Could this happen now?
On 12 July 1993, the Lowland Counties Action Day was held at Metheringham, Lincs. Brett Collier, the then RA Lincolnshire Area President, spoke of the parish having arguably the worst paths in the worst county for public rights of way. Standing in the station yard, Stan Knaffler, the Ramblers’ Area Footpath Secretary, was able to point out a problem just over the fence!
The invited speaker, Cath MacKay of Sheffield Group spoke compellingly of the continuing problems of lack of reinstatement and crop obstruction on field paths. She stressed the need for local authorities to use the 1990 Rights of Way Act effectively; for landowners and farmers to recognise their responsibilities under the law; and for ramblers to continue to use difficult paths and to report every problem encountered to the local authority.
We had a press photographer standing by to rush the pictures to the local paper for a major article, and it was difficult to decide whether the unobtrusive police presence was to sort out traffic problems, prevent a riot, or to protect us from incensed landowners. In fact, none of these things seemed likely, as we crossed a couple of unbridged ditches, climbed some obstructing barbed wire fences, and walked in single field across unreinstated paths in fields either ploughed, or under sugarbeet or cereal. We were a sober lot, standing in the sun listening to the history of each sad case of obstruction, before walking carefully and quietly through the garden of a property illegally built across the line of a path, under the anguished eye of the householder, and the detatched gaze of a couple of policemen.
Roger and I were present on behalf of RA Cambridge Group, and I base the above on a report we made for our committee. We had not enjoyed going 100 miles to climb barbed wire fences, and walk through a private garden, but we felt this needed to be done, in the public eye, as a statement of the serious intent of East Anglian ramblers to see our rights upheld. In general, I have always agreed that the pen is mightier than the sword. The same year, there were a couple of walks on the local Cambridge programme, specifically designed to show members problem paths. These walks were not well attended – our members clearly did not want a route that was deliberately difficult, although they were ready enough to report problems to be passed to the County Council.
I suspect that an unwillingness to demonstrate would still be the case today, and, more important, it would be increasingly difficult (though not impossible) to find pockets of bad, obstructed or neglected paths. But especially in a climate of County Council cutbacks, we need to be vigilant, and, even if we don’t line up with placards and demonstrate, we need to keep the reports rolling in.
Your comments are invited.
The effect on the local landscape of Roman and Medieval Roads
In the April 2013 issue, we looked at the history of Wimpole parish, mostly in terms of site occupation from medieval times to the present day. Since then, the Ramblers’ Association has been consulted by the National Trust regarding a fairly large scale path rationalisation scheme, involving paths across Trust–owned pasture and arable land surrounding the core parkland.
RA Cambridge Group has commented on the proposals, and we await a further consultation. This has prompted me to look at the early history of roads and paths around Wimpole, and elsewhere, and to consider what factors from long ago have caused a road or path to develop or remain in the position we find it today. An inspection of parish boundaries on the OS Explorer 209 will show that Ermine Street forms a boundary of several parishes. So, going N from Royston, to the W of Ermine Street, we have Bassingbourn, Shingay cum Wendy, Arrington & Longstowe, all with a boundary on the road. Similarly, to the E are in turn, Whaddon, Wimpole & Bourn.
With the exception of Wimpole, whose settlement pattern was destroyed by incoming landowners, the layout of most of the parishes and villages hereabouts were determined by at least the medieval period, and often much earlier. The continuing influence of Roman roads through the medieval period and later is manifest. By medieval times, there remained in England at least 10 000 miles of Roman roads, built mostly by 150AD, but which had not been well maintained over the intervening 600 years. Many of these roads continued in use, providing a basic network. But elsewhere, many of the new medieval towns e.g. Oxford, were not on Roman Roads and new roads were needed to serve these and many new villages.
These new medieval roads were not a thin strip of land with definite boundaries, but rather a right of way, an “easement” with both legal and customary status. If the route was heavily used it became a physical track, but with provisos. If the road became obstructed, or founderous in wet weather, then the traveller had the right to diverge from it, even if this involved trampling crops. This was enshrined in the Statute of Winchester in 1285. Where the road climbed a steep hill or bank, multiple tracks would develop, the traveller taking the most convenient strand available at the time of use. Users of the modern footpath and bridleway network are often restrained from achieving such manoeuvres by restricting boundaries!
Most surviving sections of medieval road come into this “multiple track” category, where roads left cultivated land and tracks have not been ploughed out or otherwise destroyed.
A few new roads were built in the medieval period. Several royal statutes made requirements regarding road widths, or clearance to be made on both sides, for fear of highwaymen. The three causeways to Ely across fenland may constitute the largest medieval road-building works. The four great highways: Watling Street; Ermine Street; Fosse Way; and The Icknield Way were always regarded as being under the king’s special protection, which supports the idea that Roman roads remained in comprehensive use in the medieval period.
See also :Medieval Roads and Tracks by Paul Hindle (Shire, 2002).
On the Web…
If you have not looked recently, please try the Cambridge Ramblers website at http://cambridgeramblers.org/
I re-organised it last Autumn and am hoping it will be useful for ramblers to look up forthcoming Walks
and items of local news, events and other information.
Back copies of CANTAB Rambler are now on the website, together with an index to all issues, including
“Parish of the Month” – see http://cambridgeramblers.org/cantab-rambler/
This parish is sorely missing the path worker who cared for their paths for many years, and who has now retired. No one else has come forward to fill the voluntary position, and I have been asked to advertise the vacancy.
It would be hoped that the successful applicant would be able to do some “hands on” work (e.g. cutting back overgrowth around stiles) as well as liaising over more serious problems with the County Council.
If interested, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
The Drainage of Fens in The Wilbrahams, Fulbourn and Teversham
The very wet winter, and flooding of low lying land and footpaths in the Cambridge area, has prompted me to read again a very scholarly study by T D Hawkins, published by the author in1990, ISBN 0-9516533-DX.
Dr Hawkins carried out a field survey of local watercourses following two years of heavy rainfall, in the winter of 1987/8. With all ditches full of water the direction of flow was clear. Subsequent studies of the history of the drainage of the area, gave an insight into the very complex drainage system in these parishes. In other fen-edge parishes in Cambridgeshire, such as Rampton, Cottenham, Willingham, the watercourses have similar complex histories, which repay study, especially when (or before) problems threaten. This subject is of more than academic interest to the walker. Many of our rights of way run along the banks of ditches and drains. In low-lying areas, those paths that are not elevated may well be regularly unusable for a few weeks every winter, and in a wet winter, like the one just past, may be out of bounds for months.
The ancient lines of watercourses in the Fulbourn fens before drainage are marked by peat-filled channels in the gravels. Land levels overlying the peat before artificial drainage were higher than at present, and especially before the extensive works of the C18th and C19th. Improved drainage leads to shrinkage of the peat from dehydration, oxidation, and wind erosion.
Early changes to watercourses were promoted by watermills, some of which are mentioned in the Domesday survey. Streams were diverted to serve the mills which significantly altered the local drainage, creating 3 different water levels.
From medieval times until the middle of the C17th, there were growing pressures to reclaim fen for farmland. Manipulation of water levels by dams, sluices and drainage, and piecemeal reclamation of fen edges already occurred. In absence of co-ordinated effort, drainage in one place led to problems elsewhere, leading to conflict and the need for arbitration. In 1367, for example, “It was found by jurors that the Prior of Ely did obstruct the course of the water at Wilburgeham Magna …such as the Commons belonging in the town of Fulbourne were overflowed to the damage of the whole country”.
There is some documentation of changes to the courses of the Great Wilbraham River, the Little Wilbraham River and Black Ditch. Parliamentary Inclosure occurred in these parishes between 1797 and 1810, at which time capital investment in drainage was found to be financially rewarding, and a drainage system was devised by the Parliamentary Commissioners.
For example, in Little Wilbraham, 4 public drains were constructed along the newly created Short and Long Droves. A tunnel (made of a hollowed tree) was made under the bed of the embanked Wilbraham River, to take water from a drainage ditch to a new drain running to the west of Quy Water south of the Turnpike. New Cut was dug, and a new public drain was made to by-pass Hawk Millrace.
Fulbourn parish had 13 miles (1070 chains) of new public drains, following Inclosure in 1808, and Teversham had 6 miles of new public drains. Great Wilbraham had 3 miles of new public drains, also tunnels and bridges.
Further improvements in the drainage were made piecemeal until the 1920s, and may be traced by observation on large scale Ordnance Survey maps, especially those published after 1896. Cambridge Water Co. built a pumping station in 1891 to extract water from a bore adjacent to Poor’s Well, Fulbourn. (A display board on Cow Lane Fulbourn, gives the history of the site, and the adjacent pumping station is now called Telford House, the premises of consulting engineers). The pumping station was progressively upgraded and finally closed in 1988, but meanwhile in 1921, a new pumping station had opened adjacent to Fleam Dyke, in the same water catchment area. The lowering of the water-table due to extraction greatly reduced the flow of water from the springs feeding Great and Little Wilbraham rivers.
From the end of the C19th onwards, the drainage system had begun to deteriorate, due to inadequate maintenance, and the long-term effects of WWI. In 1931, the Drainage Committee of the Rural District Council responded to complaints of all-year flooding due to the poor state of repair of the river banks, over the lower courses of the Great & Little Wilbraham rivers. In spite of the setting up of an Internal Drainage Board, and site works, no very effective improvements were made until 1960s, when a more co-ordinated programme was gradually introduced.
Folded into my copy of Dr Hawkin’s book is a pamphlet, “Managing Water Resources” produced by the Anglian Region of the National Rivers Authority (NRA), following the Water Act of 1989. The NRA has since been superseded by the Environment Agency (EA) whose continuing efforts, hopefully, will be fuelled by the Government’s recent pledge for further funds to defeat flooding.
Cantab Rambler by E-Mail & Post
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This is a privately produced magazine, and the views expressed are solely those of the editor, or of the author of an individual item. Janet Moreton 01223 356889
Cantab 76 © Janet Moreton, 2014.