Due to Covid-19 restrictions all indoor U3A meetings in person are currently suspended until further notice

Our History Group meets on the first Friday of the month at Exning Rd Club at 2.30pm.

Talks are on wide-ranging subjects with something for everyone.


Time limitations of Zoom mean that presentations may stretch over two consecutive sessions, with a brief interval break. In addition we are commencing research into local museums that we hope to visit in Springtime.

Friday 4th June - The History of Shoes

Friday 2nd July - Medicine from Ancient times until the present day will be again Zooms x2

There will be no meeting on Friday 6th August.

A link for you to click on to join me will be sent that morning.

I look forward to seeing you then - Niddy.
See link to
Zoom instructions which Ely U3A have said I can use.


Here is a Picture Quiz for May

1) What year did we see these around Newmarket?
2) What type of china is this dish?
3) Name of this Norfolk house?
4) What is under this bungalow in Essex?
5) What building era is this church doorway?
6) What is the name of this plant out now and shade loving
7) Where am I?
8) What kind of mill is this?
9) Where do you find this travel sign?
10) When were these chimneys built?

1 Quiz 1 2Quiz 2 3 Quiz 3 4 Quiz 4 5Quiz 5
6Quiz 6 7Quiz 7 8Quiz 8 9Quiz 9 10Quiz 10


1) it was 2011
2) Crown Derby
3) Oxburgh Hall Norfolk
4) A wartime bunker at Kelvedon Hatch
5) Norman Arched doorway
6) Plant is the Trillium
7) Stowmarket Museum of Life - well worth a visit.
8) A mill for pumping water.
9) In Ely opposite the Ely Museum.
10) They are tudor chimneys.

19th April 2021

March Hero, the youngest pilot who saved a town

Before I throw this book out I thought I would summarise it. It is by Dorothy Whittington.

She writes of Jim Hocking who was one of the 37,000 young Australian men to take part in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, better known in Australia as the Empire Air Training Scheme. This was the largest aviation training scheme responsible for half the pilots, navigators, bomb aimers, gunners, wireless operators and flight engineers for WW2 1940-1944. After completing his training, Jim set sail on SS.Monterey from Brisbane to England on July 14th 1943. His girlfriend Flossie had persuaded him to write a diary. He had hoped to be back home in Queensland for his 21st birthday but the “ Doodlebug “ had arrived.

At Wratting Common the newly appointed Pilot Officer and his 6 man crew were training to join the RAF Bomber Command. Their rather daunting training was in a Short Stirling bomber whose nickname was the “ Flying Coffin”.

On July 24th 1944 just before midnight Jim and the crew take off from Wratting Common to head north over Cambridgeshire to the North Sea. They had done this at least 20 times before but this was to be their last before joining the Lancasters.

Eerily Jim had had a bad feeling on board one Stirling, so they boarded the next one LJ451. Coded QQ-C. With bombs and full fuel tanks they climbed to 8000ft when suddenly the starboard inner engine burst into flames which was quickly followed by the outer engine failing. They were struggling to maintain their height and flames were being fanned by the still working propeller blades back along the fuselage. Suddenly deathly silence as the other engines failed! The extinguisher fails too!

Jim shouts to his crew to get out as they were 35 miles from Wratting and coming up to the Fenland village of March. Tebbitt the radio operator was rapidly reeling in the trailing aerial, as you would be garrotted by it, if it was still there when jumping. He jumped knowing Jim was struggling to get the aircraft passed March and they were now only 2000ft! Moments later the Sterling crashed into a field at Knights End, only ¾ mile away from the town and the historic St Wendreda's church. Jim had left it too late for himself to jump out.

All the six man crew had made it out safely. In 1989 a plaque is unveiled to him at Wratting airfield and also in St. Wendreda's. This is a church worth a visit to see its carved angels in the roof.
Jim was later awarded the Australian Star of Courage.


13th March 2021

Please click on the link to see an article I have written about the history of
RAF Bourn in Cambridgeshire

27th February

Ship1 For at least 250years women have been going to sea but have either been written out of history or not recorded. However that doesn't mean they did not exist.
Anne Bonney and Mary Read were two early pirates of the 17thC, who dressed as male pirates to be able to send money back to their families.

Some wives joined their husbands at sea, unpaid but sharing the husband's food rations. By 1900 nearly a thousand British wives had been recorded in the Merchant navy. Women were not allowed in the Royal Navy until 1999. By 2010, of the 22800 Merchant navy seagoing workforce only 3000 were women or 13% and these were mostly on cruise liners.

Antipodean wives often sailed with their husbands. Eliza Underwood in 1794 was on a whaling ship with her husband Samuel. From her far flung journeys she collected seashells and sold them here in London. Wives were auxiliary cooks, nurses, laundresses and book keepers. There were no rules for them.

A loblolly boy was the informal name of the surgeon's assistant during the age of sail. The next group of women at sea were those who cropped their hair, donned their brother's breeches and learnt how to sweet talk the girls - all the girls love a sailor as they say. Several women had to dress as male sailors to go to sea eg Anne Jane Thornton. She was English but when her mother died,her father took the family to Donegal,Ireland. There she fell for young Captain Burke. She decided to follow him dressed as a boy but when she arrived in New York she found he had died only a few days earlier. Now with no one or money she decided to stay as a seafarer and work on several ships, until she was found out. She left in 1835 and wrote of her abuse by the men and her adventures on those journeys.

But it was not until 1970 that women seafarers appear in their own right ,doing engine repairs and deckhand jobs. Women officers are still rare and still some men consider their presence an intrusion and even a disaster. In 2010 Captain Inger Thorhauge was Captain of The Queen Elizabeth. She originally came from the Faroe Islands and ran away to sea as she hated housecleaning! Women, although officially employed by the Merchant Navy from 1820, were called seamen!
An all male Royal Naval ship is known as a Stag Ship.

Women were not allowed to join the Royal Navy until 1999.From 2015 they were employed in all jobs but were excluded on health grounds from Mine Clearance, the Diver Branch and Royal Marine Commandos. For the Merchant Navy you are signed up per trip but for the Royal Navy it is for continuous service.


13 February 2021

We all know of Hamleys Toy shop in London but how many have heard of Gamages?
It was started in 1878 ,at first in a rented watch repair shop but then moved in to 125-129 High Holbein. Founded by Arthur Walter Gamage, who was soon able to buy his partner out, Frank Spain. They sold almost anything but were particularly known for their toy and hardware departments.

Every October they produced a 900 page catalogue for ordering your Christmas presents. People flocked there at Christmas,it was very near a station and was on the bus route 25 to see the large model railway which had intermittent lighting to give day and night scenes.

My father worked there after the war and caught the steam train up to London from Pitsea, Essex every day. I can remember him buying from there a new hoover for my mother called the Goblin.


January 2021


The first commercial playhouses had opened in 1576. The stage became a popular outlet for the increasing fears and hopes in everything from witchcraft to adultery and cross dressing. New theatres boasted powerful patrons amongst the rich aristocrats, with their plays being performed at court to the Queen, who had a play troupe herself.

Alongside these were the public spectacle of the Royal progresses, floggings and executions. However the clergy and London's civic services were beginning to view all this with suspicion, condemning them for breeding idleness, lust and vanity and as so many were attending they worried that the church was being undermined.

Elizabeth to help alleviate their fears appointed a Master of the Revels who was to censor all plays in 1581. Wary of this, theatres popped up across London to be outside the city walls and the authorities therein. The South bank or Bankside was hugely popular for its entertainment for all walks of life, brothels,bear baiting and theatres.

When Philip Henslowe first bought the lease on the Rose Tavern, it was a profitable brothel too. He added an open air playhouse in its yard. The Hope he built next to the bear-baiting where up to 1000 spectators would view a play for 1d or again next day the bear baiting for 1d. The Swan was another early open air playhouse. These were on Bankside.

This vibrant new theatre industry was contributing to the prosperity of London but it was drawn to the stories reaching London from the Islamic world of slaves, conversion, piracy and heroic adventure. The Tudors had been trading with the Turks in Constantinople and the Moors in Morocco for the past 30years to allow us free entry to their ports and safety in crossing the Mediterranean.

We exchanged tin, wood and weapons, also Kersey cloth for saltpetre (an ingredient of gunpowder) gems, spices silk, fruit and sugar. From Morocco it was salt and gold. Tactically these were good alliances for us but were increasingly worrying the Catholics of Spain and Rome.

Robert Wilson in 1583 wrote a play while with Robert Dudley's troupe, the Leicester men. Named the Three Ladies of London, the catholic merchant was seen as the enemy, not the Jew or the Turk. His play exploited the general confusion over Usury. Yes it was a necessary evil as international trade needed large sums of money, often sought from Jews . However in 1571 an Act was passed to limit the loan interest to 10%. Even Bess of Hardwick was known to make loans in this system.

Christopher Marlowe wrote Tambourlaine the Great based on the Turkic-Mongol conqueror of the 15th century. This was played by the Admiral's men at the Rose theatre. The Admiral, Charles Howard of Effingham was their patron. Just before his sudden death in 1593, Marlowe put on another successful play The Jew of Malta.

Between 1576 and 1603 there were more than 60 plays put on featuring Turks, Moors and Persians, with several writers influenced by Marlowe eg Thomas Kyd, Robert Greene but the new up and coming writer with a new style was one William Shakespeare.


Lunch at the Five Bells Burwell a Lunch at the Five Bells Burwell b September 2020 Part of the History Group who are researching Burwell's history met for a great lunch at the Five Bells. Well organised by the pub and well spaced out.


Burwell 4 Burwell Project 1 Burwell 7
Burwell 5 Burwell 6 Burwell Project 2 Burwell Project 3

Over the last few days of September 2020, I have put together the Burwell Study Project with the much appreciated proof-reading and setting out by Angie Harrison, the form of the Burwell Project Booklet (click link). I am handing a copy to Alison Hayes at Burwell Museum and to Judy Paxton at the Local History Society who have been most helpful to us and of course, one to each of those who took part. Thank you to all.



George Jackson later Lord Duckett, made a proposal in 1777 that a canal be built to join London and Cambridge and then on to Lynn. This made complete business sense to him, especially as he was owner of the River Stort Navigation in Bishops Stortford. There had been an earlier plan in 1758 submitted by William Jessop. Many trades would appear to benefit. In 1778 Rob Whitworth suggested it ran for 28miles,through 14 locks to rise to a tunnel at Elsenham, fall 37 locks to join the Cam, ending near the wharves at Magdalen Bridge, Cambridge. Arguments and opposition for the next 30years thwarted this project.

However, in 1811 a proposal by John Rennie, engineer who had designed the London Bridge now over in Arizona, was put forward. He had taken into consideration some of the opposition e.g. avoid natural the water source for Cambridge at Nine Wells. His course would be Bishop Stortford -Saffron Walden—Shelford- avoid Hobson's Conduit in Cambridge going to Cherry Hinton, Fen Ditton and joining the Cam at Clayhythe sluice and running for 32 miles. Also a western branch from Sawston to Whaddon. He had worked out costings of £523,000. and £44,000 for the branch. The toll would be 3p per ton per mile (costing a 90 ton barge £300 compared with horse and cart that would be £4000). The Earl of Hardwick chaired a meeting with eight others in 1811. Rev.George Jenyns from Bottisham Hall and Anglesey Abbey was on the Board too. Assenters were 137, dissenters 35 and neuters 55. Amongst the opposition was the University of Cambridge, the Corporation of the Bedford level saying it was a threat to the Fenland but the most vocal of private dissenters was Lord Braybrooke who was incensed it should go through his land of Audley End estate. Saffron Walden was for the canal and this so upset Lord Braybrooke as he had done so much for the town, he banned the townsfolk from using his land to hunt.

The meeting passed with 480 out of 500 persons present. Lord B submitted a bill of £100,000 for landscaping and replanting but he died before it was resolved. The shares in this venture cost £100 each but they only raised £120,000 of the total required. People had little to invest as the Napoleonic war was coming to an end. There was a new amendment to send the canal to Brandon and a branch to Cambs and Burwell. As they were not to touch natural water supplies ,5 reservoirs were to be built together with steam pumps to move the water. This meant far more capital was needed and also the cost of building in very porous chalk lands had been miscalculated. The toll gate revenue on roads would fall and so they too opposed the scheme. There was no dramatic ending, it just ran out of steam.

In a modern river map between Clayhythe Bridge Road and Bottisham Lock and Sluice, there is a marker.-- It reads London and Cambridge Junction, Never Built. A notice from Pemberton and Fiske Solicitors in August 1815 was put in the Burwell Chronicle of the proposed Bill to build and maintain a navigable Cut with proper aqueducts, tunnels, reservoirs, basins, quays etc all things needed for an in and out of the Cam to join the Lode at Burwell. This would be the Wicken parish, into the Parish of St Mary Newmarket. Known as the Newmarket Canal.


Please keep looking at this page or Facebook for a change in information and I will email all my usual members, keep😃 Niddy


Niddy Walpole, email:

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