Last Stand on Honey Hill by Liz Cotton at The Junction on 19th November 2022
Following on from her very successful stint at the Edinburgh Fringe earlier this year, Save Honey Hill’s very own comedy songstress, Liz Cotton, finally brought her show, Last Stand on Honey Hill, to the Cambridge Junction on Saturday night.
With her marriage on the rocks and her children flying the nest, Liz has used a well-honed skill of writing comic songs to help her cope with all life can throw at her, including a billion pound private water company wanting to plonk its new sewage works on her doorstep.
Fortunately for the Save Honey Hill campaign, Liz took umbrage with these plans and decided to hang her new show around her escapades with some of the Save Honey Hill campaigners who she came to know during the course of writing campaign songs and putting together a campaign choir (The Crap Community Choir).
Saturday night’s show was a sell out and for good reason. Liz’s reputation obviously preceded her and she did not disappoint – people had come from as far away as London. I must confess, I didn’t really know what to expect. Liz had warned us that her show was most definitely for adults only as it included very adult language. But I could not have foreseen how clever and accomplished her writing skills are that her saucy and yes, at times very adult themes and language, were simply hysterically funny and not the slightest bit offensive. Certainly for me, there was more than a hint of recognition in her song titled “Why Don’t You Know What To Do?” as she reeled off a myriad of examples of how her husband, Phil, ‘annoys’ her.
After briefly covering personal and family trials and tribulations, Liz proceeded to bring the audience up to speed with the ridiculous plans Anglian Water have for Honey Hill, ramming home with the use of video and photos, the beauty of the Fens landscape with resident wildlife, that’s being targeted by Anglian Water as the new location for its industrial plant. Through the power of laughter, comedy and Liz’s adorable cat, Purdy, we were all reminded of why we have spent the last couple of years fighting this heinous plan and I for one am incredibly grateful to Liz for the injection of fun in what could otherwise have been a thoroughly miserable time fighting for our Green Belt.
At the end of the show, members of the It’s Crap Community Choir were on hand to join Liz on stage to debut a new number, Honey Hill Honey. They were greeted with rapturous applause and I even spied some younger members of the audience clapping and nodding approvingly with more than a hint of respect for these oldies getting down and strutting their stuff in the name of protest.
Finally, it did not go unnoticed that aforementioned, Phil (Liz’s long suffering [??] husband), was standing proudly at the back of the venue as we all headed to the bar at the end of the show. Clearly their marriage has had a happy ending and hopefully so too will the Save Honey Hill Campaign!
Dr Erik Grigg Bishop Grosseteste University, Lincoln
The High Dyke in Cambridgeshire is an example of a little understood type of feature, an early medieval dyke. By dyke I don’t mean a drainage ditch (though it is in an area that understandably has quite a few), but a long linear bank constructed from material dug from an adjoining ditch dating from what used to be called the Dark Ages, that is, the centuries after the end of Roman rule. It is often considered to be part of Fleam Dyke, another better-known earthwork that also faces south (that is the bank is on the north side of the ditch) a few miles to the east (Malim et al 1996). There is a large gap between the two and Fleam is slightly curved while the High Dyke is dead straight, even if they were built for similar reasons and during the same broad period of history, the High Dyke is surely worthy of consideration on its own.
Such features are hard to put a date on as we have no documents recording them being built and unlike graves or settlements, a hole in the ground and a bank of earth rarely have any finds buried in them (though they often bury older features). High Dyke is unusual as a series of early medieval artefacts have been found in the monument, but these were not properly recorded using modern archaeological methods. In 1947 a shield boss was dug up, ten years later a group of skeletons with classic ‘Anglo-Saxon’ grave goods (a sword, a pommel, various spearheads, a knife and some brooches) were found and in 1963 another shield boss discovered (R.C.H.M.E. 1972 pp. 144-47). Late Roman coins found under the bank of Fleam Dyke and radiocarbon dating of organic material from the ditch fill confirms it also was built around or just after the end of Roman rule.
Late Roman coins found under the bank of Fleam Dyke and radiocarbon dating of organic material from the ditch fill confirms it also was built around or just after the end of Roman rule
Such earthworks have fascinated me since being a teenager when I discovered similar enigmatic dykes in Dorset, so much so that when I did a PhD at the University of Manchester a decade or more ago, I spent seven years visiting, surveying and writing about them (Grigg 2018). Although there slightly similar earthworks dating from the prehistoric and some later medieval dykes, the hundred I studied all seemed to be similar in location and size (up to two miles long with banks one to two metres high and six to ten metres wide) with archaeological finds or records of medieval charters (these often mention them as landmarks) seeming to confirm that the period 400 CE to 850 CE saw a lot of digging in this country.
The items found at High Dyke are unusual but not unique. Bodies and weapons have been found at other early medieval earthworks including Bran’s Ditch, the Devil’s Ditch, a linear earthwork at Heronbridge in Cheshire and various other such dykes. In the centuries after the end of Roman rule and before Christianity became the dominant religion, people were often buried with weapons so these finds could just be disturbed graves. Though not everyone buried with a sword and a shield was necessarily a warrior, the fact that it was common to bury people with weapons does suggest a society that valued being able to handle such things. The finds from the High Dyke could mean that the ditch was used as a convenient place to bury somebody who the mourners thought should be placed at rest with a sword and shield. However, at some sites the bodies are in unusually large numbers or there is evidence of cut marks to the bones or they have been buried in pieces (just a skull or the skeleton being incomplete) which suggests that we may be looking at people who died violently. They may have been executed or died in a fight. This does not prove that these earthworks had a warlike function (they may have had more than one), but with no domestic objects coming from any of these earthworks (unless they are residual Roman finds from under the banks or the odd brooch found with a body) we cannot rule out people who first used the dykes had some interest in death and violence.
However, at some sites the bodies are in unusually large numbers or there is evidence of cut marks to the bones or they have been buried in pieces which suggests that we may be looking at people who died violently.
There are famous early medieval dykes like Offa’s Dyke and Wansdyke that meander across the landscape for long distances, but they are not typical, High Dyke is in being just over a mile long. Most seem to cut across roads, they bisect ridgeways or causeway or slice valleys that carried trackways. Archaeologists have debated for years if they ever had gateways, but I have yet to see any convincing evidence of one. My theory is that they were designed to block routeways, they are rarely aligned with county or parish boundaries (High Dyke is ignored by both) so rather than being borders, they were probably set back from them and were places where the locals could gather if they got warning of a hostile raiding party to bar their access. Some have suggested that they had wooden palisades on the banks, but there is no evidence of postholes found in any of them. The bank at High Dyke has been severely damaged by having a later road running along it, perhaps this sort of destruction is why the postholes are gone? Well, if we look other structures with earth banks like prehistoric hillforts, Roman marching camps or medieval ringworks (castles with just donut-shaped earthworks) or Anglo-Saxon burhs (forts or fortified towns), we can always find the postholes somewhere; if these dykes had a palisade, then if is incredibly unlikely that no excavation has ever found a posthole.
The High Dyke is unlike the other nearby Cambridgeshire Dykes like Fleam Dyke that seem to block access along the Icknield Way to anyone wishing to enter East Anglia from the Midlands. Unlike most early medieval dykes that usually cut a road, High Dyke seals off the entrance to what would have been a peninsula of high(-ish) ground surrounded by fens (now it is the River Cam on the west, the Bottisham Lode to the north and Quy Water to the east). Does that mean that this peninsula (which is covered by the northern half of Fen Ditton and the village of Horningsea) was a special place, say with ritual or religious significance or perhaps the headquarters of the local elite? Not necessarily. There is evidence of some Romano-British settlement in this area but nothing special, no feature that suggested that it was unusual (though who knows what lies awaiting discovery). The earthwork itself probably required the shifting of ten thousand cubic metres of earth, my calculations suggest that with early medieval tools between 40 and 70 people could have built it over a Summer (the soil would have been too damp in other seasons). It was quite an easy job to do for the inhabitants of a couple of villages, a few hamlets or half a dozen farms to build this unusual feature.
Unlike most early medieval dykes that usually cut a road, High Dyke seals off the entrance to what would have been a peninsula of high(-ish) ground surrounded by fens
There are other earthworks that might date from this period that cut off peninsulas that like the High Dyke do not seem to contain any known sites of important archaeological significance. Park Pale near Topcliffe in Yorkshire, various dykes in Cornwall (like Bolster Bank though they are undated), Dane’s Dyke cutting off Flamborough Head (though that might be prehistoric) and Horning Dyke in Norfolk are all examples of dykes that cut peninsulas. Perhaps they just made a defensible small area where the locals could retreat to. Early medieval warfare probably involved a lot of intimidation, shouting, burning down of farms and chasing unarmed peasants, but when faced with a determined group of people on a large bank across an equally deep ditch, most raiders would probably go to where pickings were easier. The trouble is with this period is we can let our imagination run away with us, though I believe my theory about it being a period of frequent small-scale raids and dykes being “stop lines” dug by local farmers (and as other historians have said, moving earth is very much a peasant’s solution to a problem) is based on a sound analysis of all the evidence.
….my calculations suggest that with early medieval tools between 40 and 70 people could have built it over a Summer
High Dyke has suffered much in the past, not least through roadworks. I hope it is preserved and appreciated for future generations who will probably ask new questions, use different techniques and come to slightly different conclusions. Increasingly we are looking at features and asking how they fit into the wider landscape, just what was behind the High Dyke is likely to become a more important question to future researchers. Never forget that we never know what is under our feet and when we dig it must be done with care and carefully recorded for future generations, we can only excavate things once and who knows what new scientific techniques will be added to the archaeologist’s arsenal in the future.
Malim, T., K. Penn, et al. (1996) “New Evidence on the Cambridgeshire Dykes and Worsted R.C.H.M.E. (1972). An Inventory of the historical monuments in the County of Cambridge, Volume 2 North-East Cambridgeshire. Published by Trinity Press. [Pages 144 to 147 give a good account of the dyke]
Following the Phase 3 Consultation on the proposed Waste Water Treatment Plant relocation to Honey Hill, Anglian Water has sent a targeted consultation to properties and groups in the area where changes to land orders might affect them, e.g Horningsea Road, Fen Ditton and Clayhithe Road. These include traffic management at Junction 34, temporary closure of the A14 between junctions 33 (Milton roundabout) and Junction 35 at Quy and Clayhithe Road. Save Honey Hill has responded to these proposals in the document below sent to Anglian Water on 12 August 2022
Here is the response to that consultation from the Save Honey Hill group.
It was a lovely evening. The sun was shining and many Save Honey Hill choir members attended alongside many other like minded groups from around Cambridge.
All the speeches and poems, especially those of Fiona Godlee (the former head of BMJ), a real mover and shaker in the world of climate change activism and James Boyce, author of “Imperial Mud: The Fight for the Fens” who talked about the history of the fight to restore land and river rights, echoed all our arguments. Cllr. Hannah Copley (Green Party, Abbey Ward) read her powerful poem about the climate earthquake that is coming.
Here’s the choir, with an introduction from Tony Booth of Friends of The Cam and a wonderful speech from our very eloquent Catherine explaining who we are and what we are fighting for.
We, the Save Honey Hill Community Choir from villages to the north of Cambridge, are protesting the unnecessary relocation of Cambridge’s sewage works to Honey Hill, a beautiful, unspoilt site in Cambridge’s Green Belt. The climate impact of demolishing one functioning sewage plant and building another, just 1.5 km away will be enormous.
Join us in our fight to STOP Anglian Water relocating its Cambridge sewage plant to Green Belt. #greenbelt #sustainability
Anglian Water, a billion-pound private company, is being paid £227m of public money to move its Cambridge sewage plant to Honey Hill on Green Belt. The brownfield land left behind will then be sold to developers for housing as part of the North East Cambridge Area Action Plan (NECAAP).
The existing sewage plant was upgraded in 2015 and future-proofed till 2050, and Anglian Water admits there is ‘no operational need to move the plant’.
Honey Hill is between the villages of Fen Ditton, Horningsea and Quy and is the entry point to Wicken Fen, the most species-rich nature reserve in the UK.
It is valuable farmland, full of wildlife, and the site of prehistoric archaeological remains.
It is also in Cambridge’s Green Belt and should therefore be protected from development by government policy.
The sewage plant will be bigger than Wembley Stadium and floodlit. Huge structures will dominate the flat exposed fenland setting with multiple digester towers, over 20 metres high. Once operational, an estimated 140 HGV sludge lorries will enter and exit the site daily, clogging already busy local roads, adding to air pollution and compromising the safety of the children cycling to the nearby local primary school in Fen Ditton.
Anglian Water has not provided any figure for the enormous carbon cost of tearing down one functioning sewage plant and building another just 1.5km away.
According to DEFRA, Honey Hill is an area of high risk to groundwater contamination. It sits on a Principal Chalk Aquifer.
“We moved to Fen Ditton in 1970 with two small children. The following summer my parents came down and ‘borrowed’ the kids for a weekend. That was an unexpected sudden release from responsibility. We had got to know the surrounding countryside and so headed to Honey Hill as a place for celebrating freedom and spending a warm, low-budget evening.
In those pre A14 days there was no bridge, just the dusty Low Fen Drove bending through the flat landscape with a perspective consisting of backdrops behind backdrops, avenues of trees, thick thorny hedges and rush fringed ditches.
When I was playing cricket for Quy, I would cycle that way, down High Ditch Road, along the drove way, up the old railway line and into the village past the Hall. Sometimes I remember taking my little boy and my cricket bag in the basket of an old butcher’s bike. The journey home after the match into the sunset, singing victoriously, was memorable – picking up a bottle of cider at The Blue Lion as we got back to Fen Ditton.
One sunny Christmas Day, at a time when we were looking after an old nag (which resembled an armchair) and an escapologist pony, we took the kids for a ride round Honey Hill. Our dog, an unruly mongrel, unsuccessfully chased a hare over two fields and a ditch.
That same dog used to accompany me on runs on slippery winter days down round the drove way to Biggin Abbey and back home. As he got older he was less inclined to do this until eventually, one afternoon, he turned his back on me and made his own way home the way we had come.
Another occasion involving the dog and the boy was when, due to adverse conditions, we adopted the procedure known as ‘walkies in the motor’ – so in a blizzard, headlamps on full beam, we tried to follow the mongrel from the comfort of the car. The old grey Renault slid sideways into a ditch near Snout’s Corner. It was difficult to persuade the AA that the location was accessible and the car retrievable.
After gales, I would sometimes search in the thickets up there for fallen boughs to scavenge as firewood. One day, Major Francis, from Quy Hall, confronted me, thinking I was a poacher or other reprobate. We later became good friends. Once, when we needed stakes for a village tree planting campaign, he invited us to make these from saplings cut from along the old railway line.
I used to think how important, socially, the network of paths linking the four villages must have been in the past. Maybe their development had been encouraged by the Bishops of Ely, in times gone by, to combat in-breeding in the communities. They must also have provided ways to work for that considerable number of farm workers which lived in each village.
When the Covid lockdowns started, early in 2020, we rediscovered these pathways and found them so attractive and benign that we mapped them as a guide for others. I suppose we trespassed a bit on these wanderings but I do remember a picnic lunch by a grass covered brick bridge not far off Low Fen Drove during which the spirit was definitely lifted well clear of those miserable times. Also picking blackberries at Snout’s Corner with the distant hum of traffic muffled by the sound of the wind in the trees strengthens one’s love for the place.
I offer these reminiscences to demonstrate what this area of simple countryside has meant to one person, living beside it for the best part of a lifetime. It’s the purpose of the Green Belt – to provide the city and its surrounding villages with a peaceful, pastoral, restorative resource. It is tragic to think that if this area comes to be dominated by a massive offensive and repulsive sewage plant, these types of life-affirming experiences, on our doorstep, will never be available again.”
Many thanks to David Yandell, long time resident of Fen Ditton and exponent of the importance of preserving this valuable local amenity.