Edwin Meredith Hope was one of Meldreth’s more interesting entrepreneurs. He was involved in several projects including a gas works, a laundry and a plan for bringing piped water to Meldreth. Unfortunately most of his projects were notably unsuccessful (probably due to failure to raise sufficient funds), hence the name for his main building: Hope Folly (also referred to as Hope’s Folly). This was situated on Whitecroft Road, near the station and here he started a gas works with a large gasometer in the field beyond. He laid pipes across to Melbourn and erected gas standards in part of the village and supplied that village with gas in 1912. The Gas House was situated just over the river opposite the Sheene Mill, in Station Road at Brown’s Foundry.
Edwin was born in South Wales in 1849 and was married in 1871 in Royston to Mary Palmer from a well established Meldreth family. The 1901 census show them living in Meldreth at The Limes (now known as Longmead) on the High Street. He had trained as a draper but appears in the 1881 census as a butcher in Ealing and in the 1891 census as a farmer in Clothall. In the 1901 census he is listed as the proprietor of a gas works and a steam laundry (this was situated close to Sheene Mill). He had also planned a jam factory at Hope Folly, but this never materialised.
In the 1911 census he is listed as living in an 8 roomed house in the High Street with his wife, wife’s mother, 3 nurses and 2 servants. He is recorded as the proprietor of a steam laundry, but no reference to the gas works. This house and orchard was rented from a Mrs Wallis who lived in South Norwood (information from the Land Values Duties map – courtesy of the Cambridgeshire Archives).
This house is probably what is now Longmeade, but was at that time called The Limes (not to be confused with the current “The Limes” across the road!)
An Edwin Hope’s death is registered in 1918, aged 70.
Mary Palmer was born in 1848 in Meldreth and in the 1871 census was living at Rose Cottage in the High Street with her widowed mother, brother and sister. Next door lived her uncle George Palmer and her cousin William Mortlock Palmer. A Mary Hope’s death is registered in 1928, aged 80.
Gas and Water Works Project
Click on this link to read about Edwin’s Gas and Water Works Project.
Half of the Folly consisted of living quarters, the rest was originally a long room concerned with the gasworks and its machinery. In the 1993 book “Old Bill- Memories of a Meldreth Man” Bill Wing describes the building as “a sort of iron roofed shed”.
The Subsequent History of the Building
After the failure of these schemes Hope Folly had a number of tenants and was used in a variety of ways.
Prisoner of War Camp
During the first world war it was commandeered as a Prisoner of War camp. The soldiers were kept in the long room which had been cleared of machinery. Officers and guards “enjoyed” the living quarters on the other side. The ground outside was surrounded with wire and used as an exercise ground.
Fit prisoners were hired out to local farmers, many of these young men were received kindly by local people and after the war remained in contact with families, sometimes sending gifts once the war was over.
Bill Wing states in his book that in 1915 he was fighting in Ypres and was fortunate to have leave at Christmas for seven days. “The first people I saw when I came down the little path from the station were German POW’s coming up the street. They had been cleaning the river out. I thought I’d got away from the Germans!”
A neighbour remembered passing cups of tea out to the prisoners who were grateful and very polite and respectful.
Gladys Clarke remembers her mother and father telling her about the German POWs at Hope Folly during the First World War
(Click PLAY on the sound bar at the top of this page to hear Gladys talking about her memories of the POWs.)
I was born right in the middle of the War. All I heard my mother say was that when the prisoners of war lived over the road she used to go to Melbourn to see her mother and she’d got me in the pushchair when we were going by where the prisoners of war were and they kicked a football right over the top and it came in my pram and hit me on the face! I remember my mother saying they all stood and laughed.
My father said when he worked with these Germans they were some of the nicest people out and he got on very well with them. My dad worked with them because he made the tea and got the food and that sort of thing while they were cleaning the river out. When the River Mel was cleaned out they all went to Fowlmere aerodrome to work. He was still with a gang of Germans because they used to go out in a gang. They had a head man with them but even he was the only one able to speak English. My dad said they didn’t want the war, you could tell by their attitude they didn’t want a war. One little chap, he wanted to learn English and he would keep behind my father all the while and he gradually learnt different words of English. And this little feller, Dad got ever so friendly with him, he got so you could understand him. He talked not very plain English but you could make out what he said.
The photograph shows a group outside the building during the First World War.
After the war it was renovated and was let as residential accommodation. There were several tenants.
Mr Bert Hagger lived in one part and is remembered in the village for selling paraffin from his bike. Mushrooms were grown in the other part (see separate account by David Brunsdon about working on the mushrooms).
Hillary Worboys (nee Ridout) remembers living in Hope Folly; see separate account.
Please see our separate page on the building’s demolition.