Cat no. 390

An English Fen

Running time17:20 Black & White Sound 1947 The Fens

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Life and livelihoods on the fens.



This film sets the scene with shots of Ely Cathedral and the nearby river. There are general fen scenes in which farm workers take a horse drawn plough along a metalled road and then on to a field. This road is possibly the part of the A142, known as the 'Mepal Straight.' Sugar beet are piled alongside the road until they are taken away by horse and cart. Potatoes are riddle and placed into sacks in the field. A Fenman, accompanied by his dog, a black retriever, goes out shooting. The film shows a fen cottage, quite ramshackle at first appearance. There are beehives outside and a pig in a sty. Vegetables grow in the garden. In a willow plantation two eel fishers, J.A. (Alf) Wilson and John Waters of Mepal, cut willow for making eel traps. The dog watches. Alf Wilson makes the basketwork eel traps. He pares the willow with a jack knife until smooth and then strips it into four for weaving. He continues to weave a half finished trap.

Inside a shed, the other eel catcher works on the nets, using wooden and brass needles of his own making. The film shows a wood turner working on a lathe in a shed. The wood turner makes a bowl. The eel catchers begin their task. They submerge the traps in water. They have to be waterlogged to allow them to sink. They retrieve some that were sank earlier. The traps are baited and then laid along the river, each marked by a marker stick. The nets are laid by settling a stake in the river bank and then pulling the net across the river. Then the trap is pulled out. The traps are collected and emptied. The eels are stored in underwater chests until they are required for market. The eel fishermen's cats have now replaced his dog. A small black cat and a larger black and white cat watch him all of the way, occasionally attempting to pounce on the eels.

The buyers arrive with scales and boxes. The eels are brought form the wooden chests and weighted. They are transferred to the boxes in which they travel and placed on a trailer, towed by a car. The trailer leaves. The film ends with shots of the sun on the water.

Background Information:

This film opens with the line, "In the heart of Lincolnshire, on a little hill, rises the tall and graceful edifice - Ely Cathedral". Ely was not then, nor is it now in Lincolnshire.

J.A. (Alf) Wilson was also a bee-keeper, market gardener, carpenter and all round countryman. He was one of the last punt gunners on the Bedford Level washes. During the 1930s he lived off the land, poaching, snaring and netting all kinds of birds, including blackbirds, larks, plovers, and game birds. He died in 1987 aged 81. The Church at Mepal was full for his funeral.

The buyer of eels was Mr H.P. Brammer who was based at Brandon Creek, and carried eels to his brother's business at Billingsgate, London.

The editor/director works under a nomme de plume. His real name was W.R. Hutchinson.

Featured People:

J.A. (Alf) Wilson eel catchers; John Waters

Featured Events:

An English Fen.

Featured Buildings:

Ely Cathedral

British Foundation Pictures

Ronald Haines

Ronald Haines

De Wolfe

Leevers Rich

Frank Philips

Assistant Editor - Dorothy Stimson

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