The King's England: Cambridgeshire

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The King's England: Cambridgeshire

'There have been many books on Cambridgeshire but never one like this.' Thus ran the publisher's advertisement for the original edition of this book, first published in 1939. The Cambridgeshire landscape has seen many changes in the last half-century or so, though there are also areas where it has been lovingly preserved. In this anecdotal, alphabetical ramble round the historic county, Arthur Mee patiently catalogues all of the things for which Cambridgeshire is famous. The City of Cambridge itself, with its wonderful University and College architecture, Ely with its cathedral, Wisbech, March, and the many villages and hamlets which together go to make up the rich tapestry of Cambridgeshire's past.

Here is a mulberry tree at Levington under which Goldsmith may have written She Stoops to Conquer ; there is, perhaps, a Village College, founded to teach the young the arts and crafts of the countryside; here are the famous woad plantations of Parson Drove. At Whittlesey is a market house standing on pillars of stone. At Burwell is a black-towered windmill, and above the thatched barns of Bourne rises a smock mill of Cromwell's day.

Cromwell's shadow looms large throughout, as does that of the Duke of Bedford, and his talented engineer, Vermuyden, who transformed the levels and lodes, the drains and droves, creating hundreds of acres of new, rich farmland. We meet Thomas Clarkson of Wisbech, friend of Wilberforce and founder of the Anti-Slavery Society; Tancred, Tortred and Tona, of Thorney Abbey, who sleep as canonised saints beneath the church; Old Jack Harvey of Fen Ditton, whose fiddle still hangs in the church; and Elizabeth Woodcock of Impington, who survived eight days' burial in a snowdrift in the winter of 1799.

In his introduction, describing Cambridgeshire as the county of the Fens, Arthur Mee declares, 'we must think of Cambridgeshire as we think of Holland, fighting against the sea' Yet it contains 'two wonders of our English World, the marvellous cathedral of Ely and the unparalleled city of Cambridge'. The clash of distant sword-blades recalls the days of Hereward the Wake, fighting his rearguard action against marauding Danes, while Rupert Brooke at Grantchester gives us a more recent perspective.