The Bridge that became one of the family

The bridge at Foul Anchor Cambridgeshire is to most a typical old bridge, but for our family, it played an essential roll in our survival for many years.

The old bridge and river nene black and white Foul Anchor Cambridgshire Fenland architecture.

Foul Anchor Location GOOGLE MAPS

My family comes from the small village of Tydd St Mary's, which is about 1.5 miles from Foul Anchor. In the early days, the 1930s onwards up until the death of my mother's father in 1994, this bridge played an essential roll in their lives that it became one of the family.

River nene at Foul Anchor-Fenland black and white landscape photography. The bridge (picture 1) was built-in 1859 for the north level commission as part of the draining of the Fens which flows into the river nene. The main gates are automatically operated by the incoming tides which shut the gate via water pressure. The inner workings once had doors that were raised and lowered by hand but are no longer used. The winding gears have lovingly have been restored.

Feeding a family of 9

Black and white framed Fens landscape prints and downloads, Foul Anchor Cambridgeshire. Mums father had to try and keep a large family of 9 fed during some tough times, and after the death of their mother, life became much harder. As soon as his kids were old enough, they were put to work from dawn until dusk all year round working his allotment. Village life was tough back then, with little in the way for food.

My new life

River nene sunrise Foul Anchor Cambridgeshire-weather photography prints, I was just a child when I was first taken to Foul Anchor, and I would say 1973 about three years old. My dad used to take the mother to see her dad, but most of the time he would not be at home, but dad knew where to find him. (I bet he is fishing at the bridge again) We would park up and take a look over the bridge and see him on the edge of the river on a mud bank (long gone now) fishing away. So down the river bank, we went and joined in. I was first introduced to fishing at the age of 5 but not in the ways most know, we did dead lining, String wrapped around a stick with a hook on the end, we used either worms or a shrimp that mums dad had netted and dug from the riverbank. To fish the deadline, it was throwing the line out, unreeling a good length and knocking the stick into the ground. For the bite indicator, a very thin twig was used where the line was wrapped around it. Bear in mind, this wasn't a sport but for use to eat the fish back then. We fished for eels and butts or dabs a flatfish often found in that river.

Foul Anchor drainage channel Cambridgeshire landscape photography. We used to spends hours fishing and up to 2-4 days per week for months on end. As the years passed by the river started to change, the fish became harder to catch. Water levels were rising, and age was catching up to mums father, but still, he got on his pushbike and would cycle miles at the age of 80.

At the bridge, on the river nene side, there used to be three wooden fishing boats (picture 2). A real old-styled boat but sadly one chap fell down the ladder on to the deck of the boat and died soon after in hospital, that spelt the end of those boats.

He was a brutally hard man very old fashioned, had never left the area, cooked on his fire, collected wooded and lived off the land, and he taught me the ways of the saltmarshes. He wanted to pass on his skills, and he had no issues in passing these skills to a female.

As I got older, I would spend a lot of time with him. I was going on his scrapping rides, digging horseradish. Life felt right and very free, a very Steptoe like lifestyle, nothing like this life nowadays.

Final thoughts

After he died in the mid-90s, our life at Fould Anchor and it's fishing suddenly stopped, times were changing anyway, the river banks destroyed by modern drainage technics, the heart and soul which had always been there was lost almost overnight. (picture 3) The right side riverbank once had beautiful bushes and trees which for a child when walking to fish at the corner of the river felt like on adventure fo a lifetime. But the riverbank was modernised, all the trees removed, the river made with perfect lines which to me now looks terrible. This 500-yard long river looked natural and wild but now looks like any other Fenland bleak drains or rivers. In all a sad ending in manyways to this slice of Family Cooper history.

By Kate 5/11/2020