BOUGHTON FEN – THEN AND NOW

 

Many of you will be familiar with Boughton Fen – a Site of Special Scientific Interest and County Wildlife site, a popular spot for bird watching, and a pleasant place for a family stroll around the Wildlife Walk. Of course it hasn’t always been like this.

Boughton Fen is located at the eastern end of Oxborough Road (old Fen Road) and covers around 40 acres to the south of the ‘T’ junction and straddles either side of the road that leads to Eastmoor to the north and Oxborough to the south. These parcels of land were assigned Poors’ Lands under the Act of 1801. An extract of which reads:

Poors’ Lands, Boughton, Norfolk

Three Commissioners were appointed under the Act passed in the year 1801 to enclose the common and waste lands of Boughton, and to divide and allot the same, estimated to be in extent 776 acres, 1 rood, 4 perches. On the 26th August, 1803, the Commissioners finished, and ordered their Deed of Award and plans to be placed for reference in the Chest of the Church of the Parish of Boughton.

“And we, the said Commissioners, do hereby assign , set out, and allot, as by the said Act directed, unto the Lord or Lords of the Manor Boughton, Overhall and Netherhall, for the time being, the Rector, the Churchwardens, and Overseers of the Poor of the said Parish of Boughton for the time being; and to the Proprietors within the aforesaid Parish of estates of the yearly value of £25; and to their respective successors for ever, in trust, as hereinafter mentioned, all that piece or parcel of land, containing by survey, 44 acres, 2 roods, 22 perches, part of the said common.” Here the Boundaries are described in the Deed of the Award, and are those of the parcel of land now known as “Boughton Fen.” Which said piece or parcel of land is the same piece mentioned and described in the Act, and directed to be allotted by us, in Trust, for the purpose of providing and supplying to the occupiers of each of the Commonable Messuages or Tenements now standing in the said Parish of Boughton, for the time being, and to the occupiers of each of the three following Cottages in Boughton, one belonging to Loom Brook in the occupation of Edward Whittrick and two belonging to , or in the occupation of, George Lewis and William Fincham, a quantity not exceeding nor not less than 4000 turves or flags, of the usual dimensions, for fixing in every year, and for the tenants and occupiers of all the commonable mesuages now standing in the Parish of Boughton, to use and enjoy right of common pasture over the said allotment, with such kind and number of stock as is hereinafter mentioned. For each of the commonable messuages, that is to say, 2 cows or 3 head of young stock under 3 years old, or 1 cow with 2 calves under 1 year old, or 2 geldings or 2 mares, with or without foals not exceeding 8 months old. And we, the said Commissioner, direct that the said allottment may be stocked and fed from 12th May until 11th October in every year and that from 14th February until 12th May in every year, the allotment shall not be stocked or fed with any kind of beasts or cattle whatsover.

“And we, the said Commissioners, certify that the said new fences enclosing the parcel of land in trust, directed by us to be made, with ditches 4feet 6inches wide at the top and of the depth of feet, perpendicular, with a sufficient number of gates, with oak posts and proper gate irons therein, have been made, and that white thorn layers have been set in the banks of the fences, and good thorns or other wood have been set on the summits of such banks. And we, the said Commissioners, have computed the costs and charges under the said act to be £1947 18s. 6d., to be paid by the several persons to whom allotments have been made, save and except the several persons particularly exempted on account of allotments made to them in trust as aforesaid from the payment of any of the said charges of the Act.”

It would seem that, contrary to the views of some, that the fen was also much wetter some of the time, than in recent years:

A flooded Boughton Fen looking towards White Bridge on the Oxborough Road

Around 1907, a Miss E.A.Pratt (housekeeper and niece of Richard Harwin) financed the building of a small chapel for the residents of Boughton Fen. Unfortunately it no longer stands. Interestingly, the house that Mark and I live in now was the home of Miss Pratt, who was given a sum of money by Richard Harwin to build herself a home – on the condition that she never married !!

Boughton Fen Chapel

Fast forward to 1965 – and the introduction of the Commons Registration Act. The Chair of the Parish Meeting was at that time Mrs Audrey Payne, who registered both Boughton Fen
(known as Boughton Common at that time) and the village green around the pond as areas of common land on 13th June 1968. Grazing rights were awarded to the four principal farms in the village – Field Farm, Church Farm, Hall Farm and The Poplars. Those rights go with the farmhouses, rather than the farmer. At the present time only one of these houses is still
occupied by the owner of the farm to which the right relates, the others having all become private dwellings with no interest in farming. The grazing rights are very specific, with each farm being entitled to graze a different assortment and number of beasts. Dates for grazing were specified, and ages for the permitted livestock given. The number of adult cows ranged from 2 to 12, presumably according to the prestige of the farm. As all these houses still exist, it is clear to see that they become progressively grander in keeping with the number of animals permitted.

At the same time, the cottage dwellers on the fen lost the right to dig peat for fuel.

The registration form reads like something from at least a hundred years ago – yet it was finalised as recently as 1972.

There was absolutely no interest in conservation then, or wildlife, or any of the other things that we value now. In fact, at one point it seems that there was a move to plough the site up and grow crops. Fortunately, the Ministry of Agriculture had no funds at this time, so this never happened.
Things did not appear to change until after 1983 when English Nature (the precedent of Natural England) identified the site as a SSSI.

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