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A History of Mereside

The first recorded tribe to inhabit this area, after the Ice Age were the Iceni.

In the early years of the 11th Century, the Danes conquered England and settled in East Anglia. England was ruled over by the Danish King and his son Knut ( or Canute ). Knut ruled over England from 1016 to 1035 as part of his great Scandinavian empire and was succeeded by his son who died in 1042.

Canute is said to have had a hunting box at Bodsey ' gravel' which he reached along a causeway across the Mere from Peterborough. It is recounted that Canute's children went from Bodsey to a school at Peterborough and that two of his children were buried at Bodsey. History informs us that he ordered his men to fell the reeds along this causeway from Bodsey to Peterborough with their swords and in fact the track they had prepared was later called King's Delf or Swords Dike. At this time however, Canute named it Canute's Dike, ( Dike was the Anglo-Saxon word for path ). The reason Canute decreed that the soldiers should make a path along the causeway was that on one boat trip, King Canute and his friends and servants were passing Whittlesea Mere from Peterborough to Ramsey, and were enjoying their voyage by singing and jollity, when they were surprised by a sudden storm and turbulent winds gave them cause for alarm. There were many lives lost including those of two of his sons.

Ramsey Mere was mentioned in 1241, when it was aid, that as a result of a drought the Mere became so dry that no boat was needed to cross it. In 1250 however, disaster struck the area by the invasion of a great flood of salt water, which carried all before it and devastated a great deal of the land and vegetation.

In a Ramsey Abbey Chronicle the Mere was called HRAEFN ( or Ramesmere ). It was on the edge of a great fen that once covered 680,000 acres. The fen was drained of all the water in 1769 and a drainage board was formed. At this time, the only habitation along the causeway was an Oilmill, which was sited in the corner of the field, which is now the property of Mr R.Dyer 291 Oilmills Road. The causeway at the time was called Swords Dike.

In the 18th Century Mr Fellowes and some gentlemen 'adventurers' put up the money to drain Ramsey Mere and it was said that Mr Fellowes stood at Johnson's Point and watched the last of the water being pumped.

By the middle of the 19th century, Whittlesey Mere had become very shallow and as it was apparently becoming more shallow, as the years passed, a group of fenland landowners, in conjunction with the Middle Level Commissioners, financed a scheme to drain the mere and by using a newly invented centrifugal pump, they pumped out the water from the mere and in 1850 it was dry. The bed of Whittlesea mere was mostly made up of shell covering a layer of peat. A Silver incense boat, a silver censer and chandelier were found in the bed of the mere and from the ram's head on one of these pieces, it was thought to have come from Ramsey Abbey. Also in the bed were found pieces of quarried stone, which had undoubtedly fallen from a barge on the way to the Abbey. To test the fall in the level of the peat, an iron post was sunk upright at Holme Fen, with its top, level with the ground and with its base set on oak piles driven into the underlying clay, this was in 1851. the post was replaced in 1963, set to the level of the first and now stands well above the ground level, showing how the Fens have shrunk from being 5 feet above the silt level to a level very much below this.

In tracing the history of Mereside and on viewing old maps of the area, it was noted that Sword Dike ( now Oilmills road ) from Ponds Bridge ( now Pondersbridge ) to Bodsey, was bounded to the North East by Glass Moor and to the South West by Middle Moor. It was thought interesting to note some of the names of the inhabitants of Mereside, who may be related to some of the villagers of the present day Mereside. If not related, perhaps some of our older villagers may remember some of the names, or have heard members of their families mention them. These residents were connected with commerce and were mentioned in the Kelly's Directories of the second half of the 19th Century.

In 1869, for example, there was in Mereside a miller named John Bradford and farmers John Caton, William Rose, Joseph Shepperson and Stephen Whittome. The Minister of the Baptist Chapel was the Rev.Thomas Baker. William Jones was a farmer at Ramsey Mere.

In 1877, it was mentioned that Patrick Harkins was a beer Retailer and that John Hill and Henson Infield were farmers at Oilmills. Stephen Papworth joined the farming community at Mereside.

In 1890, many others are mentioned and among them, Edward Bellamy was described as a Landowner at Mereside. Whether farms changed hand or whether the following were additions to the farming community, it was not quite clear, but Stephen Papworth Jnr. was a farmer in Mereside; Thomas Thompson was a Grocer and farmer; Abinger Whittome was a farmer and Edmund Whittome a farmer, hay and straw merchant etc. at Mereside. Stephen Whittome Jnr. was a farmer and milk contractor at Mereside. William Green was described as a Beer Retailer and farmer at Mereside.

At Oilmills, was Benjamin Greenword farmer and in Oilmills Road we would have found Thomas Hemmington as a Beer retailer and farmer; also Mrs Mary Infield farmer and Frederick Ingle farmer. Ellis Smith was a farmer and was the Beer retailer at the Salutation Public House. William Henry Longland was a Wheelwright etc in Oilmills Road.

In 1898, George Newton joined the farming community in Mereside and Thomas Short was a Baker and Grocer.

In 1903, Robert Barlow was a farmer in Mereside and John Dean a farmer in Oilmills Road. Joseph Wade was a Beer retailer in Mereside.

In 1906, there were a few more changes in Mereside. Cornelius Bradford was a shopkeeper; George Bradford was a farmer in Mereside. Charles Butler a Beer retailer in Oilmills Road; as was William Smith. Daniel Dyer was a shopkeeper in Oilmills Road. Frederick Ernest Palmer was a Beer retailer and Frank Short was a Baker and Grocer, both in mereside.

In 1902, on the other side of Oilmills Road, at Middle Moor, the Middlemoor End School was built for 150 children. The average attendance was 130. Percy Peacock was the Master at the School.

In 1914, a School was built in Mereside and perhaps holds many memories for the older residents of Mereside Village.

Ramsey town has several villages on its outskirts, namely Ramsey Mereside, Ramsey Forty Foot, Ramsey St. Mary's and Ramsey Heights.

Mereside, today is home to a population of approximately 600 people and the school has been converted into a private residence, as has the Chapel in Oilmills Road.

In the past three to four years, the village has expanded considerably, wit many new houses and bungalows being built. The old Village Hall, on its large playing fields, had to be demolished when it became unsafe to occupy and the villagers hope that within the very near future a new Community Centre will be built, in order that the community spirit and the friendliness of the village will not be lost.

The old Council Houses on Oilmills Road were subsiding and had to be demolished, and in Marriotts Close more modern houses and bungalows were built to house these residents.

There are many memories of village life in Mereside in the minds of some of the older residents in the village and it has been endeavored to revive these memories by having casual chats with some of them and by obtaining old photographs, which some villagers have so kindly lent, in order that the history of the village may be recorded.

The following pages of stories have bee taken from these chats and have been recorded, to retain the past history of our village for posterity.