MuseumFromHome: The Fens

Now we are back to term-time scheduling, we hope you will enjoy this weeks #MuseumFromHome post which focuses on the beautiful landscape that surrounds us here in Ely, the Fens!

The Fens is one of our most popular school sessions at Ely Musuem and we hope you will enjoy a small flavour of it today as we learn about Fenland tools, the Wise Woman and safe-keeps and all about the vegetables traditionally grown in the rich peat soil that surrounds us.

Head over to our Facebook page to join in with some fun crafts as we make our own Fenland field, a wind pump inspired by the ones that helped to drain fields before the invention of steam & diesel engines, and our own tractor too!

Fore more things to learn about modern farming, check out the LockDownLearning page on Eat Farm Now website - there are some great activities, videos and things to try!

Why not try making some Fenland inspired recipes too? We love making this LoveBeetroot's 'Ultimate Beetroot Chocolate Cake' recipe for our Feast of Fenland school sessions and LoveBeetroot are based here in Ely!

Other than delicious chocolate-beetroot cake, one of our other favourite parts of our normal Fenland school session is looking at the great collection of traditional farming tools at the museum and learning what they were used for. Sometimes the size, shape or material of the tool gives us clues! Take a look at these farming tools from Ely Museum and see if you can guess what they were used for, then download the descriptions to see if you can match them!

How do you think they were used?
Fenland Tools DescriptionsDownload

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

Our cure for a broken toe from the Wise Woman

What would you include in your cure? The Wise Woman has received requests for cures for a sore throat, hay fever and baldness today, download the request here and help the Wise Woman come up with a unique cure!

You can draw or write your answers!

Wise Woman CuresDownload

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!

What would you put in your safe keep? Download the sheet below and create your own! Either draw pictures or write a few sentences

Make your own safe keepDownload

Why not make yourself a simple pouch from some scrap material and gather things from around your house or garden to make your own safe keep to wear?