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a marsh village

The Covenham's of today are in the same position as many a rural population, in decline. What was once a thriving community with shops, trades, pubs and transport is only a shadow of it's former self. The younger people of our community cannot afford to live in the village and if you don't have your own transport then you will most certainly have problems in getting around. Of course, this is typical of many villages in this area and further afield.

So what was it like to live in a marsh village in the past? Vastly different without doubt but I don't think it was better, life expectancy would have been poor and life hard. Agriculture is the key to more recent history. Early in 1794 Thomas Stone reports

"The air and climate of this County, in point of salubrity, is, upon the highest part of it, equal to any in the kingdom. Upon the fenny and marshy parts, it has been very much improved of late years, since the drainage has been more attended to; and at this time, the inhabitants of the County have no dread of their healths being impaired, in shifting their abodes, even at advanced periods of life, from the upper parts called the Wolds, to the lowest part of the fens and marshes. The time of harvest in the northern and eastern part of the County, lying open to the ocean, is a little delayed from that circumstance."

So we have evidence of drainage to improve the costal marsh and the benefit to health as a result. Agriculture has always been important to the economy of our area but in 1811, just a few years later, the Board of Agriculture were not that impressed by what they found here.

In passing from thence to Tetney, Fulstow, Covenham, &c. I passed through a large open field in the fallow year, which had not, in September, received its first earth; but was covered with thistles, passed their blossom, high enough to hide a jackass; yet the dung was spread amongst them as if the wheat would be sowed : and the soil thus horribly neglected, a fine rich tenacious loam, not clay, as greasy and soapy almost as a pure clay; but there is much sand in it: — a soil well worth 30s. an acre, or upwards, veriest state of waste I ever saw land, whether appropriated or unappropriated, in this kingdom. Half a dozen wild rabbits were all - the stock I observed upon them, with scarcely a blade or leaf of herbage to keep even these alive : — doubtlessly thro the folly or madness of the first occupiers (after appropriation) in converting them to "arable farms", instead of sheep walks and rabbit warrens.

"After appropriation" is a reference to the change from strip farming to enclosure (old spelling "inclosure"), our modern field system.

Ridge and Furrow
To the south of Covenham St Mary the original ridge and furrow layout can be seen. The enlosures boundry to the right and a modern field boundry to the left.

The change must have been remarkable. Imagine a countryside devoid of roads, villages just a random pattern of houses. To get between two villages would have required walking around strips of land, no formal roads existed between villages. Enclosure gave us our modern road system. Strip farming allowed that an individuals land was allocated by its productivity, each strip could be separated by hundreds of yards. The system developed so that when enclosed it gave us just about every bend and corner in the country, as the edge of a field was followed by the road to be built!