HUNTINGDON, comprises the parishes of All Saints, St. Benedict, St. John, St. Mary, it is a market town, municipal and parliamentary borough and county town, in the hundred of Leightonstone, county Huntingdon, 59 miles north of London by the Great Northern railway; it is also a station on the St. Ives, Huntingdon, and Cambridge branch of the Great Eastern railway. It stands on a gently rising ground, near the line of the ancient Ermine Street, not far from the site of the Roman station Durolipons - The Ouse, which separates it from the village of Godmanchester, is crossed by an ancient stone bridge of six arches, forming part of a causeway constructed above the meadows, which are frequently inundated by the river.
It is noticed in the Saxon times as a town of considerable importance, and had a castle, erected by Edward the Elder in 917, of which some traces yet remain. There were also, before the Reformation, several religious houses, and two hospitals, one of which now exists. In the civil war of Charles I., the Royalists took and plundered the town, which then sustained considerable damage. The modern town consists principally of one street, extending about a mile along the Great North road, with several smaller streets or lanes branching off to the right and left; these last consist of inferior houses, but are well paved, and lighted with gas. During the last twenty years, great improvements have been made in the drainage and sewage of the town, which were formerly in a very unsatisfactory state.
The formation of the Great Northern railway has also tended to the advancement of the town, and many good and substantial houses have recently been built, the number of inhabited houses in 1851 being 1,244, and in 1861, 1,285. The population, notwithstanding, has somewhat declined in the decennial period since 1851, when the number of inhabitants within the municipal borough was returned at 3,882, and within the parliamentary, which includes the parish of Godmanchester, at 6,219; these numbers had declined in 1861 to 3,846 for the municipal, and 6,254 for the parliamentary; showing that house accommodation had increased in an inverse ratio to the population, and with it the comforts and social condition of the inhabitants.
The town is governed by a mayor, 4 aldermen, and 12 common councilmen, who are chosen by the freemen. Previous to the passing of the Municipal Act, the residents could obtain their freedom by purchase, but now none can obtain it except the sons born of freemen. Each freeman, or freeman's widow, has the privilege of pasturing three cows and two horses on the common lands which belong to the town. For parliamentary purposes the borough includes the village of Godmanchester, and returns two members to parliament. The trade of the town is considerable, principally in wool and corn, small vessels being able to ascend the Ouse. There are also two extensive breweries, an iron foundry, steam oil-mill, oil-cake manufactory, and works for the manufacture of patent bricks and tiles. The market-place is tolerably spacious, and the townhall has two good court-rooms where civil and criminal causes are tried at the assizes; and above these a large assembly-room. There are a county gaol and house of correction, and a borough gaol; the former is situated about half a mile north of the town, in the parish of Great Stukeley. Between this building and the town on the same line of road is situated the union poorhouse, with accommodation for the paupers of 33 parishes and townships included within the Huntingdon Poor-law Union.
The town also contains a building belonging to the Literary and Scientific Institution, erected in 1842, in the High-street; it comprises an entrance hall, an octagon room 30 feet in diameter, used as a library and museum, and a room, 68 feet long by 27 wide, appropriated to lectures and public meetings, besides committee rooms, and domestic offices. This institution has a collection of philosophical apparatus, and a small collection of local curiosities and geological specimens. There are besides a savings-bank, county hospital, and a county library, but the old theatre has been taken down. Within the extra parochial liberty of Hinchingbrook, which is partly in the jurisdiction of the town, stands the mansion of the Earl of Sandwich, once the seat of Sir Oliver Cromwell, who entertained here James I., and his court, on his first progress from Scotland.
The borough of Huntingdon comprises the parishes of All Saints, St. Benedict, St. John the Baptist, and St. Mary. The churches of only two of these, All Saints and St. Mary, are now standing, though the town is said at one time to have had 15 churches. The living of All Saints is a rectory united with that of St. John the Baptist, in the archdeaconry of Huntingdon and diocese of Ely, value £200. The living of St. Mary is also a rectory* with that of St. Benedict, value £162. The church of All Saints, rebuilt in 1620, was much disfigured, but has lately been restored. The church of St. Mary is an ancient structure, with a perpendicular tower, and good entrance-porch on the west side. The vicarage of St. Mary's was erected in 1851. The Independents, Wesleyans, and Primitive Methodists, have chapels, and the Society of Friends a meetinghouse.
Here are a free grammar school, on the site of the old hospital of St. John, at which Oliver Cromwell received part of his education, and a green-coat school, both richly endowed; also a county school, National school, self-supporting British school, girls' school of industry, and an infant school. The protector, Oliver Cromwell, was born here on the 25th of April, 1599. The family of Hastings take from this place the title of earl; and the Montagues, earls of Sandwich, who are lords of the manor, that of Viscount Hinchinbroke. Saturday is market day, chiefly for the sale of corn and provisions. Fairs are held on the Saturday before Michaelmas Day, the third Saturday in November, Tuesday before Easter, and the second Tuesday in May. They usually take place on Mill common, adjoining the town.