Interesting History

by Edna Stacey

March is a market town on an island in the fens. The history of March is tied up with the history of the fens, a very interesting place in its own right.

fenland flood

The Formation of the Fens

About 10,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age East Anglia became severed from the continent to which it had once been joined. The sea level rose, the area flooded and the shallow basin of the fens was born.

map showing hypothetical extent of Doggerland satellite photo of Dogger Bank
Map showing hypothetical extent of Doggerland (c. 8,000BC), which provided a land bridge between Great Britain and continental EuropeThe red line marks the Dogger Bank, the remains of a Mesolithic era elevated area.
source: Wikipedia

Fragments of Jurassic clays were left behind after the ice receded and it is this unevenness of the basin floor that formed the islands on which we live today.

diagram of fen islands

The constant movement between the rivers and the sea formed a silt barrier and, after 3,000 years, the river water became trapped and the laying down of the peat began. As the climate became warmer, new trees began to grow crowding out the earlier ancient ones. Marsh plants began to appear and, as these died and reappeared, peat began to form allowing one foot of peat to form in twenty years, raising the fen and so encouraging other plants like the buckthorn, guelder and sloe. Before too long the open fen disappeared and forests emerged. The constant drying and wetness caused by incoming tides made the land swampy and the peat unstable. The trees could not survive the salt water and the forests died but afterwards the fen marsh came into its own again; the whole process repeating itself until by the mid 17th century twenty feet of peat was normal. Bog oaks, the ancient tree trunks preserved in the peat, are still ploughed up in the Fens today and although they are called bog 'oaks' they could equally be pine.

photo of bog oak

Early Inhabitants of March

Neolithic people, Bronze and Iron Age man all lived on our tree covered island which was approximately seven miles long and one mile wide. These people have left behind tools and clues to the sort of lives they lived. They most certainly used the 'causeway' to the north of March that was later improved and made into a road by the Romans to gain access to the higher chalk lands to the east and west.

The great Fen Meres at Soham, Ugg-mere, Ramsey and Whittlesey formed during the Iron Age period were, as well as a source for food, a valuable asset for movement from one area to another. The Fen folk used small boats made of skins stretched onto wooden frames, called coracles, and budgets, which were leather pouches, balanced one on each shoulder to carry water.

For more information, visit March Museum's site.