Parishes: Holywell with Needingworth

A History of the County of Huntingdon: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1932.

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'Parishes: Holywell with Needingworth', in A History of the County of Huntingdon: Volume 2, ed. William Page, Granville Proby, S Inskip Ladds( London, 1932), British History Online [accessed 23 July 2024].

'Parishes: Holywell with Needingworth', in A History of the County of Huntingdon: Volume 2. Edited by William Page, Granville Proby, S Inskip Ladds( London, 1932), British History Online, accessed July 23, 2024,

"Parishes: Holywell with Needingworth". A History of the County of Huntingdon: Volume 2. Ed. William Page, Granville Proby, S Inskip Ladds(London, 1932), , British History Online. Web. 23 July 2024.

In this section


Haliewell (xi cent.); Halywell (xiii cent.); Holliwell cum Needingworth (xvii cent.); Nidingworth (xiii cent.); Niddyngworth (xiv cent.).

This parish, which contains 2,911 acres, lies to the north of the Ouse immediately east of St. Ives. It is said to have gained a few acres by the river, acquiring a more southerly course in the 14th century, the old river bed being still traceable in the meadows and still called the Old River. The land rises from the rich pastures along the Ouse northward, where, about Needingworth, it becomes arable and heath land which covers a little more than half the total area of the parish. The soil is clay and loam, but gravel is worked at Needingworth. An Inclosure Act for the parish was passed in 1800. (fn. 1)

Holywell takes its name from the well on the south side of the churchyard, and gained importance from the ferry over the Ouse to Fen Drayton. The well was repaired in 1845 by Rev. S. B. Beckwith, the rector, when a brick curb and covering arch were built. There is another well of more peculiar qualities in a neighbouring cellar. (fn. 2) The village lies along two roads running irregularly east and west, which are connected at each end. The northern road is called Back Lane and the southern Holywell Front. The church is at the west end of the southern road; east of it is the rectory. In Conger Lane, at the western junction of the two roads, is the Manor Farm, and along both roads there are picturesque timberframed tiled cottages, mostly of the 17th century. Moyne's Hall, with the remains of a moat, at the east end of Back Lane, originally a 17th-century house but now refronted in brick and otherwise modernised, probably takes its name from Berengar le Moyne, who gave a house and lands here to Ramsey Abbey. The property was quitclaimed by his widow Emma to the monks in 1286. (fn. 3) Moyne's Hall was later acquired, probably from Thomas son of Alexander East, (fn. 4) by William Chaderton, bishop of Chester and afterwards bishop of Lincoln, who was rector of Holywell (1570 to 1579). He settled it in 1583 upon the heirs of his daughter Joan Brooke. (fn. 5) Upon his death it descended to her daughter, Elizabeth Sandes, afterwards Joceline, author of 'The Mother's Legacy to her Unborn Child.' (fn. 6) It seems to have passed with the Joceline estates at Southoe (q.v.). (fn. 7)

North of the village along Mill Way is the manorial windmill mentioned in 1279, (fn. 8) which was the subject of a dispute between the abbot of Ramsey and his tenants in 1385. (fn. 9)

Needingworth lies farther northward along Mill Way, the continuation of which is called Church Street. High Street, the main street of the village, forms a part of the road from Ely to St. Ives. Most of the village was burnt down on 16 September 1847, (fn. 10) but some 17th and 18th-century houses and cottages have survived. Towards the north end of the village is a brick house called the Chestnuts, built early in the 18th century. It is of two stories with attics and contains a fine staircase, at the top of which are the initials T.A. and date 1710. The Church House or Town House stood in Church Street from at least 1552, (fn. 11) and is now possibly represented by three partially ruinous cottages. A War Memorial for the whole parish has been erected in the High Street. A Baptist chapel, built in 1861, stands in the middle of the street, and near the western end is a Methodist chapel dating from 1888.

An important farmstead in Needingworth was called 'le Hoo.' It was let in 1540 to Thomas Peche, who was also farming the site of Holywell Manor; (fn. 12) and in 1607 George Sheffield, gentleman, took a forty years' lease of it from the crown. (fn. 13)

Prehistoric and Roman remains have been found in the parish. (fn. 14)


HOLYWELL and NEEDINGWORTH seem at one time to have been distinct holdings. Holywell was given to the monks of Ramsey by Alfwara, who died in 1007 and was buried at Ramsey (fn. 15); the church and the land held with it were added by Gode, the priest of Holywell, on his death. (fn. 16) Needingworth is said to have been bought from King Edgar by St. Oswald (c. 969) in order to bestow it on Ramsey Abbey, but realising its distance from the abbey, Oswald exchanged it with the king for Kingston or Wistow (q.v.). (fn. 17) Needingworth may have been part of the lands in Slepe bestowed on the abbey by Æthelstan Manneson and confirmed by Edgar in 974, (fn. 18) and may have been the 9 carucates of land in Holywell which later are said to have been given to the abbey by Æthelstan Manneson. (fn. 19) It is not mentioned in the Domesday Survey (1086), but was no doubt included in the 9 hides in Holywell held by Ramsey Abbey. (fn. 20) One of these hides was held by Aluuold, who was possibly the forerunner of the owners of Moyne's Hall, for the holding of Berengar le Moyne in Holywell and Needingworth was in 1252 assessed at one hide. (fn. 21) It was apparently bought with Barnwell St. Andrew (co. Northants.) under the name of Needingworth by Abbot William de Godmanchester on behalf of the abbey in 1276. (fn. 22)

In 1252 the holding of the abbot in Holywell and Needingworth was only eight and a half hides and half a virgate, but this excluded the half hide and half virgate which the Prior of St. Ives held at Needingworth; possibly these are represented by the presentday 'Priory.' Berengar Le Moyne did suit at Broughton court. The prior's tenants should have appeared at the abbot's leet, but he withdrew them. (fn. 23) The demesne lands were scattered through many fields, (fn. 24) and the hay from the fen-land was of such importance that the manor was occasionally styled Holywell with Holywell Fen. (fn. 25) The value of the manor during the 15th and 16th centuries was between £48 and £78. (fn. 26) The abbey cellarer also had a fee in Needingworth, and the abbot's bondmen paid fines in kind, e.g. two capons, if they removed to that land. (fn. 27)

When the abbey was suppressed in 1539, considerable parts of the land were in lease to Thomas Peche, who had succeeded Robert Emmotts as tenant of the demesne lands, and also leased the Hoo and certain meadow land. The abbot's stewards still held the courts, for which the profits in the year after the suppression amounted to the considerable sum of £4 12s. The fishery, with the weir of 'Ovyr Coote,' was rented by the Kynge family, who also occupied 'le Pondeyard.' (fn. 28) In 1545 the crown appointed Richard Brandon as bailiff and collector. (fn. 29) The manor was assigned with St. Ives to the Princess, afterwards Queen Elizabeth, who in 1577 granted a reversionary lease of the site from 1599 when Emmott's lease terminated, to her physician Richard Master. (fn. 30) The manorial rights were purchased from the crown with those of St. Ives by Henry Earl of Manchester in 1628. (fn. 31) The manor remained with his descendants, lords of Kimbolton Castle (q.v.), until about 1877. It was then acquired by Robert Sandifer, who occupied the manor house. It was put up for auction in 1888, but withdrawn, and then passed to Mrs. John Watts, who was lady of the manor in 1890. It afterwards came to John Watts, who died in 1918, aged 90, and from him to the present lord, Mr. Edmund L. Watts.


The church of ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST (fn. 32) consists of a chancel (32¼ ft. by 15¾ ft.), south vestry (9 ft. by 8 ft.), nave (37¾ ft. by 15¼ ft.), north aisle (8½ ft. wide), south aisle (9¾ ft. wide), and west tower (11 ft. by 10½ ft.), and modern south porch. The walls are of rubble with stone dressings, the west tower is of ashlar, and the roofs are of tiles and slates.

Although mentioned in the Domesday Survey (1086) it is doubtful if anything earlier than the 13th century remains, to which date the chancel may be assigned. The north arcade and aisle were built towards the end of the century, and about the year 1300 the south arcade and south aisle were added. The tower is recorded to have been built in 1547, (fn. 33) of stone brought from Ramsey Abbey, the material being largely of early 14th century date. The clearstory is of the early 16th century. The church was rather drastically restored in 1862, when the vestry was added and the porch rebuilt; the tower was restored in 1915, and other works done in 1919.

The mid-13th century chancel has a modern east window inserted in the ancient inner jambs; the side walls have each two windows composed of double lancets under a semicircular arch, the lights divided inside by a circular shaft with moulded cap and base. In the north wall is a plain locker, and in the south wall a doorway opening into the modern vestry, and a trefoil-headed piscina, all of the 13th century. The early 14th century chancel arch has been carelessly reset and is much distorted; the rood screen, formerly under it, was taken down in 1563, (fn. 34) the present screen being put up in 1923, in memory of William Ross (died 1918).

The north arcade, of late 13th century date, is of three bays with pointed arches and octagonal columns; the lower order at the west end is carried on a moulded corbel supported upon a carved head. The upper doorway of the rood loft remains at the eastern end. The south arcade, of the early 14th century, is also of three bays of similar design to that on the north; the centre arch is wider and higher than the others. The early 16th century clearstory has three two-light windows on each side. There are eight carved oak figures, c. 1500, fixed to the jack-legs of the modern roof.

The north aisle has a much mutilated two-light east window, and two modern two-lights and a late 13th century doorway in the north wall. The south aisle has a 14th-century three-light window in the east wall, which has lost its tracery. In the south wall are a modern two-light and a much restored two-light window, and an early 14th century doorway.

The west tower, built of old materials in 1547, has a richly moulded and carved tower arch of 14th-century date supported on plain square piers; the side walls have recesses under similar arches; and the west wall has an early 16th century doorway above which is a square-headed three-light window. In the north, south and west walls of the belfry are two-light windows of 14th-century date, and the east wall has a square-headed light with a small doorway below it. There is an embattled parapet with simple crocketed pinnacles. The stair-turret is in the south-west angle.

The font has a modern bowl standing on a late 13th-century central and four smaller shafts, the latter with moulded caps and bases.

There are five bells, inscribed: 1. Presented by the family of William Ross in memory of Eliza A. Barker, 1915. J. Alfred Ross, M.A., Rector; 2. John Peachey, John Bessel, Chvrchwardens, 1625; 3. The Lord is ivst in all his wayes, 1625; 4. When ye heare my dolefvl sovnd repent before ye coem to grovnd; and (on the rim): I cal al men to Chvrch to serve the Lord, I cal to grave and yet speake not a word, 1625; 5. Cvm cano bvsta mori cvm pvlpita vivere dise (for 'disce'), 1625. Recast as the gift of John Bolding Ellis, Esq., Churchwarden, 1915. The old bells were cast by William Haulsey, of St. Ives. (fn. 35) In 1552 there were three great bells. (fn. 36) All the bells were rehung in a new frame, 1915.

There are monuments: in the chancel, to the Rev. Henry Parrott, Rector, and Catherine (Halford) his wife, erected 1759; Thomas Howard, d. 1808, Rebecca his wife, d. 1815, and John Thorp Howard, their grandson, d. 1825; the Rev. James Lowry, rector of Waddeston, Bucks, d. 1859, Eliza his wife, d. 1854, and two daughters, Emma and Jemima, d. 1842; Sanders, son of Sanders and Mary Spencer, d. 1909. The reredos is inscribed for John Bolding Ellis, d. 1915; and the altar for Susan Jane his wife, d. 1921. In the nave, floor slabs to Edward Theed, d. 1775, Mary his wife, d. 1776, Cawood their son, d. 1775, and Mrs. Joseph Thorp, d. 1782; and to the above-named Emma and Jemima Lowry. In the north aisle, to William Easton, killed in the South African War, 1899–1902. In the south aisle, a hatchment for William Ross, d. 1918.

In the churchyard, near the south-east corner of the nave, is the spring from which the parish takes its name, already described.

The registers are as follows: (i) baptisms, marriages, and burials, 1667 to 1746; (ii) baptisms and burials, 1747 to 1812, and marriages, 1747 to 1754; (iii) the official marriage book, 1754 to 1812; the usual modern books.

The church plate consists of: A large coarse silver cup inscribed 'Thomas Ashton for the use of the Parish of Holeywell,' and hall-marked for 1822–3; a silver standing paten inscribed 'Presented to the Parish of Holywell with Needingworth by the Revd. William James Aislabie, M.A., Rector, in the 32nd year of his Incumbency, A.D. 1835,' and hall-marked for 1834–5; a plated flagon, unmarked.


As already stated, the church and land held with it were given to Ramsey Abbey, probably in the 11th century, by Gode, the priest of Holywell. The advowson belonged to the Abbots of Ramsey until the dissolution of that house in 1539. It then remained in the hands of the crown; the presentation was frequently alienated by the crown for a single turn. (fn. 37) In 1628 the advowson was granted with the manor to Henry Earl of Manchester, (fn. 38) and descended with the manorial rights (fn. 39) until 1866, when it was purchased from the trustees of the seventh Duke of Manchester by the Rev. H. J. Hoskyns, rector of Blaby-cumCountesthorpe (co. Leic.). The patronage descended to his grandson, Captain H. C. W. Hoskyns. In 1913 on the nomination of a mortgagee, Col. T. F. Waterhouse of Penn Hall (co. Staff.), he presented the present rector, the Rev. James A. Ross, who has since acquired the advowson. (fn. 40) The abbots did not impropriate the church.

A chapel at Needingworth, apparently dedicated to St. James, is mentioned in 1252 (fn. 41) and was in use in the latter part of the 16th century. (fn. 42) Its position may have been in the field called the Chapel Close, but no remains are known to exist. (fn. 43) Although described as a parish church in 1552, (fn. 44) probably erroneously, it does not seem to have had the right of burial, as parishioners of Needingworth directed in their wills that their bodies should be buried at Holywell. (fn. 45) It probably fell into disuse in the latter part of the 16th century. In 1540 Our Lady's Chapel of Needingworth is mentioned in wills, (fn. 46) and in 1570 the chapel of St. Mary in Needingworth with a piece of waste land 280 ft. by 236 ft., called 'le Heremitage,' on Hurstheath, was granted as concealed lands to Richard Hill of Herbridge in Essex, and Robert Doune of Ipswich. (fn. 47)


Poor's Land. The endowment of this charity originally consisted of an allotment of about 15 acres on Somersham Heath in the parish, awarded in lieu of open field and meadow land to the poor of the parish. The land was sold in 1874 to the Duke of Manchester and the proceeds invested in the purchase of £572 5s. 4d. Consols with the Official Trustees, producing £14 6s. yearly in dividends, which together with a sum of £1 11s. 8d. received from Tenison's Charity for the poor are distributed in coals to about 90 recipients. The trustees of the charity consist of four persons appointed by the Parish Council.

Thomas Tenison, by an indenture dated 18 Oct. 1678, gave to trustees ½ acre of land together with the cottages thereon, the rents to be applied for the benefit of the poor and for church expenses. By a scheme of the Charity Commissioners dated 12 Dec. 1916, authority was given for the sale of the property, the proceeds to be apportioned in moieties to form the endowments of two charities to be called respectively the Charity of Thomas Tenison for the Parish Church, and the Charity of Thomas Tenison for the Poor. The property was sold in the year 1917 and the proceeds invested in the purchase of £127 4s. 7d. Consols in the name of the Official Trustees and apportioned as above. Each charity receives the sum of £1 11s. 8d. yearly in dividends, which are applied in accordance with the directions contained in the scheme. The trustees of the Charity for the Parish Church are the rector and churchwardens and the trustees of the Charity for the Poor are the trustees of the Poor's Land.

Church Land. The endowment of this charity originally consisted of several pieces of land together with land known as Chapel-yard, the rents of which were paid to the churchwardens and applied as a church rate. In 1916 the land, containing 2 a. 1 r. 29 p., was sold and the proceeds invested in the purchase of £228 6s. Consols with the Official Trustees, producing £5 14s. annually in dividends, which are applied towards church expenses. The rector and churchwardens are the trustees of the charity.

Margaret Pickard, by her will dated 8 Sep. 1765, gave to the minister and churchwardens of the parish a yearly rentcharge of 20s. issuing out of all her copyhold lands within the manor for the poor of the parish. The rentcharge, which is received in sums of 13s. 4d. and 6s. 8d. out of two houses and land at Needingworth now in the occupation of Mrs. E. A. Goudge and Mr. A. Sandifer, is distributed by the trustees of the Poor's Land to the poor in bread in accordance with the directions contained in the will.

Miss Jane Emily Beckwith, by her will proved in the Principal Registry on the 21 Dec. 1876, gave to the minister and churchwardens of the parish the sum of £200, the interest to be applied for the benefit of the deserving poor. The endowment of the Charity now consists of a sum of £224 14s. 1d. Consols with the Official Trustees producing £5 10s. 8d. yearly in dividends, which are distributed by the rector and churchwardens in coals to about 50 recipients.

Clay Pits. Under the terms of an Inclosure Award dated in 1800, land containing one acre was allotted, the herbage of which was vested in the rector. The land was sold in 1878 and the proceeds invested in £155 16s. 11d. Consols now in the High Court of Justice. By an Order under the Local Government Act 1894 s. 75 (2) this sum of stock was apportioned in moieties to form the endowments of charities called the Clay Pits Ecclesiastical Charity and the Clay Pits NonEcclesiastical Charity. Half of the dividends on the stock amounting to £4 5s. 8d. yearly is paid to the rector and the remaining half to the Parish Council. The rector is the trustee of the Ecclesiastical Charity and the Parish Council the trustees of the NonEcclesiastical Charity.


  • 1. G. Slater, Engl. Peasantry, 281.
  • 2. Notes and Queries (Ser. 9) vi, 210, 294.
  • 3. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.) ii, 602; Add. Ch. 34245; Feet of F. Div. Cos. 14 Edw. I, no. 173; cf. V.C.H. Northants. iii, 73.
  • 4. Feet of F. Hunts. Hil. 22 Eliz.
  • 5. Chan. Inq. p.m. (Ser. ii) cccii, 90.
  • 6. D.N.B. (under Chadderton).
  • 7. Feet of F. Hunts. Mich. 22 Chas. I.
  • 8. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.) ii, 602.
  • 9. Add. R. 34778.
  • 10. Annual Reg. lxxxix, 126. There was another serious fire on 12 April 1855.
  • 11. Inf. from Chwdns. Accts. supplied by Rev. J. A. Ross; Pat. R. 5 Jas. I, pt. 14.
  • 12. Mins. Accts. Hen. VIII, 7287.
  • 13. Pat. R. 5 Jas. I, pt. 14.
  • 14. V.C.H. Hunts. i, 217, 222, 255, 266.
  • 15. Cartul. Mon. de Rames. (Rolls Ser.) iii, 167 (afterwards referred to as Cartul. Rames.); Chron. Abbat. Rames. (Rolls Ser.) 84 (afterwards referred to as Chron. Rames.).
  • 16. Ibid. 85.
  • 17. Ibid. 48.
  • 18. Cartul. Rames. ii, 56.
  • 19. Ibid. i, 271.
  • 20. V.C.H. Hunts. i, 343.
  • 21. Cartul. Rames. i, 295.
  • 22. Chron. Rames. 348.
  • 23. Cartul. Rames. i, 296.
  • 24. Ibid. 294.
  • 25. Add. Ch. (B.M.) 34353.
  • 26. Ibid. 34657; Mins. Acct. Hen. VIII. 7287.
  • 27. Add. R. (B.M.) 34778; Court R. (P.R.O.) 179, no. 44.
  • 28. Mins. Acct. loc. cit.
  • 29. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xx. pt. i, p. 674.
  • 30. Pat. R. 19 Eliz. pt. 9; D.N.B. (under Master)
  • 31. Pat. R. 4 Chas. I. pt. 14, no. 3.
  • 32. This invocation is recorded in 1216. Chart. R. (Rec. Com.) i, 222; cf. Cartul. Rames. ii, 203.
  • 33. The Churchwardens' Book gives many details of the work, beginning with the digging of the foundations, and continuing with making the scaffold, labourers at Ramsey getting the stone from the Abbey, etc., in 1547, and thatching the steeple in 1551. See also wills of 1545 and later in Wills Archd. of Hunt.
  • 34. 'for taking downe the roodlofte. vjd.' Possibly the figures had been removed before, for in 1549 we read 'Item receivyd of a gold smyth for ye gylt of ye ymage, ijs. iiijd,' and 'Item recevyd of Robert Yernon for ye old ymage, ijs. ijd' (Churchwardens' Book).
  • 35. T.M.N. Owen, Ch. Bells of Hunts. 95.
  • 36. Ex. K. R. Ch. Goods, bdle 3, no. 2. m. 9.
  • 37. Instit. Bks. (P.R.O.); list of presentations from Epis. Reg. kindly communicated by the Rev. James A. Ross.
  • 38. Pat. R. 4 Chas. I, pt. 14, no. 3.
  • 39. Instit. Bks. (P.R.O.).
  • 40. Ex inform. Rev. Jas. A. Ross.
  • 41. Cartul. Rames. (Rolls Ser.) i, 293.
  • 42. Inf. from Rev. Jas. A. Ross; H. E. Norris, A Short Acct. of Holywell cum Needingworth, 1889, p. 35.
  • 43. H. E. Norris, loc. cit.
  • 44. Exch. K. R. Church Gds. bdle. 3, no. 2, m. 8.
  • 45. Wills, Archd. of Hunt. Reg. vi, 31 162; viii, 87.
  • 46. Ibid. Reg. vi, 162–3.
  • 47. Pat. R. 13 Eliz. pt. 4, m. 1.