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The Bourne Archive


Fenland Notes and Queries. Edited by Rev. W.D. Sweeting, Rector of Maxey.

Part 23. October  1894.

This quarterly periodical took the form of a forum in which people sent in questions about the history, ecology and so on of the Fens and the region’s environs and others replied with some sort of answer. Some ‘answers’ seem to have been spontaneous, so qualifying as ‘notes’.

Seventeenth Century Economy

479 – Opposition to Drainage by Soke of Peterborough, 1650. – Mr. John Taylor, of Northampton, possesses a very rare pamphlet, from which we gather some interesting particulars on this subject. Its title is :

The Humble Petition of the Inhabitants of the Soake of Peterborow, within the County of Northampton, containing about forty Townes and Villages, against the Undertakers there with Exceptions to their Act : Setting forth how and wherein they abused the Parliament, by their false suggestions; and a relation of a new reviving of an old Court Project, terribly to threaten those who oppose self-ended Designes. May 28. 1650.

The petition is addressed “To the Supreme Authority of England, assembled in Parliament.” It sets forth that the Earl of Bedford and other Undertakers had obtained an Act by which they were authorised to Drain the Fens in the Soke of Peterborough, estimated at 8,000 acres, of which they were to have 3,000 : that this Act had been obtained by misrepresentations, such as statements that the Soke was anxious to be drained by the Undertakers, that the inhabitants had been fully heard, that their lands were hurtfully surrounded and of little or no value. All these statements are denied, and a list of 13 exceptions given to the provisions of the Act. The prayer is that the Petitioners may enjoy their own property, and may not be disquieted in their possession by the Undertakers, and that none of the Undertakers, or any persons interested in the Undertaking in a pecuniary way, may be judges in matters of the dispute ; and that the Act may be repealed.

A disturbance had taken place on the bank between Peakirk and Crowland, to the Petitioners thus refer :

About March last, the Undertakers set on work-men to dig the ground, and make Banks and works in the Common belonging to the Soak of Peterborow. The Petitioners (that their dissent might appeare in acts as well as words) peaceably, and for some other reasons went to the work-men and discharged them.

On the part of the Undertakers an affidavit of Richard Kendall, of Crowland, Gent., was put in, taken of 3 May, 1650. This gives a different account of the affair. According to Mr. Francis Quarles, of Ufford, J.P., with about 100 persons, came to the bank between Peakirk and Crowland, where about 1,000 men were at work by direction of the Earl of Bedford, and discharged the workmen, notwithstanding their protesting that they were authorised by the Act, “insomuch as many of the said workmen did thereupon forsake their worke.” On leaving the bank, Mr. Quarles met Mr. Layfield, of Thorpe ; and the Deponent soon after went to see Mr. Layfield who simply said if he had not been too late he would have helped to discharge the workmen. The Deponent believes that if the number of workmen had not been so considerable, and if there had not been a garrison of soldiers at Crowland, Mr. Quarles and his party would have fallen upon the workmen. Some Justices of the Peace (Mr. Quarles and Mr. Layfield being two of them) had issued warrants for collecting money, a copy of one being annexed.

This so-called warrant was in these terms :


To Peterborow.

Whereas it is apparent that the Undertakers will take a large portion of the Commons, unlesse some speedy course be taken for prevention thereof, Wee taking it into serious consideration, have thought fit that a considerable summe of money may be raised by a voluntary contribution in every Towne, which wee have indifferently computed according to the Note sent to you, and we desire you, whose Names are above written to afford your assistance in promoting of the business in your Towneship, and to meet us at the next Sessions, that the Countrey may know what is done therein. Dated the 18. day of April, 1650.


Iohn cleypole.

william leafeild.

Peterborough, 11l. 00. 00.

A counter petition was addressed to the Lords Commissioners of the Great Seal by the Adventurers, signed by Robert Henley and John Trafford, praying that Mr. Quarles and Mr. Leafield might be called upon to answer for their “high contempts and misdemeanours.” Accordingly the following order was made :-

4 Meii 1650.

Let the above named Francis Quarles, and William Leafield have notice of this Petition, Warrant, and Affidavit annexed, and put in their Answers thereunto, within 8 days after such notice.



The last article in the pamphlet consists of the answers of the two Justices. They stated that upon information that an Act had been passed for draining the Great Level upon the suggestion that the Gentlemen, Freeholders, and Commoners of the Soke of Peterborough had assented to the same, they had exhibited a petition to some Members of Parliament to be presented to the House, setting forth the facts: that the Undertakers had cut part of their Common (which was not within the Great Level) and had tendered no payment for the same as required by the Act : that, to make their dissent appear more clearly, Mr. Quarles, John Cleypole, Esq., and others, went, to the bank and quietly discharged the workmen, till the Parliament should declare its pleasure : that there was no violence intended : that the account  of Randall’s interview with Mr. Leafield was untrue : that the so-called Warrant was merely an application for subscriptions towards the expenses of the movement, and was signed by the three Justices only as fellow Commoners with other Inhabitants of the Soke : all which they protested was within their rights and that they

together with the said John Cleypole, are Justices of the Peace for the Soake and Liberty of Peterborow, and humbly conceive, they have not misdemeaned themselves in that place or trust reposed in them.