A History of the County of Huntingdon: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1932.
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Wystowe (x cent., xii cent.), Kingestune (id est Wistow x cent.), Kingestune (xi cent.). (fn. 1)
The parish of Wistow consists of a strip of land running north-east and south-west (some 4 miles long) and of varying breadth. It is crossed by the high road from Ramsey to St. Ives at a distance of 2½ miles from Ramsey. Rather more than half the parish is on the west side of this road. In early days the possession of a portion of the fen for the supply of reeds for thatching, fuel, and summer grazing for stock, was very important, and to obtain these advantages Wistow was connected with the fen by a narrow strip of land about 300 yds. wide. The parish contains 2,408 acres, of which 1,853 acres are arable, including fen, 405 acres pasture, 80 acres and 3 roods wood, and there remain according to the rating returns about 60 acres to be accounted for by roads, waste, water, and fences.
The soil is a clayey loam, with subsoil clay, but here and there are deposits of gravel. Beans, peas, cereals, and occasionally potatoes are grown in the highland part of the parish. To the north east are about 700 acres of fen land, all of which are now arable, producing celery, potatoes, and cereal crops. About 187 acres of this fen land are let to small holders. At the time of the Domesday Survey there was wood for pannage, one league long and half a league broad. (fn. 2) The ends of this wood probably still remain under the names of Rolt's Wood and Wistow Wood. A windmill is mentioned in 1252 to which the tenants of Wistow, Upwood and the two Raveleys owed suit. (fn. 3) The mill now standing is nearly a mile west-southwest of the church on the Raveley side of Wistow and is probably on the site of the original windmill. In the survey of the manor at this date there is reference to Robert Ailmare as a tenant, (fn. 4) a surname which still exists as Elmer in the parish. Some other placenames mentioned in this survey still survive, such as 'Kyngesland' represented by Kingsland Farm, and Cheselade, Littlehylle, now Little Illins, which are still names of fields.
There were formerly two brickyards in the parish, one of which near the village has been disused many years, the other at Shillhow, where the road from Ramsey to St. Ives crosses the parish, was closed at the end of the 19th century.
The village is rather more than half a mile west of the road from Ramsey to St. Ives, and on the west side of a brook that rises in Abbot's Ripton and crosses King's Ripton; it then partly bounds and partly passes through Wistow, emptying itself at Ramsey into the Fen drainage system. The compact little village is on a slight slope facing east, all but thirteen houses being within a quarter of a mile of the church. It is principally ranged round roads forming an irregular four-sided figure with the church at the south-west corner.
From the church a road runs nearly due west and then south west to Huntingdon, 7 miles distant. An early 17th-century half-timbered house with later additions on the south side of this road bears the letters S.E.G. for Stephen and Elizabeth Goslin. Stephen Goslin was farmer of the rectory of Wistow in 1637 and had a suit against William Campion, the former farmer, in which evidence was given by Sir Oliver Cromwell, (fn. 5) the Protector's uncle. Farther on, north of the road, the last house on that side, is another half-timbered house faced with bricks, called Limetree Farm, and formerly Harris House, once the residence and property of Uriah Harris, a collector of the subsidy of 1642. This Uriah Harris is mentioned as of Great Raveley in 1620, but apparently came to Wistow soon after that date. The house dates back to the early part of the 16th century and contains good 18th-century panelling, staircase, and other fittings. A little farther along the lane is another 17th-century house, originally timber-framed but now refaced with brick.
Running north from the church is a road which since the inclosure award has become a cul de sac; on the right hand side of this road, where now stand some American oaks, was the house in which John Margetts, sheriff of Hunts in 1827, (fn. 6) is said to have lived. The property had belonged for some two centuries to the Margetts family, and the house was not pulled down till about 1860. Beyond this stands the house mainly built by the late George Pryme about 1825, now called Wistow Lodge. George Pryme was born at Cottingham, Yorks, 4 August, 1781, only child of Christopher Pryme. His mother was Alice, daughter of George Dimsdale, of Napper Hall, Wensleydale. He was author of the Decline and Fall of States and other works and practised at the Bar; he married Jane Townley, daughter of Thomas Thackeray, surgeon of Cambridge, and took up his residence at Barnwell Abbey. Shortly afterwards he lectured on Political Economy at Cambridge and became a professor there. In 1833 he was elected member for the University of Cambridge, retaining his seat till 1841. He bought property at Wistow 1825–1833, and removed there in 1847. He died 2 December 1868, and lies buried at Wistow. His property passed to Mrs. A. Bayne for her life, and on her death in 1883 it went to his only son, Charles de la Pryme, barrister-at-law, who died in 1899, leaving it to his daughter and five sons. Almost the whole of the property was sold in 1924 to Mr. Thomas Dorrington, whose house, now called Cooper's Farm, partly Elizabethan, lies just beyond George de la Pryme's house. He purchased it, with the farm attached, from the Rev. W. W. Cooper. This house belonged to William Baker, who married Joan Cromwell, (fn. 7) a daughter of Sir Oliver Cromwell.
On the opposite side of the street is a half-timbered house with the initials I.M., probably for John Margetts, and date, 1655. Here Mrs. Agnes Goslin, widow, was living in 1825. Going east along the road south of the church we come to the Manor House, which is a half-timbered plastered house bearing the date 1662, but parts of the building may be earlier than this time, and turning north we pass another old half-timbered and plastered house called Porch House, bearing the letters E.G. (for Edmund Goslin) and date 1662. Again starting from the church and going along the north side of the square, we find on the north side the residence of Mr. C. H. I. Forster, the lord of the manor, formerly a farm but much enlarged by him about 1891. On the south side is the residence of Mr. A. Cope. Crossing the brook which forms the boundary of the banlieu of Ramsey is a bridge built probably late in the 16th century, with three round arches, which has been recently widened.
It would appear from the Ramsey Cartulary that KINGSTON, later known as WISTOW (fn. 8) was a recognised area before Ramsey Abbey was founded about 969. It comprised the districts covered by the later manors of Wistow, Bury, and Little Raveley. As its name indicates, it was royal demesne and belonged to King Edgar. We are told that Oswald, Archbishop of York, the friend of Aylwin, founder of Ramsey Abbey, bought Needingworth from King Edgar with the intention of giving it to Ramsey Abbey, but realising the inconvenience of its distance from the abbey, exchanged it with the king for Kingston, which he bestowed on the abbey. (fn. 9) In 974 King Edgar confirmed Oswald's gift, under the description, according to the Ramsey Chronicler, of Kingston, with Bury and Raveley its berewicks or outlying hamlets. (fn. 10) The confirmations by Edward the Confessor and again by William the Conqueror in 1078, are in the same terms. (fn. 11) The return in the Domesday Survey (1086) is entered under the name of Wistow (fn. 12) which was there assessed at 9 hides and had a priest and church and a mill, pointing to its being a place of importance. Early in the 12th century, a church was apparently built at Bury, which from this time seems to have taken the place of Wistow as the chief centre of the area covered by the grant of Kingston. Hereafter we find that Wistow took a subordinate position and is described as a berewick and chapelry of Bury (q.v.). The revenues from the manor of Wistow were assigned to the support of the office of cellarer of Ramsey monastery and the manor was usually let to farm and for some time to the Clairvaux family of Upwood. The abbot had the right to gallows, tumbrel, and view of frankpledge. (fn. 13)
The manor remained in the possession of the abbey until the Dissolution of that house in 1539. It was granted on 4 March 1539–40 with Ramsey and other manors to Richard Williams alias Cromwell and passed with Ramsey (q.v.) until 1648, when it was sold by Sir Oliver Williams alias Cromwell, the Protector's uncle, to Sir Nicholas Pedley, (fn. 14) serjeant at law. On the death of Sir Nicholas in 1685, the manor descended to his son Robert who died in 1687 and was succeeded by John his brother. John married Essex Foley and died in 1722. His widow held the manor for ten years and was succeeded by her son John Pedley in 1733. The widow of this John, Judith (Stanhope), was holding the manor from 1748 until 1778 and was succeeded by her son Stanhope Pedley, who in 1802 left Wistow to Mary Pedley his sister. (fn. 15) Mary died in 1827 and by her will dated 1803 bequeathed it to her second cousin Lieut. Richard Harry Foley. Lieut. Foley, who attained the rank of major-general, had predeceased her in 1825, (fn. 16) and the manor went to Henry Foley, his son. Henry Foley died in 1880, leaving the manor to his wife Elizabeth Augusta for life, subject to the payment of £320 per annum to his eldest daughter, Lizzie Augusta Foley. On her death, the manor was left to his son-in-law, the Rev. Charles Thornton Forster, rector of Hinxton (Cambs.), with remainder to his three sons in succession—Arthur Evelyn Thornton Forster, Charles H. Inglis Forster, and Leopold Henry Vivian Forster, and their heirs successively. In 1922 it was sold by Arthur E. T. Forster to his brother, Mr. Charles H. I. Forster, the present lord of the manor. (fn. 17)
In 1336 Richard de Claxtone granted to the abbot of Ramsey the reversion in fee of a messuage and carucate of land with 10 acres of meadow in Wistow held of the Abbot, of which John de Claxton had a lease for life. (fn. 18) Among the benefits conferred on the abbey by Abbot Simon de Eye, who died in 1342, was said to be the purchase from John de Claxton of his manor in Wistow. (fn. 19) This holding, whether a manor or not, seems to have been merged in the abbot's larger manor of Wistow.
The Church of ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST is built of rubble with dressings of Barnack stone; the roofs are covered with lead and slates. It consists of a chancel (26 ft. by 15 ft.), nave (33 ft. by 17 ft.), north aisle (11½ ft. wide), south aisle (9 ft. wide) and west tower (10½ ft. square). All measurements are internal.
A church existed here in 1086, when it is mentioned in the Domesday Survey, but nothing now remains of this 11th-century building. Probably it fell into ruin, and was largely rebuilt during the abbacy of Robert Triaynel, Abbot of Ramsey (1180–1200), when the yearly tithes from a virgate of land were assigned to the parishioners for its repair. (fn. 20) Some fragments built into the walls, particularly a small capital of perhaps a little later date, may have belonged to this church. The whole church, however, was again rebuilt in the first half of the 14th century. The chancel was the earliest part to be completed and was consecrated in 1347 (fn. 21) and the rest of the church was dedicated in 1351 when rights of burial were granted and the churchyard dedicated, (fn. 22) giving an increased importance to the church. At this date the building consisted of a chancel, nave, south aisle and probably a north aisle. About 1500 the church, with the exception of the south wall of the chancel and probably the south wall of the south aisle, was for a third time rebuilt, the south arcade being built somewhat more to the north than the earlier arcade had been, possibly to give a wider chapel at the east end of the aisle. The tower was added about 1560 and the south porch at a later date.
With the exception of the doorway with pointed head and moulded jambs and the western window on the south side with two trefoiled ogee lights in a square head, both of the 14th century, all the details of the chancel are of the rebuilding of about 1500. Of this date, the windows are of three or four cinquefoiled lights with tracery in four-centred heads; the piscina for the high altar has a trefoiled head; the double sedile on the south side has cinquefoiled heads. The two-centred chancel arch of this date is of two chamfered orders springing from moulded responds with attached shafts, having carved capitals and moulded bases. The nave is of two bays with lofty arcades, alike in each side and similar in detail and date to the chancel arch. The clearstory windows are each of two cinquefoiled lights having vertical tracery in a four-centred head. They are arranged in pairs, two on each side. At the north-east angle of the nave is a stair turret to the rood loft and the roof. The roof forms part of the rebuilding of about 1500, the wall posts are carved with the figures of a woman or angel, a king and a bishop or abbot. Figures are also carved at the ends of the intermediate ties, while the stone corbels are carved with angels and grotesque heads. Two 15th-century bench ends with carved poppy heads are used in the reading desk. The pulpit is modern.
The windows in the north aisle are similar in detail and date, to those of the chancel, but the north doorway belongs to the rebuilding of the 14th century and has probably been re-set in the north wall. It has its original door with its hinges and handle. In the east wall are two 15th-century brackets. The roof of this aisle is original and has some carved figures possibly representing apostles. The south aisle retains its 14th-century south doorway with two-centred head much restored, and its original door; the windows, however, were probably inserted at the time of the rebuilding of about 1500 and correspond to those in the chancel and north aisle. The west window has some 15th-century glass said to have come from the east window of the chancel. In one light is the Annunciation and in the other the Resurrection. At the east end of the south wall is a 15th-century piscina with a cinquefoiled head. The eastern bay of this aisle is shut off by a fine screen of the time of the re-building of about 1500. The screen on the north side is of six and a half bays, while that on the west is of seven bays, the upper panels have open cinquefoiled ogee arches. The roof is similar to that of the north aisle but only one figure now remains. (fn. 23)
The west tower is of three stages and has an embattled parapet. There is a stair turret on the north side. The tower arch has a plain two-centred head. Under it is now the 15th-century rood screen, much restored, which includes a central doorway and two bays on each side. The west doorway has a pointed arch in a square head and moulded jambs, and the window over it has three pointed lights in a square head. The second stage is lighted only by two loops on the north and south, and the bell-chamber has a window of two four-centred lights in a square head in each side. The 13th-century octagonal font is supported on a central stem and two slender octagonal and two round shafts. In the tower is an ancient chest with three locks.
A series of grotesque gargoyles will be noticed at the parapets of the chancel, nave and south aisle and an early 18th-century sundial has been placed on the wall of the south aisle. In the churchyard is a part of a 14th-century coffin lid with floreated cross.
The plate consists of two silver chalices inscribed 'The gift of George Pryme to the Parish of Wistow 1848' (hall-marked for 1809–10). There are also a standing paten inscribed 'The gift of R. G. Woodruff, Esq., to the parish of Wistow, 1849'; a flagon with the same inscription and a paten uninscribed but of similar date. These pieces have no hall-marks and are probably plated. There are a pewter flagon and a Sheffield-plate dish upon which is scratched '1835 Wistow Trinity Sunday. Presented for the service of the altar by the Rev. S. J. Stowe, curate.'
The registers are as follows:—(i) Baptisms, marriages and burials 1628 to 1668; (ii) the same 1715 to 1812, marriages ending in 1753; (iii) the official marriage book 1754 to 1812; and the usual modern books.
Wistow seems to have been originally the head, both ecclesiastically and civilly, of the district granted to Ramsey under the name of Kingston. A church and a priest are returned under Wistow in the Domesday Survey as belonging to Ramsey Abbey (fn. 24) and it is doubtful if there were then churches or chapels at its berewicks of Bury and Raveley. During the abbacy of Reynold (1114–33) Siward the clerk of Wistow surrendered to Ramsey Abbey his land and his churches, which he had received from the hall of the abbot (de aula abbatis) that he might hold them for life and receive certain benefits. (fn. 25) It may be inferred perhaps from this that the churches which Siward held were Wistow, Bury and Raveley. For some reason, Bury, apparently in the 12th century, took the place of Wistow as the mother church of the district granted under the name of Kingston. In 1178 Pope Alexander III confirmed to Ramsey the church of Bury with its chapels of Wistow and Raveley. (fn. 26) The chapel of Wistow was apparently impropriated by the abbey in 1228 or possibly earlier. Although Wistow was subordinate to Bury, yet the chapels of Upwood and Raveley were attached to it, and the vicar of Wistow was presented by the abbot. In 1252 the tithes of sheaves belonged to the church of Bury, except the tithes from two virgates of land which were assigned to the vicar of Wistow. (fn. 27) These conditions continued until 1351 when a churchyard was dedicated and the right of burial was granted by the Bishop of Lincoln. (fn. 28) The existing font dates back to the 13th century, so that we may presume there were already rights of baptism. Thus Wistow attained the status of a parish church.
At the dissolution of Ramsey Abbey in 1539 the advowson was granted with the manor on 4 March 1539–40, to Sir Richard Williams alias Cromwell (fn. 29) and followed the descent of the manor until 1685, when Sir Nicholas Pedley left it to his two sons-in-law, Dr. Stillingfleet, vicar of St. Andrew's, Holborn, and later Bishop of Worcester, and John Bigg of Graffham, in order that they might present John Pedley, a son of Sir Nicholas, if he was capable of taking it, but if not, they were to present Mr. Turner, (fn. 30) the elder, minister of Eynesbury. As Turner was presented to the living and John Pedley, as owner of the advowson, is in 1705 described as esquire, we may suppose he was not ordained. From John Pedley, the advowson passed to his sister Anne, who had married Philip Sherard, second Earl of Harborough. The earl presented Morley Unwin, the friend of the poet Cowper in 1737 and in 1743 Robert Sherard, his third son. Robert Sherard succeeded to the Earldom of Harborough in 1770 but remained rector of Wistow until 1773. (fn. 31) The patronage had passed to Edward Palmer in 1782; in 1825 James Torkington held it and in 1827 Robert Lindsell of Biggleswade had it. In 1838 Samuel Stanley Paris presented himself. The advowson then passed to Richard George Woodruff who presented Thomas Woodruff of St. John's College, Oxford. Thomas Woodruff became possessed of the advowson and about 1887 gave it to the Bishop of Ely in whose hands it still remains.
Poor's Estate. The endowment of this charity consists of land known as Poor Land containing 5 a. 2 r. 32 pl. together with a rent-charge of £1 10s. 6d. per annum issuing out of land now in the occupation of the Parish Council. The Poor Land is let for about £7 a year which together with the charge of £1 10s. 6d. is distributed to poor widows and to male householders in sums of money. The charity is administered by the Parish Council.
James Peppercorn by will proved 24 April 1909 gave to the churchwardens and overseers land, the rents and profits to be distributed amongst the poor of the parish. The land was sold and the proceeds invested in £168 7s. 8d. 5 per cent. War Stock 1929–47 with the Official Trustees producing £8 8s. 4d. yearly in dividends, which is applied in accordance with the directions contained in the will of the donor.