Stories throw light on people living in Holbeach area

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Tales of Holbeach characters from the mid-19th century have come to light.

Gordon and Helen Mills uncovered the ‘Amusing Elloe Stories’ in a booklet published by this newspaper in 1906.

Gordon came across the publication in the course of his work and wanted to share it with a wider audience as it records ‘incidents in the lives of certain Fenmen’ from the previous century.

It was written by W E Foster and made up of columns written by him that had previously appeared as ‘Random Notes’ in the Spalding Free Press.

Mr Foster, in his introduction, says the tales show “what an alteration has taken place in the customs of the Fenman since those days and how the railways have played so great a part in altering the whole habits of the people”.

Gone, he said, were “old village feasts” that had given way to trips to Skegness, and everyday life had altered, “perhaps at a loss of individuality and independence that formerly distinguished them”.

The tales may not be particularly amusing today, but they do give an interesting insight into some of the people of the past and their activities.

For instance, smuggling was once a frequent pursuit in the Holbeach area, and one story relates to ‘Old Gregory’ who boasted of having run a cargo of brandy in Holbeach Marsh. Men had been on the watch for the smack with brandy aboard for two or three nights. Fearing the ‘look-out men’, they had cut a large hole in a straw stack not far from the creek “to run the waggon and horses into, in case they were discovered and followed by the revenue officers”.

Rather cleverly, the smugglers had two wagons and four horses, and while one wagon loaded with brandy was safely inside the stack the other was used to draw the “preventative officers” off the scent.

Apparently the brandy gradually found it way to the cellars of a wine merchant in Holbeach.

There is a character study of the head waiter of the White Hart in Spalding, David Cramp, who lorded it over dinners in the front room, or ‘House of Lords’, while taking a dim view of commercial travellers in the back room, or ‘House of Commons’.