Skating, wildfowl and the initials WM – for William Marshall, whose charity has helped the village so much over the past three and a half centuries.

The parish of Welney is divided by the Washes between the Old and New Bedford Rivers, the hamlet of Suspension Bridge lying to the east. Faden’s map of 1797 shows a bridge already in place over the Old Bedford but crossing the New Bedford at that time involved a ferry ride. A suspension bridge replaced the ferry in 1826 – although the ferryman still found employment across the Washes in the winter right through to the middle years of the 20th century - and remained in place for a hundred years before it was replaced by a bridge of another design. However, the community still retained its name deriving from the previous structure. In turn, this second bridge proved inadequate for modern lorries and was replaced seventy years later in 1996. Prior to 1826 the little community that grew up at the ferry crossing was identified as Washington on the first edition of the Ordnance Survey (1824) although Faden does not name it.

The 1:10560 OS map covering Welney in the last two decades of the 19th Century is very helpful: https://www.british-history.ac.uk/os-1-to-10560/cambridgeshire/017/sw Note the various pubs, including the Welney Hotel, on the Old Bedford River close to the Manea Colony, and the two schools.

(Copyright Norfolk Museums & Archeolgical Service)The suspension bridge in Welney was built in 1826 by Capt Sir Samuel Brown at a cost of £3000 and replaced in 1926. The bridge was entirely funded by the Revd William Gale Townley. Brown also built the Union suspension bridge at Berwick upon Tweed in 1820 and the Chain Pier at Brighton (the first seaside pleasure pier) in 1823. In the above photograph the banks are considerably lower than at the present time and the Crown public house is visible on the far right.

The Revd Townley was the rector of Upwell cum Welney before the two parishes were split. He married Harriet Pratt, the second youngest of the thirteen children born to Edward Roger & Pleasance Pratt of Ryston Hall, in Ryston Church on 17 June 1846. In 1851 they were resident at Beaupre Hall, Outwell. The Hall has a fascinating history – final demolition coming in 1966 (see Outwell chapter)

The concrete bridge over the New Bedford River 1926-1996 carrying the A1101 Littleport to Wisbech Road (www.welney.org.uk)

From time to time the A1101 road across the Washes is flooded and becomes impassable under several feet of water, causing major disruption to local communities as it is the only crossing between Denver and Mepal. Closure was particularly protracted for a period of nine weeks from December 2006.

The flooded Causeway (www.edp24.co.uk)

Such disruption serves to emphasise the close relationship between the drainage of the parish and its economic development over the years. Until the mid 17th century opportunities for settlement were limited. It is perhaps surprising that Bronze Age artifacts have been found in the parish though the hostility of the environment would have held defensive advantages in these early times. Roman settlement is more in evidence and several buildings and a salt production site have been excavated.

Until the later years of the 13th century Welney stood astride the main Ouse in the form of the Old Croft River until its diversion at Littleport to Brandon Creek took away most of its volume. The A1101 utilises the roddon created by this former river bed for its route through the village of Welney itself but the main road then extends north of the roddon after Welney House Farm en route to Upwell. The Old Croft River remains today as a small stream that flows northwards to enter the Middle Level Main Drain just south west of Three Holes not far from its junction with Popham’s Eau. From this point to Christchurch it forms the county boundary between Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, its meandering course entirely due to the mature wanderings of the Old Croft.

Bryant’s map of Norfolk only shows part of Welney since the south western part of the village, later to be known as West Welney, was then in Cambridgeshire:

Welney, Norfolk in 1826. The parish boundary with Upwell is the broken line that partly follows Dickson’s Bank. The former church in the village is marked (x)

The parish church of St Mary the Virgin dates from 1848 and is a handsome well-maintained carstone edifice that replaced an earlier church. The cost was largely met by the William Marshall Charity. Registers go back to 1642 but not a great deal is known of the old church that was taken down. A substantial rectory was added in 1864. Kelly’s Directory of 1883 says that the William Marshall Charity was then worth £700 annually having increased tenfold from earlier values. The Charity, dating from 1661, consisted of an estate administered by trustees with instructions to donate one third to widows of the parish and two thirds to the church, schools and roads. William Marshall was a 17th century lawyer from Lincoln’s Inn (admitted 1647) probably working on legal issues arising from the drainage of the Fens. He, reportedly, became ill while visiting Welney and was so well cared for by the villagers that he set up a charity for the benefit of the community. The parish in the 1880s was partly in Norfolk (population 527) and partly in Cambridgeshire (499) making a combined population of 1026 in the 1881 census. Welney did not become a separate parish until 1846, prior to that it was a chapelry of Upwell in the parish of Upwell cum Welney. In 1895, that part of Welney lying in Cambridgeshire (approximately 1800 acres) was moved into Norfolk and became known as West Welney. Previous to that a detached part of Upwell had been annexed to Welney in 1884.

St Mary the Virgin, Welney, looking south across the Old Croft River from Main Street. The first rector, appointed in 1848, was the Revd William Hilton Hutchinson who served until his death in 1872 – he is buried in the churchyard, as are both the Revds Wilford and several other rectors.

http://www.norfolkchurches.co.uk/welney/welney.htm has more information. Inside St Mary’s there is a noticeable bowing of about 300cm upwards of the floor to the centre of the nave caused either by an upforce in the centre of the nave or by the weight of the walls pressing down.


The village's World War I memorial to the 22 men who lost their lives can be found in the church and the Roll of Honour website has more information http://www.roll-of-honour.com/Norfolk/WelneyMemorial.html

The stone reredos by the altar was erected by friends of the Revd Edward Russell Wilford, rector from 1872-1899. He was buried in Welney on 22 Nov 1899, aged 63. Son Herbert Hignett Wilford, who was born in 1865 when his father was curate at St Peter’s in Upwell, was asked to take over in 1899 by the Revd Charles Francis Townley of Fulbourn Manor, Cambridge, holder of the avowdson. He was buried in the village, like his father, on 18 February 1938, aged 73, so ending 66 years of service to Welney by the Wilford family.

Charles Francis Townley (1856-1930) – Rector of Christchurch in 1891 - was the son of Charles Watson Townley (1824-1893) Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire 1874-1893 who, in turn, was the son of Richard Greaves Townley junior (1786-1855) MP for Cambridgeshire 1831-1841 and 1847-1852. All, in turn, held the right to appoint the rector(s) of Upwell and Welney. Family researchers will know that there were two William Gale Townleys, one the rector of Upwell cum Welney, appointed to the living in 1812 (succeeding Jonathan Townley) and who died in 1862 (and was buried at St Peter’s, Upwell on 22 May aged, aged 74), the other (1827-1869) the younger son of the above Richard Greaves Townley. The advowson was transferred in 1932 from Charles Evelyn Townley (died 1983, aged 96), son of Charles Francis, to the Bishop of Ely. The Townley family still hold the avowdson of nearby Christchurch (Dorothy L Sayers’ father, the Revd Henry Sayers, was in post there from 1917-1928). Downham solicitor William Townley (1803-1866) was a member of the same family.

An excellent booklet, available inside St Mary’s, describes the history and fabric in detail. A small church within the domain of Ramsey Abbey was thought to have been built in Norman times at Upwell and the list of rectors of the parish goes back to 1214. A chapel under the authority of St Peter’s in Upwell is known to have existed by 1440 when the death of the curate John Bayker was recorded.

The oldest houses in Welney do not go back beyond the late 1700s as far as is known, earlier ones having been demolished or rebuilt. The Almshouses were built in 1848, also by the William Marshall Charity. They were originally six but, following a serious fire in 1963, were rebuilt as four units. Chestnut Avenue was built just after World War II. Taymor Place replaced a row of old properties known as Church Row, facing Main Street, in the 1960s.

A long list of commercial interest in Kelly’s Directory testifies to the thriving self-sufficiency of the village in late Victorian times (1883):

Jeremiah Jacobs, Parish Clerk (born Welney 1823); George Stokes, postmaster & grocer (born Welney in 1859 and who married Julia Kimmons in 1882); Walter Bearcock, master, Old School; William Boyce, carrier to Wisbech, Tuesdays, Thursdays & Saturdays, also florist, New Road; Edward Russell Wilford, rector, born Madras 1837, living in the newly built rectory; Barnaby Baker, blacksmith; Morley Beart, farmer & landowner; John Blows, wheelwright, son of Samuel Blows; William Blows, beer retailer at the Happy Home and farmer of 45 acres (born Welney 1825); John Camm, born in Welney in 1837, shopkeeper & shoemaker; John Whitehead Campbell, Eagle Tavern, Old Bedford Bank; Frederick Charles Coe, Lamb & Flag; Samuel Dalton, farmer, Copes Hill – shown as a grocer & draper in the censuses of 1871 and 1881; Thomas William Dalton, Samuel’s son who took over the grocers & drapery business; James Failes, farmer, Lake’s End – born Edmonton and married to Agnes Beart, daughter of John Beart, in Welney in 1874; John Hills, beer retailer, Cherry Tree, born in Hilgay 1812; Walter Hook, farmer of 79 acres; George Jackson, farmer, The Grange; John Kent, bricklayer, Wisbech Road (born Welney 1832); Henry Lavender, at the Three Tuns, & coal dealer, Old Bedford Bank (born Welney 1829); William Loveday, farmer of 184 acres & brickmaker, Wisbech Road; John Lunn, farm bailiff to R Beart Esq; Joseph Morton, farmer of 440 acres & landowner, Welney House; National Skating Association, sec James D Digby; John Ones, bootmaker, Old Bedford Bank; Merrington Porter, brickmaker (born in Welney in 1843), he later moved to Salter’s Lode but was buried back in his home village in 1909; William Prothero, farmer; John Rudland, shoemaker, Wisbech Road; William Snelling, draper, Wisbech Road; John Southwell, farmer (There were two John Southwells of similar age in the village. One, born Warmington in Northants, was landlord of the Lamb & Flag in 1871 and 1881, his wife was the former Mrs Sarah Betts from Southery according to the 1881 census, but Ryston was entered in the return for 1871. The other, born in Upwell, was running the Welney Hotel in 1871 and married to the widow Caroline Clarke. He was farming in Upwell in 1881); Robert Watkinson, shopkeeper, Wisbech Road; William Watson, farm bailiff to W Little Esq; John Winters, machine owner & farmer of 60 acres, Wisbech Road; Mrs Mary Ann Winters, grocer, draper & baker, Wisbech Road.

No mention is made of the two mills details of which can be found at http://www.norfolkmills.co.uk/Windmills/welney-smockmill.html and http://www.norfolkmills.co.uk/Windmills/welney-mill-farm-smockmill.html

Mill Farm smockmill

Entries for Hundred Foot Bank, including Suspension Bridge, were Charles Thompson, master & lay reader, Mission School; William Golding, carpenter & wheelwright – a farmer of 13 acres living next to the Carpenter’s Arms in 1881 (born Manea 1813); John Grimes, beer retailer, Wry-necked Mill (in the 1881 census, at least); Richard Hibling, farm bailiff to W Little Esq and responsible for 310 acres – his widowed father William, aged 83, born Little Downham, is living with the family in the 1881 census; Joseph Jackson, shopkeeper; William Scott, farmer of 40 acres; George Scotting, beer retailer, Carpenter’s Arms (born Littleport 1842); Lewis Sissons, beer retailer; Richard Taylor, beer retailer – the last two mentioned being the Crown and the Cock, presumably. The former was landlord of the Welney Hotel in 1891.

Tipp’s End entries were for Mrs Elizabeth Bensley, widow of William, carrier to Wisbech via Upwell on Saturdays – William died before the 1881 census and his wife carried on the business; John Bensley, farmer, of 13 acres near the Baptist chapel in the 1881 census; Thomas Bidwell, Rutland Arms; John Lee, engineer, from Bardney, Lincolnshire; Joseph Prior, farmer of 65 acres; Anthony Rolfe, farmer; and George Smart, engineer. On 02 December 1852 Thomas Bidwell (born Welney 1829) married Temperance Oatey or Otey (‘Otay’ on the marriage certificate) in Welney, a fine name for a publican’s wife. Was this the reason she was entered as ‘Sarah’ in the 1891 census (when her birthplace was given as Nordelph)? Temperance died in 1907, aged 73, and was buried in the village, outliving her husband by some eleven years.

Of those mentioned, Morley Beart was farming 244 acres in 1881, employing 11 men and 3 boys. There were two Morley Bearts born in Welney in the early 1840s. One, christened on 25 November 1842 was the son of James, a carpenter, & Elizabeth (nee Beart). In the 1851 census, Elizabeth is shown in the family home on Low Bank while James, innkeeper & carpenter, was ‘not at home’, being resident in Norwich prison. Morley was a servant in the household of Charles Bates in Magdalen in the 1861 census, aged 19, but his whereabouts thereafter are unknown. The other, born 05 April 1841, was the son of John & Harriett Beart, who were farming 340 acres in Welney in 1861. Another Welney Beart, Robert (1801-1873), son of William Beart, a farmer, and Susanna (née Scott) achieved success as a brick and tile manufacturer to the extent that he warrants inclusion in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Initially he farmed with his father but soon moved to Godmanchester where he lived for the rest of his life. His first business was in milling but in 1833 he patented a machine to mass produce drainage tiles, reducing the price from 35/- per thousand to 20/-. The machine itself cost 12guineas. Other inventions followed, particularly for the production of perforated bricks that were lighter than traditional bricks and, in the absence of a frog in the latter, bonded better. The perforations also speeded up the drying process.

By 1851, Robert owned a brickworks in Godmanchester employing 15 men. In the following year, Beart’s Patent Brick Co Ltd built a new brickworks at Arlesey in Bedfordshire to work the local Gault clay and produce a very pale brick. Production was highly mechanised using steam power and by 1858 annual production at the Arlesey works had reached 8million bricks and 1million drainage tiles. The nearby Great Northern Railway, which arrived in 1850-51, facilitated distribution.

In 1846 Beart became mayor of Godmanchester for the first of six times; the last occasion in 1870-71. His two sons took over the business and successfully merged with other local brickyards to form the Arlesey Brick Co (Beart’s) Ltd in 1898. It became part of the London Brick Company in 1928.

The Beart name goes back a long way in the Welney registers. One assumes that ‘Bert’ in the earlier records is the same name with Thomas Bert marrying Sarah Brees (Breeze?) on 03 June 1683. Thomas appears to have been born in 1652, son of William. The earliest burial, that of ‘Lidya’, daughter of Thomas, appears in 1664. The first entry with the spelling ‘Beart’ occurs in 1691. Jacqui Beart kindly adds 'Thomas was the son of William and William's father was Thomas also, died 1649. Lidya was the daughter of the older Thomas, William's father. Her name is spelt Ledea in his will.

Grateful thanks to Jacqui Beart for additional information. She can be reached at fifi_fandango@hotmail.com

There has always been a close relationship between Welney and its waterways. In Victorian times the Old and New Bedford Rivers were important routes for the carriage of goods, in particular, and some passengers. The Old Bedford became a focus for housing and commercial development. Pubs such as the Three Tuns and the Eagle in Welney were drinking houses but also offered accommodation for the numerous carriers of bricks, coal and other industrial and agricultural products who plied the waterways. Many cottages along the Old Bedford have now disappeared and pubs have been converted to private houses. Mill Row, a modern bungalow, stands where there was once a mill and five cottages. In Suspension Bridge there is a similar pattern with school and pubs now private dwellings.

Closer to Welney but actually in the parish of Manea is located Colony Farm in an area known as Manea Fifties. One of the 19th century’s most radical thinkers, Robert Owen, came to speak in Wisbech in 1838 at the instigation of James and Caroline Hill. Owen had already established the model village of New Lanark in Scotland and inspired, amongst others, William Hodson, an Upwell farmer and lay Methodist preacher who purchased 200 acres of land by the Old Bedford River. In July 1839 Hodson led a hundred-strong band of colonists to found this new community. Adopting the motto ‘Each for All’, many were idealists, early socialists with an optimistic view of human nature, while others simply sought the opportunity for a better life free from the constraints of unemployment, low wages and the workhouse. Modern brick cottages were built together with a pavilion, school and windmill for grinding corn. Money was abolished and it was replaced by vouchers exchangeable in the community shop. They even had their own periodical, ‘The Working Bee’.

Reconstruction of the Manea Colony from a model by Ernest Clayton in the Octavia Hill Birthplace Museum in Wisbech (www.welney.org.uk). The vessel on the Old Bedford is sailing north.

Colony Farm (Courtesy Ordnance Survey)

The Colony failed; and for all the expected reasons, too, which included internal strife, local suspicion, and the inability of townspeople to settle into country life and so on. Hodson got into financial difficulty, probably associated with the collapse of James Hill’s bank, and within a few years the colony was finished. Hill moved to London to recover from a nervous breakdown and restart his life – Octavia Hill was his daughter, instrumental in the foundation of the National Trust and commemorated in a museum in Wisbech established in her childhood home. Local people took over the Colony’s land but after World War I Cambridgeshire County Council purchased what became known as Colony Farm and provided smallholdings for returning soldiers to work the land and strive for self-sufficiency.

Organised ice skating in England started in the Fens at Welney. In Victorian times it was a popular recreation but it was also a major spectator sport. A crowd estimated at 6000 was reported to have watched Wiles of Welney defeat Porter of Southery when the national championships were held in 1870. The first of the great Welney skaters is said to be William ‘Turkey’ Smart (1830-1919). He acquired his nickname from his style of skating – he was the first man to adopt the position that all speed skaters use nowadays, being bent forwards to reduce wind resistance and increase power.... supposedly reminiscent of a Norfolk turkey! When he started winning all his races his style was copied by other skaters, and the nickname stuck.

William ‘Turkey’ Smart, left, and William ‘Gutta Percha’ See (Wikipedia)

Larman Register (1830-1897) from Southery was champion from 1850-1854 but he was then defeated by Turkey Smart in a race over two miles. From his first championship title in 1854 until late in the 1860s, Turkey's domination over speed skating was threatened by only one man, William See, and he too came from Welney. See's nickname was 'Gutta Percha', from the tough rubber used to make boot soles and golf balls - 'Gutta Percha' See was as tough as old boots! Only after 15 years at the top did Turkey and Gutta Percha start to be defeated by younger skating champions from elsewhere.

However, a new generation of Smarts and Sees arrived on the skating scene to restore Welney to pre-eminence. George Smart, eldest son of Turkey's cousin Charles, took the speed skating championship in 1878 and was nearly unbeatable for the next ten years. He was eventually beaten by his younger brother James Smart. And almost the only skater who ever beat James was his cousin George See, son of old Gutta Percha. Not that this was the end of the story – Ernie James enjoyed national success in the 1930s and Reg Scott was national champion from 1947-1952.

There is a full account of Turkey Smart’s life in Wikipedia: Turkey Smart was born in 1830 on the banks of the Old Bedford River. He didn’t go to school and from an early age was working as an agricultural labourer. In 1852, aged 22, he married Susan See, also a 22-year-old agricultural labourer from Welney. They had 11 children (George, Robert, Emma, Henrietta, Harriett, Hannah, William, James, Joseph, Frederic and Mary Ann) of whom only one – James (born 1865) - became a skater. A month’s cold spell in early 1855 saw Turkey Smart winning 13 matches at Outwell, Salter’s Lode, Welney, Benwick, Mepal, March, Deeping, Ely, Peterborough and Wisbech in front of crowds of thousands. Each match consisted of four rounds skated in pairs over a 2 mile course, with the winner and runner-up skating a total of 8 miles in a day. His prize money for that month's skating came to £58 15s and a leg of mutton – the equivalent of about 2 years’ earnings for an agricultural worker.

Turkey Smart continued his winning streak until 1861, when, hampered by a scythe injury to his leg, he shared the title with his brother-in-law and main rival on ice William "Gutta Percha" See. There followed a series of mild winters and when the championship was next held in 1867 Turkey Smart and Gutta Percha See were outpaced by younger men.

Undeterred by defeat and his leg injury, Turkey Smart continued to skate competitively into his fifties. An editorial in the Times, written 26 years after Turkey Smart’s death and looking back to the golden age of Fen skating in the last decades of the nineteenth century, described him as "a glorious has-been".

At one match in Mepal in 1878 Turkey Smart and Gutta Percha See (aged 48 and 45 respectively) both won their first rounds. In the second round they were drawn against each other and Gutta Percha See won in a close finish, only to be beaten by his 16-year-old son George "Young Gutty" See in the semi-final. Young Gutty See then lost to his cousin George "Flying Fish" Smart in the final.

Although he usually lost in the early rounds of matches, Turkey Smart was still a force to be reckoned with. In January 1879 he got through three rounds of a match at Littleport, defeating nephew Jarman Smart along the way, only to lose in the semi-final to nephew Young Gutty See. The following day he was beaten by nephew Fish Smart in the second round of a match at Ely. Three days later he was a second-round loser at Swavesey having easily beaten one of Lancashire's best skaters in the first round. Later that year the first British professional championship was held under the auspices of the recently established National Skating Association. Turkey Smart lost in the first round, but received an ovation from the crowd.

In 1881 Turkey Smart skated in a 1 mile race at Edgbaston Pool, Birmingham, and although coming in behind his fellow Fenmen, managed to beat the best of Birmingham by 250 yards. In his sixties, Turkey Smart was still taking to the ice for exhibition races.

Six Smart and See cousins from Welney dominated British skating in the last 2 decades of the nineteenth century. Brothers Fish, James and Jarman Smart were the sons of Charles Smart and Phoebe See (sister of Susan Smart and Gutta Percha See). James "Young Turkey" Smart was Turkey Smart’s son. George and Isaac See were the sons of Gutta Percha.

Fish Smart won three consecutive British professional championships in 1879, 1881 and 1887. His brother James was British professional champion in 1889, 1890 and 1895 and also took the title of world professional champion in Holland in 1895. George See was British champion in 1892.

Turkey Smart and his wife both died in 1919. They lost five grandsons in World War I. Turkey's grave in Welney churchyard, complete with skates, can easily be found.

In all, 22 villagers gave up their lives in the 1914-1918 conflict and seven in 1939-45. Martin Edwards’ excellent ‘Roll of Honour’ website has full details, as far as they are known.

The first mentions of Smarts in the Welney registers come with the baptism of Abednego Smart, son of Abednego, on 28 April 1661 and the baptism of Katherine, daughter of Robert, on 22 August 1669. Burials commence with that of Dorothy, another daughter of Robert, on 23 January 1668. The first marriage is of that of John Smart to Katherine Salter on 21 June 1688.

The Sees came into the parish later with the first recorded burial in 1780 and baptism in 1784. Both these instances relate to children of William See who married Susanna Deck in Welney on 02 November 1779.

For much more on Fen skating, please see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fen_skating

Welney has its own website (see References) which is full of information about the village and its history. It records how Friday Bridge CC were dismissed by Welney CC in the 1920s for 0 in 4.4 overs and how Horace Kimmons featured on BBC radio in 1937 with his photograph in Radio Times rowing across the Washes to deliver his mail. Horace’s younger brother Percy, also a postman, was killed at the Somme in 1916, aged 34.

Three Nonconformist chapels were built in Welney in the later 1800s, all of which have been closed and converted to residential use.

Jonathan Billinger

’Zion’, Calvinistic Baptist chapel, Tipp’s End, built 1878

Primitive Methodist Chapel, Main Street, Welney dated 1890

The Old Chapel’ at Suspension Bridge, a hundred metres or so south along the road to Littleport, was formerly a Primitive Methodist chapel built in the 1870s

There were once two schools in the parish, one on either side of the Washes. The Church of England Old School was erected for 130 pupils at the same time as the church. Average attendance in 1912 was 78. It is now less than 40. That at Suspension Bridge, called the Hundred Foot Church of England School, and also commonly referred to as the Mission School, was built in 1874 for 80 pupils. The Mission School was also licensed for divine worship, with services every Sunday.

The longest serving schoolmaster at the Old School was Walter Bearcock who was born in Ely in 1854 and remained in post from 1883 until 1919 – 36 years service to the village. The 1901 census shows that he was unmarried and was assisted in the school by his niece, Ann Bearcock, aged 32, who was born in Stow Bardolph, the daughter of Walter’s oldest brother George. Their father, Edward, was a 38 year-old basket maker in Ely, where he was born, in the 1851 census. In the 1891 census Ann, aged 22, was entered as ‘housekeeper and sewing mistress’. Since the time of Walter Bearcock, two other headteachers have given particularly long periods of service: Charles Ray served for 23 years (1925-1948) and Bryan Turner for 28 years (1957-1985).

Aerial view of The William Marshall School c1970 (www.welney.org.uk)

The William Marshall School in 2009. Older former pupils may remember electric lighting being installed as late as 1951.

The Old School was opened in 1848 and owes its existence to monies made available from the William Marshall charity and a donation of land by the rector William Gale Townley. Prior to that, from 1827, a school existed in the vestry of the chapel that preceded the present church. Numbers on roll have fluctuated considerably over the years, falling in the 1930s when Hundred Foot Bank children transferred to Ten Mile Bank and rising again when Lake’s End school closed in 1977. Final closure came on 31 December 2015.

Lake’s End school – the school bell is still in place. Originally built as a Board school in 1876 at a cost of £2000, it was expanded in 1893 and again in 1910 to enable sufficient accommodation for 145 pupils. There were 91 pupils on roll in 1928 but this had fallen to 71in 1939 after 18 senior pupils had transferred to the newly opened Upwell secondary school.

The Mission School at Suspension Bridge, also funded by the William Marshall charity, closed in 1927 with 43 pupils transferring to the Old School – bringing the numbers on roll there up to118. It is now a private house called Tall Pines. In April 2006 it was severely damaged by fire but has subsequently been rebuilt to a high standard. The master in 1881 was Charles Thompson (born Ely 1849) who later moved on to Sunningwell in Berkshire. In 1912, the average attendance was 59.

Fire damage to the former Mission School in 2006 (Photo courtesy Cambridgeshire Times)

.....and as it is in 2014 as excellent B&B

No better feel can be gained for farming life along the Hundred Foot Bank in the early years of the 1900s than by quoting again from the autobiography of John William Lister. “I was born on 23 February 1912 at Lower Farm beside the bank of the New Bedford River. Mother told me that on the day I was born Dad was skating on the Washes and had won the race in which he was taking part. She also said that Dr Wales visited later in the day on horseback from Downham. The house, which was demolished about 1970, was built of brick and was roofed with reeds and a final covering of corrugated iron. The farm was about fifty acres of very good land and was about a mile and a half from the nearest hard road. In those days, even in a remote area such as this, many people worked on the land. On each side of the house and buildings, at a distance of a quarter of a mile were two public houses, the Dog and Duck and the Wryneck. Denver Sluice was two miles to the north and Suspension Bridge at Welney was two miles to the south. To the east was Hilgay Fen – many acres of first class land – and the Ouse and Ten Mile Bank. Westwards lay the Ouse Washes, stretching 21 miles in length and covering over 7000 acres to Earith, with the Old Bedford River on the far side. The Bedford in those days was used as the only means of carrying goods in the winter months as the fenland droves could be impassable. Horse-drawn wooden barges were used for the transport of coal, feeding stuffs, potatoes and all farm produce.”

John William’s father, Benjamin Clarke Lister, is listed as a Welney farmer in Kelly’s Directory of 1912. He was born at Smith’s Farm, Somersham Fen in 1880 where his father John was the farm bailiff. In the mid 1880s the family moved to Poppylot on the Feltwell Road, south east of Southery, where he was one of thirteen children. The oldest child was George who married Jane Maggs, the daughter of the landlord of The Ship public house at Poppylot. Hannah, the second eldest, married into the Register family of Southery whose roots in that village go back into the middle of the 17th century at least. John had married Mary Ann Fisher in Chatteris in 1866. His parents were John Lister and Mary Stevens who were married in Chatteris in 1840 and were living there in Hive End with John’s parents Richard & Elizabeth Lister in the census of the following year. Richard was born in Upwell in 1793 to parents John & Hannah.

Benjamin Clarke Lister married twice. In 1904 he married Martha Elizabeth Porter in Southery but she died in January 1908 in Welney and was buried back in Southery, the village where she was born in 1880. His second marriage was to Eliza Elmore on 26 May 1909 in Welney parish church. Eliza was born in Welney on 11 April 1885, daughter of William, a farm bailiff, & Martha (née Burton). The 1861 census shows Eliza’s grandparents Charles & Caroline Elmore in William’s birthplace, Wistow in Huntingdonshire, where Charles is a thrashing machine driver. Twice, at least, in the census records ‘Elmore’ has been recorded as ‘Elmer’.

Pubs & Beerhouses

http://www.welney.org.uk/pubs/pubs-of-welney.htm#crown has further coverage.

The Wry-necked Mill, or Wryneck, is located at the outfall of the drain of the same name. It closed about 1950 and is now a much-restored private house. Known landlords were the Levells about the time of the end of World War I and John Stanley Grimes in 1945. Barber’s Almanack for 28 February 1947 records that the Wryneck Mill’s darts team were successful in the finals of the Ouse Valley League, winning the shield donated by the brewers Hall, Cutlack & Harlock. A fairly remote place to go for a game of darts! The Dog & Duck (in Hilgay parish) stood a few hundred metres further south on the same Bank.

Of the eleven other pubs and beerhouses in the parish of Welney we are able to record the following information:

At Suspension Bridge there were the Carpenter’s Arms, the Crown and the Cock. The first mentioned is now a private dwelling named ‘Carpenters’ just south east of the Crown House on the old road.

The Crown (below) in Suspension Bridge is now a private dwelling named ‘Crown House’ having closed in 1968. William Barker was the landlord in 1881. From Boughton, he married Frances Johnson in Welney in 1837 and was buried in the village in 1888, aged 73; Frances died four years later.

The former Crown at Suspension Bridge in 2009

In Welney itself there were seven known drinking places. The Cherry Tree, on the north side of Main Street just west of the church, is now a private residence.

The Cherry Tree c1985 (www.norfolkpubs.co.uk)

The Eagle Tavern (below), Bedford Bank, lies on the western side of the Old Bedford River, south of the bridge

The Eagle Tavern - now a private house

The Lamb & Flag, Main Street, is the only licensed premises in Welney at the present time.

The Lamb & Flag (www.welney.org.uk).

The Three Tuns, Bedford Bank was demolished in 2008

(Patrick Barry)

Bedford Bank showing five narrow boats moored by the Three Tuns as late as 1997 (photo Patrick Barry on www.welney.org.uk). The pub was closed when a longstanding landlord died in 2001 and the building was demolished (c2008) after standing empty for several years. This picture also serves to illustrate the considerable extent of navigation on the Old Bedford even in recent times.

The Welney Hotel in 2009. It lies on the west side of the Old Bedford River about one kilometre south of the bridge. It has been boarded up for many years and shows signs of considerable structural deterioration.

In Tipp’s End there was the Rutland Arms which closed in 1967. It is now a private residence named ‘Rutland House’

The former Rutland Arms in 2009

Three other pubs occur in the census or brewery records but, at the present time, their location is uncertain: the Green Man on Bedford Bank; the delightfully named Happy Home on Wisbech Road; and the Cock, Suspension Bridge.

The Happy Home courtesy Miss Amy Markham MBE via www.welney.org.uk

Also standing on Bedford Bank facing Main Street is the parish hall, erected in 1929, and supported by the William Marshall charity. Shown here at its opening, the building on the right is the Three Tuns www.welney.org.uk