Ferry Meadows Country Park may have been man-made and constructed in the 1970s as part of the Peterborough Development Corporation's expansion of the city but the area is steeped in much older history with archaeological finds that stretch back to the Bronze and Iron Ages as well as Roman times. 

Read a summary of the key historical landmarks in the Park on this page or explore the history, heritage and landscape of Nene Park further in our four 'Walking in Time Heritage Trails'. These can be picked up from the Visitor Centre in Ferry Meadows or digital versions accessed from the web page. 

You can also find out more about the history and heritage of Ferry Meadows in our virtual history walk video with Deputy Park Manager Chris:

Roman history


Early excavations by Edmund Artis in the 1820s showed that the land immediately south of Castor and Ailsworth and north of the River Nene had been a site of Roman pottery kilns. The full extent of the archaeology was unknown until very recently.  In 2018 Nene Park Trust commissioned Durham University to undertake a geophysical survey of the area known as Normangate field. This survey unveiled some of the many secrets hidden beneath this part of Nene Park. The survey discovered that underneath the field are the extensive remains of the Roman industrial suburbs of the town of Durobrivae. The survey revealed roads, lanes, workshops and yards, and possibly the roman equivalent of a service station - a chariot park with a horse re-fueling station! It came as quite a surprise to realise that these beautiful green fields once held a buzzing Roman town and the remnants of these extensive Roman industrial suburbs are hidden under the ground where our visitors have been walking. 

For more information, please visit: Peterborough Archaelogy

Roman Point in Ferry Meadows

When the gravel extractors were creating Overton Lake in the 1970s, they discovered Roman remains. The digging was paused so that the features could be recorded before they were destroyed. The archaeologists found three main features at Roman Point: the foundation of an aisled barn, a shallow, stone lined pond initially interpreted as a fishpond, and a series of drainage ditches covering 7 acres. The Development Corporation decided to alter the plan of the lake, leaving a promontory to preserve the barn’s foundations for public display. The remainder of the site was destroyed. Ask at the Visitor Centre in Ferry Meadows for directions to Roman Point, only a short walk away. You’ll be able to see the outline of the Roman barn and find out its story.

Longthorpe Fortress

The 27 acre fortress was discovered on the ridge of Thorpe Golf Course beyond Bluebell Wood. We aren’t positive of the date but it was probably built in 43-44 AD at the start of the occupation as forces pressed their frontier north. The fortress occupied land on the ridge above the Nene, facing the river. Three cohorts of 2400 men could have been stationed there, part of the 9th Legion. The Longthorpe site is unique in Western Europe because it contained its own works depot for pottery manufacture. The potters, whose repertoire suggests they came from the Rhineland, made superb vessels.

Georgian history

Many of the heritage features still visible in the North East of Ferry Meadows are connected to the Milton Estate. The Fitzwilliam family once owned the land that was to become Ferry Meadows and collected rents from tenant farmers who worked the fields.

Milton Ferry Bridge

This handsome bridge is over 300 years old and is both a Grade II listed structure and a Scheduled Monument. It was built from local Barnack limestone by the Fitzwilliam family to replace a ferry service which operated on the River Nene and helps tell the story of how Ferry Meadows got its name. The bridge is marked on maps of the Park and a visit can be combined with a walk through the lovely Bluebell Wood.

The Sheepwash

Many visitors might overlook this site in Bluebell Wood but there is a wooden scultpture of a shepherd and his sheep carved in 1999 by Jason Thomson to remind us of the original purpose of the pool of water here. The practice of sheepwashing was an important part of the local agricultural calendar from the 15th to mid-19th century. Many hundreds of sheep were grazed in the floodmeadows, under direction of the Milton Estate. Each year estate workers would have herded them over Milton Ferry Bridge and individually washed them in the purpose dug sheepwash. By the early 20th century most sheepwashes in the country had fallen into disuse. By the 1950s the practice had disappeared in all parts of the country.

The Mount

The Mount in Bluebell Wood in Ferry Meadows is a small, man-made hill sited to enjoy the views over the Nene to Milton Ferry Bridge and beyond. The Mount in Bluebell Wood is thought to be constructed from the spoil excavated during the digging of the Sheepwash and was the perfect location for the Fitzwilliam family to admire their new bridge and look out over their land. In 2001-2002 the Mount was cleared of rough growth, and seating installed. Several large yew trees that grace the Mount today may be the legacy of outgrown topiary from the time when the Fitzwilliam family and their aristocratic guests would have stopped here to enjoy the view.

The Boathouse 

As with the Sheepwash, little remains today to mark the site where the Fitzwilliam family had their boathouse. The stone foundations have been preserved by the Trust, but the building itself was almost certainly made from timber. An early 18th century painting by William Van Hagen shows a boathouse in the approximate location, while Victorian photographs show boating closer to Milton Ferry Bridge. Look out for the remains next to the river in Bluebell Wood.

The Willow Industry

Before the widespread adoption of plastics and other modern materials, woven willow products, such as baskets, were very important in industry and farming. Willow has the ability to annually regrow stems from a cut stump, known as a stool. It
is these strong, flexible stems - withies - that are used for weaving. There are two common methods for producing withies, and we can see evidence for both in the Park. Osier beds are areas where many low willow stools are grown close together
in ordered rows for easy cropping. Pollards are willow trees that are regularly cut about 2m from the ground; a method suited to grazing land as the regrowth is out of reach of browsing livestock. Around the mid-19th century osier beds were planted at Bluebell Wood on land leased from the Fitzwilliam estate. In the first decade of the 20th Century, more beds were planted on land which is now part of Ferry Meadows, at Ham Mere. The willow is still used by our volunteers and education department in the Park.

Creation of Ferry Meadows Country Park

Peterborough was expanded as part of the New Towns project in 1967. Over 10 years from 1970, the population of Peterborough grew from 85,000 to 150,000. The Peterborough Development Corporation planned in great detail the new housing areas, business parks and an elaborate network of parkways joining the new areas of the city together. Ferry Meadows Country Park was planned as part of this expansion to give this growing population a green space for leisure and recreation. The area was used for gravel extraction to build the new roads and then the gravel pits were later flooded to create the lakes of Ferry Meadows. 

Ferry Meadows was officially opened to visitors on July 1st 1978, by broadcaster and environmental campaigner David Bellamy. The first Visitor Centre opened in 1981 with the first watersports centre opened in 1985.

Nene Park Trust takes on stewardship of the Park

In 1988 the Peterborough Development Corporation (PDC) was disbanded. During its period of direct management, the PDC had acquired 660 hectares of land in the river valley and put in place access agreements with the owners of half as much again. The Park was now attracting three quarters of a million visitors a year; making it one of the top ten in Britain. An independent charitable trust was set up to manage the Park solely to carry out PDC’s original aim: 

To provide for the public benefit a park and recreation ground for the inhabitants of Peterborough and visitors with the object of improving the conditions of life for such persons.

In September 1988 stewardship of the Park passed to the newly formed Nene Park Trust. The Trust is a registered charity with all income spent on the operation and development of the Park.