Did you bite your husband's leg?  ‘No, he knocked all my teeth out- I could not bite his leg’ 

Shaving, peat and carrots - three of the stories featured in our archive feature 

Shaving, peat and carrots - three of the stories featured in our archive feature - Credit: Mike Petty

Fond memories again to be found in our weekly look through the archives. 

Historian Mike Petty is, of course, our source and through his Fenland History on Facebook we can find miscreants in the courts, tragedies of every day life and news of commerce both on a small and a grand scale. 

We begin with a barber. 

Fred’s last shaves - Fen Times September 13th 1974 

Fred Dobson shaves Estate Agent John Grain 

Fred Dobson shaves Estate Agent John Grain - Credit: Mike Petty

Ely hairdresser Mr Fred Dobson is still shaving customers and tending hair at the age of 85. The family business started in 1739 and now, five generations later, is entering its last chapter. 


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In his museum-cum-salon in St Mary’s Street hangs a 1730s print showing his great great great grandfather shaving a jolly side-boarded customer.  

Mr Dobson began his barber’s artistry as a lad of seven, lathering the customers. He is famous for the bald patches' recipe cure perfected through the five generations of the business.  

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He was also well known for his wigs. 


Polish Carrots - September 15th 1950 

Selling carrots, Magdalene Street, Cambridge, 1964

Selling carrots, Magdalene Street, Cambridge, 1964 - Credit: Mike Petty

The Farmers Union heard that an announcement had been made by the Ministry of Food, that carrots have been added to the list of items that could be imported from Poland.  

This was considered completely ludicrous especially because home growers had large stocks on hand, which were sufficient to last for several months. 

The National Farmers Union had written to the ministry, drawing attention to the large supplies of home-grown carrots, and the position of the oversupply of vegetables generally, recommending that adequate regulations of imports be provided to prevent the worsening of the situation.  


Wisbech in 1740 - The following was published in the Wisbech Advertiser of June, 1855 

Wisbech Market Place, 1840s

Wisbech Market Place, 1840s - Credit: Mike Petty

Wisbech seems to take considerable starts in improving its appearance once in about every 100 years.  

We find in 1740 a windmill occupied the centre of the present Market Place; a large pond the centre of the Old Market; and an open sewer ornamented the north side of High Street, which was crossed by three little bridges.  

Planks were laid from these bridges to the other side of the street for those who had the courage to pass over the loose silt. 

But in 1750 the streets were first paved, the mill removed, and the pond filled up. 

 A few years after that, the fine old stone bridge was built.  

The inhabitants at that time began to improve their shops, for in that year (1750) a Mr. Quinton, of St. Ives, put in a handsome shop front with glass and let it to an enterprising young man, a Mr. Stanroyd, at the yearly rent of six guineas.  

The rates of 1855 were considerably more than the rent of 1750; but the handsome shop front of 1750 was not considered quite up to the taste required for shop fronts of 1855. 

This week the chisel and hammer have been busy removing it, to make way for one more in accordance with the present taste, when the bulls' eyes of 1750 will be succeeded by the plate glass of 1855 


Ely a Port Prospects - ‘Ely Chronicle’ January 11 1845 

Ely it appears, is about to become a very important place. 

The facilities for the profitable employment of capital appear to be growing great, few places being so fortunately situated as to have railways branching in every direction. 

Besides this, successful efforts have been made to navigate the river up as far as Ely with vessels of from 70 to 80 tons burden. 

These will no doubt cause a great deal of the coasting trade to be transferred from Wisbech and Lynn to Ely.  

The New Year has begun well with us; from one to two thousand quarters of corn have already been shipped within the last three days. 

And we have had an arrival of a vessel laden with coal from Newcastle.  

It is to be hoped that the Navigation Commissioners will faithfully perform the trust reposed in them for the improvement of the navigation and drainage of the fen land, by deepening the river between Ely and Littleport. 

Much inconvenience to merchants and crews would be spared, and the difficulty of getting captains to come up the river would be overcome. 

Besides, the income of about £3,000 per annum would be preserved from injury consequent upon the making a railway from Lynn to Ely.  


No More War at Haddenham - Fen Times September 14th 1923 

A No More War demonstration was held on Haddenham Village Green.  

Mr C.J. Morris said: “We had been told that the last war was a war to end war, but that the danger of drifting back to the same old mode of thought and diplomacy was already apparent”.  

The object of the meeting was to cling to ideals of peace.  

The meeting expressed its abhorrence of war and militarism and affirmed its belief that the peace of the world can be secured by the support of the League of Nations.  


Peat Digging almost extinct - Fen Times September 14th 1934 

Peat digging at Burwell and Wicken

Peat digging at Burwell and Wicken - Credit: Mike Petty


Peat digging at Burwell and Wicken

Peat digging at Burwell and Wicken - Credit: Mike Petty

Peat digging is now practically extinct in this county except in the Fens.  

One of the few places where it is cut is Swaffham Fen and it is stored at Wicken. 

Once there were more than 40 turf diggers in Swaffham Fen, now there are two, Mr. Bailey, and another who is not whole-time. 

Mr. Bailey has been a peat cutter for nearly 40 years, and doesn't expect there will be anyone to follow him.  

It is rough work in a bleak district though the season is only from March to the end of September. In winter the cutting stops as the peat will not dry.  

The work is then the disposal of the season's cuttings which is stored in sheds. 

Big loads are taken by water to Wicken where Mr Bailey stores his peat.  

Ely Aerial Display - Fen Times September 14th 1934

Cambridgeshire Times archive

Cambridgeshire Times archive - Credit: Archant

Thousands of people flocked to a field on Downham Road Ely for the return visit of the National Aviation display, organised by the king of air-aces, Si Alan Cobham.  

Many hundreds stood behind the road on either side to watch what was undoubtedly the most wonderful aerial exhibition ever seen in this district.  

From the time of the arrival of the giant Handley-Page ‘Clive’ air-liner with its convoy seven aeroplanes and a glider until the last flight at dusk, this troupe of intrepid airmen delighted and thrilled. 

The programme opened with a grand formation flight and air salute by all the aircraft filled with passengers.  

Another feature was the parachute descent by Mr Ivor Price. Standing on a special platform built on the wings of the air liner, he was carried to a height of several hundred feet before he pulled the cord to release the parachute.  

The silk canopy streams out of its case and, on opening, it snatched Mr Price from his perch to make an easy landing near the control tower a few seconds later 


He knocked my teeth out ... I could not bite his leg, 1885 

Edward … a cabdriver living on the Newmarket Road, Cambridge, was summoned for assaulting his wife, Harriet 

The complainant, a smartly-attired young woman, stated that her husband came home about half-past eleven, abused her, knocked her about, kicked her and threatened to do for her. 

Cross-examined; You have been married since 1877?- Yes. 

And you have lived a “cat and dog" life? - Yes, latterly.  

He has brought into the house another woman, whom he has been living with in London. I suppose you have brought other men into the house? Not before his face. 

Did you bite your husband's leg? - No; he has knocked all my teeth out in front; I could not bite his leg. 

From further questions, it appeared that her husband had not kept her for four years, and that she had been living a disreputable life.  

The Bench imposed a fine of 40s and costs. The Chairman characterising the assault a most cowardly and gross one.  

He had reason to believe that the wife was not quite to blame for her misconduct and the life she was living. 

Alice Coxall's Autograph Book 

Alice Coxall's Autograph Book

Alice Coxall's Autograph Book - Credit: Alice Coxall's Autograph Book


Alice Coxall's Autograph Book

Alice Coxall's Autograph Book - Credit: Alice Coxall's Autograph Book

These are two of the entries in an autograph book kept by Alice Coxall of Wicken during the Great War.  

The original is carefully kept by a Stretham resident who kindly allowed me to make a copy. 


March fire confused horses, 1885 

The ringing of a fire-bell startled everybody, and, on inquiry, it was found that a house belonging man named Overstall, living in West End, March, was in flames. 

The brigade quickly mustered at the Engine house. 

The horses which are usually supplied by Mr. Gage, of the Griffin Hotel, were all in use at a wedding, consequently other horses had to be got, and these were not used to running together, and great confusion ensued. 

They, however, soon got away, and succeeded in arresting the progress of the fire, though not before the house was burnt the ground, and also two other houses adjoining.  

There was high wind prevailing at the time. Some more outbuildings little way off also caught fire but the origin not known. 

The origin of the fire is attributed to child playing with matches in some outbuildings at the rear of the premises, 

Inefficiency of police - ‘Ely Chronicle’ January 4 1845 

Isle of Ely Quarter Sessions Prisoners 

Charlotte Mackman of Tydd St. Giles, (respited from last sessions) charged with stealing 8 yards of print from Edward Ground, draper of Wisbech.  

Verdict guilty – one year’s imprisonment, first and last week solitary confinement, the prisoner had been imprisoned on a similar charge for four months. 

Sarah Willis, of Ely, pleaded guilty to a charge of stealing a drinking glass from Isaac Haggis of Ely. 

Robert Southwell – charged with stealing two swans and a cygnet the property of Thomas Tasting of March.  

Verdict guilty. A numerously signed testimonial gave him a good character. Two months hard labour. 

Harrison Southwell, of Wimblington, convicted of stealing a sack found guilty, also of other offences, sentenced deferred. 

Susan Stratton indicted for stealing a piece of ribbon from Mr. W. A. Rogers, of March. Verdict guilty six weeks imprisonment. 

At the termination of the duties of the Grand Jury, they presented a petition to the Court, setting forth their opinions as to the inefficiency of the Isle of Ely Police Force. 

Upon which the chairman was understood to say, in reply, that he doubted if it lay in the province of the Grand Jury to present such a petition. 


Shippea Hill Rail Inquest - Fen Times September 13th 1906 

Ely Coroner held an inquest at the resident of Mr Hanslip Long, Shippea Hill into the death of a widow who was knocked down and killed at Shippea Crossing. 

She had been to the Fish and Duck where she paid for her husband’s harvest beer.  

On returning she saw the train but started to go over the crossing at a tidy stroke and was hit.  

It was getting dark and they had to strike three matches before they could recognise the body.  

She was a strong-minded woman and it was difficult to persuade that class of people to do what other people wanted. 

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