Sparking dream of Fen utopia

A founder of utopian socialism who inspired a bid to build a colony in the Fens is being remembered at Octavia Hill’s Birthplace House in Wisbech.

The vision of the philanthropic social reformer, Robert Owen, whose birthday will be celebrated in a talk at the Wisbech museum, inspired an attempt to create a local community that would turn the dream into bricks and mortar.

In a talk on ‘The Manea fen colony and the Owenites’ at the museum dedicated to the town’s most famous daughter at 7 South Brink, Mike Petty MBE, a leading authority on Cambridge and the Fenland, will tell the story of the attempt to put Owen’s principles into practice.

The colony was the brainchild of Fenland farmer and Methodist minister William Hodson, who built a settlement of over 150 acres of his own land in Manea in 1838 and who set out to create a utopian community where everyone would live equally and work together.   It was a society that had no place for money or marriage.

The Welshman, Robert Owen, whose ideas provided a template for the Manea experiment, also had a personal local connection, because he was apprenticed to a draper in Stamford after leaving school at the age of ten and served his time learning his trade in the Lincolnshire town for four years.

Mr Petty said:  “My subject is the story of the Manea Community and its founder, William Hodson, and his stormy relationship with Robert Owen – the tale of what happened when the Manea experiment failed in controversy and how Hodson made his way to America to become one of the founding fathers of another community and a successful businessman, only to end up in disgrace.

“The folk in America know little about Manea and the folk in the Fen know little about America.

“The talk sheds some light on this remarkable episode in Fenland history and the two enterprises that have each disappeared into the dust, but which is celebrated at Octavia Hill’s Birthplace House.”

Members of the Cambridge Archaeological Unit and Fenarch, the Fenland Archaeological Society, will attend the half-hour talk, and during the question and answer session that follows they are expected to give updates on the current activities at the Manea colony site at Welney.