Welcome to History at Home with Ely Museum!

During this second lockdown, we hope these activities will be useful to all of those teaching and learning from home. ‘History at Home’ brings real objects from the museum, craft activities and fun worksheets to bring history straight to your home!

You might find this list of all the activities available for this History at Home useful when planning your lesson!

The unique landscape of the Fens has changed from marshy, swampy land to the rich farmland we know today.

Today’s History at Home will look at how, and why the land in the Fens has changed so much, and the people who it did it.

Firstly, we’ll learn about peat, the special soil we have here in the Fens. Watch the video below!

Around 400 years ago, life changed dramatically when the Fens were drained. This changed the landscape of our region from wild, untamed Fens, to the tamed land and waterways we recognise today. This drainage dramatically changed the lives of the people who lived here.

Now, with flat open fields, farming could take place, and the Fenland people developed a range of tools and machines to help them do their job in this unique landscape.

Have a go at this guessing game below and see how many you can figure out. Then watch the videos below to see some of the tools we have on display at Ely Museum that belonged to the people who farmed here!

Do you think you would like the job of being a bird scarer? Listen to the song below and make sure you clap or make a loud noise when you hear the line ‘hey shoo all the birds’!

These are the lyrics if you want to sing along!

This song, ‘Between the Flat Land & Sky’ also tells us more about about farming in the Fens. Lots of people are still farming here in the Fens today.

Find the lyrics below so you can sing along!

So, how were the Fens drained? This was an important, and expensive project. It took many years to complete and cost a lot of money. Read the sheet below to find out about the drainage of the Fens & then we’ll meet one of the most important people in the project, Cornelius Vermuyden

We know Cornelius Vermuyden needed to recruit a large number of people to help him as he dug the ditches needed to drain the Fens. This was hard work! Help Vermuyden by helping him write a job advert to recruit people!

We can see Vermuyden used a special type of pump to help him drain the land. Some were powered by wind, others by diesel or steam. Learn more about them here;

The drainage of the Fens was popular with some people who had more space to farm and made lots of money. Other people in the Fens were unhappy about this change to their way of life. Listen, or read, to Powte’s complaint hear. What do you think? Would be in favour, or against, the drainage plans?

The Fens before drainage were an unhealthy place to live. Mists, fogs and repeated flooding meant that most people suffered from the fen ague, or fen malaria. It caused intense pain in the limbs, shivering and burning fever.

Ancient remedies, derived from herbs and other surprising, but readily available ingredients, could be obtained from the local Wise Woman. The Wise Woman would suggest cures we cannot find at the doctors or pharmacist today!

Some things were eaten, placed on the skin or had to buried in the garden to work. Eels were also thought to possess mysterious and healing
properties and were widely used in cures!

Read the sheet below to learn more & then have a go at making your own cure!

Just as people believed the Wise Woman’s cures would help to cure them, like many distinct regions in Britain, the fens have their own stories, folklore and myths. 

Before the Fens were drained, the expanses of misty swamps and meres were dangerous, especially at night and when there was no moon. It was said that evil creatures lived in the marshes and bogs waiting to lure the unwary to their deaths: boggarts, bogles, willo-the-wisps with their dancing lights and the dead hand which would emerge from the water and pull a man to his death. Many were lost in the dark fen and never seen again.

Many Fenlanders were extremely superstitious and would carry a charm or ‘safe keep’ to protect them from drowning or from other evils of marsh and fen. Safe keeps were often small hessian bags with items thought to protect against these creatures. Safe keeps included lots of different things including cures from the Wise Woman and other precious mementos, though the best thing was thought to be the nail clippings of a dead woman!

Finally, have some fun making some Fen themed crafts, from making your own fields or rivers, tractors & diggers, spades and even your own wind pump!