Stretham Old Engine

The Stretham Old Engine.

It’s been there on my horizon every time I visit my parents. Every time I pass it, I think ‘I’ll visit that soon’. By complete chance, today was that day.

The Stretham Old Engine, which sits on the banks of the Old West River is now in the hands of The Stretham Engine Trust, who open it for a few days each year to the public. By complete chance, I happened to find the website and saw that it was open this afternoon.

Long gone are its days of steam – the engine became redundant when it was replaced by electric pumps along the bank of The River Cam. However, this doesn’t stop The Trust from lovingly taking care of this beautiful example of industrial innovation.

The Engine Wheel

Years ago, someone told me that there was a Yarrow mentioned on a plaque here. This had slipped my mind until I was already driving through Wilburton on my way to Stretham village.

Sure enough, there on the front of the engine room, sits a plaque to commemorate the building’s construction in 1831. Amongst the names, is a ‘J Yarrow’ listed as one of the commissioners.

Whether this ‘J Yarrow’ is John Yarrow or James Yarrow, I’m unsure, but both would have had an interest in the drainage of the fens as the family were substantial land owners in the area.

Erected in 1831Whilst the guidebook and exhibits don’t appear to mention the full name of Mr Yarrow, and there’s no mention of who it might be online, I’m sure that there’s some documents somewhere that will soon provide the answer as to the full names of those commissioners.

It’s nice to feel that my family played a pivotal role in shaping this part of the landscape.

Check out the rest of my photos and a video of part of the engine in action.

Crossing the Royal Standard

Taking a trip back in time to Mr Cross’ tea shop on Forehill.

Cross Advert 07-11-1930, originally uploaded by familytreeuk.

The other weekend, amidst the constant drizzle of a wet Sunday in Ely, I decided that it was about time that I went to The Royal Standard pub on Forehill.

I’m tee-total, but my reason for going in there was not so much to warm up over a nice cup of tea or their incredible sunday lunch (check it out)… it was actually to step back in time and visit the very location where my Cross relatives opened Ely’s first tea shop.

My mother has always wanted a tea shop herself, so when I discovered that the Cross family had kept one, she was excited by the news.

The shop, based in a 16th century building about halfway down Forehill (now the right hand side of The Royal Standard), was opened by Frederick Thompson Cross in about 1892. He originally intended the shop to be a picture framing business but after adding a side-business of a bakery, it was clear what Ely wanted most.

The bakery expanded, selling fine cakes and sweets and Mr Cross reaped the rewards.

In his spare time, with his son Frederick Vernon Cross (F. Vernon Cross), he would search places like Roswell Pits, in search of antiquities like fossils. His son, Vernon, was also a keen performer and he traveled the country performing magic tricks and ventriloquist acts (his father made the dummies – and they have been preserved in Ely Museum).

I went on to find a copy of F. Vernon Cross’ autobiography “Crosswords” on eBay (only to find further copies for sale at Ely Museum – but we’ll come to that bit in a moment)…

With the bakery taking off, and their collection of historic items growing too, Vernon began to blend the two together after his father’s death and combined a small museum and bakery.

Upon Vernon’s death, his collection was donated to the Ely Museum, where it forms an important part of their exhibitions. They have even named a function room after him.

I was pleased to recently find the above advert on the top right front page of the Ely Standard, dated 7th November 1930. It seems that Vernon ran several consecutive advertising campaigns on the newspaper header. The cake certainly sounds very appetising.

It was a nice feeling when I saw that The Royal Standard, although under new ownership, still had the “Frederick Thompson Cross” wooden shop sign and a framed photograph on the wall. I didn’t mention my connection but instead tucked into a huge Sunday roast on a plate that was almost too big for the table – another satisfied customer!

I have yet to establish where his Cambridge shop was located.

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