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Newsletter, October 2015 (Issue 201)

Two Society outings

William Morris and the Olympic Park: an Ipswich Society outing, 25 June 2015.

From the Eagle Inn, Snaresbrook we travelled to the William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow: Water House (Listed Grade II*) is 'one of the best examples of Georgian domestic architecture in Greater London'. Recently a brick, dated 1744, was discovered during repairs. A blue plaque commemorates Morris' dates of residence: 1846-56.

The gallery is the only public museum dedicated to his life, work and influence. The collections reflect his prodigious range of activities - no wonder he died of overwork. Examples by his friends and followers are also on display.

Onward to what is now called Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. As everyone knows, the 560 acre site used to be a very run-down area, with old factories and slum dwellings. Transformed, at enormous cost, into the venue for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games it has now transformed again and in April 2014 was opened to the public 24/7 and free of charge. There is a thirty year development programme: 8,000 new houses/flats, an International Quarter, a University of the Arts are all on the cards.

Over the River Lea we could see the Aquatics Centre. I was impressed by the extensive plantings of wild flowers and plants from all over the world (to make every athlete at the Games feel 'at home'). Off the coach near the Velodrome, we walked past an inventive play area for children - they're actually encouraged to take risks. Through the park flows a much cleaned-up River Lea complete with barges and even a floating cinema. Our thanks to Barbara Barker for a marvellous outing.

The Museum of Fenland Drainage and Ely: an Ipswich Society outing, 15 July By coach through flat-as-a-pancake Cambridgeshire to the Prickwillow Fen Drainage Engine Museum, near Ely, opened in 1982 to preserve diesel engines and provide an explanation of the need to drain the Fens. Millions of years ago this area had been swept clear by glaciation and formed a freshwater swamp, fed by many rivers. Over time peat accumulated to a depth of over six metres.

In 1630 the 4th Earl of Bedford and his group of investors, 'The Adventurers', planned to drain the Fens for permanent agricultural use and appointed Dutch engineer, Cornelius Vermuyden, to take charge. He cut many new drains and channels. However, once the land had been drained, the peat shrank 'the height of a man in his lifetime' and the land in the Southern Fens was soon below river and sea level making natural drainage impossible. Hence the need for wind-powered pumps - the only form of energy at the time - to get excess water into the rivers and down to the sea. A steam-powered scoopwheel was installed at Prickwillow in 1832, to be replaced by a Mirrlees diesel engine in 1932.

A short journey to Ely and I went to admire the Cathedral's fine Norman nave and the marvellous Octagon, the jewel in its crown. Then to Oliver Cromwell's House (now the Tourist Information Centre) where Cromwell and family lived from 1636-46. The house is mostly 17th century, half-timbered with interior panelling of the time and a wall painting of 1572. The house, previously a pub, was renovated in 1905 in the Arts & Crafts style. Our guide showed us examples of 18th and 19th century brickwork and also of the local soft sandstone on which Ely stands.

A fascinating tour of local buildings, some of them dating from the 15th century, followed: a real insight into the history of the medieval city. Our thanks to Jessica Webster for an excellent outing.

Richard Worman

    Front cover of issue 201 Cover, issue 201

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