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The Fen-Lands. Robert Farren

The Fen-Lands. Robert Farren

The Fen-lands of Cambridgeshire

'The Fen-lands of Cambridgeshire' was published in Cambridge in 1883, it is one of an edition of 50 signed by the artist, this volume is no. 34/50. It is one of a series of large cloth bound folio books of etchings produced, covering areas of rural Cambridgeshire.

The etchings show scenes of everyday life across the Fens with Farren's observations and source texts from his research into the history of the landscape. 

In his introduction, Farren writes ‘The etchings contained in this work are from sketches made during the past ten years and have been selected to shew the character and aspects of the fen-lands of my day. No part of the country has undergone such rapid changes as the great “fen-level”; and Cambridgeshire is the only county in which can still be seen the few remnants left from the great wilderness of bog and water, studded with islands, that formed the fens of the past, which have been described by an old writer as a watery waste “time out of mind, neither accessible for man nor beast, affording only deep mud, with sedge and reeds, and possessed by birds, yea, much more by devils.” These “deep mud beds” are now fields of golden grain, and sleek cattle everywhere graze under trees that have spung up where grew the feathery reed and sedge that once sheltered myriads of wild fowl.

No attempt has been made to idealise the subjects, and such scenes and objects have been chosen as will in many cases be sought for in vain but a few generations hence. They have been rendered with such faithfulness as will, I trust, make them of some value and interest in time to come.

Six of the larger subjects appeared in this year’s Etcher, the remarque proofs from which are included in the present work. Fifty signed and numbered copies form this edition.

December 1882’



Robert Farren was an accomplished photographer and artist who worked across a range of mediums and is well-known for his paintings and prints. He was born in Cambridge in 1832 and lived in the city most of his life, spending a short time away in Scarborough before returning to Cambridge. Early in his career, he worked at the Sedgwick Museum as Assistant to Professor Adam Sedgwick and eventually went on to set up Farren Brothers photographic studios in Cambridge and Chatteris in the 1860s.  Over the years he produced a large cataloue of works, from etchings and watercolours to large oil paingings. All but one of his seven oil paintings in public ownership reside with the University of Cambridge, these include portraits of famous alumni including the Director of the Sedgwick Museum, Adam Sedgwick, and also a Jurassic scene which is on display in the Sedgwick Museum. Wisbech & Fenland Museum holds a collection of nine of his large cloth bound books. Some of Farren's prints and books  are held in public collections but remain in private ownership.


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The Fen-lands of Cambridgeshire

Robert Farren
The Cambridge Graphic, 1901.
The Cambridgeshire Collection,
Cambridge Central Library

Our thanks to the Esmée Fairbairn Sustaining Engagement with Collections Fund for funding the development of this area of our website and making this exhibition possible through our digital collections strategy project, New Conversations.

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