Archived reports of meetings in 2016

14th December

The March Society's Christmas Fun Quiz

Members, friends and supporters of the March Society spent their last meeting of the year enjoying a Christmas Fun Quiz. The theme was 'Scenes, objects and places in March'. Each question illustrated a feature of the town or a recent public event. The quiz was followed by a delicious festive buffet.

9th November

Fenland Ark: St Withburga's Floating Church

The fascinating story of the floating Church of Holme and Manea later known as the 'Fenland Ark' was the subject of the March Society's latest meeting. A booklet entitled 'The Fenland Ark' was written by John Bennett and published in 1983. The story was told to the March Society by his daughter, Kirsten. She stated that her father had spent some 10 years researching the booklet which is now in its 7th edition.

It is a story about the Reverend Horatio Broke, who, in 1896, was the vicar of Holme Parish. He had the idea to construct a church-on- a-boat. This arose because Fenland's mud filled roads were often impassable and the parish church could not be accessed by many of his remote Fenland parishioners.

His solution was to take the church to the parishioners by building a floating church and using the waterways. Towards the end of that year he cycled to Stanground and, at his own expense, arranged for a boat builder to build the floating church. It took 2 months to build and was delivered to Stokes' Bridge in his Parish in April 1897. It was dedicated to St. Withburga, sister of St. Etheldreda.

The church was towed by a horse, named 'Boxer'. Seventy baptisms, Sunday school and evening classes took place in the church and it had its own choir. The services were well attended and, if the barge became full, the overflow congregation stood on the riverbank. Sometimes some of the congregation or the choir suffered sea-sickness and had to leave the barge.

In 1904 the running of the Parish church and the church barge became too much for the Rev. Broke so the church barge was transferred to Welches Dam, Manea. However it was not used as much and eventually became dilapidated. In 1906 it travelled back to Holme, had its furniture removed, ceased to be a church and was returned to the boat builder who the sold it on.

It is unclear what then happened to the barge. One account says that it sank in 1912 and rests somewhere in the mud in the Nene Country Park. Another account says that it was recovered and eventually broken up for firewood.

12th October

The March Society Railway Event

Progress and updates about March Station and local rail services were given to the March Society by Adrian Sutterby (Friends of March Railway Station) and Alan Neville (Greater Anglia - previously Abellio Greater Anglia). Over the past year, in both organisations, there have been many changes and improvements with more on their way.

Adrian's presentation demonstrated how the Station is being transformed by FOMRS volunteers. Work on redecoration and refurbishment of some rooms on Platform 2, painting of the footbridge, new signage, re-painted fencing and a tannoy system have been completed. Future work will include further refurbishment of redundant rooms, extending a demonstration rail track, re-installing a toilet and a kitchen on Platform 2 and tarmacking the platforms. During the past year FOMRS have hosted several successful public events at the Station and is looking forward, in 2017, to holding a model railway event, an 'animal themed' event and a celebration of the 170th anniversary of the coming of the railways. Adrian's work and dedication was recognised recently by him receiving a Best Personal Contribution Winner Certificate from Greater Anglia. FOMRS have, over recent years, won a Certificate in all Station categories.

Alan Neville, customer engagement manager, explained how Greater Anglia had just won a 9 year rail franchise and have dropped the word 'Abellio'. March station continues to get busier. Transformational changes will occur including replacing the whole fleet of trains with over 1000 new carriages, increasing peak train seating by over a half, more electrification, doubling the number of trains between Norwich and Stansted, improvements to car parks, installation of new information systems on all Stations and, by 2018, having direct trains running between Peterborough and Brighton with stops to include March and Gatwick

8th June

Parliament, Government and How to Influence Parliament

Parliamentary Outreach Officer, Richard Edwards, gave a highly informative and interesting talk to The March Society on the workings of Parliament and how to make use of Parliament to assist in campaigns. Mr Edwards gave a summary of the history of the Commons Chamber and the Parliamentary system. Currently, apart from 650 MPs, there are 1500 employees working in the Commons and 500 employees in the Lords.

As well as approaching your local MP about issues of concern, it could be productive to use e-petitions. A minimum of 10,000 signatures are required to get a response from a Minister and 100,000 signatures to achieve a debate in the Commons.

It is also worthwhile finding out if there is a relevant all-party Parliamentary Group that may cover the issue of concern. If so, write to the members of the Parliamentary Group about your concerns. If your issue falls within the remit of one of the Select Committees then you can submit written comments to them when that Committee is taking evidence.

11th May

An Interesting Walk in Guyhirn with Brian Payne

Members and guests of The March Society enjoyed a pleasant evening stroll along Guyhirn High Road following an intriguing talk in Guyhirn Chapel given by Brian Payne.

Mr Payne, a member of the March Society, is an entertaining source of information about local history. Although much is still unknown about the Chapel, Mr Payne's research indicates that it was built in 1660 by the Puritans. It is constructed from brick and Barnack stone. It looks very much like it would have done when it was built, even down to the absence of lighting or heating. It is not known if the Chapel was ever consecrated but this hasn't prevented marriages from being held there. The original narrow wooden pews, presumably preventing Puritans from kneeling, are still in place.

In 1878, when the new Church of St Mary Magdalene was build further along the road, the Chapel fell into disuse. However it was brought back into use in the 1970s and it is now a grade ll listed building being looked after by the Churches Conservation Trust and the Friends of Guyhirn Chapel of Ease. Two services are held there each year and the Guyhirn schoolchildren enjoy having assemblies in it during the summer terms. In contrast, the much larger and grander Church of St Mary Magdalene which was built on silt foundations is now redundant, unsafe and gradually deteriorating. The evening ended with a look at the Nene Way at Rings End.

13th April

Reflections on People and Places of the Ouse Washes: Mike Petty

Mike Petty, ex-Cambridge librarian and now writer and lecturer on Cambridgeshire and the Fens, gave a fascinating and informative talk to the March Society about some of the people and communities that lived alongside the Ouse Washes between Earith and Denver.

Mike's presentation included the history of the Old and New Bedford Rivers and the attempts to reduce flooding from the River Great Ouse. He remarked that in recent years there have been increasing volumes of water overflowing onto the washes. This is preventing birds from nesting and cattle from grazing.

In the early 1970s the government funded a high speed, frictionless magnetic hovertrain project on a site between Earith and Sutton Gault and a train is on display in Peterborough. However, Government funding was soon halted in favour of the Advanced Passenger Train.

There were many tales of life in this area. Isolated farmsteads experienced difficulties getting labour forces and so had to offer bed and board in order to attract workers. The author, Ryder Haggard, wrote about smallholders in Little Downham. Manea Colony in the 1840s abolished money and instead, tokens were used to spend in local shops. Skating championships were held at Welney on the frozen water between the two rivers.