Chatteris camel chaos, Wilburton wine and Ely impresario all have a story.  

 Photo: John Sneesby senior in the vineyard, 1974

John Sneesby senior in the vineyard, 1974 - Credit: Mike Petty

Thanks to the efforts of Mike Petty, we retrace some of the news and features stretching back to the 19th century.  

You can keep up to date with his researches through his  Fenland History on Facebook group.

Etheldreda’s Wilburton Wine - Fen Times September 25th 1974 

Wine from an Isle of Ely vineyard at Wilburton may be on sale for the first time in the spring. Harvesting will go ahead in four weeks’ time.  

“The crop is ripening up very well at present”, said Mr Norman Sneesby, who works the vineyard with his family. 

It is planned to sell the wine under the name of St Etheldreda. She was founder of the monastery church at Ely whose monks produced wine in medieval times 

Isleham Cock Theft - Fen Times September 25th 1908 

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Robert Taylor of Isleham, labourer said he lived at the Cock Inn, Isleham Bank with his father-in-law. 

He shared a bedroom with the prisoner had been lodging in the house for a month working at the harvest.  

On Sunday he had four pounds in his possession. He placed the money in a box in the bedroom.  

He missed the money on Monday after the prisoner had left 

Police Sergeant Day arrested the prisoner at Prickwillow.  

He searched him and found the money. The prisoner said “You will have to hand that money back to me. You can't swear to money, it is not marked”.  

The policeman noticed he had a new pair of trousers, which he had bought from Mr Edwards’ shop in Prickwillow for four shillings and six pence, and also a shirt.  

He was remanded in custody. 

Whittlesey brickworks - Ely Standard of 26th September 1924 

Whittlesey brickmaking 

Whittlesey brickmaking - Credit: Archant

Bricks made in Whittlesey, go to the houses, factories, and public buildings all over the United Kingdom and elsewhere. 

The industry provides steady employment for about 700 of the male population of the town and district.  

The total average weekly output is 2,800,000 bricks but that is greatly below what is required by current demand and the yards work at full pressure.  

The process commences in the knot-holes – vast pits of clay some 80 or 90 feet deep, where the clay is cut away from the surface of the seam.  

Perched at giddy heights the knot-hole men perform this work, which in brickyard parlance is known as ‘barring’.  

The clay thus loosened is hauled in waggons to the surface on specially laid narrow-gauge lines where it is ground up in pans.  

After passing through elevators and a screening process, the clay is returned to the pans. Chutes and hoppers then convey it to the presses where it is cut into shape and from thence the green bricks are taken to the kilns for burning.  

These vast structures are divided into chambers, some of which have a holding capacity of 22,000 bricks. The number of chambers to a kiln varies from eight to eighteen in the various yards.  

After the kiln is set comes the long process of burning which usually takes about three weeks; the fires are kept burning continually.  

When the bricks are burnt, they are taken from the kiln and are shortly ready for load and dispatch to their destinations. 

Ely’s New Red, White and Blue - Fen Times September 23nd 1965 

New pub, the Red, White and Blue, Ely

New pub, the Red, White and Blue, Ely - Credit: Mike Petty

The new building, replacing the old Red, White and Blue, is a new public house design with convenient service arrangement compared with the small, badly-lit rooms of the old public house. 

The exterior reflects the forward trend in design and lettering of new houses in the Watney Mann Group with due importance given to extensive parking to accommodate all the customers cars.  

The old Red, White and Blue will give way to gardens and lawns, designed to enable the family to relax, man and wife to enjoy quiet refreshment while the children play safety away from traffic and car park. 

The interior incorporates two well-appointed and comfortable bars where customers can enjoy Stewart and Patters 

Ely’s Impresario - Fen Times September 25th 1931 

Impresario Jack Hulbert

Impresario Jack Hulbert - Credit: Mike Petty

Jack Hulbert the brilliant actor, dramatist, manager and producer was born in Ely in 1892.  

He was educated at Westminster School and King's College, Cambridge, where he first showed signs of his flair for theatre. 

Jack took part in the concerts and productions of the various university dramatic clubs, including the Footlights Club for whom he appeared on three occasions in their annual May Week productions at the New Theatre. 

He later married his manager’s daughter and took part in a number of other plays. 

In 1934 went into management on his own. With his brother, Claude Hulbert, he has broadcast on half a dozen occasions.  

Dodge Beet Trucks - Fen Times September 23nd 1938 

Dodge Trucks ad

Dodge Trucks ad - Credit: Archant

Harvest your sugar beet and make sure your profits with dependable Dodge Trucks.  

How much of your harvest goes to pay for its transport? Too much? Then here's the answer to your problems. The Dodge Truck.  

The range incorporates many improvements which mean bigger loads transported more quickly, safely and dependable than ever before.  

They include small turning circle, hydraulic brakes and the famous Dodge balanced load distribution which gives easier loading and greater safety at higher speeds. 38 09  

Soham Downfields windmill struck by lightning - Fen Times September 24th 1937 

Downfield Mill 1930s

Downfield Mill 1930s - Credit: Mike Petty

The old wooden mill Downfield, one of Soham’s oldest landmarks, was struck by lightning, causing extensive damage to the structure and mechanism of the milling apparatus. 

The unsettled weather was suddenly broken by a terrific crash resembling a violent explosion which shook up many houses in the vicinity, rousing many late sleepers from their beds.  

It is fortunate this happened on Sunday, as fatalities would have followed on any other day, when work is being done.  

Chatteris Camels Chaos- Fen Times September 23rd 1887 

A gang of elephants and camels passed through Chatteris in connection with Sanger’s Circus. 

They gave such a shock to the nervous system of the horse belonging to Mr Thomas Triplow that the animal swerved and backed the cart into Mr Darnell’s private window. 

It smashed a few panes of glass, breaking the sashes. 

Littleport young ‘huddled away in dark places’ - Fen Times September 24th 1937 

A discussion on the suggestion there should be a Sunday evening cinema show for charity led to the expression of strong views concerning the moral welfare of the young people of Littleport. 

Mr. Warren referred to young couples who had nowhere to go after the church and chapel services. 

They were to be found huddled away in dark places, dark roads and ‘holding up gates as facilities were not provided to enable them to sit in each other's company in comfort.  

Mr Hunt, manager of the Regal Cinema would arrange a cinema show on a Sunday night.  

“If we turned this offer down, we cannot truly say, we are their guardians, we are more or less condoning adultery”, he said. 

March new pump - Fen Times September 24th 1937 

A new pumping plant at West Fen March to drain the 4th March Drainage District.  

The floods of last March severely tested the old engine and the state of the boiler made it imperative that something be done to cope with anything approaching a repetition of the deluge early this year.  

Engineers have been busy installing the new engine and it was tried out; a difference of 4-5 inches was made in the level of the main drain in a few minutes.  

The area from which the engine drains water into the Nene comprises 6,000 acres and 15 miles of drain.  

The new engine directed by Farrow and Sons is a six-cylinder paraffin driven type capable of discharging 58 tons of water a minute. It can be quite easily started and operated by one man  

Wisbech tragedy - Fen Times September 22nd 1979 

Harrier crash of 1979

Harrier crash of 1979 - Credit: Wisbech Standard

Stunned and exhausted the Mayor of Wisbech spoke of the appalling tragedy which rocked his town. Coun Bob Lake was one of the first on the scene of the disaster. 

A RAF Harrier jump jet totally destroyed two houses and a bungalow following a mid-air collision.  

“I just ran for the smoke as fast as I could. When I arrived in Ramnoth Road my heart stopped”, he said. “I was informed that there was a man and a child trapped so I started tearing at the rubble.  

“The remains of the three buildings were on fire and gas filled the air. The three people who died were a former Mayor of Wisbech, a 40-year-old man and his 2½-year-old son.