“The greatest thoroughfare of commerce in the world” Huntingdonshire and English Tangiers: 1662-1684

Prospect of Tangiers from the East by Wenceslaus Holler c.1670

The colony of Tangiers – the only British colony on the North African or ‘barbary’ coast, from which Britain hoped to rule the mediterranean – may have been an ultimately doomed venture, but it has a fascinating Huntingdonshire link. This link is apparent at both the beginning, when the city was informally defended by Lord Sandwich, and officially passed to the Earl of Peterborough and at the end when Samuel Pepys documented the evacuation and destruction.

Read on to discover the sordid, violent and brief history of Tangiers, a town “of infinite benefit and security to the trade of England”.

The origins of European Tangiers

1655 Map of Portugese Tangiers by Leonardo da Ferrara

The story starts in 1471, when Portugal gained control of Tangiers after several attempts to capture the city. Their conquest was two-fold; their first motive was to give them a foothold on the North African coast in a commanding position on the the very mouth of the Mediterranean. Additionally, this removed a possible port that Islamic pirates, known as corsairs, could operate from, thus protecting merchant shipping. The Portuguese built up “a fortified enclave, looked seaward, and turned their backs to the Moroccan hinterland”, a decision which was to have serious repercussions. This outpost swiftly became subject to attack after attack by Moroccan forces, with the harbour offering the often beleaguered settlement its only lifeline.

Two centuries later, in 1661, the Portuguese were desperate for allies in their war against the Spanish. Looking for support, they decided on the recently restored Charles II of England, who was in want of a wife. Catherine of Braganza, Charles’ new wife, came with a very generous dowry, including £300,000 in gold (over £56 million today), free trade with Portuguese colonies in Brazil, and the Portuguese trading centre at Bombay. The most glittering of all his acquisitions was Tangiers, an outpost on “the greatest thoroughfare of commerce in the world”.

Meanwhile, the newly ennobled Earl of Sandwich, previously Edward Montagu of Hinchingbooke, was leaving England for the Barbary coast with a fleet of seventeen ships. Like every senior naval officer at this time, he had a following of men within the navy. Some of these would be officers being groomed as proteges, others seamen or sailors. With voyages possibly lasting years, these followers could include close family members, more distant relations, friends, and local tenants.

The Earl of Sandwich, aboard his Tangier’s flagship, had a Lieutenant Lambert, who would be a full captain within a few years. Also present in the fleet was Captain Titus, a friend of the Earl’s and a future commissioner of assessments for Huntingdonshire. Records are scant about specific seamen within the fleet, however it would be unlikely that none were Huntingdonshire natives. We do know that in 1665, press ganged men forcibly sent to bolster naval numbers were not satisfactory. In the Earl’s own words, they were “none of them seamen, so ragged that they were utterly refused, fearing they would taint the sound seamen.” Seven of these “poor lot”, came from Huntingdonshire.

Admiral Edward Montagu – First Earl of Sandwich by Peter Lely

The first objective for the Earl of Sandwich and his fleet was to negotiate with the Algerians to stop attacks on British shipping. This started well, but after talks broke down, Sandwich ended up bombarding Algiers and sailing away. His first mission attempted, he set off for his second objective; to keep an eye on Tangiers until the appointed governor arrived. Sandwich and his fleet moored at Tangiers in October 1661.

Four months later and with the governor, the Earl of Peterborough, still not arrived, the Portuguese mayor and 140 mounted Portuguese troops left the town on a raid. Less than 90 returned after a Moroccan ambush killed the mayor and pursued the surviving horsemen to the very gates of Tangiers. Sandwich offered to help bolster the defences and 400 sailors and marines were rushed to the walls to throw back attacking Moroccan troops.

As a result, when the Earl of Peterborough arrived in late January 1662, with 2,000 cavalrymen and 500 infantry, he found English troops “in the town and castles and [with] the command of all the strengths and magazines”. On January 30th, Peterborough formally took possession of the town from the Portuguese. He was presented with the keys to the gate, a pair of silver spurs and a rather difficult job…

Tangiers: The Rise

Views of Tangiers by Wenceslaus Holler, drawn in 1670. Note his guard of two musketeers in the foreground, an indicator of the danger when venturing outside the walls.

The first task facing the Earl of Peterborough was settling in the people he had brought with him. As well as the 2,500 men of the garrison and their families, there was another 100 quarrymen, engineers with their families, and around 600 merchants from all over Europe (there as a result of Charles declaring the town a “free port”). When the Portuguese had left, they had cleared the town completely — even to the extent of taking doors, windows and flooring. This necessitated a massive rebuilding program to make the town habitable; Portuguese street names were anglicised or renamed and a pavilion and bowling green built.

The newly restored town had shops, taverns and a hastily reconsecrated Catholic church, now dedicated to the king’s father, ‘Charles the Martyr’. All was overshadowed by the grand citadel which covered around one third of the space within the walls. This was extensively remodelled to provide storage space for supplies and homes for the governor and garrison officers. Most important of all were the town defences, strengthened and extended to include walls running all the way to the water’s edge, and thirteen outer forts with garrisons of between 10 and 150 men in each.

A musketeer and grenadier from the “Tangiers Regiment”. Over many amalgamations over the years the regiment is now part of the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, which the 31st Huntingdonshire Foot ended up as another component of.

These defences were an absolute necessity. Tangiers was regularly attacked on its landward side by Moroccan raiding parties; “about 5,000 horse, able, dexterous, sober, valiant, incomparably well armed and clothed”. Skirmishes, raids and counter raids were a frequent occurrence, with the Moroccan forces of the interior determined to stop the English in Tangiers expanding beyond the limits originally set upon the Portuguese.

Early in his tenure, the Earl of Peterborough negotiated a peace with the Moroccan leader Al-Ghailan. This peace was promptly broken by Peterborough who led his forces out in a disastrous sortie which saw them roundly beaten with severe casualties. As a result, Peterborough was recalled to England, amongst allegations of incompetence and corruption. He unfortunately took with him the only plan of wells and fresh water springs in Tangiers, which he then lost.

It is possible that all this explains the slow start on the work of making the harbour practicable. This was indispensable for the survival of the town, the harbour being the only way for supplies to be brought in. The natural harbour was not sufficient for larger ships and a decision was made to improve it. The initial plans for a “great mole” were drawn up by Jonas Moore, who had been integral in the drainage of the fens in Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire in the 1650’s. His plans drawn up by 1663 were then put in place by Hugh Cholmley; a Yorkshire engineer who was married at Hamerton in Huntingdonshire in 1655. He was fresh from building the pier at Whitby so had some relevant experience to be taking on this herculean task.

As the fledgling harbour grew, it was frequented by naval vessels patrolling the North African coast to suppress corsair activities. The Mediterranean naval officers, known as ‘tangerines’, were some of the best and most experienced in the navy; many would go on to become the admirals of the early 18th century. These ‘tangerines’ often rented or brought houses in Tangiers, competing with each other to host the most extravagant social gatherings, meeting to play bowls, and attending parties held by a succession of governors.

Map of Tangiers, note the size of the citadel (Marked B in the lower portion of the town), the outlying defences and the growing Harbour

The governorship of the colony of Tangiers, although a desirable appointment, seems to have been a poisoned chalice. Across just 22 years the port had twelve appointed or acting governors. The disgraced Earl of Peterborough’s successor was the Earl of Teviot, an experienced military leader, killed in action after just a year. His deputy governor took over, but was dismissed for duelling with his officers. The appointed replacement, Baron Belasyse, never took up office – as a practising Catholic he would not take the Oath of Conformity required of him.

In 1674, the Earl of Middleton, having been appointed and successfully made it to Tangiers, fell down stairs in the dark, and died of the injury. His replacement, the Earl of Inchiquin, was recalled after the outer defences fell to the besiegers. Luckily for him, he managed to placate Charles II by bringing him a pair of ostriches as a gift. The next governor, the Earl of Ossory, died of a fever before he even left for Tangiers. His replacement, the Earl of Plymouth, managed to make it to Tangiers with substantial military reinforcements in July 1680, before he died of dysentery after just three months. Similarly unlucky were the lieutenant-governors, with incumbents dying of disease, in accidents and in action. This lack of consistent leadership did not help with the colony’s development and by the 1680’s it was, perhaps unsurprisingly, in decline.

Tangiers: The Fall

Moroccan soldiers by Delacroix, 1832, the ambush tactics of these men using sharpshooters and lightening cavalry raids proved very troublesome for the garrison. Although this painting is from a century and a half later in appearance and tactics such soldiers had changed very little.

The decline of Tangiers was caused by more than just high turnover of governors and local hostility. The fledgling colony required significant investment and support if it was to survive, let alone flourish, and this money came directly from the monarch’s personal income. By 1680, with an annual bill of £70,000, Charles II was unable to fund the colony and approached Parliament for funding.

They did not see the need to fund the survival of the colony – in the words of one member; “I should be glad either that we never had it, or if it was by an earthquake blown up”. Parliament tried to use funding for Tangiers as leverage to extract from the king what they wanted most; namely the exclusion of his Catholic brother and heir, James, from the succession. Charles refused. The ‘Exclusion Crisis’ would dominate the relationship between crown and parliament during the final years of Charles’ reign as the deadlock stretched on.

Despite this, Tangiers clung on, insufficiently funded, with increasing numbers of Moroccan troops outside the walls, and decreasing morale inside the walls. Finally, in 1683, Charles came to a decision, first writing to Lord Dartmouth, and then to Samuel Pepys.

In August 1683, Pepys was in Huntingdonshire, sorting out the affects and affairs of his late father and his late brother-in-law. Here, he received the personal order from King Charles II to attend Lord Dartmouth in Plymouth aboard HMS Grafton. When Pepys arrived, the ship left for an unknown destination.

As per Charles’ orders, only once the ship had sailed did Admiral Lord Dartmouth open his secret instructions from the king. Dartmouth discovered he had been appointed commander-in-chief of Tangiers, with a remit to “demolish and utterly destroy the said city and mole erected in the port”. Pepys was to go along as an advisor to Lord Dartmouth and to assess the claims for compensation of the residents being evacuated.

At this point, the city was under a tight landward blockade, despite an official truce having been declared. Escalating skirmishes with the raiding parties outside the walls had become an all out state of siege, punctuated with brief truces. By the time Dartmouth arrived in 1683, the English had lost control of most of the thirteen forts outside the walls, as well as the quarries where stone for work on the harbour was being excavated. This effectively halted work on the “great mole” which had already consumed 170,000 tonnes of stone and cost over £340,000.

Portrait of Percy Kirke, the tower with the flag in the background is possibly “Peterborough Tower”, part of the citadel at Tangiers of which he was acting-governor.

The acting-governor, Colonel Kirke, very cheerfully passed over the command of the city to Dartmouth; by all accounts, it was not a happy place. By Kirke’s own judgement, barely ten of his thirty three gunners “knew the gun from the carriage” and the garrison were often drunk (“more men died of Brandy than by the moors”). Things were little better outside their ranks; the merchant community were in debt and people feared the city falling to the Moroccan forces outside it. Morale was low and so were morals, Pepys noting that there was “nothing but vice in the whole place”.

It is therefore quite understandable that when Dartmouth announced the plan to evacuate to a thronged town hall, bells were rung, bonfires lit and a letter sent to the king from the residents expressing “all the joy that our hearts are capable of”. Now the evacuation plans had to be put into action; no easy feat with thousands of hostile troops outside the walls, thousands of people within, and a lot of demolition work to be done.

The evacuation began with an inventorying of all assets which would be lost. The final tally of some £11,300 was divided between 180 land owners including military personnel, civilians and the King of Portugal. Vessels then began to leave for England in early October and continued until the final days of the town in early 1684. Around 4,000 military personnel and 1,000 civilians had to be removed from Tangiers, with many of the soldiers, gunners and labourers needed to aid with the destruction of the city until the very end.

The first attempts to dismantle the mole via controlled explosions were made in late October, but proved unsatisfactory, and instead the gunners set mines across the towns in key buildings and defensive works. Meanwhile, 2,000 soldiers, sailors and labourers set to work dismantling the mole, throwing the stones into the harbour to render it unusable, pulling down buildings and removing anything of value, including the marble floor in the church, which was taken to Portsmouth.

At 9am on February 6th 1684, mines began to be detonated across Tangiers, blowing up forts, civic buildings, store houses and parts of the citadel – Lord Dartmouth blew the final mine himself. Whatever was not blown up was set on fire. With Moroccan forces storming the ruined town, the fleet with remaining populace was ready to make sail, however their return to England was delayed for several days whilst Dartmouth negotiated for the return of Lieutenant Wilson, a Moroccan prisoner for four years. The “dejected” lieutenant safely aboard, the fleet sailed, closing the door on the twenty two years of British Tangiers.

So here ends the first British foray into establishing a serious trading colony, a port for gunboat diplomacy and control over the commercial seaways of the world. This would prove to be a blueprint for future colonies, defining the British Empire of the ensuing centuries, and integrally linked to this venture is Huntingdonshire; both at the hopeful beginning and the inevitable end.

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.


Charnock, J. “Biographia navalis; or, Impartial memoirs of the lives and characters of officers of the navy of Great Britain from the year 1660 to the Present Time: Volume 1”, R. Faulder, London, 1794, 1st Edition

Davies, J.D. “Pepys’ Navy: Ships, Men and Warfare 1649-89”, Pen & Sword, Barnsley, 2008, 1st Edition

Harris, F.R. “The Life of Edward Mountagu, K.G. First Earl of Sandwich (1625-1672) In Two Volumes: Vol II”, John Murray, London, 1912, 1st Edition

Glickman, G. “Empire, ‘Popery’ and the Fall of English Tangier 1662 – 1684”, The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 87, No. 2 (June 2015), Pages 247-280

Majid, A. “A Brief History of British Tangier”, Tingis Magazine, 2014, Via:, Accessed On: 23rd April 2020

Rodger, N.A.B. “The Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain, 1649-1815”, Penguin Publishing, London, 2004, 1st Edition

Tinniswood, A. “Pirates of Barbary: Corsair, Conquests, and Captivity in the 17th Century Mediterranean”, Riverhead Books, New York, 2010, 1st Edition

Wilson, B. “The Empire of the Deep: The Rise and Fall of the British Navy”, Phoenix Paperback, London, 2014, 2nd Edition

Writer #4 – The foremost poet of his generation

Please note that William Cowper suffered with severe mental ill health and that this may be a difficult read for this reason.

A 1792 portrait of Cowper in later life by Lemuel Francis Abbott.

William Cowper was born in Great Berkhamstead, Hertfordshire and was the first surviving child of Reverend John Cowper and Ann Donne Cowper. The Cowpers illustrate the closely connected society formed by the gentry and nobility; on his father’s side his family tree included an Earl who was Lord Chancellor of England, whilst his mother’s family were descended from Henry III and included John Donne amongst their ancestors.

Aged six, William’s mother died and he was sent to a boarding school where he was badly bullied. These two experiences would factor into a life-long battle with mental ill health. He progressed to the Westminster School and hence to the Middle Temple where he begun working and training as a lawyer, he was called to the bar in 1754, but “was never much inclined” to the legal profession.

Instead he spent a good deal of time at his uncle’s house in London, spending time with his cousins, especially Theadora Cowper with whom he begun a relationship in the early 1750’s. His father did not approve of the relationship, and William broke it off in 1755. The whole affair was to be the basis of his first work of Poetry “Delia” which was not published until 1825.

Cowper does not seem to be too downcast about the stymied relationship. In the years following, his surviving correspondence detail a thriving social life moving in literary and social circles with old friends from the Westminster school and new acquaintances including editors of the satirical paper “Connoisseur”. He wrote “several halfpenny ballads” and other topical political articles, none of which survive. His only original poem at this time was “Doom’d as I am in solitude to waste” following the death of Sir William Russell in 1757 – otherwise his published works are translations of Latin and French texts.

In 1763, Cowper had his first serious mental breakdown. Having secured a lucrative position as Commissioner of Bankrupts, a second position (a clerkship of the Journals of the House of Lords) was organised for him. His suitability was challenged and another candidate put forward, so to settle this, a formal examination was to be held. The stress drove William to attempt suicide, however having failed he ended up at Nathaniel Cotton’s Collegium Insanorum. He would spend 18 months detained here, troubled by religious fears and convinced of his predestined damnation. By the time he was released in 1765 he was a convinced evangelist.

William came to Huntingdon, and was much taken with the town, describing it as “one of the neatest towns in England”. At first he lived alone in rented rooms, but later in 1765 he moved in with Revd Morley Unwin and his wife Mary. The house he moved into was a contemporary house on Huntingdon high street. We now know it as Cowper House. William seems to have been very happy with the Unwin family, mixing with gentle society and writing letters to friends. In one such letter, he details past times offered in the town including “a card-assembly, a dancing-assembly, and a horse race … and a bowling-green”.

Cowper House in the early 20th Century, the building outwardly is practically unchanged today

Tragedy struck in 1767 when Revd Unwin fell from his horse and died. Grief stricken, William and Mary moved to Olney in Buckinghamshire in early 1768. The move was to meet and work with the village curate John Newton, a slave-trader turned clergyman who later penned the hymn “Amazing Grace”. Cowper collaborated with Newton in the early 1770’s on the “Olney Hymns“; Cowper producing 67 hymns across the two years many of which are still in popular use.

Title Page from the Olney Hymns, this edition from 1779

In 1773, he was a steady man with a fierce faith who was contemplating marriage to Mary Unwin. Unfortunately, he had a second breakdown, following a dream where God seemed to condemn him to eternal damnation. That autumn he attempted suicide for a fourth time, and his relationship with Mary Unwin broke down to the point that she moved out of Olney. Cowpers’ faith was utterly lost – he would not speak a prayer or enter a church for the rest of his life.

Secluded at Olney under Newton’s care he begun to seek diversions in carpentry, gardening, animal husbandry, drawing and eventually poetry again by 1774. In 1780, John Newton moved to London, and Cowper, living alone at Olney, now begun writing more seriously. His first published volume of poetry, “Poems by William Cowper, of the Inner Temple”, was published in 1782 to wide acclaim.

Around this time, Lady Austen moved into the vacant vicarage in Olney. This new acquaintance would prove to be one of the most influential people in Cowper’s literary life. A story she told in 1782 would become the “The Diverting History of John Gilpin”, a comedic ballad which in Cowper’s words; was popular enough to become “hackney’d in ev’ry Magazine, in every News paper and in every street”.

The Diverting History of John Gilpin is a comic ballad about a draper who rides a runaway horse, this illustration is from the 1878 reprint illustrated by Randolph Caldecott.

In 1784, she jokingly suggested he write a poem about her sofa. Cowper’s somewhat bizarre poem “The Task” was published in 1785, this Homeric epic stretched to 5,000 lines across six books. Starting as a mock-heroic account of a wooden stool developing into a sofa, it would meander on through a multitude of subjects examining man, nature and the place of an individual in the world. It was a run-away success.

Sketch of Mrs Mary Unwin

Following the publication of “The Task”, he moved away from Lady Austen and from Olney, to the village of Weston where he worked on translating Homer. Again, he suffered increasingly with mental illness, as well as declining physical health, so in 1795, reconciled with Mary Unwin, they moved in together near a cousin in Norfolk. Following her death in 1796, he fell into a depressive episode, plagued by black dreams and hallucinations which would end with his death in 1800.

One of the most beloved poets of his generation, his work is relatively unknown in the modern day, however several everyday phrases are taken from his work including; “God moves in mysterious ways” (from a hymn of his in the Olney Hymns), “Worse for the wear” (from “The Diverting History of John Gilpin”) and finally “Variety is the spice of life” and “the cup that cheers” (both in “The Task”).

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.

This is the fourth and final post in a series of posts about writers with a connection to Huntingdonshire, you can find the other three at the links below:

(You can find our first post on T.S. Eliot here if you missed it –

(You can find our second post on Samuel Pepys here if you missed it –

(You can find our third post on Lucy Boston here if you missed it – )

Academy of American Poets, “William Cowper”, 2020, Via:, Accessed On: 16th April 2020

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

Anon, “William Cowper”, 2020, Via:, Accessed On: 17th April 2020

Brunström, C “How Did Cowper Love Women?”, The Cowper and Newton Museum, 2012,Vol 3, Via:, Accessed On: 17th April 2020

Burn-Murdoch, B “What’s so Special About Huntingdonshire?”, The Friends of the Norris Museum, Hunstanton, 1996, 1st Edition

Flavell, L & Flavell, R. “Dictionary of English Down the Ages”, Kyle Cathie Ltd, London, 2005, 1st Edition

Historic England, “COWPER HOUSE”, 2020, Via:, Accessed On: 17th April 2020

The Editors of the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, “William Cowper: British Poet”, 2020, Via:, Accessed On: 17th April 2020.

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

Writer #3 – Author of Outstanding Fantasies

Lucy Maria Wood was born on 10 December 1892 in Southport, Lancashire to passionately Wesleyan parents. She was one of six children, three boys and three girls. Brought up almost entirely by Nurse, seeing their parents once a day at Family Prayers and twice on Sunday with Chapel followed by Sunday lunch.

Image of Lucy Boston from the cover of her memoirs
Perverse and Foolish” (1979)

Father died in 1899 so mother, who once told Lucy that she wished she had never had children, was left to cope with this family of strong-minded individuals.  Mother really preferred her work amongst fallen women, but this made her fear that Lucy, with her high spirits, could end up being a fallen woman. Lucy spent much of her life proving to herself that her mother was completely wrong.

Lucy and the second daughter, Frances were sent to secondary school as far south as possible in order to get rid of any trace of a Lancashire accent.  They were regarded as oddities by the other girls who had never heard a Northern accent. Lucy went on to read Classics at Somerville College, Oxford, having been told very firmly by her older brother Jas that he wouldn’t be able to live down having a sister at Girton, Cambridge.  War broke out during her first year at Somerville and, like so many of her generation, she left in order to train to be a nurse.

While waiting to be told which military Hospital to go to in France she went to visit Jas and Frank, the two older brothers at Cambridge University.  One day they all decided to drive out from Cambridge to hire a punt at Giddings Boathouse in Hemingford Grey. They punted upstream and passed The Manor.  Lucy was very taken with the tranquillity of the house in its untouched meadow beside the river and often thought of this house over the next twenty four years.

Hemingford Manor

Early in 1916 Lucy got her offer of work in a French military hospital in Houlgate, Normandy.  The hospital was chaotically run and at times life was not easy. Music was very important to Lucy and while working there she found an empty room in one of the buildings, put up a notice saying that on this day at this time she would be in that room playing her gramophone and anyone would be welcome to join her. These sessions proved to be hugely important in the lives of both the staff and any walking wounded who were able to get there.

A family friend of long standing, Harold Boston, discharged from the army having been badly injured in a motor bike accident was now working as a chauffeur to a specialist who toured the military hospitals in France.  Lucy and he were now on the same side of the Channel and they often met when they were off duty. They met up again when both were on leave in England, Harold by this time having joined the Royal Flying Corps. They decided to marry in Oxford by special licence in 1917.  Lucy sent a telegram to her mother to tell her and Mother post haste sent the older sister, Mary, down to Oxford to take a message. Mary, very embarrassed at having to be the messenger stayed only long enough to deliver it. She had difficulty finding the words but eventually she brought out “Mother says, if it’s for that, don’t.” They obviously ignored her mother.

After the war Harold went back to working in the family tannery and their first home was at Norton Lodge in Cheshire, near Norton Priory the home of the splendid, medieval statue of St Christopher which was to feature so importantly in her Green Knowe books in later years. Their son Peter was born in September 1918.

The marriage failed in 1935 and Lucy took herself off to the musical capitals of Europe and ended up living in Vienna.  Here she took painting lessons with Robin Anderson.  

When it looked as if war would break out, she returned to Cambridge where Peter was an undergraduate, and took lodgings on Kings Parade.  Here she continued to paint fairly prolifically. She wasn’t allowed to sketch, paint let alone photograph inside Kings College Chapel, so she would sit there and study the interior with great care and then return to her lodgings to paint.

Harold had promised to buy a house for her so she was vaguely house hunting.  One day she was told by a friend that there was a house for sale in Hemingford Grey.  She immediately summoned a taxi and, with her young Austrian friend who had come over to England with her, went straight to the house that she had been remembering all those years. They knocked on the door and Lucy told the McLeods that she understood their house was for sale.  They were astonished as they had only discussed selling The Manor that morning over breakfast. The house mentioned to her by the friend was in fact an entirely different one.

According to the house deeds Lucy got possession of the house on 31 May 1939, in her autobiography she says 1938. This house, built in the first half of the 12th Century and one of the two oldest continuously inhabited houses in Britain, was to become part of her.  It was her life for the next half century.

Hemingford Grey Manor in 1965

The villagers didn’t know what to make of this 47-year-old woman living in the house on her own and word went round that she was a spy.  It took a long time for her to be accepted by the village as a whole. She did have a handful of friends who ignored the local gossip and she had any number of friends in Cambridge who often came out to visit her.

She decided to restore the house as near as possible back to its Norman original, having an extension removed and a floor and a partitions taken out.  The front door was moved to where it is now.

When all the restoration work was finished in 1941, remembering how important music had been in the hospital in Houlgate, she contacted the welfare officer at RAF Wyton, the local RAF station, offering the house for convalescence, hospitality and particularly music.  She started to give gramophone record recitals in the old Norman hall. These were so popular that she gave them twice a week right through to the end of the war. The most visitors, recorded in the Visitors’ Book, in one evening was 36; these evenings were a wonderful opportunity for the men to get away from the horrors of war. She also frequently had young men to stay who needed to have a break. The station would phone if they needed them back.   

During the war she mostly planted trees but started to give serious time and thought to the garden once the war was over.  She was advised by Graham Stuart Thomas whom she had met when he was at the Cambridge Botanic Garden. While he was at Sunningdale Nurseries he searched out special roses and irises for her.

While Lucy was living at Norton Lodge, she wrote M R James type ghost stories, two of which were published in magazines of the time.  In the early 1950s she took up writing again and had two books, Yew Hall and The Children of Green Knowe published in 1954 when she was 62.  Lucy found her true vocation as an author of children’s books, all but The Sea Egg were based on her very special house which also became the house of Green Knowe in the series of six books (pictured below).

She was writing at the same time as a collection of other talented writers were also writing serious literature for children. In 1961 she was awarded the Carnegie Medal for A Stranger at Green Knowe.

Spring, Summer and Autumn were spent gardening vigorously.  Her writing was mostly done in the winter. Also in the winter she made patchworks, inspired by the mending of curtains bought for the house from Muriel Rose’s Little Gallery. Her patchworks have become very well known internationally, particularly the Patchwork of the Crosses which is now amongst the top 10 best known patchworks in the world.  People travel from far and wide to The Manor to see her creations and go home inspired by her artistic eye and particularly by her imaginative use of the printed or woven pattern in the fabric to create intricate new patterns in patchwork.  She was way ahead of her time in what is now called fussy-cutting.  

She was still writing in her 90s and made her last patchwork when she was 92.  She died in her beloved house in 1990. Letters came from all over the world from people saying how their love and choice of music had come from her wartime recitals, their choice of plants in their gardens had been inspired by visits to her garden, patchworks were made because of her enthusiasm and, of course, their love of the Green Knowe books which would last them through their life. Her talents rippled out to influence people worldwide, like the ripples from a stone dropped into a pool.

Diana Boston
The Manor, Hemingford Grey
March 2020

This is the third in a series of posts about writers with a connection to Huntingdonshire, look out for our post next Saturday!

(You can find our first post on T.S. Eliot here if you missed it –

(You can find our second post on Samuel Pepys here if you missed it –

Writer #2 – The Greatest Diarist of All Time

Samuel Pepys was born February 25th 1633, the fifth of eleven children. Despite local tradition that he was born at his uncle’s house in Brampton it seems most likely he was born at his family home in London. Pepys’ father was a tailor and his mother a butcher’s daughter, this may sound like a very humble beginning but amongst his father’s cousins were Sir Richard Pepys, a Baron of the Exchequer (later Lord Chief Justice of Ireland) and Edward Montagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich. Samuel Pepys’ was a boy with connections, which he would capitalise on later in life.

Interior of the Huntingdon Grammar School in the late 1860s or early 1870s.

Sometime in the early 1640’s Samuel left his parents home for the Huntingdon Grammar School, doubtless this was intended for his safety, London at this time fearing siege at any moment by the King’s forces, furthermore Huntingdon was conveniently close to his uncle at Brampton. The Grammar School in Huntingdon was of course the alma mater of Oliver Cromwell at this time a regimental officer in a cavalry regiment.

Samuel returned to London and attended St. Pauls School by 1645, and was not in Huntingdon during the storm of the town by Charles I. In 1649 and aged fifteen, Samuel attended the execution of Charles I. Politically, Samuel was a “great roundhead”; he remarked to a friend on the day of the execution “that were I to preach upon him [Charles], my text should be – ‘the memory of the wicked shall rot’”.

In 1654, fresh from Cambridge where he had studied at Trinity Hall and Magdalene colleges, Samuel was employed by Edward Montagu. It was the first step in a career that would take him to the very top of the burgeoning civil service.

Edward Montagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich, Admiral and Patron of Samuel Pepys – Portrait by Peter Lely c. 1660-1665

In December 1659, Samuel purchased a paper covered notebook from John Cade in Cornhill London, he ruled a left-hand margin down each page in red-ink and on January 1st 1660 penned the opening line of the most important eye-witness account to the 1660’s. In 1660, Samuel – aged 27 – was secretary to Edward Montagu. Over the course of this first tumultuous year, Samuel’s patron would become the first Earl of Sandwich, whilst Samuel would become Clerk of Acts to the naval board, moving with his wife into their first home and accompanying the fleet that restored Charles II to his throne.

His diary would run to over a million words and cover the 9 year period from 1660 to 1669. In its pages can be found the restoration, the second Dutch War (where his position offered him insight into the “miscarriages” of the war), the Plague of 1665, the Great Fire of 1666 where he buried “the papers of my office … my Parmazan cheese, as well as my wine” and his life in all its detail.

The diary was written in shorthand and partially in code. It was never intended for publication, hence the frank accounts of his extramarital affairs, complaining about his superiors and colleagues and his own introspection on his fears, weaknesses and worries. These give the diary the human touch which has endeared it to so many readers over the years.

The first page and entry of Pepy’s Diary, note the year is recorded as 1659/60 as was the convention at time, the English New Year officially begun on March 25th not January 1st.

Unsurprisingly, Huntingdonshire features in Pepys’ diaries on multiple occasions; his patron lived at Hinchingbrooke House and Samuel had close family living in Huntingdonshire. Samuel met friends at Huntingdon pubs as in 1661 where at The Crown “we sat and drank ale and were very merry til 9 at night” and again in 1667 at the Three Tuns where he lunched with friends. He walked around Portholme meadow, commenting on “the country-maids milking their cowes there”, visited his sister and her husband at Ellington and saw first his uncle, then his father at the house in Brampton. The farmhouse and 74 acres of land would be inherited by Samuel in 1674 – the only home he ever owned.

Pepys’ House at Brampton in the early 20th century

Perhaps the most famous incident at the Brampton house occurred in June 1667 when, in fear of a Dutch invasion following their recent successful raids on both the Medway and Thames, Samuel sent his wealth to his fathers house to be buried in the gardens safe (he hoped!) from misfortune. His wife took £1,300 in gold to be secretly hidden, the deed was done and the wealth safe.

Four months later Samuel came to retrieve his gold, but found his wife and father could not remember the exact location it had been buried! When it was eventually found (just 6 inches under ground to his chagrin) the bags had split open, as a result, Samuel and his friend

with pails and a sieve, did lock ourselves into the garden, and there gather all the earth about the place into pails, and then sift those pails in one of the summer-houses, just as they do for dyamonds in other parts of the world”

Most of his wealth was found, but some was unaccounted for. In 1842, a pot of Elizabethan and early Stuart half crowns was uncovered in the grounds that had been part of the Pepys plot, and were given over to the incumbent Earl of Sandwich – were these the last of Pepys’ treasure?

His diary comes to a close in 1669, as he feared that the writing was harming his eyes, but Samuel himself was to go on a long way yet. He became an MP in 1673, was appointed Governor of Christ’s Hospital, elected a Master of Trinity House and soon after elected a Master of the Clothworkers Company. In 1674, he became Secretary of the Admiralty, where he instigated examinations for naval officers to be promoted to lieutenant, a first step towards the professionalisation of the Navy which was sorely wanted.

The Battle of Solebay, June 7, 1672, just after two o’clock in the afternoon, viewed from the northwest. – Willem van de Velde the Elder

Pepys career was nearly cut short in the midst of the “Popish Plot”, a supposed Catholic conspiracy to kill Charles II. Pepys was arrested and imprisoned on fabricated charges of Treason, Piracy and Catholicism, and found himself in the Tower of London. These false charges were dropped in 1679 and Pepys was released.

Having lost his positions and with various personal affairs to deal with in Huntingdonshire (his father and brother-in-law both having died) he remained out of Public Office until 1683. This year he went on a secret assignment with Lord Dartmouth, to evacuate the ailing colony at Tangiers. This remarkable endeavour has quite the local connection which will be explored in a blogpost later this year!

The title page of Newton’s “Principia Mathematica” with Samuel Pepys’ recorded as President of the Royal Society.

Upon his return Samuel was appointed Secretary of the Affairs of the Admiralty by Charles II. He also became President of the Royal Society; during his presidency, Newton’s Principia Mathematica was published by the society.

Following the death of Charles II, Pepys continued in his senior naval positions throughout the reign of James II, he quit following the Glorious Revolution, when James lost his throne. With his previous links to the Stuart monarchy making him circumspect as a senior civil servant, he also lost his Parliamentary seat. Samuel slipped into a quiet retirement, gathering books for his library, materials for his great naval history (never finished) and corresponding with friends and acquaintances.

He died in 1703 aged 70 in his house in the quiet village of Clapham (now of course a London suburb). His 3,000 volume library, including his diary, were left to posterity and eventually became the property of Magdalene College, Cambridge University. His remarkable diary was only published as a full translation of the coded shorthand in 1899.

Portrait of Samuel Pepys in 1666 by John Hayls.

This is the second in a series of posts about writers with a connection to Huntingdonshire, look out for our post next Saturday!

(You can find our first post on T.S. Eliot here if you missed it –

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.

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

Anon, “Samuel Pepys – Brampton House” Via:, Accessed On: 8th April 2020

Anon, “The Diary of Samuel Pepys: Daily entries from the 17th century London diary”, Via:, Accessed On: 8th April 2020

Burn-Murdoch, B “What’s so Special About Huntingdonshire?”, The Friends of the Norris Museum, Hunstanton, 1996, 1st Edition

Jeannine, “The Next Chapter of Samuel Pepys“, 2012, Via:, Accessed On: 8th April 2020

McCrunn, R. “The 100 Best Nonfiction Books of All Time: No 92 – The Diary of Samuel Pepys (1660)”, 2017, Via:, Accessed On: 8th April 2020

Partridge, C. “In no hurry to move? Take a Pepys at this”, Via:, Accessed On: 8th April 2020

Rodger, N.A.B. “The Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain, 1649-1815”, Penguin Publishing, London, 2004, 1st Edition

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

Tinniswood, A. “Pirates of Barbary: Corsair, Conquests, and Captivity in the 17th Century Mediterranean”, Riverhead Books, New York, 2010, 1st Edition

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

Writer #1 – The Most Influential English Poet of His Time

Thomas Stearns Eliot was born in 1888 in Missouri, to a distinguished family. His family tree includes three US presidents and a president of Harvard university! Eliot’s family had only recently moved to Missouri from Massachusetts when he was born and as result he felt an outsider, something that would influence his entire life and creative work.

A young T.S. Eliot

He was an intelligent young man studying for a bachelors and masters degree at Harvard, and then studying further at the University of Paris-Sorbonne and Oxford University in 1915. His application to enlist for the army in WW1 was rejected multiple times due to him failing the medical examinations.

Moving to London in 1916, he begun to mix in literary circles, and his first published poem “The Love Song of Alfred J Prufrock” was published in 1917. As well as poetry and plays he wrote articles and literary criticisms to supplement his meagre salary. In 1922, following a complete breakdown and with his marriage failing apart, he published “The Wasteland”, arguably the most important of post first world war poems.

In 1927, Eliot became a British Citizen and a member of the Church of England; he described himself as an “Anglo-Catholic” and became a member of the Society of the Charles the Martyr. He would continue writing articles and poetry throughout the 1930’s, his Modernist style challenging some more traditional poetic styles and conventions. His poetry increasingly dealt with ideas of death, rebirth and emerging from the twilight, ideas that would reach their epitome in his masterpiece “Four Quartets”.

Pamphlet attacking the Ferrar Community published in 1641


Three hundred years previously in 1626 the Ferrar family had moved from London to their newly purchased estate at Little Gidding, where they planned to live a life “dedicated to prayer and piety”. The high-church nature of their community, in line with Archbishops Laud’s form of Anglicanism, would have ruffled local Puritans. However, the household does seem to have got along with its neighbours; local gentry sent their sons to study with the Ferrars and the poor came for alms. The biggest problems for the fledgling community were the popular pamphlet press in London and the attentions of Parliamentarian soldiers during the civil war.

Eliot would have read about the religious community at Little Gidding. The strict Protestant lifestyle glorifying God would have appealed to Eliot with his strong faith and Anglo-Catholic stance. His interest in visiting the village was sparked by reading an acquaintance’s play-script based around King Charles’ final visit to Little Gidding after the rout at Naseby.

Little Gidding Church with the Tomb of Nicholas Ferrar outside.

In May 1936, Eliot visited Little Gidding with the Dean of Magdalene College, Cambridge University, of which Eliot was fellow. They visited the small church on a late May day, and his experiences can clearly be seen in the published poem;

If you came this way,
Taking the route you would be likely to take
From the place you would be likely to come from, If you came this way in may time, you would find the hedges
White again, in May, with voluptuary sweetness.

Drawing upon his visit to the place, his own experience of the London Blitz, and the loss of several dear friends, “Little Gidding”, was published as the final poem in the “Four Quartets” in 1942. A poem based around cleansing fire, rebirth, the timelessness of England and the present, and the need for spiritual salvation, it was a poem most definitely of its time. Eliot considered the “Four Quartets” his finest work and this his best poem.

The Four Quartets.

T.S. Eliot would publish no further poetry in his life. Lauded as one of the most influential living writers he received honorary doctorates and fellowships from universities across the world, and in 1948 he received the Order of Merit and the Nobel Prize for Literature. He married a second time in 1950, and spent the rest of his life lecturing and writing articles.

When he died in 1965 of emphysema, his obituary in The Times was titled; “The Most Influential English Poet of His Time”.

You can find the poem “Little Gidding” in full at the link below:

T.S. Eliot in later life

This is the first in a series of short posts about writers with a connection to Huntingdonshire, look out for our post next Saturday!

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.

Eliot, T.S. “Collected Poems 1909-1962”, Faber and Faber, London, 1974, 3rd Edition

Poetry Foundation, “T.S. Eliot 1888 – 1965”, 2020, Via:, Accessed April 1st 2020

Wickes, M. “A History of Huntingdonshire”, Phillimore & Co. Ltd, Chichester, 1995, 2nd Edition

Wilkinson, J. “People – T.S. Eliot at Little Gidding”, 2006, Via:, Accessed: April 1st 2020