Remembering the fen slodgers, the Chatteris woman who flew in a Fokker to bring home the birds and unpaid railway workers
PUBLISHED: 15:44 21 May 2020 | UPDATED: 15:44 21 May 2020
The Ely Standard for May 19, 1922 had a fine collection of interesting fen features. Here’s a random sample.
It would be difficult to imagine anything more dismal than the Great Level of the fens before drainage.
In winter a sea without waves, in summer a dreary mud swamp. The atmosphere was heavy with pestilential vapours and swarmed with insect.
The meres and pools were rich in fish and wildfowl. The Welland was noted for sticklebacks which appeared in dense shoals near Spalding every seventh or eighth year and used to be sold during the season at a halfpenny a bushel for field manure.
Pike were plentiful and frogs abounded. Birds of all kinds including whimbrels, yelpers and ruffs some of which have all since disappeared.
Mallards were so plentiful that 3,000 of them, with other birds, would have been known to be taken in one draught. Around the borders of the fens lived a thin and haggard population of fen slodgers who derived a precarious subsistence from fowling and fishing. Disease always hung over the district ready to pounce upon the half-starved fen men.
Their flocks consisted principally of geese. They throve where nothing else could exist being equally proof against rheumatism and ague through lodging with the natives in their sleeping places.
Even if this poor property however the slodgers were liable to at any time to be stripped by inundations.
Peterborough Haulage Company was sued for unpaid wages. The men claimed they were engaged at a rate of 46 shillings per week and were to have a bonus of 6d a ton on all goods loaded in the barges and put into trucks at Littleport station. From October to December 1921 they loaded something like 72 trucks of sugar beet, wheat and hay and these goods were carried on the barges to Littleport station.
The company boss said had the work being done satisfactorily they would have had the bonus. They were agricultural labourers and could not get on with the work so others had had to put up with congestion.
In visits to Littleport he could see they were slacking off and other gangs were complaining they were hanging back. The delay caused a lot of congestion and extra time.
Mrs J.M. Walker of the Ferry Poultry Farm, Chatteris has imported a new breed of fowl to England and in making a journey to Holland by air to obtain a huge consignment of chicks she also achieved the honour of being the first person to make the return flight in a day.
The breed is known as Barnvelder from the name of a little village in the north of Holland.
In that district, which closely resembles the fens, the Dutch peasants have for many generations bred this type of fowl. Its chief commercial characteristic has been the large eggs they lay which are the colour of mahogany in winter then become considerably paler.
She made her first tour in January and purchased thousands of day-old chicks.
She returned in March and brought over 1,500 chicks but the weather was severe, and she suffered a loss of 20%. However so great was the demand that with fair weather she made another trip and this time only seven died.
Her latest trip was made by air and on departure from Croydon aerodrome she was assailed by press photographers. Leaving in a Fokker monoplane belonging to the Royal Dutch Air Services Company Holland was reached in one-and-a-quarter hours.
On return a rough landing was effected, and the chords that held the crates were broken but although they fell not one of the chicks was injured in any way.
Although the journey by air makes the enterprise somewhat costly, she has endeavoured by reasonable charges to put the breed within the reach of the ‘backyarder’ who is the backbone of the poultry industry.
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