The Tankyard, Thorney (c.1896)

A very early image from around 1896 showing The Tankyard at Thorney which today houses the Thorney Heritage Museum. The neo-Jacobean building, now known as Bedford Hall, includes a 96 ft high water tower, erected in 1855, that supplied fresh water to the village.

Standing outside the engineer’s cottage building is wife of the Estate Foreman Ann Parker and in the foreground are her children Walter Parker, Ethel Mary Parker, Lucy Maud Parker and Lily Bates Parker.

[Thanks to Helen Parker-Drabble of the Thorney Society for use of the image]

Cart Makers of Thorney

A superb image showing what appears to be a group of cart makers/repairers presumably in Thorney, date unknown.

In the background are two carts belonging to local farmer Edward Balderson (1865-1949) from Second House Farm in Thorney and on the far right is a cart belonging to Ernest William Hurn (1878-1961) from Dukes Head Farm also in Thorney.

After The Storm, Thorney

Two images believed to date back to 1913 and showing damage on one of the approach roads to Thorney.

Barnabus, Thorney

The Barnabus was a community bus that brought play activities to local villages …… this particular image was captured in Thorney.

Empire Day, Thorney

Three superb images showing Empire Day celebrations on The Green in Thorney, date unknown.

It was not until after the death of Queen Victoria, who died on 22 January 1901, that Empire Day was first celebrated. The first ‘Empire Day’ took place on 24th May 1902, the Queen’s birthday. Although not officially recognised as an annual event until 1916, many schools across the British Empire were celebrating it before then.

Each Empire Day, millions of school children from all walks of life across the length and breadth of the British Empire would typically salute the union flag and sing patriotic songs like Jerusalem and God Save the Queen. They would hear inspirational speeches and listen to tales of ‘daring do’ from across the Empire, stories that included such heroes as Clive of India, Wolfe of Québec and ‘Chinese Gordon’ of Khartoum. But of course the real highlight of the day for the children was that they were let of school early in order to take part in the thousands of marches, maypole dances, concerts and parties that celebrated the event !

Fire at Dukes Head Farm, Thorney

A fire at Dukes Head Farm on the Wisbech Road east of Thorney which was being farmed at the time by Thorney born farmer Ernest William Hurn. Date unknown.

Thorney from the Air (1930s)

An aerial shot of Thorney taken sometime in the the 1930s.

Thorney Railway Station (1972)

The old and derelict Thorney railway station building pictured in 1972 after 15 years of closure.

Canary Cottage, Thorney

Any Peterborian who has headed east of Peterborough along the A47, maybe on a day trip to Hunstanton, will have seen the “cute” little cottage set back from the road in an isolated field next to the Dalmark grain drier.

Over the years, the cottage has been unofficially named by many a family to amuse and fascinate the kids on the back seat. Names like “Pixie Cottage”, “Carol’s Cottage”, “Rupert’s House”, “Willie Winkies House”, “Thumbelina’s Cottage” are all known locally and very scratchy documented records suggest names such as “Eel Catcher’s Cottage”, “Knarr Cottage” and, in recent decades, “Canary Cottage”.

The cottage is sited on Knarr Farm, named after the Knarr Fen of the pre-drainage era, and the likelihood is that the cottage carried no formal name other than what was allocated by the farm owner or local foreman.

The oldest date apportioned to the cottage is c.1750 which was a date passed down by the Dixon-Spain family from their initial ownership in the 1930s. Their understanding was that it was built shortly after the drainage of the local fens and was initially a shepherds cottage sited alongside what was known to be a sheepfold during the time when the land was of little use other than for grazing.

It was the Dixon-Spain tenancy as land owners that gave rise to the name “Canary Cottage”. Being owners of a number of local farms, identification of plant and machinery was done via the colour-coding of all items and Knarr Farm was allocated yellow hence the painting of the cottage windows and doors. Initially it was christened as “The Canary Cage” but later became “Canary Cottage”.

The cottage itself was a traditional tied cottage, being offered by the farmer as a means to keep valued farm workers so residents came and left on a regular basis. The final residents of Canary Cottage were current Paston residents Ken and Thelma Wright (below) who first met as workers at Knarr Farm in the late 1950s.

Ken had moved into Canary Cottage as a 17 year old when his older sister was in residence but after tieing the knot with Thelma in 1960, the couple were offered Canary Cottage as their first marital home. They did insist on a few improvements first which were duly carried out but they made it their home until departing as the final residents in 1965.

By today’s standards, Canary Cottage offered the most basic of comforts with no electricity, wall fitted (Calor) gas lighting, an open fire and an outdoor “privy”. They did have mains water and from Ken and Thelma’s arrival, a basic gas powered Ascot water heater on the sole tap which remains in-situ today.

Ken recall’s having to survive the infamous winter of 1963 in Canary Cottage. “It was very tough. In the fields, we had to use pick-axes to get the frozen soil off the potatoes and our water supply froze solid for weeks. We had to walk from the Farm House every day with a bucket of water !”.

In recent decades, Canary Cottage has featured on many a book cover, many an oil-painting, postcards locally and overseas and was even used to model “Pussy Willow Cottage” in the collectable 1992 series of Lilliput Lane miniatures (see below).

Today, in 2016, the cottage stands empty and with areas of significant damage inside but overall it remains solid and sturdy with current owner Peter Fox, MD of Dalton Seeds, pledging to look after it. “We paint it and try to keep it looking okay from time to time. As far as the future of the cottage, although it isn’t Listed, I would like to have it restored one day and keep its history and all the memories going”.

Images from a recent visit (February 2016) are below.

My thanks in researching this one to Peter Fox, Roger Dixon-Spain, Ken & Thelma Wright and many contributions from members of Peterborough Images Facebook Group.

Please note that Canary Cottage is privately owned and access is via private land so please don’t visit without appropriate permission.


In April 2017, Janet Gunstone got in touch from Australia to add, “My ancestor Ben Sigee was a tenant farmer in the late 1760s on land that his Huguenot ancestors had drained on the Bedford Levels near Thorney. There was a hugely devastating flood in 1770 which swept away the Fen embankments causing great loss of property including Ben’s home called ‘Wridecroft’. The Duke of Bedford was quick to respond, helping to reduce the suffering before the houses could be rebuilt.

A contract is archived in the Bedford Papers for ‘A New Built House in Wryde Croft’ let to Benj. Sigee at £1. 8. 6d in 1775 …. do you think this photo could be the same house 80 years later ?!!!”

Thorney Railway Station

A superb collection of images showing Thorney Station on the Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway. The station was built in 1866 and closed in late 1957 although goods traffic continued to use the station until 1964.

The images are undated but believed to be 1920s.