John Peck was born on 21st August 1787, the eldest son of John Peck, a farmer of Tydd St Giles and his wife Elizabeth Ream, whose father was a farmer from Newton. There were eight children in the family, three boys and five girls, but two of the girls died young.
During John’s childhood the family lived at Tydd St Giles and Newton (John records in the diary that he spent eight happy years at Newton). He was educated at a school in Tydd St Mary. He moved to Parson Drove in 1808, just after his 21st birthday. He moved in to Inham Hall in 1811 and lived there for the rest of his life. (It was demolished some years ago and Ingham Hall Gardens is now on that site).
On his father’s death in 1812, John became responsible for his widowed mother and the younger children. His sister Sarah appears to have moved with him to Parson Drove and kept house for him; she married Daniel Culy. Susannah married her cousin John Ream, they lived in Wisbech St Mary, but she died in child birth aged 27. His brother Joseph also lived and farmed in Wisbech St Mary.
John built up his farm to about 400 acres, he mainly rented the land, but was forced in 1843 to buy the land and house as his landlord went bankrupt. He kept sheep for their fleece, the sale of the wool gave him a steady income. He also kept some cattle and a few pigs. He also had a team of about 20 horses, this included some which he would have ridden and for his gig and trap. He usually rode into Wisbech, but if he took the family they would have used the gig. The main crops grown were wheat, oats and beans which would have been used for feeding the animals in the winter, in the summer they would have been out in the fields. He employed usually about eight men on the farm, but this would increase at harvest time. There would also have been servants in the house.
John was the Parish Constable from 1816 until his death. There were many duties attached to this including arresting thieves etc who in the early days would have to be taken into Wisbech to the jail there. But so that he did not have to make the journey at night time, John had the Cage built, so prisoners could be kept there over night. After 1830 the Cage was used to keep the Fire Engine, John collected money donated by the villagers; John went to London to purchase the engine.
John was a Tax Assessor and Valuer, and was often employed as arbitrator in disputes. He worked with the hydraulic engineer Tycho Wing in the campaign for better drainage in the area. He was a Commissioner of Leverington and Parson Drove District and the Wisbech North Level Drainage Boards. The importance of the drainage was to be able to use the land more profitably, before the drainage most of it was only suitable for summer grazing for sheep and cattle. Clough’s Cross Bridge and water gates, were built at this time, a feat of nineteenth engineering.
John married Elizabeth Uyatt from Throckenholt in 1817. They had seven sons and one daughter. John the eldest son, lived in Parson Drove and ran the brewery. Henry and Daniel were auctioneers in Wisbech, Walter farmed at Marham, nr Downham Market. Hugh, Edward and George left England for Melbourne, Australia a few months after John died. Elizabeth married George Lade, a Scottish doctor and they lived near Glasgow. John ensured that all the children had a good education.
Besides his busy life, he enjoyed the company of friends – many who he would meet on a Saturday after the market. Friends were entertained at home and as the children grew up, often their friends would stay at Inham Hall.
His interests included the theatre, reading, he was a member of the Wisbech Literary Society and the Museum Society. John visited London several times, and enjoyed visiting the ‘sights’. When railway travel became possible he visited north Wales crossing the country by the new railways – was fascinated by the turn table at Derby station. He enjoyed shooting and fishing, and in the winter time skating on the frozen rivers and drains. John describes his visit to Paris in 1838 in great detail.
John’s diaries cover the years 1814 to a few days before his death in October 1851. He had just completed that year’s harvest. He is buried in St John the Baptist Church in Parson Drove. His grave is marked with a simple plinth by the gate and his friends erected a memorial, which can be seen on the north chancel wall.
If you would like to know more there is a small booklet
John Peck of Parson Drove - An Exceptional Fenman
by Dian Blawer
Available from the Wisbech and Fenland Museum
Grateful thanks to Bridget Holmes of The John Peck Society for this information.
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