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Tales from the Cambridgeshire fens

Whittlesey, St Mary

Whittlesey, St Mary

Alan Craxford

Alan Craxford
Site administrator

Whittlesey is an ancient market town which stands on the edge of the fens of Cambridgeshire some six miles east of Peterborough. There are traces of a settlement in area dating back one thousand years BC. A Roman road - the Fen Causeway - was constructed which passed through the village in the first century AD and it is recorded (as Witesie) in the Domesday Book. It has two medieval parish churches, both of which are still actively in use. They also have entirely separate congregations which distinguishes Whittlesey from the other Cambridgeshire towns and villages with two churches where one has been made redundant. Originally the two churches of Whittlesey belonged to the two great abbeys in the region: St Mary was under the control of Ramsey, while St Andrew on the western edge of the medieval town belonged to Ely.

Whittlesey remained an island community until the draining of the fens to create fertile arable and grazing land in the early 17th century. This was at the behest of King Charles I who commissioned "Gentlemen Adventurers" to carry out the work. These schemes consisted of cutting long straight channels and ditches, called drains, across the marshes and widening some of the rivers to divert water from the land. One such adventurer was Cornelius Vermuyden, a Dutchman who had arrived in England in 1621, who was later knighted for his efforts. Part of one of these construction, the Forty Foot Drain near Chatteris (14 miles south east of Whittlesey), is named Vermuyden's Drain. He was aided by an influx of Protestant Huguenots and Walloons fleeing religious persecution in Catholic-dominated Holland and northern France (a parallel with the history of families in Kent noted in our BROWN pages).

The town today contains a maze of streets with well preserved architecture spanning several centuries. As well as its two ancient parish churches (St Mary and St Andrew) and there is a 17th century Butter Cross in the centre of the market place.

As far as I am aware no member of the Craxford family has ever lived in Whittlesey. However, given Cambridgeshire's shared border with Northamptonshire it is not surprising to find them in the neighbourhood. Just ten miles north of Whittlesey, the parish registers of Crowland record a string of Craxford baptisms and marriages in the second half of the eighteenth century. Slightly later than this, Robert Craxford and his family were to be found as townsfolk in Huntingdon (20 miles to the south). There is at least one resident and one marriage in Peterborough in the mid nineteenth century. James Craxford lived with his family and farmed the land at Bainton to the north west of that town.

Continued in column 3...

Meet the editor

Whittlesey War Memorial

The War Memorial Whittlesey

I first became interested in family history while trying to track down my grandfather who I had not seen for several years. As I am based on the "wrong" side of the Atlantic I initially decided to engage the services of a researcher in England to trace my family tree. Deciding which genealogist to hire was a problem. There are so many listed it was difficult to make a decision and at that time I had no idea where my ancestors lived. For basic services such as tracing my ancestors in the census returns and ordering records of their vital statistics, I chose Family Matters Research. They are a family based business and have many years of experience and their rates are reasonable. For information relating to specific geographical areas, I occasionally hired genealogists who I knew could get me the information I needed. When I needed copies of records in the National Archives and the London Metropolitan Archives, I used the services of a genealogist who was able to travel to these locations. Turn around was usually quick and the costs were reasonable.

There are advantages and disadvantages of hiring a family history researcher. Those who are new to genealogy will benefit from the expertise and experience of a professional genealogist. It is advantageous to hire a researcher who knows the area that your ancestors lived in. The drawbacks to hiring a professional are primarily cost. There can be a considerable mark up on the cost of obtaining birth, marriage and death certificates. You will still have to pay for services rendered if the genealogist has spent time on a research project but was unable to find the information you were looking for. The other disadvantage is the time it takes to receive documentation. Initially, the researcher will receive the documentation first before forwarding it on to the client. The costs to trace your ancestry before the start of civil registration can be prohibitive. A genealogist will need to spend considerable time discovering which parish church contains the baptism, marriage and burial records for your ancestors and obtaining them is not always easy.

On the other hand, if you know how to do research and are methodical in your approach, you can save a considerable amount of time and money. Websites such as, GenesReunited and FindMyPast offer unrivalled access to genealogical records. There is also the joy that comes from making exciting discoveries yourself.

I soon learnt how to do family history research myself. I have been researching my tree for almost five years. My primary research interests are the Anker, Madell and Scriven lines. I recently made contact with Alan Craxford and Stu Cook who have connections to the Anker line. Over time, I discovered that genealogy is a very addictive hobby and just when you think you've found all there is to know about a certain person or family, a new discovery is made. The internet has made it possible to contact other people who have the same surname interests, and as a result I have met cousins and relatives I never knew I had.

The field of genealogy is one of the fastest growing hobbies today. Many people want to know their family origins and how their ancestors lived. It was my original intention to produce a basic genealogy of my ancestors but as time passed I discovered that it would be far more interesting to compile a family history which would bring these ancestors to life. It also made sense to render this into hard copy. The resulting book is divided into two parts. Part one explains the study of genealogy and how research is undertaken to trace ancestral lines. In part two there is a narrative for each major family group including pedigree and lineage charts, a family timeline and family group charts. If you'd like to learn more, please get in touch.

- Daniel Hewitt, USA

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email If you have any questions or comments about the information on this site in general, or you have further information regarding this article, please Get in touch by leaving a message in our Guestbook. If you don't want the message to be added to the Guestbook, just say that in your text. We look forward to hearing from you.

Feature articles

Cornelius Vermuyden: Access the story of the origins of the Anker family THE ORIGINS OF THE ANKER FAMILY
The established church deplored these 'non-Canonical' unions and the policing of violations was an important function of the ecclesiastical courts.

Mary Anker: Access the history of the Anker family (Part 1) WHITTLESEY ANCESTORS - THE ANKER FAMILY (PART 1)
"Shortly after the birth of Frances, the family fell on hard times. Through no fault of his own, Abraham found himself out of work.".

The will of Abraham Anker: Access the article THE WILL OF ABRAHAM ANKER OF WHITTLESEY 1886
"I give to her all the income of so much of the personal estate to which I shall be entitled at my decease as shall be in anywise employed or invested"

George William Anker: Access the history of the Anker family (Part 2) WHITTLESEY ANCESTORS - THE ANKER FAMILY (PART 2)
"... it was the custom on the Tuesday following Plough Monday to dress one of the confraternity of the plough in straw."

Whittlesey War Memorial: Access the story of Percival Anker PERCIVAL JOSEPH ANKER, MM (1892 - 1918)
"The 78th Bn attacked passing through the 38th Bn. Heavy casualties occurred while crossing the CAMBRAI-DOUAI ROAD from strong Machine Gun fire."

Camp Sewell, Manitoba: Access the article CAMP SEWELL, MANITOBA, CANADA 1915
We are aware of other photographs of this site, which has become a Canadian National Monument

Portrait of Ada Anker: Access her will THE WILL OF ELIZABETH ANKER, 1931
"In it, it seems that of all her children, Elizabeth, the daughter, received the smallest inheritance ..."

The fens (cont from col.1.)

There are other strong family surname conjunctions - if not as yet determined connections - too. We have over 300 Claypoles in our database. We are aware of three distinct historical family strands and there was a large Claypole family in the town throughout the nineteenth century. The common link may be another famous son of the county - Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) who was born in Huntingdon. His second daughter, Elizabeth, married Sir John Claypole in 1646. Another surname discovery covering the same time frame is the Liquorish family. In our own tree, Lucy Craxford married William Liquorish (no family link yet found) in 1847 in the village of Rockingham, Northamptonshire and went on to produce 12 children ... and so on!!

Even the Anker family themselves are not immune to surname coincidences. In a mirror image of this phenomenon, one of STU's cousins married a member of an apparently unlinked branch of the Cook family. It is also remarkable to read that when Daniel's ancestor moved away from Whittlesey he settled in Carlton, Nottingham and married into a family of framework knitters (near-neighbours of the Haywood family from the TEAL pages) - an industry which was initially strongly influenced by the Huguenots.

It is said that "No man is an island, entire of itself" ("Meditation XVII" - John Donne (1572-1631)). One of the strongest conclusions thrown up by genealogical research is that the same applies to families.

Alan Craxford, UK

Page Added: June 30th 2010
Last Update: September 6th 2011

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