Cambridgeshire, EnglandGenWeb Project - Diary of Dr Katharine Heanley

Diary of Dr Katharine Heanley


John Starr has kindly supplied a set of diaries written by a Dr. Katharine Heanley (1874 - 1959) who lived at Saxmundham. They cover the period 1898 to 1956. They are personal diaries and contain a lot of miscellaneous material, records of holidays she took with her close friend Gertrude Watson. She was a literate woman with no small skill in art, and he has several small sketches and paintings she made.

In 1914 she went to the March area on her own and in 1915 she went with Gertrude to Chatteris. Her parents, John Heanley and Charlotte Katharine, nee Whitling, lived near Chatteris. The 1914 extract of Dr. Heanley's notes and some sketches she made are included here which may prove useful to someone.

John would be most interested to contact anyone who may have a comment on the note and the sketches or who can perhaps let him know how things have changed. He is interested in any records that may remain about Honey Hill and the Heanleys or the other related family, the Wilkersons that may be of interest to him.

He is most unlikely to ever be able to travel to the area himself. You can contact John Starr by email:

His address is 23 Garfield Street, South Australia, 5087 should you wish to write.

1914 Extract from the Diary of Dr Katharine Heanley
In search of the Griffin.

This train, now in Liverpool St station, is to start in 15 minutes for the town of March.

Hilaire Belloc was told by an "expert" (in what I don't know) that in March is an inn called the Griffin and there is to be had the best fare one can get in any house of call in Britain. Belloc could not find this inn and so I am going to look for it. Nearby I hope to find Manea and Honey Hill, and Chatteris where Mother and Father lived their early married life. Vermuden's dyke is also near there according to the map and that is a place of interest to a fen slogger.

7.5 p.m.

The Griffin!

An early walk over (from the station). I asked no one and just as I was wondering whether there was an inn at all in March I saw one opposite to me called "Ye Olde Griffin".

Sep 27th, Sunday '14.

In 10 minutes I was eating sirloin and drinking beer "softest" in the fenns.

Today at the present moment I am on the way to Manea, sitting inside a farmyard just off the straight white road, bounded on each side by a deep straight drain.

The roads are excellent, slightly raised above the level of the fields on either side, as hard as nails and as flat as water. I have just had some water to drink from a cottage by the way, it was fenn water, what is called brackish I suppose. It is the most glorious day there ever was September is the month for the marshes. I never saw the stack so golden nor the horizon so wrapped in sunshine. The wind is in the rushes and the birds do sing. A man has been round to see what I am doing but seeing I was innocently looking at a map he went away and uttered no word.

Below the sketch:- This is Honey Hill, the birthplace of Charlotte Elizabeth.

Sept 27th 1914.

There are many small dilapidated apple trees in front of the house.

Manea station.

Manea is a more than struggling street, it is a staggering street of public houses.

I went through and asked the way to Honey Hill and was directed up a road which was no road at all but a sweep of fine black earth and then I came to a small homestead - that's the word, stack barns, fowls, cows and an oldish shrewd faced man in shirtsleeves. He had such an intelligent face he might have been Scotch; reminded me strongly of Dr. Garrod.

I asked him the way...

He asked me what house I wanted.

He - "Do you want Mr.X or Mr.Y?"

I - The farm I want belonged to people you won't remember, they were there 50 years ago - Wilkerson and Heanley".

He - "John Heanley? I do remember. My sister was a servant there."

I - "He was my father. What's your name?"

He - "Cave".

I could remember the name of Cave ever since I could remember anything. "Old Cave" my father has often talked of and this was his grandson. He introduced me to his daughter and she gave me a cup of tea and we talked of times before I was born. The farm Father had is very bad everyone who takes it breaks over it. Lyons or Lions, the man who let it to my father was a swindler according to this old Cave. "I reckon your father was sucked in over it", said he. His son - Lyons, is a coroner at Cambridge now.

Then I walked a mile and a half to find the house, over a road of soot positives. It is in a most lonely spot and is now deserted. What it must have been to settle there miles away from a made road even, 50 years ago after living in London I grieve to think. I should love it myself, but Mother was different.

Old Cave lives at the Toll Inn. It doesn't look like an inn, and its name is nearly rubbed out. The old man said the board was there before my father came to those parts, so no wonder the name is fading.

It has been a glorious day. I never had such a number of pleasant sensations in one day before. The lights on the corn and the colours of the fields and hedges, ? and ? and redding leaves make them glow.

There was an orchard of apples on my left after crossing the 16-ft. drain, the sun had burnt them a rich sunset red and they were as large as a good-sized turnip (I am waiting for the 6.7 train to March).

After walking across the fenn I wiped my face on my handkerchief and swept off great patches of blackness. The corners of my eyes - my finger nails and all the creases of my hands were full of fenn soil.

The air was very pure and the sky was a faded blue with shining white clouds arranged like flights of angels. Towards evening, when the sun began to set the clear turquoise of the sky was beyond all imagined beauty.

In the fens the scenery penetrates and becomes part of oneself, but it appears one must be born with a special gift of appreciation of it in one's blood. The manageress of the Inn, for example. "Hostess" is a better word for her, she is a most charming person, can't bear the flatness that to me is so fascinating. I must ask where she was born.

The scents too and sounds in a country of plains are different to those where there are hills. There is a cool purity about the smell of the hay or the straw and the same quality of purity can be heard when air passes through the rushes that line the dykes.

The sound of horses' hoofs galloping on the roads is different too, very different.

Sept 28th 1914.

I woke up this morning to the sound of kloppotting of hob-nailed boots over the cobbled yard; it was cold, grey and raw and I was glad I had ordered sausages and bacon for breakfast.

There is a very good billiard table here; unfortunately however it is practically open to the bar, just curtained off, so that when males are there drinking it is uncomfortable to play. This morning there were no men about and I had a good hour's practice for which I observe I have not been charged.

On my way to the station I found a wonderful gun, a little over nine inches in the barrel to avoid the expense of a licence. It was 6/6 and is used in these parts to kill rabbits. Of course I could not resist a lethal weapon with so much war in the air and here it is, tied on to my bag on its way home.

Sept 13th, 1915.

Gertrude and I have just come back from a 3 day stay in March. The Griffen still feeds you well and the beds are soft even to G's taste. I've found Vermuden's drain and the Old Bedford river and the two houses in Purl's Bridge. They are both public houses and there is a third behind the second. I asked why there were three so near each other and the keeper of one said it was for convenience - what one had not the other often had. My remarks continued in another log book.

September 15th 1915

Visit to the marshes 1915

K. Heanley.
Bigsby Corner, Saxmundham.
Suffolk 1955.

Chatteris at last, Sept 15th 1915.

Gertrude and I have spent all the morning losing trains to Chatteris. This afternoon we caught one by the skin of our teeth and here we are having a plain tea in the Temperance Hotel.

This evening we walked to Vermudens Drain and because we had a map were investigated as spies. Thy are not used to strangers in Chatteris.

September 16th.

And now we are at Purles Bridge, which is no bridge but two square public houses, one on each side of a secondary road which leads from Manea to the Old Bedford River (100 ft drain), at the junction of that road and the river thus Welches Dam is towards left where arrow points.

One Inn is called the "Ship" and the other "The Chequers". Excepting that the "Ship" has a seat outside and the "Chequers" has not they are both alike in all respects. Mr. Kent keeps the "Ship" and we are going to have lunch on his bench before we leave this enchanting spot, on the bank of the Old Bedford River; cut in or rather begun in 1630+? by the Russell Company; 21 miles long in the finish which was I know not when. Here it is after 300 years, draining the land, feeding the ducks of Mr. Kent and giving drink to a troop of young calves, who drink delicately and make no snuffling noise. It runs past the E. end of Vermudens Drain from the Ouse at Earith to the Ouse at Denvers sluice.

We lost the train again this morning to Manea, the chambermaid's fault this time, who told the bus driver the wrong time to fetch us, nearly an hour after the train had gone; and so we had a very pleasant motor drive here which cost 10/-.

We did not have lunch with Mr. Kent after all; for we had hardly opened the door when a middle aged woman who did not seem able to move her lower limbs leaned forward out of an arm chair and called out, "We have not anything to drink here. Try the next house".

We were very thirsty and after knocking twice at the "Chequers" a fat girl came to the door and before we spoke or had time to speak said "We have not anything to drink here".

"Not even water?"

She said we could have some water and then brought us some neckter (nectar?), very good stuff as we were so thirsty. I don't know what it would be like in a normal state.


She had no food to give us and when I asked her what they ate themselves she said "Oh, we have cooked meals". The "Ship" she said, might have some biscuits; and so I gave her some pence to fetch some over, but she most emphatically declined saying they were not very good friends. Gertrude went and brought over some bread and butter and two green apples. We asked the fat girl why there were two public houses so near together. She said there were three, one just behind theirs, and that it was for convenience for when one hadn't anything the other had.

After that we went on to Welches Dan, where Vermudens Drain runs into the 100 ft. drain, and sketched it. There is a little nest of buildings there, mostly cottages and 2 inns, very small but more promising than the two at Purles Bridge. We have a great fancy to go and stay there. Manea will be the nearest station. Welney is another place higher up the river which might do for a week or two. There are no boats at Welches Dam; there is no fishing however all over the fens.

The next day, before we came home we hired a heavy old flat bottomed boat from Mrs. Jackson on the Nene and had 3 hours on the river which was very pleasant, but certainly smelt abominable in parts. Gertrude did not like it much. I've got very much tarred as the boat had been prepared for facing the winter and was not dry.

Mrs. Jackson and her husband.

Nene Parade March, have boats and barges and horses and a nice piece of garden with many fruit trees, and plenty of chickens and ducks. She takes people in apparently at a very small charge. She is a very nice woman with rheumatism in her feet.

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