Century Proposal for a Canal Into Burwell (Reach) Lode

Extract from "The General History of Inland Navigation"
by John Phillips (C. and R. Baldwin), 1803

Containing a complete account of all the canals of the United Kingdom, with their variations and extensions, according to the amendments of acts of Parliament to June 1803; and a brief history of the canals of foreign countries.

"A plan has been suggested for uniting by the Brandon river the Lynn navigation, which already is carried to Cambridge, to the river Lea and Stortford navigations, which are now navigable from London to Bishop-Stortford. This canal was intended to go from Stortford to Saffron-Walden, thence by Linton to join the Brandon river, with a cut from thence to the Burwell, or Reach Lade, near Newmarket, which was estimated to cost 175,000l. and a bill was brought into parliament in 1790, but immediately rejected, as it would have entirely taken away the trade between Lynn and Cambridge, and have transferred it to London. The author of this history was consulted by the gentleman who carried in the bill, - but not till after it was carried in. - He foretold him its fate; but the gentleman having large property in the Stortford navigation, and its neighbourhood, and being a member of parliament, with extensive connections, persisted in his scheme, but the bill was thrown out on its first reading.

There have been several attempts to join the Stortford and Lynn navigations at Cambridge, but the two noble owners of Audley End and Shotgrove, through whose parks the rivers or streams run, have always opposed it, and rendered abortive every attempt for so valuable a communication.

The author of this history has pointed out a course such a navigation might take, by carrying it near the town of Royston, when the trade of that town and neighbourhood would be easily conveyed to London, Cambridge, and Lynn, by water carriage. By this line all the objections which have been made to this navigation from those noblemen, and the town and university of Cambridge, who opposed the petition to parliament in 1790, would be entirely avoided; and as its utility cannot but be manifest, I make no doubt there would be more petitions in its favour, than there were before against it. The expense would be little more than 20,000l."

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Burwell Maze

From "The Traveller's Guide", 1805
by Walley Chamberlain Oulton (published by J. Cundee)

page 759

"Geoffry de Mandeville ... after his release, again appeared under arms against the king, and committed many outrages. At length, besieging the king's castle at Burwell, he received a wound in the head of which he died, Sept. 14, 1144. The keep of this castle, stripped of its out___de stones, is still remaining: the ruins belong to Lord Braybook. On the Green behind the castle, is a singular work, called The Maze consisting of a number of concentric circles, with four outworks issuing from the four sides, all cut in the chalk, supposed by Dr. Stuke__y to be a British place of exercise for the soldiery."

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An Early 19th Century Description of Burwell

From "Magna Britannia", 1808
by Daniel Lysons (pub. T. Cadell and W. Davies)

pages 97-8

"Burwell, in the hundred of Staplehoe, lies about four miles N. W. of Newmarket; it is situated within the diocese of Norwich and deanery of Fordham.

The abbot and convent of Ramsey had a large estate and manor in this parish given by King Edgar and Elsture de Langyath; upon the dissolution of monasteries it was granted to Sir Edward North, who, after possessing it about five years, surrendered it again to the crown, under which it has ever since been held on lease, except during the protectorate of Cromwell, when the manor was sold to Richard Ashfield, and others, and the manor house to Justinian Povey. A lease from the crown, which is nearly expired, is vested in the representatives of the late lessee, the Rev. William Affleck.

Burwell Castle, of which the moat and other considerable vestiges remain, was besieged in the reign of King Stephen by Geffrey de Mandevill, Earl of Essex, who lost his life by a wound from an arrow before its walls. The castle appears to have belonged to the abbey of Ramsey. The remains of it, consisting of a piece of ruined wall and extensive earthworks, are situated in a close, a little to the west of the church within the manor of Ramsey.

The manor of Tiptofts takes its name from the baronial family of Tibetot or Tiptoft, who possessed it as early as the year 1277, before which time it had belonged to the family of Camois. John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester, died seised of this manor, and another manor in this parish called Dullinghams, in 1470. From the Earl of Worcester, the manor of Tiptofts passed by descent to Sir Thomas Lovell, who possessed it in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. In 1632, Tiptofts was in the family of Marshe, Dullinghams in the Cromwells : they now both belong to the Earl of Aylesford, whose father acquired them in marriage with the younger daughter of Charles Duke of Somerset. A third manor, called the manor of St. Omer, which, in 1632, belonged to the Goodwin family, has since been in that of Isaacson, and is now the property of Mr. William Sandiver, surgeon, of Newmarket.

There were formerly two churches in Burwell; that of Burwell St. Andrew has been dilapidated nearly 200 years [there are now no remains of it, the ruins of the west end have been removed since the year 1770]. Burwell St. Mary is a very handsome gothic building, which appears to have been erected soon after the middle of the fifteenth century; the wall between the nave and the chancel, and the roof of the nave, were completed in 1464, at the expence of the Bennet family, as appears by an inscription still remaining in the church, where are memorials for the families of Cotton, Gerrard, and Russell. An estate, consisting of a hundred acres of arable land, given in ancient times by certain persons for the repair of this elegant gothic structure, was recovered by the exertions of Mr. Turner, the present vicar; under whose superintendence it was put, and by whom it has been since kept in a state of complete repair. When Sir Edward North surrendered the Burwell estate to King Henry VIII., he prevailed on that monarch to give the rectory and rectory-manor of Burwell St. Mary to the university of Cambridge; a vicarage was then endowed, with a stipend of 20l. per annum, payable out of the tithes. Sir Edward North stipulated that his heirs should appoint to the viarage one of two persons nominated by the university; and as a farther compensation for his good offices, he is said to have received of the university the sum of 700l., for which transaction Dr. Lever, master of St. John's College, in a sermon preached before King Edward VI., gives him the appellation of a Judas. Pursuant to a convenant in the deed of conveyance to the university, a sermon is annually preached in this church on Midlent Sunday, by the vice-chancellor, or his deputy. The dilapidated rectory of St. Andrew belongs also to the university, having been purchased at a subsequent period.

A memorable and most melancholy accident happened at Burwell in the year 1727, when 79 persons, being spectators at a puppet-show, exhibited in a barn, lost their lives in consequence of a fire which destroyed the building. It is thus recordedin the parish register.

"1727, September 8, N. B. About nine o'clock in the evening a most dismal fire broke out in a barn, in which a great number of persons were met together to see a puppet-show; in the barn there were a great many loads of new light straw; the barn was thatched with straw, which was very dry, and the inner roof of the barn was covered with old dry cob-webs, so that the fire like lightning flew round the barn in an instant; and there was but one small door belonging to the barn, which was close nailed up, and could not easily be broke open; and when it was opened, the passage was so narrow, and every body so impatient to escape, that the door was presently blocked up; and most of those who did escape, which were but very few, were forced to crawl over the heads and bodies of those that lay on a heap at the door, and the rest, in number seventy-six, perished instantly, and two more died of their wounds within two days. The fire was occasioned by the negligence of a servant, who set a candle and lanthorn to, or near, the heap of straw which was in the barn. The servant's name was Richard Whitaker, of the parish of Hadstock in Essex, near Linton, in Cambridgeshire, who was tried for the fact at the Assizes held at Cambridge, March 27, 1728, but was acquitted."

The names of the sufferers are subjoined in the register.

Names of some of the victims, from a pre-trial account

Reach, formerly a market town, is partly in this [Burwell] parish, and partly in the parish of Swaffham-Prior (separated by the Devil's ditch, which runs through it). It is probable that the market originated in the grant to Robert Tibetot of a market within his manor of Burwell on Wednesdays, and a fair for 15 days, to begin on Whit-Monday (the parish feast is still held on Whit-Monday); the market at Reach has been long wholly discontinued. There is a great fair for horses held annually on Rogation Monday, the tolls of which belong to the corporation of Cambridge; There was anciently a chapel at Reach, now dilapidated (most of the houses are in the parish of Swaffham-Prior, though the site of the chapel is in Burwell). The manor of East-Reach, in Burwell, was in the family of Chapman in the reign of James I., it does not appear to be now known.

A navigable draining cut, comes up to Reach, and another to Burwell."

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Burwell Fire, Church & Population

From "The Beauties of England and Wales", 1809
by Edward Wedlake Brayley & John Britton (printed by Thomas Maiden)

pages 142-6

"BURWELL is a very considerable village on the eastern side of the county, about three miles distant from Newmarket. The only published record of its ancient history, is contained in Camden's Britannia, in which it is observed, that its Castle was vigorously attacked, in the confusion of Stephen's reign, by Geoffry de Magnaville, Earl of Essex, who was slain by an arrow, and the county delivered from the fears they had long entertained of his oppressive conduct. This fortress was probably erected in the time of the Otarchy, as its situation is so near to the Devil's Ditch, the reputed boundary of the kingdom of the East Angles. Some small remains of the Castle are yet standing: and surrounding the site is a very large fosse, with many springs of excellent water flowing into it.

This village became memorable from the melancholy event known by the name of Burwell Fire, which, from the destruction of lives it occasioned, is, perhaps, unparalleled by any similar accident in the history of Britain. [Account from the Parish Register, as above] The names of the unfortunate sufferers are annexed to this relation; among them were several young ladies of fortune, and many children.

Some additional particulars concerning this sad accident were published in 1769, by the Rev. Thomas Gibbons, who was born in the neighbourhood, and heard many circumstances from the relatives of the survivors, that were unnoticed in the register. He likewise derived information from a person named Howe, who was in the barn when the fire commenced, and only escaped the flames from the circumstance of having been seated on a beam, which gave him an opportunity of springing over the heads of those who had fallen, and blocked up the lower part of the doorway. From this collective evidence it appears, that nearly two-thirds of the barn were filled with trusses of oat-straw, and that the barn was only separated from a stable, where many other trusses were heaped up, by a partition of lath and plaster.

In the stable were two horses belonging to Mr. Shepherd, the master of the puppet-shew, which were under the care of Whitaker, who went to feed them after the entertainment was begun, and being desirous of seeing it without paying the price of admission, became, through his eagerness to remove the straw, which impeded his observation, the unintentional cause of the above complicated misery. When the roof fell, which was scarcely half an hour from the commencement of the fire, the shrieks and anguish of the helpless sufferers were at once ended in one universal silence and death. The Bodies were reduced to a mass of mangled carcases, half consumed, and wholly undistinguishable, and were promiscuously buried in two pits, dug for the purpose in the church-yard. This dreadful catastrophe was soon after noticed in a sermon preached by the Rev. Alexander Edmonson, the vicar of the parish, from the following most appropriate text, selected from the fourth chapter of 'Lamentations'. Their visage is blacker than a coal; they are not known in the streets: their skin cleaveth to their bones; it is withered, it is become dry like a stick.

The principal beauty at Burwell is its elegant church, which is built in the style of architecture mistakenly termed Gothic, and, for symmetry and accurate proportions, is scarcely exceeded by any village church in the kingdom. It was erected about twenty years after the foundation of King's College Chapel, Cambridge, and probably by some of the artificers who were employed in the construction of that fabric: but, whoever were the architects, it is evident that the excellence of the desigu, and masterly manner in which it was executed, could have originated only with those who were perfectly conversant with the principles of their art. The windows are extremely large, and have a very noble appearance; and the tower, which is embrasured, and ornamented with elegant pinacles, adds greatly to the general effect and grandeur of the edifice. Above the point of the fine arch which separates the nave from the chancel, is a Latin abbreviated inscription in the old black letter: this, without the abbreviations, is as follows.

Orate pro animabus Johannis Benet Johane et Alicie uxorum ejus parentumque qui fieri fecerunt hunc parietem ac carpentariam navis Ecclesiae anno domini Millesimo quadringentesimo sexagesimo quarto.

Over the inscription is a beautiful piece of crocket work in stone, being a kind of rose window, very elegantly diversified. The roof is of oak, finely carved with heads and figures of strange animals. Over the window, nearest the chancel, on the north side, is a piece of sculpture, representing the Virgin Mary between two angels, with roses in their hands. The altar is neat, but of modern workmanship.

When the present resident Minister (Rev. H. E. Turner, B.D. - for the chief particulars of Burwell, we are indebted to this gentleman) took possession of his benefice, about twenty-eight years ago, the church was considerably out of repair, especially the windows, which were greatly defaced, and the crocket-work nearly filled up with stones and mortar. On enquiry, he discovered that the revenues of one hundred acres of arable land had been given to adorn the church, and keep it in good order; but the money was appropriated to very different uses. After some exertion, he recovered the estates, though the writings relative to the donation had been burnt, with a view of diverting the income from its proposed destination; and during the last twenty years, by the judicious expenditure of the annual receipts, the church has been thoroughly repaired, and restored to its original state of primary elegance. The names of the persons who gave the hundred acres cannot be affirmed with certainty; but they are supposed to have been William Sygar, Thomas Catlyne, and ------ Foster. Burwell had anciently two parishes, and two Churches, dedicated to St. Mary and St. Andrew. The tithes of the former were given by Henry the Eighth to the University of Cambridge; and those of the latter, which was called the Dilapidated Rectory of St. Andrew, were purchased by the University about a century afterwards. The ruins of the west end of this Church have been removed within the last thirty years, and the church-yard converted into pasture ground.

The length of this village is upwards of three quarters of a mile: it consists chiefly of one irregular street. The houses are built with a peculiar kind of stone, obtained from the neighbouring pits; and many of the inclosures in the vicinity are surrounded with it. This stone is famous for making excellent lime. Pyrites, and many sharks' teeth, in good preservation, have been found in the pits wherein it is dug. The population appears to have increased with the last century, and the houses are at present insufficient to supply residences to the families who wish to live in the village. The male inhabitants are chiefly employed in agriculture, and the women in spinning. The parish contains 7000 acres, 3500 of which are fen lands, that are frequently overflowed in wet seasons. Of the remaining quantity, 2000 acres are appropriated to the growth of corn. The seed wheat they produce is in high repute, and much sought after by the farmers of the northern counties, as it grows faster, and comes earlier to the sickle, than that which is produced of most other parishes. The number of houses is 271; that of inhabitants 1250; of these 594 are males, and 656 females."

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The Cambridgeshire Canal & the River Cam

From "The Edinburgh Encyclopaedia", 1830
conducted by D. Brewster

page 295

"The Cambridgeshire canal commences in the river Ouse, at Harrimere, and terminates in the town of Cambridge. A cut of three miles extends to Reche, and another of three miles and a half to Burwell. The river Cam is embanked in all its lower parts above the adjoining fens. It has no locks in some parts, but it has sluices for making flushes of water to enable boats to pass the shallows."

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Edward Fitzball in Burwell

From "Thirty-five Years of a Dramatic Author's Life", 1859
by Edward Fitzball (pub. T. C. Newby)

The Old Fox Public House

[It was] "... in the rural and romantic village of Burwell, in Cambridgeshire, a village scarcely, at that period, known beyond the limits of its own county, that the author of these pages was born ... one side being screened, from the traveller's observation, by the great Danish embankment which crosses from the border of the fens at Reach, to the furthest limits of Newmarket Heath; and the other by the vast marshy level which extends as far as the eye can trace to the venerable and picturesque cathedral in the Isle of Ely.

In this old English nook, in an ancient house, overshadowed by a stupendous hollow elm tree, of great antiquity, designated the 'Cross Tree,' your humble servant first saw the light. The house, afterwards disposed of ... is now, from the convenience of its size, converted into a public-house, exulting in the unpoetical appellation of The Old Fox."


In 1897-8 (at least) Hubert HUNT, 'Cross Tree Cottage', Burwell, requested planning permission from Newmarket Urban District Council (see Access2Archives documents: Suffolk Record Office, Bury St Edmunds Branch). The 1901 census lists Herbert HUNT age 29 b. Yorks Leeds, living Cambridgeshire Burwell, Architect; and in Kelly's 1904 trade directory is HUNT Herbert, architect & surveyor, North st., Burwell.

The Statue of the Virgin

On the occasion of my mothers funeral, I returned once again to the old village. I could scarcely bring myself to believe that the houses had not grown much smaller! -- that the neighbourhood had not become less. All seemed so unlike the picture I had carried away in my heart. The charm of the place was gone. I scarcely knew my favourite haunts, and marvelled that I had once considered them so lovely. And so it is: past things measured by years of regret, when approached in after time, melt like the rainbow, it may be, into tears.

One thing amused me during my stay. As a matter of curiosity, they showed me, at Burwell, a small statue resembling the Virgin, carved in an ancient wall, which they said had been recently discovered, and proved, beyond a doubt, that this wall had formerly been part of either a nunnery or a chapel. It might have been, so far as regarded the wall, but for the Virgin, she remained as a specimen of my own handywork when I was a lad. So you see how your antiquarians may be misled or bewildered. There is an old cave, at Royston, in Herefordshire, which you are permitted, for a trifle, to descend, by a private entrance, there being no other, through a house. In this gloomy retreat, it seems, a lady hermitess lived in the days of Thomas a Becket. She died in this cave; her tomb is there, with her effigy above it. It was an imitation of this effigy, cut by me in the wall, which was now mistaken for the Virgin of the supposed chapel.

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The Swallow-tailed Butterfly (Papilio Machaon)

From "Farm Insects", 1860
by John Curtis

Carrot Insects, pages 408-9

"... an insect so far from common ... with a view of completing the history of the carrot insects, than from any necessity of guarding the agriculturist against its inroads ... As England has been better drained, many native insects are expelled from their ancient haunts, and are becoming extinct in some districts: this is the case with Papilio Machaon ... Some fifty years back, this conspicuous butterfly appeared annually in neighbourhoods where now it is never seen ... at present, if any one wishes to find this beautiful butterfly, he must go to the fens of Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, or Norfolk, where, at Burwell, Whittlesea, and Horning, thirty or forty may be taken in a fine day from May to midsummer.

The female butterfly will lay her eggs indiscriminately upon the leaves and flowers of carrots, the marsh milk-parsley (Selinum palustre), rue or fennel, in the end of May and in June. The caterpillars of various sizes and colours may be found feeding in June and July; and the butterfly is sometimes seen until the middle of August."


Quotations from 'Google Books Online'

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