I recently found an old map at an antique fair which shows the fens as they were in 1640. it was a map made by J Blaeu in 1645. Apparently it was part of a series of maps which were made in Holland. I just could not resist buying it even though it was rather expensive...but it is really beautiful. I have scanned some of the detail of the map to give you an idea of what the areas around the fen rivers way looked like before drainage. You can see the edge of the fen and the distribution of the fenland islands and meres. The map is orientated with the North to the right. It was made this way because it fitted on the page better.
I hope you can see from these scans what a beautiful map it is. The images are best viewed with a good video card in your computer...i have been looking at them with a Matrox millenium card and the effect is stunning. its like putting on a pair of glasses for the first time having been short sighted for years. But even with an ordinary video card i think you will be able to appreciate what an interesting place the fens must have been in those days.
Please Note each map is **** 200Kb ***** in size so may take a while to download. but they are worth it and you have to have the size to get the beautiful detail.
The first map shows the route from Cambridge to Ely. and you can see the finger of land sticking out into the fens at Clayhithe and also at Denny Abbey. Ely was truely an island connected by causeway to Soham and Rampton. There are two big open areas of water marked at Soham and Stretham (Stritham moore and Soham moore). Even Grunte fen is shown between Stritham(Stretham) and Wichford. It is interesting to note that The River Cam is called the River of Grant on this map.
The second map shows the section between Ely and Downham market.With the river ouse going through great meanders, not like the well channeled river we see today. Littleport is shown on its island again linked to Ely by causeway. It is also interesting to note the buildings which are marked in the fens. Clearly they stood out in the landscape and were important features to travellers. For example look at the house in seuerall fenn, towards the bottom of the map.
The third map shows the section from Downham market to Kings Lynn. At the top of this map (to the west of the river ouse) you can see the area of land which has already been drained, Mershe Lande. It is interesting to see that the draining of the fens began at the sea and progressed inland. Various Bridges existed across the River Ouse along this section. 5 being marked on the map. No doubt this was an important crossing point between Norfolk and Lincolnshire in those days.
All map images are copyright D.Mackay 1996