The ancient market town of Chatteris was originally a marshy waterside settlement before the 17th century, however, due to Fenland drainage the town now lies some 50 miles inland.

Chatteris Gardens and Bandstand © Travel About Britain

A Benedictine nunnery (St Mary's) was founded here circa 980, by Aelfwen, the Countess of East Angles. A settlement later developed around the marketplace, in front of its grounds. Unfortunately, following the abbey's complete dissolution in 1538, nothing now remains of the original religious buildings, and much of the stone has been reused in several of the town's older buildings.

The little garden and seating area in the centre of town (shown above), with a row of labourers cottages behind, was originally the site of Dr Nix’s house, which was demolished to improve the road layout.

The railway once came through Chatteris but was replaced, following the Beeching cuts in 1967, with the A141 March to Huntingdon road. The old Railway Tavern in Station Street is all that is left as a reminder.

Chatteris War Memorial
Chatteris War Memorial © Travel About Britain

The parish Church of St Peter and St Paul, in the centre of town, dates back to the 14th-c, although it has been much restored over the years. The War Memorial nearby, was built over the site of the old vicarage and commemorates the fallen from both World Wars. Across the road from the memorial is the old 19th-c Corn Exchange building. This was later converted into the Picture Palace cinema and then later into a ballroom. Next to this is the 17th-c Cross Keys inn. So named as it held the keys for the church.

Other churches in the town include the unusual Salvation Army Fortress, built between 1900 and 1904, with a crenellated frontage.

The Victorian cast-iron clock outside the library was restored in 2004.

The town is home to the Chatteris Midsummer Festival, which is held annually on the last weekend of June. It begins with a colourful walking parade, followed by several days of family events and festivities in Furrowfields.

Chatteris Museum

Chatteris Museum

Chatteris Museum © TAB

The museum covers Fenland history from the earliest prehistoric settlements to more recent times - covering some 600,000 years of human occupation. Along with ancient stone tools and grave goods, there are replicas of ancient weapons and artifacts discovered in 'the grave of a king', preserved in the local anaerobic peaty soil. There is also information on the nearby Iron age 'Stonea Camp', and the warrior Iceni Tribe that once lived in this area. Further exhibits illustrate traditional aspects of Fenland life, its waterways and the story of the Fenland drainage scheme.

For those interested in further historic research, the museum has a touch screen archive with access to over 9,000 photographs and documents.

Opening times: Tue & Thur 2pm to 4:30pm, Sat 10am to 1pm - Free Entry
Location: 14 Church Ln, Chatteris PE16 6JA
Tel: 01354 696319

Draining the Fens

Ramsey Forty Foot Drain
Cambridgeshire Forty Foot Drain © Travel About Britain

Although the Romans started to drain parts of the Fenland area some 2000 years ago, the main reclamation endeavour began in 1630 when a consortium of landowners, headed by Cornelius Vermuyden (a Dutch embankment engineer), joined together to introduce a large-scale drainage scheme. This began with the digging of long straight canals from around Chatteris down to the Wash. This enabled water to flow quickly out to sea, rather than building-up across the flat landscape, held back by the slow meandering channels of the old Ouse and the Nene. The land was kept dry by constant pumping. Initially by wind pumps but later by steam power and then by diesel engines. As the peaty soil dried-out it shrunk, meaning that the water had to be lifted even higher in order to reach the drains. Evidence of this scheme can still be seen across the Cambridgeshire Fens today from its needle-straight canals, with names such as Bevill's Leam, Kings Dike and Forty Foot Drain, plus the remains of old windmills and pump-houses that still line their banks.

Map of Chatteris


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