Draining of the Fens recorded for posterity thanks to grant

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CAMBRIDGESHIRE County Council’s archives team has been awarded a £28,000 grant to help catalogue thousands of historic parchments, papers and maps of the draining of the Fens from over 300 years ago.

The award, from the National Cataloguing Grants Programme, will enable archivists to create detailed lists of the unique documents left by the Bedford Level Corporation, which made the great fen drains during the seventeenth century

The project, which is also being supported by the Environment Agency and the Cambridgeshire Family History Society, will place all this catalogued information online, thereby providing access to wider audiences.

Archives Manager Alan Akeroyd said: “We are thrilled to have won this grant. It confirms that the history of the Fens is not just important to the people of Cambridgeshire, but nationally too.”

Before the Earl of Bedford and his Adventurers began their work in the 1630s, famously employing Dutch engineer Cornelius Vermuyden, the Cambridgeshire Fens were covered by water for much of the year.

The scale of the undertaking was vast, and the huge work to complete it which had not been carried out before, led to centuries of repeated new technologies to bring the Fens to their current flood-protected state.

As their work progressed, they created many thousands of documents about the draining and about the people and places they affected. All these irreplaceable documents will be catalogued as part of the new project. Once complete, in 2013, the catalogue will be made available online for everyone to view.

The National Cataloguing Grants Programme is a £1.5 million fund administered by The National Archives at Kew to tackle cataloguing backlogs.

This programme has been made possible by support from the Pilgrim Trust, the Foyle Foundation, the Wolfson Foundation, the Monument Trust, the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, the Mercers Company Charitable Foundation, the Goldsmiths Company and the J Paul Getty Jnr Charitable Trust.