Not breaking news: A tractor crash, a seaside trip and a hanging 

archive feature

Some of the stories featured in our regular round-up of items from the archives. Thanks again to Mike Petty for his research. - Credit: Mike Petty

Thanks to the painstaking research of Mike Petty, we can again take you on a journey through time.  

And for this offering we reflect on a tractor crash from the 1960s, a memento from a hanging and a beet factory being built.  

There is an account of a village fire, a prominent mason and the absorbing story of a ‘museum’ at Littleport.  

Tractor smash - August 8th 1965 

Tractor smash - August 8th 1965

Tractor smash - August 8th 1965 - Credit: Brian Lane

A family of four and a tractor driver were taken to Ely RAF Hospital following a collision on the main Ely to Sutton Road near Wentworth crossroads. 

The car was extensively damaged at the front off side. The tractor turned over in the road and Police had to direct traffic around it until the Fire Brigade managed to get it clear. 

The condition of the tractor driver, from Grange Farm, Witcham and the family in the car was said to be satisfactory.  

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Photo by Brian Lane 

Potato Marketing - August 11th 1933 

Potato harvest in the Fens

Potato harvest in the Fens - Credit: Mike Petty

The Isle of Ely Potato Association decided no longer to maintain an office in Ely but will be the residence of the secretary at Littleport.  

He will take an office equipment and the remainder of the furniture will be sold. 

This would allow the association to voice the opinions of the potato growers of the Isle of Ely during the critical period while the Potato Marketing Scheme is being introduced.  

Owing to an increase in the acreage under potatoes and to exceptionally high yields, the home crop was likely to be very heavy and the low prices were an indication of the lack of confidence in the market.  

Imports of potatoes should be prohibited until the end of the year.  

Wisbech Hanging memento - August 14th 1925 

Public announcement of a hanging at Wisbech

Public announcement of a hanging at Wisbech - Credit: Fenland History on Facebook

John Beaumont of Parson Drove shared this poster of the execution of two men who had robbed a Methodist Preacher at Doddington and burgled a house in Thorney Fen in 1819 

Wissington Beet Factory - August 14th 1925 

Wissington beet factory under way 

Wissington beet factory under way - Credit: Fenland History on Facebook

Undisturbed for centuries, the quietude of Wissington is now being broken. 

And it will be considerably more broken in the near future by the presence of a large sugar beet factory which promises to be as progressive as any in the country. 

On the first of May the first brick was laid and now the whole of the brick work is complete. 

Upwards of 500 men have been employed in the gigantic task of constructing the factory.

Wissington beet factory - how it began

Wissington beet factory - how it began - Credit: Fenland History on Facebook

When in full operation it will absorb between 450 and 500 workpeople and have the distinct effect of reducing unemployment for miles around. 

All around there is nothing but huge fields covered with the verdant green leaves of sugar beet.  

There are 5,000 acres under cultivation which will be conveyed to the factory at the minimum transport cost due to a private railway 13 miles in length, the longest of its kind in the country.  

The factory adjoins the River Wissey on which beet can be conveyed in barges, while there are ample facilities for road transport. When completed will deal with 600 tons of beet a day, increasing to 1,000 ton 

It opens up a new field of prosperity for farmers on whose land apart from potatoes and celery, a lot of Fen fodder has been grown. 

Mepal Toll House blaze - August 14th 1925 

Photo: Mepal High Street

Photo: Mepal High Street - Credit: Fenland History on Facebook

A serious outbreak occurred at Mepal when an ancient and familiar landmark, the old Toll House, was burnt out.  

The house, situated on the western side of the main road from Mepal to Chatteris was a conspicuous building built many decades ago.  

It was an interesting link to past, of the time when its toll gates took charges of man and beast by virtue of ancient rights.  

Although the gates ceased to exist several years ago, the place is still known by its old familiar name ‘The Toll House’. The property belongs to Mr John Rayner and the tenant was Arthur Rayner. 

Photo: Mepal High Street 

Doddington disastrous fire - August 11th 1933 

Photo: Doddington 1930s

Photo: Doddington 1930s - Credit: Fenland History on Facebook

A disastrous outbreak of fire occurred on Mr. J.W. Welcher's farm in Ransonmoor, Doddington resulting in £2,000 damage.  

About 50 yards of farm buildings forming two sides of the square were burned to the ground and a straw stack of 12 acres and a mustard stack of nine acres were completely destroyed 

Two pigs and several sitting hens also fell victims.  

It is thought the disaster was due to a spark from an attraction engine. Mr Welcher and his men had been engaged during the morning in cutting chaff.  

He was removing the tackle and the engineer had just passed around the corner to the straw stack when he noticed a blaze on the top of the stack.  

No praise is too high for the energy with which the men connected with the tackle – Messrs Pond, Richards, Pope and Jackson and Mr Fresher resident on the farm - formed a line of buckets from the dyke to the fire.  

Many neighbours left their work in the fields and saved many implements since including the carts. 

Another source of anxiety were the two cottages in the yard. All the furniture was removed, as it was thought impossible to save them.  

One wonders what would have happened if the fire had occurred in the village where there are no dikes and not a single hydrant in the whole water system. 

Photo: Doddington 1930s 

Black Bank crowds August 11th 1933 

Black Bank Station

Black Bank station - Credit: Fenland History on Facebook

Monday saw large number of pleasure-seeking parishioners leave for various places of interest.  

At Black Bank station nearly a hundred were booked to Hunstanton, King’s Lynn and Yarmouth. Messrs Saberton and Youngs’ bus was taxed to capacity for Southend, and hundreds patronised the sports meeting and flower show at Ely 

Richard Spendlove adds: “I spent the greater part of 1964 as Station Master there - the resident man, having suffered a very bad road accident.  

“My porter there was a former 'Lodoner' by the name of Wally Pointer. The three Signalmen were David Arter, Doug Bullock and Jim Tuck, and the Relief Signalmen were Dick Desborough and Ted Saggs. 

“Ralph Stebbings was Crossing Keeper at Second Drove, Hilda Green was at North Fen and Mr Harnwell was at Third and Main Drove.  

“One of the customers at Black Bank, at that time, was a gentleman called Saberton - a man I was due to meet again fifty years later in somewhat different circumstances, and who died a few years ago. 

“Another customer was Messrs. W.B.Chambers. Yet another, less frequent one, was Messers Rowe Matchett and Till.” 

Ely Masonic Founder - August 4th 1933 

Worshipful Brother J.S. Barnett

Worshipful Brother J.S. Barnett - Credit: Fenland History on Facebook

Worshipful Brother J.S. Barnett has been presented with a wallet containing 26 guineas. 

It was to commemorate fifty-seven years as a Freeman and 26 years as the Secretary and Almoner of the St Audrey Lode, Ely.  

He became one of the founders of the Lodge in 1898. His word was recognised with an illuminated address in 1914. He has resigned owing to enfeebled health 

He was Headmaster of the Ely National School taught the majority of the present generation of Eleans. 

He was one of the first Headmasters to recognise the value of handwork. 33 08 04ES 

Photo: J.S. Barnett 

Witcham Church Restoration - August 11th 1933 

Witcham church 1938

Witcham church 1938 - Credit: Mike Petty

The restoration of Witcham’s beautiful old Parish Church commenced something like 30 years ago and has now reached its final stage.  

The annual garden fete was held in the very pleasant grounds of the Vicarage towards the £380 required to carry out work in the south aisle and porch.  

Attendance was limited because so many people were engaged in the harvest fields but in the evening, there was an increase and everyone supported the whole variety of stalls, side-shows and competitions.  

Several prominent people were approached to perform the opening but all were unable to accept. Mrs H. Flanders, a highly-respected resident, stepped into the breach.  

Photo: Witcham church 1938 


Littleport's Curious Museum - August 19th 1965 

Littleport museum

Littleport museum - a 'curiosity' - Credit: Archant

The curiosity of a small girl has caused her to build up a considerable museum.  

In a spare bedroom ten-year-old Frances Hatch and a friend, Miss Jane Parsons, have collected and labelled all sorts of curious from a kangaroo skin to Victorian christening gowns.  

Many of the exhibits have been donated by friends but the girls have spent a lot of their spare time searching for fossils at the seaside and in ancient pits. 

The natural history side boasts a fine kangaroo skin and a colourful array of stuffed birds. On the wall hangs a Zulu spear covered in monkey skin. 

More suited to a small girl’s taste is a Victorian doll, fully dressed in clothes of the period. Made of leather it has outlasted many other dolls and is now a centrepiece rather than a plaything. 

A more valuable display is that of many old and foreign coins and a replica of a gold sovereign. Queen Victoria gave permission for these small coins to be made for the children of the time to play with. 

The curiosity which was the foundation of the collection was aroused at school.  

The pupils there have a natural history corner which fascinated the girls. The museum has kindled wide interest amongst their friends and many have enjoyed this unique collection. 

Graven’s First Flower Ford - August 4th 1933 

James Graven & Sons, 1933, first commercial Ford

James Graven & Sons, 1933, first commercial Ford - Credit: Fenland History on Facebook

James Graven & Sons, one of the earliest of English Ford agents, has the distinction of marketing the first Commercial Ford fitted with an eight-cylinder engine which was specially constructed for them.  

It is an entirely new departure in commercial transport and can carry 770 boxes of cut flowers on its daily run to Covent Garden.  

Messrs Brooks and Sons, of Soham, the first in the field with this new type of machine, were also the first to transport cut flowers by road to London from their district.