Pages xv-xvii

A History of the County of Huntingdon: Volume 1. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1926.

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ALTHOUGH Huntingdonshire is one of the few counties for which no county history has hitherto been published, yet collections of materials for such a history have from time to time been made. The earliest of these collections is contained in four manuscript volumes apparently collected for the Cotton family during the first half of the seventeenth century, as the volumes bear on their covers the Cotton arms and contain copies and extracts of documents largely relating to the Cotton estates. They doubtless came into the possession of the Earl of Carysfort through the marriage in 1673 of the daughter of Sir Thomas Cotton with Sir Thomas Proby, and are still in the library of Col. D. J. Proby, Lord Carysfort's great-grandson, at Elton Hall, Huntingdonshire. About 1668 Richard Astry, M.A., an alderman of the town of Huntingdon, who died in 1714 at the age of 83, made a collection of topographical and heraldic material relating to the county. This collection is now in the British Museum (Lansdowne MS. 921). It is thought to have been made for Sir Robert Cotton, as a small part of the volume is in his handwriting.

A prospectus for a History of Huntingdonshire (fn. 1) was issued by Rev. Benjamin Hutchinson, M. A., prebendary of Lincoln, vicar of Market Rasen in Lincolnshire and Kimbolton in Huntingdonshire, about 1794. The History, with a map and other plates, was to be published by subscription and to include the natural history and antiquities of the county with a translation of the part of Domesday Book relating to Huntingdonshire. Hutchinson was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1795, when he was described as 'a gentleman well skilled in several branches of natural history.' His contributions to the Society consisted of two papers on meteorology. He was rector of Kimbolton from 1791 to 1794 and of Holywell and Needingworth from 1788 to 1804. In 1795 he was also rector of Rushden in Northamptonshire and chaplain to the Duke of Bedford. We find that the Rev. Richard Relhan, F.R.S., author of Flora Cantabrigiensis, who died in 1832, supplied him with a considerable list of the flora of Huntingdonshire (see below, p. 38). Hutchinson apparently never published a history of the county, but he made very large collections for the purpose.

In the Gentleman's Magazine for November 1814 (vol. lxxxiv, pp. 445-6) there is an announcement of a proposed History of Huntingdonshire by John Symmons, Esq., of Paddington House, London. For this purpose it is said Symmons had purchased Hutchinson's collections and the heraldic material of Rev. Robert Smyth; the Earl of Carysfort had also presented him with three folio volumes of collections. John Symmons was apparently the son of Rev. Charles Symmons, poet and biographer; he was called to the Bar and published translations of the classics. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1794 and died in 1842. So far as can be ascertained he never published a history of the county. The Hutchinson collections which he purchased, afterwards came into the possession of Sir Richard Colt Hoare, the historian of Wiltshire, and were sold by auction in January 1888, but their present resting place has not been traced. The Rev. Robert Smyth is described as of Woodstone, Huntingdonshire; his collections have been distributed. (fn. 2) The three folio volumes presented by the Earl of Carysfort to Symmons are three of the four volumes above referred to as still in Elton Hall library and must have been returned by Symmons when he gave up the idea of publishing a history of this county. These three volumes are inscribed inside the cover 'Presented by the Earl of Carysfort September 1814,' a date which connects them with the announcement in the Gentleman's Magazine, and in one volume there is a note of its return to Lord Carysfort.

The editors desire to express their thanks to the many helpers who have lightened their task in preparing this volume for the press. They would particularly mention their gratitude for the sympathetic and practical interest shown in many ways by Col. D. J. and Lady Margaret Proby, which has so greatly facilitated their work. For help on the articles on natural history the authors have individually made acknowledgment, but the editors would like to record their thanks to the Marquess of Huntly, P.C., LL.D., for giving access to the herbarium made by his mother, the late Dowager Marchioness of Huntly; and to his sister Lady Ethelreda Wickham for various collections of notes on the botany of the county, collected by her mother. Special thanks are accorded to Mr. H. Willoughby Ellis, F.E.S., F.Z.S., for the lists of Coleoptera which he has supplied and for his assistance in many other ways, and to Mr. Karl Jordan, D.Ph., of the Tring Museum, for his assistance to Mr. Willoughby Ellis.

The editors also wish to acknowledge the information and help generously given them with regard to the archæological articles and otherwise by Canon W. M. Noble, M.A., Mr. S. Inskip Ladds, A.R.I.B.A., Mr. G. Wyman Abbott, F.S.A., Mr. J. W. Bodger, F.L.S., Mr. J. B. Garrood, M.D., Mr. G. Fydell Rowley, D.L., J.P., Mr. C. G. Tebbutt, J.P., Lieut.-Col. Louis T. D. Tebbutt, D.L., Mr. J. P. Maule, clerk of the peace for the county, Mr. J. W. Winter, town clerk of Huntingdon, the editors of The Peterborough and Hunts Standard, The Peterborough Advertiser, The Huntingdonshire Post, and The St. Neots Advertiser. They also tender their thanks to Mr. R. G. Collingwood, M.A., F.S.A., the Society of Antiquaries, the British Academy and the British Archæological Association, the controller of the Oxford University Press and the director of the Victoria and Albert Museum for permission to reproduce photographs and drawings.


  • 1. There are two copies of this prospectus in Bodley's Library, Oxford, and Brayley in his Beauties of England and Wales (Hunts vol.) refers to the Rev. B. Hutchinson's proposals for a History of Huntingdonshire.
  • 2. Hutchinson's Collections were sold by Messrs. Pickering and Chatto, but they have no note of the purchaser. Some MSS. by Smyth were sold at the Gordon sale on 3 May 1920, and others by Messrs. Sotheby & Co. in Sir Thomas Phillipp's sale in 1896 (lot 91) and 1908 (lot 75). This information is kindly supplied by Mr. H. E. Norris, who has a MS. of the Rev. Robert Smyth in his collection. In reply to a query in the Gentleman's Magazine for 1822 (part ii, p. 286) it is stated that the 'Sepulchral Inscriptions ' by R. Smith were in 1790 the property of 'J. N.' and that they and other Huntingdon MSS. were sold to 'Mr. Simmons.' The same inquirer desired also to know what had become of the Huntingdon Collections of the Rev. Thomas Fairfax, rector of Eynesbury, who died in 1750, and whose property went to a medical gentleman of the name of Middleton of London.