The Soham Museum Collection
Soham lies almost halfway between the Cathedral City of Ely (to the north) and the Horse Racing Centre of Newmarket (to the south). It is a small and ancient market town which straddles a ridge of chalk that reaches from the Suffolk uplands into the Cambridgeshire fens. At one time this was the only route across dry land to the Isle of Ely, which was cut-off on all sides by water.
People settled in and around Soham from the Bronze Age, but throughout the parish, there is significant evidence of mesolithic and neolithic activity. The town and surrounding area was occupied by the Romans, but its modern core survives from the Saxon era, from which it was named ‘sægham’ (CUL ff. 2.33) meaning promontory on an inland sea. From the inundation in the Bronze Age, until the invention of the steam pump and the successful implementation of drainage techniques, Soham was the last outpost that could be reached from the dry uplands of Suffolk before travellers were confronted by a vast expanse of fenland marshes. The low lying land stretching from the west of Soham to the neighbouring village of Wicken and out into the fen towards Ely, was once a great mass of water known as Soham Mere; an inland sea that had access to the port of Kings Lynn and the Wash via the course of the River Cam or Granta and the River Ouse or Old West River. The sea trade was vital to Soham's success as a commercial centre. Whilst Waterside served as the main town port into the eighteenth century, a number of smaller docks known locally as hythes were located along the banks of Soham Mere.
Soham was a successful trading port, dealing with cargoes from Europe via the great port of Kings Lynn. Many of the old merchant houses still exist in the centre of the town, although most hide behind mid-nineteenth cetury facades. The Steel Yard, or ancient weighing machine, which can be found at The Fountain Inn, is a memorial to this period in history. Erected during the 17th century, the machine, worked by a counter balance mechanism, weighing empty carts on their way down to the docks and again on their return so that duty could be fairly assessed. The curious name of ‘steel yard’ is derived from the old English word for wool. The machines originated for the purpose of weighing wool for the Huguenot cloth trade. Although every port would have had access to a steel yard, the Grade II* listed Steelyard at Soham is one of only two surviving examples in the country.
Soham Museum Project was set up in June 1998 to raise awareness of the town’s important history and to promote Soham as a heritage destination. The museum cares for a growing collection of Soham related material, over 4,000 items to date, nearly all of which has been donated by members of the public. Although we are still seeking premises and cannot offer a traditional physical museum experience, we are proud to be able to share our collection with our community at local events and via our themed displays in the foyer of Soham Library. We are always happy to accept donations of items that are of local historic or social interest but please do make sure that any items you decide to donate are received by a member of Soham Museum. Soham Museum are not acquisitive. We will NOT ask you to donate items to us. Please be aware of persons that misrepresent themselves. Members of Soham Museum Committee will always be able to identify themselves. If you are at all in doubt, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org in the first instance.
Soham Museum is a community project, actively seeking out and recording living history as well as researching the past. We have published a number of books and pamphlets that help to preserve the history of Soham; with Soham Local and Family History Group aiming to publish an annual journal of local history. Among our finest achievements, in 2005, we unveiled a memorial to the Soham Rail Disaster that stands proudly next to the town’s War Memorial in Red Lion Square. Soham Museum is a Charitable Trust, supported by a committee of dedicated volunteers who give their time freely in the interest of our town.