Video tells tale of Fen ‘Utopian’ settlement

Aerial view of The Manea Colony site.
Aerial view of The Manea Colony site.

A new 16 minute long video tells the story of one of Fenland’s more unusual moment’s in history and highlights work by archaeologists to unearth the truth behind it.

The Manea Colony, which was the subject of an extensive excavation, was only up and running for three years but the story behind it and what it stood for still holds fascination for locals and scholars alike.

Many of the bricks unearthed at the site of Manea Colony had the word 'drain' on them - this could have been a form of tax evation.

Many of the bricks unearthed at the site of Manea Colony had the word 'drain' on them - this could have been a form of tax evation.

Founded in 1838 the Manea Colony was a social experiment set up by local farmer John Hodson on 150 acres on the outskirts of the village. The idea was to create a radical ‘Utopian’ style socialist community where everyone was considered equal.

Last summer archaeologists and a team of dedicated volunteers spent weeks excavating the site to find out more about the settlement, which has all but disappeared.

Now the Cambridge Archaeological Unit have put together a video narrated by archaeologist Dr Marcus Brittain who explains more about the colony, the theory behind it and its eventual demise just three years after it began.

The video, which is available on Youtube - https://www.youtube.comVV/watch?v=17A9WmHbdxg&feature=youtu.be - talks about how ‘Utopian’ settlements like the Manea Colony were a popular social experiment in the 19th century influenced by a number of figures including Robert Owen.

Some of the finds from the excavation at The Manea Colony

Some of the finds from the excavation at The Manea Colony

John Hodson, almost lost everything before he pulled the plug on financing the experiment. His aim had been to create a self-sufficient community that had no need for cash and where society norms like marriage were also disregarded.

But while it initially flourished with people travelling from all over the country to join, things soon started to go wrong and the colony became too much of a drain on Hodson’s finances and he worried for his family’s future.

Dr Brittain explains the settlement was based around a model village design built in a square where all homes were exactly the same. The location of Manea Colony was chosen because it had its own clay quarry where bricks could be made to build the houses and other buildings including a school and dining hall, and could also be traded - transported by the river which also ran alongside the settlement - to bring in an income.

Many bricks were unearthed during the excavation, but the diggers only found one of the settlement’s four sides. Dr Brittain explains lots of the bricks dug up were marked ‘drain’ and he speculates this could have been a form of tax evation as building materials were subject to tax between 1826 and 1850, but items needed for essential work like drainage were exempt.

A general view of the dig at The Manea Colony.

A general view of the dig at The Manea Colony.

However, many of the ‘drain’ bricks were dug up in area’s known to be within the settlement’s cottages including the kitchen areas, so clearly not being used for drainage.

The dig was carried out over three weeks in September 2016 and involved geophys surveys, field walking as well as trenches and small scale excavations.

Finds included glass, pottery, tobacco pipes and metal objects such as kettles all from the 19th century and so most likely associated with the colony.

To find out more about the Manea Colony and the archaeological dig visit the Facebook page.

Field walking and geophys surveys were carried out at the site of The Manea Colony.

Field walking and geophys surveys were carried out at the site of The Manea Colony.

Volunteers helped with the archaeological excavation of the site of The Manea Colony.

Volunteers helped with the archaeological excavation of the site of The Manea Colony.

Volunteers helped with the archaeological excavation of the site of The Manea Colony.

Volunteers helped with the archaeological excavation of the site of The Manea Colony.