The Society meets at 19:30 on the fourth Thursday of each month (except August and December) at St Peter's Church Hall in Wisbech unless otherwise stated. There is a map of the centre of Wisbech to show the location of the hall.
We have a full programme, including speakers, members' evenings and outings. An archive of reports of previous year's meetings is available.

Current Meeting Programme


August 2015
No Meeting

25 September 2015
AGM + Our President
Rev Wim Zwalf

22 October 2015
To be announced
Robert Parker

26 November 2015
Brick Walls
Festive Member Meeting

December 2015
No Meeting

Summaries of Past Meetings

January 2015

Researching your ancestors - Steve Manning - No report

February 2015

Writing your family history

Alan Johnson, Peterborough and District Family History Society

Alan gave an informative talk with lots of ideas and encouragement to get each and every one of us to write a family history to make sense of all the materials that we have gathered together. By way of encouragement he asked each of us to consider how much material we have that will be of no value to anyone else because only we know what is there.

Alan has written nine family histories so far and each one has started with a few basic questions. Who is the history for? – in the first instance Alan wrote a history of one person for his mother and aunts. What is the scope? – is it one branch, one individual or all descendants of a common ancestor? Where will you stop? – will you include information about you, your parents or children? Alan also asked people to consider sensitive issues and to be prepared not to include material that may cause distress; it may be possible to embargo that material until some time in the future.

On a practical note, how will you produce the information? – longhand and typing are probably impractical so using a PC is probably the best option as it is easier to edit and to add material as well as to circulate especially if you use Word or PDF rather than a publishing programme. You also need to consider the form in which it will be produced: a printed book or booklet which can be expensive; a CD or on the Web; Alan has used report folders for the printed versions of his family histories which have the advantage of being able to be added to or amended easily as well as using CDs.

Having decided to write the history, you need to be specific about the information that will be included in the history and be organised about the order. In the introduction indicate what will be included and what will not. Always include a family tree, acknowledge your sources and use illustrations where available and always be aware of copyright. If you have lots of information it may be appropriate to write a separate history of a spouse.

Alan recommended finishing the history with a sentence such as “That concludes all that I have found out about X so far” or with an anecdote.

Alan gave an interesting and informative talk, let’s hope that it inspires each of us to put together at least one family history ……………….

[Margaret Lake ]

March 2015

Members' Meeting: held on Thursday 26th March

Thirty members attended a lively meeting with individual members presenting family stories. The evening was organised slightly differently from usual. We had the members’ stories followed by tea or coffee and the evening finished with a presentation on George A. Ward 1780 – 1860, who lived and worked in Wisbech: Judi Upton presented a detailed summary of his life using a wide range of resources to illustrate and confirm the information. This included John Peck’s diary entries, newspaper reports, legal documents, wills and photographs.

Some ”distant” members sent information in and there were displays of information to look at.

We had a real variety of stories with lots of local names and places mentioned. We started with the tale of grandparents who lived apart in Spalding and Fleet; then we saw a wedding photograph of the Friend family taken in 1903 in the orchard area near Sandyland . Another member sent in a photograph of a wedding that took place in Elm between members of the Hunter-Rowe and West families.

Another member told the story of her great grandfather “Potato Joe” Bettinson who farmed in Outwell, Upwell and Friday Bridge: he pioneered the introduction of Scotch seed potatoes, sugar beet and carrots and was also renowned as a horse breeder and for pedigree cattle. Another tale was told of a night time skating party held on the Well Creek in 1912.

Another member told the tale of her father’s 22 year service in the Gordon Highlanders and about his decision to marry based on a photograph he saw while serving in India.

Bridget told some anecdotes about her family including one about her grandmother who decided to teach her husband a lesson by making it seem as if she had gone missing as the result of a fire. He spent hours looking for her only to find her safe asleep in her bed!

Another member showed us a report from The Times published in the 1830’s. Her ancestor had been interviewed to find out the effects of the new Poor Law which had had a really detrimental effect on living conditions. The interview was very detailed and gave lots of information about life and living conditions specific to her family.

After last month’s meeting when we were encouraged to “sort out our family histories” a member who was sure he had no local family had discovered an ancestor living in Guyhirn - he had done some further research and found out that he had originally come from the Buckinghamshire/ Hertfordshire area.

This is just a brief synopsis of what was a very interesting evening with examples of different ways of presenting a life story or an incident.

[Margaret Lake ]

April 2015

WWII Plus - Mike Petty

April 2015 meeting report: Speaker Mike Petty: writer on local history and previously in charge of the Local Collection at Cambridge Central Library

Mike started his talk by saying that later this year he will be delivering three talks at the Octavia Hill Museum as part of the Nene Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership; the talks will be: 1. Who built the Bedford Level? 2. How do we find out? 3. Who lived alongside? Mike also explained that he has now stopped writing his weekly columns in the Cambridgeshire paper but all the columns are available and searchable on the internet.

Mike also referred to the proposed relocation of the County Archives and Local Collection to new premises in Ely.

The main talk was about the importance of local newspapers as a source of information for family historians and particularly the amount of information that is available for the Fens in the 1940’s. Mike used illustrations from the local papers to follow the course of the war and to give a different slant to the accepted view of some of the stories we think we know about. For instance, few of us knew that when it seemed that war was imminent in early 1939 children had been evacuated to the Cambridge area and then returned home only to be evacuated again in September 1939 when the war started in earnest. There were lots of pictures of children with their luggage labels.

Farming underwent an enormous change because whereas for the previous two decades there had been an agricultural depression farm produce was in demand and the land under the plough in the Isle of Ely rose from 12 million acres to 19 million acres and there were a lot of stories about new land being ploughed and photographs of bog oaks being dug out and laid along roadsides. There were also stories and photographs of Land Army girls doing their month long training at the Cambridge University Farm. Mike said that he had been talking about this at an earlier talk and one of the audience said that she had been at work at Burwell and as a boat approached the girls were asked to stop work and line up – the King and Queen stepped off the boat and they spoke to them and thanked them for the work they were doing.

Newspapers also provide huge amounts of information about what was going on in communities with photographs of the Home Guard, fund raising for Spitfires, Hurricanes and ships – local communities often supported an individual plane or ship.

There was also a great deal of contemporary “anonymised” information about the amount of air raids and war damage that occurred. For instance the first city in the country to be bombed was Ely but it is referred to as a city in Cambridgeshire and Cambridge is a town in Cambridgeshire. A terrace of houses in Cambridge was hit and among the dead were children evacuated from London …. Although no detail is given about actual places the Air Raid Wardens’ records were published after the war and give precise locations and detail of the damage.

D-Day was planned in Cambridge when Montgomery and Eisenhower met there and military exercises took place on rivers and local people remember a boat sinking on the Ouse with significant loss of life.

Another aspect of local life was the coming of the US forces and the number of POW camps both German and Italian; many of the POW’s became integrated into local life as they worked on farms and some stayed on after the war and married local girls.

The end of the war in Europe was marked in local papers but as many local regiments were in the Far East the coverage was tempered and more subdued than might have been expected.

Mike concluded his talk with references to the appalling winter of 1947 with images of the flooding of the Fens as result of the exceptionally heavy winter snow followed by a sudden thaw and then a northerly gale that prevented the tide in the Wash going out – the flood defences were breached and an area of 100 square miles was under water with houses and lives and livelihoods destroyed. The armed forces were deployed and the breaches in the flood walls were filled with army tanks which were then buried to create solid barriers. The newspaper images of the flood and its aftermath illustrate the power of the local press very effectively as each image is worth far more than a thousand words.

[Margaret Lake ]

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