Parishes: Somersham

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

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'Parishes: Somersham', in A History of the County of Huntingdon: Volume 2, ed. William Page, Granville Proby, S Inskip Ladds( London, 1932), British History Online [accessed 18 July 2024].

'Parishes: Somersham', 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 18, 2024,

"Parishes: Somersham". A History of the County of Huntingdon: Volume 2. Ed. William Page, Granville Proby, S Inskip Ladds(London, 1932), , British History Online. Web. 18 July 2024.

In this section


Sumeresham (xi cent.), Sumresham, Summersham (xii cent.), Summersum (xvii cent.).

The parish of Somersham lies on the eastern boundary of the county and adjoins the parish of Chatteris in Cambridgeshire. The northern and eastern part of it is fenland, and here the land falls to some 2 ft. above ordnance datum. It rises to the south and west towards Pidley and Bluntisham to a little over 100 ft. The parish comprises 4,515 acres of which the greater part is arable and about a third is pasture land lying in the old park. At one time there was a fair amount of woodland, but only a few small spinneys now remain. The soil is clay and gravel lying upon a bed of Oxford clay. There are gravel pits on the higher land, particularly to the north of the village. Bee-keeping is an industry of the parish.

The village stands on ground rising from the fenland and extends along the high road from Huntingdon and St. Ives to Chatteris for a distance of about half a mile. It is about five miles from St. Ives and an equal distance from Chatteris. The main road is crossed about the middle of the village by a road from the south called Church Lane which now only leads from the site of the old palace of the bishops of Ely, but apparently at one time joined Bluntisham Heath Road and formed the approach to the palace from the south. At the crossing, the mediaeval market, which has long been disused, was probably held, and here apparently stood the cross to which there are many references in wills of the 15th and 16th centuries. Northward of the main road the cross road is called Parkhall Road and leads to Parkhall Farm and on to Somersham Fen. A little way along the road is the Methodist Chapel and on the opposite side is Manor Hall, built in the early part of the 18th century, but with two chimney stacks which form the remains of an earlier house of the 16th century. A brick in the south stack has on it the letters I T (A?)

The main road forms a wide village street, the houses on each side being mostly of white brick with roofs of tiles or slates. There is here an old barn built about the time that the bishops of Ely exchanged the manor with the crown (1600); it is of timber and covered with thatch and a part with corrugated iron. On the street front are two 'thatch hooks' for pulling the thatch off houses in case of fire. On the opposite side of the road the garden walls of a modern house appear to be of about the same date as the barn.

The church is on the west side of the road in the middle of the village, outside the northern entrance to the palace grounds. The palace and park, which lie to the south of the village, are referred to later.

The episcopal palace brought many historical characters as visitors to Somersham. Later the church, having been assigned to the Regius Professorship of Divinity at Cambridge, provided a number of learned rectors such as Dr. Anthony Tuckney, the Puritan divine, Richard Watson, later Bishop of Llandaff, and Alfred Olivant, who also became Bishop of Llandaff. The professorial rectors, however, relegated their duties to curates-in-charge, amongst whom Daniel Whiston, a scientific lecturer of some note, was curate of Somersham for fifty-two years and died in 1759.

A feast is held yearly on 24 June (the Nativity of St. John the Baptist). The fair was formerly held on that day but it is now held on the Friday before 22 November.

A reference to an almshouse in the village is found in 1486, (fn. 1) but there seems to be no vestige of it now.

There is a station on the North Eastern Railway at the east end of the village.


SOMERSHAM was given to the abbey of Ely by Duke Brithnoth in 991 (fn. 2) and was confirmed to the abbey by Edward the Confessor with sac and soc together with other benefactions of his predecessors. (fn. 3) In the Domesday Survey (1086) Somersham is returned under the lands of the abbot of Ely; there were then 8 hides which paid geld, 3 fisheries, 20 acres of meadow and wood for pannage a league long and 7 furlongs wide. In the time of King Edward it was worth £7 and then £8. (fn. 4) The bishopric of Ely was created in 1109 and Somersham became a part of its endowment. (fn. 5) A weekly market on Thursday was granted by Richard I in 1190 and in 1319 Edward II granted a fair on the vigil and feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist and two days following. (fn. 6)

Bishopric of Ely. Gules three crowns or.

The manor being part of the soke of Somersham was subject to the liberties exercised there by the bishop. (fn. 7) There were constant disputes between the bishops of Ely and abbots of Ramsey as to rights of common in the lands of the soke of Somersham, which the tenants of the abbot in St. Ives, Oldhurst, Needingworth, Holywell, Woodhurst and Warboys claimed to exercise, particularly in the marshes called Crowlodemoor and Hollode. (fn. 8) These disputes continued late into the 15th century. (fn. 9)

Throughout the 16th century there were continual attempts by the crown and others to obtain possession of Somersham. It was not, however, until 1600 that Bishop Heaton exchanged the manor and soke, valued at £1,132 3s. 9¼d. yearly, with the crown for property, principally parsonages, valued at £1,144 19s. 7½d. (fn. 10)

It remained in the hands of the crown till 1620 when the manor and soke were leased for 99 years by James I to Henry Jermyn, afterwards Earl of St. Albans, and others, trustees for the benefit of his son, afterwards Charles I. (fn. 11)

New trustees were appointed in 1631, and in 1634 the residue of the term was settled for life as jointure on Henrietta Maria, Queen of Charles I, and power was given to her trustees to grant leases for terms not exceeding 21 years. (fn. 12) On the seizure of the crown lands by the Parliament, the manor and soke of Somersham were sold in 1653 for £19,884 to Robert Blackborne of the city of Westminster. (fn. 13) In Michaelmas term following, Robert Blackborne and Anne his wife conveyed them to Valentine Walton or Wauton, the regicide, brother-in-law of Cromwell. (fn. 14) The conveyance led to a suit in Chancery between the parties, as the manor and soke seem to have been charged for the payment of certain troops of the Commonwealth army. (fn. 15)

The residue of the lease of Somersham was given back to the Queen Dowager, Henrietta Maria, on the Restoration, (fn. 16) and her trustees in 1661 leased the manor and soke for 21 years to Charles Cornwallis who in 1663 obtained a further term of 21 years. (fn. 17) Henrietta Maria died in 1669, and in 1672 the residue of the term of 99 years was granted to trustees for the jointure of Catherine, Queen of Charles II, to whom in the following year an additional term of 43 years was granted. (fn. 18)

In 1673 the reversion in fee of the manor and soke was granted to George Viscount Grandison and Edward Villiers to be held of the manor of East Greenwich in free and common socage. (fn. 19) These grantees sold their interest in 1675 to Anthony Hammond of St. Albans Court, Nonington (Co. Kent), and the conveyance was confirmed by Roger Palmer, Earl of Castlemaine and Barbara Duchess of Cleveland, his notorious wife, who was daughter and sole heir of William Viscount Grandison. (fn. 20) Anthony Hammond died in 1680, and in 1692 his son Anthony petitioned for the unexpired further term of 43 years granted to the trustees of Queen Catherine, which term he alleged was unknown to his father at the time of his purchase. (fn. 21) As Queen Catherine (d. 1705) was still living the petition could not be granted, but in 1694 the residue of the two leases of the manor and soke was granted to Anthony Meeke. (fn. 22)

The affairs of Anthony Hammond, poet and pamphleteer, a Fellow of the Royal Society and graceful speaker, M.P. for the county in 1695, and in 1711 Treasurer of the British Forces in Spain, became hopelessly involved and he retired to the Fleet to save the remains of his estate for his eldest son Thomas and settled the manor in 1725. (fn. 23) He died in the Fleet in 1738. During his tenure of the manor, he with his mother, Amy Hammond, purchased 'divers lands heretofore copyhold' held of these manors. In 1741 his son Thomas received a grant of the manor of Somersham from Powell Snell and Dorothy [Yate] his wife and Edmund Estcourt and Anna Maria [Yate] his wife which probably represented the Meeke interest. He sold it in 1743 (fn. 24) to Savile Cockayne Cust in trust for Robert Duke of Manchester, by whose son George Montagu the manor and soke were settled in 1760. (fn. 25)

Hammond of St. Albans. Argent a cheveron sable charged with three scallops or, between three roundels sable each charged with a martlet argent within a border engrailed vert.

The leases of 1620 for 99 years and the extension for a further 43 years would terminate in 1762, and in 1763 George Montagu as Duke of Manchester settled the manor and soke (fn. 26) barring the entail. At the inclosure of Somersham Heath in 1796, the manor was no longer held by the Duke of Manchester, but with the soke was in the hands of Sir Robert Burton of Woodhurst. (fn. 27) One-twentieth of the waste ground within the manors of Somersham and Pidley was allotted to him in lieu of his claim to the waste as lord of those manors. The manorial rights were in the possession of John Ansley in 1814 and of George Ranking and Joseph Burkett Jackson in 1815. They were put up for sale in 1816 and were held by Mr. John Guillum Scott, high sheriff, in 1830. They were owned by James Cudden of Wimpole Street, London, in 1860, who enfranchised much of the land. By 1869 the lord of the manor was John Garrard Elgood. He was succeeded before 1906 by W. A. Elgood.

The SOKE OF SOMERSHAM, which followed the descent of the manor, comprised Colne, Bluntisham, Earith, Pidley and Fenton. The jurisdiction over the soke was for a long time in dispute between the bishops of Ely and the abbots of Ramsey. The former pleaded the charters of Kings Edgar, William I and Henry III granting soc and sac and other liberties in their manors, and the latter the grant in fee farm of the hundred of Hurstingstone, within the ambit of which the soke lay. (fn. 28)

The soke of Somersham is referred to in the 12th century, and in 1276 the Bishop of Ely claimed return of writs within it and would not permit the king's bailiff to execute any mandate of the king. The bishop also claimed to have view of frankpledge, gallows and assize of bread and ale. (fn. 29) It was further presented at the hundred court that the free tenants within the bishop's soke of Somersham were accustomed to be in assizes and inquests but had withdrawn themselves because, when they were amerced, the bishop took the amercements. (fn. 30) It was also presented that when the men of the bishop in the soke committed any crimes they were taken to the Isle of Ely and detained there until they were delivered from prison. (fn. 31) It would appear that after this inquiry the sheriff about 1281 instituted proceedings to test the bishop's right to the return of writs (fn. 32) and in 1283 judgment was given against the bishop. (fn. 33) An attempt was made by Bishop Hugh de Belsham to regain the liberty, but he died before any decision was obtained. His successors, notwithstanding the judgment of the court, exercised the right and a long law suit between the bishop and the Abbot of Ramsey was the result. The matter was eventually arranged in 1339 by the abbot relinquishing any right to the return of writs in the soke of Somersham in consideration of the bishop surrendering his right to a fair at Ely which was prejudicial to the abbot's fair at St. Ives. (fn. 34)

The Bishops of Ely continued to exercise rights in the soke until the exchange of the manor and soke with the crown. After this date the soke was shorn of many of its liberties and the court of the soke became merely a court leet.

Nothing remains of SOMERSHAM PALACE, the ancient house of the Bishops of Ely, the site of which is now occupied by the modern house known as Somersham Park surrounded by an oval-shaped moat. All that survive of the episcopal palace are the abutments of the bridge over the north arm of the moat and the 16th-century brick wall on the north and east sides of the garden. Somersham was no doubt used by the Abbots of Ely as a residence before the foundation of the bishopric in 1109, but immediately after the manor had been assigned for the endowment of the bishopric it became an episcopal residence. The bishops had to travel frequently from Ely to London, and Somersham was the first stage in the journey, which was apparently made by water. (fn. 35) In 1279 the house and garden covered 4 acres, and the fishponds, the remains of which still exist, covered 2 acres, while the park included 200 acres. (fn. 36) The Bishops of Ely were frequently at Somersham; John de Hotham died there in 1337, and it was visited by kings. Edward III was there in 1334. The palace was enlarged, it is said, by that 'lewd and luxurious' bishop James Stanley, who had brought up a family in it. (fn. 37) Bishop Nicholas West in 1520 speaks of his 'poor house at Somersham' (fn. 38) and in a letter to Wolsey said that he was so surrounded with water that he could not leave and no one could go to him without great danger except by boat. The banks, he wrote, were in great danger and 500 men were working on them to prevent the low country there from being drowned, and 100 men watched at night, in case the water should break through, in order to stop it and to warn the country by the ringing of bells, which they had done several times. (fn. 39)

Wolsey endeavoured in 1528 to obtain Somersham for the endowment of his college but was unsuccessful. (fn. 40) In 1533 there was an idea of making Somersham the place of confinement of Queen Catherine of Aragon, but the opposition of the Spanish ambassador and others prevented it. The collection of building material here at this date probably indicates preparations for the queen's residence.

Thomas Goodrich Bishop of Ely died at Somersham in 1554. His successor Richard Cox was accused by Lord North of covetous and corrupt practices. To appease him the bishop, who was much harassed, in 1581 granted the park and chace of Somersham, the keepership of which had been the cause of many disputes, to Lord North and his sons John and Henry. (fn. 41) Later Lord North surrendered the grant to the bishop, who granted the keepership to his son John Cox, Roger Cox and Richard Arkenstall, (fn. 42) which led to further disputes. The bishop seems to have leased the palace to Thomas Awder, a relative of his second wife Jane, daughter of George Awder. (fn. 43) In the long vacancy following the death of Richard Cox it was proposed in 1588 to convert the bishop's palace at Somersham into a place for the confinement of recusants. As a consequence an order was given for making a 'Survey and View of all the Ruines and Decaies in and about the Mannorhowse of Somersham with the B[ishops'] olde lodging, sarvaunts' lodging, Barnes, garnards and stables: as also two grete Bridges belonging there unto: the one being the ordenarie passage into the howse the other from the howse [over the moat] into the parke.' It was made by William Medley and Thomas Lovell, the queen's surveyors for the county, and other experts. (fn. 44) This survey records the absence, in some cases as 'stollen away,' though in others by decay, of lead, glass, guttering, timbers, etc., and estimates the cost of repairs as not less than £253 6s. 8d., with 100 marks in addition for repairing a brewhouse, bakehouse and cooper's office all under one roof in the back court, 110 ft. in length and 30 ft. wide. 'The Romes belonging unto the chief house, being all upon one court and environ'd with Bricke,' include the lodgings in the tower next to the chapel, the bishop's own chamber, the bishop's oratory, the chapel, turrets, vestry, the gallery adjoining the bishop's chamber, the withdrawing chamber, great chamber, study chamber, chamber upon the garden, one other little chamber looking into a little court by the garden, the Cardinal's Chamber, and two other chambers under the same, the 'Guarde Robe' chamber, buttery, kitchen, larders and scullery. Besides this there was 'the B[ishop's] olde Lodging which lyeth on the Fronte and Face of the uttermost grete court comeing in,' 120 ft. long by 13 ft. wide, with stable and barnes in the said court; also ' a long frounte of building for servaunts lodgeings lyeing upon the north side of the howse,' wherein the porter's lodge, 240 ft. long by 18 ft. wide, one end of which 'sinketh towards the moat.'

The house was evidently in a bad state of repair at this time, as we learn from another report that it was in so great decay that its repair would cost £400 or £500. (fn. 45) Presumably some repairs were made, for in 1592 Sir John Cutts, keeper of the house, was ordered to certify what accommodation there was for recusants (fn. 46) and in 1594 directions were issued that the recusants in Huntingdonshire were to be committed there. (fn. 47)

The manor with the palace was exchanged with the crown in 1600. James visited it in 1604 and evidently intended to make it into a hunting box for himself. He wrote to Sir John Cutts that the place was much to his liking and he greatly regretted the waste of the game and woods there. He ordered that the park should be restocked with deer ready for sport next summer and a careful gamekeeper should be appointed. (fn. 48) In 1611 the reversion of the office of keeper of Somersham Chace after the expiration of the grant to Sir John Cutts was granted to Thomas Earl of Suffolk. (fn. 49) This office not only covered the keepership of the park and chace but that of keeper of the palace and bailiff of the manor and soke. The Earl was in occupation under this grant in 1630 (fn. 50) and his rights were reserved from the sale by the trustees for the sale of crown lands in 1653. Under this sale it is stated that the site of Somersham Place covered 10 acres 1 rood and was bounded by a moat. The materials of the chief messuage or court house, over and above the charge for demolishing, were valued at £320, indicating that the palace was then in a state of ruin. Upon the south side of the moat was a cottage called the 'Doggehouse' abutting on a place called Willow Row. The park then contained 621 acres. (fn. 51)

James Earl of Suffolk, grandson of Thomas Earl of Suffolk, granted the keepership to John, son of Sir Kenelm Digby, in 1670. (fn. 52) The park, however, was disparked in the middle of the 18th century, about 1762, the time of the expiration of the 99 years lease of 1620 and its extension for 43 years. The lands were then inclosed and divided into farms. (fn. 53)

The palace was allowed to fall into ruin while it was in lease. Anthony Hammond, who had the grant in reversion of it, apparently obtained possession of a wing of the palace, where he probably died in 1680, and was buried in Somersham church. His son Anthony succeeded him and seems to have allowed the house to fall into greater ruin. Thomas son of Anthony sold the palace with the manor in 1743 (fn. 54) to Robert Duke of Manchester, who died in 1762. It was in this year that the leases fell in, and his son George apparently pulled down all that remained of the palace.

The CHACE OF SOMERSHAM probably originated shortly after Somersham became the residence of the Bishops of Ely. In 1197 Richard I granted the bishop the right of free chace in the forest of Somersham, which grant was confirmed by King John in 1199. (fn. 55) By these grants, the bishops could freely hunt deer throughout the forest of Somersham, to wit as the highway passes from Huntingdon to Ramsey through Ripton. (fn. 56) The boundaries between Somersham Chace and the Royal Forests were perambulated at divers times. (fn. 57) In some of the woods of Somersham the men of Warboys, Woodhurst, Oldhurst, St. Ives, Needingworth and Holywell had common with the men of Somersham. (fn. 58) In the 16th century the chace was said to be 10 miles in circuit, 'into the whiche the deare have free accesse and feeding.' (fn. 59) At the expiration of the lease of Somersham of 1620, in 1762, or perhaps a little earlier, the chace was dischaced and inclosed, the commoners being compensated.


The church of ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST is built of rubble with dressings of Barnack stone; the roof of the nave is covered with tiles and the rest of the building with lead. The present church was gradually built from east to west during the latter half of the 13th century and the first few years of the 14th century. The work of rebuilding was doubtless influenced by the frequent residence at their palace here of the great medieval bishops of Ely, Hugh de Northwold (1229–54), Hugh de Balsham (1257–86) and John Hotham (1316–37). It was at this time, and under the famous prior Alan de Walsingham, so much of the best work in Ely Cathedral was executed. There is now no evidence of an earlier church which probably existed on the site (fn. 60) but the 13th-century church here consisted of a chancel, nave with aisles and western tower. To this the nave clearstory and a new roof and north porch were added at the end of the 14th century, the south porch built or rebuilt in the 15th century and the organ chamber added in 1885.


Reproduced by permission of the Controller of H.M. Stationery Office from the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, Hunts

The chancel is wholly of about 1250 except the roof, which is modern, a four-centred arch constructed over the east window in the 15th century, and a 16th-century window at the west end of the south wall now forming an opening into the organ chamber. The east window consists of three lancets divided by detached shafts, and from the dignity of its design may well have been made under the influence of Bishop Hugh de Northwold. Below it on the south side is a double piscina under two trefoiled moulded arches with side shafts. The high altar was gilt in the 16th century as was also the Easter sepulchre which probably stood in the usual position on the north side of the chancel. (fn. 61) There are four lancets in the north wall and three in the south. In the north wall is a black and white veined marble tablet to Anthony Hammond, D.L., who died in 1680, with Ionic columns on either side, entablature and achievement of arms supported by cherubs. High up at the west end of the north wall is the doorway to the rood loft which was erected as it would seem from bequests in wills, about 1485. (fn. 62) In the south wall are three graduated sedilia each under a two-centred arch and separated by detached shafts. Further west on this side is the priest's doorway with a two-centred moulded arch springing from detached shafts with stiff-leafed capitals and moulded bases. On the floor of the chancel on the north side is an early 16th-century brass of a priest in mass vestments without stole or maniple, holding a chalice and wafer. The inscription is lost, but the brass probably represents John Alcoke parson of the church who, by his will dated 13 January 1524–5 directed that his body should be buried in the chancel of Somersham church. (fn. 63) There is also an indent for the figure of a priest and foot inscription on the south side. There are floor slabs to William, infant son of Sir Charles Howard, who died in 1646, to Lawrence Blatt, sheriff of Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, who died in 1702, and to Anthony Thomson, who died in 1714, and to other later members of his family. The 13th-century chancel arch is two-centred and the attached shafts of the responds have moulded capitals and bases.

The nave continues the 13th-century work which becomes later as it proceeds westward. It is of four bays with two-centred arches of two hollow chamfered orders. The piers are square with attached shafts on each face; the moulded capitals and bases, except those of the responds seem to have been recut probably about 1490 when work was going on at the church. (fn. 64) The north and south arcades although approximately of the same date differ slightly in detail. On each side, a few feet west of the chancel arch, is a 14th-century bracket, that on the north having the head of a woman and that on the south the head of a man. (fn. 65) The tower arch corresponds in detail with the nave arcades. It is two-centred with attached and keeled shafts having moulded capitals and bases. The clearstory and the fine king post roof were added at the close of the 14th century. The clearstory has on each side four windows of two cinquefoiled lights 'with a quatrefoil in a twocentred head.' The roof is of four bays, the wall posts of which stand on carved stone corbels, those on the north side being an angel with sword and garland; a man praying in tunic and cloak; a man praying dressed in tunic and coif with a pendant sleeve; a man crouching stroking his beard; the corbels on the south side show an angel; a bearded man, kneeling on one knee; a bearded man sitting with crossed legs; and a man in a tunic with the hood thrown back. At the intersections of the purlins and principals are carved bosses, those on the north side representing apparently the head of a beast; the head of a man with dragons issuing from his mouth; the head of a man; foliage; the head of a man wearing a crown; head of a queen wearing a nebuly head-dress; foliage; a man and a monster; and a winged beast with a scroll; on the south side are two dragons; a mermaid and a fish; a head apparently that of a bishop; a grotesque face; two human heads; a double-headed eagle; a leopard; and a tree and a beast. On the floor there are various stones with indents for brasses, one of which shows the figure of a man in armour with his feet on a dog, an inscription plate and five shields.

The north aisle is of the same date as the nave but the window in the east wall and the eastern and middle windows in the north wall, all of which have three cinquefoiled lights, were inserted in the 15th century. The westernmost window of two lights in the north wall and the window in the west wall with a single light, are of the 13th century. The north doorway is also of the 13th century, but its porch is a hundred years later. Over the doorway is a niche for an image, and on the east side is a 15th-century stoup. At the east end of the north wall is a 13th-century piscina under a trefoiled arch which served the altar below the east window of this aisle. In the north-east corner of the aisle is the doorway to the stairs to the rood loft, apparently constructed about 1485–6. (fn. 66) In the rood loft was probably the light of the Holy Cross to which reference is made in 15th-century wills. (fn. 67)

The south aisle retains its original 13th-century three-light west window and south doorway with moulded arch and detached shafts having stiff-leafed capitals and moulded bases. The east window now converted into an opening into the organ chamber and the three south windows with three cinquefoiled lights are of the 15th century. At the east end of the south wall is a 13th-century double piscina under two moulded trefoiled arches supported on jamb shafts with moulded capitals and bases. This piscina served the adjoining altar below the east window of the aisle which, from entries in wills, was probably dedicated to the honour of the Virgin. (fn. 68) Above the piscina is a 15th-century canopied niche which from the same source appears to have contained the image and light of Our Lady of Pity. (fn. 69) The 13th-century south doorway is original. Over it on the outside is a trefoil headed niche. The south porch was built in the 15th century. It has a window with two cinquefoiled lights in a square head on each side and the outer archway is of two moulded orders springing from responds with three attached shafts having moulded capitals and bases. The original roof remains. In the gable is a late 17th-century sundial on a pedestal.

The west tower continues the sequence of the building and was erected early in the 14th century. It is of three stages and has an embattled parapet and small needle spire covered with lead, with a late 17th-century weather vane. The stair turret is modern. The windows are all original and are of one or two trefoiled lights. The west doorway was probably re-used from the west end of the 13th-century church. In the second stage of the tower is a medieval dug-out chest with elaborate ironwork and five locks. The clock and chimes were presented by Mr. W. J. Nicholls in memory of his wife Edith [Rowley] in 1895.

The stone font is modern.

There are the following monuments besides those already mentioned:—in the chancel, to William Underwood, d. 1717, and Barbara his wife, d. 1737; Elizabeth Ballindine, d. 1751; the Rev. Daniel Whiston, d. 1759; Rebecca (Thomson), wife of the Rev. Charles Jenner, d. 1771; the Rev. John West, d. 1775, Susanna (Whiston), his widow, d. 1781, and the Rev. Thomas Whiston, her brother, d. 1795; the Rev. Thomas Wilson, d. 1821; the Rev. John Wilson, d. 1821, and Jane his widow, d. 1824; Lichfield Moseley, d. 1821, and Betsey his wife, d. 1842; Elizabeth Gover, d. 1827, and infant son; Robert Tabrum Moseley, d. 1859; Jeremiah Moseley, d. 1875. Floor slabs to William Howard, d. 1646; Lawrence Blatt, d. 1702, Elizabeth his daughter, d. 1731, Mary his wife, d. 1732, Mary Gynn, his daughter, and wife of Jeffery Gynn, d. 1776, and Rebecca Gynn, d. 1783; Anthony Thomson, d. 1714, Rebecca (Blatt) wife of William Thomson, d. 1761, Rebecca (Thomson) wife of Charles Jenner, d. 1771, William Thomson, senr., d. 1739, William Thomson, junior, d. 1766, Mary wife of William Thomson, junior, d. 1769, William, son of John and Ann Thomson, d. 1775, John, son of the above William Thomson, junior, d. 1777; Lichfield Moseley, d. 1821, and Betsey, his wife, d. 1842; and glass windows to Bertha Elizabeth Davies Mason, n.d.; Matilda Sydall Perrott, d. 1883; and War Memorial window, 1914–1918. In the nave, to Edith Rowley, wife of W. J. Nicholls, d. 1895; J. Moule, d. 1909; and floor slabs to John Lister, d. 1725, and Ann his wife, d. 1723; John Leeds, d. 1746, Jane (Lister) his wife, d. 1779; Jasper Lister, d. 1746–7, and Elizabeth his wife, d. 1755; Catherine Muriel, d. 1773, and Catherine her daughter, d. 1772; (fn. 70) the Rev. John Wilson, d. 1784, and Mary his daughter, d. 1809; Jane, wife of the Rev. John Atkinson, d. 1825; John Thomson, d. 1848, and Ann his wife, d. 1817. In the north aisle, to George Wilson, d. 1902; and glass window to Richard Brown, d. 1915. In the south aisle, to Ruth Eleanor, wife of Dr. F. Hone Moore, d. 1904, and W. A. Hone Moore, her son, d. 1917; and to Fleet-Surgeon Percival Kent Nix, d. 1914.

There are six bells inscribed: (1) Omnia fiant ad gloriam Dei. Edwd. Arnold, St. Neots, fecit. 1782. (2) Edwd. Arnold, St. Neots, fecit. 1782. (3) Let avery thing that hath breath praise the Lord. Edwd. Arnold, St. Neots, fecit. 1782. (4) Revd. John Wilson, Curate. Martin Rawling, Jos. Will. Martin, Churchwardens. Edwd. Arnold, fecit. 1782. (5) Revd. John Wilson, Curate. Martin Rawling, Jos. Will. Martin, Churchwardens. Edwd. Arnold, fecit. 1782. (6) J to the church the living call and to the … do summon all. Edwd. Arnold, St. Neots, fecit. 1782. In 1552 there were four bells and a sanctus bell; but in 1712 and until the re-casting of 1782 there were five very indifferent bells. They were re-hung in 1902. (fn. 71)

The registers are as follows:—(i) Baptisms, 15 Oct. 1558 to (28?) Sept. 1641, marriages, 27 July 1558 to 11 Oct. 1647, burials, 2 Jan. 1563 to 26 July 1642; (ii) baptisms, 5 Nov. 1643 to 7 Feb. 1750, marriages, 29 Sept. 1653 to 1 Oct. 1750, burials, 3 Sept. 1642 to 14 Aug. 1750; (iii) baptisms and burials, 28 March 1751 to 22 Dec. 1772; (iv) ditto, 6 Jan. 1773 to 1 Nov. 1812; (v) the official marriage book 14 April 1754 to 25 May 1784; (vi) ditto, 20 Sept. 1784 to 22 June 1812. Also a register of marriages for the parish of Fenton, (fn. 72) 30 Sept. 1788 to 28 July 1812.

The plate consists of a silver cup with Elizabethan ornament, and hall-marked for 1569–70; a silver paten hall-marked for 1812–13; a silver plate inscribed 'Somersham' and 'Ex Oblationibus,' no date-letter; a silver flagon inscribed 'Ecclesiae de Somersham Sacrum et ad sacra. Ex dono Sa: Collins Rectoris hiĉ Tu ne despice Christe. August 30, 1639,' and hallmarked for 1638–9.


No church was mentioned in Somersham in the Domesday Survey, but doubtless a church existed on the land of Ely Abbey. The parish originally covered the soke and included the chapels of Colne and Pidley; from the beginning of the 13th century and probably before, the patronage was held by the Bishop of Ely. In 1279 he had the collation to the church, which was valued in 1291 at £33 6s. 8d. annually; (fn. 73) it was assessed for ninths at £20 in 1341. (fn. 74) In 1349 the bishop petitioned the Pope that he might appropriate the church, then valued at £35 yearly. (fn. 75) The amount annually received from Somersham church with Colne and Pidley, members of the same, was given in 1534 as £51 5s. 11d., (fn. 76) being profits from the rectory, the greater and lesser tithes, and issues from the mansion house and glebe. The sum of £10 13s. 4d. was paid yearly to two chaplains officiating in Colne and Pidley.

Regius Professor of Divinity Cambridge. Gules a cross ermine between four doves argent with a book gules edged and clasped or and charged with the letter 'theta' sable upon the cross.

The advowson of the rectory was granted with the manor in exchange by Bishop Heaton to Queen Elizabeth in 1600, (fn. 77) and in 1605 together with the chapels of Colne and Pidley was conveyed by James I to the Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge in free and perpetual alms for the better support and maintenance of the Regius Professor of Divinity. (fn. 78) A petition of 1654 to the Protector shows that the professor had for two years been 'hindered from the emolument.' The University petitioned that the professor might 'enjoy so noble a gift,' whereupon the Council ordered that £200 a year should be settled on the professor out of some donative in the Protector's gift instead of Somersham Rectory. (fn. 79) In 1675 complaint was made that Sir Bernard Gascoigne had attempted to withdraw part of the profits of the rectory under a crown grant. The grant of the rectory to Cambridge University was confirmed in 1712. (fn. 80) It appears that there was in 1691 no vicar endowed at Somersham, and therefore the Regius Professor should either serve the cure or should allow £100 per annum for the support and maintenance of a curate obliged to constant residence. (fn. 81) At the date of the inclosure of Somersham Heath the Regius Professor as lord of the rectory manor of Somersham received allotments in lieu of tithes and in lieu of the lord's share of the soil of the waste ground. (fn. 82) In 1882 an Act was passed for disannexing the rectory from the office of Regius Professor and for making better provision for the cure of souls within the rectory. The rectory was by this Act vested in the University, which was to have the powers of rector. Neither the University nor the professor was to have the cure of souls, but a vicarage was to be constituted, the patronage to be vested in the bishop of the diocese instead of in the University, and the rectory income to be divided between the Regius Professor and the vicar, the latter to employ two curates within the rectory to be paid out of such assignment of rectorial income as the Act appointed, in the proportion of three parts to the Pidley curate and two to the Colne curate. The vicar was to have the rectory house at Somersham. (fn. 83)

There is a Baptist chapel, built in 1812, and a Wesleyan chapel built in 1845.


Robert Hempsted, by will proved 6 July 1883 directed his trustees to set apart a sum of money which would produce £10 per annum to be distributed in coal to necessitous poor. The endowment now consists of £400 2½ per cent. annuities with the Official Trustees, producing £10 annually in dividends, which are distributed in coal to about 40 recipients. The charity is regulated by a scheme of the Charity Commissioners dated 20 Aug. 1907, under the provision of which one co-optative trustee (Mr. J. P. Pentelow) and three representative trustees were appointed trustees of the charity.

William Pettit Wilson, by will proved 5 September 1867, directed that a sum of money should be set apart which would produce £2 per annum for distribution by the incumbent and churchwardens to poor widows and widowers. The endowment now consists of £66 13s. 4d. Consols, with the Official Trustees, producing £1 13s. 4d. annually in dividends, which are distributed by the vicar and churchwardens as directed.

George Wilson, by will proved 23 June 1902, devised to the parish churchwarden of Somersham land containing 2 roods, the rents and profits to be divided yearly on Christmas Eve equally between the six oldest bellringers. The land was sold and the proceeds invested in £52 16s. 1d. India 3 per cent. stock with the Official Trustees. The income amounting to £1 11s. 8d. yearly in dividends is distributed in money by the people's churchwarden to the six oldest bellringers.

Poor's Money or Johnson's Charity. A sum of £20 was paid to the parish officers for the use of the poor in satisfaction of a rent charge of £1 a year issuing out of land which belonged to the late Mr. Bartholomew Ibbott. The endowment now consists of £20 13s. 6d. Consols with the Official Trustees, producing 10s. 4d. yearly in dividends, which are distributed in coal to about five recipients. The trustees are the vicar and churchwardens and three trustees appointed by the parish council.

Perne's Gift. In the churchwardens' book under the date of 1761 is an entry which appears to have been made by the curate, giving an account of various sums due per annum on mid-Lent Sunday from Peter House College Roll to Somersham, Colne, and Pidley, amounting to £2 3s. 4d. in all, for the poor and for two sermons to be preached at Somersham. The above-mentioned sum is ascribed to the gift of Andrew Perne, D.D., formerly master of St. Peter's College, Cambridge. The sums of £1 3s. 4d., 13s. 4d. and 13s. 4d. applicable for the above-mentioned parishes are received annually from St. Peter's College and are applied for the benefit of the poor and for the use and support of the Sunday schools of the respective parishes.

Feoffee Estate, otherwise Harvey's Charity. This property, as it appears by the ancient deeds relating to it, was vested in feoffees upon trust that the rents and profits should be applied for repairing and maintaining a bridge called the Stone Bridge, any surplus to be expended 'for repairs of the church way leading from the bridge to the church or for some other public and charitable use within the parish.' The endowment of the charity consists of two dwelling houses, land containing about 14 acres let in allotments and land on Somersham Heath containing 8 acres, the whole producing about £80 annually, which is applied in accordance with the terms of the trust. The charity is administered by the vicar and churchwardens and five others.


  • 1. Wills, Archd. of Hunt. Reg. ii, fol. 312.
  • 2. Liber Eliensis (Angl. Christ. Soc.) 180–2.
  • 3. Kemble, Cod. Dipl. iv, 244; Dugdale, op. cit. i, 476.
  • 4. V.C.H. Hunts. i, 342.
  • 5. Add. MS. 5811, fol. iii; Dugdale, op. cit. i, 485.
  • 6. Cal. Chart. 1300–26, p. 415; confirmation Cal. Pat. 1422–29, p. 388.
  • 7. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.) i, 197.
  • 8. Cartul. Mon. de Rames. (Rolls Ser.) i, 202, 204, 216; iii, 58; (afterwards referred to as Cartul. Rames.)
  • 9. Add. Chart. and R. 34275, 39696.
  • 10. Bentham, Hist. of Cath. Ch. of Ely, 196.
  • 11. Pat. R. 25 Chas. II, pt. 9, no. 10; Lansdowne MSS. 252 (folio vol. entitled Queen Dowager Catherine's Jointure, 1672).
  • 12. Pat. R. 25 Chas. II, pt. 9, no. 10.
  • 13. Close R. 1653, pt. 51, no. 4.
  • 14. Feet. of F. Div. Cos. Mich. 1653.
  • 15. Chan. Proc. (Ser. ii), vol. iii, bdle. 466, no. 48.
  • 16. Add. MSS. 5811, fol. v; Journals of the Ho. of Com. viii, 73.
  • 17. Pat. R. 25 Chas. II, pt. 9. no. 10.
  • 18. Lansdowne MSS. 252.
  • 19. Pat. R. 25 Chas. II, pt. 9, no. 10.
  • 20. Feet. of F. Trin. 27 Chas. II.
  • 21. Cal. S. P. Dom. 1691–2, p. 113.
  • 22. Pat. R. 6 Will. and M. pt. 5, no. 6.
  • 23. Recov. R. Hil. 12 Geo. I, ro. 130.
  • 24. Feet. of F. Hunts. Trin. 14 & 15 Geo. II; H. R. Moulton, Sale Catalogue of Deeds 1930, p. 131.
  • 25. Feet. of F. Hunts. Hil. 17 Geo. II.
  • 26. Recov. R. Trin. 3 Geo. III, ro. 148.
  • 27. Priv. Act 36 Geo. III, cap. 27.
  • 28. Kemble, Cod. Dipl. iv, 244.
  • 29. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.) i, 197.
  • 30. Ibid.
  • 31. Ibid.
  • 32. Plac. de Quo Warr. (Rec. Com.) 306–7.
  • 33. Plac. Abbrev. (Rec. Com.) 204.
  • 34. Add. Ch. 33074; Chron. Rames. 351–3; Cartul. Rames. i, 217.
  • 35. E. R. Chapman, Sacrist Rolls of Ely, ii, 120. Boat hire to Somersham.
  • 36. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.) ii, 591.
  • 37. Brit. (Ed. Gough) ii, 399; Cole MSS. Add. 5847, p. 56.
  • 38. L. and P. Hen. VIII, iii, 599.
  • 39. L. and P. Hen. VIII, iii, app. 21.
  • 40. Ibid. iv, no. 5076.
  • 41. Dict. Nat. Biog. Sir Henry Chauncy in his Hist. of Herts says that Bishop Cox leased to Queen Elizabeth the manor of Somersham but that it was not finally alienated to her until Bishop Heton's time. The lease of the park and chace may have led to confusion. Cole MS. i.e., Add 5847, p. 58; Jas. Bentham, M.A., Hist. & Antiq. of Cathedral Ch. of Ely. p. 368.
  • 42. Lansd. MS. 59 (32).
  • 43. Ibid. (34).
  • 44. Ibid. 56 (32), Burghley Papers, 1588.
  • 45. a Lansdowne MSS. lix (34).
  • 46. Acts of P.C. 1591–2, p. 376.
  • 47. Cal. S. P. Dom. 1591–4, p. 453.
  • 48. Ibid. 1603–10, p. 140.
  • 49. Pat. R. 9 Jas. I, pt. 5.
  • 50. Cal. S. P. Dom. 1629–31, p. 263.
  • 51. Close R. 1653, pt. 51, no. 4.
  • 52. Cal. S. P. Dom. 1670, p. 556.
  • 53. Priv. Act. 36 Geo. III, cap. 27.
  • 54. Dict. Nat. Biog.; Feet of F. Hunts. Hil. 17 Geo. II.
  • 55. Add. MSS. 5811, fol. iii; ibid. fol. iv, 2; Chart R. 1 John, pt. 12, m. 22; Cal. Chart 1226–57, p. 183.
  • 56. Add. MSS. 5847, p. 55.
  • 57. Add. Ch. 33141, 33662; Cartul. Rames. ii, 299, et seq; Cal. Pat. 1340–43, p. 169.
  • 58. Cartul. Rames. i, 283.
  • 59. Lansdowne MSS. 59 (37).
  • 60. A rector of Somersham is mentioned in 1221 (Trans. Cambs. and Hunts. Arch. Soc. iii, 198). Robert, vicar of Somersham witnessed a charter of 1225–8 (Cartul. Rames. ii, 186).
  • 61. Will of Agnes Bell 1527. Bequests to gilding the high altar and the sepulchre (Wills, Archd. of Hunts. Reg. iii. fol. 21).
  • 62. Ibid. Reg. ii, fol. 309, will of Rob. Pooppe, 1485; ibid. 312, will of John Robert, 1486.
  • 63. Wills, Archd. of Hunt. Reg. ii, f. 239.
  • 64. Ibid. Reg. i, fol. 51, will of J. Catelyn, bequest to repairs of Somersham church.
  • 65. These brackets probably held images. There were lights and probably images of St. Anne, St. James, St. Katherine, and St. Botolph in the church (Wills, Archd. of Hunt. Reg. ii, fol. 54, 309, 312).
  • 66. Ibid. 309.
  • 67. Wills, Archd. of Hunt. Reg. ii, fol. 309.
  • 68. The light and image of the Virgin were on the south side, so it is probable the altar was there in a usual position for a Lady chapel.
  • 69. Ibid. Reg. i, fol. 29, will of Marg. Hall, 1498; Reg. ii, fol. 54, will of John Somersham, bequest to the light of B. Mary on the south side; Reg. iii, fol. 47, will of William Daye, bequest to Our Lady of Pity light.
  • 70. The inscription to Catherine, dau. of George and Catherine Muriel, d. 1772, and to Catherine her mother, d. 1773, has been cut on the matrix of an ancient brass.
  • 71. a For earlier description see Excheq. K.R. Church Goods, bdle 3, no. 3; Rec. Archd. of Hunt. no. 231 (Terriers); G. E. Dawes, Somersham Past and Present, p. 59.
  • 72. Pidley cum Fenton is a chapelry of Somersham, but the register of marriages at Pidley is complete for this period; this must be a special register for the small hamlet of Fenton, apparently kept for this period only.
  • 73. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.) 35b.
  • 74. Cal. Non. Inq. (Rec. Com.) 424.
  • 75. Cal. Pap. Reg. Petns. i, 175.
  • 76. Valor Eccles. (Rec. Com.) iv, 269.
  • 77. Add MS. 5487, p. 57.
  • 78. Pat. R. 3 Jas. I, pt. 3.
  • 79. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1654, p. 321.
  • 80. Add. MSS. 5811, p. 98b. Hist. MSS., Com. Rep. iv (i) 118; xiii (v) 159, 466; see also Rec. Archd. of Hunts. at Bedford, Liber A.
  • 81. Hist. MSS. Com. Rep. xiii (v), 467.
  • 82. Priv. Acts, 36 Geo. III, cap. 27.
  • 83. Stat. 45–6 Vict. cap. 81.