Crowland, or Croyland (St. Bartholomew and St. Guthlac)

CROWLAND, or Croyland (St. Bartholomew and St. Guthlac), a parish, and formerly a market-town, in the union of Peterborough, wapentake of Elloe, parts of Holland, county of Lincoln, 8 miles (N. by E.) from Peterborough, and 89 (N.) from London; containing 2973 inhabitants. During the heptarchy this place was the retreat of St. Guthlac, who in the reign of Cenred, eighth king of Mercia, retired from the persecution of the pagan Britons into a hermitage, near which Ethelbald, in 716, founded a Benedictine monastery to the honour of St. Mary, St. Bartholomew, and St. Guthlac. He endowed it with a considerable sum of money; with "the whole island of Croyland, formed by the four waters of Shepishea on the east, Nena on the west, Southea on the south, and Asendyk on the north; with a portion of the adjoining marshes; and with the fishery of the Nene and Welland." This monastery, which, from the marshy nature of the soil, was built upon a foundation of piles, having been destroyed by the Danes in 870, was rebuilt by King Edred in the year 948. In 1091 it was by an accidental fire reduced to a heap of ruins, from which, under the influence of its abbot, who granted a plenary indulgence to such as should contribute to its restoration, it was again rebuilt, in 1112; but the whole was destroyed by a like cause about forty years afterwards. It was a third time restored, with increased splendour; and continued to flourish till the Dissolution, when its revenue was £1217. 5. 11. The conventual buildings, which, from neglect, were gradually falling to decay, were almost entirely demolished during the parliamentary war, when the monastery was occupied as a garrison.

The Town, which is accessible only by artificial roads, consists chiefly of four streets, separated by watercourses, and communicating with each other by means of an ancient triangular stone bridge of singular construction, erected in the reign of Edward II. The bridge has one principal and finely groined arch, from which diverge three pointed arches over the streams Welland, Nene, and Catwater; it is in the decorated English style, and on one side is a mutilated figure of Ethelbald, in a sitting posture, holding a globe in the right hand. The market has been removed to Thorney, in the county of Cambridge; but a fair is held, commencing on the festival of St. Bartholomew, and continuing for twelve days. The parish comprises about 13,000 acres of arable and pasture land in nearly equal portions, a part of which is what is here called "wash land," on account of its liability to be flooded after continual rains: the parish includes part of Deeping-fen, and a large estate named Postland, comprehending 6000 acres, the property of the Marquess of Exeter. The soil, under the influence of an efficient system of irrigation, has been greatly improved, and much of the land, formerly unprofitable, from the morasses with which it was overspread, has been converted into rich pastures and fruitful corn-fields. A great number of geese and wild-fowl are sent to the neighbouring markets; and an extensive fishery is carried on, for the privilege of which £300 per annum, anciently paid to the abbot, are now received by the crown.

The Living is a rectory not in charge; net income, £115; patrons, alternately, T. O. Hunter and James Whitsed, Esqrs. The church, though consisting only of the north aisle of the abbey church, is a commodious and very handsome edifice, chiefly in the later English style, with a low massive tower. The west front, which is highly enriched, is ornamented with several statues of kings and abbots, including those of St. Guthlac and St. Bartholomew, and of King Ethelbald, the first of whom was interred in a small stone building near the abbey, probably his abode while leading the life of an anchorite, from which circumstance, perhaps, originated its modern names "Anchorage House," and "Anchor Church House." The church contains an ancient font divided into compartments, a cylindrical stoup, and some well executed screen-work; the roof is finely groined, and the windows are large, and decorated with elegant tracery. There is a place of worship for Wesleyans. Between the river Welland and the marshes is a causeway, on which, at the distance of two miles from the town, is St. Guthlac's Pyramid; and in the neighbourhood are many stone crosses.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.