Living in North Yorkshire for about 20 years I had always heard strange stories about ‘The Fenmen’ from Lincolnshire and none of them were very kind, and usually very derogatory.
After reading this intriguing and revealing book from James Boyce the seed of this regional rivalry became very clear.
Imperial Mud explores the vast regions of southern and eastern England (Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, and Lincolnshire) that if not for massive human intervention would revert to swathes of fenlands with islands of solidity peppered throughout, back to how it was pre-Norman invasion.
There were a couple of real surprises reading this book, the first of which was huge in that the Fenlands could support quite a large population as they were extremely ‘productive’. I’m loathe to use that word as that was the idea behind the draining and enclosure of common land, but the common residents of the fens were unusually ‘rich’ in livestock and other foodstuffs.
The other was the politicising of the enclosure and how long it took, and how the othering of the Fenmen was used to garner sympathies from outside the area, and this othering was so strong it’s still common in 21st century North Yorkshire.
A brilliantly written and explained piece of research, so many insights into how common land worked in fen areas and how politicians were still extremely self-serving throughout history.
I received a copy of this on NetGalley in exchange for a review.