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Fenland’s Ark! This floating church came to you in Victorian West Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 11:30 21 July 2015 | UPDATED: 11:53 21 July 2015

Inside the Fenland Ark which used to travel to remote communities in the Fens, including Manea, to carry out services.

Inside the Fenland Ark which used to travel to remote communities in the Fens, including Manea, to carry out services.

Archant

The Fenland Ark served worshippers living in the newly-drained remote regions of the Fens towards the end of the 19th century, it was very difficult, almost impossible, to get to church.

The Fenland Ark, which used to travel to remote communities in the Fens.The Fenland Ark, which used to travel to remote communities in the Fens.

The novel idea was the form of a floating church, which was pulled by a horse in order to reach communities only accessible by the waterways.

The Fenland Ark – dedicated by the Archdeacon to St Withburga in 1897 – served communities in the parishes of Holme, near Peterborough; Manea; and the outskirts of Welney for about 10 years from 1897.

It was a flat-bottomed boat that measured 30 feet long and 10 feet wide. Inside, there was an altar, a font, a lectern that served as the pulpit, a small organ a small vestry and 34 chairs.

And this almost-forgotten aspect of Fenland history is being revived at a talk this week in one of the parishes where it once served.

Kirsten Bennett, the chief executive of Cambridgeshire Acre, will retell the stories through the diaries of The Rev George Broke, the

Rector of Holme, who had the initial idea and conducted services on St Withburga.

Her late father, John, came across the church among his collection of historic maps and published the first edition of a booklet in 1983 after spending years researching the role it played for Fenland communities.

Miss Bennett said: “My father had a vast collection of historic maps of Huntingdonshire and spotted the etching of a church in Holme on one

of them.

“As an actual building didn’t exist, he asked elderly people around the village about it. They could remember The Fenland Ark and they shared with him these remarkable stories.”

She added: “My father came across Rev George Broke’s diaries, and his wife, Mary, was an avid photographer – so the accounts of their experiences

of life on the Fens during those times are simply wonderful.”

The talk is being organised as part of the programme of events for the first OuseFest, which began yesterday and will continue until August 2.

•Have you discovered any forgotten local history? Email louise.hepburn@archant.co.uk

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