The Meres of Huntingdonshire

The vanished ancient Meres of the old County of Huntingdonshire.

 

Map of the Meres

Approximate locations of the Huntingdonshire Meres

Approximate locations of the Huntingdonshire Meres

 

The draining of the fens taking as it did only the water to a certain level, left several meres undrained. Whittlesey Mere, Trundle Mere, Ugg Mere, Ramsey Mere and Benwick Mere, all of these remained as meres well into the nineteenth century. The Ramsey Chronicler, writing in monastic times, speaks of Ramsey Mere as being

"a delightful object to beholders: in the deep and great gulfs of the Mere, there are frequently taken, by several sorts of nets, as also with baited hooks and other fishing instruments, pikes of an extraordinary bigness called hakedes by the country people: and though both fishers and fowlers cease neither day nor night to haunt it, yet there is always of fish and fowl no little store."

 

Whittlesey Mere

This lake and Ugg Mere were drained about 1840, and in 1850 the work draining Whittlesey Mere, the last and largest of the Fenland lakes, was completed, having been undertaken as a private enterprise by Mr Wells of Home, to whom it belonged. This piece of water stated by Camden to have been six miles long, but published on the map by Mr Bodger in 1786 it is said to be three and a half miles from east to west and two and a half miles from north to south. The Mere was emptied in 1850, but, the banks gave way, was again filled. It was finally emptied in 1852, leaving an area of some 3000 acres to be changed from a peat-covered swamp into agricultural land.

Site of Whittlesey Mere

The site of Whittlesey Mere looking north from Holme Lode

The site of Whittlesey Mere looking north from Holme Lode

This photograph was taken in November 2004

 

It had been noticed previously, peat being very much like a sponge, that as the water was withdrawn the surface sank, so, in order to test the amount of this shrinkage, an iron post was driven into the gault, leaving the top level with the surface of the soil. In 1860 four feet nine inches of the post was exposed, by 1875 the surface had sunk eight feet two inches and by 1909 the post registered a depression of nine feet ten inches. Today, in 2004, over 13 feet of the post is exposed.