The Word Garden has created a full transcription of the Proceedings of the Company of Adventurers, six books held by the Cambridgeshire Archives; a project funded by the National Heritage Lottery Fund. These archives provide details of the day to day planning of the transformation the Fens by the Company in the 1650s in the time of the Commonwealth and Oliver Cromwell.
The archive contains many fascinating stories about this key time in the history of the Fens and this country. These include the use prisoners of war from Scotland and the Netherlands to work on the engineering works, the resistance of locals, how Cromwell’s troops quelled riots, problems with finance that so nearly ended the project, as well as many other stories and details about life in these times; riots by women, corruption, disputes with the workers, arrests for stealing of turf and many more.
We also created maps, an interpretive text, a history walk (with sound trail), podcasts and audio dramas to bring the stories to life.
We believe this is one of the great stories in English history and deserves to be more known.
Most of the project outputs can be found on the Internet Archive. For the transcriptions and summary documents search for Proceedings of the Adventurers Summary and Index.
The Word Garden has created the new Scottish Soldiers History Trail in beautiful surroundings of Welney Wetland Centre,Hundred Foot Bank, PE14 9TN, in the heart of the East Anglia Fens.Try to visit the trail on the Summer Walk, set in a magical safe haven for wildlife and visitorsbefore it closes for the winter months to reopen afresh in the spring.Listen to the radio broadcast made during a recent walk along the trail for a taster before you visit.
The Covenanter’s Saltire the flag under which the Scottish Soldiers fought Cromwell, Battle of Dunbar, 3rd September 1650
The Opening of the Scottish Soldiers History Trail: New Bedford River, Welney Wetland Centre
We would like to thank Leigh Marshall and Emma Brand, and volunteers at Welney Wetland Centre for their support of the making of the Scottish Soldiers History Trail: Sukie Meldon for her beautiful glass work, Peter Daldorph for his on-going transcription work of The Adventurers Minute Books and Leigh Chambers for walking and recording, for Cambridge 105 Radio, the significance of this tribute during this challenging time of upheaval in our lives, thus enabling The Word Garden to create a lasting way to ‘honour’ the Scottish Covenanters for their work on the construction of the New Bedford River.
In the autumn of 1651, following a massacre of Scottish soldiers on the battlefield at the Battle of Dunbar in 1650 hundreds of survivors were brought to Cambridgeshire to labour on the drainage works on The Hundred Foot River in the East Anglia Fens. They were transferred as prisoners in brutal marches, corralled in insanitary prisoner-of-war camps, separated from their families and homeland without hope of return. On their arrival they lived and worked in degrading, insanitary conditions under the threat of death should any attempt be made to escape.
See their once hidden history described in the Origins publication, and in Dunure to Denver and in The Scottish Soldiers in the Fens films, here, where we capture their stories authentically and imaginatively through archival records and historical re-imaginings .
Walking the history trail, where they laboured, and out onto the Summer Walk at the Welney Wetland Centre, there are seven marker posts each holding rainbow-coloured glass panels baring the words ‘They will return to honour us’…’their descendants…in years to come…to honour barefoot soldiers who were buried without respect or ceremony…’ (Tam, Origins, p97).
Set beneath, drawn from The Adventurers transcription, are information panels describing how the Hundred Foot Bank, running some 21 miles from Earith to Denver, was cut through waterlogged black peat bog using only shovels and spades, where the exiled soldiers may have faced violence and abuse from Commoners in the Fens who were opposed to the work.
Our tributes to the Scottish Soldiers may be found on The Word Garden website, along with other inspiring links, together with the Cambridge 105 Radio broadcast on the 9th September below:
‘Origins, The Scottish Soldiers, the Ouse Washes; the Origins of Landscape Change in the Fens, by The Word Garden, published September 2019,
Origins may be found in Cambridge regional and local libraries and available at Legal Deposit Libraries: British Library; Bodleian Library,
Oxford University; The Cambridge University Library; National Library of Scotland; National Library of Wales; Trinity College, Dublin.’
Followed by this recommendation:
In June 2019 I was fortunate to attend one of the days of celebration for Origins at the Welney Wetlands Centre – an educational and inspiring experience. Nearly two years later I finally read the book from cover to cover. It is a tour de force combining detailed historical research into Scottish prisoners, drawn from primary sources, a powerful reimagining of one prisoner’s story, and glorious photographs of the Fens. A volume to be treasured and re-read.
National Lottery Heritage Fund local legacy project
the film: Dunure to Denver, Coventina’s Quest into Hidden History’
A new film about the how the Scottish Covenanters worked, lived and died during the construction of the New Bedford River from Earith to Denver.
Key Aims of the Origins project
- to explore a little-known, ‘missing’ period of history, 1650-1653, through archival and scientific research to show how changes occur over time, in places and in people’s lives
- to adopt and develop a multi-disciplinary methodology of legacy outputs which highlight human interest stories combined in scientific knowledge and creative archival activities
- to engage and increase understanding of heritage awareness and values, and to widen audience participation from personal to organisational: locally, regionally and nationally
- to create a new body of accessible research learning materials compiled from archive searches, folk customs, film-making, photography, performance, publications, and experts and professionals in the field: environment, landscape, archaeology, ecology, identity.
Approach, Application and Archive
The Word Garden Methodology adopted in Dunure to Denver, Coventina’s Quest into Hidden History, as in previous National Lottery Heritage Funded projects The Family Adams Project and Our Village Tree, is primarily a learning document. It provides tools and new skills for investigating the roots of change in a community: its history, people, places, activities and events.
This has been achieved by exploring, researching, imagining, re-creating human interest stories drawn from authenticated primary and secondary sources, including: scientific investigations, existing publications, authentic poetry and songs, county records, maps, visual images, public domain materials, and folk tales.
Historical evidence, research by archaeologists, archivists, historians, environmentalists and the folk knowledge of local people play an integral part in this intra-disciplinary approach. New ways of creating legacy learning where contemporary scientific research is combined with creative arts-based activities make possible wide-ranging, in-depth, focused teaching. In addition, it enables ways of exploring concepts, values, attitudes, mores and traditional lifestyles. These extend both inspiration and knowledge-seeking across differing settings, ages and abilities.
The Word Garden methodology meets funding outputs and outcomes in the following ways:
- we bring to new audiences knowledge of a period of ‘missing’ history
- we highlight a fresh approach to archival research, recording and spreading the word
- we create wider opportunities to develop legacy-making in interactive and relevant ways.
Coventina’s imagined journey from Dunure to Denver provides insights into differing cultural aspects of life which are rarely seen in one project story. It encompasses people and places, time and travel, and here, focused observations on the transformation of the East Anglia fen landscape, envisaging the construction of the second drain, during hostile and turbulent times: the aftermath of the Battle of Dunbar, 3rd September, 1650.
The purpose is not to tell an entirely factual story. On occasions we have deviated from historical accuracy, which we have highlighted in the references, using creative licence. The intention here has been to use historical fact as a starting point and framework for imagined events and people, and to stimulate a need to know more. This in turn is intended to provide greater understanding of the value and relevance of historical and scientific research, of our heritage assets, and of how history can inform the present and future.
We made a deliberate decision not to use the Scots vernacular to make the story more accessible to a general readership. Similarly, we have avoided the use of archaic words and phrases.
Telling the Story
There are unique and essential elements to the making of this story which provide many opportunities for research into: history, culture, archaeology, environment, identity, memory, lifestyle. These combine in the missing stories uncovered during Origins’ project development.
Yesterday’s story of a search for a Scottish Soldier became a story for today about slavery, servitude and the seemingly endless plight of refugees of war.
The transformation of characters is a relevant part of legacy-making in its own right.
Coventina, drawn initially as a fictional ‘real’ person, became a universal symbol for individual freedoms. She is an archetype, the girl in the woman, philosopher-traveller as found in dream conversations with Tam as they walk the great road south, today’s Great North Road; she is historian, the soul of the landscape, a child of her time for our time.
Young, idealistic Tam survives the Battle of Dunbar, only to be buried in an ‘open hole’ close to Durham Cathedral. His remains were discovered in late November 2016 with his kinsmen. As seen in the 3D facial depiction of skeleton 22, his face was ‘made young again’ during the skeletal science work by Durham Archaeologists. His remains were re-interred in May 2018, to be brought back to a fictional life in Dunure to Denver, in June 2019: a new history born from tragedy in the story arc from Doon Bay to Doon Hill.
In Coventina’s quest to find Tam, the young Covenanter set on fighting against Cromwell in the family war, this story reveals the universal truth that human kind never learn from history but that hope remains, the very driving force of Coventina’s search.
The story, too, set in a barren landscape, has become a model of legacy-making:
Transcribing Legend into Legacy
- research findings offer in-depth insight into historical events for future exploration
- reclaimed hidden stories dispel taken-for-granted notions and ideas.
Time and Place
- the story is rooted in real time, but adopts time-slips to highlight the interconnectedness of past, present and future which enables the reader to enter into the experience
- each stage and stopping place in the quest illuminates past events for present day readers and stimulates further personal and community research, e.g. costume, food, travel, shelter, geography: the when, where, how and why of history
- we witness Coventina’s transformation from a country girl into a figure of enlightenment, transcending the norms of her time and place.
The Origins component of the project title explores the nature of change in all its forms:
- how people survive external forces such as Civil War and religious turmoil
- how man-made landscape change affects human history within the natural environment e.g. in the 1650s the construction of the New Bedford River caused hostility, poverty and demographic changes
- how research into our forebears can inform our response to current challenges such as climate change
- how interactions with new people create new knowledge and understanding.
Let us now tell the story of the Scottish Soldiers, the Ouse Washes; the Origins of Landscape Change, here in the Fens, from the present to future generations.
Dunure, Dunbar, Durham, Denver
Origins Lost and Found
At the project celebration we announced the release of fifteen black-tailed godwits from Lady Fen, Welney Wetland Centre in June 2020. They left East Anglia flying south bearing never- to-be-forgotten names of six Scottish Soldiers, found in The Adventurers’ Minute Books: Cristen, Worley, Cuthbert, Hume, Hewson and Chiney. And, from Coventina’s Quest, the story of her journey south from Scotland, we added nine names: Tam, Coventina, Doon, Unity, Boston, Thistle, Heather, Mitchell, and Elvet, named after the Durham Cemetery on Elvet Hill Road where the Re-interment of the Remains of the Scottish Soldiers took place. Those protected chicks were released in June 2019 into new landscapes carrying a survival story like no other. They are creating a new legacy of ancestors and descendants across time and place.
We then had to await their return from migration. And Tam, our Scottish Soldier, fulfilled his prediction to have their history remembered, page 97, Dunure to Denver, Coventina’s Quest into Hidden History, on his return around 5th May 2020 this time, to the Nene Washes rather than to the unmarked burial grounds close to Durham Cathedral, in 1650, eventually, found by archaeologist in November 2013.
At less than one-year old Tam’s prediction has indeed come to fruition not only in the discovery of the remains the Scottish Soldiers, but also in now being made real in contemporary memory in words and visuals. To mark this, The Word Garden is a Godwit Guardian for Tam, thus spreading the story of survival, re-creating history in the most wonderful way possible.
The Word Garden
27 June 2019
- In honour of the Scottish Soldiers who, as prisoners-of-war, worked in the East Anglia Fens in the 17th century, fifteen black-tailed godwits have been names, included: Coventina, the narrator of The Quest, and Tam, the fictionalised Scottish Soldier in the story who died at the Battle of Dunbar, 3rd September, 1650.
- The Word Garden celebration of the Origins National Lottery Heritage Funded project at Welney Wetland Centre, 29th and 30th June, 2019.
From Dunure to Denver Coventina’s Quest into Hidden History
A video film adopted from the story of the same name in the National Lottery Heritage Funded local legacy project publication:
The Scottish Soldiers, the Ouse Washes; the Origins of Landscape Change in the Fens
Coventina’s imagined journey, Dunure to Denver, moves through historical time from Hogmanay 1651 to May 2018 to the present day. It foretells of the construction of the 100ft, the New Bedford River, by prisoners of war during hostile and turbulent times. This transformation of the landscape brought seen and unseen consequences in the aftermath of the Battle of Dunbar,
3rd September 1650, during the Civil Wars, or more properly, The Wars of Three Kingdoms.
Her Quest, rooted in real time adopts time-slips to demonstrate the interconnectedness of past, present and future. During her journey to find Tam Coventina is transformed from a country girl into a story-teller shifting through time and place.
Coventina, played by Abby Cornwell, drawn initially as a fictional ‘real’ person, becomes a universal symbol for individual freedoms. She is transformed as archetype, the girl in the woman, a philosopher-traveller in her dream conversations with Tam as they ‘walk’ imaginary tracks, follow posts roads, feel lost in forests, survive marshland and moor, visit cities along the march south, the route the Scottish Soldiers may have taken, and sleep in wild places. She is historian, the soul of the landscape, a child of her time for our time.
Tam, played by Duncan Hedley-Rees, the young, idealistic Covenanter, survives the Battle, only to be buried in an ‘open hole’ close to Durham Cathedral. His remains were discovered in late November 2016 with his kinsmen. We witness in the 3D facial depiction of skeleton 22 how he was ‘made young again’ during skeletal science work by Durham archaeologists. His remains were re-interred in May 2018, to be brought back in a fictional life, here, in June 2019, working, living as part of the East Anglia fens; thus creating a new history born of tragedy in the story arc from Doon Bay to Doon Hill.
Their story reveals the universal truth that human kind never learn from history but that hope remains, the very driving force of Coventina’s quest.
This video, together with all elements of the project provide forms of research methodology for the individual as well as interested groups and organisations.
Video: Hightail Spaces
Script Writer, Project Coordinator
The Word Garden
Development in Creative Arts
On behalf of The Word Garden team I would like to thank you for your interest in the National Lottery Heritage Fund project The Scottish Soldiers, the Ouse Washes; the Origins of Landscape Change in the Fens. We have fulfilled our legacy-making objectives in primary schools’ workshops, information days, and during the 2-day celebratory event at Welney Wetland Centre. There, we introduced new audiences to new scientific findings and to human-interest stories from archival evidence previously unseen, missing from history and public attention.
Our new publication, known as Origins, is a working example of The Word Garden’s interdisciplinary methodology. It demonstrates how primary and secondary sources act as tools for learning. We explore, authenticate and bring to life significant historical public and personal events for future generations. Content is appropriate across educational sectors, is relevant to interest groups and environmental establishments working in the regional community, and at national levels.
We would like to extend an invitation to you to attend the book launch, to meet The Word Garden team and to visit the exhibition in which we turn archive into learning, show project activities, people, places and events. Significant primary archive findings are transcribed from The Adventurer’s Minute Books, 1649-1656, a legacy outcome in project work second to none; and, the authenticated fictionalised story of life for Scottish Soldiers after their defeat by Cromwell at the Battle of Dunbar, 1650; their march of survival south to Earith, onward to Denver to work on the construction of the Hundred Foot River where they lived, and died, without recognition. Now, the combined skills of archaeologists, archivists, historians, together with a need to know by local people, we have recorded a once lost history to this unique Fen landscape.
We look forward to meeting you again at the launch. If you are unable to attend the launch I am delighted to let you know that the Project Exhibition runs from 16th-26th October inclusive.
Please do let Florence Tong, Project Manager, Babylon Arts, know if you are able to attend by Monday, 7th October.
With very best wishes,
The Word Garden
The Word Garden wins National Lottery support for ‘Origins’ Project
The Word Garden, has received a National Lottery grant of £49,200 for an exciting heritage project in East Cambridgeshire titled: ‘The Scottish Soldiers, the Ouse Washes; the Origins of Landscape Change in the Fens’ known simply as ‘Origins’. Made possible by money raised by National Lottery players, the project commencing this autumn focuses on exploring a ‘missing’ history of events, 1650-53; researching the construction of the second parallel drain by Scottish prisoners-of-war, following their capture after the Battle of Dunbar in 1650. These events not only transformed the landscape and surrounding environment they changed traditional Fenland occupations and lifestyles into the future.
Supported through the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), the project will enable three local schools to explore the history of this period, with workshops being delivered on film work and script writing. There will be a community open day in spring 2019, where local people can bring any information they have about this period. The project will culminate in a two-day celebratory event at Welney Wetlands Centre on 29th and 30th June 2019. There will also be a specially made short film based on the research findings.
The project, which is supported by Babylon ARTS, will enable approximately 110 young people from the three local schools, to learn more about this little-known historic event, whilst involving people locally in a unique heritage project.
Working with heritage professionals from Durham University, participants will gain a deeper insight into this previously under-researched part of their history, as well as an increased awareness into the relationship between people, landscape and their natural environment.
Commenting on the grant, Jean Rees, The Word Garden Project Coordinator said: “We are thrilled to have received this support thanks to National Lottery players and are confident the project will take us on an inspirational journey through hidden history.”
Claire Somerville, Executive Director of Babylon ARTS commented: “It’s a pleasure to be working with The Word Garden on this unique project. Our previous HLF funded work, has shown us what an appetite people have for learning more about their local area and this project will provide ample opportunity for this to take place”.
Robyn Llewellyn, Head of HLF, East of England said: “We’re delighted to support The Word Garden in this intriguing project. Thanks to National Lottery players, young people and the local community can play a part in discovering more about this untold story and learning about the part people have played in shaping the Fenland landscape.”
About The Word Garden
The Word Garden is a not-for-profit unincorporated community group of creative practitioners dedicated to working with the public, including young people, in the exploration and preservation of cultural heritage.
About Babylon ARTS is a registered charity (no: 1043197) operated by ADEC comprising: The Babylon Gallery, Ely Cinema, a live events programme and community projects including Market Place, presented across East Cambridgeshire and beyond. Babylon ARTS is supporting The Word Garden by overseeing the Project Management of this project.
The following organisations have offered their support to the project:
Archaeology Department, Durham University
Archaeology Department, Durham University
Welney Wetlands Centre
Cambridgeshire County Council, Historic Environment Team
Cambridge Film Works
Fens for the Future
Middle Level Commissioners
Ely Group of Internal Drainage Boards
About the Heritage Lottery Fund
Thanks to National Lottery players, we invest money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about – from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife. www.hlf.org.uk. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and use #NationalLottery and #HLFsupported.
Amnesty International, Ely City Group
An awareness raising project The Word Garden sell-out self-funded collaborative dramatic performance, Voices, March 2017, at the Babylon Gallery, Ely.
Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership
The Word Garden secured a grant from the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, November 2015-September 2016, for Our Village Tree. As a result a new style ‘creative census’ was developed during workshop activities in three local communities along the edge of the unique Ouse Washes, a 21 mile stretch of fertile wash-waters. Using archive, creative writing, objects from the past, historical sources, personal memories and stories a Creative Census Toolkit, 2017 was created and presented to each village taking part in the project; and to a number of our supporters and funding bodies.
The Family Adams Project
The Family Adams Project, September 2011-April 2012, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, culminating in the publication of The Living Memory Book, a full-colour, A5 book with over 1000 images of archive findings and workshop activities. The Word Garden Team also produced a video film, The Fenland Shop that Time Forgot, J H Adams & Sons, 2012; and set up a Cambridgeshire regional touring show with related workshops to schools, museums and local libraries.