Fascinating facts about Crowland

An aerial view of Crowland in 1931. Water courses dug out by the monks became the main streets of the town, visible in the curving West Street.
An aerial view of Crowland in 1931. Water courses dug out by the monks became the main streets of the town, visible in the curving West Street.
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The people of Crowland have petitioned the king to be allowed to continue in the only livelihood available to them – swan keeping.

The meat of the swan is considered a delicacy and so it’s a lucrative business for people living in Crowland – and we’re talking about the late 1400s. The swan is a valuable bird and as soon as wild swans become a Royal prerogative, or belong to the Crown, only certain people are given special permission to keep them, and that doesn’t extend to ordinary folk.

“Crowland petitioned the King for the citizens of Crowland, asking to be exempted from this Act of Parliament and he agreed, and Crowland became unique in being the only place in the country where base people could keep swans,” said Michael Chisholm, author of a new book about the town.

The book is called In the Shadow of the Abbey: Crowland, and tells the story of the town and its inhabitants from the time of its foundation to the present day because, as Michael says, many people have written about the abbey, but not about the town itself.

However, the abbey and the town are inextricably linked and in the book Michael reveals some startling facts about the abbey itself, such as that the commonly held date for its foundation is incorrect. Even the abbey’s official guide states it was founded in 716, but Michael says it wasn’t built until the 10th century.

Michael has an explanation for the confusion: apparently Crowland, like other monastries in the years following the Norman Conquest, lost valuable documents in a fire in the library, and Michael says: “They had the problem of how they could prove ownership of land when these documents had gone and there was a big industry in Crowland and elsewhere in either reconstructing these ancient charters or forging them. I am categorical that the charter of 716 for Crowland is a forgery.”

The people of Crowland – and anyone else with an interest in history – will be able to hear Michael speak about his findings when he launches the book in Crowland Abbey on Saturday, April 27 at 4pm. After his talk, arranged by the Rev Charles Brown, Michael will be signing copies of his book, on sale for £15.99. He is also donating 50 copies to the Abbey church.

He hopes to follow the book launch at Crowland with a book signing at Bookmark in Spalding on Wednesday, May 29 (7.15).

Michael has more fascinating historical information about Crowland, such as the Benedictine monks built an artificial channel that linked the Welland to the rivers Nene and Ouse so they could import building materials and access the wider world.