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Huntingdon in 1838

Huntingdon is on the Ouse, 59 miles from Shoreditch Church, London, by the road through Ware and Royston. It is on the Ermin Street, and there was a Roman station, the Durolipons, or Duroliponte, of Antoninus, on the site either of the town or of its suburb Godmanchester. In the year 917 Edward the Elder built, or rather rebuilt, a castle at Huntingdon, of which traces of the entrenchments or outworks yet remain. King Stephen gave this castle to David, earl of Huntingdon and king of Scotland ; but Henry II had it rased to the ground on account of the disputes which it occasioned between the earls of Huntingdon and the neighbouring barons, as well as on account of its affording a retreat to the disaffected. Before the Reformation there were several religious houses. The most ancient was a priory of Augustine canons, founded in the tenth century and removed out of the town and enlarged in the reign of Stephen or Henry II. Its annual revenue at the Dissolution was £232, 7 shillings and 0 pence gross, or £187, 13 shillings and 8 pence clear. The other houses were of less extent : they were an Augustine Friary, and two hospitals for lepers and infirm or poor people. One of the hospitals had at the Dissolution a yearly revenue of £9, 4 shillings and 0 pence gross, or £6, 7 shillings and 8 pence clear. Some fragments of the garden-wall of this hospital are the only remains of any of these establishments. In the civil war of Charles I, A.D. 1615, the king’s forces entered Huntingdon after a short resistance and plundered it. Henry of Huntingdon, one of our ancient chroniclers, and Oliver Cromwell, were born in this town.

The town is on a gently rising ground on the left or north bank of the Ouse, and is connected with the village of Godmanchester by a causeway across the meadows, which in time of floods are overflowed by the Ouse. In this causeway are three bridges : the principal one, over the main channel of the Ouse, is of stone, and ancient ; it has six arches. Our ancient historians tell that Huntingdon was once much larger. According to Leland it had once fifteen churches ; in his time they were reduced to four ; but traces of their walls and of their churchyards were yet to be seen. At present there are only two churches, St. Mary’s and All Saints ; but the town is still divided into four parishes. The area of the four parishes of Huntingdon is 1,230 acres ; that of Godmanchester parish, included in the parliamentary borough, is 5,590 : together 6,820. The population of Huntingdon in 1831 was 3,267, that of Godmanchester 2,146 - together 5,413. The principal street of Huntingdon extends about a mile north-west from the bridge over the Ouse, and consists for the most part of respectable houses ; it is lighted with gas : there are some smaller streets or lanes, chiefly of inferior houses, branching off from it on each side. St. Mary’s Church is of perpendicular character; it was rebuilt in A.D. 1620, but is much mutilated. All Saints has a fine perpendicular tower, with a good entrance on the west side the chancel and some other parts of the church are in the early English style. The market-place is tolerably spacious ; the town-hall is a good brick building stuccoed, with two court-rooms below for the trial of civil and criminal causes at the assizes, and an assembly-room above. There is a new county gaol and house of correction, and a borough gaol, formerly the county-gaol. The trade of the town is considerable, principally in wool and corn ; the market, which is on Saturday, is well supplied with corn and provisions. According to some of our authorities, there are two yearly fairs for cattle, and a statute fair shortly before Michaelmas. There are a small theatre and a race-course; the races are in the beginning of August. There are two or three reading societies and a horticultural society. The borough council of Huntingdon consists of four aldermen and twelve councillors. The united rectories of All Saints and St. John are of the clear yearly value of £190 without a glebe-house : the united rectories of St. Mary and St. Benedict, or Benet, are of the yearly value of £162 with a glebe-house ; both benefices are in the gift of the lord chancellor. There are several dissenting meeting-houses.

The four parishes had, in 1833, an endowed grammar-school with 77 boys : four day and boarding-schools with 98 children, seven day-schools (one of them endowed) with 172 children; two national day and Sunday-schools with 169 children ; and three Sunday-schools with 190 children.

Godmanchester is a large village, in which the population of the parish, which is chiefly agricultural, is condensed. It is said to derive its name from Gormund, or Gothrum, a Danish chieftain of considerable note in Alfred’s time, to whom Alfred ceded the possession of East Anglia, and who perhaps established a military post here. The church has a tower and spire of tolerable outline, but of poor details : some parts of the church are of perpendicular character and of tolerable execution. Godmanchester was for many centuries famed for the goodness of its husbandry; the inhabitants used to boast that they had received the king when he passed through the town ‘with nine score ploughs, brought forth in a rustical kind of pomp for a gallant show.’ (Camden.) The place was early incorporated ; the governing charter is of the time of James I. The borough council consists of four aldermen and twelve councillors. The living of Godmanchester is a vicarage of the clear yearly value of £328 with a glebe-house. There were, in 1833, two infant or dame-schools with 40 children : ten day-schools, one of 60 boys, partly supported by endowment and the contribution of an individual ; one of 35 children, partly supported by voluntary contributions, and eight others with 144 children ; one day and Sunday-school of industry, attended by 47 girls daily, and by 100 on Sundays ; and one Sunday-school with 125 boys.

Camden fixed the site of the Roman Duroliponte, or Durolipons, at Godmanchester, and his opinion is supported by the termination ‘chester,’ the frequent ploughing up of Roman coins, and the account of Henry of Huntingdon, that this village was in remote times a noble city ; but other antiquaries, with perhaps better reason, fix the station at Huntingdon, on the site of the castle ‘rebuilt’ by Edward the Elder. The name, which Camden derives from Durosiponte (more accurately Dwr Osi ponte, signifying in British ‘the bridge over the water Ose’), is applicable to either position.