West Dereham Sign Gary Trouton

West Dereham Heritage Group

November 2011

October proved to be a busy month for our members with a lot of activity centred around meetings, getting the Heritage Room furnished in the Village Hall and supporting the Village Hall Committee with their plans.


The ever popular Mile Petty once again proved his worth the a lecture on the above subject held in St. Andrews Church on the evening of the 13th of October.

To report fully on the content of this subject would take far more space than I have available here. Mike has a vast knowledge of his subjects and although he does refer to his notes now and again his talks always flow easily with a mixture of fact and humour. I still have in my mind, as an example, the sight of a man on stilts driving through the knee deep water 400 head of cattle with the help of one small boy to another dry area of pasture.

The Fens at the time of the Civil War was an area covering over 500 square miles and stretched from Lincoln in the North, Peterborough to the West, Kings Lynn and the Wash to the east and Cambridge to the South.

There is archaeology to show the Romans had a go at reclaiming some parts realising the potential of the drained land to produce grain.

In the 17th century flooding during the winter months was a problem and it was realised that water from the uplands to the west were to blame. In the 1590s harvests were poor throughout the rest of the country due to heavy rainfall. Some places saw the arrival of Dutchmen escaping the invading Spanish armies and with methods perfected in their native country using wind driven machines to bring the water levels down.

It was known that if the water travelled fast enough it would scour out silt and other debris which would allow water to flow out through the existing rivers to the sea.. They had to be deepened to achieve this and a great supporter of this idea was Jan B. Westerdyke but his plans for draining the whole of the Fens had failed by 1630.

Up until this point the King had financed these projects but he now put the whole scheme out to private enterprise. Francis Russell the 4th Earl of Bedford along with his investors, the so called Adventurers, took up the challenge. Named the Bedford Level Corporation they employed Cornelius Vermuyden who also failed when his plans did not live up to there promise in1649 and again in 1665.

William Dodson, who had been employed on Vermuydend’s first scheme suggested combining the fen rivers into one outfall thus giving a good scour with the greater flow of water. He may have put forward the plan in 1649 when he was Director of the Bedford Level and again in 1665. During the Civil War he was appointed Governor of Crowland so had a wealth of drainage experience but by this time Vermuyden had succeeded, however his idea may have influenced the building of Denver Sluice.

Not all of Vermuyden’s plans were carried out as there was fierce opposition from locals, fenmen who became know as Fen Tigers who threw down his banks and filled in the ditches. They saw their way of life being destroyed which was pastoral farming, wildfowling and fishing, mainly for ells for which there great demand in towns and city among the poorer classes. Oliver Cromwell himself a Fenman, born 1599 in Huntingdon and living in Ely was sympathetic until the Civil war intervened and the money ran out.

Rivers still failed to sour fully in some years which again resulted in flooding.

Geographically the Fens were high enough to drain naturally provided there was adequate outfalls to the sea. Most of Vermuyden’s scheme achieved this by-passing the old twisting river course of the Ouse to Streatham and Ely by straightening it via Earith and on to Denver.

The part Machines and Mills played in all this I will deal with next month when I shall have more space.


The Village Hall Committee gave villagers to opportunity to see the progress of work in the refurbishment of the hall during the 16th & 17th of October.

Despite a poor turnout of only 45 people those who visited the hall were very impressed with the work so far. A letter distributed at the end of October states that the meetings and Concert booked to be held in the Hall had to be re-located or cancelled. It’s disappointing and frustrating not to have the premises ready for use when planned but there are always delays to a project of this size. The contractor has done a splendid job but he too has had his problems.

The time since then has allowed the final fittings and fixtures to be almost completed. I have visited the project on many occasions since the start and have been most impressed with the quality of the work done with the commitment and skill of the main contractor, R. J. Constable.

The Heritage Room is finished with our Cabinet Maker, Roy Marshall, delivering and fitting the work tops, bookcase and display cabinet during October all beautifully made in Chestnut. Furnishing and equipment will come next with an open day next year.

The Village Hall Committee and the Village Trust (formally the Millennium Committee) have put in a huge amount of time into managing this project from applying for grants, purchasing extra land, buying equipment to planting hedges.

They are to be congratulated for their dedication, the hours of time and community spirit that has provided our Village with such a superb venue for all future events and activities.


The concert was re-located to St Andrews Church and preformed by a group of seven singers, three Gents and four Ladies called The Upper Octave.

Our little Church clearly enhanced the music of these very talented singers who’s programme range from popular stage and film musicals, South Pacific, The King and I, Les Miserables and Phantom Of The Opera to the classics which included Tosca, Barcarolle, Handel and Bizet. Two acts with twenty five numbers preformed with a standing ovation at the final curtain and an encore to finished the show. Two hours which gave the audience a taste of London and New York’s musical theatre scene without having to travel to the capital to enjoy it. First class entertainment, highly recommended if you have not seen and heard them before.

Production credits to Christian de L’Argy, Rachel Duffield, Joan Hocking LLCM, Annette Phillips, Martyn Shults ALCM, Gus Woodcock and Heather Woodcock. Sound - Keith Turner, Lighting - Roger Thacker & Mike Cooper.

The audience were able to meet the cast when refreshments and a Bar were provided in the Bell Tower.

Christmas & New Year Greetings to all our readers from West Dereham Heritage Group.

Richard C. French.

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