Huntingdonshire - England's Flattest County
Huntingdonshire, Huntingdon, or Hunts, inland county, South Midland District, England; is bounded W. and N. by Northamptonshire, E. by Cambridgeshire, and S. by Bedfordshire; greatest length, N. and S., 30 miles; greatest breadth, E. and W., 23 miles; 229,515 acres; population 59,491. About a fourth of the county (in the NE.) forms a portion of the great "fen" district, the remainder consisting of a succession of gentle hills and dales. Huntingdonshire is almost wholly devoid of trees, and may be described as an agricultural and pastoral county. Scientific farming has of late greatly stimulated the productiveness of the soil, and the arable farms of the upland districts are peculiarly noted for superior grain. Green crops, also of excellent quality, are obtained, while market gardening and cattle rearing form profitable employments. Willows are the chief product of the fen district. The Nene, in the N. and NW., and the Ouse, in the interior, are the chief rivers; both are navigable for barges. The geology of Huntingdonshire belongs to the Oolite system: many fossils are found, and the hills on the W. abound with stone brash, or forest marble. With the exception of papermaking and the preparation of parchment, there are no manufactures of more than local importance." [Bartholomew's Gazetteer of the British Isles, 1887]
Pictured in the year 2000 the market town of St Ives and the statue of "local lad" Oliver Cromwell erected in the centre of the market place.Formerly known as Slepe, this ancient riverside market town is now named after the Persian Bishop, St. Ivo. St. Ives, now within the county of Cambridgeshire, stands on the river Great Ouse and is world famous for the Chapel on the Bridge. For nearly 1,000 years the wide centre of St. Ives, now known as Market Hill (pictured above), has hosted some of the largest public markets in England. Many years ago these markets included livestock and for a time was one of the biggest of its kind.
Entering the village from Woodhurst and view from the corner of the crossroads looking back down the High Street at the Post Office and Bakers. In former times Somersham, with its 700 year old church, had been a favourite place of the Bishops of Ely for it was there that they built a palace which one Bishop liked so much that “he lived all summer at Somersham keeping company with a certain woman in an offensive manner”. It had Royal connections too, for the manor was part the settlement made on Henrietta Maria’s marriage to King Charles the First. During the Civil War it was granted to Oliver Cromwell’s brother in law. In 1851 the village of Somersham was described as being "remarkably clean and neat" and "situated in a pleasant and fertile district abounding with mineral and other springs remarkable for the purity and salubrity of their waters". It consists of one main street nearly a mile in length with a shorter one crossing at its upper end and until the turn of the 19th century was a market town with fairs for small wares in June and November. In the 1850s a number of inhabitants earned a living preparing wicks for rush lights which were transported to various parts of the country.
The Wier at Warboys This photograph was taken in August 2000 by Mike & Julia Campbell. The significance of the picture can be seen when compared to the one below ("borrowed" from Cambridgeshire Library service) which shows the same scene about 100 years earlier, on the occasion of a public baptism.
St Mary Magdalene Church, Warboys There is a large amount of information on this church and it has a page of it's own.
The Grace Baptist Church, Warboys
The Chapel was completed in 1831, largely due to the generosity of Mr John Longland, who gave all the necessary bricks. The Chapel was renovated, complete with a new frontage and entrance, and reopened on 23 February 1899.
On 30 March 1900, a baptismal service was held. Pastor John Lambourne conducted the service and the eight candidates stood at the water’s edge while the choir led an audience of 2,000 people (some from as far away as London) in the singing of the hymn "Jesus, Mighty King of Zion", and the eight were baptised in the Weir.
In 1644, during the English Civil War, a soldier from Cromwell’s army, named Henry Denne, preached in the village. People were converted and he baptised these new believers – William Dunn, John Richards, John Ward, John Kidson and William Askew - and a church was formed. The first pastor was William Dunn. Those early believers would meet in each other’s homes to worship.
View of Warboys village in August 2000 by Mike & Julia Campbell and the same view about 1910.
Life in Warboys by Alan Bednall
What was life like in the fens and in Warboys in those days? In the 1650s fenland folk were growing oats and wheat, hemp and flax, and vegetables. Near Whittlesey there were rich meadows and plantations of fruit. However, gnats were a nuisance and flooding frequent and in 1724 windmills began to be erected to pump water and prevent flooding. So many were built that they dominated the landscape -there were 50 in Whittlesey parish alone. By 1794 things were much improved and although there were still large areas of unimproved fen, outside was "nearly all corn country -growing barley and wheat" Around the Isle of Ely there was much sheep and cattle raising. [Hist. Geog to 1800] Warboys was and is a parish of 8,103 acres lying in the north eastern part of Huntingdonshire, much of which was still "fenny" as late as 1850. The village was described at that time as " the largest and most populous in the county" (population 1996 in 1851) with houses -many of which were "well built and of a respectable and pleasing exterior"- spread over a large area of ground. The village's situation, 4 miles south east of the town of Ramsey, was described as " healthy and open". The church of St. Mary Magdalene is early English and its nave features Norman arches and an ancient font.
The Witches of Warboys
The town achieved notoriety in 1693 as a result of the case known as "The Three Witches of Warboys". The witches -John Samwell, his wife Alice and daughter Ann- were convicted and executed at Huntingdon for "bewitching of the five daughters of Robert Throckmorten, Esquire and divers other persons, with sundry devilish and grievous torments; and also for bewitching unto Death, the Lady Cromwell".
The Blacksmiths Shop in Woodhurst, Residence and smithy of John Dring of Woodhurst Now known as Swan Wier (photograph taken in 1999) To the left of this building is the pond pictured.
Entering Church Street, Woodhurst. View from the pond alongside John Dring's Smithy to his neighbour's house across the street. The street sign behind the car shows that you are entering Church Street (coming from St Ives).Under the windows of this cottage are long hooks, known as fire hooks. they were provided for the speedy stripping of thatch from the roof in the event of fire (a constant threat with close packed timber framed cottages with thatched roofs, open hearths and candles. Woodhurst suffered a serious fire in 1834 when almost half the village was destroyed, leaving twelve families homeless. It was reported that people were slow to respond as they were either drunk at one of the 7 public houses or engaged in fighting contests.The information about the fire hooks and fire was added after I bought the excellent book "Curiosities of Huntingdonshire" (cost about GB£2.50 (US$3.50 apx) available from Hunts FHS (internet purchases through Genfair)
Looking West along Church Street, Woodhurst from the village water pump. Picture taken October 2000. The old village waterpump at Woodhurst. Perhaps the local blacksmith may have been of use here over the years! Looking East along Church Street (towards the Church) with (I think) the old Post Office in the foreground on the left.
THE OLD CHAPEL AT WOODHURST
A Friend has recently sent us the accompanying views of the old chapel at Woodhurst, Huntingdon, and we reproduce them, because we feel sure our readers will be interested in the old place, from the fact that it was one of the first chapels in which Mr. Septimus Sears, the former Editor of "The Sower" and "Little Gleaner" preached the Gospel. The chapel was erected by public subscription, and was built of what is called stud and clay, with a thatched roof, towards the latter end of 1700, and for many years the farmers in the neighbourhood would give straw to keep the thatched roof in repair. The pictures show the back and front views of the old chapel, and it will be seen that the back portion, which is the original work, has needed several props to keep it from falling down on the heads of worshippers; therefore we are glad to hear that the old chapel has now been taken down, and a new brick building is being erected in its place. The friend who send us these particulars says Mr Sears used to live some twenty yards from the old chapel, and that he knew him well.
The Sower June 1902
St John the Baptist, Woodhurst
It is not known when the first church was built in Woodhurst. In the Domesday Survey there are two churches mentioned in Slepe (St Ives) one could have been Woodhurst but there is no confirmation of this. The oldest part of the present church dates from the 12th century. The church consists of a chancel, nave, south aisle and a south porch. The walls are of pebble and stone rubble with dressing of Barnack stone, the chancel is brick. The roofs are covered with tiles and lead. There is a timber bell turret. The north wall of the nave dates from the late 12c, it has a late 12c doorway, and an early 14c two light window. The 15c 3 light window on the west wall was replaced in 1990. A red skeleton was painted on the wall at the north-west corner of the nave. It was visible in the early years of the 20c, however it can no longer be seen. On the south side of the nave dividing it from the south aisle are four bays with pointed arches and round columns with moulded capitals and bases. These show evidence of having been painted at some time. On the column nearest to the altar in the south aisle a consecration cross may be seen if you look very closely. The south aisle was built in the late 14c. It has a 2 light east window, three 2 light south windows and a single light west window which is of a later date. The main door of the church is in the south wall, it leads into a porch which is of a later date than the south aisle. In the south window by the altar there is a late 14c piscina with an octofoil basin. To the right of this in the wall is a plain locker. The brick floor of the nave and south aisle was laid during the latest restoration in the 1980s. The present chancel, which is of yellow brick, was built in 1848. This is confirmed in the Parish Magazine of 1898 where it says "The 23rd November 1898 was the golden Wedding Day of James and Charlotte Beck of Woodhurst. A special interest attaches to the fact that Mr and Mrs beck were the first couple to be married in the newly built chancel of Woodhurst Church." Nothing is known about any previous chancel. The arch leading into the chancel rests on re-used 13c corbels. The chancel has two one light windows on the North wall and one on the South. There is a large three light window on the East wall containing a coloured patterned glass. The door in the South wall is not used at the present day. The chancel screen was brought to Woodhurst from All Saints Church, S Ives about 1916
Taken from the Church Handbook.