Makeover could turn Flag Fen into Peterborough's Stonehenge

A multi-million pound investment at Flag Fen could see it spoken about in the same breath as prehistoric monument Stonehenge.

Friday, 18th March 2016, 5:03 pm
Updated Friday, 18th March 2016, 5:07 pm
An artist's impression of the Bronze Age village

That is the vision for the Bronze Age site in the east of Peterborough as it seeks to become a landmark cultural spot encompassing thousands of years of history.

The redevelopment, expected to cost £2-3 million, will provide a home for the many exciting discoveries made at Must Farm near Whittlesey which has seen it compared to the famous ancient Roman city of Pompeii.

The site will celebrate the history of Flag Fen and provide a more aesthetically pleasing home to showcase the eight rare Bronze Age boats currently being preserved there.

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It will also see the recreation of a Bronze Age village and farm, a new visitor centre and a museum.

The final picture of how the new-look Flag Fen will appear is still not clear with Vivacity, which operates the site, currently in the planning stages before submitting a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund.

But it is hoped that works will start next year with visitors able to see the new attractions from Spring 2018.

Sean Nolan, business development director at Vivacity, hopes to see the number of visitors to the historical site increase from 10,000 to 60,000 once the works are complete.

He said: “We believe that this site is as important as Stonehenge and Hadrian’s Wall, and I want to elevate Flag Fen to be said in the same breath when people are talking about archaeology sites.”

Crossing the development will be the Roman Fen Causeway, a stretch of road which runs through the site.

Aside from Bronze Age artefacts Flag Fen will house displays and artefacts celebrating the rich history of the area over the last 6,000 years, including archaeological evidence running all the way back from the Neolithic (4000-2000 BC) and incorporating the Iron Age (700 BC-AD 43).

But the most exciting development could well be the inclusion of recent discoveries at Must Farm which have captured national attention.

A unique treasure trove of historical artefacts were recently found at two Bronze Age round houses there dating back to around 1290 BC.

The 3,000 year old houses, which were built on stilts, were destroyed by a fire and collapsed into a river.

Archaeologists, though, have recovered numerous items including a human skull, a wheel, a bowl with food still in it, a rare 165 million year old plesiosaur (marine reptile) nicknamed Eve, and animal bones.

With over 200 school groups visiting Flag Fen every year - a total Vivacity hopes to double following its investment - there are also plans to develop the educational facilities to accommodate more schools, colleges and universities to visit the centre for study purposes.

Mr Nolan said: “We are at a point where we are preparing our bid for a lottery application.

“The plan is to display the archaeology and present them so people can understand the Bronze Age better.

“I’ve been working on it for 18 months, and since Vivacity took the site on in 2011 we identified the need to improve the facilities down there to attract more people.

“We are finding new stuff at Must Farm every day so the design will be flexible to incorporate that.”

Even if the application for Heritage Lottery funding is not successful, Mr Nolan is still sure that the money will be found for the project to go ahead.

He added: “I’m as confident as I can be, but our plan is to activate the lottery funding. If we do achieve that then great, if not then we would have to find alternative sources of funding.

“It’s very exciting. It’s a really interesting project to work on. It’s not every day you get to work on a project that works on a 3,000-year-old site with such incredible archaeology.”

The archaeologist who discovered Flag Fen, Francis Pryor, admitted that he was excited by the planned multi-million redevelopment.

He said: “I’m absolutely delighted. I think Peterborough has this unique archaeological heritage.

“I would like to see Flag Fen become the museum of the Bronze Age but we now have far more than that. It’s really the story of Britain since the Ice Age.

“That’s what you’ve got and in abundance, and it’s well preserved. You have the earliest field system in England from 2,500 BC which covers the whole of the eastern side in Peterborough.

“We have so much to be proud of in Peterborough. York has done well with the Vikings but what we have got is just as good, but five times earlier.”

Francis is particularly excited about what findings from Must Farm could be put on displayed at Flag Fen in the future. He said: “It’s been superbly excavated, people doing the work are absolutely the best and the surprises just continue to amaze.

“When it gets to the collapsed floor deposits of this house it’s going to tell us so much about how people organised the details of their lives in the Bronze Age.”

Francis is now calling on Vivacity to make sure they do not limit their vision when it comes to designing the new-look Flag Fen.

He added: “Do not blinker your vision, broaden it. It’s 5,000 years that you’ve actually got. Prehistory is now on the primary school curriculum. Children from all over the country should come to Peterborough to learn about pre-history because we have got it all.

“We have got probably the earliest homicide in Britain, shot with an arrow around 3,000 BC. We have got the earliest fields, some of the earliest farms, the remarkable Must Farm, Iron Age settlements.

“Pre-history is about so much than places like Stonehenge. It’s about how people lived their lives and that’s what we’ve got that no one else has got.”