Bailiff hit with rotten eggs, pew fight and poking your head out of moving train 

Selection of photos from the stories covered in this week's archive feature 

Selection of photos from the stories covered in this week's archive feature - Credit: Archive/Ely Museum

Villagers pelted a bailiff with rotten eggs who, after all, was only doing his job.

And then there was a curious spat in a parish church over, of all things, a pew. 

Or you may prefer to discover the joys found in Fenland by a group of anglers from Sheffield - or find out about a veteran's dog mascot, Jack. 

All these feature in our weekly round-up from the archives and mainly the work of local historian Mike Petty through his Fenland History on Facebook. 

Rotten eggs in Battle of Hillrow - August 29th 1924 

From the newspaper of the time

From the newspaper of the time - Credit: Archant


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Amazing scenes were witnessed at Hillrow, Haddenham when a crowd of nearly 200 people, men, women and children, smothered a Cambridge auctioneer, who was conducting a distraint sale with scores of rotten eggs. 

The Ouse Drainage Board had sent demand notes to the tenant of some land at Hillrow, Mr. W. Peacock, without response and decided to distrain a haystack.  

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A bailiff arrived one morning and installed himself in Mr Peacock’s house and notices were pasted around the village intimating that the stack would be sold by public auction. 

When these were read by residents a Council of War was called.  

Ammunition in the form of rotten eggs was obtained, two or 300 rounds being the estimated supply.  

The ammunition factory was a refuse heap, into which two years’ supply of unfertilized eggs from a local incubator farm had been thrown. 

The Haddenham, Wilburton and Hillrow irregulars having armed themselves to the teeth waited for the first sign of the enemy.  

He appeared at Wilburton in the shape of a Cambridge auctioneer in a motor pantechnicon, escorted by to burley assistants, and continued to the premises.  

200 persons had assembled, and the auctioneer was received with cheering and various choice invitations. 

Two leading residents pointed out that the auctioneer should investigate the legality of the sale of the stack, which stood on the property of Mr Peacock’s wife had nothing to do with him.  

However, he made preparations to carry on the sale and was told he could not conduct a property sale on the Kings Highway. 

When the sale started pandemonium commenced.  

No sooner had he commenced his work than a two-year-old egg hit the bailiff in the ear, the contents of the missile running down his neck.  

A second hit the auctioneer in the vicinity of the ear. He thanked the man for the present. 

Then the intensive barrage of rotten eggs began. There were scores of them.  

There were large ones and little ones, brown ones and white ones and some that were all the colours of the rainbow.  

They were all being fully charged with ‘poisoned gas’. The auctioneer received a few dozen in the face, on the back of the head, on his tie, collar and shirt. In fact, in a very short space of time he was plastered. 

But the irregulars were not allowed to escape and scores were seen with their heads hanging over an adjoining fence quite overcome by the deadly fumes of their own gas attacks. 

Further supplies of ammunition were brought up to a raucous chorus of ‘Rule Britannia’ and the National Anthem. 

The auctioneer attempted to carry on with the sale but slowly he was forced to the shores of the local horse pond. 

It was then P.c. Breeze, the local constable, made his presence felt and handled a very difficult situation with the greatest tact and courage. 

There is not much more to tell of the story of a stack. It still stands where it did before the battle commenced. 

The auctioneer having sold the stack closed his book & sought the shelter of the pantechnicon.  

It was not until he arrived in Wilburton, where everyone leads a peaceable, respectable, uneventful and righteous life, that he was able to get rid of his battle scars. 



Ely Sewage escape - August 29th 1924 

Photo: Annesdale c 1911

Photo: Annesdale c 1911 - Credit: Archive

The Ely Surveyor had been called by Atkin, the sewer man, who said that the flap at the sewage works tank had been let down by boys. 

The whole of the Ely sewage was being held up along the low level.  

He went to Annesdale to open the storm outlet and found the water standing two feet below the top of the brickwork in the manhole.  

It was impossible to open the flap against the water. 

He therefore had an opening, or grip, cut across the riverbank from the main sewer to let the water escape into the river, and by so doing was able to raise the flap.  

The chains attached to both 18-inch flaps were broken in the attempt to raise them.  

The flap was afterwards raised by means of an iron hook and the chain refixed. He suggested that both the changes be fastened with strong padlocks. 


On the buses 

Burwell and District bus

Burwell and District bus - Credit: Ann Lewis

From Ann Lewis "Burwell and District buses driving to Cambridge, via my home village, Swaffham Prior, 1970s". 

Sheffield fishermen - August 23rd 1889 

 Sheffield fishermen at Ely c1905

Sheffield fishermen at Ely c1905 - Credit: Mike Petty

The cutlers of Sheffield are ardent followers of the "gentle craft" of good old Isaak Walton, and that from year to year it is their habit to visit some well-known district having charms for the angler. 

In August 1889, they have again undertaken a peaceful invasion of the Fens, armed with fishing rods and baskets, trolling lines and landing nets, hooks and bait boxes, and all the implements of the fresh water fisherman.  

Their principal "battle field" as usual was the North Level Drain, but the killed in the piscatorial conflict were fewer than on some previous occasions. 

The excursionists began to arrive on Saturday, a large proportion of them taking up their quarters in Wisbech, but Murrow, Tydd St. Mary, Tydd Gote, Long Sutton, Sutton Bridge and other places were all patronised by the "blades". 

Following the rule adopted by many Sheffield anglers on such occasions, an outing—one of the principal attractions of which was fresh air, unmixed with furnace smoke—rather than a successful sally upon preserved fish streams was the main object.  

Many were the fishermen who did not get a bite, whilst numerous others returned home with an empty bag, so far as fish were concerned, but some of the disappointed ones made up for their lack of fish by a supply of other commodities generally found against some rural homestead. 

In certain cases, baskets which should have been filled with something scaly, were laden with apples, whilst in another instance almost enough live geese were taken away to stock a poultry yard.  

The Sheffielders apparently are keen admirers of wild flowers, to judge from the manner in which they decked themselves and their sweethearts with ragwort, wild daises, clover, and every procurable bloom, not forgetting the cornflower. 

The villagers of Tydd must have reaped a fine harvest, especially the proprietor of the Gote Inn, who expressed a wish that there might be fishing matches much oftener than at present.  

And this was not without reason for the majority of the Sheffield anglers were thirsty souls.  

The chief party of anglers belong to the Washington Works Club. Some of the catches were of an amusing description, and included single specimens of roach, little eels weighing about one ounce and other small fry.  

It was pleasing to notice however that the visitors one and all appeared to enjoy themselves considerably during their stay in our midst.  


Chatteris pew fight, 1889 

Chatteris parish church

Chatteris parish church - Credit: Mike Petty

A feeling of bitterness between the Vicar and one of our old church families has been apparent for many months. 

It arose out of some alterations of a family pew by the Vicar's order, and this feeling has been intensified during the last few Sundays. 

It culminated on Sunday last in the father of the said family and his two sons finding the pew door locked against them by the Vicar, which appeared to be a strange proceeding in a free church. 

The facts appear to be these. 

Some months ago, the Vicar caused certain alterations of the family pew in question to be made, which the family believe to be illegal and unjustifiable, and therefore resolved to occupy the Vicar's family pew instead.  

This attitude was at once resented by the Vicar and his family, and constant scenes of contention for the possession of the Vicar's pew has been so frequent as to be a familiar feature at divine service. 

Last Sunday week the aggrieved family having, as usual, got possession of the Vicar's pew by going early. 

The congregation were surprised to hear the Vicar give instructions from his reading desk to the churchwardens to request the family to leave the said pew. 

One of the churchwardens performed the unpleasant duty amid the tittering of the people, but the Vicar had to be told they refused to go.  

Last Sunday morning, however, the Vicar had the door looked, but the three gentlemen in question were not to be thus deprived of their sitting. 

They climbed over the high door, the churchwarden being unsuccessful, by pulling the leg of the last gentlemen, in preventing him to surmount.  

This stratagem was repeated at night, and the congregation of the church look upon the controversy with curiosity, mingled in some cases with regret. 


Ely Railway Station Accident - August 23rd 1929 

Ely station-

Ely station - Credit: Mike Petty

The danger run by railway passengers in putting their heads out of the windows of moving trains was exemplified at Ely station. 

The unfortunate man was travelling with his wife on the train from London to Snettisham. 

When the train was just moving out of Ely he leaned out of the compartment window.  

At the end of the platform there stands at large water column, which he failed to see, with the serious consequence that his head came into contact with it.  

He was immediately rendered unconscious and hung half out of the compartment window.  

Some workmen saw the accident, stopped the train and quickly went to the injured man's assistance.  

He was bleeding profusely from the back of the head and was taken on a stretcher from the train to the waiting room where Dr G.B. Davis was waiting to attend his injuries.  

It was feared he had a sustained a fractured skull and he was immediately removed to Addenbrooke's Hospital.  

After an x ray examination, he was allowed to travel to Snettisham 



Ely Museum  

The story of mascot Jack

The story of mascot Jack - Credit: Ely Museum


The story of mascot dog Jack

The story of mascot dog Jack - Credit: Ely Museum

In recognition of International Dog Day the museum shared photos of this special dog, Jack. 

He belonged to Lieutenant Colonel Goodwyn Luddington Archer TD of Ely.  

Lt Col. Archer was born in Ely in 1878 to local solicitor Harold Archer and his wife Sophia, he grew up in the family home on the Market Square. 

You can see Archer's officer's sword on display at the new museum.  

This lightweight 'piquet' sword was carried by Archer while he was the commanding officer of the Ely Volunteers, later the Territorials.  

Whilst the sword was sharpened at the start of the war, it was not taken to the Western Front. 

However, when Archer did leave for the Western Front with the Cambridgeshire Regiment on the 14th February 1915, his companion and battalion mascot, Jack, joined him. 

He even appears to have made his own friends whilst deployed. He is pictured here with fellow pup, Charlie! 

After the war, Archer returned to Ely and was a local solicitor, and influential councillor who held numerous positions in Ely.

Despite being in his 60s at the time of the Second World War, he still played an active role, serving as the Civil Defence Controller for the Ely area and played an active part in the local Home Guard too 

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