A History of the County of Huntingdon: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1936.
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Denton is a small parish stretching in a long, narrow strip from west to east, and measures about a quarter of a mile across from north to south. These long, narrow parishes would seem to represent the division of the marsh (fen) by Turchil. (fn. 1) He apparently added a narrow strip of marsh (fen) to Caldecote, Denton and Stilton and so brought them into contact with the mere. Denton lies south of Caldecote and north of Glatton and Holme. The London and North Eastern Railway, which has a station at Holme, 4 miles away, crosses Denton Fen at its eastern end, and the Ermine Street runs north and south near the centre of the parish. The ground rises to about 60 ft. above Ordnance datum at the Ermine Street, and reaches 220 ft. in the west of the parish, where a country of gentle hills contrasts with the fenland in the east. The village, about a mile west of the Ermine Street, is situated towards the western end of the parish, and lies about 75 ft. above Ordnance datum. The church is in the middle of the village and near by are a few late 17th-century cottages in somewhat poor condition.
The soil and subsoil are Oxford Clay with some gravel, and the chief crops are wheat, barley and peas. There are several farms: Rectory Farm is north-east of the church, and Redhill Farm south-east of it; Moonshine Gap Farm is in the west of the parish. About three-quarters of a mile east of the Ermine Street is Denton Common, with Park Farm about half a mile away to the east, and a fox covert further east still.
The population has diminished and in 1921 was 67. The parish was inclosed by an Act of Parliament passed in 1802. (fn. 2)
The Rev. Edward Bradley (1827–89), better known as 'Cuthbert Bede,' was rector of Denton from 1859–71. He was the friend and associate of Cruikshank, Mark Lemon and their set, and was himself well known as a lecturer and author and a contributor to Punch and other periodicals. His great success, Verdant Green, was a brilliant description of contemporary undergraduate life. (fn. 3) He gathered many memoranda while at Denton, and has left a valuable account (fn. 4) of houses then recently dismantled or pulled down.
In reference to 'several houses taken down in the present generation' Cuthbert Bede wrote that 'the chief of these was the mansion-house of the Cottons which stood on the land adjoining the south side of the churchyard, on the precise spot now occupied by a barn and farm buildings. The base of this barn is a portion of the foundation of the old house, which having fallen into a ruinous state was pulled down about the year 1816 by the lord of the manor, Admiral Wells, of Holme Wood. I was told in 1854, by a woman who had lived in Denton for 40 years, that the dismantling of the old house took place two or three years after she came to reside in the parish. She described the house as being very "auncious, fine, and old established," and "the floors all done in freestone," and it had three storeys in height. . . . The traces of the former habitation were to be seen not only in the foundations of the barn and buildings, but also in the fishponds, and the fruit trees that marked the old gardens. Since then, in 1855, a farm house has been built in connection with the barn and buildings; and the tenant has filled up two of the fishponds, reduced the third in size, levelled much of the ground, and made other alterations which have assisted to obliterate the few remaining traces of the old mansion and birthplace of Sir Robert Cotton. . . .'
The manor house probably stood on the site of a messuage and garden existing in the 13th century. Sir Robert Cotton, the antiquary, was born there in January 1570; (fn. 5) his parents, Thomas Cotton and his first wife, Elizabeth Shirley, according to Wotton, having 'removed thither, not long after their marriage, as well for the splendour of his birth, as to be more at liberty from the incommodiousness of their own seat, arising from a great accession of new domesticks.' (fn. 6) The name of no other member of the Cotton family occurs in the parish register, and probably the Cottons' home at Denton was a much more modest one than 'their own seat' at Conington, but from local tradition it was evidently a substantial mansion, and the handsome old furniture dispersed at the sale of its contents included two carved oak chairs adorned with the royal crown bought by Adams, the parish clerk, for sixpence each, and sold by him to the rector of Water Newton; a great carved bedstead; and a carved oak cabinet 5 ft. high.
Five hides in DENTON, held before the Conquest by Godric, were entered in Domesday Survey among the lands of the Bishop of Lincoln, under whom they were held by Turstin. (fn. 7) The manor was held by the Bishops of Lincoln as late as 1636, as a third of a knight's fee. (fn. 8)
The earliest undertenants of whom we have record were the Lancelins. In 1202 Robert de Lancelin granted a knight's fee in Denton to Richard de Beville (Baiuille). (fn. 9) Richard, by Robert de Beville his brother, sued Robert de Lancelin in the same year for fulfilment of the grant, but Richard, brother of Robert de Lancelin, interposed, claiming that the fee was held of him by his mother Alice, and the question of title was left for settlement between the two Lancelin brothers. (fn. 10) Later it was agreed that Robert de Lancelin should assign lands in Cheshire to Robert de Beville on behalf of his brother Richard (fn. 11) de Beville, evidently as security for the knight's fee in Denton. Richard de Beville must eventually have obtained possession of the fee in Denton, as we find his heirs later holding the manor. (fn. 12) He took a prominent position in the affairs of the county and died in or before 1238. As is shown under Upton (q.v.), he left three daughters, whose heirs (the St. Pierres, the Welsh royal house, the Grims, and the Gobauds) had interests in the manor. The chief holding, however, which included the advowson and later absorbed the whole manor, went to Richard's second daughter Cecily, who married firstly Robert de Sibthorpe and apparently, secondly, Roger de Ingoldsby or Ingolde, who presented to the church in 1259 and 1272. (fn. 13) Cecily was again a widow in 1279, when, as Cecily de Ingolde (Ingoldsby), she held the chief messuage of Denton of the Bishop of Lincoln by a third of a fee. The court of the manor with the garden then contained an acre, and the whole vill comprised 3 hides, of which the Lady Cecily held in demesne 2 virgates. The demesne was shared with her by the representatives of the other co-heirs of Richard de Beville. (fn. 14) Cecily had by her first husband, Robert de Sibthorpe, a son James, (fn. 15) who seems to have predeceased her. He was succeeded by his son Robert, who became known as Robert Grim of Sibthorpe. He died seised of lands and tenants in Denton in 1298, leaving as his heir his brother, Ralph Grim. (fn. 16) Alice, widow of Ralph Grim, presented to the church in 1314. She probably married, as his first wife, Robert de Bayeux, (fn. 17) who presented in 1318. Robert Grim, son of Ralph and Alice, presented in 1345 and 1349, in which year he died, leaving a son Robert, aged 15 years. (fn. 18) The latter Robert married Margery, daughter of Thomas Greenham of Ketton, and their daughter Katharine settled the manors of Sibthorpe, Upton and Denton on her mother Margery and her second husband, Sir Thomas Burton, for their lives. Sir Thomas died in 1381, (fn. 19) and Margery, Lady Burton, his widow, presented to the church until 1414. (fn. 20) After her death the patronage of Denton church, and probably the manor, went to Thomas, son and heir of her great-nephew William Greenham of Ketton. (fn. 21) Thomas was a minor and Nicholas, Bishop of Bath and Wells, as his guardian, presented to the church in 1421, and Thomas presented in 1424 and 1436, (fn. 22) and was still living in 1439. (fn. 23) The Greenhams were apparently in pecuniary difficulties about this time, and in the middle of the 15th century Denton was in the hands of William Knyvet, who sold it to Thomas, son of William Cotton. (fn. 24) Thomas died seised of the manor, held of the Bishop of Lincoln, in 1505, (fn. 25) leaving a son Thomas (d. 1517). (fn. 26) This Thomas's grandson, Thomas, in 1585 settled the manor for life on his youngest son Thomas, and died in 1592, (fn. 27) but his eldest son, Sir Robert Cotton of Conington (q.v.), the antiquary, was dealing with the manor and advowson in 1605, when he conveyed them to his uncle John, (fn. 28) who died childless at Sawtry in 1636, aged 88, seised of the manor and advowson, with which he held 2 messuages recently built by Sir Robert Cotton. (fn. 29) His heir was Sir Robert's son and heir, Sir Thomas Cotton, bart., and the manor and advowson continued to be held, with Conington, Glatton and Holme until the 18th century—presumably till the death of Sir John Cotton in 1752. (fn. 30) It then passed with Glatton and Holme (q.v.) to the Wells family. It was acquired by Mr. J. Ashton Fielden in 1903, and was sold in 1920 to Mr. Joseph Emerton, the present owner. (fn. 31)
The Bevilles continued to hold a large freehold in Denton which possibly descended from Robert, brother of Richard de Beville, who brought the action against Robert Lancelin in 1202, already referred to. Thomas de Beville, who held lands of Sir John Gobaud in Denton by the rent of a pair of gilt spurs in 1279, (fn. 32) was probably the father of Ralph de Beville the younger, son of Thomas de Beville, who held a fee in Denton of the Bishop of Lincoln and was living in 1293 (fn. 33) and 1309. A John de Beville of Denton (father of Thomas who is referred to in 1333 and 1346) (fn. 34) may have been a brother of Ralph. John de Beville of Denton and Margaret his wife are mentioned in 1382–3 (fn. 35) and Thomas son of Thomas de Beville is mentioned in a grant about 1409–10. (fn. 36) Thomas is again referred to in 1422 and later John de Beville of Denton is mentioned. In 1440 William Beville of Denton, gentleman, appeared in a plea of debt. (fn. 37) The Beville holding was probably absorbed by the Cottons, possibly when Thomas Cotton (d. 1505) bought the manor (q.v.).
Land was held in Denton in the 16th and 17th centuries by the Lawrences, owners of the manors of St. Ives, Walton Bevilles, (fn. 38) etc., against whom proceedings were instituted about 1597 by Attorney-General Coke on behalf of the Crown to recover possession of pasture and wood ground, called Sywardhay, in Denton and Wood Walton, parcel of the royal forest, and 'long since inclosed,' into which William Lawrence had entered, claiming it as heir of Henry Lawrence. It was then denied on behalf of the Crown that it had ever been held by Ralph, son of Thomas de Bentley (which seems to be a mistake for Beville), in the time of Edward II, or had come by lawful descent or conveyance to Sir Robert Beville of Chesterton, or from him to the Lawrences. (fn. 39)
In 1279 the fen belonging to Denton was described as 4 acres wide (fn. 40) and a league in length from Whittlesea Mere in one direction to the fields of Denton in the other; but it was stated that Glatton and Holme had forcibly appropriated a league in length and ½ quarentena in width, and prevented the men of Denton from digging turves, etc., and that the Earl of Cornwall had appropriated the Fleet, 3 acres in extent, which was common of Denton, Glatton and Holme. (fn. 41)
The church of ALL SAINTS consists of a chancel (14½ ft. by 13¼ ft.), nave (30½ ft. by 18 ft.), tower at S.W. corner (5 ft. by 7 ft.) and a north porch (6½ ft. by 6 ft.). The walls are of rubble with stone dressings and the roofs are covered with stone-slates and tiles.
The church is mentioned in the Domesday Survey (1086), but the earliest parts remaining are the 12thcentury responds of the chancel arch, and the arch itself, which is of the 13th century. The nave appears to have been rebuilt in the 14th century, and part of the west wall of this period remains. The chancel and nave appear to have been rebuilt in 1629, the porch in 1665, and the tower perhaps in 1671. The church was restored in 1865.
The 17th-century chancel has a three-light east window with a modern head; above it is a stone inscribed 'anno domini 1629 avgvst.' On the gable is a fragment of an ancient cross. In the north wall is a two-light window with a square head; and a blocked door with a wooden lintel. The south wall has a similar window. The chancel arch has a 13thcentury two-centred arch of one chamfered order resting on 12th-century square responds with moulded imposts.
The 17th-century nave has, in the north wall, a square-headed three-light window with a transom, and a plain segmental-headed doorway with a re-used 14th-century label. In the south wall are a similar three-light window and a plain doorway with a roughly two-centred arch and set in a slight thickening of the wall. The west wall has a 17th-century singlelight window, and a doorway into the tower, the western jambs of which appear to be of 14th-century date, but the head is merely a wooden lintel.
The tower, which is of uncertain date, but probably 17th century, is wider from north to south than from east to west; there is a low buttress at the south-east corner. It hardly rises to the ridge of the nave roof and is covered with a hipped tile roof with overhanging eaves. In the west wall is a single-light square-headed window, and in the south wall (visible on the inside only) is a blocked doorway. The belfry windows (in the north, south and west walls only) are two-lights, with rounded heads cut out of one stone. Possibly the date on the second bell (1671) may give us the date when the tower was built.
There are two bells: (1) with a crude shield bearing the letters R O S; (2) inscribed 1671. The first an early 16th-century bell; the second by Tobias Norris III, of Stamford. There were two bells in 1709 and in 1724. (fn. 42)
The Communion table and the rails are quite plain and of 17th-century date. The 18th-century oak pulpit is composed of plain panelling, and the sounding board incorporates some 17th-century material. A bench end in the nave is dated a.d. 1607. On the south wall of the church is an early 18thcentury wooden sundial with an iron gnomon.
The earliest register, which dated from 1546, has been lost in recent years; those that remain are: (i) baptisms, marriages and burials, 20 April 1729 to 27 November 1812, marriages end 14 December 1753; (ii) the official marriage book, 22 June 1755 to 14 January 1811.
The church plate consists of a silver cup and cover paten, the cup engraved with some simple Elizabethan ornament, hall-marked for 1568–9; (fn. 43) a pewter plate by George Holmes, with his shield of a catherine-wheel between four fleur-de-lis stamped on the back, inscribed 'denton'; a pewter bowl inscribed 'denton'; a pewter flagon inscribed 'denton 1732/3.' All the pewter is coarse and heavy.
The church belonged to the Bishop of Lincoln in 1086, (fn. 44) and the advowson was held with the manor until the end of the 19th century. It was acquired by Lord de Ramsey, who presented in 1893, (fn. 45) and afterwards passed to Mr. J. A. Fielden, who sold it to Mrs. Bree in 1923. She held it for only a short time, and it was acquired in 1924 by Mrs. Churchill, the present patron. The living is a rectory, and was united to Caldecote in 1853. Both livings were united to Stilton in 1928.
An ancient endowment of half a virgate of land was attached to the rectory in 1279. (fn. 46) The church was taxed at £4 13s. 4d. in 1291, (fn. 47) and the value was unchanged in 1428, (fn. 48) but had risen to £6 3s. 2d. in 1535. (fn. 49)
Poor's Money.—The endowment of this charity consists of a sum of £25, which is reputed to have been the gift of a member of the Cotton family. The income, amounting to 12s. yearly, is distributed among the poor of the parish. The charity is administered by the Rector of Denton.