Secrets of the ‘free-loving, utopian’ Manea colony revealed in new Cambridge Archaeology Unit video

PUBLISHED: 11:34 02 October 2017 | UPDATED: 12:08 02 October 2017

Hard at work at the community archaeology project.

Hard at work at the community archaeology project.


A team of archaeologists who uncovered the mysteries of one of the strangest social experiments of the 19th century – the Manea colony – have released a video of their findings.

Hard at work at the community archaeology project.Hard at work at the community archaeology project.

The Cambridge Archaeological Unit, along with a crew of volunteers, intricately searched deep beneath the marsh Fenland ground that was once the home of a ‘free-loving socialist utopia’ community from 1838 to 1841 in September last year.

The dig, which uncovered ceramics, glass and some of the colony’s foundations, was hailed as a success by site director, Dr Marcus Brittain and this month, his unit has released a 16-minute video detailing their discoveries.

What was the Manea colony?

Manea ColonyManea Colony

The colony was the brainchild of Fenland farmer and Methodist minister, William Hodson, who wanted to create a community that aligned with the ideas of socialist, Robert Owen.

Hodson believed strongly in equality and so built a ‘utopian’ colony on over 150 acres of his own land in Manea in 1838.

He set out to create a community where everyone would live equally, work together and a place where money and marriage were unnecessary.

The volunteers who took part in the Manea community archaeology project.The volunteers who took part in the Manea community archaeology project.

The colony was initially a success, with people moving to Cambridgeshire from as far afield as Manchester and Birmingham.

The village – built by the colonists themselves from locally-sourced materials – included cottages, a dining hall, a school, a communal kitchen and it even had its own newspaper printed on site – the Working Bee.

But, before long, conflict began to appear after many female members became offended by Hodson’s ideologies and the practise of ‘free love.’

Ceramics found during the dig.Ceramics found during the dig.

Many colonists, especially those from the north, were unable to understand agriculture and needed help from locals to sell their goods. This, in turn, meant the colony struggled for money and just over two years after the colony was built, Hodson withdrew his financial support, blaming the failure of a local bank and within two years all the colonists had gone.

Hodson stayed until 1846 before heading off to America where he became a founding member of a colony in Wisconsin.

It’s believed that some of the colony’s cottages were still occupied in the early 1900s - with a baptism taking place there in 1906 - but the colony finished as a community soon after.

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