March Town Trails

Photo:March Town Hall

March Town Hall

Two walks around the town

During its long history stretching back 2000 years.  March has served many roles; refuge of saints; monastic estate and place of pilgrimage, stronghold of the Fen Tigers and in more recent years a thriving market town.

March originally developed as two places, ‘Merche’ around St Wendreda’s Church and Mercheford around the river.  The two were linked by a canal called ‘The Hythe’ which ran into the river.  High Dyke, a towpath cum roadway ran alongside the Hythe.

The next section is divided into two walks – the Town Trail and the Riverside Trail, both of which highlight the older more interesting buildings in March and the stories behind them.  The two trails may be linked to form a single walk.

The Town Trail

  1. The trail starts at the Museum which was built as a girl’s school in 1851 on the site of old almshouses. It has been the Town’s museum since 1976.
  2. Cross into Chapel Street which is part of the original street High Dyke.  On your right where the road rejoins the High Street is the Registry Office. This beautiful building was once a farm house and known as Hythe House.  The expensive barns and outbuildings of the farm were on the western side of Chapel Street.  The house and gardens faced the old canal (The Hythe).  High Dyke gave access to the rear.  The main buildings, of grey gault brick, are late 18th century but parts of the house may be much older.
  3. Trinity Church was built on part of the garden of High House.  In the 1880s Mr John Burrows, a Methodist himself gave the local congregation the choice of either£100 or a section of his garden for a new church. (Note the initials and names on the foundation stones of the benefactors who sponsored its building).  The Garden of Rest next to Trinity Church was an pld Baptist burial ground closed in 1855, after the Great Cholera outbreak, and made into a garden in the 1960s.
    Photo:The old Baptist cemetery

    The old Baptist cemetery

  4. The Hythe turned westward into Gas Road.  The building on your right was March’s first Wesleyan Chapel built in 1829 and used for sixty years.  Later it became the Drill Hall for the 4th Suffolk Regiment (G Company) of the Cambridgeshires. The roadway going north is another section of the old High Dyke.
  5. As you continue southwards note the openings called ‘jetties’ that connect gas Road with the east front of the buildings on your left.  Before 1850 these ‘jetties ‘connected two wharves, one on your right and the other on the left of the main road (The Causeway). These were ‘docks’ for the barges that plied the goods up and down the narrow waterway.  The one in the Causeway was filled in after the terrible cholera epidemic of 1847 to accommodate the town’s new gas works
  6. The Stone Cross was erected on what may have been the site of a Saxon market.  There is an old legend which says that this was the first site for St Wendreda’s Church.  Many attempts were made to build here but each time the workmen returned they found the previous day’s work destroyed and this was put down to ‘the devils work’.
    Photo:The Stone Cross

    The Stone Cross

  7. Continue south along the Avenue to the Almshouses, Jenyns House’ which was built in 1851 by March Consolidated Charities.  The previous almshouses were built on the Museum site in 1672 with money left for the benefit of the poor of March by Roger Jenyns.  They were deemed to be uninhabitable in 1836.  Sir Roger Jenyns was the High Sheriff of Cambridgeshire in 1701.
  8. Continue to Church Street (part of the original road) where you will see the unique church of St Wendreda. Famous for its double hammerbeam roof with a collection of 120 carved angels, the church was said by Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman, ‘worth cycling 40 miles in a head wind to see’. The area around the church was originally known as ‘Merche’. **image8**
  9. Church House, built in the early 18th century, had no windows on the ground floor and has a steeply pitched roof which originally thatched.
    Photo:Church House

    Church House

  10. Return to the main road through the small lane beside the church yard and opposite you will see the Neale-Wade  Community College, named after William Neale (1696) and Henry Wade (17130 who both gave money for the education of boys in March. The area to the right of the college id known as ‘The Townend Pits’. Under the Enclosure Award 4½ acres were set aside for pasture. Later it was excavated for gravel to maintain the roads and then abandoned to become waterlogged. Only a small amount of the original remains.
  11. Returning along The Avenue to High Street you will see Norland House an imposing property built at the beginning of the 17th century. To the rear there was stabling and a coach house.  The gardens extended from the Hythe at the front to Elwyn Road at the rear. Next door the maze was once the curate’s house. In 1836, it was bought by Firmin Fuller, a local vet, who set about creating an exotic garden at the rear of the house.
    Photo:Norland House

    Norland House

    It had a long rectangular lake, with a Chinese style bridge over connecting several attractive walks. At one end of the garden there was a bandstand where concerts were regularly held and on certain days were open to the public free. A notice of the front of one of the stables stated ‘All welcome except dogs and policemen.
  12. The old Courthouse was built in Italianate style in 1875.  All the stone in the facade is hand cut and polished. March Police Station was at the rear and also the office of the Chief Constable of the Isle of Ely.(Note the Royal Coat of Arms above the recessed archway).
    Photo:The old Court House

    The old Court House

  13. Looking at Nos.78-82 High Street it is difficult that this building had such an important history. It was formerly the town’s Guildhall, built on the site of an earlier Guildhall in 1827. Later two wings were added to house the first March national School. It was also used as the town library.
  14. The Baptist Church on the western side was the site of the town’s first non-conformist church built in 1799. In 1870 it was demolished and a new one built. In 1959 it was gutted by fire and had to be rebuilt again.
  15. St Peter’s Church, founded in 1868, was built on the site of Phillips Brewery. It was the largest of the three new churches built at this time. The completed building cost £11,000.The statue over the west door is of St Peter and the book in his hand has faint writing- the first verse from St Paul in Latin. The clock on the west front was taken from the old market house on the market square and originally donated by the people of March in 1795.
  16. The Griffin was a coaching inn and dates for the 16th century. In 1686 it became the ‘posting house’ and the mail coach would have driven straight through the archway that once graced its front. Many famous people have stayed there, including Samuel Pepys and Charles Dickens.
    Photo:The Old Griffin Inn

    The Old Griffin Inn

  17. The Corn Exchange on the Market Place was built in 1900, in the renaissance style, and replaced the earlier market house and fire station erected in 1839. The tower is 110 feet high and topped by Britannia. The clock was paid for by public subscription to celebrate the diamond jubilee og Queen Victoria. In 1912 it became the town hall. In the 1970s it was converted at a cost of £80,000 to be used as a Magistrates Court. In the year 2000 it was gifted back to the people of March and a time capsule was buried in the refurbished Market Place to mark the millennium. A plaque marks the spot.

The Riverside Trail

  1. The river, the old course of the Nene, is the hub of the town and the reason for the town’s development.  In the 16th century March was a minor port with 8 vessels. Until the 19th century all goods came in and out of the town by barge. There were many pubs and businesses along its banks including a tannery, lime works and several mills.
  2. The Riverside Trail begins at the Town Bridge which was built in 1850 at a cost of £600 to replace the former decaying timber bridge. The river crossing was once a ford.
  3. To your right at the top of Nene Parade is the Ship Inn. During the mid 1800s it was known as ‘The Railwayman’.
    Photo:The Ship Inn

    The Ship Inn

    Extensive renovation during the 1930s revealed exquisitely carved beams which were subsequently dated to around 1500.  They also showed that the building had once been part of a much larger establishment called ‘The White Hart’ and according to the Wisbech writer William Watson was the first house ever to be erected in March.
  4. Cross over the Bridge and look ahead of you into Broad Street. It is hard to imagine that this was once the ‘Village Green’ overlooked by large houses.
  5. The War Memorial was erected in 1920 and now commemorates those killed in both wars. The obelisk is 18ft high and cut from Cornish Granite and the soldier is carved from a single block of Carrara marble.
    Photo:The War Memorial

    The War Memorial

  6. The Fountain at the far end commemorates the coronation of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911. It was originally a drinking fountain, flanked by horse and dog troughs, made by Scottish engineers at Possilpark at a cost of £400
  7. Turn left into West End. After a few yards you will come to Grays Lane named after Owen Gray who was commonly known as the ‘Great Brewer ‘and Captain of the Doddington and Hamlets Cavalry. It was the bankruptcy of his son Nathan in 1839 and subsequent selling of his property that saw the start of the development of the town as we see it today.
  8. Bank House, formerly the manor House and home of Owen Gray, on the corner of Grays Lane was bought by the National Provincial Bank, and then renovated, in 1840. This house dates from the 16th century and may be earlier.
  9. Continue along West End past several old cottages. In times gone by there were many shops and pubs along here all of which served the barge owners as they travelled along the Nene. Note the Barnack Stone in the footings of some. This stone was brought down the river from Thorney following the dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII in 1536 and maybe some fell off!
  10. Rookswood House now owned by the British Legion dates from at least the beginning of the 17th century. It was originally a tithe barn and converted to a residence in the Georgian period. In the 19th century it was called Lewin
    Photo:Rookswood House

    Rookswood House

    House after the family that lived there and after the selection of Robert Lewin as a new headmaster in the 1830s it became the temporary home for March grammar School where it remained for over 40 years.
  11. The house next to the health centre called Craspen House is the oldest dated house in March. Dated 1626 it is Elizabethan with a Georgian extension. It has elaborately carved woodwork in a ‘Tree of Life’ design and a room called the Great Hall.
  12. Cross over the footbridge and stroll back towards the town along the river path. This gives the opportunity to see across the river the cottages in West End.
    Photo:The Library

    The Library

  13. To your right the new library has been built on the site of the old Acre Mill and Wharf.  The old Granary was regularly supplied with corn by fleets of barges. In 1840 John Smith from Nottingham bought the granary for his son Joseph who demolished it before erecting new buildings. In 1847, when the railway came to March, he installed the towns first steam mill enabling flour to be sent all over the country.
  14. Walk through Acre Road, which was part of the old High Dyke and on through the covered Market to the car park.
  15. This area was once known as Little London with George Street and City Road encircling it. It contained a conglomeration of tiny houses; many one up and one down accessed by a ladder. In 1850, it was described as full of squalor and filth, so much so that it was deemed to have caused the outbreak of cholera and other illness in which 441 people died. The houses contained no sanitation or drainage. The alleyways were quagmires and it was the custom to accumulate human excrement in chamber pots and throw it into the Hythe. As a result the Hythe became very contaminated. Out of 1215 houses in the town 664 were affected. During the 1960s the remaining houses were demolished and City Road car park came into being.
    Photo:March & District Museum

    March & District Museum

Thank you for taking the walk; now if you have not already been please visit our marvellous museum.

This page was added on 27/03/2010.

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