1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Huntingdonshire

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HUNTINGDONSHIRE (HUNTS), an east midland county of England, bounded N. and W. by Northamptonshire, S.W. by Bedfordshire and E. by Cambridgeshire. Among English counties it is the smallest with the exception of Middlesex and Rutland, having an area of 366 sq. m. The surface is low, and for the most part bare of trees. The south-eastern corner of the county, bounded by the Ouse valley, is traversed by a low ridge of hills entering from Cambridgeshire, and continued over the whole western half of the county, as well as in a strip about 6 m. broad north of the Ouse, between Huntingdon and St Ives. These hills never exceed 300 ft. in height, but form a pleasantly undulating surface. The north-eastern part of the county, comprising 50,000 acres, belongs to that division of the great Fen district called the Bedford Levels. The principal rivers are the Ouse and Nene. The Ouse from Bedfordshire skirts the borders of the county near St Neots, and after flowing north to Huntingdon takes an easterly direction past St Ives into Cambridgeshire on its way to the Wash. The Kym, from Northamptonshire, follows a south-easterly course and joins the Ouse at St Neots, while the Alconbury brook, flowing in a parallel direction, falls into it at Huntingdon. The Nene forms for 15 m. the north-western border of the county, and quitting it near Peterborough, enters the Wash below Wisbech, in Cambridgeshire. The course of the Old River Nene is eastward across the county midway between Huntingdon and Peterborough, and about 1 1/2 m. N. by E. of Ramsey it is intersected by the Forty Foot, or Vermuyden’s Drain, a navigable cut connecting it with the Old Bedford river in Cambridgeshire.

Geology.—The geological structure is very simple. All the stratified rocks are of Jurassic age, with the exception of a small area of Lower Greensand which extends for a short distance along the border, north of Potton. The Greensands form low, rounded hills. Phosphatic nodules are obtained from these beds. On the north-western border is a narrow strip of Inferior Oolite, reaching from Thrapston by Oundle to Wansford near Peterborough. It is represented about Wansford by the Northampton sands and by a feeble development of the Lincolnshire limestone. The Great Oolite Series has at the base the Upper Estuarine clays; in the middle, the Great Oolite limestone, which forms the escarpment of Alwalton Lynch; and at the top, the Great Oolite clay. The Cornbrash is exposed along part of the Billing brook, and in a small inlier near Yaxley. Over the remainder of the county the lower rocks are covered by the Oxford clay. It is about 600 ft. thick. This clay cannot be distinguished from the Kimmeridge clay except by the fossils; the two formations probably graduate into one another, but thin limestones are found in places, and at St Ives a patch of the intermediate Corallian rock is present. All the stratified rocks have a general dip towards the south-east.

Much glacial drift clay with stones covers the older rocks over a good deal of the county; it is a bluish clay, often containing masses of chalk, some of them being of considerable size, e.g. the one at Catworth. The Fens on the eastern side of the county are underlain by Oxford clay, which here and there projects through the prevailing newer deposit of silt and loam. There are usually two beds of peat or peaty soil observable in the numerous drains; they are separated by a bed of marine warp. Black loamy alluvium and valley gravels, the most recent deposits, occur in the valleys of the Ouse and Nene. Calcareous tufa is formed by the springs near Alwalton. Oxford clay is dug on a considerable scale for brick-making at Fletton, also at St Ives, Ramsey and St Neots.

Agriculture.—Huntingdonshire is almost wholly an agricultural county, nearly nine-tenths of its total area is under cultivation, and much improvement has been effected by drainage. On account of the tenacity of the clay the drains often require to be placed very close. Much of the soil is, however, undrained, and only partly used for pasturage. On the drained pasturage a large number of cattle are fed. The district comprising the gravel of the Ouse valley embraces an area of 50,000 acres. On the banks of the Ouse it consists of fine black loam deposited by the overflow of the river, and its meadows form very rich pasture grounds. The upland district is under arable culture. Wheat is much more extensively grown than any other grain. Barley is more widely cultivated than oats, but its quality on many soils is lean and inferior, and unsuitable for malting purposes. Beans and pease are largely grown, while mangold and cabbage and similar green crops are chiefly used for the feeding of sheep. During the last quarter of the 19th century there was a large decrease in the areas of grain crops and of fallow, and an increase in that of permanent pasture. Market-gardening and fruit-farming, however, greatly increased in importance. Willows are largely grown in the fen district. Good drinking water is deficient in many districts, but there are three natural springs, once famous for the healing virtues their waters were thought to possess, namely, at Hail Weston near St Neots, at Holywell near St Ives and at Somersham in the same district. Bee-farming is largely practised. Dairy-farming is not much followed, the milk being chiefly used for rearing calves. The village of Stilton, on the Great North Road, had formerly a large market for the well-known cheese to which it has given its name. Large numbers of cattle are fattened in the field or the fold-yard, and are sold when rising three years old. They are mostly of the shorthorn breed, large numbers of Irish shorthorns being wintered in the fens. Leicesters and Lincolns are the most common breeds of sheep; they usually attain great weights at an early age. Pigs include Berkshire, Suffolk and Neapolitan breeds, and a number of crosses. Their fattening and breeding are extensively practised.

Other Industries.—There is no extensive manufacture, but the chief is that of paper and parchment. Madder is obtained in considerable quantities, and in nearly every part of the county lime burning is carried on. Lace-making is practised by the female peasantry, and the other industries are printing, iron founding, tanning and currying, brick and tile making, malting and brewing.

Communications.—The middle of the county is traversed from south to north by the Great Northern railway, which enters it at St Neots and passing by Huntingdon leaves it at Peterborough. A branch line running eastward to Ramsey is given off at Holme junction, midway between Huntingdon and Peterborough. From Huntingdon branch lines of the Midland and the Great Eastern run respectively west and east to Thrapston (Northamptonshire) and to Cambridge via St Ives. From St Ives Great Eastern lines also run N.E. to Ely (Cambridgeshire) via Earith Bridges on the county border, and N. to Wisbech (Cambridgeshire) with a branch line westward from Somersham to Ramsey. The north-western border is served by the Great Northern and the London and North-Western railways between Peterborough and Wansford, where they part.

Population and Administration.—The area of the ancient county is 234,218 acres, with a population in 1891 of 57,761, and in 1901 of 57,771. The area of the administrative county is 233,984 acres. The county contains 4 hundreds. The municipal boroughs are Godmanchester (pop 2017), Huntingdon, the county town (4261) and St Ives (2910). The other urban districts are Old Fletton (4585), Ramsey (4823) and St Neots (3880). The county is in the south-eastern circuit, and assizes are held at Huntingdon. It has one court of quarter sessions, and is divided into five petty sessional divisions. There are 105 civil parishes Huntingdonshire, which contains 87 ecclesiastical parishes or districts wholly or in part, is almost wholly in the diocese of Ely, but a small part is in that of Peterborough. The parliamentary divisions, each of which returns one member, are the Northern or Ramsey and the Southern or Huntingdon. Part of the parliamentary borough of Peterborough also falls within the county.

History.—The earliest English settlers in the district were the Gyrwas, an East Anglian tribe, who early in the 6th century worked their way up the Ouse and the Cam as far as Huntingdon. After their conquest of East Anglia in the latter half of the 9th century, Huntingdon became an important seat of the Danes, and the Danish origin of the shire is borne out by an entry in the Saxon Chronicle (918—921) referring to Huntingdon as a military centre to which the surrounding district owed allegiance, while the shire itself is mentioned in the Historia Eliensis in connexion with events which took place before or shortly after the death of Edgar. About 915 Edward the Elder wrested the fen-country from the Danes, repairing and fortifying Huntingdon, and a few years later the district was included in the earldom of East Anglia. Religious foundations were established at Ramsey, Huntingdon and St Neots in the 10th century, and that of Ramsey accumulated vast wealth and influence, owning twenty-six manors in this county alone at the time of the Domesday Survey. In 1011 Huntingdonshire was again overrun by the Danes and in 1016 was attacked by Canute. A few years later the shire was included in the earldom of Thored (of the Middle Angles), but in 1051 it was detached from Mercia and formed part of the East Anglian earldom of Harold. Shortly before the Conquest, however, it was bestowed on Siward, as a reward for his part in Godwin's overthrow, and became an outlying portion of the earldom of Northumberland, passing through Waltheof and Simon de St Liz to David of Scotland. After the separation of the earldom from the crown of Scotland during the Bruce and Balliol disputes, it was conferred in 1336 on William Clinton; in 1377 on Guichard d'Angle; in 1387 on John Holand; in 1471 on Thomas Grey, afterwards marquess of Dorset; and in 1529 on George, Baron Hastings, whose descendants hold it at the present day.

The Norman Conquest was followed by a general confiscation of estates, and only four or five thanes retained lands which they or their fathers had held in the time of Edward the Confessor. Large estates were held by the church, and the rest of the county for the most part formed outlying portions of the fiefs of William's Norman favourites, that of Count Eustace of Boulogne, the sheriff, of whose tyrannous exactions bitter complaints are recorded, being by far the most considerable. Kimbolton was fortified by Geoffrey de Mandeville and afterwards passed to the families of Bohun and Stafford.

The hundreds of Huntingdon were probably of very early origin, and that of Norman Cross is referred to in 963. The Domesday Survey, besides the four existing divisions of Norman Cross, Toseland, Hurstingstone and Leightonstone, which from their assessment appear to have been double hundreds, mentions an additional hundred of Kimbolton, since absorbed in Leightonstone, while Huntingdon is assessed separately at fifty hides. The boundaries of the county have scarcely changed since the time of the Domesday Survey, except that parts of the Bedfordshire parishes of Everton, Pertenhall and Keysoe and the Northamptonshire parish of Hargrave were then assessed under this county. Huntingdonshire was formerly in the diocese of Lincoln, but in 1837 was transferred to Ely. In 1291 it constituted an archdeaconry, comprising the deaneries of Huntingdon, St Ives, Yaxley and Leightonstone, and the divisions remained unchanged until the creation of the deanery of Kimboltpn in 1879.

At the time of the Domesday Survey Huntingdonshire had an independent shrievalty, but from 1154 it was united with Cambridgeshire under one sheriff, until in 1637 the two counties were separated for six years, after which they were reunited and have remained so to the present day. The shire-court was held at Huntingdon.

In 1174 Henry II. captured and destroyed Huntingdon Castle. After signing the Great Charter John sent an army to ravage this county under William, earl of Salisbury, and Falkes de Breauté. During the wars of the Roses Huntingdon was sacked by the Lancastrians. The county resisted the illegal taxation of Charles I. and joined in a protest against the arrest of the five members. In 1642 it was one of the seven associated counties in which the king had no visible party. Hinchingbrook, however, was held for Charles by Sir Sydney Montagu, and in 1645 Huntingdon was captured and plundered by the Royalist forces. The chief historic family connected with this county were the Cromwells, who held considerable estates in the 16th century.

Huntingdonshire has always been mainly an agricultural county, and at the time of the Domesday Survey contained thirty-one mills, besides valuable fisheries in its meres and rivers. The woollen industry flourished in the county from Norman times, and previous to the draining of its fens in the 17th century, by which large areas were brought under cultivation, the industries of turf-cutting, reed-cutting for thatch and the manufacture of horse-collars from rushes were carried on in Ramsey and the surrounding district. In the 17th century saltpetre was manufactured in the county. In the 18th century women and children were largely employed in spinning yarn, and pillow lace making and the straw-plait industry flourished in the St Neots district, where it survives; pillow lace was also manufactured at Godmanchester. In the early 19th century there were two large sacking manufactures at Standground, and brewing and malting were largely carried on.

Huntingdonshire was represented by three members in parliament in 1290. From 1295 the county and borough of Huntingdon returned two members each, until in 1868 the representation of the borough was reduced to one member. By the act of 1885 the borough was disfranchised.

Antiquities.—Huntingdonshire early became famous on account of its great Benedictine abbey at Ramsey and the Cistercian abbey founded in 1146 at Sawtry, 7 m. W. of Ramsey; besides which there were priories at Huntingdon and Stonely, both belonging to the Augustinian canons, and at St Ives and St Neots belonging to the Benedictines, together with a Benedictine nunnery at Hinchingbrook, near Huntingdon. Of these buildings almost the only remains are at Ramsey and St Ives. The most interesting churches for Norman architecture are Hartford near Huntingdon, Old Fletton near Peterborough (containing on the exterior some carved ornament said to have belonged to the original Saxon cathedral at Peterborough), Ramsey and Alwalton, a singular combination of Norman and Early English. Early English churches are Kimbolton, Alconbury, Warboys and Somersham, near Ramsey, and Hail Weston near St Neots, with a 15th-century wooden tower and spire. Decorated are Orton Longueville and Yaxley, both near Peterborough, the latter containing remains of frescoes on its walls; Perpendicular, St Neots, Connington near Ramsey and Godmanchester. At Buckden near Huntingdon are remains of a palace (15th century) of the bishops of Lincoln. There were two ancient castles in the county, at Huntingdon and at Kimbolton, of which only the second remains as a mansion. Hinchingbrook House, Huntingdon, was the seat of the Cromwell family. Connington Castle passed, like the title of earl of Huntingdon, through the hands of Waltheof, Simon de St Liz and the Scottish royal family, and was finally inherited by Sir Robert Cotton the antiquary, who was born in the neighbourhood, and is buried in Connington church. Elton Hall, on the north-west border of the county, was rebuilt about 1660, and contains, besides a good collection of pictures, chiefly by English masters, a library which includes many old and rare prayer-books, Bibles and missals.

Norman Cross, 13 m. N. of Huntingdon, on the Great North Road, marks the site of the place of confinement of several thousand French soldiers during the Napoleonic wars at the beginning of the 19th century The village of Little Gidding, 9 m. N.W. of Huntingdon, is memorable for its connexion with Nicholas Ferrar in the reign of Charles I, when the religious community of which Ferrar was the head was organized Relics connected with this community are preserved in the British Museum.