Fordham historian John Pryke writes on poet- James Withers and the closing of a tollgate.

The story of the Fordham poet, James Withers has been well documented over the years. He came to Fordham in 1824 and lived in Poets Cottage, by the River, for most of his life.

He was compared to another prominent rural poet, John Clare and received accolades from literary luminaries such as Charles Dickens and Tom Hughes (author of Tom Brown’s Schooldays). Queen Victoria was also an admirer.

More often than not, the story revolves around the three volumes of poetry that he published between 1854 and 1860, thanks to various benefactors.

There was also a compilation of all three volumes published in 1861.

Two more handwritten poems have been discovered in a copy of a compilation that belonged to Withers: Sing to me and Come into the Woodlands.

He also wrote many other poems such as Fordham Church, Fordham Fire Brigade, Fairy Revels, Granny’s Tales and another, as a tribute to Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria.

These have been mentioned in various village tributes to the poet.

But were they ever published? Well yes they were.

Withers died in 1892 but nine years later, his great friend, Janet Aspland enabled the poems to be published, along with the two he had handwritten in his compilation book, plus 32 others.

The fourth volume was called Fairy Revels-and Other Poems. It is a very rare book indeed.

This year is the 170th anniversary of Withers first publication and now in the same year, we can reveal the identity of volume number four.

In other Fordham history: on Friday, December 8, 1905, a notable ceremony was performed when the Fordham to Burwell Ness Tollgate was closed and removed.

The closing of the Tollgate followed a long-standing conflict of interest between public and private enterprise.

The Tollgate in Fordham closed in 1905.The Tollgate in Fordham closed in 1905. (Image: John Pryke)

The Tollgate was placed after the land enclosure act. But after the land came into the hands of The Crown, the district council chairman, began a painstaking crusade to remove it, stating it was an antiquated institution.

With the support of the county council and public alike, the mission was eventually accomplished.

A large crowd gathered for the ceremony and the district council chairman was the last man through the gate, paying the final ever toll with a new sixpence.