Stoker's Cottage

Stretham, Cambridgeshire

Overview

This simple and evocative cottage was built to serve one of the monumental pumping engines that sprang up as the Steam Age took on the challenge of draining the Fenland. It features in Simon Jenkins’s 'Thousand Best Houses in England'.

  • Dogs AllowedDogs Allowed
  • CotCot
  • Fire or StoveFire or Stove
  • Open SpaceOpen Space
  • Logs availableLogs available
  • Parking AvailableParking Available
  • BathBath
  • MicrowaveMicrowave
  • Waitrose DeliveryWaitrose Delivery

Beds 1 Double

Sleeps
2
3 nights
£267 equivalent to £44.50 per person, per night

Built in the nick of time

The cottage stands on the bank of the Old West River, the towpath stretching away invitingly in both directions under the wide fenland skies. The engineers of the 17th century did an impressive job of draining the fens of their standing water, perhaps too good a job. By the 19th century the exposed peat had shrunk so much that the new river courses were left stranded above the lie of the land. At first, windmills drove large wheels in time of flood to scoop excess water from the fields and into these watercourses but after a while even they couldn't cope with the lifts required. Steam arrived in the nick of time and in 1831 the Stretham Old Engine was built. The cottage was probably built around 1840 and the first stoker known to have lived in the cottage was Mr Murfitt.

Part of a Scheduled Ancient Monument

The Old Engine operated as a standby until 1941, superseded in its turn by electrical pumping stations elsewhere. Since 1959 it has been kept in immaculate condition by the Stretham Engine Trust who open it periodically to the public. When the Trust found they no longer had a use for Stoker’s Cottage, they approached us for help. Today the Stretham Engine is considered the finest surviving example of its type and the entire site is designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument. Stoker’s Cottage is a simple and evocative retreat for two, within easy reach of Cambridge, Ely and Peterborough, and with good waterways to discover on foot.

Stretham Old Engine is open to the public (from 1.30-5pm) on the second Sunday of each month from April to September and on Bank Holidays over the same period. Please check their website to be sure. Landmarkers may be able to gain access at other times by appointment (charges apply).

‘ The open fire is a delight and very appropriate for “stoker’s” cottage.’

From the logbook

Floor Plan

Map & local info

Stoker’s Cottage sits next to the Stretham Old Engine on the bank of Old West River. The now disused engine house is open to visitors on certain dates throughout the year. If you are staying here in May, you will be able to join in the Stretham village annual Feast celebration. 

Visit Denny Abbey and Farmland Museum in nearby Waterbeach. This is a former abbey with lots of engaging historical displays and activities for all.

Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve, one of Europe's most important wetlands, is less than 10 minutes drive from Stretham. With its abundance of birds, plants, dragonflies, ponies and much more, this is a must for all wildlife enthusiasts. Welney Wetland Centre is another perfect day out for visitors to learn about and observe the wealth of wildlife and wildfowl to be found there. 

The historic city of Ely, only 10 minutes away by car, is an ideal place to visit, with its awe inspiring cathedralStained Glass Museum and Oliver Cromwell's House, from where you can follow the  Ely Eel Trail to explore more of this charming city.

The wonderful university city of Cambridge is also within easy reach. Take a tour of the Colleges, browse the many fascinating museums and collections, walk around to explore the city centre and take a punting trip on the river. 

Close by is the Stained Glass Museum (5.8 miles). You can gain free entry to it with a National Art Pass, which enables its 122,000 holders to enjoy free and discounted entry to over 225 museums, galleries and historic houses throughout the UK. The pass is presented by one of Landmark's partners, the Art Fund, the national fundraising charity for art, which has been supporting museums and galleries for over 110 years by helping them to buy and display great works of art for everyone to enjoy. Income raised through the National Art Pass goes straight back into their charitable programme. Find more about it on the ArtFund's website http://www.artfund.org/

 For more information on things to do during your stay at Stoker’s Cottage, please see our Pinterest page. 

Please Note: The Landmark Trust does not take any responsibility and makes no warranties, representations or undertakings about the content of any website accessed by hypertext link. Links should not be taken as an endorsement of any kind. The Landmark Trust has no control over the availability of the linked pages.

Stoker's Cottage
Stretham, Cambridgeshire
Clear directions

‘ The open fire is a delight and very appropriate for “stoker’s” cottage.’

From the logbook

FAQs

    What you need to know about this building

  • Does the property allow dogs?

    Yes.
  • How is the property accessed?

    From the main road.
  • What is the nearest railway station and how far away is it?

    Ely – 5 miles.
  • Is there car parking specifically for Landmark guests?

    There is one parking space at the rear of the garden.
  • What type of heating does the property have?

    There are electric night storage radiators and an open fire.
  • How can I get fuel for the open fire or stove?

    Logs may be purchased and delivered under a private arrangement. Further details will be provided with your booking confirmation.
  • What are the kitchen facilities?

    The kitchen is fully equipped with all plates, cutlery, fridge etc.
    There is also an electric cooker and a microwave.






  • What are the bathroom facilities?

    There is one bathroom with a bath.
  • Does this Landmark have steep, narrow or spiral stairs?

    There are no difficult internal stairs.
  • Is there a garden or outside space?

    There is an enclosed garden.

    Booking and Payment

  • What happens if I can’t get to the Landmark due to bad weather?

    If the weather is bad, please contact our booking office who will be able to tell you whether the Landmark is accessible. If the housekeeper can safely get to the building to prepare it then we consider that it is open and available for guests. However if we cannot undertake a changeover then we will do our utmost to transfer your stay to another Landmark, depending on what we have available. It may not be of a similar size or in the same part of the country as your original booking. If the building is accessible but the customer cannot travel due to poor weather in his/her local area then please be aware that Landmark will not provide a refund. However the customer may be able to claim on his/her own travel insurance. We recommend that all guests take out travel insurance when they first secure a booking.
  • How can I pay?

    We accept Maestro (if issued in the UK), Visa, MasterCard, direct transfer and sterling cheques drawn on a UK bank. Cheques should be made payable to the Landmark Trust except for Lundy stays and boat/helicopter tickets which should be payable to The Lundy Company Ltd. All payments must be in sterling.
  • How do I create an account?

    If you have not used the Landmark online booking facility before and you wish to register in advance, you can set up an on-line account by following the instructions below:

    Go to the Landmark home page and click on Gift shop (located at the top of the home page in red).

    Select a gift (e.g. Landmark Handbook or Anniversary Mug) and complete the ‘Amount required’ box. There is no need to complete the purchase but this step is necessary in order to bring up the registration page.

    Click ‘Next Step’ at the bottom of the page.

    This will bring you to the ‘Your details’ page.

    Please complete all the fields (name, address, contact details and create an account). Click on the green ‘Create Account’ button once you have finished.

    At the top of the page headed ‘Your details’ there will be a grey box saying ‘Signed in’ and underneath this it will say ‘you are currently signed in as ….

    Here you will also have the option to ‘Sign out’. Please do so and that is your registration completed.

    Please return to the Landmark home page.

    To check your registration or update your account details at any time please ‘Sign in’ using the icon in the top right-hand corner of the home page.

    If you experience any problems in registering or setting up your on-line account please contact webmaster@landmarktrust.org.uk.
  • How do I pick up the key?

    There are various arrangements for picking up keys. To arrange to get into the Landmark, please contact the housekeeper at least two days before your stay
  • Can I pay a deposit?

    If your stay starts more than three months from the date you make the booking, you are required to pay a deposit of one third of the cost of your stay (or £100 per booking, if greater) at the time of booking. Camping on Lundy must be paid for in full at the time of booking.
  • How can I cancel or change my booking?

    If you wish to cancel or change your booking, please contact our Booking Office on 01628 825925
  • Do you accept payment in other currencies?

    At the moment we only accept payment in sterling.
  • What if I arrive late?

    Please let the housekeeper know if you are going to arrive late and s/he will leave a key for you in a suitable place.
  • How far in advance do I need to book?

    It depends. Some of our most popular Landmarks are booked up a long time in advance, but many can be booked at short notice. We will always have Landmarks free for the coming weekend so it’s always worth checking our availability list.
  • Do you have to be a member to book a Landmark?

    No, Landmarks are available to be booked for anyone.
  • Do I need a Handbook to be able to book?

    No, all the information you need can be found on our website, although we’d like you to buy one anyway as it will be a pleasure to own!

    Staying at a Landmark

  • Are Landmarks accessible for people with disabilities or limited mobility?

    Some of our Landmarks are suitable for people with disabilities or limited mobility. However, many Landmarks have steep or narrow staircases, uneven floors and thresholds, changes of level, low ceilings or beams, as well as indistinct colours on steps and in corridors. We recommend that you call Booking Enquiries on 01628 825925 if you would like to find out the suitability of a particular Landmark for anyone with a specific disability.
  • Are Landmarks only available as self-catering accommodation?

    Yes, Landmarks are only available as self-catering accommodation. We do not offer bed and breakfast.
  • Do you provide catering?

    Landmark does not provide catering, but we can recommend Greycoat Lumleys who can arrange for expert and well-trained staff to cater for one evening or for your entire holiday. Their cooks and chefs are able to work with you to meet your specific requirements
  • Do you allow dogs?

    You may bring up to two dogs to properties where dogs are allowed (please see specific property details for exemptions however dogs are not permitted on Lundy except assistance dogs). They must be kept off the furniture and under proper control.
  • Can I bring a pet?

    Apart from two dogs (see above) no other pets are permitted.
  • Am I insured if I break something?

    We do not carry insurance for breakages. However we appreciate that accidents do sometimes happen. If you have a breakage during your stay, please let the housekeeper know and if appropriate we reserve the right to invoice you accordingly.
  • Are Landmarks suitable for children?

    Yes, most of our Landmarks are perfect for children, with gardens to play in and secret places to discover. Our furniture is surprisingly robust and we positively encourage families to stay. However, some of our buildings may not be suitable for small children; for example, some of them have steep or uneven spiral staircases. We recommend that you call the Booking Enquiries team if you would like to find out the suitability of any of our Landmarks for young children.
  • Can I get married in a Landmark?

    Unfortunately, most of our Landmarks are not licensed for weddings. However, you may get married on Lundy.
  • Can I hold a big party in a Landmark?

    All our larger Landmarks are perfect for gatherings of family or friends. You may invite an additional two guests to visit you during your stay, however they must not stay overnight. This is very important because our fire regulations specifically note the maximum number of people in any one building. In addition our properties are prepared, furnished and equipped for the number of people specified and greater numbers cause damage and excessive wear and tear to vulnerable buildings. Should this condition be ignored we shall make a retrospective charge per person per day (whether or not they stay overnight) for each guest over the permitted limit, the charge being pro-rated on the total cost of your booking.
  • Are there televisions in the buildings?

    We deliberately do not provide televisions and find that most people appreciate this.
  • Why are your access tracks sometimes difficult?

    One of the challenges of restoring unloved buildings is gaining access to them. We frequently have to negotiate rights with our neighbours and share tracks with them. In many cases tracks do not belong to us and we have no right to maintain them. Wherever possible we work with our neighbours to provide you with a good quality surface, but where this is a problem then you will be warned at the time of booking.
  • Will there be sockets for my electrical appliances?

    Yes, we have standard electricity sockets for UK appliances. If you are coming from outside the UK, you will need to bring your own adaptor plug(s). If you are visiting one of our European properties we have standard European electricity sockets. If you are visting from the UK, you will need to bring your own adapter plug (s).

    Facilities

  • Are the kitchens and bathrooms restored to a modern standard?

    Sometimes our kitchens and bathrooms have to be imaginatively fitted into the available space in buildings where before there were none, but they are all planned and equipped to a high and modern standard.
  • Is linen provided?

    Yes, Landmarks are fully equipped with sheets and towels. All the beds are fully made up for your arrival.
  • Are the kitchens fully equipped?

    Yes, our kitchens are well equipped with cookers and fridges. There are freezers and dishwashers (in larger buildings) and, where space allows, microwaves as well as a wide and standard range of utensils. A full equipment list is available at time of booking.
  • Do you provide logs for the open fire/stove?

    Logs are provided at many of our Landmarks for an additional cost.
  • Will there be a mobile signal in the Landmark I book?

    Mobile coverage varies. Some Landmarks have an excellent signal, but others have none at all. If you are concerned, you can check with the housekeeper before your arrival.
  • Is there Wi-Fi in your buildings?

    No. At the moment, we have decided not to implement Wi-Fi in our buildings following a consultation with our customers. Many said that they would find it useful, but many also felt that it would somehow damage the experience of staying in a Landmark. As the responses were so split, and as we have so many other initiatives requiring funding, we have decided to put this on hold for the time being.
  • What should I bring with me? Are there toilet rolls, soap, shampoo, milk, teabags, coffee, hairdryer?

    A welcome tray with tea and sugar awaits your arrival and you will find a pint of milk in the fridge. We also provide toilet rolls and a bar of soap per basin, but no other toiletries. We do not provide hairdryers.
History

Part of the fen drainage schemes

Situated at the southern end of the fens, Stretham has been a part of the fen drainage schemes since the days of the famous Dutch engineer Cornelius Vermuyden and his co-adventurer the Duke of Bedford. In 1631 they cut the (Old) Bedford River and the Great Ouse became the canalised loop now known as the Old West River. This and other drainage schemes brought problems of their own; land still needed draining in between the major cuts, and the peat began to waste, leaving watercourses such as the Old West River standing ever higher above the levels.

Windmills provided an initial solution to these changes in the land’s equilibrium, scooping the water up from the drainage channels and into the main watercourses. The lifts involved became ever greater, however, and wind is an unpredictable power source. By the early nineteenth century another solution was urgently required.

In 1829 the Waterbeach Level Commissioners commissioned the Butterley Company of Derbyshire for a rotative steam engine to drain the district, an area of some 5,600 acres. A separate contractor constructed the buildings to house the new engine and of the surviving grouping the engine house, scoopwheel house, boiler house and seventy five-foot chimney all date from 1831, built in good cream stocks typical of the Gault clays of the area. The Stretham engine was among the earliest and largest of its type in the fens, a typical example of its type and age.

To summarise briefly (the Engine Trust’s publications provide more detailed descriptions), the Butterley Company’s steam engine provided 60 nominal horse power from a double-acting, condensing beam. The flywheel which transferred the power from beam to scoopwheel is 24 feet in diameter and turned at 12-16 revolutions a minute, running off a 39 inch bore cylinder with a 96 inch stroke. The beam engine was driven by the two (and later three) boilers, delivering a pressure of 4 pound per square inch (raised to 8 psi in 1888). The stoker kept the boilers running with the chimney belching smoke above; coal consumption was around 5 tons for 24 hours running time. This power drove the enormous scoopwheel which turned at 3-4 revolutions a minute and could lift 30 tons of water per revolution, 100 tons a minute. The engine did not, of course, run continuously but was fired up when floods threatened.

Stretham Steam Engine performed its purpose successfully until 1925 when a Mirrlees diesel engine took over, housed in the large building behind Stoker’s Cottage. The Old Engine was retained as nominal standby until 1957 when the Streham Engine Trust was formed to preserve it against demolition. The engine and scoop wheel are still occasionally turned over using electrical power for demonstration purposes.

Stoker’s Cottage was originally built in 1840 as a toll house, collecting tolls from animals using the banks for their maintenance. The cottage was probably partially built of eighteenth-century bricks salvaged from the windpump the engine replaced (they can be seen in the end gable, given away by the redness of their clay and shallow depth). When the railways arrived in the area just five years later tolls dropped dramatically, making a toll keeper no longer necessary. Since very few engine houses supplied a dedicated cottage for a stoker the Stretham stoker was fortunate to inherit the toll house.

The first stoker known to have lived in the cottage was Mr Murfitt, who held the position from 1855 to 1900. Mr Duesbury followed him until 1911, when William Taylor took over. When he retired in 1933 the diesel engine had taken over and Assistant Engineer C. O. Clarke moved in. When Mr Clarke became Superintendent in 1943 he moved into the Superintendent’s House on the other side of the site and for the next ten years or so the cottage was lived in by men working on the level. The last residents were Mr & Mrs Vail who left in 1955. The cottage had neither water nor electricity at that stage, with water drawn from a pump behind the Superintendent’s House and carried to the cottage in buckets. The only light was by candle or oil lamp. Cooking was done over the solid fuel range that still survives in the back kitchen with a bread oven to one side. On the other side was a copper, in which water would be heated on washday and for the weekly bath, taken in a galvanised steel bath normally kept outside. With no washbasin or sink, all ablutions or washing up would simply have been done in a bowl at the table, and the loo, of course, was in the privy outside.

Restoration

Helping the Stretham Engine Trust

In 1994, the Stretham Engine Trust carried out comprehensive repairs to the cottage and installed water and electricity. The cottage was then used for low key visitor services for those visiting the Old Engine site, but the Trust became concerned about maintenance costs. In 2005, the Trust approached Landmark for help, aware that use of the cottage as a Landmark would remove the financial burden of its upkeep, increase public access for the site and help raise further the profile of Stretham Old Engine.

Landmark was happy to help and relatively little work needed to be done. The outside was gently repointed and a large concrete reservoir tank to the rear was filled in. Two old garages and a shed were removed. The cottage was redecorated inside and out and a French drain put in across the front to alleviate damp. A new kitchen and bathroom were put in (keeping the old range) and a 1950s fireplace was replaced with something more in keeping with the cottage’s age. The cottage has been furnished to evoke its age and setting, a peaceful spot in which to reflect upon the glories of the Age of Steam.

Availability & booking

Select a changeover day to start your booking...

What's a changeover day? and Why can't I select other dates?Explain MoreQuestion

A changeover day is a particular day of the week when holidays start and end at our properties. These tend to be on a Friday or a Monday but can sometimes vary. All stays run from one changeover day until another changeover day.