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Pigot & Co. Directory of Huntingdonshire, 1839


THIS is an inland county, bounded on the north by the counties of Northampton and Cambridge, on the east by Cambridgeshire, on the: south by Bedfordshire, and on the west by the latter county and also by that of Northampton. The limits of this county are chiefly artificial—the river Nene, on the Northamptonshire border, with the Kings-delf, the Old West water and the Ouse river on the Cambridgeshire side, being the principal exceptions. In its general form it is an irregular square; an elongated portion on the south inter-secting the counties of Cambridge and Bedford, and a prominent apex cutting into Northamptonshire on the north-west. The county extends from north to south about thirty miles, from east to west twenty-three; its circumference is about one hundred, and its area comprises 370 square miles, or 236,800 statute acres. In size it ranks as the thirty-eighth county in England, and in population as the thirty-ninth.

NAME and ANCIENT HISTORY.—This county takes its name from Huntingdon, its principal town, which is derived from the Saxon word Huntedunscire, signifying ‘ Hunter’s Down-shire’—this district being at that time well adapted for the sport of hunting, as it was almost one continued forest. Under the Britons this county composed a part of the extensive territory of the Icenii, and in the Roman division of the kingdom was included in the district named Flavia Cæsariensis. The Icenii are represented by Tacitus as a brave nation; but they were subdued by the Romans in the reign of Claudius, and obliged to submit to the harsh terms dictated by their conquerors. The death of Prasutagus, their king, and the impolitic provisions of his will, by which he appointed the Emperor Nero his heir (thinking thereby to secure his kingdom from ruin), furnished the Romans with a pretext for coercive measures; and, with the most. insulting rapacity, the native chiefs were deprived of their estates—the whole kingdom of the Icenii was pillaged by the centurions, and the house of Prasutagus by their slaves, as if it had been taken in war; his widow, the noble Boadicea, was ignominously scourged, and her daughters were violated by the Roman soldiers. The nation, justly inflamed to vengeance by such atrocities, flew to arms, and upwards of eighty thousand of the Romans were cut off by the intrepidity of Boadicea; success, however, did not long gild the arms of the Britons, for in a sanguinary contest the Romans obtained a complete victory over them, and the Icenii were unknown after this time as a separate nation. According to Tacitus, Queen Boadicea put an end to her life by poison. At the present day the principal towns of this county are seated on the Ouse; of these, Huntingdon is the capital. At Ramsey, on the edge of the fens, was formerly a very rich abbey—built, like that of Crowland, in the midst of a bog: the situation of these and various other religious houses (as those of Ely and Thorney) was probably chosen as well with a view to security, from the difficulty of approach, as to the plenty of fish and water-fowl inhabiting these congenial retreats. Kimbolton castle, in this county, was the place where Katherine, the divorced wife of Henry VIII, ended her days in peaceful retirement. But few military events are connected with this county in the later periods of history. In August, 1645, during the civil war, Huntingdon was plundered by the king’s troops, the monarch commanding in person. The county was again the theatre of hostilities in 1648, when the Earl of Holland, the Duke of Buckingham, and others in the royal cause, appeared in arms here with a view to the relief of Colchester; on this occasion the Earl of Holland, accompanied by about a hundred horse, fled to St. Neots, in this county, where, being beset by some of the parliamentary troops, he surrendered himself without any attempt at resistance.

SOIL and CLIMATE, PRODUCE and MANUFACTURES.—The SOIL of this county is in general fertile, though it varies much. The east and south-east parts are of a shallow staple upon lime-stone rock, with a small intermixture of cold woodland clayey soil. The other parts of the county, however, are made up of a strong loam of red land, and of a cold woodland clay: the red land is a rich sandy loam, intermixed with keal— iron-stone is also found amongst it; this soil is esteemed most fertile. The under stratum of the whole county, at different depths, is a very strong blue clay. From the varieties of soil here mentioned, and part of the county being enclosed and part open fields, different modes of culture are necessarily adopted. The north-east part is composed of fens, joining those of Ely—the fens consist of about 41,000 acres; the skirty lands bordering on them afford luxuriant grazing. The mode of management of the fen lands has been much improved of late years, and the fen men are the most expert of any in the world at ploughing. The CLIMATE is regarded as very healthy, making allowance for the space occupied by the fens, and for those parts of the county that are but scantily supplied with pure waters from springs or rivers; the upland parts of the county are considered as by far the most salubrious. The borders ot the Ouse, along the south-east quarter, consist of most fertile and beautiful meadows—amongst these, Portsholme Mead, near Huntingdon, is particularly celebrated; the middle and western parts are fruitful in corn, and sprinkled with woods; but, in a general view, the county may be said to be bare of timber. The breed of sheep is of a mixed description, nearly approaching to the Leicestershire and Lincolnshire species, with which the native breeds have been much crossed; the neat cattle are the refuse of the Lancashire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire breeds. From the open state of the country, dairy farming is not much followed; and in the southern district the cows are kept principally for the purpose of suckling calves, to supply the London markets. The village of Stilton gives name to a very rich yet delicate kind of cheese; it has been affirmed, however, that this generally admired article is not the product of that neighbourhood, but of the vicinity of Melton Mowbray, in Leicestershire. No MANUFACTURES are carried on in this comity, and hardly anything; bearing a reference to them, except wool-stapling and spinning the yarn : the latter is the chief business of the women and children in the winter season; in the summer they seek a more profitable employ in the fields. The brewing trade furnishes another means of employment, though to no great extent, the produce being wholly for home consumption. There are a considerable number of corn mills throughout the county; in some of the towns the currying of leather is a moderate branch, and in the vicinage of others, bricks are made in rather large quantities.

RIVERS, MERES, &c.—The principal RIVERS connected with Huntingdonshire are the OUSE and the NENE. (or Nen). The Ouse, which is sometimes called the Lesser Ouse, to distinguish it from another river of the same name in Yorkshire, enters the county from Bedfordshire, between St. Neots and Little Paxton; in its course it is increased by a combination of small streams from the north-west, and finally enters the great level of the fens in the neighbourhood of Earith; this river is navigable along its whole line across the county. The Nene rises in Northamptonshire, and, flowing through a delightful vale, reaches Huntingdonshire near Elton—passes Yarwell and Wandsford—and, pursuing a devious course to Peterborough, slowly winds onward to the sea. Some smaller streams water the north-cast side of tlie county, together with several large MERES, or pools of water, namely, Whittlesea mere, Ramsey mere, Ugg mere, &c.: of these, the first-named is by far the largest, and covers an area of several miles extent; it admits of agreeable sailing, and affords excellent fishing, and in the summer season is much frequented by parties of pleasure.

ECCLESIASTICAL and CIVIL DIVISIONS, and REPRESENTATION.—Huntingdonshire is in the province of Canterbury and diocess of Lincoln, and is included in the Norfolk circuit. It is divided into the four hundreds of Hurstingstone, Leightonstone, Norman Cross and Toseland, containing ninety-nine parishes and six parts of parishes, one county town and borough (Huntingdon), and five other market towns. A peculiarity in the civil government of Huntingdonshire is, that it is included under the same shrievalty with Cambridgeshire; the sheriff being chosen in rotation—one year from the county of Cambridge, another year from the Isle of Ely, and the third year from this county. The whole county returns four members to parliament, viz. two for Huntingdon and two for the shire, the reform bill causing no alteration in its representative system. County members are returned at Huntingdon; the only other polling station is Stilton. The present representatives of the shire are Edward Fellowes, of Ramsey Abbey, in this county. Esquire, and George Thornwell, of Deddington, St. Neots, Esquire.

POPULATION.—By the census for 1831, Huntingdonshire contained 26,365 males, and 26,784 females— total, 53,149: being an increase, since the returns made in the year 1821, of 4,378 inhabitants, and from the census of 1801 to that of 1831, the augmentation amounted to 15,581 persons. Between the years 1700 and 1750, there occurred a decrease in the population of this county of 2,200 persons.

The annual value of Real Property in Huntingdonshire, as assessed April, 1815, amounted to £320,188.

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