A History of the County of Huntingdon: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1932.
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Godmundcestre (xi cent.), Gutmuncetre, Gudmencestre, Gumencestre, Guncestre (xii cent.), Gumecestre, Gurmundcestre (xiii cent.), Godmanchester (xiv cent.).
The parish and borough of Godmanchester, (fn. 1) which are co-terminous, contain 4,832 acres of land and 75 acres of land covered by water. The River Ouse forms the northern boundary and divides Godmanchester from the borough of Huntingdon. The land near to the river is liable to floods, but the ground rises gradually to the south, where it is mostly arable. The population is chiefly occupied in agriculture, and in 1921 numbered 2,035 persons. In the 17th century Godmanchester was described as 'a very great county Toune, and of as great name for tillage; situate in an open ground, of a light mould, and bending to ye sun.' (fn. 2) In 1604 the borough charter tells of like conditions, and especially exempted the store horses and others employed in agriculture from the king's service. (fn. 3) The inhabitants boasted that they had formerly received kings on their progress with a pageant of nine score ploughs, (fn. 4) but in the royal progresses to and from Scotland in 1633 the borough apparently only presented Charles I and his queen with pieces of plate. (fn. 5) Later records mention feasts at the election of town officials, (fn. 6) but in the 16th century the bailiffs contributed from the town funds to many entertainments, such as bear-baiting, visits of players and of the Lord of Misrule from Offord Cluny. (fn. 7)
Of other industries besides agriculture, coal porterage on the Ouse was formerly an important business, and in the last century a tan-yard, jute factory, iron foundry and brick works existed, and basket-making was also carried on. (fn. 8) At the present day a stocking factory at the bridge provides a considerable amount of work, and there is also a flour mill.
There is a railway station near Huntingdon Bridge which is a junction for the London Midland and Scottish Railway and the London and North Eastern Railway.
The parish was inclosed by private Act of Parliament in 1803, (fn. 9) and the award is in the possession of the Corporation. Preserved at the Court Hall, (fn. 10) is a remarkable series of records, dating from the charter of King John in 1212 to the present day. These materials were used by Robert Fox, one of the bailiffs of the borough in 1831–2, in his History of Godmanchester. (fn. 11) Other natives of Godmanchester who may be mentioned are William of Godmanchester, who was elected Abbot of Ramsey in 1267, (fn. 12) and Stephen Marshall, the Parliamentarian divine and one of the authors of Smectymnuus, (fn. 13) published in 1641.
The town seems to have arisen on the site of a Roman settlement here, which has already been described. (fn. 14) Its lay-out, however, has apparently been changed to suit the later requirements of a market town. Ermine Street, the Roman road from London to the north, and the Roman roads from Sandy and the south and from Cambridge, which joined it, stop abruptly at the points where they touch what is supposed to be the site of the Roman town, and their place is taken by a road which almost circuits the medieval town and so links them up. It was customary in most medieval market towns to arrange the lay-out of the streets so as to compel the traffic to pass through the market place and pay toll. It would appear that Godmanchester was laid out in this way as a market town, although there is little evidence of an early market here. The road from St. Neots to Huntingdon enters the town by West Street towards the south end of what was intended for the market place and passes that from Cambridge towards the north end, by East Street. In the same way the traffic to and from London and the north is carried by the road on the west side of the town, through the same place.
Entering the town from Huntingdon on the north, after crossing Huntingdon Bridge, which has already been described, (fn. 15) the road passes over a causeway which was apparently of ancient construction, as we find that in 1279 its repair was charged on a meadow in the tenure of the prior of St. Mary's, Huntingdon. (fn. 16) In 1331 it was rebuilt (fn. 17) and in 1433 it appears that the road was carried over a series of small bridges. (fn. 18) The causeway was again rebuilt in 1637 by Robert Cooke as a thank-offering for his escape from drowning in a flood here. A stone in the parapet of the southern of the two bridges, each of eight arches, of which the causeway is composed, bears an inscription copied from an earlier one, 'Robertus Cooke ex aquis emersus hoc viatoribus sacrum D.D. 1637.' The bridges underwent repairs in 1767 and were rebuilt in 1784. The causeway (fn. 19) now forms a fine wide approach to the town, with many half-timbered houses of the 17th century and later, on either side. At the north-west corner of East Street stood the vicarage, a 17th-century house, lately demolished; adjoining it on the east side is Church Lane, leading to St. Mary's Church. A little to the east on the south side of East Street is a range of three picturesque half-timber houses with overhanging upper story and an overhanging gable at the west end. The western of the two original chimney stacks bears the date 1611 and the eastern 1613. Over a fireplace in the east room on the first floor are painted the Stuart royal arms with the initials I.R. for James I. There are other 17th-century houses in East Street. Opposite to East Street in the Causeway is the New Court or Town Hall, built in 1844, at which time this part of the Causeway was raised 2 ft. The Town Hall was largely rebuilt in 1899. (fn. 20) Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School, a brick building with tiled roof, built about 1560, faces the new Court Hall. It originally consisted of a hall and two-storied porch, bearing above the window of the upper story the inscription 'Eliz. Reg. hujus scholae fundatrix,' over which is a sundial bearing the words 'Sibi Aliisque.' It was restored in 1851 and some buildings were added on the north side. Near the school was the 'cage' for the temporary safeguarding of prisoners, which was built in 1687. The governors of the school, however, complained that the position was 'very inconvenient and unapt,' and so the overseers were ordered to build it near the Court Hall Yard. (fn. 21) In the main street, probably opposite St. Ann's Lane, was a cross called St. Ann's Cross, mentioned in 1526 (fn. 22) and 1545, (fn. 23) and may have existed as early as 1279; tenants of Godmanchester are described as 'ad crucem.' (fn. 24) The road south to old Court Hall was then apparently called Post Street and later Silver Street. Pinfold Lane, which goes off eastward, is referred to in 1539. (fn. 25) In it are the almshouses erected in 1738 by Mrs. Barbary Manser for four dwellings and rebuilt in 1859 for two dwellings. In West Street are some 17th-century half-timber houses, and on the outskirts of the town is a timber and plaster house, formerly the 'Shepherd and Dog' Inn, which bears the date 1593 in the south-west gable. The upper story formerly projected, but has been underbuilt in brick. Further west on the opposite side is Belle Isle House, a 17th-century half-timber house. Returning to the main street, the house at the northeast corner of the island site has an overhanging upper story. Near this spot stood the Horse Shoe Inn in Post Street, (fn. 26) where much of the business of the town was transacted. Southward is Old Courthall, called from the place where the Court Hall, which was pulled down in 1844, formerly stood at the junction of Silver Street and the old bridle road running to Toseland. (fn. 27) At first apparently the hall was only a covered inclosure (fn. 28) in which the view of frankpledge was held, the courts and council meetings or 'parvis' being frequently held in private houses, a custom which persisted even after the Court House was built in 1508. (fn. 29) The Court House was apparently a half-timber building with overhanging gables, and around the walls in the hall were oak benches for the bailiffs. (fn. 30) Near the hall was the 'Pondefolde,' before the gates of the prior of Merton, which may be identified with the town pound, from which Pinfold Lane possibly took its name. Here the king had the right to impound the cattle distrained at the hundred court. (fn. 31) In Old Courthall are two 17th-century inns, the Queen Victoria Inn, a timber and plaster house with overhanging upper story, and the Red Lion Inn, a brick house. Corpus Christi Lane no doubt takes its name from the gild of that name which existed in the town in the 15th century. Here and in Duck End are some 17th-century cottages.
Ermine Street, which is not on the site of the original street of that name, comprises some interesting 17th-century houses, particularly Tudor House, of timber and plaster, at the north end of the street. It bears the date 1600 in the south gable and 1603 on the doorway. There are also two other good timber and plaster houses of a later date in the street. On the Cambridge Road is a 16th-century half-timber house, and also a brick house with a stone panel bearing the date 1714. On the west side of the London Road, on the outskirts of the town, is Porch Farm, a 16th-century house which takes its name from a picturesque wooden porch with brick base added at the end of the century; on the opposite side of the road is Lookers Farm, a 17th-century house with a good chimney stack.
The manor of GODMANCHESTER was held by Edward the Confessor as 14 hides. (fn. 32) It was valued at £40 a year, which was a sum which it paid in 1086 to William the Conqueror, who succeeded to it as crown land. (fn. 33) Thus, as ancient demesne of the crown, it acquired certain privileges and obligations. (fn. 34) Before Michaelmas, 1190, (fn. 35) Richard I granted Godmanchester to David Earl of Huntingdon, at the increased farm of £50 to hold at the king's pleasure. (fn. 36) In 1194 a new grant in fee was made to the earl and his heirs. (fn. 37) The manor appears to have been in King John's hands in 1199, (fn. 38) but in the same year a new charter was obtained by the earl, (fn. 39) who held it in 1210–12 by the service of one knight's fee. (fn. 40) It again came into the king's hands in 1212, perhaps the most important date in the history of Godmanchester, for in that year King John granted the manor to 'the men of Godmanchester' to hold at the fee-farm rent of £120 a year. (fn. 41) Subsequent grants of the manor by Henry III in 1217 to Faulkes de Breauté, (fn. 42) in 1224 to the Master of the Templars for a debt, (fn. 43) and in 1236 to Eleanor of Provence as part of her dower, (fn. 44) were presumably grants of the rent only. In 1267 the fee-farm rent was granted to Edmund Earl of Lancaster, the king's second son, to hold by military service. (fn. 45) Queen Eleanor, as a widow, unsuccessfully sued her son in 1278 for the manor. (fn. 46) The possession of the rent was also complicated by the claims of Margaret Countess of Derby, one of the eventual co-heiresses of David of Huntingdon. (fn. 47) She seems to have obtained a grant of the manor from Edward I, and a similar grant was made by Edmund for her life at the annual rent of 12d. (fn. 48) Many of her receipts to the town for the fee-farm rent are still in existence. (fn. 49) On her death it reverted to the earls of Lancaster and the manor formed part of the Duchy of Lancaster, finally merging in the crown on the accession of Henry IV. (fn. 50) In 1662, Charles II granted the annual fee-farm rent to Edward Earl of Sandwich, (fn. 51) and it is still paid by the borough to the present Earl of Sandwich.
The charter of 1212 had transferred all the manorial rights at Godmanchester to the men of the manor to hold from the king and his heirs. (fn. 52) The privileges attached to the manor are not specified, but David Earl of Huntingdon had sac and soc, toll and theam and infangenthief, (fn. 53) and these, with possibly further rights, were exercised by the men of Godmanchester. The grant made the town, what is somewhat rare, a self-governing manor or liberty. It did not become a borough, and except the right of self-government, and the custom of borough-English, had none of the usually accepted marks of a borough. The charter was confirmed by Edward I, Edward III, Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI, Edward IV, Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth. (fn. 54) Richard II, however, added a definite list of the privileges enjoyed by the men of Godmanchester. In 1381 he recognised that they and their predecessors in virtue of the charter of 1212 had the chattels of felons and fugitives and waifs and strays, (fn. 55) but in his charter of 1392 they were to have chattels of felons, fugitives, suicides, outlaws and those who renounce the realm of England, infangenthief, outfangenthief, and all forfeitures within the manor, both from residents and foreigners. (fn. 56) He also expressly confirmed their privilege as tenants of ancient demesne, of freedom from toll and similar dues throughout the kingdom. (fn. 57)
The earlier development of the manor from pre-Conquest days, which enabled the men of Godmanchester to obtain a grant of self-government, is unfortunately obscure. We learn little from the Domesday Survey (1086) as to the status of the inhabitants, but it seems probable that the 80 villiens and 16 bordars of Godmanchester, there recorded, (fn. 58) had been a community of free sokemen, holding their lands for a rent payable to the king; indeed in 1279 the tenants of Godmanchester all claimed to be and were accepted as free sokemen, with no bondmen among them. (fn. 59) The pre-Conquest organisation seems to have persisted to some extent during the 12th century, when payments to the sheriff are entered on the Pipe Rolls as due from the commonalty (communis) of Godmanchester. (fn. 60) As already pointed out, the payment of £40 from the manor in 1066 represented the amount received by the king, and it is possible that each holding was already assessed to pay its share of this sum annually. Such a practice was certainly established after 1212, and in 1279 over 500 tenements were assessed for payment of the fee-farm rent, generally at the rate of 8d. an acre. (fn. 61) The system i still in existence, each acre now paying 1d. towards the rent.
The most important result of the grant of the manor was that the king's officers ceased to hold the courts, though the phrases 'the King's manor' or in Elizabeth's reign 'the Queen's court' remained in use. (fn. 62) In 1286 the two town bailiffs claimed on behalf of themselves and the commonalty of the town to have gallows and to hold the view of frankpledge freely, but it was proved that they paid an annual fine of 20s. to the sheriff for the privilege. (fn. 63) In the 15th century the Duchy court decreed that this payment should no longer be made to the sheriff. (fn. 64) The bailiffs also held the usual three-weeks court of the manor, which was peculiarly important on the ancient demesne of the crown. The court rolls are preserved at Godmanchester from 1271; at first no distinction is made in the headings of the rolls between the two courts, the view only being distinguished by the presence of the 12 jurors. (fn. 65) By 1324, however, the roll of the view was kept separately, (fn. 66) though the regular series of rolls does not begin until the reign of Edward III.
The privileges of the liberty of Godmanchester oelonged to the tenants of holdings assessed to the payment of the fee-farm rent, their sons, daughters and widows. (fn. 67) Sons were admitted on reaching the age of twenty, daughters at sixteen. (fn. 68) Foreigners, or those living outside the manor, were also admitted to the freedom of the town at the three-weeks court, by the consent of the commonalty, on payment of a fine and the taking of an oath. (fn. 69) Sureties were required during the 15th century, but the custom disappeared in the reign of Henry VII. (fn. 70) All tenants were bound to be present at the view of frankpledge, and they elected the twelve jurors for the year, but it is not clear whether the tenants or all admitted to the freedom made this election. (fn. 71) Besides the ordinary business of the view, the bailiffs and jurors declared the customs or by-laws of the manor and acted as a town council. The earliest enrolled declaration is in 1278–9, (fn. 72) but in 1324 the commonalty empowered the two bailiffs and the jurors to draw up a custumal which should be accepted by all. The result represents the codification of ancient usage rather than the introduction of new rules. (fn. 73)
A second edition of the custumal was made in 1465, and later additions of the following century have been added on the same roll. (fn. 74) In 1324, for administrative purposes, the town was divided into four quarters or wards named after the chief streets of Godmanchester. The government consisted of two bailiffs, elected for one year by the twelve jurors. The bailiffs were chosen one year from Post Street and Erning (Arning) Street and in the alternate year from West Street and East Street. The elections of all officers took place in the court held next before the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin. All rolls were given into the custody of four keepers of the common chest. The complete list of other officials is not given, but mention is made of the collectors of the fee-farm rents and the chief warden of the mills. All officials were to render account of their year of office to the two bailiffs and the jurors. (fn. 75) The rolls of the coroners of Godmanchester exist for the reign of Edward II, so that they must have been functioning in 1324, although their election is not recorded till 1482. (fn. 76) In the 15th century, the election of the officers is regularly recorded in the court books of the threeweeks court. The officials then consisted of the two bailiffs, two constables, eight collectors of the farm, two from each street, two churchwardens, four collectors of amerciaments of the view, the collectors of the aletoll, the warden of the water and the subbailiff. (fn. 77) In 1484, the record shows that three jurors of the leet were elected from each street; (fn. 78) in 1485, the warden of the swans appears, (fn. 79) and in 1486 the bellman. (fn. 80) The clerk of the court is mentioned in 1376, (fn. 81) but no election is shown till 1497, (fn. 82) and it was probably a permanent and not an annual office. The business at the three weeks court consisted of the admission of freemen, landsuits and the surrenders of land, peculiar to manors of the ancient demesne, and civil cases where the damages claimed were under 40s. (fn. 83) In 1592 it was ordained by the bailiffs and jurors that in future cases in this court should be heard by the two bailiffs, three of the twelve suitors at the court on the day of trial and three or four ex-bailiffs. (fn. 84) Appeals from the manorial court were made to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and were heard in the court of the Duchy. (fn. 85) All land in Godmanchester, except the original endowment of the church, (fn. 86) was, and still is, held in socage of the ancient demesne of the crown. (fn. 87) The tenure was never merged, as elsewhere, in copyhold, although in the 16th century land is occasionally described as held by copy of court roll. (fn. 88) Every tenement when it changed hands was surrendered in court into the hands of the bailiffs, who gave seisin to the incoming tenant on payment of a fine or gersom. (fn. 89) This procedure is still followed, but the surrenders are not made in court, but only to the mayor of the borough and, under the Law of Property (Amendment) Act of 1924, this very rare survival of socage of the ancient demesne is disappearing. Each tenement when it is surrendered to the mayor passes to the incoming tenant as ordinary freehold property. All land suits were heard in the three-weeks court; (fn. 90) the cases were begun by the king's little writ of right close. The first writ appears on a 13th-century court roll (fn. 91) and the actual writs are generally attached to the roll on which the case was recorded. (fn. 92) A writ was brought into the Court of Pleas as late as 1805. (fn. 93) The procedure closely followed that of the royal courts in freehold suits. In the early cases in the 13th and 14th centuries, an assize was held with twenty-four jurors, (fn. 94) but later fines and recoveries 'according to the custom of the manor' were more common. (fn. 95) The town was very jealous of its rights, and there were many complaints in the Duchy Courts that tenants had been impleaded in the common law or other royal courts instead of the manorial court. (fn. 96) Except in the use of the little writ of right close, the Godmanchester tenure approximated to free socage and all the terms of a freehold tenure were used: a daughter was given her land in free marriage; (fn. 97) a widow obtained her dower; (fn. 98) no servile services were paid and the land was held for suit of court and a money rent, without even the boonwork often due from freehold land. (fn. 99) From the customal of 1324, it appears that a tenant could assign, sell or bequeath his land by will, saving only the right of the widow to her dower. (fn. 100) This right of the widow persists at the present day, so that a man still cannot sell his land without his wife's consent. The only other restriction in 1324 was the rule forbidding the sale of land to a foreigner or an ecclesiastic. (fn. 101) Land still descends by the rule of Borough English to the youngest son of the first wife, unless testamentary dispositions have been made bequeathing it differently. (fn. 102)
Godmanchester remained a selfgoverning manor for nearly 400 years, but in the 16th century the town was increasingly prosperous and the townspeople wished for the privileges of incorporation. In their documents the use of such terms as corporation and burgess crept in, (fn. 103) and during a lawsuit in 1569 it was claimed that Godmanchester was 'an ancient borough time out of mind.' (fn. 104) The town used a common seal, (fn. 105) but legally they were not incorporated and when, in 1585, a newly admitted tenant, named Richard Fairpoint, defied the authority of the bailiffs and commonalty, he threatened to sue the bailiffs, officials, and chief inhabitants one by one. (fn. 106)
A charter of incorporation was obtained from James I in 1604, and Godmanchester became a free borough, under the name of 'the Bailiffs, Assistants and Commonalty of the borough of Gumecestre, alias Godmanchester.' (fn. 107) The government of the town, however, was but slightly altered, the Common Council being formed of two Bailiffs and twelve Assistants, who replaced the jurors of the view of frankpledge in matters of town legislation. The first officials were appointed by King James, but the bailiffs after a year of office were in the future to be elected in the Court next before the Nativity of the Virgin Mary by the existing bailiffs and assistants. The assistants were appointed for life and were replaced from the burgesses of the borough by election by the bailiffs and remaining assistants. (fn. 108) It may be noticed that the new constitution was less democratic and placed the power of election in the hands of the Common Council instead of the tenants and freemen. Even the jurors of the leet were in 1615 to be impanelled by the bailiffs. (fn. 109) Other officials under the new charter were the steward, (fn. 110) recorder and town clerk. The borough and manor were granted to the corporation to hold as previously at a fee-farm rent of £120 of lawful English money. (fn. 111)
During the Commonwealth, preliminaries were begun for obtaining a new charter, but nothing was actually done. (fn. 112)
In 1684, the charter of James I was surrendered to Charles II, but it was not restored before his death (fn. 113) and the following year James II granted a new charter. (fn. 114) The differences in it were small and, after the Revolution of 1688, all corporations were ordered to resume their former charters (fn. 115) and the corporation acted under the charter of 1604 until the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835. (fn. 116)
The lesser officials, though not named in the charter, were unchanged after the incorporation of the borough and the jurisdiction of the courts remained the same, though they became the courts of the bailiffs, assistants and commonalty instead of the courts of the King. (fn. 117) The manorial court became known as the Court of Pleas. (fn. 118)
A new edition of the by-laws was promulgated in 1615, repeating the main provisions of the older custumals of 1324 and 1465 and later enactments. Considerable additions had been made in the regulations of common rights; the most important, enacted in 1607, provided that only tenements constituted or divided before 28 September 1601 should have the right of common attached to them. (fn. 119) In consequence of these common rights, the freedom of the borough became of considerable value, and large sums were paid by foreigners for admission. (fn. 120) The curious custom by which a freeman gave a bucket and two scoops on admission is mentioned in 1635. (fn. 121) Afterwards the gift was commuted for money, but the system of purchasing the freedom of the borough came to an end in 1875, and the last payment instead of the bucket and scoops was made in 1876. (fn. 122) Now the freedom is an hereditary right and freemen only sign the roll on admission.
In 1835 the old constitution was swept away under the Municipal Corporations Act; a mayor and 4 aldermen and 12 councillors replaced the two bailiffs and assistants and the franchise was vested in the ratepayers. (fn. 123) The Court of Pleas had been growing of less and less importance, a few cases of debts and surrenders of land being its only business, but it continued as the mayor's court till 1847. (fn. 124) Special courts, however, were held for surrenders and giving seisin of land, (fn. 125) but latterly these have taken place in the mayor's presence only. The business of the court leet is now confined entirely to the stocking of the commons. It is held once a year by the mayor, when the 'grass-hirers' are appointed for the year, but the twelve jurors are no longer impanelled. (fn. 126) The limitation of the enjoyment of common rights to freemen tenants of commonable houses has led to a good deal of litigation, while the gradual exclusion of the freemen from the government of the borough has brought about outbreaks of discontent on their part. (fn. 127)
The seal of the borough is circular, 15/8 in. in diameter, with the device of a fleur de lis, possibly in reference to the dedication of the Parish Church, with the legend 'Commune Sigillum Gumecestre.' It seems to be of 13th century date. The mace is of silver of excellent design and bears the date 1745. The mayoral chain is of gold with enamel medallions, given by different donors since 1896.
For parliamentary purposes the borough was united to Huntingdon, which sent two members to Parliament. In 1867 the representation was reduced to one member and in 1885 it was merged into the county constituency.
No right to hold a market appears to have been granted to Godmanchester, but it seems probable that a market was held at the Horseshoe corner. In the bailiffs' accounts for 1533, there is an item paid for crying a cow and two stray horses in the market, (fn. 128) and in 1615 it certainly was the custom to bring fish to the 'Common Market' on Fridays. (fn. 129)
A fair on Easter Tuesday and the following Wednesday was granted by James I in the charter of 1604, together with a court of pie-powder. (fn. 130) It developed into an important horse and cattle fair held in the streets of the town near the old Court Hall. The cattle and sheep disappeared by 1870 after the rinderpest outbreak of the previous years, (fn. 131) but the horse fair continued till Easter 1914. It had been lessening in importance for some years and has never revived since the war. The charter of James II granted a second fair on the Tuesday after the Feast of SS. Simon and Jude, but the right to hold it ceased after the resumption of the old charter in 1688. (fn. 132) The court of pie-powder was held during the 17th century, (fn. 133) but it certainly was no longer held in 1834. (fn. 134)
The control of the waters of the Ouse has always been a matter of great importance to the town of Godmanchester. In the 13th century, the obstructions in the river put up by the Abbot of Ramsey, the Prior of Huntingdon and Reginald de Grey as lords of the mills respectively at Houghton, Hartford and Hemingford Grey led to complaints on the part of Huntingdon and not of Godmanchester, (fn. 135) but in the 15th century the latter town suffered severely by the continual flooding of its meadows. A series of complaints were made to the Court of the Duchy of Lancaster by the bailiffs and commonalty (fn. 136) and finally in 1524 the right to control the floodgates at Houghton and Hemingford was transferred from the Duchy authorities to the men of Godmanchester. (fn. 137) This right still exists and has been safeguarded in the various schemes for the improvement of the Ouse navigation, begun by Arnold Spencer in 1638. (fn. 138) It was finally confirmed to the borough in a judgment of the House of Lords in 1897 against Mr. Simpson, who had in 1893 acquired by purchase the entire rights of navigation granted to Spencer, and in the following year began an action against the corporation to prevent them from opening the sluice gates at Godmanchester, Hemingford and Houghton in times of flood. (fn. 139)
In 1279, the bailiffs of Godmanchester claimed that the town held a free fishery by the grant of King John and that they formerly had the right, as appurtenant to the manor, of fishing from Hayle to Swiftiswere, but were prevented by the Bishop of Lincoln and others from doing so. (fn. 140) The right to the free fishery continued, and from the borough custumal drawn up in 1615, it appears that the 'common fishers' of the town were bound to bring their fish to the common market at the Horseshoe corner every Friday and whenever they had fish to sell, on pain of a fine of 6s. 8d. (fn. 141)
In 1086 three water-mills were attached to the manor of Godmanchester, rendering 100s. yearly to the king. (fn. 142) The mills passed with the manor (q.v.) to the men of Godmanchester and in 1279 they paid 15s. a year to the fee-farm rent and a holm containing 8 acres was attached to them. (fn. 143) At the close of the 15th century they were let on lease, and this system seems to have been continued by the corporation until 1884. (fn. 144) At that time no tenant could be found. The corporation applied for leave to sell the property, but opposition was made on the ground that the freemen had the right to have their corn ground freely on the grist stone. No sale took place and the old mill stood derelict (fn. 145) and has been finally pulled down since 1926. A windmill is mentioned in 1599, when it was sold by Robert Green to Oliver Cromwell, alias Williams. (fn. 146)
The Church of ST. MARY consists of a chancel (44 ft. by 20 ft.) with organ chamber and two vestries on the north side, nave (72 ft. by 27 ft.), north aisle (15 ft. wide), south aisle (19 ft. wide), west tower and spire (19 ft. by 17½ ft.) and north and south porches. The walls are of stone and pebble rubble with stone dressings, except the tower, which is of ashlar. The roof coverings are of lead.
The church is mentioned in the Domesday Survey (1086) but, except for a few stones in the walling, nothing of this early building remains. The church seems to have been rebuilt about the middle of the 13th century, and of this period are the chancel, the west wall of the nave, and small parts of the west walls of the aisles. About 1340 a north vestry was added to the chancel, and at the end of this century and extending into the next a further reconstruction took place, beginning at the west end of the aisles and embracing the arcades, clearstory and porches, and the raising and altering of the chancel. The tower and spire, being ruinous, were taken down and rebuilt in 1623. The upper part of the south porch was rebuilt probably in 1669. The roofs and parapets were repaired early in the 19th century; the church was generally restored in 1853, the vestry rebuilt and the organ chamber and choir vestry added in 1860. A general restoration took place in 1885, and the chancel was restored in 1912.
The 13th-century chancel, reconstructed and raised c. 1510, (fn. 147) has an east window of three modern lancets. The north wall has a 15th-century two-light window, a 14th-century doorway to the clergy vestry, a 13th-century doorway (visible in the choir vestry), and a modern arch to the organ chamber. The south wall has three 15th-century windows of two-lights, the western set within an earlier opening, and a 15th-century doorway.
The chancel arch is two centred and of two chamfered orders resting on similar responds; most of the stones are of the 13th century, but the arch has been reconstructed and raised, c. 1490, (fn. 148) cutting into the sills of two 13th-century lancets in the gable above, the splays of which still retain some original painted decoration. Under it is a modern; screen. The low-pitched roof is practically all modern; the jack-legs rest on modern shafts and corbels.
The organ chamber and the two vestries on the north are modern, but in the east wall of the former is a reset 15th-century two-light window doubtless from the north wall of the chancel; and the vestry has a 14th-century single-light window reset.
The nave arcades, c. 1500, are of five bays, with two-centred arches of two moulded orders supported by narrow piers formed by the continuation downward of the outer orders of the arch between two attached shafts with moulded capitals and bases. The contemporary clearstory has five two-light windows on each side. The contemporary roof is of low pitch, has moulded beams, jack-legs and braces, but has been much restored.
The north aisle, c. 1500, has a five-light transomed east window with remains of niches in the splays, which now opens into the organ chamber; (fn. 149) at the extreme south end is a broken piscina. The north wall has four three-light transomed windows, and a reset 13th-century doorway, above which is a blocked doorway opening into a chamber over the porch. The west wall has a four-light transomed window, to the south of which is the splay of an earlier window. The pent roof has plain beams and curved braces, and the jack-legs are supported on carved corbels.
The south aisle, c. 1500, has in the east wall a fivelight transomed window, and a blocked doorway to the rood staircase. The south wall has three threelight windows and a two-light window, all transomed, a doorway with a moulded arch and jamb-shafts flanked on the outside by two niches, and a squareheaded doorway to the stairs leading to the chamber over the porch. The west wall has a four-light transomed window, to the north of which is the jamb and splay of an earlier window. The stairs to the rood loft were in a circular turret outside the wall at the north-east corner, now used as a smoke flue. The roof is similar to that of the north aisle.
The west tower, built in 1623, (fn. 150) has a 13th-century tower arch of three chamfered orders supported on semi-octagonal responds with carved stiff-leaf capitals and moulded bases. The west doorway has a moulded two-centred arch on sunk chamfered jambs and moulded imposts; (fn. 151) above it is a sunk panel with a shield bearing a fleur de lis and a scroll inscribed 'BVRGVS GVMECESTRE,' and above this another panel with date '1623.' Still higher are a pair of twolight windows with semicircular heads. In the next stage the north and south walls have each a two-light; and the belfry has coupled two-light windows with transoms. The tower has buttresses square at the angles, and is finished with an embattled parapet with pinnacles at the angles and a large fleur-de-lis on the central merlons. Behind the parapet rises an octagonal spire with three tiers of lights all on the cardinal faces; the top is 151 ft. 3 in. above the ground. The whole of the details are strongly tinged with Renaissance feeling, but a successful attempt has been made to harmonize with the architecture of the church.
The 15th-century north porch has a moulded two-centred arch on jambs with engaged shafts; the side walls have each a two-light window. Single-light windows in the east and west walls light the chamber above, and there is now a modern single-light window in the north wall. There is a small chamber over this porch, but the present roof and parapets are modern.
The 15th-century south porch has a four-centred outer archway with lily-pot at the apex of the label; on each side of it are large niches. Each side wall has two two-light windows. The chamber above, which is of later date, has a small single-light window in each of the outer walls, and a beam in the roof is dated 1669.
The 13th-century font (fn. 152) is an irregular octagon with crude carved heads projecting from the diagonal faces; the stem and base are modern.
There are eight bells, inscribed (1) Intactum sileo percute dulce cano: T. Osborn, Downham, fecit, 1794; (2) and (3) T. Osborn, founder, 1794; (4) Thomas Osborn, fecit. Our voices shall with joyful sound. Make hills and valleys eccho round. 1794; (5) T. Osborn, fecit, 1794; (6) J. Taylor & Co., Founders, Loughborough, 1870. F. T. Mc.Dougall, D.C.L., Vicar. P. E. Tillard, Henry Quince, Churchwardens; (7) T. Osborn, founder, 1794; (8) Revd. Castle Sherard, Rector, (fn. 153) Jno. Martin, Robt. Waller, Bailiffs, Jno. Scott, Richd. Miles, Ch. Wardens, T. Osborn, fecit: 1794. A sanctus bell seems to have remained as late as 1763. (fn. 154) Osborn had cast the whole peal of eight in 1794, using the metal of an earlier set of five; (fn. 155) the old fourth bell had been cast in 1710, by a shepherd at the Angel Inn in Godmanchester. (fn. 156) The bells were rehung and the 6th bell recast in 1870; it apparently had no inscription on it.
The 15th-century chancel stalls have shaped divisions with carved elbows, poppy heads and misericords, and panelled and traceried fronts. The carvings on the misericords include a falcon displayed, a dog with collar and resting on a cushion, a fleur-de-lis on a shield, a hare in the midst of a sun-in-splendour, (fn. 157) an ape, a wyvern, a fox and goose, the letters W.S. on a shield, (fn. 158) a cat and mouse; on the elbows a jester, angels, crowned heads, &c.; on the poppy heads two owls back to back, four birds, wyverns, etc.
Some of the fronts and backs of the modern seating and some of the bench ends have 15th-century tracery inserted in them.
In the nave is a chained oak poor-box, circular, bound with metal, and with a painted inscription. (fn. 159)
On one of the south buttresses of the chancel is a late 13th-century carved wheel-dial; and on the gable of the south porch is a small dial inscribed 'G. 1623. W.S.'
Lying loose in the porch is a portion of a 12th-century circular stone shaft with scale ornament.
On the floor of the nave is an early 16th-century brass figure of a civilian, with indents for two wives, two groups of children, and inscription panel; and in the chancel is the indent of an inscription plate.
There are the following monuments: In the chancel, to the Rev. Geoffrey Hawkins, Rector of Higham Gobion, Beds, d. 1727 (son of Geoffrey Hawkins, Rector of Chesterton, Hunts), Mary, his wife, d. 1750, and Hannah Worley, widow, d. 1771; Martha (Maylam) wife of George Rowley, d. 1765; John Hawkins, d. 1806; the Rev. Charles Gray, Vicar, d. 1854; and windows to the Rev. Charles Gray, Vicar, 1854; the Rev. W. P. E. Lathbury, Vicar, d. 1855; the Rev. John Hartley Richardson, curate, d. 1863; and the Rev. Henry Hart Chamberlain [d. 1899]. In the nave to Elizabeth (Meadows) wife of Edward Martin, d. 1805, and Edward Martin, d. 1853; Robert Hicks, d. 1825, Mary, widow of Rev. S. Hicks, Rector of Wrestlingworth, Beds, d. 1805, John Hicks, d. 1827, and Mary widow of Robert, d. 1862; floor slabs to Alured Clarke, d. 1744, Ann, his widow, d. 1755, and John Clarke, d. 1745; William Mehew, d. 1772, and Ann his wife, d. 1793; William Mehew, d. 1792; and Richard Miles, d. 1834. In the north aisle, to Alured Clarke, d. 1744, and family; Jos. Bull, d. 1764, Ann his wife, d. 1780, and Elizabeth their daughter, d. 1791; Thomas Townsend, d. 1792, Martha his wife, d. 1789, John, their son, d. 1799, and Ann, widow of John, d. 1817, James Stratton, d. 1800, son-in-law of Tho. Townsend, Ann his wife, d. 1835, Ann their daughter, d. 1826, George Turney her husband, d. 1825, and George Turney their son, d. 1835; John Chapman, d. 1858, and Edward Theodore, his son, d. 1859, Mary Chapman, widow of John, d. 1899; War Memorial 1914–18; and windows to Bishop Francis Thomas McDougall, Vicar, erected 1903; Frederick Robert Beart, d. 1905; Emma Frances Amelia Baumgartner, d. 1911. In the south aisle, to Thomas Betts, d. 1696, and Elizabeth his wife, d. 1700; Edward Martin, d. 1799, Alice his relict, d. 1801, and Harriet their infant daughter, d. 1788; John Martin, d. 1822, and Mary his wife, d. 1854; Henry Percy Tillard, d. 1858; John Thomas Baumgartner, d. 1874; Algernon Tillard, d. 1887; Francis Bonham Tillard, d. 1903, Helen wife of General Robert Julian Baumgartner, d. 1911; Mary Emily (Tillard) wife of Col. I. F. R. Thompson, d. 1915, and Lt.-Col. Ivan Frank Ross Thompson, d. 1917; Allen Victor Herbert, d. 1918; floor slabs to Thomas Bentley, d. 1709; John Martin, d. 1752; Elizabeth daughter of Samuel and Elizabeth Fox, d. 1755; Jane, relict of John Martin, d. 1789; and windows to two children of J. T. and P. Baumgartner, d. 1827 and 1844; Phoebe, wife of John Lancaster, d. 1833; John Thomas Baumgartner, d. 1874; Philipa Julia (Baumgartner) wife of Philip Tillard, d. 1885; Philip Tillard, d. 1887; the Rev. Preston John Williams, Vicar, erected 1894; General Robert Julian Baumgartner, d. 1895. In the tower, windows to Edward Martin, d. 1835, and Elizabeth his wife, d. . . . .; and William Beart, d. 1852. In the south porch to the wife and children of the Rev. H. H. Chamberlain.
The registers are as follows: (i) Baptisms, 23 Dec. 1604 to 3 Jan. 1642–3; marriages, 3 Jan. 1603–4 to 30 Aug. 1653, and 6 March 1742–3 to 8 Sept. 1754; burials, 1 Feb. 1604–5 to Dec. 1647, and 1653; (ii) baptisms, 30 Sept. 1653 to 5 Aug. 1660, and three entries in 1669, 1671 and 1674; marriages, 9 Jan. 1653–4 to 16 April 1718; burials, 3 Oct. 1653 to 14 May 1717; (iii) marriages, 13 April 1718 to 11 Jan. 1753; burials, 31 March 1718 to 24 Dec. 1751; (iv) baptisms and burials, 20 Oct. 1754 to 22 April 1798; (v) the official marriage book, 1 Aug. 1754 to 5 Nov. 1783; (vi) the same, 10 Nov. 1783 to 28 Feb. 1811; (vii) baptisms and burials, 13 Jan. 1798 to 30 Dec. 1812; (viii) the official marriage book, 6 March 1811 to 25 Oct. 1812. The first two books are in considerable disorder and apparently several years are missing, and the second book is much damaged by damp. The first book has been rebound and the second requires similar treatment.
The church plate consists of: A silver cup of Elizabethan date, no date letter; a silver gilt cup and cover paten, hall-marked for 1559–60; a silver plate engraved 'Benedicamus Patrem et filium cum spiritu,' and inscribed 'To the Glory of God and the use of St. Mary's Church, Godmanchester, 1848. E. I. W. dedit,' hall-marked for 1846–7; a silver alms-dish, engraved 'hilarem datorem diligit Deus,' and inscribed as last, hall-marked for 1847–8; a plated dish and flagon, the latter inscribed 'The gift of Charles Gray, M.A., Vicar, to the Parish Church of Godmanchester, A.D. 1834.'
The Church of St. Mary (fn. 160) is stated to have been given with 3 hides of land by King Edgar (c. 969) to the monks of Ramsey, (fn. 161) but it was no longer in their possession at the time of the Domesday Survey (fn. 162) and they never seem to have laid claim to it. In 1086 a church and priest were attached to the manor (fn. 163) and remained in royal possession until Stephen gave the church to Merton Priory in Surrey. (fn. 164) In 1284, the endowment of the church consisted of 48 acres of land and also 15 acres of meadow held by the Prior of Merton in commutation for all tithes of hay. (fn. 165) He held other lands, but these were assessed to the fee-farm rent and were not spiritualities. (fn. 166) After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the rectory was granted in 1542 to the dean and chapter of Westminster (fn. 167) and except during the reign of Mary and the Commonwealth they have owned it ever since. (fn. 168) It has been held by a succession of lessees and in a lease of 1640 the dean and chapter stipulated for entertainment for two days and two nights for themselves or their officers at the lessee's expense. (fn. 169)
Between 1209 and 1219 the vicarage was instituted and two houses, land and meadow, as well as the vicarial tithes were assigned to it. (fn. 170) The advowson of the vicarage has always been held with the rectory, (fn. 171) although the first recorded presentation by the dean and chapter of Westminster was not till 1599. (fn. 172) A custumal of the vicar's tithing was drawn up in 1599 in great detail and is specially interesting in showing the payments made from parishioners who were not landholders. (fn. 173) In the 17th century the vicarage was too poor to support a suitable vicar for the town and consequently in 1655 the Town Council decided to purchase a house called the Star, next to the vicarage, which was ruinous. (fn. 174) The Star was finally annexed to the vicarage when the dean and chapter had recovered the patronage after the Restoration. (fn. 175) The purchase of the Star is an illustration of control of church affairs by the governing body both before and after Godmanchester became a borough. In 1532 the town officials appointed an organist and the expenses incurred over his engagement were charged to the bailiffs' account. (fn. 176) In the reign of Henry VI the two churchwardens appear amongst the elected officials of the town (fn. 177) and they accounted to the bailiffs and jurors. (fn. 178) Throughout the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries the churchwardens' accounts were presented to the Town Council, although in the 18th century protest was apparently made against the practice. In 1712 a churchwarden, apparently not a freeman of the borough, brought the matter into the spiritual courts to the great indignation of the Council, who decreed that he was never to be admitted to the freedom and also indemnified his successors against any damages they might incur during the trial. (fn. 179) In 1824, the Common Council enacted a careful table of precedence for its members in the corporation pews in the chancel. (fn. 180)
The Chantry of the Blessed Mary (fn. 181) or Roode's Chantry, (fn. 182) in the parish church, was in existence in 1297 (fn. 183) and possibly earlier, since in 1279 Martin the chaplain was a town tenant of 4½ acres of land and some meadow, though his benefice is not named. (fn. 184) In 1307, Roger de Strateshill, probably the chaplain of the chantry, wished to endow it with 31 acres of land and 4 acres of meadow to provide a daily celebration of mass, but difficulties appear to have arisen with John Dalderby, Bishop of Lincoln (1300–1329). (fn. 185) The matter was taken up by the town, and at the request of Henry Roode, apparently one of the bailiffs, licence was obtained from the king in 1316 for Roger de Strateshill's gift. (fn. 186) Further gifts of land are recorded (fn. 187) and each incumbent was seemingly given seisin for his life by the bailiffs, 'who reserved the right to annul the grant, thus avoiding any grant of the lands in mortmain. (fn. 188) The chantry was thus especially associated with the town and the chaplain was bound to pray, in English, at the daily mass 'for the good state, welfare and prosperity of the Bayliffs of this town, and all the Comynalty of the same, fundars of this Chauntre.' (fn. 189) At the time of the dissolution of the chantries, the chaplain both provided assistance to the vicar and was also master of a grammar school. (fn. 190) The possessions of the chantry, together with those of the Gilds of Corpus Christi (q.v.) and the Holy Trinity (q.v.) were seized by the crown and in 1553 were leased to John Shepherd and others of the royal household for twenty-one years at an annual rent of £35 16s. 10d. (fn. 191) The fee-farm rents of £5 15s. 5d. due to the bailiffs of Godmanchester were paid by the crown until 1592, (fn. 192) when Elizabeth, in a new lease to Peter Proby, remitted the fee-farm rent and a charge of 4s. payable to the poor and received a lower rent from the lessee. (fn. 193) Soon after the grant of the charter of 1604, the borough unsuccessfully attempted to recover the chantry lands and were involved in lawsuits in the Duchy courts and considerable expenses, (fn. 194) the issue being complicated by the grant in fee, in 1606–7 by James I, of the disputed lands to Edward Newport. (fn. 195) In 1657, they were held by Robert Barnard, (fn. 196) but it seems possible that they were seized by the Commissioners for the sale of fee-farm rents during the Protectorate, (fn. 197) since at some subsequent date they were attached to the Rectory on whose 'lessee the old crown rent of £30 per annum is charged as an annuity in augmentation of the vicarage as also with the sum of £5 19s. 5d. to the annual fee-farm rent of the town.' (fn. 198)
The Gild of Corpus Christi is first mentioned in 1366, (fn. 199) and the fraternity was an established body in 1396. (fn. 200) It consisted of brothers and sisters governed by two wardens. (fn. 201) A later benefactor was John Copegray, chaplain of the gild and vicar of Alconbury (1463–69). (fn. 202) After the dissolution of the chantries, the endowments, which amounted in 1536 to £11 7s. 4d. a year, (fn. 203) passed with those of Roode's Chantry (q.v.). The name is still preserved in Corpus Christi Lane.
The Gild of the Holy Trinity was founded before 1279, when William, chaplain of the Trinity, held 1½ acre of land. (fn. 204) It was governed by two wardens (fn. 205) and is mentioned in wills of Godmanchester inhabitants, (fn. 206) but its endowments were small and at its dissolution amounted to only £3 4s. 9d. a year. (fn. 207) Edmund Archpole was then chaplain of both Corpus Christi (q.v.) and Holy Trinity Gilds, (fn. 208) but there does not seem to have been any formal amalgamation of the gilds. The lands of the gild followed the descent of those of Roode's chantry (q.v.).
Little is known of the origin of the Gild of St. John the Baptist, (fn. 209) but it was founded before 1359, when William Balle seems to have been the chaplain. (fn. 210) Possibly the gild had a separate chapel, since 'land next to the chapel' are mentioned at the same date. (fn. 211) The fraternity appears in the town rentals until 1549, (fn. 212) but all trace of it is afterwards lost and its lands do not appear in the certificate of chantry lands at the dissolution of the chantries. Nine acres of land formed the endowment of certain lights and lamps in the church, and they were valued at 22s. 2d. a year after deducting the fee-farm rent. (fn. 213) In 1553, obit lands appear in the lease of chantry lands to John Shepherd and to later tenants (fn. 214) and a payment of 1s. 10½d. a year to the bellman was chargeable on the chantry lands. (fn. 215)
At the present time there is a Particular Baptist Chapel, founded in 1815, and the Union Chapel, built in 1844, to replace an older chapel. (fn. 216)
The following charities are regulated by a scheme of the Charity Commissioners dated 12 February 1926:—
Christopher Fisher in 1674 gave a piece of land containing 2 a. and 3 r. in Reed Meadow, and John Dryden by a declaration of trust dated 17 Dec. 1708 gave the sum of £200 which was laid out in the purchase of 24 a. 1 r. 20 p. of land, the rents to be applied in apprenticing poor children of the parish. The endowment of the charities now consists of £1,578 8s. 9d., 2½ per cent. Consols and various other sums of stock with the Official Trustees, the whole producing about £60 annually in dividends which are applied in apprenticing.
John Banks by will dated 19 November 1707 charged his lands and hereditaments in Dunton with a yearly payment of £12 to be applied for apprenticing and for the poor. The endowment now consists of a rentcharge of £12 per annum issuing out of Millow Hall Farm, Dunton, £21 1s. 5 per cent. War Stock and £25 4 per cent. Victory Bonds with the Official Trustees. £5, part of the rentcharge, is applied for the benefit of the poor and the residue £7 is applied for apprenticing.
Note.—Under clause 19 of the above-mentioned scheme the trustees are empowered to apply that part of the income applicable for apprenticing and not required for that purpose in assisting poor persons in the case of Banks's charity and in assisting poor boys for their advancement in life in the case of Fisher's and Dryden's charities.
Fishbourne's Charity. This charity consists of a rentcharge of 10s. per annum issuing out of hereditaments at Hartford. The rent is distributed by the mayor to four poor widows not in receipt of parish relief.
Anonymous Charity for Poor founded in 1727. The endowment of this charity consists of a rentcharge of 3s. 4d. per annum charged upon or issuing out of hereditaments in Post Street. This sum is distributed in bread amongst the poor of the parish.
Grainger's Gift. Robert Grainger by will dated 10 October 1578 charged his mansion-house in Godmanchester with one comb of wheat to be made into bread and distributed among the poor. The value of one comb of wheat is now charged upon property in Godmanchester now in the occupation of Mr. W. F. Beart and distributed to the poor of the parish in bread.
The charity known as the Rectory Charge was founded by deed dated 27 January 1443 for the benefit of the poor of the parish. The endowment consists of four quarters of wheat and three quarters of barley charged on the Rectory Farm, Godmanchester. Under the provisions of the above-mentioned scheme the vicar and the mayor (ex-officio trustees) and six representative trustees appointed by the Borough Council, were appointed the trustees of the charities.
Almshouses. These consist of four almshouses in East Chadleigh Lane, Godmanchester, built with money given in 1723 by Mr. Dryden, together with two small almshouses in Penfold Lane (known as Manser's Charity) formerly four houses but converted into two. There are no endowments in connection with these almshouses, which are kept in repair at the parish expense.
The Huntingdon and Godmanchester District Nurses' Association. An account of this charity is given under the Borough of Huntingdon.