Robson’s Commercial Directory of the Six Counties Forming The Norfolk Circuit: viz Beds, Bucks, Cambridgeshire, Hunts, Norfolk and Suffolk with Oxfordshire 1839

Various Trade directories have existed throughout the country for various areas, Huntingdosnhire is no exception. To understand the county an extract from "Robson’s Commercial Directory of the Six Counties Forming The Norfolk Circuit: viz Beds, Bucks, Cambridgeshire, Hunts, Norfolk and Suffolk with Oxfordshire 1839" has been included here and related links added.


HUNTINGDONSHIRE with the exceptions of Rut-land and Middlesex, is the smallest county in England, and is bounded to the north and partly to the west by the river Nen, dividing it from Northamptonshire, which adjoins it to the west, Bedfordshire south-west, and Cambridgeshire south, east, and north-east. In shape, it much resembles an irregularly formed heraldic lozenge, or shield for female arms ; and is 30 miles in its greatest length from north to south, 23 in extreme width, and about 100 in circumference; containing a surface of 236,800 acres, of which 100,000 are in tillage, 60,000 pasture, and 76,000 wood and waste. The smallest road distance from London, at the south-east angle, is 51 miles, and the greatest 83½ at the bridge over the Nen by Wandsford. To the bridge over the same river near Peterborough, is 81 miles. The road to Spalding by Huntingdon leaves this county on Ramsey Fens, 69 miles from London, and the Wisbeach road at Chatteris Ferry, 73½. A road from Northampton to Ely crosses the whole breadth of the county, through Huntingdon and St. Ives, a distance of 24¼ miles. The population, as returned in 1831, was 11,278 families 53,192 persons, of whom 7,221 males above 20 years of age, were employed in agriculture. The property assessed in 1815, was of the value of 438,521l., and the rental amounted to 202,076l.; being about 17s. an acre. The county is divided into the four hundreds of Hurstingstone, Leightonstone, Norman Cross, and Toseland. It has thirty magistrates, and its civil government has the peculiarity of being joined with Cambridgeshire under one sheriff, who is chosen alternately from that county, the Isle of Ely, and Huntingdonshire. The parliamentary representatives are four---two for the county, and two for the borough of Hunting-don. The present county members are-the Viscount Mandeville, eldest son of the Duke of Manchester; and John Bonfoy Rooper, Esq. Huntingdon and Stilton are the only polling places, and the election takes place at the county town. For the purposes of the Poor Law Amendment Act, Huntingdonshire is arranged into three unions of Huntingdon, St. Ives, and St. Neots. It contains six market towns; the three just mentioned, Kimbolton, Ramsey, and Somersham. The whole county is included for ecclesiastical jurisdiction in the archdeaconry of Huntingdon, to which great part of Hertfordshire was formerly attached, under the diocese of Lincoln; but, by the new Church Act, the whole of that archdeaconry is transferred from the see of Lincoln, this county under its own archdeacon to Ely, and Hertfordshire to that of Rochester. It contains 93 parishes, distributed into the rural deaneries: Huntingdon comprising the four parishes of that town, St. Ives 20 parishes, Leightonshire 28, St. Neot's 17, and Yaxley 24. The principal rivers of Huntingdonshire are the Ouse, rising at Ousewell in Northamptonshire, and passing through Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire to this county, of which for about three miles it forms the boundary; then proceeds northward to near Huntingdon, where, making a sharp elbow, it turns eastward to St. Ives, swelled by a number of tributary streams; divides for a few miles Huntingdonshire from Cambridgeshire, and flows across the level of the fens to the Wash. The south-east portion of the county thus cut off, is connected with the rest by three stone bridges at St. Neot's, Huntingdon, and St. Ives. The Nen also has its source in Northamptonshire at the village of Welton, meanders across a fine valley to this county, then flows northwards to Wandesford, and easterly to Peterborough, between the two counties; receiving in its course several small rivulets, one of which called Oakley Dyke continues the limit on the Cambridgeshire side; afterwards, sinking into the fens, it slowly winds like the Ouse to the Wash. The old Nen, rising in the parish of Glatton in this county, crosses it eastwards, and, joined by the Holme Brook, pursues a similar course over the Fens. There is no canal, but the rivers Nen and Ouse are navigable through their whole track in connexion with this county. The fens are overspread with small lakes, or meres, the principal of which are Whittlesea, Ramsey, Ugg, Trundle, and Brick meres. It has been proposed to drain Whittlesea Mere, and the project is believed to be practicable, but objections are urged to the loss of so beautiful a piece of water, and of the excellent fish it contains. This transparent lake is much resorted to in the summer for sailing and fishing; but is occasionally subject to sudden and tempestuous agitations, arising apparently from subaqueous evaporations violently forcing for themselves a vent upwards. The children and servants of King Canute, sailing through it on their way from Peterborough, to join him at Ramsey, were overtaken by one of these storms, and had nearly perished; in consequence of which the monarch immediately commanded his soldiers and servants to mark out a delf or embanked road from Whittlesea to Ramsey for future security; and this being done with their swords, the work received the name of Swerdes Delf, but is sometimes called the King's or Knout's Dyke. The county is intersected in all directions by a multiplicity of cross roads; but the chief direct roads which traverse it in its length and breadth, are the high road from London to Doncaster, which enters by two branches, from Royston near Papworth St. Agnes, following the Roman Ermine Street to Huntingdon, and from Biggleswade, two miles south of St. Neots; this proceeds in two lines, the first west of the Ouse by Buckden, the second east through Paxton and Offord, both to Huntingdon; thence it runs north-west, and quits the county by the bridge over the Nen at Wandsford, after having traversed it a length of 29½ miles. Branching off at Norman Cross, this road sends another line to Peterborough. From Huntingdon a road runs north, and leaving the county in Ramsey Fens proceeds to Spalding, Louth and Grimsby; and another for Wisbeach and Lynn Regis crosses the Old Nen for Cambridgeshire at Chatteris Ferry. A road from Cambridge enters at Fen Stanton and passes through Godmanchester, and another from Ely entering at Earith, through St. Ives, both to Huntingdon, the common centre of all these roads; from thence one line is continued to the western extremity of the county at Bythorn. Another from Cambridge directly crosses the county in its southern and narrowest point, a distance of 3½ miles, then after crossing the Ouse and a small angle of Bedfordshire, re-enters Huntingdonshire and proceeds north-west to Kimbolton. This county as yet possesses no rail-road, but an Act is procured for one from Cambridge to York, to unite the Great Northern with Cambridge and London. It will be called the Northern and Eastern Railroad, and will enter over the Ouse near St. Ives, and running northwesterly, cross the Nen into Northamptonshire near Peterborough.

This is almost entirely an agricultural county, and its inhabitants famed for their expertness in the use of the plough; yet by an infatuated blindness to their true interests, the farmers so effectually deter their labourers from forming settlements among them, that were it not for the emigration of Irish during harvest, the crops must perish on the ground for want of sufficient hands to reap them.

A considerable portion of the north-east consists of fens belonging to the great Bedford Level, of which they constitute about the seventh part; and from an original failure in securing a sufficient outfall, they are worse drained, though lying at a greater elevation, than those which intervene between them and the sea; they are consequently liable to frequent losses by inundation, and a sum equal to two-thirds of the rental is requisite for repairing the dykes and embankments. They afford, however, good pasturage, plenty of peat for fuel, and of excellent fish from the meres. The air is considered generally healthy, notwithstanding the neighbourhood of the fens, where it is thick and foggy. The remainder of the county is pleasingly varied with bill and dale, sprinkled with woods, and abundantly watered. The soil, in some occasional tracts light and sandy, is mostly clay and loam, very fruitful in agricultural products. A breadth of fertile and beautiful meadow land borders the Ouse on both sides. The large island meadow of Portholm near Huntingdon, is particularly celebrated. Though the whole county was an extensive forest so late as the reign of Henry the 2d, and not wholly deforested till that of Edward the 1st, so entirely has it now changed its character that jt does not produce sufficient timber for home consumption; and the demand in the fens is so great, that it bears a higher price here than in any other part of the kingdom. The land skirting the fens is particularly luxuriant for grazing, and there is much rich pasturage among the uplands. There are, however, but few dairy farms; and neat cattle are not at all used in husbandry, but wholly reserved for the breeding of calves which supply the London markets. Stilton cheese has long been acknowledged the finest in England, but the name is borrowed from its first and principal mart; it was originally sent from the neighbourhood of Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire, where much of it is still made. No manufactures are carried on in the county, unless woolstapling and yarn-spinning may be so accounted, which provide employment for women and children when their services are not required in the fields. Huntingdon, St. Neots, and St. Ives, lying on the navigable River Ouse, between Bedford and Lynn, have very considerable markets and fairs, and carry on a brisk trade in corn, cattle, iron, timber, and coal.

This county, with Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, and Suffolk, composed the territory of the Iceni, and of their queen, the intrepid Boadicea, whose wrongs and valour have been handed down in history and in song. The Romans established two military stations here, Duroliponte at Godmanchester near Huntingdon, and Durobrivæ upon the Nen near Chesterton. Three of their roads passed through this county, all meeting at Godmanchester, running thence to Alconbury and again branching off. The Via Devana pursued the course of the present turnpike road from Fenny Stanton to Godmanchester, and from Alconbury proceeded westwards to Clapton in Northamptonshire. The Hermen or Ermine Street also followed the present high road from Papworth St. Agnes to Godmanchester, and again from Alconbury northwards to Durobrivæ, where it crossed the Nen into Northamptonshire. The British Ermine Street entered from Cæsar's camp near Sandy in Bedfordshire, and proceeded by the tract now called Fell Lane to Godmanchester; from Alconbury, over Alconbury Hill through Upton, and by the present Bullock's road for 15 miles, without passing through any village, to Wandesford and the north. Roman remains have been discovered near Godmanchester, Chesterton, and Somersham, and in Sawtry field. By the Saxons, Huntingdon was included in the kingdom of the East Angles, but afterwards subjugated by the more powerful Mercians. The only conventual ruin of much interest, is of Saxon foundation, the ancient gateway of the mitred abbey at Ramsey. Above a fourth part of the county is said to have been monastic property, always proverbially the richest lands; and this circumstance is alleged to account for its possessing scarcely any distinguished family of local antiquity.

The earldom of Huntingdon was bestowed by William the Conqueror on Waltheof, a noble Saxom, afterwards Earl of Northumberland, who had married Judith, the king's niece; Maud, their daughter and heir, carried it by marriage first to Simon de Liz, and secondly to David, brother to the king of Scots. The title afterwards fluctuated between the descendants of the two marriages, as either preponderated in the favour of the reigning monarch; six princes of the royal house of Scotland having successively borne it till the death of John, great grandson of David, and last earl of that family, from whose sister Isabel Robert Bruce derived his right to the Scottish crown. This title was conferred in 1529 on George Hastings, ancestor in the direct line of Francis Theophilus Henry Hastings, the present earl. The principal seats in this county are Kimbolton Castle, where the divorced queen Catherine of Arragon ended her days, now belonging to the Duke of Manchester; Hinchinbrook House, the property of the Earl of Sandwich, where Queen Elizabeth, James the 1st, and Charles the 1st in his childhood, were hospitably received by Sir Henry Cromwell the grandfather, and Sir Oliver the uncle, of the Protector ; Orton Longueviille, the seat of the Marquis of Huntley; Elton Hall, of the Earl of Carysfort; and Leighton Bromswold, formerly' the residence of the Stuart's, Dukes of Lennox, from whom it was inherited by the Earl of Darnley.


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