Floating church - one of the fascinating stories of the Fens
I respond to queries re: St Withburga's Floating Church of Holme and the Fens.
The flat-bottomed vessel was the idea of the Rev G Broke B A Rector of Holme.
The floating church was sanctioned by the Bishop of Ely in the 1890's.
Built at Stanground for the sum of 70 it had a building seven feet high like a large shed on the top and was dedicated in April 1897.
The vessel had no bell but it was customary to display two flags, the flag of St George and the flag of St Andrew which could be seen at good distances across the Fens.
The flag of St Andrew was hoisted shortly before services commenced.
Holme was a new parish and rapidly expanded into almost unchartered fen, the lowest area in Britain. Some parts could only be reached by water.
Between April 1897 and October 1904 seventy-four baptisms took place including one at Manea colony, originally set up more than a hundred years previously in the interests of self sufficiency.
Apart from its altar, font and cross the floating church had a lectern also used as the pulpit, a harmonium, even a small vestry and, of course, a bilge pump.
The vessel was 30 feet long and about 10 feet wide and could accommodate up to 50 worshippers.
It had several large windows which could be folded upwards to allow people on the bank to hear and take part in services.
A Floating Church choir was made up from three families and bible classes were held on the vessel and needlework classed for girls.
Special baptism cards were issued and people were very proud of the fact that they had been baptised on The Fenland Ark.
The names of the horse incidentally was Boxer and he put in many miles towing the vessel along the Fen drains.
In 1897 this fascinating church featured in an article in the Strand magazine which stated "the Floating Church of the Fens is unique, being the only one in the world."
A Wisbech newspaper recorded that the vicar of Manea (Rev F G Guy) conducted the first sacrament on the Floating Church.
The vessel deteriorated and was converted into a houseboat in 1907.
It was given the name The Saints' Rest. In about 1912 it sank, the Fens at the time experiencing severe floods and the harvest had to be saved by farm workers using boats.
St Withburga's floating church was much appreciated by isolated families who otherwise were not able to attend a conventional church building.
Services were generally well attended.
It is one of the fascinating stories of the Fens.
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