South Witchford Hundred: Welches Dam

Page 164

A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 4, City of Ely; Ely, N. and S. Witchford and Wisbech Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2002.

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This parish lies between Manea, Mepal, Witcham, and Coveney, and is the only one of the various extraparochial areas in the Isle that survived as a civil parish after 1933. (fn. 1) Its name is derived from Edward Welsh, an employee of the Adventurers, who built a dam across the Bedford River. (fn. 2) It has little history, though Fortrey's Hall, the seat of the family of that name, lies just within its borders. The hall is a 17th-century building roofed with old tiles of local origin. The Fortreys were refugees from Brabant in the 16th century, and became co-adventurers with the Earl of Bedford in the drainage of the Fens. The romantic career of Sir James Fortrey, who died in 1719, is recorded on a wall monument in Mepal church. (fn. 3) The area now comprised in Welches Dam civil parish was formerly common to the surrounding villages, and was much affected by Vermuyden's drainage schemes, the Old and New Bedford Rivers cutting right across it. In 1666 an award was made in a suit between the Dean and Chapter of Ely, as lords of the manor of Witcham, and the inhabitants of Coveney, Manea, Chatteris, Wentworth, Witchford, Downham, and Ely regarding 1,900 acres in Byall Fen. The dean and chapter received thereunder 150 acres between the Downham and Coveney portions of the Fen, 8 acres known as Pennyes Pingle on the north side of the Old Bedford River near Fortrey Hall, 41 acres in Widden Fen near Witcham Hithe, 17 acres in Old Fen near Wentworth Drove Way, 7 acres in Hale Fen between Coveney Causeway and the Adventurers' Grounds, 10 acres in Byall Fen Wash between the Bedford Rivers, 11 acres in Dam Head, and certain small pieces of waste ground totalling 14 acres. The value of this 258-acre allotment was £17 11s. 2d. (fn. 4)

The Anglican mission church of St. Eanswyth dates from 1909 and is served from Manea, where is the nearest school. (fn. 5)

A Wesleyan chapel was built in 1822. In 1851 a Sunday school had just been started. (fn. 6) The chapel was closed during the First World War. (fn. 7)

Welches Dam acquired an unhappy notoriety in 1849, when 11 fatal cases of cholera occurred in a parish that had had only 187 inhabitants at the time of the last census. Most of the fatalities were amongst the 81 occupiers of a group of 16 cottages huddled against the Old Bedford River bank and hence very damp. (fn. 8)


  • 1. Isle of Ely Review Order, 1933 (M. of H. no. 76940).
  • 2. P.N. Cambs. (E.P.N.S.), 242.
  • 3. R. Gardner, Dir. Cambs. (1851), 503, giving the text of the inscription.
  • 4. D. & C. Mun., Ely, Cupbd. A.
  • 5. Kelly, Dir. Cambs. (1933).
  • 6. H.O. 129/7/191.
  • 7. Kelly, Dir. Cambs. (1916, 1922).
  • 8. Camb. Chron. 5 Oct. 1850.