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St George's Church, Littleport - - 112543.jpg
St George's Church
Grid reference: TL568868
Location: 52°27’0"N, 0°17’24"E
Population: 7,521  (2001)
Post town: Ely
Postcode: CB6
Dialling code: 01353
Local Government
Council: East Cambridgeshire
North East Cambridgeshire

Littleport is a village in Cambridgeshire, about six miles north of Ely. It lies on the Bedford Level South section of the River Great Ouse, close to Burnt Fen and Mare Fen.


With an Old English name of Litelport, the village was worth 17,000 eels a year to the Abbots of Ely in 1086.[1]

The legendary founder of Littleport was King Canute. A fisherman gave the king shelter one night, after drunken monks had denied him hospitality. After punishing the monks, the king made his host the mayor of a newly founded village.[2]

Littleport was the site of the Littleport Riots of 1816 after war-weary veterans from the Battle of Waterloo had returned home, only to find that they could get no work and the grain prices had gone up. They took to the streets and smashed shops and other buildings until troops were brought in.[3] St George's church registers were destroyed during the riots.[4] The remaining registers start from 1754 (marriages), 1756 (burials), and 1783 (baptisms). Some original documents relating to the riots are held in Cambridgeshire Archives and Local Studies at the County Record Office, Cambridge.[5]

In 2003, a Harley-Davidson statue was unveiled in Littleport to commemorate the centenary of the motorcycle company. William Harley, father of the company's co-founder William Sylvester Harley, had been born in Victoria Street, Littleport, in 1835 and emigrated to the United States in 1859.[6]

Civil parish

Littleport is a civil parish with an elected council. Parish council meetings are held in the Barn.[7]

The civil parish extends into Norfolk, incorporating the hamlet of Little Ouse. Little Ouse is now entirely residential: the former pub, the Waterman's Arms and church of St John the Evangelist have been converted into private dwellings.[8]

The lowest trig point in Britain is near Little Ouse; it sits at three feet below sea level.[9]


Thomas Peacock, who founded the gentlemen's tailoring chain Hope Brothers, was born in Littleport in 1829. The first Hope Brothers shirt-making factory was opened in the village in 1882. For a period in the 1940s and 1950s, Hope Brothers were also manufacturers of the England football kit. The factory was eventually taken over by Burberry.[10]

From 1979–83, Jim Burns guitars were based in Padnal Road in Littleport. They produced guitars such as the Steer, popularized by guitarist Billy Bragg.[11]

Notable people

  • Peter Ackroyd, Biblical scholar, died in a nursing home here
  • William Harley, who emigrated to the United States, where his son William Sylvester Harley went into partnership to establish the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company[12]
  • Fred Hockley, World War II fighter pilot
  • James Nightall, posthumously awarded the George Cross for gallantry shown in the Soham rail disaster in 1944
  • Marty Scurll, professional wrestler. BOLA 2016 winner and multiple times Progress Wrestling Champion.
  • Victor Watson, children's writer and academic, born in Littleport
  • Andrew James Page, famous physicist, academician, member of London Institute of Physics

World War II

On 16 December 1944, British double agent Eddie Chapman was flown on a mission to Britain by the Germans in a very fast and manoeuvrable small fighter plane, that took off from a forward Luftwaffe fighter station on the Dutch coast. The purpose of the mission was to monitor the accuracy of V.1 Flying Bombs and V.2 Rocket Missiles falling on London and then to report back their effect on the morale of the population in order to improve the performance and devastation of the attacks. After following the bombs to London, Chapman's fighter rerouted to East Anglia to enable him to bail out over flat ground. The fighter had been specially converted for parachuting by German mechanics to enable his exit, as they had cut a small trap door in the floor. The low flying fighter was picked up by a British night-fighter and was attacked over the dropping zone. Chapman scrambled head first through the trap door, with his parachute initially getting stuck. Whilst floating down to the ground he witnessed the British night-fighter reengage the German fighter, which then burst into flames and exploded in a fireball as it hit the ground killing the remaining crew. Chapman landed near Apes Hall, Littleport, out of the blue in the middle of the night. He woke the farm foreman George Convine by banging on the door of the Hall. To avoid difficult questions, Corvine was told by Chapman that he was a crashed British airman and that he needed him to call the Police.

Local folklore and legends

Black dog hauntings

Littleport is home to two different legends of spectral black dogs, which have been linked to the Black Shuck folklore of the East of England but differ in significant aspects.

Local folklorist W. H. Barrett relates a story set before the Reformation of a local girl gathering wild mint from a nearby mere who was rescued from a lustful friar by a huge black dog, both of which were killed in the struggle. The local men threw into the mere the body of the friar but buried with honour the dog, which was said to haunt the area after that.[13][14]

Cambridgeshire folklorist Enid Porter relates stories dating from the nineteenth century of a black dog haunting the A10 road between Littleport and the neighbouring hamlet of Brandon Creek, according to which local residents would be kept awake on dark nights by the sounds of howling and travellers would hear trotting feet behind them and feel hot breath on the back of their legs. Local legend says that the dog was awaiting the return of its owner, who had drowned in the nearby River Great Ouse in the early 1800s. This haunting reportedly came to an end in 1906, when a local resident drove his car into something solid, which was never found, next to the spot where the dog's owner supposedly drowned.[15][16]

Cultural reference

Littleport provided the inspiration for Great Deeping, the imaginary location of the Paradise Barn children's novels by Victor Watson, set in the Second World War.[17]


Notes and references

  1. Domesday Book (1999–2010). "Cambridgeshire, Littleport". The Domesday Book Online. © Retrieved 19 June 2010. 
  2. Beare, Beryl, England: Myths and Legends (Bath, 1999), p. 47. ISBN 0752529781
  3. Strawson. "The Littleport Riots". Family website. Strawson family. Archived from the original on 2012-10-11. Retrieved 19 June 2010. 
  4. T D Atkinson, Ethel M Hampson, E T Long, C A F Meekings, Edward Miller, H B Wells, G M G Woodgate (1953), Pugh, R B, ed., The Victoria History of the Counties of England: Cambridge and the isle of Ely, 4, Oxford University Press, pp. 95–102, 
  5. "County Records Office, Cambridge". Cambridgeshire County Council. 2010. Archived from the original on 16 May 2010. Retrieved 19 June 2010. 
  6. "Littleport Harley Davidson statue". 
  7. ECDC (February 2010). Leaflet:Councillors, committees & meeting dates. The Grange, Nutholt Lane, Ely, CB7 4EE. 
  8. "Church of St John the Evangelist Little Ouse Littleport, Ely, Cambs". East Cambridgeshire District Council. Archived from the original on 21 September 2010. 
  9. "Happy 80th birthday to the trig pillar" Ordnance Survey
  10. "Littleport Plaque For Hope Brothers Factory". Archived from the original on 1 August 2012. 
  11. Gjörde, Per (2001). Pearls and Crazy Diamonds. Göteborg, Sweden: Addit Information AB. pp. 50–54. 
  12. William Harley Retrieved 20 March 2015
  13. Barrett, Walter Henry (1963), Porter, Enid, ed., Tales from the Fens, Routledge & Kegan Paul, ISBN 9780710010544 
  14. James, Maureen (2014), "Of Strange Phenomena: Black Dogs, Will o' the Wykes and Lantern Men", Cambridgeshire Folk Tales, History Press, ISBN 9780752466286 
  15. Porter, Enid (1969), Cambridgeshire Customs & Folklore, Routledge & Kegan Paul, ISBN 9780710062017 
  16. Codd, Daniel (2010), "The Weird Animal Kingdom: Black Shuck and Other Phantom Animals", Mysterious Cambridgeshire, JMD Media, ISBN 9781859838082 
  17. Series website Retrieved 20 February 2016.

Outside links