by Ian Langworthy, Historian and Battlefield Guide
I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes. History is all around me, and so the feeling grows.
With apologies to Reg Presley of The Troggs who wrote the original song, and Wet Wet Wet who had such success with it, but thanks to Bill Nighy for giving me the idea to change the title!
History is, quite literally, all around us, and I am going to try to give the reader a whistle-stop tour of historical events and people from Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, in particular, those who have shaped our area and country.
Let’s start in Buckden, where Captain John Leslie Green VC lived and is commemorated. Captain Green was in the Royal Army Medical Corps and was awarded the Victoria Cross for rescuing a wounded officer, hung up on the German barbed wire entanglements and dragging him to safety, all in the face of enemy fire. This happened on 1st July 1916 on the first day of the battle of the Somme. Green was killed in the rescue and is buried in France.
Now, on the subject of the First World War, the Brooding Soldier monument in Huntingdon Town Square was sculpted by Kathleen Scott, the widow of Robert Falcon Scott who led the British expedition to the South Pole in 1911/12, arriving just a few weeks after the Norwegian,
Did you know King Henry I was the youngest of William the Conqueror’s sons? Henry fathered several illegitimate children, but only two in wedlock; William and Matilda. In the autumn of 1120 Henry had been campaigning in France with his son, and returned to England on 25th November. William was to follow on the ’White Ship’ but the ship was wrecked and all on board, including William, were drowned, save one. Henry was distraught at losing his only son and heir and spent that Christmas, in mourning at one of his favourite hunting lodges. This was in Brampton, close to the banks of the River Great Ouse on the edge of what is now Brampton Golf Course.
Now, I’m sure you’ve heard of Samuel Pepys? The famous diarist and navy minister under King Charles II was brought up in Huntingdonshire. He was educated at the same school in Huntingdon attended by Cromwell. In October 1667 he was “abroad by coach around the town of Brampton to observe any other place as good as ours, and find none and so back with great pleasure… to dinner at Hinchingbrooke”. Pepys House is the first house on the left on the road from Huntingdon.
If you’re looking for the largest collection of Cromwellian memorabilia in the world, it’s in Huntingdon. There are two statues of Oliver Cromwell in the country; one outside Parliament in London and the other in Market Hill, St. Ives. Cromwell was born in Huntingdon and educated in the school building now occupied by the museum. He farmed in St Ives before becoming involved in politics and becoming MP for Ely.
Going back to one of the most important battles of the civil war, was fought at Naseby in 1645, about 40 minutes drive westwards along the A14. In the battle, Cromwell’s New Model Army came into its own. After defeat there, the King’s cause was to all intents and purposes lost, but in August of the same year there was a skirmish between Royalist and Parliamentary forces near Sawtry after which the Royalist forces led by Charles I entered Huntingdon and the King spent two nights at the George Hotel. Royalist soldiers would almost certainly have drunk in and possibly been billeted at the Falcon Inn in Market square.
How about Catherine of Aragon? The first wife of Henry VIII was banished from court and divorced by Henry so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. Catherine was kept under house arrest at Buckden Towers and Kimbolton castle where she died. After her death she was buried in Peterborough Cathedral where her body still lies. Just a mile or two over the border in Northamptonshire is Fotheringay where the long ruined castle was the birthplace of King Richard III and the place of the incarceration and execution of Mary Queen of Scots, also initially buried in Peterborough Cathedral.
And we have not even mentioned the Romans who crossed the River Great Ouse at Huntington!
Where two roman roads meet and built a fort at Godmanchester to protect the crossing or that the banks of the River Great Ouse was the scene of fierce battles between the Danes (Vikings) and the Anglo Saxons.
This has indeed been a very quick gallop through some of the events and people in this area and there is so much more to tell. We will touch on some of these in more detail in future issues but hopefully your appetite has been whetted for more. If you can’t wait, call at your local museum, there are good ones in Huntingdon St Neots and St Ives and start your own research!