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HUNTINGDON: Geographical and Historical information from the year 1835.

[Transcribed information from A Topographical Dictionary of England - Samuel Lewis - 1835]
(unless otherwise stated)

"HUNTINGDON, a borough and market-town, having separate jurisdiction, locally in the hundred of Hurstingstone, county of HUNTINGDON, 59 miles (N. by W.) from London, containing 2806 inhabitants. This place, called by the Saxons Huntantun, and in the Norman survey Hunters dune, appears to have derived its name from its situation in a tract of country which was anciently an extensive forest abounding with deer, and well suited for the purposes of the chase. A castle was builthere by Edward the Elder, in 917, and afterwards enlarged by David, Earl of Huntingdon, and King of Scotland, to whom King Stephen gave the borough, but having become a retreat for the disaffected in the reign of Henry II., it was, by that monarch's order, levelled with the ground. This fortress, of which there are no remains, is generally supposed, from the form of its outworks, which may still be traced, to have been the site of Duroliponte, a station of the Romans. A mint was established here at a very early period, and coins of Edwy and of his successors until the time of William Rums, have been struck and issued from this place. Huntingdon has been honoured with many royal visits; James I., on his arrival from Scotland, with all his court, was sumptuously entertained by Sir Oliver Cromwell, uncle of the Protector, in his princely mansion of Hinchinbrooke, a spacious quadrangular building in the Elizabethan style, in which also Charles I. frequently partook of the liberal hospitality of its possessor. Prior to the commencement of the parliamentary war, that monarch kept his court at Huntingdon, where he carried on his negociations with the parliament then sitting in London, and during the subsequent contests it was frequently the head-quarters of his army. Not long after the breaking out of the war, however, it appears to have fallen into the hands of the parliament; for it is stated to have been plundered, in August 1645, by the royalists, commanded by the king in person. In 1646, the king, on his route from Holmby to Hampton Court, in the care of Cornet Joyce and the parliamentary commissioners, was lodged at Hinchinbrook house, then belonging to Colonel Montague, an officer in the army of the parliament, and afterwards, on his joining Charles II. at the Restoration, created Earl of Sandwich, from whose lady the captive monarch received every tribute of sympathising loyalty, and by whose courage he was protected from the insults of a factious mob. In 1745, the inhabitants, assisted by the surrounding gentry, came forward to support the reigning dynasty against the claims of the Pretender, and raised a large sum of money by subscription for that purpose. The town is pleasantly situated on a gentle acclivity on the northern bank of the river Ouse, over which an ancient stone bridge of six arches connects it with Godmanchester; it consists of one principal street, extending a mile in length, and intersected at right angles by several smaller streets; the houses are in genera large, well built, and of handsome appearance; the town is well paved, lighted during the winter season, and amply supplied with water. The environs are pleasant, and from the Castle hill the prospect is rich, varied, and extensive. Within a quarter of a mile of the town is a luxuriant meadow, called Portholm, more than two miles in circumference, and preserving an entire and beautiful level, environed by the river, which is of considerable breadth; and shaded in its course by ranges of stately poplars and graceful willows. On this extensive plain, which forms one of the finest courses in the kingdom, races take place annually, commencing on the first Tuesday in August, and continuing three days, during which, and usually for a fortnight after, the theatre, a small edifice erected in 1800, is open. There are three literary institutions, or reading-societies, and a public subscription reading-room; and, in 1821, an horticultural society was established, the members of which award prizes at their meetings in April and July. Monthly assemblies are held, during the season, in a suite of rooms in the town-hall, and public balls take place there in the race week. The trade is principally in wool and corn: there are also two public breweries. The river Ouse is navigable for small vessels from Lynn, whence the inhabitants are supplied with coal and timber, and other articles of merchandise, and for barges from this town to Bedford. The market, on Saturday, is plentifully supplied with corn and provisions; the fairs are on the Tuesday before Easter, and the second Tuesday in May, for cattle of all sorts; and there is a statute fair about two weeks before Michaelmas, on a day fixed by the mayor: there are also large cattle markets on the Saturday before Old Michaelmas-day, and on the third Saturday in November. The market-place, which is conveniently arranged, occupies a spacious square in the centre of the town. Huntingdon was first incorporated in 1206, by charter of King John, confirmed and extended by Henry III. and succeeding sovereigns until the 6th year of the reign of Charles I., when it was renewed with modifications; under which charter the government is vested in a mayor, high steward, recorder, twelve aldermen, and twelve burgesses, assisted by a town clerk, two Serjeants at mace, and subprdinate officers. The mayor, recorder, and aldermen, form the common council. The mayor, who is also coroner and clerk of the market, the late mayor, the high steward, the recorder, and the senior alderman, if he has passed the chair, are justices or the peace. The mayor, assisted by the recorder, holds quarterly courts of session for the trial of all offenders within the borough; and a court of record, for the recovery of debts to any amount, is held once in three weeks; the county court is held every fourth Saturday, and there are courts leet and baron for the manor. The assizes for the county, and the general quarter sessions of the peace, are also held in this town. The town-hall is a handsome modern building of brick, coated with stucco, erected in 1745, by voluntary subscription, on the site of the old courthouse, and surrounded with piazzas, under which the market for eggs, poultry, meat, and butter, is kept: the ground-floor contains the courts for criminal and civil causes, each accommodated with a gallery, and a room in which the grand jury assemble, and the borough magistrates sit weekly, for the dispatch of business; above these is a suite of assembly-rooms, handsomely fitted up; the ball-room, sixty-three feet in length, and twenty-four in width, is ornamented with portraits of George II. and George III., and with those of their queens, by Sir Joshua Reynolds -} also of John, Earl of Sandwich, by Gainsborough. A new prison has been erected on the western side of the great north road, combining a common gaol and house of correction for the county, and comprising eight wards for the classification of prisoners, with the same number of day-rooms and airing-yards (in one of which is a tread-wheel for supplying the prison with water), and fifty-one separate cells. The old gaol, with the yards and appurtenances, has been surrendered to the use of the corporation, and the county bridewell has been purchased to be converted into a workhouse. Huntingdon was formerly much more extensive than it is at present, and contained fifteen parish churches, the greater number of- which had fallen into decay before Leland's time, when only four were remaining, and two of these were destroyed during the parliamentary war. The borough at present comprises the parishes of All Saints, St. Benedict, St. John the Baptist, and St. Mary, all in the archdeaconry of Huntingdon, and diocese of Lincoln. The living of All Saints is a rectory, united with that of St. John the Baptist, the former rated in the king's books at £6. 11. 10., and the latter at £6. 7. 6., and in the patronage of the Crown; the church of All Saints is a venerable and handsome structure, partly in the early, and partly in the later, style of English architecture, with a fine square embattled tower in the later style, strengthened with buttresses, ornamented with niches, and crowned with pinnacles; the sides of the tower are enriched with foliage, flowers, heads, and other devices, among which are the Tudor rose and portcullis; the chancel is in the early English style, and has a remarkably fine doorway, now walled up; the nave is separated from the chancel by a lofty and finely-pointed arch, and from the- aisles by pointed arches resting upon clustered columns; the oak roof is richly carved, and decorated with full-length figures, with various musical instruments; there are several ancient monuments, among which are some to the ancestors of Oliver Cromwell, who were interred in the church. The living of St. Benedict's is a rectory, united with the discharged rectory of St. Mary's, rated in the king's books at £10. 0. 5., endowed with £400 royal bounty, and £ 1200 parliamentary grant, and in the patronage of the Crown. The church of St. Mary was rebuilt in 1620; it is a handsome structure in the later style of English architecture, with a fine square embattled tower, strengthened with buttresses, and profusely ornamented with niches and sculpture; the nave is separated from the aisles by finely-pointed arches and octangular and circular columns alternately; the font is of an octagonal form, and supported on a column encircled by small pillars: in the chancel are several handsome monuments, and in other parts of the church are some mural tablets highly finished, together with several marble slabs, from which the brasses were torn away by the parliamentary soldiers. There are places of worship for Baptists, the Society of Friends, Independents, and Wesleyan Methodists. The free grammar school, which is of uncertain origin, is endowed with part of the revenue of the ancient hospital of St. John, in the chapel of which it is kept: the number of scholars is not limited, and they are instructed on the Eton plan. There is a scholarship for a boy from this school at Peter House, Cambridge, founded by Thomas Miller, who gave for that purpose land now producing £20 per annum, tenable from, admission until obtaining the degree of M.A.: there is also a scholarship founded in Christ's College, Cambridge, for a native of Huntingdon. A charity school is supported partly by the surplus benefactions of Mr. Richard Fishborn, Mr. Lionel Walden, and Mr. Gabriel Newton, and by subscription, for the maintenance, clothing, and education of thirty boys, of whom six go out every year, receiving £10 as an apprentice fee: twelve girls are also clothed and instructed from the proceeds of Mr. Fishborn's charity. National schools, under the patronage of the Bishop of the diocese, were established in 1813, and are supported by subscription: the boys school-room, in which one hundred boys are instructed, is a neat building at the northern extremity of the town; opposite to which is that for the girls, of whom about seventy are taught. Mr. Richard Fishborn, in 1625, gave £2000 in trust to the Company of Mercers, in London, for the maintenance of a lecture, a grammar school, and an almshouse, in this town; which sum, together with £4560 arising from other donations, was, in 1630, vested in the purchase of the manor of Chalgrave, in the county of Bedford, now producing £700 per annum, of which £60 is paid to a lecturer, £ 175 per annum to the corporation for charitable uses, of which £35 per annum is appropriated to the clothing and education of twelve poor girls, £ 90 per annum for apprenticing six poor children of the charity school, and £5 each to ten aged men or women: there are various other charitable bequests for distribution among the poor. Of the monastic establishments which formerly existed here, was a priory of Black canons, dedicated to St. Mary, founded prior to the year 973, and removed by Eustace de Lovetot in the reign of Stephen, or that of Henry II., to the eastern part of the town, the revenue of which, at the dissolution, was £232.7; there are no remains. A priory for nuns of the Benedictine order was removed from Eltesley, in the county of Cambridge, to this town, the revenue of which, at the dissolution, was £19. 9. 2.: the site was granted by Henry VIII. to Sir Richard Cromwell, who erected the mansion of Hinchinbrook house with part of the materials. A convent of Augustine friars was founded in the parish of St. John, in the reign of Edward I., which subsisted until the Reformation; and in the latter part of the sixteenth century, the site of the friary belonged to Robert Cromwell, whose son Oliver became Lord Protector of England. Here was also an hospital dedicated to St. Margaret, for a master and leprous brethren, to which Malcolm, Earl of Huntingdon, and King of Scotland, was a benefactor, and which was, in 1445, annexed to Trinity Hall, Cambridge, by letters patent of Henry VI.; besides an Hospital dedicated to St. John the Baptist, founded in the reign of Henry II., by David, Earl of Huntingdon, the revenue of which, at the dissolution, was £9.4.: the chapel, which is all that remains of the ancient building, is appropriated to the use of the free grammar school. A stone coffin, containing a human skeleton, was dug up on the castle hills, about twenty years since. The learned Henry of Huntingdon, author of a History of England continued to the reign of Stephen; and the noted Oliver Cromwell; were natives of this town. Huntingdon gives the title of earl to the family of Rawdon-Hastings."

[Description(s) transcribed by Mel Lockie ©2010]