Archive for the ‘Oliver Cromwell’ Category

The Great Fen project and Fen Ague

Fenland sky 

The Great Fen Project is an attempt to restore and return some of our natural fen heritage to an earlier state. The objective is to facilitate the regeneration of an ecosystem encouraging the return of greater wildlife diversity and habitat.

Having the oppportunity to watch flocks of waterfowl as they return to roost in a panoramic Fenland sunset is something I look forward to. Even aged 67, after spending my life in the fens, the limitless skies, the beauty of spectacular sunsets and sunrises, on a grand scale continue to fill me with awe.

One aspect of the regeneration of the fens seemingly neglected concerns me. Fen Ague or The Ague was a form of malaria once prevalent in the fens. Those that survived the infection were often revisited with its symptoms. Samuel Pepys was a famous sufferer as was Oliver Cromwell. He died at the relatively young age of 59 from Tertian Ague.

Starting with the seventeenth century and since large scale drainage has removed the stagnant pools of water – the breeding grounds for the mosquito disease carriers. Records were kept during the nineteenth century by county of the incidence of Ague or Malaria. Records have been correlated together with rainfall and temperature variation  Rates of Malaria infection were found to have fluctuated with temperature and rainfall. Warmer and wetter summer weather coincided with increases in the number of recorded cases. (1.)

Since the referenced article’s publication in 2003, evidence for climate change has become even stronger.  The assumption is that as a consequence the UK will become wetter and warmer. As the Great Fen Project develops, pools of stagnant water will grow in size and number.

Greater numbers of people from the UK are visiting areas abroad where Malaria is prevalent. This increases the probability that some travellers may return infected with the disease. These factors: increasing climate temperature and more abundent mosquito breeding grounds could see a return of a disease that had left these shores. Another concern is that warm air flows could bring mosquitoes infected with the parasite into the fens. I have expressed concerns about Fen Ague to those setting up the Great Fen Project.

Rex Sly on his blog post “Malaria in the Fens” (October 2007) believes that the extinction in the fens of the disease has been comprehensive.  He states that the disease-carrying mosquito species responsible has become extinct and there would need to be a pool of infection existing within the local human population. These factors he feels sure should be sufficient to prevent re-emergence of Malaria. Hopefully, Rex is right but the areas of concern I have outlined may outweigh this optimism. Increased international travel, disease evolution, larger bodies of stagnant water and a warmer climate could in the none-too-distant future provide a means for Malaria to return to these shores.

Hopefully, Malaria or Fen Ague is gone for good. However, at the very least, contingency plans to deal with the problem, should it arise, ought to be in place. The guardians of our welfare should, in my view, give this matter serious consideration.  Often in the past, the unthinkable and unexpected, have found us as a nation unprepared, even though, many timely warnings were given.

 

(1) 2003 article. (Malaria in Britain: Past, Present and Future, 2003. Katrin Gaardbo Kuhn, Diarmid  Campbell-Lendrum, Ben Armstrong and Clive R Davies).

 

Cromwell Walk in Huntingdon

The Falcon Inn Huntingdon

The Falcon Inn Huntingdon Headquarters of the Parliamentary forces’

Last Monday evening I joined a group of like-minded people for a guided walk to explore what was left of the Huntingdon Oliver Cromwell would have known. The tour had been organised by Huntingdonshire History Festival, our guide was Alan Butler, a long-serving volunteer at the Cromwell Museum.

Our group set off from the Town Hall heading for the North end of the High Street. It was here that Royalist troops entered the town following their thrashing at Naseby, to start what became known as the Battle of Huntingdon. The Royalists overcame local resistance and occupied the town for two days before withdrawing.

Moving South the next point of interest was Cromwell House, the site of Oliver Cromwell’s birth and home of his parents. Outside the house set in the pavement is a commemorative plaque one of several around the town. The original building in Cromwell’s time was a Priory. The house is now a care home.

St John’s churchyard is a little further along on the opposite side of the road to Cromwell House, Oliver was baptised here, the church was in a state of disrepair even then and didn’t survive the civil war pulled down near its end in 1651.

Moving along the High Street, Alan our splendid guide directed to cast our eyes to the roofs of the buildings on the George Hotel side. To the surprise of most of our group, we learned that most of these buildings dated from the seventeenth century. The twisted chimneys an important clue. My great-grandfather, then my granddad (his son in law) had a corn shop in one of these buildings no 63. I knew it was old but hadn’t realised it was that old. Now an estate agent the beams in the ceilings and in the party walls have been exposed and clearly visible, through the front windows. The George Hotel (outside). was the next stopping point, Alan said that Charles the First had his headquarters here for the two days the Royalists occupied the town.

On our left, as we moved southwards to what is now the Cromwell Museum. The rebuilt Old Grammar School where Oliver Cromwell and been a pupil and later one Samuel Pepys.

Cromwell Museum Huntingdon

The Cromwell Museum Huntingdon from all Saint’s churchyard.

All Saint’s church was next, opposite the museum occupying one side of Market Hill, there is another commemorative plaque set in the pavement just outside the church gates. Oliver Cromwell’s father Robert is buried here in the family tomb. An old former Huntingdon neighbour claimed to have shaken hands with Oliver Cromwell’s father when work was being carried out on the tomb.

The Falcon Inn to the left of All Saints also in Market Hill was used as the Parliamentarian’s headquarters during part of the Civil War, it was also reputedly the recruiting station for the New Model Army. Remaining original features of the Inn include the heavy oak doors and the first-floor bow window.

The Falcon Inn Huntingdon

The Falcon Inn Huntingdon Headquarters of the Parliamentary forces’

The present Town Hall directly opposite All Saints Church is built on the site of an earlier town hall. We walked behind the town hall passing the Market Inn, though old it isn’t thought to date from that period.

Moving south along the High Street we paused at Saint Benedict’s Court site of the church of that name. The church was said to have been destroyed by Royalist cannon fire during the Civil War. Stone reclaimed from the ruins of the church was used to build the Barley Mow public house in nearby Hartford.

Continuing along, Alan told us that lurking behind many of the present day shop and building frontages, older building remain. Again he directed our attention skyward to the evidence of twisted seventeenth-century chimneys. An open door from the High Street to one of the remaining passages gave us a glimpse of half-timbered walls on either side.

The present-day Hartford Road is shown on John Speeds map of the time, on the corner of which stands the Three Tuns Public House. My great-grandfather is recorded in the 1911 census as landlord (William Dixon). His daughter, my grandmother Lily, is shown in the record as working there, not Cromwell related but a bit of local history.

The Three Tuns public house Huntingdon

The Three Tuns Huntingdon

Saint Mary’s Church was our next port of call, this was old in Cromwell’s time, Robert Cromwell, his father had been one of its bailiffs. After passing more seventeenth century buildings, including the wonderfully restored 147 High Street, next to the former studio of photographer Earnest Whitney, we crossed the ring road to arrive at the stone bridge between Huntingdon and Godmanchester. During the Civil war, the central section was removed and a wooden drawbridge substituted as part of the town’s defences.

Entrance to Saint Mary's Church Huntingdon

Entrance to Saint Mary’s Church Huntingdon

After visiting the Bridge we made our way back beside the ring road to Castle Hills, during the Civil War the earthworks were used as defensive positions. The hill top commands a good view with firing positions for cannons over the river and the bridge. The site would have been larger in Cromwell’s time the encroachment of first the railway then the A14 has taken a sizable portion of the site.

We completed the tour near the Bus Station, at the town sign, lamenting collectively about the lack of a statue to Oliver Cromwell, in this his birthplace. He is described by Antonia Fraser as our “Chief of Men” and by Christopher Hill as “God’s Englishman”.

Thanks Alan for a most interesting tour.

If you fancy seeing what’s on offer at the Huntigdonshire History Festival try this site:

https://huntshistoryfest.wordpress.com/calendar-of-events/

 

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