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Manea history

Manea People

As I am writing this in November, and the clocks have only just gone back, I have been trying to imagine what it must have been like in Manea before electricity came to the village. How much darker the world would have seemed to be, using oil lamps and candles. No gas of any kind, so no gas lighting or cooking. We imagine that houses had coal-fired ranges, but these were expensive and would be heavy to transport, so poorer people would have simply had open fires, or semi open fires to cook on: no ovens, they would just use saucepans and kettles, either on a hob or suspended over the fire using a crane device.

Having no oven would mean that a Christmas roast would either be cooked as a pot roast at home or else it would have to be cooked at the bakehouse. Usually the local baker would let people cook their roast meats in his oven for a small charge.

How dark it would be in the house once the sun had set, using candles, or oil lamps, and how dangerous. No media to keep people entertained, just books to read, and an endless pile of mending and making, in poor light, in not very warm homes.

There would be less agricultural work in the winter too, and when there was work, imagine how cold it would have been, and wet, with no really waterproof clothing, or boots.

My Mum, who was born in Queen Adelaide, near Ely, in 1931, can remember her own Mum cooking on a paraffin cooker, and having no electricity.

Oil would have to be purchased, and carried home, coal would have to be delivered. Candles would often be made locally, in little factories well away from human habitation, as they used tallow from rendered animal carcases, and the smell was very strong!!!

No wonder country folk looked forward to spring, and the light coming back into their world.


Manea People

The new British Newspaper Archive has proved to be a useful source of historical information, and Manea crops up quite often, though much of the data is rather mundane, covering auctions and land sales. My research has turned up some more interesting facts though, and I hope to share these with you over the next few issues of Manea Matters.

One of the few things that has been really dreaded over the years is fire, and as my Dad is fond of saying: "Fire is a good servant but a bad master." Almost exactly 160 years ago, that dread became reality in Manea.

Every house needed a fire for cooking and heating in 1852, but quite how a fire started in a pig-sty I can't imagine. The pigs can't have been cold as it was May! On Sunday May 16th, between 2.00PM and 3.00PM a fire started in Manea and rapidly spread through the village.

The report describes Manea as 'comprising a long street of nearly half a mile in length' and says that due to the direction of the wind, the fire rapidly spread from one end of the village to the other. There is no mention of any fatalities, but the report says that the fire 'depopulated half the village.'

According to the report, the fire destroyed a good few homes. The small fire engine was used but there was not enough water, so the Stationmaster telegraphed through, and March sent more fire engines within an hour, and half the village was saved.

Many residents lost their homes, and few if any would have been insured, so the effect of such a tragedy can only be imagined. Two or three fields were covered with the pitiful sight of personal belongings which had been rescued from the flames.

So if you are digging in your garden and encounter a layer of ash, it may be evidence of this devastating fire. There may well still be archaeological evidence to find. A message from the past:- Keep paying the house and contents insurance and be careful with fire!


My Dad, Charlie's Memories...continued:-

We as a family were very lucky, because from 1925/6 until the outbreak of the Second World War, Short's grass field was Manea United's home ground. Before that they played on a field in Station Road, where the old white council houses are.

When it was cold we stood under the cover of our straw stacks. Manea players arrived in their kits ready to play; the away team changed in the Royal Oak (pub in the High Street) clubroom. The referee changed in our barn ~ no showers then!

In the 1930s, Manea had a strong team and went for seven years without losing a home match ~ quite an achievement as it got a mention in the Daily Mirror. We eventually lost to Ely City...

During the 1930s, my wife Jean's brother Albert (who was tragically killed in the war), and my brother Maurice, used to mark out the pitch. They used sawdust, and later on, carbide, which they bought from a shop in Station Road, which is now Classics Restaurant.

The only match I remember played during the war was in a field down Westfield Road, where Crouches now grow daffodils, next to the fire station.

Both my brothers, Jack and Peter, played football for Manea in the 1950s. I only managed a few games with the second team; I was a supporter, not a player! I was secretary for Manea United between 1949 and 1952. After that, my brother-in-law, Bill Bonnett, took over ~ a position he held for well over 30 years.


Manea People

In the 19th century, infant mortality was very high, and many children did not live to see their first birthday. However, if they made it to the age of five, they had a good chance of living to a good age. Most childhood diseases were killers in the 1800s, with measles, whooping cough, diphtheria and cholera all taking their toll.

Cholera was called 'King Cholera' by the broadsheets, and the disease was not fussy who it affected. What was unusual was that in 1849 there were at least ten people living at Welches Dam who died from cholera.

Looking at the parish records for Manea in 1849 reveals that a total of 14 people died in that year, which is a high death rate for such a small community. Six adults and five children under 14 died of cholera between 27th October and 11th November. There are no other reported deaths from cholera in the Manea parish at the same time. We can be quite sure that cholera was the cause of death as the parish clerk has written the cause of death in each case into the register.

In all, six local families were affected: Barnes, Smart, LePla, Tilley, Hare and Bosworth, so if you have people missing from your family tree, it may have been 'King Cholera' who took them. All the victims were from the 81 occupiers of the 16 cottages which had been built ~ badly I should think ~ against the Old Bedford River bank. The cottages were no doubt very damp. In the same period, cholera was also reported at Wisbech, where the death toll was one of the highest in the country.

The cholera outbreak was caused by contaminated drinking water, and it is quite possible that the infection could have been brought into Manea parish from Wisbech.

Earlier, In 1832, just after the new cemetery opened, Chatteris had experienced a cholera outbreak, but there had been no deaths from cholera in Manea that year. However, Manea did have other health issues at that time: there was a smallpox epidemic in which the victims were mainly children, and there were also several deaths from scarlet fever, and from TB (consumption). Accidental deaths also figured prominently at the time, with fire often a major cause.

March also suffered in the 1849 cholera outbreak, and this was attributed at the time to the railway. The railway provided more employment in the area, which in turn created a shortage of housing, leading to overcrowding and poor living conditions, which in turn made the spread of disease more likely. March had open sewers at the time, and the drains had no natural flow, so the poor drainage became a serious health hazard. The night cart used to tour the town emptying privy buckets as recently as 1960!


My Dad, Charlie's Memories...continued:-

It was 1939, and one afternoon some evacuees arrived from London. They were taken to the Village Hall to sort out who would go to which family. The Village Hall was used as their school. Many stayed in Manea after the war, so they must have been happy.

One of the evacuees stayed with a neighbour of ours. Mother, who loved a joke, got a pig's tail (we had just had one killed) and tied it on the back of his jumper at the bottom and said "Look Donald, you've grown a tail." The poor boy ran out of the yard as fast as he could!

In the early part of the war, 6 to 8 bombs landed near Manea. We think the Germans had some left and let them go on open land before going home.

I was in the ARP during the war, and we had a couple of meetings at the Royal Oak Club Room before we decided to have our headquarters at the Carpenters Arms, as they had a phone. We did one night a week on a rota basis, and got called out three or four time a night. We did from 10.00pm until 6.00am and took it in turns to doze on a camp bed.

Near Rutland Farm, Wimblington Road, we had a searchlight. One of the soldiers who worked on it also did some work on our farm in his spare time. One weekend his wife and little boy came to stay with us. I watched the searchlight one night and it picked up a plane and you could clearly see the swastika on it. Mother used to take the soldiers cocoa made with full cream milk, straight from the cows.

They thought it was wonderful.

To be continued...


Manea People

Because the 1881 census gives such a good snapshot of Manea, I have once again been looking at the structure of society in the village. Manea was a little world of its own, containing all things necessary within its boundaries. Your boots and shoes could be made in the village, as well as hats, dresses and gentlemen's clothing.

William Softly, from Castle Acre, Norfolk, lived at Staney House Post Office with his family, and must have run a veritable emporium, as he employed a Milliner, a Needlewoman, a Draper's Apprentice, and two Servants. Our cover photo this quarter was taken from an early postcard attributed to E M Softly ~ probably William's daughter, Edith Mary Softly, using her initials to disguise the fact that she was a woman, hoping to attract greater professional respect as a photographer in those non-politically correct times.

Also in the High Street was Henry Clark, the Basket Maker. Baskets were used for all sorts of things, and with no plastic boxes or carrier bags available then, Henry must have enjoyed a bustling trade. Charles Nicholas was the Mole Catcher and lived in the Sand Pits, as did William Lissett, the Wheelwright.

There were public houses, such as the Cricketers Arms, run by Mr Bassett, the Railway Tavern, run by George Green, and the Rose and Crown, run by Thomas Watson from Lincolnshire. There were also alehouses. Any ratepayer could run an alehouse, which was just for the selling of beer ~ almost certainly made on the premises. People worked hard and needed refreshment, and the water was not always safe. I know of at least two water pumps in the village. Do you know of others?

Manea and district has a surprisingly rich history, given its small size. In 1849, a Cholera outbreak hit Welches Dam, and in 1847, Childminder, Ann Barnes, had been tried for the suspected murder by poisoning of several young children.

Never a dull moment in the Fens! Do you know of any other local stories that we might cover in future issues?

Manea is an expanding village in the Cambridgeshire District of Fenland. Notable features are Manea railway station and RSPB Welches Dam nature reserve on the Ouse Washes.

Manea was once a hamlet in the parish of Coveney, and in the seventeenth century Manea was one of the sites where Charles I was planning to build a new town, to be called Charlemont.

Manea, on a low fen 'island', less than 43 ft. above sea level, has a history very similar to that of Coveney until the villages were effectually separated by the cutting of the Old and New Bedford Rivers in the 17th century.

They are consequently now 16 miles apart by road, although the distance is only about 5 miles direct across the fen; in few parts of the county has drainage wrought such startling changes.

Further information is available at British History Online

British History Online is the digital library containing some of the core printed primary and secondary sources for the medieval and modern history of the British Isles. Created by the Institute of Historical Research and the History of Parliament Trust, it aims to support academic and personal users around the world in their learning, teaching and research.

Quote taken from -
"The short-lived Grand National Consolidated Trade Union had an active Cambridgeshire branch in the 1830s; the Chartists were equally busy in the fens after 1837. One experiment sought to bypass conventional politics entirely. The socialist Robert Owen started a commune in Manea Fen, at Colony Farm. Designed in 1838 as a 200-acre co-operative under the motto 'Each for All', it was an ambitious project serving as a model for labourers elsewhere. Colonists erected buildings, organised recreation and education, and worked the land communally for vouchers redeemable at the community store. A newsletter was produced, and widely distributed but this did not have adequate financial backing and, beset with drainage problems, the 'Cambridgeshire Community Number One' also harboured internal dissension. The leader, William Hodson of Upwell, eventually resigned being closely followed by others which saw to it that the community was dead by 1851."

If you have any snippets of history about Manea that you'd like to share with us, please submit details here email, and we will endeavour to add them.

My Dad, Charlie's Memories


School Days I used to walk to school with the older boys from 52 Station Road. They had a six-sailed windmill in their back yard which was used to grind flour from barley to use for animal feed.

Sometimes on the way to school we played marbles. We didn't have a problem with traffic as it was mostly horses and carts. A big farmer, Mr Crouch, had a lorry which had solid tyres, so it didn't go very fast.

Everyone used to walk in those days. The bike shed didn't appear until I was 14 and about to leave school. The children from Purls Bridge and Welches Dam and other far parts of Manea were picked up in a horse-drawn covered wagon. They used to bring a packed lunch, and paid a halfpenny a day for a cup of cocoa. I went home for my dinner, which was meat sandwiches and a piece of cake. Our main meal was at 4.30pm.

Before lessons started, we always had a hymn and prayer, and when school was over in the afternoon, we sang:-

"Now the day is over, night is drawing nigh,
Shadows of the evening, steal across the sky."

We would then put our chairs on the desks (to help the cleaner), and rush out of school to amble home. Then it would be tea, with all my brothers and sisters (only brothers then), and after that, we'd help a bit on the farm, followed by reading or a few games before bed.

To be continued...


Manea People

My previous research showed that Manea had been quite sparsely populated until the arrival of the railway in 1847, which then resulted in a rapid expansion of the population. A number of Manea families have been here for many years. Our neighbours, Lionel and Pam Bridgement for example, are an established and well respected Manea family, but exactly how long had the Bridgement family been in Manea I wondered. With the family's permission I set out to investigate.

Manea parish records show Lionel's christening date of 6th May 1934, and list his parents as Frederick John Bridgement and Annie (Nancy) Smith, who are shown as having married in the area in 1919. A census check revealed that although the Bridgement family was in Manea by 1911, they were living in Littleport in 1901.

Ely parish records then showed Frederick's christening date of 2nd October 1898. His parents, Lionel's grandparents, were William and Elizabeth, and William had been born in Littleport. Lionel's great grandparents were also called William and Elizabeth, taking us back to around 1859. At that date, the family was still in Littleport.

There are a few families with the same or similar names in the Littleport area, and others in Ely, so although Lionel's family has been in Manea for at least a century, his roots are in Littleport. Records show that many of the family members worked with horses, a common occupation before motorised transport.

The census records of 1901 and 1911 show the Bridgement children to have been born in Littleport, Downham, Ely and Manea. The 1911 census shows that Frederick's parents had 9 children, one of whom had sadly died by 1911.


Manea People in 1841

After looking at the 1881 census for the last issue of, I wondered whether any of the families that I had found to have been living in Manea in 1881 had also been here in 1841. I had found the Masons, Hankins and Fox families, but had they been here forty years earlier?

In 1841, Manea was a very much smaller place than it would later become, and only the name Fox jumped out at me from the census. Further investigation revealed a Hankins family living in Chatteris at the time, and Masons in Doddington.

Within a few years, Manea was to become a comparative metropolis with the arrival of the railway. Manea station opened on 14th January 1847, and the railway needed Stationmasters, Porters and Signalmen, not to mention a Station Road. Manea was growing! Records show that workers in Manea in 1851 included Tailors, Cobblers, Shoe Makers, Schoolteacher, Bakers, Butchers, Carpenters, Inn Keepers and, perhaps not surprisingly, a number of Beer Sellers. There would certainly have been a Blacksmith or two as well. Nevertheless, at least 50% of Manea's population, including women and children, still worked on the land at that time.

It is easy nowadays to underestimate the importance of the railway to a small rural community like Manea. There was no electricity in 1847, no running water or indoor plumbing, and no motorised transport until the railway arrived. Unless you owned a horse, a trip to Chatteris would have meant a two hour walk, not a 15 minute car drive.

The railway opened up our village to the many incomers who were seeking work, or simply a new place to settle. However, it also opened up previously unheard-of travel possibilities for those Manea residents who could afford the 1d per mile third-class fare to travel by train. 1851 was the year that Queen Victoria and Prince Albert opened the Great Exhibition in London, and with the coming of the railway, adventurous Manea residents could go and visit this wonder of the age.

In today's money, the whole return trip would have cost around 50p. Sounds like a bargain!


People of Manea in 1881

As a family history researcher, I felt it would be interesting to investigate a snapshot of anea as depicted on the day of the 1881 census. It soon became apparent that Manea, although isolated, was a remarkably busy little community at that time.

There was quite a variety of trades, including Blacksmith, Nurse, School -master, Tailor, Baker, Cobbler, Postmaster, Draper (this shop was owned by William Allen Softly, the Postmaster). Business premises included a sweet shop, two coal merchants, a boot and shoe maker, and at least six pubs!

Many workers were incomers to Manea, some from as far afield as Wales and Lancashire, with many men being employed by the Great Eastern Railway. John Axion was the Stationmaster, and others worked as Porters, Platelayers, Engine Mechanics and Engine Drivers. Agricultural labouring was also a common occupation at that time.

A family of itinerants was recorded as having been camped on The Green, and some paupers lived in Back Lane. These were elderly individuals who were totally dependent upon the parish for their subsistence. Some 1881 names are recognisable today:- The Hankins family, who were Farmers, the Fox family, with their 7 children, and Henry Mason who lived in Station Road. Richard Macer was a blacksmith by day and a Methodist Preacher on Sundays. Altogether, the record suggests that more than 50% of Manea's population comprised incomers, some of whom were seeking work; others sought a retirement bolt-hole. A couple of gentlemen are recorded as living "On their own means." Quite a mix of humanity for one small village!


Local History ~ A Call for Help...

Mike Harrison is researching the crash of an RAF Halifax bomber, which came down opposite Colony Farm, near Manea on 25th April 1944. Six of the seven-man crew, including Mike's uncle, Sgt N M Harrison, died in the crash, and Mike is hoping that someone local to the area may remember the event and provide any information at all which may help his research.

The aircraft, piloted by members of the RAF Volunteer Reserve, was returning to RAF Holme in Yorkshire following a mission to Karlsruhe when it was attacked by a German ME410 at 3,400 feet. The rear gunner, F/Sgt John Anderson, was the sole survivor of the crash, and was treated at RAF Hospital, Ely, after being rescued by Welney Fire Brigade.

The event is outlined on the Welney Village Website ( or Contact Mike on

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