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Sutton St James archaeologist charts his personal and historical journey across Lincolnshire

Francis Pryor has lived, excavated, farmed, walked and loved the Fenland countryside for more than 40 years – so it’s only right his latest book follows his personal and historical journey across one of the country’s most mysterious regions.

The Fens tells of his discovery, as both an archaeologist and farmer, of the area’s distinctive, complex, enduring, man-made and little understood landscape along with its level drains, soaring churches and magnificent medieval buildings.

Francis, one of Britain’s most distinguished living archaeologists, counterpoints the history of the Fen landscape and its transformation – the great drainage projects that created the Old and New Bedford Rivers, the Ouse Washes and Bedford Levels, the rise of prosperous towns and cities, such as Spalding, King’s Lynn, Cambridge, Wisbech and Boston – with the story of his own discovery of it as an archaeologist.

Francis Pryor.
Francis Pryor.

He has written several books about the history of the British Isles but felt compelled to write his latest title in order to set straight some misconceptions about the Lincolnshire Fens. He also wants to urge people to think seriously about the future of the area, which he believes will be flooded again within decades.

“One thing I feel very strongly about is that when people mention the Fens, they always seem to be talking about the southern Fens,” says Francis, of Sutton St James.

“But the Lincolnshire fens are just as large and if anything, have finer churches than those in the south.

Archaeologist and author Francis Pryor.
Archaeologist and author Francis Pryor.

“The people here, 2-3,000 years ago were prosperous, they had large farms with field systems and were handling livestock, totalling hundreds of animals.

“They continued to be prosperous during the Roman occupation and after the Romans had left and I just felt motivated to write this book to show that the Fens were not some backwater inhabited by people with webbed feet.

“The other thing I’ve highlighted in the epilogue is our need to do something now to prevent the inevitable flooding of the region again, which I’m sure is going to happen within the next few decades.

“We can’t just keep building up the banks, which is the current attitude – it won’t work.”

Francis Pryor's new book.
Francis Pryor's new book.

* Francis will be talking about The Fens at Bookmark, in Spalding, from 7pm on Wednesday, November 20. Tickets for the event are £5 each and include a glass of wine or juice.

* The Fens: Discovering England’s Ancient Depths is published by Head of Zeus priced £25.

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