Looking Back: Little Thetford

By Mike Petty

Each evening I compile a ‘Looking Back’ column in the Cambridge Evening News in which I feature stories from 100, 75, 50 and 25 years ago. These stories are from the papers of 1897-1909, 1922-1934, 1947-1959 and 1972-1984.The actual newspapers are held in the Cambridgeshire Collection at the Cambridge Central Library, Lion Yard. They also hold other Cambridge newspapers back to 1762 and stories for every village in Cambridgeshire have been indexed for the years 1770-1900. There are also newspaper cuttings files covering stories from 1958 to date.

1899 Apr 11
The lady Churchwarden is still something of a novelty, nevertheless she has come to stay. At the recent Easter vestry at Thetford, near Ely, Miss Jarrow was for the sixth times in succession elected people’s Churchwarden, and the election had the hearty approval of the Rector who spoke in the highest terms of her ability and the way she managed the parish accounts. But Great Staughton in Huntingdonshire has gone one better and both the Churchwardens are ladies. So far this is the only parish in the country which can boast of two lady churchwardens.
1900 Oct 27
A sad suicide occurred at Lt Thetford where a platelayer employed on the G.E.R. imagined that he was a sufferer from scarlet fever, although medical examinations proved to the contrary. There were several cases in the village. Shortly before ten o’clock he left his fellow-workers near the bridge over the Old West not telling them where he was going. Time passed and a shepherd brought the intelligence that a handkerchief had been found in the wash near the river. After a diligent search his body was found in the water beneath the railway bridge.
1904 Nov 15
A gruesome accident occurred at the railway crossing at Little Thetford. Two men were returning from Fulbourn with the corpse of an Ely native who was by trade a basket maker and had been detained in the asylum. A four-wheel cart, with no lights, collided with their trap which was turned over on to its side. The horse was dragged down with it and the two men hurt. The coffin containing the corpse was left on the road and the trap had to make a second journey to convey the remains to Ely.
1909 Mar 05
The funeral of the Rev R.M. Williams took place in Lt Thetford churchyard and in the evening a muffled peal was rung on the Stretham church bells. He had been curate there during the time of his terrible tragedy: in September 1896 he had cycled with his wife from Stretham to Cambridge, it being the first anniversary of their wedding. They had just crossed Victoria Bridge when she collided with a butcher’s cart and was instantly killed.
1924 Oct 02
When workmen arrived at a pair of council houses in the course of erection on Cambridge road, Lt Thetford, they found there had been intruders during the night who had helped themselves pretty freely to what they could find. Tools belonging to Mr Robert Rayner of Stretham and Mr Cornwell of Ely were missing. A considerable amount of timber, asbestos sheeting and other materials had been removed and a new door displaced from its hinges and taken also.
1930 Nov 06
Little Thetford was the scene of a big blaze, a large six-roomed thatched house built in 1300 being totally destroyed. After the old roof dropped the four main walls were a roaring furnace and the blazing embers carried long distances. Soon nothing was left but burning beams and scorched walls which had evidently been built of the old Fen mud. But for the efforts of villages similar large thatched houses nearby would have been involved. The ‘Three Horse Shoes’ public house opposite was plied with ladders and a chain of buckets formed and water thrown on the thatched roof to stop a possible outbreak here. The cause is a mystery. Fireworks were being let off, but not at this end of the village. 30 11 06a
1932 Feb 24
Mr R. Hinkin of Little Thetford has passed away, days after celebrating his 101st birthday. His health was remarkably good; he was only once attended by a doctor; that was five years ago when he fell from a ladder as a result of it breaking. He started work on the land at the age of ten, finally giving up when he was 97. He had six children, 25 grandchildren and about 40 great-grandchildren. 32 02 24
1938 Aug 29
Ely Council’s decision to allow the swimming baths to be used on Sunday afternoons prompted strong protests. The Railway Mission deplored it, as did Downham Baptist chapel. Haddenham Baptists say it will necessitate some amount of Sunday labour, Lt Thetford think it a retrograde step and Ely Sunday School Union thought that for the sake of the children Sunday should be preserved from worldly and secular labour. 34 08 29
1948 Aug 24
Queen Mary took Cambridge by surprise today when she visited the town on one of her private visits to Mr Stanley Woolston’s antique store. At precisely noon the car containing the Queen slid into the kerb outside the shop. It was not her own car, however, but the Ely police patrol car. The green Daimler in which the Queen had been travelling developed a slight defect at Lt Thetford and Her Majesty transferred to the police patrol car following the Royal car. The Daimler, duly repaired, was waiting outside Woolston’s some little time before Her Majesty was ready to leave.
1952 Aug 08
A Londoner was fined £3 for unlawfully obtaining rationed feeding stuffs at Lt Thetford. PC Harding was on motor patrol duty at Fowlmere when he stopped a lorry and noticed what looked like feeding stuff. Defendant said it was Quaker Oats and was unrationed but the sack was marked “Blue Cross Balanced Food, No.2 Pig Food”. The officer concluded it was a rationed product and asked if he had surrendered coupons for it. The reply was “No”. How he came to be in possession of the sack they did not know. The man claimed to have bought it from a poultry dealer because he through he would be charged with stealing it. He had been at work for 16 hours and wanted to get home.
1955 Nov 04
Tenants of council houses at Westmoor Common, Little Downham, have to look for rat holes to pour waste water in because they have no sink or drains of any description. All that was needed were a few glazed pipes as there was a septic tank. But there was no way of installing them without a comprehensive scheme which would be too expensive. Seven years ago a similar scheme was proposed at Lt Thetford but nothing had been done there either. It was wrong that there were council houses without sinks when they were spending money on modern houses. 55 11 04-a
1958 May 22
Since May 15th ten outbreaks of fowl pest have been confirmed within a radius of eight miles of Ely in the parishes of Little Thetford, Wilburton, Coveney, Witchford and Manea. An order under the Fowl Pest Restrictions now comes into force and poultry may not be moved except under licence. The holding of poultry store markets is also prohibited. 58 05 22b
1975 Aug 26
A visit to the lavatory by a railwayman has been caught up in a web of red tape. Mr Clarence Page who mans the signal box West River Crossing, Lt Thetford, wanted a proper flush lavatory, after getting through three of the chemical type in the last seven years. He got permission and a plumber came down and fitted it at a cost of £25. However when the bill reached British Rail headquarters they were not pleased. The flush lavatory was ripped out and another chemical one put in. He reckons the exercise has cost as much as £200. The Union representative says: “We want a flush lavatory. We want to be classified as human beings”
1976 Jul 12
About 100 Cub Scouts and Brownie Guides collapsed from heat exhaustion at an open air service conducted by the Bishop of Ely at the Cub Scout jubilee camp at Braham Farm, Lt Thetford. There were about 4,000 people at the service, including about 2,500 Cubs and Brownies. The service was cut short and ended after half-an-hour. “The fact that this is the biggest-ever camp and that we expect almost 10,000 visitors just goes to show what a healthy state the movement is in this part of the world”, said Assistant Commissioner, Mr Barry Howe.
1980 Jun 16
Little Thetford is to have its own riverside nightclub. Work is underway to convert the Fish and Duck pub and restaurant into a licensed discotheque and top music personalities have been booked for the opening weekend. They include Radio 1 disco jockey Dave Lee Travis and disco dancers Pan’s People. The pub was closed nearly two years ago after the owner was hurt in a road accident, now it will become one of the top night spots in East Anglia. A brand new marine with over 200 moorings has yet to be opened. 80 06 16
1980 Jul 04
Don’t miss the spectacular opening nights of East Anglia’s news, biggest nightspot – the Fish and Duck, Little Thetford. We’ve got the place, DJs, lighting, music, groups, food. If you come you get an action-packed show you’ll never forget: Radio 1 DJ Dave Lee Travis & Pans People. Groups Clone & Red Express. Free Bar-BQ included. 4,000 tickets at £4. – Advert 80 07 04
1980 Jul 08
There have been a flood of complaints from people attending the opening of a new riverside disco at the Fish and Duck, Lt Thetford. They say they did not get value for money and just about everything was wrong: the barbecue was just one beefburger in a bread roll, toilets were filthy and without water, drinks were over-priced and glasses unavailable while many people turned up in old jeans when smart dress was expected. But this has been strongly denied by the managing director who asked: where can you get that kind of entertainment for £4? 80 07 08b
1980 Sep 20
The Round House, Little Thetford is thought to be a lookout post built at the end of the 15th century. It was lived in, divided up into two three-storey cottages, up until 1959 and then stood empty for some years. The roof was in danger of collapsing and the ‘stairs’ were virtual ladders. Now it has been turned into one dwelling with a small extension at the rear. The thick walls are solid brick throughout; built before the village it could well outlast it. 80 09 20
1983 May 25
East Cambs planning chief slammed the ‘hysterical local opposition’ each time they put forward plans for a permanent gypsy site. Already Wilburton, Mepal and Little Thetford are no go areas because of the local opposition. It means the job of solving the problem becomes progressively more difficult. The only alternative was to abandon the whole thing. Councillors agreed no action would be taken to prosecute longstanding residents on unauthorised sites until more suitable alternative plots were available. 83 05 25 p7
1984 Oct 26
The Fish and Duck pub and marina at Little Thetford failed to reach its reserve price of £150,000 when put up for auction. The complex on a 23 acre site at the confluence of the Great Ouse and Cam was put up for sale by its present owner, Nowinvest Ltd but the top bid fell a little short of what was required 84 10 26