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The Women of Anglo Saxon Huntingdonshire – Part 1: Setting the Scene

“The Evidence which has survived from Anglo-Saxon England indicates that women were then more nearly the equal companions of their husbands and brothers than at any time before the modern age” from Doris Stenton’s “The English Woman in History”

An introduction
I will be honest about two things. Firstly, I was invited to write a blog – or series of blogs – to coincide with International Women’s day (8th March), but did not manage to complete it in time. Thankfully, women’s history should be celebrated every month, so consider sharing this two months later than intended to be an affirmation of that! Secondly, I am no expert and am therefore indebted to two books which gave me insight into Anglo Saxon life in England, which, along with other local sources, have helped shape my idea of how local women would have lived through this period; ‘The Year 1000: What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium’ by Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger, and ‘Medieval Women: A Social History of Women in England 450 – 1500’ by Henrietta Leyser.

“Enga-lond” was a concept that few would have heard of and fewer still would be able to grasp. The country was divided into petty kingdoms and domains held by (at times hostile!) groups.

So, what do we know about life in Anglo Saxon Huntingdonshire?
Evidence has shown that Anglo Saxons had already arrived in the Nene and Ouse valleys before the withdrawal of the Roman forces in around 410AD. These settlers came from the harsher climes of northern Europe, to “A green and pleasant England with ample space to breathe, the sound of birdsong… the sharp smell of drifting woodsmoke on an autumn evening

Over the following five centuries, the population of ‘Enga-lond’ grew to around a million people. They did not have surnames – there was not yet any need for them. All lived in a green and unpolluted countryside on a simple, wholesome diet and wore coarse hand-woven woollen clothing, even down to their underwear. Clothing would have been coloured with natural vegetable dyes and fastened with ties, as buttons had not been invented. Houses were made of sturdy wooden beams held together with wooden pegs. Though this life sounds idyllic, it was far from easy;

“The simplest things were so difficult to accomplish… every basic artefact represented hours of skill and effort and ingenuity, in return for a very meagre material reward”.

The hearth would have been at the heart of every home – essential for everyday heating and cooking, the smoke would have been used to preserve meat, fish and cheese and the ash for vegetable gardens!

Daily life would have been exhausting, with long hours labouring in all weathers. Medical care would have been very basic and people would have relied upon home rituals and remedies in the hope of curing ailments. Based on burials we know that the average life expectancy was no greater than around forty years of age.

External factors controlled much of Anglo Saxons’ lives, and the concern of famine and disease was constant. It is no surprise then, that this was an age of fervent faith, and time was punctuated by high days and holy days. There is no doubt that religion was all encompassing, but whilst organised Christianity continued to grow in strength, it was possible for families to hold onto some pagan beliefs about good and evil alongside their strong Christian convictions.

The official way of subdividing up the population was into ‘hundreds’, each the size of several modern parishes. According to different sources, this term referred either to one hundred houses, hides of land, or men of the militia. Saxon Huntingdonshire had four ‘hundreds’; Hurstingstone, Leightonstone, Norman Cross, and Toseland. These hundreds would have would have made it easier for local lords to administrate, including gathering tax, organising militia service, and maintaining the laws of their kingdom.

Law codes varied from kingdom to kingdom across Enga-lond but were similar in that they all operated using a tariff of compensations for committing certain crimes. Well known examples include Aethelbert of Kent’s at the beginning of the seventh century (one of the very first known documents to be written in the Anglo Saxon language) and King Alfred of Wessex’s laws at the end of the ninth century (known to us as ‘Alfred the Great’).

Map of the hundreds of Huntingdonshire as laid down in 1830. The boundaries shifted only slightly in the intervening centuries.

In Anglo Saxon life, every man and woman had their price, which was known as ‘wergeld’. There were specific fines for everything including violent crime, theft and even sexual harassment. The amount payable depended upon the social class of the victim – the murder of a noble would cost you more than the murder of a slave. The money was payable directly to the victim – for example, if a man attempted to ‘fondle the breasts of a free woman’ uninvited, he would be expected to pay her a fine directly!

Documents indicate that Huntingdonshire was inhabited by two or more small Anglo-Saxon tribes by the eighth century – and named tribes include ‘Gwyras’, ‘Hyrstingas’, ‘Sweordora’ and ‘Spalda’ (the latter being suggested at by the village name of Spaldwick). Evidence of Anglo Saxon occupation has been found across the county – there were substantial Anglo Saxon settlements at Huntingdon, St Neots, St Ives, Ramsey, Woodston, Castor, Orton Longueville and Maxey and other smaller farmsteads.

And what of the Women of Anglo Saxon Huntingdonshire?
Little is definite about the lives or status of women in early Anglo Saxon England. Women were, by necessity, a major part of the workforce and it is clear from the legal documents that remain, that they had rights of their own regarding marriage, sexual harassment and property ownership. Of the thirty surviving wills from the late Anglo-Saxon period, ten of these were the wills of women who owned significant property.

One late Saxon charter describes land near Worcester which was being inherited, stating “Elfweard was the first man… Now it is in the hands of his daughter, and she is the second man”. Taking a look at Old English (the language of the period), the word for a human being of either sex was ‘mann’, which may strike us to lack gendered nuance but could be considered to reveal a certain level of male-female equality.

Ploughing with Oxen was hard labour that (depending on the amount of land to be tilled) could take many days for the ploughman or ploughwoman.

Into this society in the year 641AD two women are born into very different circumstances. The first definitely existed and her story can be drawn from the historic evidence and surviving records – she is known to us St. Kyneburgha. We will meet her in Part 2 of this blog series. The second woman, who we will meet in Part 3, is fictional, based on what is known about the life of a poorer woman at the time from archaeology and documents – we will call her Godgifu.

— You can find “Women in Anglo-Saxon Huntingdonshire Part Two: Kyneburgha: King’s daughter, abbess, saint” on our blog next Wednesday —

Modern day interpretation of a Saxon village at West Stow in Suffolk.

The Huntingdonshire Napoleonic Militia and Volunteers

“Regular officers and soldiers in a uniform were an everyday sight, prominent even during peacetime, and during the the Napoleonic wars, their ranks swelled by embodied militia, Yeomanry and volunteers, they gave the land a bright frosting of scarlet, blue and gold.”

During the great uncertainty of the Napoleonic Wars the government was obsessed with the fear of a French invasion of England. All along the Kentish and Sussex coastlines fortified Martello towers were built, ditches were dug and flooded and the “wooden wall” of the Royal Navy patrolled. All across England militas drilled and local men formed companies of volunteers under local gentry or nobility. Read on to discover the original Huntingdonshire “Home Guard” of the Napoleonic wars.

Image taken from a mid-17th century drill book, documents like these would be invaluable to inexperienced trained band officers, NCO’s and rank and file. The books were available to cover everything from basic musket usage right up to commanding a whole regiment in the field!

Fyrd, Trained Band, Militia
The concept of a militia was practically unchanged from the Saxon and early Norman statutes. In 1285, Edward I provided a national force of amateurs for home defence, who would be required to train annually and defend their locality. These groups would be known as trained bands, fencibles, militias and volunteers over their history and would continue unbroken from 1285 up to the 18th century.

The quality of these men was variable —they were provided with little budget, however some counties and cities with richer commanding officers were able to become serious semi-professional units, such as the London trained bands of the English Civil War. Colonel Ward’s observations on a trained band drilling in 1639 could be repeated almost any year thereafter:

“after a little careless hurrying … [they] charge their muskets, and so prepare to give their captain a brave volley of shot at his entrance to the inn; whereafter having solaced themselves for a while after this brave service every man repairs home, and that which is not so-well taught then is easily forgotten”.

Following the upheaval of the Civil Wars and Glorious Revolution, the now United Kingdom moved to keeping a permanent army and the militia became increasingly neglected.

The 1757 Militia Act
By the mid eighteenth century, the decline of the militia had led to it becoming utterly untenable as a military force even for basic defence. Training was non-existent, as was rank structure, and there was no equipment beyond mouldering antiques from the last century. The informal arrangements that were in place were swept away and instead formalised militia service was drawn up, whereupon each parish would provide a quota of men paid for by local tax. The legislation was not popular (it was seen to be step towards conscription) and anti-militia riots broke out across England over summer 1757.

This new system was considerably fairer than the old, as the men were drawn by lot from a pool that excluded: those under eighteen or over forty five, clergy, peers, constables, apprentices and men with more than three dependents. They would serve for three years, be equipped with uniform and weapons, and the parish would support their families in their absence. Militia service was not popular with professional men, who would often pay a substitute to serve in their stead. Failure to fill quotas by parishes incurred hefty fines and so generous stipends were offered for volunteers in some areas.

Each county was expected to raise a quota of men based on their relative size or perceived vulnerability – 1,640 men for Devonshire, whilst little Rutland supplied just 120 men. The exact size of the Huntingdonshire militia regiment is unknown, but they fall second only to the West Yorkshire regiment in the militia list, suggesting that they were at least half a battalion which is to say around 250 – 300 men or five to six companies.

These men would be expected to train for 28 days a year, during which time they were billeted in public houses and subject to full military discipline. During times of disquiet or concern, militia regiments could be embodied for full time service and would often be used to garrison key towns and cities, freeing up regular troops. Whilst the men of the militia they could be promoted to non-commissioned ranks, the core of the militia regiment was a small staff of veteran sergeants from the regular army. Their officers were retired officers, landowners, gentry or nobility, often the close friends and family of the local Lord-Lieutenant (who acted as commanding officer). To be allowed to serve at all, officers had to own land or be in line to inherit land in the county.

James Gilray cartoon “Supplementary Militia Turning out for Twenty Days Amusement or The French invade us hay damme whos afraid” (1796) the militia was generally very ridiculed in the press and print.

The 1793 Militia Act
In all, some 19,000 men were on active militia service in 1793. These men were a burden on the public finances and whilst they could be said to be a second rate defence force, they were expressly forbidden from joining the regulars or serving overseas. The new 1793 militia act sought to change that.

Contemporary painting of the Staffordshire militia on guard in 1804

The new act actively encouraged militia men to join the regular army by offering very generous bounties for those who did – 18 guineas for militiamen upon transfer in 1804 (almost £2,000 by today’s reckoning)! To encourage for officers to transfer, they would be commissioned into their new regular regiment if they took sufficient volunteers with them. This was known as “raising the rank”.

From this point onwards, the militia effectively becomes a recruitment pool for the regular army. Militia regiments would be addressed by different army officers and recruiting parties – all competing to offer the most appealing prospect. Doubtless this is how in 1814, fourteen men of the Huntingdonshire militia (at this point apparently garrisoned in Reading) ended up joining the 14th (Bedfordshire Regiment), later fighting at Waterloo.

For those who could not be convinced by words and generous bounties, there were other inducements. One tactic was to introduce onerous drills and training exercises for the militia, which had the dual purpose of increasing the general preparedness and ability of the recruits and inducing them to sign up with the regulars to escape the harsh regime!

The Volunteers and Army of Reserve
In 1798, Britain was facing the full ire of Revolutionary France. With the genuine risk of invasion looming, the “Defence of the Realm Act” (1798) was passed. This was, in effect, a kind of census as it drew up county-by-county the number of men able and willing to fight in case of invasion.

An unexpected side effect of the act was that many of these men took up arms immediately, beginning to form volunteer groups which drilled in towns, villages and hamlets across England. Within a few months there were 116,000 new volunteers under-arms, causing some consternation within Parliament that an armed and organised force on this scale posed dangers in itself!

By 1803, the number of volunteers reached its peak of 176,000 active volunteers with a further 480,000 inactive volunteers, willing only in the event of an invasion. In this year, Parliament also introduced an Army of Reserve. This were distinct from the militia and was effectively reserve battalions for regular army regiments. The idea was that these men would ‘choose’ to join the regular army, however in reality they were forcibly balloted to join what was in effect a regular regiment. This was so close to conscription that it went down very badly and was shelved within a few years.

A huge number of men who were not already serving in a military capacity were enlisted into this confusing and contradictory “defence force” across the United Kingdom. Huntingdonshire was no exception. As well as the existing militia regiment, Huntingdonshire had its own reserve regiment, a volunteer cavalry regiment. There were also innumerable volunteer forces (possibly as many as a company for each town/large village in the county). In the 1801 census, the total male population of Huntingdonshire was approximately 18,000. A conservative estimate would put over 3,000 of these men under arms, serving as volunteers or reserve soldiers in the following units…

The 1796 Pattern Light Cavalry Saber, as carried by the men of the Huntingdonshire Volunteer cavalry.

The Huntingdonshire Volunteer Cavalry (1794-1815)
In 1794, John Richards of Brampton, the High Sheriff of Huntingdonshire, convened a meeting at The Crown Inn where it was agreed to form a volunteer cavalry for the county. This force of horsemen would;

Contemporary Illustration of a Yeomanry Cavalry trooper, note the heavily curved light cavalry sword.

“chearfully obey His Majestys Commands, and subject to military law in all respects, within this Kingdom only, during the continuance of such Invasion, provided that one fourth of the corps shall remain within the County”

To qualify for entry into this prestigious force of volunteers you had to be a Yeoman, which is to say a person with an annual income or assets worth £100 (about £13,000 by our standards), and you had to own or have access to a horse. As with the militia, those eligible to serve could instead pay a substitute to do so for them. Although it may seem obvious, in April 1797 Charles Norman found out the hard way that his paid substitute, George Hitman, also had to have a horse! When this was found to be lacking, his last minute replacement’s replacement cost him a hefty £27 and 6 shillings.

The volunteer cavalry force was drawn up slowly, doubtless impeded by the actual duties of the senior officers and figures in the force, and the difficulties in producing uniforms and weapons during wartime. Finding sufficient horses must also have been troublesome at times, especially for cavalrymen whose horse died, leaving them without. Many local troops began training on their own initiative; the 28 men of Toseland and 35 of Huntingdon were drilling a year before the general muster in Huntingdon in June 1798.

At this event the whole volunteer cavalry corp appeared. Considering that a regular regiment had a theoretical strength of 1,000 men (of whom 600-800 would be on any given campaign), the returns filed by Owsley Rowley, chief tax collector for Huntingdonshire, showed an impressive turnout.

The numbers by hundred were:
Huntingdon (Borough of) – 61
Hurstingstone – 329
Toseland – 264
Norman Cross – 228
Leightonstone – 259

Totalling a staggering 1,141 men. This is all the more awe-inspiring when it is remembered that Huntingdonshire is one of the smallest counties in England.

A Review of the London Volunteer Cavalry and Flying Artillery in Hyde Park in 1804, unknown artist. The size and scale of the undertaking gives a good idea of how the Huntingdon review of 1798 must have looked.

The cost of this cavalry was significant. Huge sums of money were expended on both the volunteer cavalry and the volunteer infantry, and Rowley was responsible for gathering the unpopular land tax that covered those costs. The risk of highway robbery or assault made the job so dangerous that the government issued cutlasses to tax collectors. It is likely that Rowley was escorted by some of these weekend cavalrymen as he went about his duties, which he did in full cavalry uniform with a brace of pistols!

Aside from these duties, the Yeomanry Cavalry seemingly never saw action in either a policing or military capacity. They were kept on the books until 1828, but they seem to have been effectively disbanded by the peace of 1814.

The Brown Bess musket was the long-arm of choice from the mid eighteenth to the mid nineteenth century. A 39” long barrel with a 16” bayonet, fearsome but entirely inaccurate at longer range.

The Huntingdonshire “Army of Reserve” (1803 – 1806)
The introduction in 1803 of the “Army of Reserve” was (as already mentioned) rather unpopular. Effectively another chance to be balloted into service if you had been lucky enough to dodge the militia ballot, it caused a good deal of grumbling across the country. Nonetheless, Huntingdonshire raised by public subscription a sufficient sum to raise (another!) regiment of 800 men.

Like the militia, these men were liable to serve only in the United Kingdom, received uniform, weapons, training and only had to serve for a finite period. Similarly, these men could transfer to a regular unit and it would seem plausible that the conditions were such to encourage just this. Certainly by December 1803, sixty men had transferred to regular army units, for which they would have been paid a bounty. With soldiers transferring out, substitutes being found (some from as far afield as Yorkshire!) and soldiers dying or deserting, the administration must have been a nightmare. The more-so as the bounties were paid by our old friend Owsley Rowley who had to reclaim the money from the government.

Despite the relative recruitment success of Huntingdonshire, nationwide, the scheme was deemed a failure. The target of 50,000 reserve men was missed with just 45,000 being signed up of whom over 90% were paid substitutes! By the end of the year, the total numbers were down to 35,000 due to transfer out, death and desertion (although deserters risked being forcibly enlisted if caught). The reserve regiments were reconstituted into militia garrisons and scattered across the country to see out the remainder of their service.

A volunteer officer in Light Infantry Uniform c. 1804.

The Huntingdonshire Local Militia (1803-1816)
Not content with a senior command role in the Volunteer Cavalry, Lord Sandwich also set about forming a volunteer infantry force. In the summer of 1803, notices appeared in towns and villages across Huntingdonshire calling for volunteers.

One such notice was seen by Litchfield Moseley, a 41 year old farmer. Moseley, “greatly encouraged by his lordship”, set about forming a company of volunteers based in Somersham. An evening meeting at The Rose and Crown (with a free drink to all attendees!) seems to have got the ball rolling and within a few months Captain Moseley had 61 volunteer soldiers, each with his own haversack and canteen – weapons and uniforms would follow later.

Companies like these had sprung up in every town and large village across the county and the administration must have been herculean. This perhaps explains why the Somersham company still did not have sufficient muskets even two years later. No detail is known about their uniforms except the cost (66 suits of clothes had cost £23 2s 0d) which the men would have paid for themselves. Other volunteer companies went in for cutting edge fashion, often not in the traditional red cloth, such as light infantry style cut jackets, frogging, braid and even – in one Sussex volunteer company – green velvet!

The Somersham company were inspected in October 1804 by Brigadier General Stewart, when any able-bodied men were “encouraged” to take the King’s Shilling and enlist into the regulars. Those left tended to be older or infirm, and the steady attrition of dead and discharged members shows their general unsuitability for active service. When they were next inspected in 1805, those men with muskets were issued cartridges for a firing drill. The expected ability of the volunteers is reflected in the fact that they were only given blank cartridges!

The volunteers would drill as often as they could, march for inspections by local dignitaries and take part in wider exercises with other companies. When the unit left Somersham for exercises they would have made a brave sight, uniformed and armed with their wagons declaring “Somersham Volunteer Company”. Doubtless this pomp and the pay offered (the same as regular soldiers during exercises) allowed the company to maintain its numbers over the course of the war – always around sixty men.

Like the Yeomanry Cavalry, the Somersham Volunteer Company were never called upon in a military or policing capacity and in 1816 were officially disbanded.

A detachment of militia being inspected in Huntingdon market square, picture taken from our 2018 Napoelonic reenactment event.

Unlike the regular soldiers who fought in the Napoleonic Wars, the experience of these volunteers is neglected and practically unknown today. Much like the Home Guard, over a century later, they were often the subject of mockery for their part time amateur service — but these brave men, often at great expense and effort, were willing to do their bit in the event of an invasion and no more could be asked of them.

Matthew Calleway is a reader, writer and all round creative type. He can often be found behind a desk planning things for the Huntingdonshire History Festival or else in the Cambridgeshire countryside walking, cycling and swimming in rivers.

Biography:
Baldry, W. Y. “Order of Precedence of Militia Regiments”, Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, Vol. 15, No. 57 (Spring 1936), Pages 5-16

Bell, J. “The Somersham Volunteers”, Popular Productions, St. Ives, 1997, First Edition

Brown, S. ““A Very Pretty Little Battalion”: The 3/14th Regiment of Foot in the Waterloo Campaign”, 2013, Accessed Via: https://www.napoleon-series.org/military-info/organization/Britain/Infantry/c_3-14Waterloo.html, Accessed On: 9th April 2021

David, S. “All The Kings Men: The British Redcoat in the Era of Sword and Musket”, Penguin, London, 2013, Second Edition

Gilks, A. “Britains Unknown Cavalrymen”, Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research
Vol. 85, No. 343 (Autumn 2007), Pages 237-246

Haswell, J. “The British Army: A Concise History”, Thames & Hudson Ltd, Norwich, 1975, First Edition

Hicks, J. “The Militarisation of society in Georgian Britain and Napoleonic France”, Dans Napoleonica, La Revue, 2008/1 (N° 1), Pages 136 – 147

Holmes, R. “Redcoat: The British Soldier in the Age of Horse and Musket”, Harper Collins, London, 2002, First Edition

Holmes, R. “Soldiers: Army Lives and Loyalties from Redcoats to Dusty Warriors”, Harper Collins, London, 2011, First Edition

McGuigan, R. “The British Army: 1st February 1793”, 2003, Accessed via: https://www.napoleon-series.org/military-info/organization/c_britarmy1793.html, Accessed On: 9th April 2021

McLynn, F. “1759: The Year Britain Became Master of the World”, Random House, Chatham, 2004, First Edition

National Army Museum, “Civilian Soldiers”, Accessed via: https://www.nam.ac.uk/explore/civilian-soldiers, Accessed On: 9th April 2021

Rowley, R. “Raising the Hunts Militia in the Napoleonic Wars”, Records of Huntingdonshire: Journal of the Hunts Local History Society, Vol.2 No. 10, 1991, Pages 32-38

UK Parliament, “Meeting the French threat”, 2021, Accessed Via: https://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/private-lives/yourcountry/overview/frenchthreat/, Accessed On: 10th April 2021

Young, P. “The English Civil War: A Military History of the Three Civil Wars 1642-1651”, Eyre Methuen, Fakenham, 1974, First Edition

Some grand old granite stone: The Long Battle for Cromwell’s Statue

The only great man the shire has produced, and what he did for England and the world is rightly deemed the grandest of all their local associations, but they have not yet dared to raise a statue in his honour on the soil from which he sprang.” – Lord John Russell speaking of Cromwell.

Whilst we may think that it is only today that the subject of statues has become politically and socially contentious, this has been the case for centuries; especially for that most marmitical of historic figures – Oliver Cromwell. The eventual unveiling of the well loved statue of Cromwell in St. Ives marked the end of a convoluted and seemingly impossible process that begun on the 250th anniversary of Cromwell’s birth in 1849.

Slepe Hall Manor – reputedly the residence of Cromwell in St. Ives prior to being demolished and resited further from the railway!

The First Attempt
In the middle years of the nineteenth century, there was a growing drive to commemorate Cromwell in one of the Huntingdonshire towns which could lay claim to him. On 4th August 1849, the People and Howitts Journal (a liberal weekly periodical) told how “active measures are in preparation for the collection of a sufficient sum … for the proposed monument to Oliver Cromwell in St. Ives”.

The drive to erect a statue was driven by two main factors. The first was the sestercentennial of Cromwell’s birth. The second was that in 1848, Old Slepe Manor, reputedly the residence of Cromwell in St. Ives, was pulled down and rebuilt further away from the railway, leaving the site vacant and no other surviving Cromwell monument in the town. Despite various fundraising attempts, such as selling copies of Rev. Paxton Hood’s poem “The Farmer of St. Ives”, this Victorian ‘GoFundMe’ was not successful, and the idea was shelved for half a century.

The Second Attempt
In 1895, as the tricentennial of Cromwell’s birth loomed, the idea of a statue of the Lord Protector was raised again, this time far from the markets and taverns of St. Ives. The Prime Minister, Lord Rosebery, proposed that a statue be erected outside the houses of Parliament. The idea was debated heatedly and when the government was badly defeated (220-83) it proved the end of Lord Rosebery who resigned a few days later.*

Lord Rosebery, short lived Prime Minister and Cromwell aficionado

The idea was taken up by the Daily Chronicle, who began to publicly canvass and raise funds to raise a statue elsewhere in London. The Hunts County Post seized the idea and argued that the statue should be in Cromwell’s home county, in his birth-town of Huntingdon or else in St. Ives where he “matured his plans”. The day after The Hunts County Post begun their public campaign, the ailing liberal government lost a vote of no-confidence, and the paper announced a suspension of the campaign until after the election. Unfortunately, they seem to have forgotten all about it, and the campaign never resumed.

The Third Attempt
The eventual erection of a Huntingdonshire statue had an unlikely beginning. In February 1899, whilst debating how to celebrate three hundred years since Cromwell’s birth, Huntingdon town council received an unusual offer from the Coalbrookdale Company of Shropshire, who happened to have a spare statue of Cromwell available for purchase**.

The town council called a public meeting in early March to discuss the idea, but realised too late that they could not afford to buy the statue outright. The meeting unanimously decided to pay for a new statue by public subscription instead. Incidentally, the original statue that started the process off seems to have been purchased by Warrington Council and erected in Warrington in Cheshire on the Cromwell tricentennial instead.

Despite unanimously deciding to install a statue, Huntingdon town council seems to have been rather lukewarm on actually raising any money. Delays to the start of fundraising (due to wanting to simultaneously launch the campaign in America) meant that by Cromwell’s actual 300th Birthday on 25th April 1899, not a penny had been raised. The day was celebrated with a crowd of thousands, historic pageant, speeches and toasts, with train companies running special excursion trains to Huntingdon for the occasion – an occasion the town council declined to attend!

The Warrington Cromwell statue that begun the Huntingdonshire statue saga

Two Towns Alike in Dignity
In the Huntingdon town council meeting of May 1899, a fierce argument broke out about why so little had been raised. At this point, nobody in Huntingdon had donated to the fund, and not unreasonably, recriminations flew as to whether the fund raising committee was even trying. The following week the St. Ives town council met, and the mayor (Councillor Hankin) suggested they might erect their own statue of Cromwell. A committee was formed to fundraise for the St. Ives statue, and they speculated that the cost would be £4000-£5000 (approximately £550,000 – £650,000 by modern reckoning!).

It seems inconceivable that the St. Ives council did not know about the plan to erect a Cromwell statue in Huntingdon – and they must have known how badly it was going. The St. Ives statue was announced in June and donations began to pour in. By the end of September they had raised £600.

The August town council meeting for Huntingdon was the end of the road for the Huntingdon statue. They had received just thirty donations, only one from America (of $5) and none from a resident of Huntingdon. These donations were returned and the path was clear for St. Ives to proceed.

A Fortuitous Fire
By the turn of the century, St. Ives council had not only reduced their statue target to £2000 and fundraised over £900, they had also found a sculptor. Frederick Pomeroy had recently completed a statue of General-at-Sea Robert Blake***, one of the leading naval officers of the Republic for Blake’s hometown of Bridgwater. Pomeroy was one of the most renowned sculptors of his generation. He would later create the statue of Lady Justice which still stands atop the Old Bailey in London. The only question now was where would the new Cromwell statue stand?

Skip forward five months and 7,300 miles south to Mafeking in South Africa, where British forces had entered the town besieged for over half a year, reportedly being greeted by the sentry with “oh yes, I heard you were knocking about”. The Boer War had begun with several disasters, and Britain needed a victory to celebrate – the relief of Mafeking gave them one. Massed riotous crowds gathered in British towns and cities to celebrate; singing, shouting, flag waving and of course drinking. The celebration in St. Ives must have been an especially lively one, as the crowd managed to completely destroy the derelict town pump in the centre by setting it on fire!

The statue today proudly stood in St. Ives market square

This central location, now empty, proved to be perfect for the Cromwell statue, and later that month Pomeroy and the mayor agreed the final design and height of the plinth. The two ideas put forward were Cromwell the military chief and Cromwell “the farmer of St. Ives”; the compromise was a melding of the two ideas, a Cromwell in civilian garb with sword buckled on and bible under his arm.

All that was left was to ensure sufficient donations were taken to cover the cost of the statue, and fundraising continued apace. Donations varied from £200 (made by the Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire and Thomas Coote a prominent non-conformist and corn merchant), down to 6d with every sum in between – in total, £1234 9s 0d was raised.

The total costs were:
£850 – Statue
£260 – Pedestal and lamps
£31 – Lamp posts
£60 – Fundraising costs and unveiling ceremony
£20 12s – Ongoing maintenance

With the funds raised and the details sorted, a date was set to unveil the new statue. The date chosen was Wednesday 23rd October, 1901 the 259th anniversary of the Battle of Edgehill. There would be speeches, a public lunch, a public tea and disgruntled royalists with a mind to sabotage the event…

The Jacobites of Holywell
Following the unsuccessful invasion of England in 1745 by Charles Stuart (the young pretender, or Charles III, depending on whom you ask), Jacobitism in England had been illegal and perhaps inevitably driven underground. Societies and clubs who supported the restoration of the House of Stuart existed across the country, and by the 1880’s had been amalgamated into the White Cockade Club.

Victorian White Cockade, supposedly Charles Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) plucked a white rose and wore it on his bonnet, and thus a symbol of Jacobitism was born.

One branch of the White Cockade Club was based in Holywell, just up the road from the Puritan heartland of Huntingdonshire. The branch was founded by Anderson Fraser, a well known landscape artist typical of the liberal romantic members that constituted the majority of closet Jacobites in the club. Angered by the statue being erected to this arch-enemy of the Jacobite cause, they decided to take steps to ruin the ceremony.

The national president of the White Cockade Club offered assistance by sending six nooses to an unspecified pub in St. Ives. The plan was that at the statue’s unveiling, the local members would add the nooses to the wreaths at the statue base, with notes attacking Cromwell and the local dignitaries.

Rumours swirled through the town that the Jacobites had dynamite intending to blow up the statue, causing some consternation. The local constabulary investigated, found no explosives, and foiled the actual Jacobite plot by seizing the nooses from the pub before the Jacobites arrived.

The Unveiling
The statue was unveiled by Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice, a liberal MP of the day, with a multitude of speeches to a market square packed with thousands of spectators, and not a Jacobite in sight.

Finally, after over fifty years, there was a statue of Cromwell in Huntingdonshire. It seems appropriate to end with the closing stanza of “The Farmer of St. Ives” written by Rev. Hood in 1848;

“Raise up, raise up the pillar! Some grand old granite stone.
To the prince without a sceptre, to the king without a throne.
To the brave old English hero who broke our feudal gyves
To the leader of “the good old cause”; the farmer of St. Ives”

Photo of the unveiling of the statue by Alfred Hendrey, courtesy of the Norris Museum

*Of course Lord Rosebery did not give up on his statue and campaigned as a private individual, donating £3000 to the fundraising campaign. Even then the famous Westminster statue was unveiled at 7.30am on Tuesday 14th November 1899 to prevent any hostile demonstrations.

** The Coalbrookdale statue of Cromwell had been cast some thirty years earlier for the International Exhibition of 1862, they evidently decided that the tricentennial of his birth was the ideal time to find a buyer!

*** Col. Robert Blake was made General-at-Sea in 1649 and took to the navy like a duck to water, by the time he died aboard his flagship in 1657 he had built a reputation as an exemplary nail commander. He was one of Lord Nelson’s heroes and Nelson “reckoned himself inferior to Blake”.

Matthew Calleway is a reader, writer and all round creative type. He can often be found behind a desk planning things for the Huntingdonshire History Festival or else in the Cambridgeshire countryside walking, cycling and swimming in rivers.

Bibliography:
Akeroyd, A & Clifford, C. “Huntingdon: Eight Centuries of History”, Breedon Books Publishing, 2004, 1st Edition

Burn-Murdoch, B “Some Fit Memorial: The Cromwell Statue at St. Ives”, Records of Huntngdonshire, Vol 3. No. 7, 1999, Pages 43-51

Cavendish, R “The Relief of Mafeking”, History Today, Volume 50, Issue 5, May 2000, Via: https://www.historytoday.com/archive/relief-mafeking

Goldsmith, J. “Memorialising Cromwell: How Cromwell Has Been Remembered By the Association and Others“, Cromwelliana, 2013, Series III, Vol 2. Pages 77-91

Norris, H. E. “History of St. Ives”, Galliard Printers Ltd, Great Yarmouth, 1980, Facsimile Reprint of 1889, 1st Edition

Richmond, B “St. Ives Hall, Slepe Hall and Slepe Hall Girls School for Young Ladies”, 2015, Accessed: 12th February, Accessed via: http://www.stivescivic.org.uk/images/report-archive/CS-Annual-Report-2015.pdf

Rodger, N.A.M “The Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain 1649-1815”, Penguin Group, London, 2014, First Edition.

Smith, D. L “A statue of Oliver Cromwell at Westminster?”, 2020, Accessed 13th February, Accessed via: https://www.propertychronicle.com/a-statue-of-oliver-cromwell-at-westminster/#mailing-signup

Souter, J “A Brief History of St. Ives”, 2015, Accessed 13th February, Accessed via: http://www.theoldriverportstives.co.uk/st-ives-riverport-cambridge/introduction-and-a-brief-history-of-st-ives

The Lost Roman Town of Durobrivae – “the bridge fort”

At the northern end of Huntingdonshire, unharmed by the passing of Boudicca and the Iceni in 60AD the fortresses at Longthorpe and Water Newton still stood. By 65AD the Longthorpe fort – far from any major thoroughfares and obsolete as the border steadily moved north – was abandoned. The fort at Water Newton, however, began to develop a fledgling township outside its walls.

Magnetometer survey of the urban area inside the walls of Durobrivae taken in 2018 showing how built up the 20 acres inside the wall were.
© Archaeological Services Durham University

Similarly to Durovigutum (Godmanchester) to the south, Durobrivae (Water Newton) covered some 20 acres to start with, but by the time defensive walls were built in the 2nd century they contained over 40 acres. Durobrivae would appear to have developed organically as side-streets off Ermine Street, although there were municipal buildings, temples and a mansio as there were at Godmanchester.

Evidence of a large temple site and at least four shrines have been found within the city walls and immediate suburbs, while religious offerings have been found in the Nene – thrown in, as was the traditional Celtic fashion. On the far outskirts of the urban sprawl (near AIlsworth) shrines have been found either side of Ermine Street, supposed to have been used by travellers commencing or ending a journey.

Travellers would have been a very common occurrence within Durobrivae as the town was criss-crossed by several key roads, including Ermine Street, the Lincoln Road and the Leicester Road, and was located directly on the Nene. The site was therefore well situated for the imperial officials administering to the fens, an important Imperial estate, and in time a huge palace complex would be built overlooking the town (of which more anon). As well as these excellent transport links, Durobrivae had two things Durovigitum did not; ready supplies of clay and mineable iron.

Castorware Pot with charioteer and horses from the collection of the British Museum.

The first pottery from Durobrivae appears in 125 AD, the style is known as “castorware” or “nene valley ware”. In order to minimise fire risks and the disruption of tons of raw materials being delivered and finished pots being shipped, Roman law prohibited manufacturing pottery inside the town limits. As a result, the industry moved outside the town walls. These industrial zones would, at their zenith, cover some 250 acres stretching far to the north, south and west of the town boundaries, with the finished pottery discovered as far afield as Germany.

The iron deposits in surrounding countryside were likewise exploited. Metal-workers, with iron-foundries based near the Nene, surrounded the town to the east. One example at Orton Longueville is complete with furnaces and pits; another in the north-eastern suburbs features twenty furnaces in a wide aisled hall. Evidence of bronze casting has also been found in the archaeological record. Such extensive industry suggests that metal was also being shipped (literally along the Nene) to be cast into tools and weapons by the skilled smiths of Durobrivae.

As the town grew, other industries started to develop. As the Nene was still tidal past Peterborough, salt could be extracted to cure meat – an extraction site has been identified at Stanground. The building materials required for urban growth saw stone quarries flourishing at Sibson and the careful cultivation of local woodland. Such successful industries saw a influx of wealth, and with it the desire for decoration and ornamentation, resulting in a local school of mosaicists operating from Durobrivae by the fourth century.

Satellite image of the extended Durbrivae site by Peterborough Archaeology Group. The magnetometer survey above is solely the large field marked Durobrivae on this image.

Needless to say such a thriving population required feeding, and the fertile plains of the Nene valley were farmed extensively by a plethora of villas and farms. These were located in the area directly around the town and further afield in the territory of Durobrivae – which extended as far south-west as Thrapston. The fenland to the east would also have provided a good deal of food, with farms and fields on islands and along the very edges of the fens providing an excess for export.

The very size of Durobrivae has lead some historians to believe it was deliberately established as a regional administration centre, depot and capital. By the third century, just over the river and up the hill at the site of what is now the village of Castor could be found the second largest Roman building ever unearthed in Britain. Unfortunately there is little in the archaeological or written record pertaining to the site and much is therefore conjecture.

An artists impression of the view down over Durobrivae from the Praetorium at Castor. From Peterborough Museum

We do know that this was a 300m building, with hypocaust, fine mosaics and bath complex. It has been interpreted as a “working palace” – an elaborate dwelling-cum-workplace for an important imperial official to overlook the distribution and administrative centre he was responsible for.

Around the same time as the palace at Castor was inhabited, a remarkable treasure was hidden nearby on the outskirts of the town. It is one of the most important hoards ever found from Roman Britain and now housed at The British Museum; an elaborate collection of almost thirty silver items packed into a large pot, including a dish, cup, bowl, strainer and triangular plaques. The thing that makes these one of the most important Romano-British finds is the clear Christian iconography they all bear. Pieces have the greek Chi-Rho (a symbol that predates the cross), inscriptions with references to an altar and to individuals from the community. The silver plagues are borrowed from the existing religious rites of Rome; such plagues would be inscribed with thanks, vows or requests and nailed to the outside of temples.

It was not always safe to be a Christian in the Roman Empire, and it is tempting to imagine the small congregation’s priest sneaking from the city at midnight to bury their church-silver before the next crack-down on Christians. It is also possible that the silverware was hidden by thieves or even early Saxon raiders – which may well explain why it was never dug up again.

By the late fourth century, Saxon raids had led to a military command being created for the defence of the “Saxon Shore” (England’s east coast), and certainly around this time the pottery industry at Durobrivae was declining. The city walls were strengthened and extra bastions added, and whilst this kept the town safer it may well have resulted in the abandonment of the suburbs which were outside these defences.

After the withdrawal of Roman forces in the early years of the fifth century, the trade that had built and sustained Durobrivae slowly drained away. With money no longer being minted, roads and bridges no longer maintained, the collapse of the town was inevitable. Unlike Durovigitum, the town does not appear to have been violently sacked. There is some evidence of Saxons briefly settling in the remnants of the town but the settlement was never developed and instead the surviving stone was taken away and repurposed over decades.

A new Saxon settlement was founded nearby on the Nene; we know it as Water Newton, translated from the old English “niwetun waeter” meaning “new town on the river”. The site of the palace at Castor was also plundered for building material, in this case by the site’s new occupant St. Kyneburgha. She was a Mercian princess who established a nunnery and monastery, around which grew a settlement which they named “ceastre”. To this day the village of Castor has the only church in the UK dedicated to St. Kyneburgha.

The modern site of Durobrivae with the roman roadways clearly visible in the foreground, Ermine Street can be seen running arrow straight from bottom centre to top left of this image.

This is the end of our three-part Roman Blog, next month we’ll be looking at some Anglo-Saxon women with guest writer Victoria Calleway.

Matthew Calleway is a reader, writer and all round creative type. He can often be found behind a desk planning things for the Huntingdonshire History Festival or else in the Cambridgeshire countryside walking, cycling and swimming in rivers.

Bibliography:
Anon, “Godmanchester”, in An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Huntingdonshire (London, 1926), pp. 106-116. Accessed 14th January 2021, Accessed via: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/rchme/hunts/

Edgington, S, B. “The History of Buckden”, In: Buckden a Huntingdonshire Village, Ed. Storey, M., 2010, Buckden Local History Publications Ltd., St. Neots, 1st Edition

Godmanchester Museum, “The Roman Town of Godmanchester – Durovigutum”, Accessed 14th January 2021, Accessed via: http://www.godmanchester.co.uk/roman-godmanchester

Godmanchester Museum, “Roman Godmanchester – Road Map”, Accessed 14th January 2021, Accessed via: http://www.godmanchester.co.uk/roman-road-map

Goldsworthy, A. “The Complete Roman Army”, Thames & Hudson Ltd, London, 2011, First Edition

Hadley, K. “The Roman burial that offers a rare glimpse into past of Huntingdonshire town”, 2017, Accessed 15th January, Accessed Via: https://www.huntspost.co.uk/news/the-roman-burial-that-offers-a-rare-glimpse-into-past-5115434

Higgins, C. “Under Another Sky: Journeys in Roman Britain”, Vintage Books, London, 2014, First Edition

Historic England, “Pastscape – Durobrivae”, 2015, Accessed 16th January 2021, Accessed Via: https://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=364291

Historic England, ”The fort and Roman walled town of Durobrivae and its south, west and east suburbs, immediately south and east of Water Newton Village”, 2021, Accessed 16th January 2021, Accessed Via: https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1021429

Nash, B. “The Nene Valley in Prehistoric and Roman Times”, 2000, Accessed 21st January 2021, Accessed Via: http://www.thearchive.org.uk/thebook/5parishes/ch1.pdf

Nene Valley Archaeology Trust, “Durobrivae”, Accessed 16th January 2021, Accessed Via: https://www.nenevalleyarchaeology.co.uk/durobrivae-1

Peterborough Archaeology, “Castor Praetorium“, Accessed 16th January 2021, Accessed Via: https://dev.peterborougharchaeology.org/peterborough-archaeological-sites/castor-praetorium/

Peterborough Archaeology, “Durobrivae“, Accessed 16th January 2021, Accessed Via: https://peterborougharchaeology.org/peterborough-archaeological-sites/durobrivae/

Peterborough Archaeology, “Normangate Field“, Accessed 16th January 2021, Accessed Via: https://peterborougharchaeology.org/normangate-field/

Richmond, I. A “Roman Britain”, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1955, First Edition

Santosuosso, A. “Storming the Heavens: Soldiers, Emperors and Civilians in the Roman Empire”, Westview Press, Oxford, 2001, 1st Edition

Taylor, A. et al “A Roman Burial at Godmanchester” Records of Huntingdonshire, Vol. 3, No. 2, 1993, Pgs. 28-35

Tibbs, R “Fenland River: The Story of the Great Ouse and its Tributaries”, Terence Dalton Ltd. , Lavenham, 1969, 1st Edition.

Wentworth-Day, J. “History of the Fens”, S.R. Publishing Ltd, Wakefield, 1970, 2nd Edition

Wickes, M “A History of Huntingdonshire”, Phillimore & Co. Ltd, Chichester, 1985, 1st Edition

Wilcox, P. “Rome’s Enemies (2): Gallic and British Celts”, Osprey Publishing, 1985, First Edition

Roman Godmanchester – Durovigitum – “the thriving fort”

Following the defeat of Boudicca in 61AD, the Roman legions returned to the remains of Godmanchester. The replacement fort was planned and built over some 20 acres, and the traders and civilians likewise came back to repair and rebuild the shattered township outside.

The military presence seems to have been been redeployed within a short time, implying a certain degree of peacefulness in the area. Despite the vacant fortifications, the civilian town mushroomed. At first, inhabitants lived in Celtic style round houses, but over time the town was largely rebuilt in stone and wood rectangular buildings. By the third century, there was a population of around three thousand (half the population today) and a prestigious basilica (town hall), meaning the town was officially self-governing.

This independence was due to its location straddling two important roadways, the Via Devena (running from Colchester to Chester) and Ermine Street (running from London to York). These roads were the motorways of the day, and excavations show that by the second century Ermine street was 43 feet (over 13m) wide and solidly built. Ermine Street was, in fact, so solidly built that in the mid-eighteenth century Montagu house at the end of Huntingdon High Street was built atop the Roman road as it provided such good foundations!

Plan of the Godmachester Mansio based on excavations. Image courtesy of the Porch Museum Godmanchester.

We know from the archaeological record that by 120AD Durovigitum had an inn specifically for those on Imperial or government business. These remains are the second largest “mansio” found in England. The 95 foot long building was built in the west of Durovigitum (now Pinfold Lane and Granary Close) and included stables, rooms and a colonnaded garden. A kitchen in the inn provided food including oysters, pike, beef and chicken – and it is believed that travellers would also take food with them for the next day. Nearby stood a bath complex and a temple dedicated to a local god called Abandinus; possibly the god of the Ouse, adopted into the Roman pantheon like Sulis was in Bath.

Plan of the Bath House at Godmanchester based on excavations. Courtesy of the Porch Museum Godmanchester.

Another reason for the settlement’s success was down to the excellent farmland surrounding Durovigitum. Despite having a market and large amounts of through traffic, the inhabitants were dependent on agriculture to survive. The modern parish of Godmanchester corresponds to the “infields” of Durovigitum which were intensively farmed to supply food for the populace, and any excess could be traded with passing merchants or military suppliers. The extended territory under the control of Durovigutum abutted the territory of Durobrivae to the north, the boundary being drawn in the vicinity of Sawtry.

The rest of Huntingdonshire seems to have likewise been primarily focussed on farming; we know the Ouse valley was densely populated with farms and villas. The remains of some of these have been unearthed at Buckden, Holywell, Little Paxton, St. Ives, Huntingdon, Houghton, Hemingford and Bluntisham. Artefacts and Roman ballast found in the Ouse near St. Ives links in with what we know about Roman waterways in the area, and implies goods were being sent down the Ouse to Earith and thence via Car Dyke (a Roman canal) to Lincoln.

Grave goods from the 2nd century AD buried with a seven year old girl in Godmanchester, now in the collection of the British Museum. Image courtesy of the Hunts Post.

By the late third century Durovigitum was going from strength to strength, despite periodic flooding. The town hall in the centre of the settlement created a large market place directly across Ermine Street, where light industrial activity was beginning with potters kilns, iron and bronze workshops. The good times were, however, coming to an end. The cessation of Caurasias (admiral of Brittania) from Rome, and then his murder and replacement by his finance office Allectus, resulted in a decade of uncertainty for Britain. Around this time, many towns and larger settlements started to build defences, and Durovigutum was among them. These walls tended to be built to a standard template, and were around 3m thick with a deep, possibly flooded, ditch to front them – a serious deterrent to raiders.

Saxon raiders were lightly armed and armoured, relying on hitting targets hard and fast. Roman commanders could not stop every raider and often relied on catching them on the way back when they were easier to catch!

Unfortunately for Durovigitum, the walls were not finished when the first Saxon raiders hit. The archaeological record gives an idea of the horror of the Saxon raid; a buried jewellery hoard, never recovered, bodies abandoned in ditches, bones gnawed by dogs and wolves and severe fire damage to municipal buildings.

After this first raid, the settlement continued to survive throughout the fourth century. A new temple was built and the first, possibly Christian, burials are performed. These have been found outside the town walls in the area which is now home to St. Marys’ church and it is possible the modern church was built atop the site of the earliest Christian worship in the town.

By the time Emperor Honorius sent his famous letter to Britain, “urging them to defend themselves”, Durovigitum was a ruin of its former self. Declining traffic caused a local recession, and municipal buildings were being torn down to patch and repair the town walls. Whether the town remained a bastion of Romano-British culture or whether it swiftly returned to the sustenance farming of pre-Roman times is not known, what we do know is that at some point a Saxon war-leader named Godmund laid claim to the ruined site, giving his name to the “ceastre”; a name we still use today.

The Walls of Godmanchester in red solid lines with conjectured or unfinished sections dotted, the purple line is the approximate route Ermine Street took through the town. The influence on the town layout of these initial Roman walls is apparent even today!

For the final instalment in our Roman history blog, be sure to check out our post next week on the lost Roman town of Durobrivae, “the bridge fort”; one of the most remarkable Roman sites ever found in England.

A complete Bibliography for all three Roman Huntingdonshire blogs will be published with our third and final blogpost later this month.

Matthew Calleway is a reader, writer and all round creative type. He can often be found behind a desk planning things for the Huntingdonshire History Festival or else in the Cambridgeshire countryside walking, cycling and swimming in rivers.