Archived reports of meetings in 2014

10th December

Christmas Fun Quiz

The March Society held its first ever 'Christmas Fun Quiz'. Secretary and Quizmaster Andrew Clarke expertly and entertainingly asked the questions which were written by members of the committee and were all related to March town. Identifying past and present buildings, questions on March statistics and the river, plus photographs of mystery windows and Christmas lights were all part of a fun but challenging evening.

A welcome buffet break midway through the quiz gave everyone a chance to re-charge for the second half. Because of the successful evening The March Society is now planning to make this an annual event.

The winning team of Edna Stacey and Joan and Richard Munns were congratulated by chairman Jennifer Lawler.

12th November

The March Society Railway Event

Alan Neville of Abellio Greater Anglia and Adrian Sutterby of the Friends of March Railway Station (FOMRS) gave their latest very enjoyable and eagerly anticipated annual updates to the March Society.

Alan has recently been promoted to Station Manager at Liverpool St Station. He outlined plans and improvements that will have an impact on customers in Fenland. These will include electrification of mainlines, new trains and services, completion of crossrail in 2018 and expansion at Cambridge Station. Discussions about re-opening the Wisbech to March line are ongoing. From next year it will also be possible to take a train from St Pancras to Marseille without changing trains. He remarked that the 'Station Adopter' volunteers at March station continue to receive awards for their excellent work in maintaining the station's cleanliness and appearance. Alan apologised for the recent unacceptable situation at March Station in which there weren't any staff and both ticket machines were out of action for several days.

Adrian showed photos of improvements made by FOMRS at March Station over the past year. The group received a 'Best Community Project' award for its endeavours. All the flower tubs continue to be sponsored by local businesses and organisations. There are several rooms which have been redecorated and electrics installed. A covered up Victorian tiled floor was discovered in one room and this has also been cleaned up. A furnished room is now available for hire by any community group. The refurbishment work is continuing and an extension will be made to a demo track. Tarmac and fencing will be renewed. The group meets every second Saturday of the month and new helpers are always very welcome.

group at meeting

8th October

Life and Times

Cambs Times editor, John Elworthy, provided some very entertaining and informative reflections on his journalistic career at a meeting of The March Society. Starting as a 'village correspondent' in Norfolk at the age of 12 years. John included a description of working on a newspaper in Oxford in the 70s, meetings with Robert Maxwell and Margaret Thatcher and then spending some time working for Dr Billy Graham on an overseas tour. A brief flirtation as a prospective parliamentary candidate in North Norfolk in the 80s was an unforgettable experience. John gave several other amusing anecdotes about his remarkable career so far.

He also remarked that 'getting to the truth' can now be much more challenging. Layers of bureaucracy, biased public relations staff, spin and less transparency are current obstacles for all modern journalists. It is becoming much more difficult to get accurate information into the public domain. The impact of the internet, social media and technology are ongoing but one consequence is that fewer people are needed in Journalism.

John outlined some of the ongoing local political and other issues that are impacting on Fenland but stated that he always endeavours to keep to his 10 weekly objectives: inform, irritate, entertain, examine, probe, reflect, comment, expose, read and (most importantly) have fun.

3rd September

Year of the Three Kings

John Shaw, a retired music teacher from Burrowmoor School, gave a very interesting and enjoyable presentation to The March Society about life in March during 'the year of the three kings'. The very eventful year was 1936 and the kings were George V, Edward Vlll and George Vl. The only other time that there had been 3 monarchs in a single year was in 1066.

John's family has been associated with March town for over 100 years - particularly with Burrowmoor School. Whilst giving his talk, John gradually created a wall-to-wall display of his vast collection of documents, photos, currency, postcards, stamps and other memorabilia associated with March during 1936.

It included a copy of March's first telegram that was sent to King Edward Vlll by staff at March Post Office. A reply telegram from the king was received 10 minutes later. Also, at this time, red K6 telephone boxes were distributed around March and new sub-post offices were established. March Post office in Dartford Road is one of only 2 or 3 in the UK with the royal cypher of Edward VIII.

In 1936 the sport of speed skating was very popular in March and a local man, Donald Pearson, won the British Professional Speed Skating championship around Britain's first oval shaped course. The reporter for this event was Randolph Churchill - son of Winston.

In 1936 it was possible to take a train from Liverpool to Harwich via March without changing trains. The Whitemoor sidings and marshalling yards were renowned as the biggest in Europe.

6th August

Walk around Chatteris discovering some of the town's curiosities from the past

Members of the March Society enjoyed a very pleasant evening stroll around central Chatteris guided by Julie Smith of the Chatteris Past Present and Future Civic Society.

Julie's anecdotes about some old Chatteris buildings and families added to a fascinating tour that included the Parish church of St Peter & St Paul, the 17th century Cross Keys Inn, the site of the old Crown pub and theatre, the Boar's Head pub, a ropemaker's building and Lindsell's brewery.

A monument to Robert Newton of the George Hotel stands in the churchyard overlooking the hotel. The gravestone of the Reverend Gathercole , a Chatteris vicar who died in 1886, hints at his colourful and eccentric life.

The Crown theatre has gone and the Crown pub on High Street is now occupied by an accountancy business. Some of the cottages on the High Street remain and were used as location for a film made in the 90s. Traces of the old abbey and nunnery in Victoria Street stand behind the long established Starkey's butchers in Park Street. Several very old pubs have been converted to homes including the Boar's Head in Railway Lane with its superb thatched roof.

In the last century, prosperous farmers played a prominent part on the Council and invested in fine buildings in Chatteris town.

If you ask some of the older residents of Chatteris they may tell you tales about body snatchers and the wandering green toad man!

2nd July

AGM & "March Roads and Bridges" by Edna Stacey

At its AGM, the March Society chairman, Jennifer Lawler, outlined the Society's achievements and the wide range of activities completed over the past year.

Following the AGM, Edna Stacey outlined the development of Streets and Street names in March town centre. Edna stated that, previously to 1882, there weren't any Street names. The main road into March was originally from the current March Road via Knights End.

One of the main obstacles to building new roads was the Hythe River running under March town. For instance, the road running past the Stonecross needed to be raised. Yards End Rd, Bell Metal Lane and London Road were the original names for what have now become Elwyn Rd and Broad St. There were several bridges in the town. The Town Bridge was originally known as the 'Great Bridge'.

Edna commented on the construction and demolition of the Pig Market in Elwyn Rd. She also told of how of goods were unloaded from barges in West End Park but this was then prohibited because of the constant mess.

4th June

Middle Level Watermen's Club

The past, present and future of March's Middle Level Watermen's Club (MLWC) was the subject at the latest March Society meeting.

Stan Rust, representing MLWC, talked about the formation of the Club in 1963. Since then the local waterways have almost doubled in width and depth. They had been almost completely choked up with weeds and other growth. Navigation was impossible or extremely slow for any type of craft attempting to journey along the local waterways.

Before that time, there was no real interest in having leisure boats on the waterways but then a handful of enthusiasts, with assistance from the East Anglia Waterways Association, formed the MLWC. Founder members included Henry Breeze, Cecil Simpson, Charlie Fox, Lou Doubleday and Brian Gowler. A 50 year lease at March's British Legion Club was secured and this gave MLWC a base and the use of the British Legion's moorings.

As the local waterways became cleared up, the first boat rally was held in March in 1974. More and more vessels began to cruise there. MLWC membership increased and strengthened and a Commodore and Vice Commodore were elected. In the early 80s public interest in using the waterways for leisure began to increase. Charlie Fox of Fox Narrowboats built their Marina on the outskirts of March, the Middle Level Commissioners agreed to restore some locks and build new ones and parliamentary legislation was introduced requiring the waterways be kept in good condition.

In 2013 MLWC celebrated their 50th anniversary at their newly built £40,000 "Skoulding's Rest" base. The volume of craft now making the journey to March is continuing to increase. Stan added that the site is now used for the training of Cambridgeshire's Search and Rescue volunteer team and the MLWC may now create young person's Junior Section for canoeing activities etc. Stan concluded that members do not need to own a boat to join the Club and there are trips and activities for all.

7th May

Simon King - Renaissance and Conservation

Councillor Simon King's last public appearance as the FDC cabinet member for Renaissance and Conservation was to give a pre-booked talk on Wednesday, 7th May to the March Society. Simon explained that he had just been informed by the new FDC leader that he had not been given a position on the new FDC Cabinet and that the Renaissance and Conservation portfolio would be dropped or combined with other functions.

Nevertheless, Simon talked about the huge progress that had been made by FDC over the past year in dealing with the problems of derelict, deteriorating and dilapidated properties in the 4 Fenland market towns. The strategy was to develop partnership with statutory and voluntary bodies, seek early intervention, secure external funding and use legal enforcement if necessary. This had now resulted in the on-going co-operation with the owners of 61 out of 64 properties in Fenland that had been identified as being in most need of urgent repair or improvement.

To assist in progress, a Member Advisory Group and a Civic Advisor Group have recently been formed with representation from the Civic Societies of Wisbech, Whittlesey, March and Chatteris.

Simon outlined some of the convoluted and expensive procedures involved in using legal routes to enforce the improvement of dilapidated or abandoned buildings. Experience was showing that early intervention by FDC Officers is one of the most cost effective ways of preventing buildings from falling into disrepair and becoming eyesores. He gave a list of examples of successful interventions by FDC and Officers.

Simon concluded by stating that he would maintain his interest in improving neglected buildings and was confident that FDC would also continue with this important work.

2nd April

March Neighbourhood Plan

March Town Councillors - Jan French, Kit Owen and Rob Skoulding - addressed a lively meeting of the March Society to gather views about possible future developments to the town centre and its immediate surroundings. Jan also gave an update on some imminent changes. These include the demolition of the indoor market, completion of mixed housing along Gaul Road, installation of traffic lights at the Gaul Road/A141 junction and double yellow lines along that part of Station Rd adjacent to March Station.

The Town Council had delivered 11000 questionnaires to March residents in October and November last year. These asked for views and ideas about the future of the town. Although around 600 had been completed and returned, this is considered to be a good response. More consultations with the public, statutory bodies and interested parties will take place before a Draft Plan is submitted by MTC. It is essential that this Plan fits in with Fenland District Council's Core Strategy.

Central Government have instructed MTC, FDC and Cambridgeshire CC to build 4,200 new homes in March together with the infrastructure to support this expansion. The infrastructure will include new roads, schools, doctors' surgeries and leisure facilities.

Some ideas about where the new houses should be situated were discussed. There was strong resistance to the proposal of Cambridgeshire County Council to cover the Estover Park playing fields with 450 houses. The 3 councillors re-assured everyone that this would not now happen though there may have to be a reduced number of houses on this site.

Those attending the meeting expressed alarm at the potential of future traffic gridlock in and around the town. This is currently known to be a problem at certain times of day along Broad St, Dartford Rd and the Creek Rd entrance to Sainsburys. Without a new traffic management scheme, the town centre will not be able to cope with the additional traffic from the 4200 new homes.

The new housing is likely to result in more demand for rail commuting. So it was felt that the car parking at March Station would need to be expanded.

Ideas for the area west of the A141 March by-pass include high tech enterprises, a Science Park, small industrial units, an indoor Skate Park or a country park. It was also felt that more attention could be given to improvements in the use of the River Nene and the riverside in March.

5th March

Middle Level from Gravity to St Germans

A large audience attended the latest March Society meeting to find out about past and future action on flood defences in the Fens. Recent events in Somerset made this subject very topical. Iain Smith, Chief Executive of the Middle Level Commissioners, gave a very informative and amusing talk about the development and management of the flood defences in Fenland. He confirmed that Fenland is designated as being a flood risk area and that without the present flood defences most of Fenland would be under water.

Iain outlined the development of drainage in the Fens and demonstrated how historical and political events in England from the beginning of 17th Century have impacted on the development of the drainage systems. Over this time the original wide, meandering rivers have largely been replaced by long, straight channels. Vermuyden, Charles l, Oliver Cromwell, the Earl of Bedford, and Charles II are the early key drivers in the enormous project of draining the Fens One of the enduring problems in draining Fenland is that the land starts to 'fall' because of the shrinkage of the peat. This means that water then needs to flow uphill to eventually reach the Wash at Kings Lynn. Consequently the original 'gravity' drainage became ineffective. Steam, diesel and then electric pumps were necessary and they have been installed at strategic points. The six pumps at the new St Germans unmanned pumping station can now, if necessary, move water at the rate of up to 120 tons/sec (this would empty an Olympic size swimming pool in less than 20 sec). Iain mentioned that St German's is the second biggest pumping station in Europe after one in Holland. So far, all six pumps have not yet been required to operate at the same time. There are now some 80 pumps in the whole of the Fenland area - all pumping from a lower level to a higher level. Iain again emphasised that, without these, the area would flood.

One of the welcome bonuses of the drainage is the massive growth in biodiversity along and around the waterways. Water hogs, otters, eels and voles are now abundant as are a huge range of new flora.

New pumping station at St Germans

5th February

March Sconce and Cambridgeshire in the English Civil War

The mystery surrounding March's Sconce - a scheduled monument - was explored by Quinton Carroll in his presentation on 'Cambridgeshire in the English Civil War' to a large audience at The March Society's archaeological talk.

Quinton is Cambridgeshire's Historic Environment Team Manager. He gave a vivid account, illustrated with maps, plans and re-enactment photographs, about how the war was likely to have been waged in Cambridgeshire during the 1643-1651 period. The war ended with Cromwell's victory and Charles ll's defeat.

Quinton explained how the different roles of Pikemen, Musketeers and Dragoons were combined in the overall tactic of making the enemy run away - they were then killed whilst retreating. The population of England at that time was about 5 million and it is estimated that there were half a million casualties.

It is known that the Parliamentarians were strongest in the towns and the Royalists strongest in the countryside. Cambridgeshire had several Parliamentarian built bastions in the County to control strategic routes to and from the North of England. However, apart from the Battle of Huntingdon and the Battle of St Neots, there were no notable battles in Cambridgeshire.

The Sconce at March, similar to structures at Earith and Horsey which were described in detail, may have been part of a small defensive earthwork but it is still a mystery because it does not fit in well with the design of other defences elsewhere in Cambridgeshire.

8th January

Wildlife on the Tracks: Rings End Nature Reserve

Phil Clark, Cambridgeshire's Community Greenspaces Manager gave an inspiring talk to the March Society about developments at Rings End Nature Reserve.

He explained that the Rings End Reserve is the most northerly of the eight Nature Reserves in Cambridgeshire. It was deemed to be a local Nature Reserve in 2006 following the demise of the March to Spalding railway line in the 1960s and then the final closure of the line in the 1980s. The disused railway embankment and surrounding land was purchased by Cambridgeshire CC in 1992 Continuous Public Sector finance cuts mean that local communities are increasingly being called upon to help maintain natural habitats. In January 2013, a new voluntary 'Friends of Rings End Nature Reserve' group was formed. The group, with help from the 'March Wildlife' group is succeeding in maintaining a natural wildlife environment for the use and pleasure of local people.

Wetland and grassland are the main features of the Reserve. The water has attracted frogs, toads, newts and water voles whilst the grassland attracts a wide variety of bird species (including some rare warblers), grass snakes, dragonflies and some mink. Marsh Harriers have recently been spotted there. Many varieties of wild flowers are surviving in this habitat and they help to provide food for the insects and for the many species of butterflies There are public pathways through the Reserve and events for the public, schools and other organisations regularly take place. Wildflower Walks, Wild Play, Pond Dipping, Dragonfly Walks are organised throughout the year. One of the most popular events is the Dawn Chorus Walk which starts at 5am For the future, Phil is hoping to obtain grants to develop aspects of work in the Reserve, to provide training for volunteers and also to provide facilities to allow more access for disabled persons There are monthly workparties for volunteers on the 2nd Sunday of each month.

Further information about volunteering is available from the Friends of Rings End website, or by contacting Phil (01223 715686)

Rings End Nature Reserve