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Cambridgeshire - Parson Drove

For centuries, Parson Drove was a centre for the production of woad, the dye with which ancient Britons smeared their bodies. It is fermented from the woad plant, whose bright yellow flowers and blue-green leaves produce the pigment which was also used for dyeing cloth. the introduction of tropical indigo (sometimes called 'colonial indigo') derived from plants of the genus Indigofera - often Indigofera tinctoria. In its turn, tropical indigo was then supplanted by synthetic in the 1890s (i.e. laboratory-synthesised) indigo. Although woad growing continued at Parson Drove until early in the twentieth century, the resulting dyestuff was not used for dyeing with woad alone - by then, woad dyeing was a lost art. It was added to the indigo dye vats to improve the quality of the dye. At that time, "woaded" cloth meant cloth dyed with tropical indigo with the addition of some woad. Such cloth was considered to be of high quality and was reserved for the top end of the market. England's last mobile woad-mill operated in the village until 1914. The woad-making process can be studied in collections of old photographs in Wisbech Museum, 6 miles from the village. When Samuel Pepys and two relatives stayed at the Swan Inn at Parson Drove, in 1663, someone stole his uncle's horse. The enraged diarist wrote of the village as 'a heathen place', an unkind description of this pleasant community in the Fens. The village lies on a long street, behind both sides of which fields and dykes stretch into the distance. There are churches at either end of the street. St John the Baptist has a 15th-century tower and arcades of seven bays, but may have lost its chancel in a flood in 1613. It is now maintained by the Redundant Churches Fund. Since the mid-1970s most of its functions have been taken over by the Victorian Emmanuel Church, which stands next to the Methodist church.

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Last Updated on: 12 September 2001
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