Horningsea: Church

A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 10, Cheveley, Flendish, Staine and Staploe Hundreds (North-Eastern Cambridgeshire). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2002.

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A F Wareham, A P M Wright, 'Horningsea: Church', in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 10, Cheveley, Flendish, Staine and Staploe Hundreds (North-Eastern Cambridgeshire)( London, 2002), British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/cambs/vol10/pp167-170 [accessed 15 July 2024].

A F Wareham, A P M Wright, 'Horningsea: Church', in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 10, Cheveley, Flendish, Staine and Staploe Hundreds (North-Eastern Cambridgeshire)( London, 2002), British History Online, accessed July 15, 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/cambs/vol10/pp167-170.

A F Wareham, A P M Wright. "Horningsea: Church". A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 10, Cheveley, Flendish, Staine and Staploe Hundreds (North-Eastern Cambridgeshire). (London, 2002), , British History Online. Web. 15 July 2024. https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/cambs/vol10/pp167-170.


A minster recorded at Horningsea in the early 10th century may have survived the occupation of the area by the invading Danes in the late 9th. Endowed with 7 hides of land, it was served by a community of clergy whose heads were later alleged to have treated the communal estate as private property. In the early 10th century the priest Cenwold was succeeded as its head by the priest Herulf. Between 963 and 970 Bishop Aethelwold purchased the minster from King Edgar (d. 975), but control of its property remained in dispute. Bishop Aethelwold eventually gained possession of the minster, and before his death in 984 granted it to the monks of Ely. From 1109 rights over the church at Horningsea passed to the newly established bishops of Ely. (fn. 1)

The living was appropriated to the newly founded St. John's hospital c. 1207-8 or 1213-15 by Bishop Eustace (d. 1215): its revenues were to support the hospital's poor, except for the £5 stipend reserved for a vicar to be named by the bishop. Eustace's successor ruled c. 1220 that the vicar be drawn from the ordained brethren of the hospital. (fn. 2) After the king had presented in 1257 during an episcopal vacancy, (fn. 3) the hospital arranged for Bishop Hugh Balsham to appropriate the vicarage c. 1267, probably mainly not for financial gain, but to avoid future interference with its control of the church. The living was thenceforth served, as Bishop Balsham had required, by chaplains who were brethren of St. John's, although in the 1280s the brother who served the cure may have been assisted by a parish chaplain. (fn. 4) Despite that grant a clerk had induced the archbishop of Canterbury to institute him, probably 1276-7, to the allegedly vacant vicarage, but an appeal to the Pope confirmed the hospital's rights in 1289. (fn. 5) After the absorption of the hospital into St. John's College in 1511, parochial chaplains were appointed and removed by the college. (fn. 6)

The living was made exempt from episcopal jurisdiction in 1782. (fn. 7) In 1864 the curate, A. C. Haviland, was licensed by the bishop. (fn. 8) Thereafter the procedure for appointment to the living required the college to send a nomination to the bishop, whose licence formally assigned the stipend to the incumbent. (fn. 9) In 1930 the bishop, however, nominated by lapse. (fn. 10) From 1871 vicars were appointed instead of curates, and the living was united with Fen Ditton from 1983, with the right of presentation being exercised in three turns; the first and third were assigned to the bishop of Ely, the second to St. John's College. (fn. 11)

In 1279 the glebe comprised 48 a. (fn. 12) Other lands were acquired by St. John's hospital between the 13th century and the late 15th. (fn. 13) In 1293 the hospital was summoned to answer claims made by the rector of Fen Ditton about the right to collect tithe, perhaps from livestock commoned both in Horningsea and Fen Ditton. (fn. 14) The dispute continued throughout the 14th and 15th centuries with frequent new agreements and arbitrations. In an agreement made 1377-9 between the hospital and Denny abbey in Waterbeach over the tithes of Eye Hall manor, shortly after Denny's foundress, the countess of Pembroke, died, the tithes were divided: the hospital was given those of corn and hay, the abbey receiving the small tithes. (fn. 15) In 1412 tithes on cattle were payable to St. John's hospital, but c. 1537 a farmer refused to pay such tithes. (fn. 16) Allotments for tithe at inclosure resulted in St. John's College owning 370 a. in the parish in 1812, but in 1999 the college only retained Parsonage farm, comprising c. 150 a. (fn. 17)

The living was valued at £20 6s. 10d. c. 1217, at £16 12s. 8d. in 1254, and at £22 in 1278. (fn. 18) After paying the vicar's stipend and diocesan dues, the hospital was left in 1254 with a net income from the church of £11 6s. 10d. (fn. 19) In 1463 the £5 stipend went to a priestly brother of the hospital. In 1485 it was paid quarterly. (fn. 20) About 1510 £4 16s. a year was paid to the chaplain. (fn. 21) From 1574 the college obliged its lessee at Horningsea to provide Sunday dinner or a shilling for visiting preachers, but from 1764 1s. a week, the value of the meal, was assigned to the chaplain instead. (fn. 22) Between 1832 and 1862 the income of the living rose from £80 to £100 a year and in 1871 stood at £200. (fn. 23) In 1923 proposals to augment the stipend, then £210, were rejected because Horningsea was a college living, but in 1933 it was augmented by £140 per annum. (fn. 24)

A house, apparently provided for the curate by 1532, was still in use in 1544. (fn. 25) The chaplain's house was well maintained in the early 19th century, (fn. 26) but was replaced in 1833 by another, two-storeyed, house south of St. John's Lane. (fn. 27) The college built a new vicarage house in 1872 south-east of Horningsea Road. (fn. 28) Improvements to that house were carried out between 1879 and 1890, with further alterations in 1922, 1948, 1956 and 1962. It was sold in 1983.

Between 1215 and 1267 brethren of St. John's hospital usually acted as chaplains; (fn. 29) Adam, its master, served in 1233, (fn. 30) and another master in the mid 1330s. Throughout the Middle Ages such brethren continued to serve the church, a function inherited after 1511 by fellows of the college. (fn. 31) Between 1505 and 1510 the chaplain may have lived in Horningsea. (fn. 32) Christopher Wright, one of the hospital's three remaining brethren in 1511, enjoyed a pension and the curacy of Horningsea for several years. (fn. 33) After 1511 fellows of St. John's College were usually named as chaplains. (fn. 34) Between 1765 and 1868 the parish was served by 16 chaplains, most of them only acting for a few years; they were usually non-resident, but lived nearby in college. (fn. 35) In 1809, in the first year of his appointment, Ralph Tatham inaugurated a Sunday school to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of King George III. In the 1880s the parish was served by an energetic vicar. (fn. 36)

In 1299 Simon of Bradenham and his wife were in dispute with the master of St. John's hospital over obligations supposedly attached to 8 a. of Eye Hall manor included in the glebe. Simon claimed the right to have mass celebrated in his new manorial chapel of St. Andrew three times a week and on St. Andrew's day. The hospital agreed to supply a chaplain to say mass there twice a year. (fn. 37) In 1346-7 the master of St. John's hospital was licensed by Bishop Lisle sometimes to hear confessions of the parishioners in their homes rather than in church. (fn. 38) The guild of Our Lady and St. Peter attracted bequests from parishioners in the 1520s. (fn. 39) In 1561 services were read by different curates from one Sunday to another. (fn. 40)

In 1676 there were 124 communicants. (fn. 41) In 1728 the chaplain held two Sunday services, catechized in the summer, and had 20 people attending communion, which was held three times a year. (fn. 42) Between 1873 and 1885 there were c. 30 communicants, with an average attendance of c. 14-20, but following the arrival in 1885 of E. J. S. Rudd, who was assisted by undergraduates in deacons' orders, numbers attending rose to 40 in 1897. (fn. 43) In 1885 communion was held monthly, and in 1897 fortnightly. (fn. 44) In the late 19th century there were two services on Sundays; between 1885 and 1897 there was an improvement in church attendance. In 1885 the people occupying the 15 houses at Clayhithe and Eye went to neighbouring churches at Waterbeach and Quy. In the early 1960s church attendance fell dramatically at Horningsea: each Sunday service often only attracted three people, mostly undergraduates. The vicar had a poor relationship with his Horningsea parishioners. (fn. 45)

The existing parish church, dedicated to ST. PETER by 1266, (fn. 46) may occupy the site of the 10th-century minster. (fn. 47) That earlier church perhaps consisted of a single-celled main body with porticus to north and south, putatively providing the ground plan for its successor. Built of Barnack ashlar, flint, clunch, and other rubble, the existing church consists of a chancel, an aisled nave, a south porch, and a west tower; there is no chancel arch. (fn. 48) A three-bayed south arcade and aisle, probably not opening into the surviving porticus, was added c. 1200. The west tower was probably built soon after. Also in the 13th century the earlier chancel was replaced, leaving long responds at the east end of the nave, by a longer chancel in which some 12th-century masonry was reused. Its original lancets survive on the north side, although its east window was replaced in the late 14th century. The chancel retains three probably 13th-century piscinae in its south wall, one (restored) at the east end, two others, probably marking the position of altars, near the east end of the nave. The four-bayed aisles were rebuilt and mostly given two-light windows in the 14th century, beginning with the north aisle, whose arcade's east respond incorporates material from the former north porticus. When later in that century the south aisle, south doorway, and south porch were rebuilt, the former opening to the south porticus was remodelled to match that on the north. A side chapel, probably dedicated to the Virgin Mary, occupied the east end of the south aisle, where a niche for a statue and a late 14th-century piscina survive. A pair of long angle buttresses were also added at the south-west corner of the tower at that time. The asymmetrical position of the 14th-century west window of the south aisle suggests that an external annexe, possibly a 14th-century charnel house, then stood against the south wall of the tower. The fourth stage of the tower may have been added c. 1400. A fivelight window, mullioned but untraceried, was inserted in the south aisle in the early 16th century. Fragments of late medieval glass survive in several of the windows.

In 1745 the nave roof had a dormer window on the south side. (fn. 49) In 1779 the church was in a deplorable condition. (fn. 50) In 1831 the churchwardens paid for building materials and repairs. (fn. 51) Brick battlements were added to the tower c. 1825, (fn. 52) and between 1847 and 1850 the chancel was renovated. (fn. 53) Major restoration in 1865 (fn. 54) included rebuilding the north aisle, re-roofing the nave, south aisle, and chancel, repaving the floor, and opening the tower arch. (fn. 55) In the late 19th century the roofs of the nave and chancel were rebuilt at a higher level. (fn. 56) The tower was restored in 1889-90, when a hotwater heating system was installed. (fn. 57) In the mid 20th century the church was much neglected, and brambles and ivy grew inside the building, but between 1981 and 1987 it was re-roofed, the walls were restored and redecorated, and the interior was fitted with electric heating and lighting. (fn. 58)

Probably in the 950s or early 960s Herulf, formerly head of the minster clergy, used treasures given to it to induce the king's reeve Wulfstan of Dalham to spare Herulf's kinsman and successor, the priest Athelstan, accused of receiving stolen goods. (fn. 59) About 1300, in addition to numerous service books, the church's liturgical equipment included an ivory pyx, a missal bound in red leather with silver clasps, and five full sets of vestments. (fn. 60) Surviving fittings include the early 13th-century font bowl, late 15th-century oak pews, and the octagonal oak pulpit with a tester and carved panels of c. 1600.

The plate includes a cup of 1569 and a silver gilt cup and paten of 1635, given by St. John's College in 1829. (fn. 61) There were three bells in 1552. The five bells in place in the 1990s were hung in an oak frame on cast-iron headstocks. The tenor bell was cast in 1608 by John Draper; one of the treble bells, cast in 1680 by Christopher Graye, was recast in 1938, while the remaining three bells were cast at Loughborough in 1871. (fn. 62) In 1889 a new organ made by Rayson of Ipswich was installed. (fn. 63) In 1993 the stalls and pews were treated to destroy death watch beetle which had infested the woodwork as a result of reusing roof-timbers in 1865. (fn. 64) The parish registers are substantially complete from 1628. (fn. 65)


  • 1. Liber Elien. (Camd. 3rd ser. xcii), pp. xi-xii, 105-8; above, manors and other estates.
  • 2. St. John's Coll. Mun., D 20; Baker, Hist. St. John's Coll. i. 19-20. For the hospital's foundation, V.C.H. Cambs. ii. 303-7; M. Rubin, Charity and Community in Med. Cambridge (1987), 99-111, esp. 102.
  • 3. Cal. Pat. 1247-58, 607.
  • 4. V.C.H. Cambs. ii. 304-5; Rubin, Charity and Community, 200.
  • 5. Baker, Hist. St. John's Coll. i. 25; C. H. Cooper, Lady Margaret (Camb. 1874), 174-8.
  • 6. e.g. C.U.L., E.D.R., C 1/4.
  • 7. Ibid. B 7/1, p. 11.
  • 8. Camb. Chron. 17 Nov. 1866, p. 7.
  • 9. St. John's Coll. Mun., SB FL/7A; Church Com. file NB 14/139.
  • 10. Church Com. file 62575.
  • 11. Inf. from St. John's College.
  • 12. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 442.
  • 13. St. John's Coll. Mun., D 26/7; D 26/10; D 26/16; D 26/54; D 26/55; ibid. St. John's Hosp. Cart. f. 37v.; Cal. Pat. 1345-8, 352; 1361-4, 260.
  • 14. St. John's Coll. Mun., D 26/65.
  • 15. Ibid. D 26/128.
  • 16. Baker, Hist. St. John's Coll. i. 354; P.R.O., C 1/1001, no. 17.
  • 17. Inf. from St. John's Coll., Cambridge.
  • 18. Val. of Norwich, ed. Lunt, 138; Vetus Liber Arch. Elien. (C.A.S. 8vo ser. xlviii), 40.
  • 19. St. John's Coll. Mun., D 20; Val. of Norwich, ed. Lunt, 138.
  • 20. C.U.L., E.D.R., G 1/5, f. 115v.
  • 21. St. John's Coll. Mun., D 106/9, f. 12v.
  • 22. Baker, Hist. St. John's Coll. i. 399, 435, 441, 460; ii. 1040.
  • 23. C.U.L., E.D.R., C 1/4; Church Com. file NB 14/139.
  • 24. Church Com. file, NB 14/139.
  • 25. Clay, Horningsey, 44; C.U.L., E.D.R., B 7/1, p. 11.
  • 26. C.U.L., E.D.R., C 1/4.
  • 27. R.C.H.M. Cambs. ii. 70; Howard, Finances of St. John's, 158; St. John's Coll. Mun., D 110/220, f. 4; ibid. sale partics. 1983.
  • 28. Howard, Finances of St. John's, 140; R.C.H.M. Cambs. ii. f 71; St. John's Coll. Mun., MP S/859.
  • 29. Cooper, Lady Margaret, 175.
  • 30. Rubin, Charity and Community, 302; St. John's Coll. Mun., D 26/56.
  • 31. East Anglian, N.S. xiii. 190; St. John's Coll. Mun., D 26/70; D 26/90; D 26/100; V.C.H. Cambs. ii. 305.
  • 32. Rubin, Charity and Community, 201; C.U.L., Add. MS. 6380, p. 162.
  • 33. Clay, Horningsey, 49, 52.
  • 34. Alum. Cantab. to 1751, i. 360; ii. 404, 476, 491; iv. 99, 411; Clay, Horningsey, 52; Baker, Hist. St. John's Coll, i. 351, 365; Cambs. Ch. Goods, temp. Edw. VI, 68; Ely Episc. Rec. ed. Gibbons, 320; C.U.L., Add. MS. 6380, pp. 162-3; ibid. E.D.R., B 2/4, p. 45; B 2/6, pp. 26, 139; B 2/8, pp. 11, 106, 165; B 2/11, ff. 61, 86v., 104, 116v., 123; B 2/12, f. 68; B 2/13, f. 11; B 2/17, f. 46; B 2/18, f. 65v.; B 2/23, f. 10; B 2/28, ff. 89-91v.; B 2/32, ff. 109v., 132, 163; D 2/10, ff. 119v., 135, 232v.; Lamb. Pal. MS. COMM. XIIa/13, f. 255.
  • 35. Alum. Cantab. to 1751, i. 267; ii. 162; iii. 116; 1752- 1900, i. 107, 493, 540; ii. 129-30; iii. 164, 289, 568; iv. 85, 235; v. 67, 377, 572; vi. 115, 182, 303, 609; Crockford (1926 and later edns. to 1980-2); Clay, Horningsey, 52-3; C.U.L., E.D.R., B 2/58, f. 27v.; B 2/67, ff. 29v., 42, 68, 87; B 8/1, f. 19; ibid. Add. MS. 6380, pp. 162-3; C.R.O., par. reg. transcript, p. 154.
  • 36. R. Tricker, Saint Peter's Church, Horningsea (1999), 7.
  • 37. St. John's Coll. Mun., D 26/8; cf. Rubin, Charity and Community, 199 n.
  • 38. C.U.L., E.D.R., B 2/3, p. 118; B 2/13, f. 18v.; D 2/10, ff. 22v., 206.
  • 39. Ibid. G 1/1, f. 9 v.
  • 40. Ibid. B 2/11, f. 86v.; B 2/28, f. 91.
  • 41. Compton Census, ed. Whiteman, 163.
  • 42. C.U.L., E.D.R., B 8/1, f. 19; C 1/4.
  • 43. Alum. Cantab. 1752-1900, v. 377; C.U.L., E.D.R., C 3/25; C 3/30; C 3/37.
  • 44. C.U.L., E.D.R., C 3/25; C 3/30.
  • 45. Camb. Evening News, 11 Nov. 1962; 21 Nov. 1962; 12 Nov. 1962.
  • 46. St. John's Coll. Mun., D 26/7.
  • 47. R.C.H.M. Cambs. ii. 65-9; Clay, Horningsey, 37-42; Eccl. Top. Eng. vi, no. 73; Kelly's Dir. Cambs. (1892); Pevsner, Cambs. 409-10; B.L. Add. MS. 37178, f. 80; C.U.L., Add. MS. 4520, f. 38; D.o.E. list.
  • 48. B.L. Add. MS. 5809, ff. 19v.-20.
  • 49. Ibid.
  • 50. C.R.O., P 94/4/1.
  • 51. Clay, Horningsey, 38.
  • 52. Ibid. 37; Gardner's Dir. Cambs. (1851); R.C.H.M. Cambs. ii. 66.
  • 53. Kelly's Dir. Cambs. (1892); Camb. Chron. 2 Aug. 1862, p. 5.
  • 54. Camb. Chron. 16 Dec. 1865, p. 5; 17 Nov. 1866, p. 7.
  • 55. Clay, Horningsey, 37-8; R.C.H.M. Cambs. ii. 68; D.o.E. list; B.L. Add. MS. 37178, f. 80; C.U.L., Add. MS. 4520, f. 38.
  • 56. Kelly's Dir. Cambs. (1892); Tricker, Saint Peter's Church, 10-11.
  • 57. Tricker, Saint Peter's Church, 11-12.
  • 58. Ibid. 4-5.
  • 59. Liber Elien. (Camd. 3rd ser. xcii), pp. 105-8.
  • 60. Clay, Horningsey, 39-40; St. John's Coll. Mun., D 106/2/1-8, ff. 1-8v.
  • 61. R.C.H.M. Cambs. ii. 69.
  • 62. Cambs. Ch. Goods, temp. Edw. VI, 68; Cambs. Bells (C.A.S. 8vo ser. xviii), 88; MS. notes by H.B. Walters, in possession of V.C.H.; Tricker, Saint Peter's Church, 19.
  • 63. Tricker, Saint Peter's Church, 10-11.
  • 64. Ibid. 12.
  • 65. C.R.O., P 94/1/1-7.