SOS for cottages

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I AGREE with Reg Kemp’s appeal to save the old cottages in the historic Little London area of March. These buildings witnessed and were indeed part of the worst period of the town’s long and chequered history.

The cottages overlooked the notorious Hythe, a medieval waterway best described as an open sewer, one of several such ditches intersecting March a century and a half ago.

The stagnant state of the town in the middle of the 19th century earned it official description of having the worst mortality rate per head of population of any place in Britain. So serious in fact it caused intense interest at Westminster.

Within the space of a year no fewer than 441 inhabitants, from a population of 5000, succumbed to choleric visitations and other endemic diseases including typhoid fever caused by putrid ditches and private and public wells, one situated a few feet from St Wendreda’s churchyard. Atrophy (failure to grow) was another cause. The river received offal from a number of slaughter houses in the vicinity.

Some years ago I wrote a highly detailed account ‘Bring Out Your Dead’ outlining the disastrous effect of the endemic visitations at March. The account also refers to how March embarked on a remarkably successful recovery strategy impelled by Government intervention.

To demolish the cottages would be sacrilege to the memory of hundreds of citizens who died needlessly from the council’s woeful lack of concern as regards community health in those times. The cottages were at the heart of the problem.

The churchyard was filled to capacity and the graveyard (garden of rest) alongside Trinity Church had as many as three burials to a single grave, some strangers. It was mainly for this reason that Station Road cemetery came into being and a new cemetery opened in Church End.

We have lost too many old buildings. The bricks of the 19th century Long Eight cottages formerly in The Avenue were part of the Napoleonic prisoner-of-war camp at Norman Cross. They were wantonly pulled down but a couple of similar buildings were saved in Field Baulk after vigorous protest. Another cottage built in 1658 in Church Street underwent the same fate without any thought as to its historic significance.

Unless an ancient building is structurally beyond hope and regarded as dangerous, demolition should not be allowed.

TREVOR BEVIS

March