Sep 19, 2017

Archaeologists uncover Cambridgeshire's long lost wife-swapping colony

The project was inspired by socialist visions and abolished concepts like money - but it ran out of one key resource
Cambridge News
September 17, 2017

A team of Cambridge archaeologists who unearthed the site of Cambridgeshire's long-lost Victorian utopia project have released a video on their findings.

The excavations were undertaken in Manea by the Cambridge Archaeological Unit, under the direction of Dr Marcus Brittain, in partnership with the Octavia Hill Birthplace House.

It was in 1838 that farmer, one-time sailor and lay Methodist minister William Hodson bought a plot of land in Manea, a village on the edge of Littleport.

Inspired by socialist visions, he aimed to establish a cooperative community where everyone would be 'equal'.

But despite abolishing all money and working the land together, this Utopian vision became marred by personality clashes and objections to the practice of 'free love'.

The Manea Fen project then came crashing down just two and a half years later when a key investor from Wisbech went bust in 1841.

Speaking in a podcast as part of the Ouse Washes Project, local historian Mike Petty described how the project, which was once home to 150 people, failed.

He said: "They abolished money but they they also abolished matrimony and the married couples who had to subscribed to a new vision there suddenly decided they had something they didn't want to share.

"They tended to leave and that left the colony with no ladies.

"To find ladies they had to advertise in Manchester newspapers and the people who left spread gossip about the goings on in the colony."

There was also moral opposition from the Christian advocate at Cambridge University lead by Rev Pearson, who saw the project as dangerous.

William Hodson stayed till 1846 before heading off to America, where he became a founding member of a colony in Wisconsin called Jane's Ville.
The site

Despite its eventual failure, the project was one of the more successful 19th century social experiments, with its achievements documented in The Working Bee , a weekly newspaper printed on-site.

Built around a central square, the village included terraces of cottages, a public dining hall, communal kitchen, a school and a grand tower from which much of the fen could be observed over tea.

All of this was built by the colonists themselves - most of them handpicked as skilled labourers - from locally-sourced materials.

Since the excavation work began last year the team has been successful in locating the wood and brick foundations of some of the original buildings, along with pits containing the refuse discarded by their inhabitants.

Site director for the  Archaeology project, Dr Brittan said: “These indicate that the buildings were fairly sizeable, but relatively flimsy in construction and maybe not equipped for sustaining 1,000 years’ of community as was envisaged in their design.

“Their refuse also tells us that personal adornment with decorative dress items was commonplace, in spite of concerns that the promotion of individuality led to greed and disharmony in the industrial world.”

The 2016 evacuations were funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership.

No comments: