Original name of Thorney was probably the Isle of Thorns and possibly looked something like the picture to the right with a mixture of scrub oak, thorn, hazel, holly, gorse and bracken. It was an island once but is much different now!
The settlement of Thorney has a long history from the time when the island which is now the site of the village centre was in natural fenland. A low island up to 5 metres above the surrounding fens was settled for agriculture. Recent archaeological investigations indicate that there has been settlement around Thorney from the Iron Age, Bronze Age and Roman times. Then legend says that religious people wishing to escape the world asked for permission to move here in 655, and did so in 662. The place was then known as Ancarig, or the Island of the Hermits. However, the Danish invaders destroyed the religious settlement in 870. It is said that the monks of Thorney escaped the attack and helped to bury those of Peterborough.
Thorney was a monastic establishment until 1550. The fen area was drained in the 17th century. Agricultural and economic conditions were such that, in 1910, the Russell family sold the estate at Thorney. The village began a new phase of development in the twentieth century and expanded as new areas of one and two storey houses were developed. These are now established and well-kept residential areas, among which are some small shops and businesses. In recent years, more homes have been added, much of it infilling along main roads, together with a variety of larger industrial areas.
During the 20th century, the number of local people employed in agriculture has greatly decreased, and now most of the population live in the village itself rather than the surrounding farmland. Some agricultural cottages, farmhouses and buildings have been converted for residential use.
From 1849, the seventh Duke of Bedford initiated the rebuilding of the village according to high aesthetic and practical standards as a 'model village' which would be good for tenants and trades people as well as for the estate.
Samuel Sanders Teulon was the architect chosen. The buildings included many cottages, whose rows form a major architectural feature of modern Thorney. Fresh water and sewage systems, a gas supply and engineering workshops supported the village, together with schools, a post office, shops and a relieving office for the poor and infirm.
The project was built in a picturesque style, borrowing from medieval and Tudor designs in the surrounding local environment. The 19th Century industrial centre in the Tank Yard is now a focus for village life, which includes the Village Hall, museum, fire station, a day nursery and drainage board offices.