Thursday, 18 January 2018

Malaria in the Fens

Recently I have been asked about Malaria in the Fens so I though I would republish a blog I did several years ago on the subject

Fen Ague or Marsh fever, was an endemic disease once common in the East Anglican Fens. The English word Ague derives from Old French “ague” meaning “sever fever”.

The word was used in Geoffry Chaucer’s “Nun’s priest tales” in the 14th c and William Shakespeare refers to it in many of his plays.

Samuel Pepys, the diarist, suffered from Ague and Oliver Cromwell died of tertian ague in 1658.
It was thought the fever came from inhaling miasma given off during warm, hot weather.
Bargemen were susceptible to this disease as were those who lived and worked near the fen watercourses.

Major drainage of the Fens during the 17th c coupled with better personal hygiene alongside Britain entering a cooler period “the mini ice age” led to the decreased in Fen Ague. The disease was not unique to the Fens many marshlands in England also were know for this fever especially in Essex and along the Thames valley.

It was not until the 19th c that the word malaria (malus aria, Latin for bad air) began to replaced the word Ague and the disease died out.

It was, at this time realised that malaria was due to a protozoan parasite transmitted by the mosquito and not miasma.

The fen people had no cure for this disease, only sedatives such as opium and various potions made for indigenous plants, herbs and bark from ash trees to relieve the fever. Alcohol and Opium were commonly used to suppress the rigors of the first stages of ague.

The fens became notorious for “ Opium eaters” and laudanum given to children during teething which may have initiated this habit in their later lives. One Fenland physician wrote that “ a patch of white poppies was usually found in most Fen gardens”.

In the 17th c Robert Brady used cinchona powder, whose principle ingredient was quinine to treat Ague, which still used today. This was made from the bark of a several trees growing in Peru and Bolivia both Catholic countries. In Great Britain it became known as “Jesuit’s Powder” and some physicians of the Protestant orthodox religion were prejudice to it’s use in treating Ague.

By the mid 20th c the disease was found to be transmitted by the mosquito.

The strains of mosquitoes in the Fens at that time have become extinct. If malaria carrying mosquitoes did enter the Fens (which is unlikely) the disease could only be passed to humans from the insects carrying infect blood from other humans with the disease. There would have to be many humans infected for this to happen. There are more than 30 species of mosquitoes in Britain at this time and the vast majority do not bite humans.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Several people have been asking me to sign and personalise my books as presents,  this is no problem and I would be delighted to help. If you do wish me to do this  please contact me via  email   telling me what message you wish me to add to the book. 
 the price is £14.99 FREE FIRST CLASS POSTAGE.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Exploring the Fen-Edge
now available from
most book retailers Amazon and from my website

Wednesday, 27 December 2017


A roddon disected by a recently cleanesed dyke showing the reed appearing from below on the far side. No reed is shown elsewhere along the dyke, indicating that area was the base when the roddon originally formed,many thousands of years ago.

An aerial view of the same roddon showing 2 channels joining into one which runs into the dyke where reed appears.

New Cut Drain in Thorney Fen showing the reed bed at the base of the roddon. These reed beds date back many thousands of years to the origin of the fens themselves.

The long winding silt ridges you see in many parts of the Fens are called "roddons" an ancient fossilised river or tributary formed sometime between 4000 to BC. They are quite visible from the air when the soils are void of cropping as well as when field walking. Litttle research in the past has been carried out on their formation until Dinah Smith a Phd student and her colleagues at the Dept of Geology Leicester University took on this task. Dinah has already spent several years visiting the Fens, walking, digging, augering these mysterious prehistoric veins of soils. They are a vital part of our fenland history and i am sure will uncover how these fens were formed and give us an insight into climate change, a word so often used today but nothing new. Indeed if there had been no climatic change we would have no fens today.
The base of a roddon usually consists of clay the soil above made up of of peat, silts and other fossilised particles accumulated over their their formation. The University are researching to find out which deposits of these soils came through saltwater and freshwater intrusion and what period they occured. My intrests are visual
Reeds are usually non existent on the silts roddons preferring clay soils, but can be found at the base of the roddons where they intercept a fen drain which my photos show.

Friday, 22 December 2017

Late for Christmas !! but available for a late Christmas present.

I have managed to get some of my new books "Exploring the Fen-Edge"
due to the late printing and distribution they are only available at;
Bookmark Spalding
Passiflora's gift shop in Crowland
Belinda Sly, Sly Collections Stamford
In the new year there will be several outlets selling the book.
they can also be bought via my website. postage free !!!
Happy Christmas

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Dear Blog readers
I have not left the fens or this earth !!! I say that because i have not posted a blog for 5 years.
So what has brought me back to blogging ????
Another book ??  yes,  i have woken up from hibernation.  This one is a travel, wandering, looking around the fen-edge. I explore the western  fen-edge  from Peterborough to Lincoln following the route of the Roman Car Dyke.

The book is a bit later for Christmas presents, i admit, my fault too slow off the mark.
There  will be some available on the 20th Dec at Bookmark Spalding and from my website link to the distributers.                             

More blogs to follow about the content of the book especially the Roman Car-Dyke ! is it Roman ?

Friday, 25 February 2011


I am researching for my 4th book on the Fens covering the changes in Fauna & Flora over the past 2 centuries to the present day. I am looking for Rookeries and Heroneries past and present across the fens, marsh and fen-edge, Any help much appreciated, if you know of any please contact me through my website, or leave comment on my blog.