Tale of a fen rebellion

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THE fascinating tale of a rebellion against plans to drain Deeping Fen has been told in a book that has just been published.

Author Rex Merchant, who was born in Albion Street in Spalding and attended what was known as the council school in Westlode Street before going to Spalding Grammar School, has written about an important part of Spalding and district’s history from the 1600s.

Deeping Fen recounts a time early in the century when an attempt was made to drain 30,000 acres of Deeping Fen, which is bounded by the River Welland and the River Glen. Thomas Lovell, an adventurer with experience of fen drainage on the continent, gambled his personal fortune and undertook the task in exchange of a third of the new arable land.

The local slodgers, fen men who made their living and fed their families by fishing and trapping wildfowl in the area, rose up against the work to try and prevent it.

Rex said: “In the end the locals beat him. They pulled down the windmills and the banks and it re-flooded and Thomas was a broken man. There were riots and all sorts and I should think a lot finished up in Spalding and Stamford magistrates’ courts. It was quite a time of conflict.

“The locals made their living catching eels and wildfowling and stuff was sent down to London. Many of them got the ague, which was what they called malaria, and that finished them off. They didn’t actually drain the fen until the 1660s when presumably the people had to become farm labourers or move on because there was nothing else.”

Rex Merchant, an award-winning writer of fantasy fiction, short stories as well as song lyrics, tells the tale through the figure of single mother Annie Owen, her young son Toby and their neighbour Jack Fowler, an ex-soldier who has recently returned to his home in Cowbit to fish and trap wildfowl. All three were caught up in the riots with fatal consequences.

Deeping Fen, ISBN 9781902474243, price £7 – available direct from the publisher. Phone 01572 722768 or visit www.rexmerchant.co.uk or order through Bookmark in The Crescent, Spalding.