The Domesday Book records Whittlesey Mere as a settlement in the hundred of Normancross and the county of Huntingdonshire. With just 2 households (both fishermen) it was the property of the abbeys at Peterborough, Ramsey and Thorney. The fishing grounds of the lake were divided into ‘boatgates’ (one boat, three men and specific size of nets) each of which was licenced to generate income. From 1261, nearby Sawtry Abbey also held fishing rights and a channel was cut to facilitate access (Monks’ Lode).
The Mere was surrounded by extensive reed beds which were also regarded as a valuable resource. Reeds were sold for thatching and for plastering ceilings and floors. Sedge was used for thatching and for animal bedding. Woolly heads of bulrushes were stripped off to stuff bedding.
The monasteries remained in charge until their dissolution in the 1530s, when abbey lands were sold off. The Cromwell family (Richard Williams) bought both Ramsey and Sawtry Abbeys along with most of the fishing rights. Those held by Peterborough Abbey went to the Dean and Chapter of the cathedral.
Originally, the Mere formed part of the River Nene as it flowed from Peterborough to Ramsey and beyond. In the 15th century Bishop Mortion’s Leam created an alternative straight channel between Peterborough and Wisbech.
The clergy continued to enjoy the delights of Whittlesey Mere and perhaps helped its transition to recreational use. In a volume of Latin Poems James Duport, Dean of Peterborough, provides a humorous account of a water party in 1669 when William Pierrepont entertained the Bishop on the mere, near Frog Hall. The banquet began with melons and port wine; next a venison pasty; rounds of beef; and shoulders of mutton. Amongst references to Greek mythology – “Whittlesey Mere had become a second Bosphorous.” After these substantial viands came poultry, pullets with bacon, salted tongues and another wine. The last course consisted of roast apples, tarts, cakes, another wine and cider. After the banquet the host produced tobacco: Incipit innocui fumos haurire Tabaci.