Towns, Cities, Villages and Hamlets


Samuel Lewis's Topographical Gazeetter 1831

SOHAM, a market town and parish in the hundred at STAPLOE, county of CAMBRIDGE, 5¾ miles (S. E.) from Ely, and 69 (N. N. E.) from London, containing 2856 inhabitants. This was a place of some note at a very early period. About 630, St. Felix, first Bishop of the East Angles, is said to have founded a monastery here, which he made the seat of his diocese, prior to the removal of the see to Dunwich, and where his remains were interred, they were afterwards taken up and conveyed to Romney abbey, when the cathedral church was erected by Luttingus, a Saxon nobleman. This building, as well as the bishop's palace, was destroyed by fire, and the monks, who at that time were a flourishing society, were killed by the Danish army under the command of Inguar and Ubba, in 870. Before the draining of the fens, here was a large lake, or mere, over which was anciently a dangerous passage by water to Ely, but it was subsequently rendered more safe by the construction of a causeway through the marshes, at the expense at Hervey, Bishop of Ely. The town is situated on the east bank at the river Cam, on the verge of the county; the streets are irregularly built, and the houses of mean appearance. Horticulture is carried on to a considerable extent, especially in the article of asparagus ; the dairies are abundant, and cheese of a most excellent quality, and very similar to that of Stilton, is made here. A market, formerly held on Thursday, has been disused for more than a century : the present market is on Saturday : fairs are held on May 9th, for horses, cattle, and pedlary; and on the Monday before Midsummer, which is a pleasure fair; another, formerly held three days before Michaelmas, has been discontinued.

The living is a vicarage, with the chapel of Barraway, in the archdeaconry of Sudbury, and diocese of Norwich, rated in the king's books at 32. 16. 5½., and in the patronage of the Master and Fellows of Pembroke Hall, Cambridge. The church, which is dedicated to St. Andrew, is a venerable cruciform structure, with a lofty square embattled tower, visible at a great distance : in the interior are several monuments. There are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, Wesleyan Methodists, and Unitarians. The free school is endowed with the profits of an estate of moor land allotted for that purpose on the division of the commons, in 1685 : the master's salary is about 50 per annum; poor children are apprenticed from the same fund. Three almshouses were founded for poor widows, in 1502, by Richard Bond; and nine others, in 1581, by Thomas Peachey, but neither has any endowment, excepting an allowance for fuel. Some few vestiges of the ancient palace and cathedral church are yet visible, and several human bones were dug up at the east end of the street, near the church, a few years ago.

For the Family Historian details of available records can be found on the Soham page of GENUKI Cambridgeshire.

The Genweb website for Soham contains a large amount of information and photographs about the village that is pertinent to local and family history research.
The Soham Community website contains a myriad of information about the vilage past and present.

Military History

At the junction of High Street and Clay Street, Soham, stands the war memorial commemorating World War 1 and 2; there is also a memorial within the church. A further memorial commemorates those from Soham Grammar School.

Domesday Book Entry

In STAPLOE Hundred.

SOHAM is a manor of the King's. It answers for 9½ hides. Land for 14 ploughs. 16 villagers and 16 smallholders with 12 ploughs; In lordship 2 ploughs; 4 slaves; 2 mills at 24s; from fisheries, 3,500 eels; meadow for 14 ploughs; pasture for the village livestock. 7 fishermen there, who pay to the King a presentation of fish three times a year, according to what they can. In total value, it pays £25 a year assayed and weighed, and £13 8s 4d at face value in white pence for corn, malt, honey and other small customary dues. Before 1066 it paid £25 at face value, and three days' revenue in corn, honey, malt and everything else. king Edward always had thi manor in lordship.

In SOHAM King William has 6 hides and 40 acres, in his writ.

In SOHAM the Abbot holds ½ hide. Land for 2 ploughs. In lordship 1. 3 villagers and 10 smallholders with 1 plough. Meadow for 2 ploughs; pasture for the village livestock; 1 boat which fishes in the Mere by customary right. Value 30s; when acquired 20s; before 1066, 30s. This land always lay in (the lands of) the Church.

In SOHAM the Abbot holds 6 acres of land himself. 1 fisherman who has 1 fishing-net in the village mere. The value is and was 4s; before 1066, 5s. This land lies and always lay in the lordship of St. Edmund's Church.

In SOHAM Adestan holds 1 hide from the Count. Land for 4 ploughs. In lordship 1 plough; 6 villagers with 8 smallholders have 2 ploughs; a third possible. Meadow for 3 ploughs; pasture for the village livestock; 1½ thousand eels; in Soham Mere 1 fishing-net [for] customary dues. Value 60s; when acquired £6; before 1066 as much. Alfsi held this land under Edeva; he could withdraw without her permission.

In STAINE Hundred (these men) swore, namely

Roger, WALTER GIFFARD's man Leofwin
Richard, the reeve of this Hundred Harold, HARDWIN of SCALES'S man
  Aelfric of WILBRAHAM

and all other Frenchmen and Englishmen of this Hundred swore.

SOHAM is a town and parish and the head of a county court district, with a station on the Ely and Newmarket branch of the Great Eastern railway, 75½ miles from London, 19 north-east from Cambridge, 8 north-west from Newmarket and 6 south-east from Ely, in the Eastern division of the county, in Newmarket union and petty sessional division, hundred of Staploe, rural deanery of Fordham, archdeaconry of Sudbury and diocese of Ely. The town, which is long and straggling, is lighted with gas, from works at Mere side, the property of the Soham and District Gas Company Limited. "The Lode", a navigable canal, passes through the parish and joins the Ouse at Ely.

A Cemetery, of 3¾ acres, was formed in 1856, at a cost of 2,700; it is under the control of the Parish Council.

The church of St. Andrew, erected towards the end of the 12th century, is a cruciform edifice, chiefly in the Transition-Norman style, with portions and insertions of later date, and consists of chancel, with two chapels on the north side, now used as Vestries, clerestoried nave of four bays, aisles, transepts, north and south porches, and an embattled western tower 100 feet in height, with pinnaces, and containing a clock and 10 bells: the chancel is lighted by Decorated windows inserted about the middle of the 14th century: the stained east window is a memorial to the Rev. Henry Tasker, vicar (1832-74), who died 17 Jan. 1874; on each side of the window is a small niche, with traces of painting: the north wall retains a fresco of a bishop in the act of benediction, uncovered in 1849, and it would seem that the whole chancel was at one time ornamented in this way: the chancel roof, and the woodwork at the east end, are both of panelled oak; the stalls, 20 in number, are of the same material and with the exception of six on the north side, added in 1880, were fixed in 1849, when the rood screen, a fine example of modern work, was also erected: on the south side are ancient stone sedilia and a piscina, and there are finely carved altar rails of oak : in the chancel is buried the Rev. D. Harwood, a former vicar, d. 1746, and Mrs. Elizabeth Cawthorne, his sister, d. 1782: the easternmost of the two chapels, built in the 14th century, retains a stone altar at the east end, an aumbry and an irregular oblong tombstone, with incised lettering, as well as some old glass: here also is interred Dr. Cressener, vicar 1678-1717: the other chapel is of Late Perpendicular date and has on its east wall a monument to Edward Bernes esq. and Dorothie (Drurye), his wife; she died 18 Feb. 1598; the chapel is inclosed at the west end by a very perfect and elaborately wrought parclose screen, restored in 1880: each of the transepts has octagonal pinnacles at the angles, and in the south transept is an Early English piscina and a nearly illegible inscription and shields of arms to some member of the Dowman family, and on the east wall a brass with inscription to John Thornton gent. and Ann (Drurie), his wife; he died Sept. 13, 1598: the north transept contains an altar tomb of the 15th century, and a large marble slab, inscribed, but undated, to Thomas Dockwra and his wife: the south aisle retains an aumbrvy on the south side of the nave is a small brass to Oliver Robins, ob. 12 Aug. 1608, and Katherine (Salisbury) his wife, and at the west end are ten ancient stalls, with misereres, formerly in the chancel: the north porch is Perpendicular and has a stoup; the south porch, of the 14th century, has a large sundial over the entrance with the motto :-" Ab hoc momento pendent aeterna:" the tower, 25 feet square, is also Perpendicular: the royal arms, placed at the west end of the north aisle, date from the reign of Queen Anne: the church was completely restored in 1879-80, under the direction of Mr. J. P. St. Aubyn, at a cost of nearly 3,000, and was reopened May 18th, 1880, the whole of the galleries being removed, new roofs placed on the transepts and chapels, and the flooring repaired: parts of the pinnacles were blown down by the gale: of March 24, 1895, but have been restored under the direction of Mr. T. D. Atkinson, architect, of Cambridge. The church now affords 630 sittings: in the churchyard, near the north porch, is the grave of Mary D'Aye, great-grand-daughter of the Lord Protector Cromwell; she died Nov. 5, 1765, aged 75; on the south side of the chancel is buried Dr. John Ward, who died in 1641, aged 125. The registers are complete from the year 1558.

The Congregational chapel was built about 1837 and will seat 450 persons. In 1880 a school room, with class rooms, was built near the chapel, and there is also a minister's house. The Wesleyan chapel, erected in 1841, affords 200 sittings; the Primitive Methodist chapel, erected in 1869, will seat 300 and has Sunday school and class rooms, erected in 1890; and there is another Primitive Methodist chapel at Soham Fen, erected in 1872, and seating 164 persons. The Baptist chapel, erected in 1752 and rebuilt in 1837, seats 500; this chapel was the first pastoral charge, in 1775, of the Rev. Andrew Fuller D.D. a celebrated Baptist minister, born at Wicken in 1754, who was educated at the Free school here and died 7 May, 1815..

A cattle fair is held on the 9th of May and a pleasure fair or feast on the Monday next before the Nativity of St John the Baptist, and continues for three days. There are five clubs, viz. the Loyal Star of Charity Lodge (No. 3,710) of Odd Fellows and the Loyal Ancient Order of Stepherds, the meetings of both being held at the Red Lion inn; the United Brethren Friendly Society, the meetings of which are held at the White Hart P.H; the Star of Providence Society, whose meetings are held at the Queen's Arms inn; and the Soham Friendly Society which meets at the Primitive Methodist school room. The Liberal and Conservative associations have also each club houses in the town, comprising large rooms for meetings and reading, the latter having a good billiard room and an excellent hall, fitted with a stage for dramatic performances.

The People's Hall, in Station road, contains reading and recreation rooms.

There are six almshouses, granted by Thomas Peachey, in April, 1582, and occupied by poor and aged persons; to these a portion of the fen lands was allotted by the Commissioners of the Bedford Level in lieu of the common rights.

Charities :- In 1674 Dr. Benjamin Laney, Bishop of Ely (1667-75), bequeathed by deed 200a. Ir. 24p. of land, now (1900) producing 245 5s. yearly, in trust for binding apprentices, children of the poor inhabitants of Ely and Soham, paying not more than 20 with each. George Goward esq. by deed, in 1744, left 18 acres of land, called " Soham Cote Piece," 6 of the proceeds of which are given away annually in bread to the poor and the remainder assigned for charitable purposes to the parish of Lakenheath. Richard Bond, by deed in 1502, gave 22a. 22p. in divers parts of Soham and Fordham, in trust for the repairs of the church and highways; also three tenements near the Free school, as well as 10a. 2r. 16p. in Soham, for the benefit of the poor. Wright's gift, dating from about 1540, consists of three acres of copyhold land, called "Brook Dam Close," the produce of which is for the repairs of the church. Tyler's gift, dating from 1630, consists of three roods of land, being part of "Brook Dam Close," also for the benefit of the poor. There is also a charity, called "Soham Church Rents," the donor of which is not known; a rent-charge on land near Barway, and the like from an estate called "Lug Hill," amounting together to 1,13s. 4d. for the repairs of the church. By a scheme dated 25 Sept. 1896, Bond's poor charity has been united with some smaller charities and made applicable for various purposes for the benefit of the sick poor; and at the same time the charities applicable to the repairs of the church were separated and placed under distinct management. The Town Lot, or Allotment, set out in 1663 as 48 acres, but now let as 46a. 2r. 21p. is for the benefit of the most impotent of the poor of Soham. Mrs. Cawthorne, by deed in 1750, left freehold lands in Soham, 4a. 2r.; 30s. to be paid yearly to the clerk of Barway chapel, the rest to such of the sick poor as are communicants of the Church of England and not in receipt of parish relief. There is also a property called " The Hundred Acres," let in allotments, the profits from which are divided annually amongst the persons entitled to common rights on the various commons.

The parish is extensive, being in one direction more than 9 miles in length. The Fen, which covers 8,000 acres, has now, owing to the superior method of drainage, been brought into a high state of cultivation: there was formerly a large mere or lake on the western side of the town: there are many orchards and gardens, and large quantities of fruit, especially plums, are yearly sent to London, Norwich, Liverpool, Newcastle, Bradford, Leeds and Manchester.

The area is 12,946 acres of land and 53 of water; rateable value, 22,608; and the population in 1881 was 3,980 and in 1891 was 4,138.

[Extracts from Kelly's Directory - Cambridgeshire - 1900]



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