Parishes: Steeple Gidding

Pages 57-60

A History of the County of Huntingdon: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1936.

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Redinges (xi cent.); Giddingges, Giddinge (xii cent.); Stepel Geddynge (xiv cent.); Gyedyng, Giddynge Abbatis (xv cent.). (fn. 1)

The parish of Steeple Gidding, containing 1,102 acres, about half of which is arable and half pasture, lies between Little Gidding and Hamerton and Coppingford; its north-eastern boundary is roughly formed by the low ridge which separates it from Sawtry, and the southern by the Alconbury Brook. From the footbridge which crosses the brook the boundary runs in a north-easterly direction and passes along the east side of the Foxcovert up Anger Hill to cross the road which connects all the Giddings, whence it is defined by field boundaries as far as the Bullock Road, where it reaches the northernmost point of the parish, near Coldharbour Farm. It then turns south-eastwards along the Bullock Road to Aversley Wood, from the southern end of which it runs along field boundaries as far as the old clay-pit north-west of Hamerton and thence to the Alconbury Brook. The land rises from the Alconbury Brook, where it is about 112 ft. above the Ordnance datum, and reaches about 200 ft.

The village, which is about seven miles south from Holme and nine miles south-east from Oundle, the two nearest railway stations, stands on rising ground about 200 ft. above sea-level. The site of the old Hall is close to the church; and the avenue, which gives its name to Avenue Farm, leads from it due south towards the brook. Several old ponds, the remains of the 'fisheries in Gyddinges Abbott' which were let to Richard Thekeston on 6 March 1570, for 21 years at a yearly rent of £12 3s. 10d., (fn. 2) are still to be seen near by, and the farmhouse itself stands south of these ponds, a little to the east of the northern end of the avenue. White Hall, which is farmed by Mr. Dennis together with Avenue Farm, lies eastward from the church. Adjoining a footpath leading northeast from the church is a timber-framed thatched cottage of mid 17th-century date, formerly the Rectory.

About three-quarters of a mile south-east of the village is Steeple Gidding Lodge, and in the east of the parish is the Grange, which probably marks the site of Ramsey Abbey Grange. Coldharbour Farm is in the north-east of the parish.

The population at the census of 1921 was eightyone, chiefly engaged in agriculture. The subsoil is Oxford Clay; the soil is heavy clay. The chief crops are wheat, barley, beans and peas.

The following place-names appear in local records: Cotedich, Shalkhill, (fn. 3) Alpyte Laledon, (fn. 4) Kyrkelane (fn. 5) (xv cent.); Hanghill meadow, Dovecote close, Burnt Yards, Grants close, Little Hills, Alpit (xvii cent.). (fn. 6)


Ten hides in GIDDING and Weldon given to Ramsey Abbey by Earl Ailwin, their founder, may be assumed to include the seven hides with twenty acres of meadow and two furlongs of underwood in Gidding which were held by the Abbot of Ramsey in 1086 of the king in chief. At this time there was one plough on the demesne on one hide and eighteen villeins had seven ploughs; and at a later date there was still one carucate of land in demesne, while six hides were held of the abbot by free or customary tenants. (fn. 7) Pope Alexander III confirmed Gidding with the church and all its appurtenances to Ramsey Abbey. (fn. 8) In 1193–4 the prior, as attorney of the Abbot of Ramsey, granted to Ralph de Stukeley 2 virgates of land in Gidding at a rent of 7s. a year saving foreign service. (fn. 9) These 2 virgates may have been all that Nicholas, son of Aristotle de Stukeley, had in Gidding when in 1228 he quitclaimed to the abbot. (fn. 10) The abbey seems to have held the manor in demesne and the revenues were assigned chiefly to the chamberlain of the abbey, who had £16 a year from them in 1202–7. (fn. 11) About 1247 Abbot Ranulf allotted the profits to the improvement of the ornaments in the church, when compensation was given to the chamberlain. (fn. 12)

Cotton. Azure an eagle argent with beak and claws or.

After the Dissolution the property seems to have been held on lease from the Crown by the Boton family, who had long been tenants of the Abbey of Ramsey, until 30 June 1590, when Queen Elizabeth granted the reversion of the manor to John Cotton, the second son of Thomas Cotton of Conington. (fn. 13) John Cotton died in 1635, (fn. 14) but seems to have transferred his interest in Gidding during his lifetime to his nephew Thomas Cotton, the younger brother of the famous Sir Robert: for, according to a statement made later by Sir Thomas Cotton of Conington and Mary, widow of Thomas Cotton of Gidding, 'an Indenture was made in consideration of the marriage of John Cotton,' son and heir apparent of Thomas Cotton, to Frances, one of the daughters of John Gifford, about June 1632, 'conveying all the manor of Gidding Abbotts and the advowson of the Rectory with the pasture ground called Muckhills' to the use of Thomas Cotton during his life, with reversion after his death to the use of John Cotton and his heirs. (fn. 15)

The younger John Cotton incurred considerable debts and, according to Robert Huit (who brought a suit in Chancery for the recovery of a debt of £389), 'did travel beyond seas,' leaving his wife to be supported by his father, who was obliged to make 'some conveance, by virtue whereof the manor aforesaid, which ought to come to John, did come to the hands of Sir Thomas Cotton of Conington, bart., and Mary, the widow of Thomas Cotton, in trust for the payment of the debts of the said John.' This, however, was denied by Sir Thomas Cotton, who declared that Thomas Cotton by indenture 30 March 1640, two days before his death, 'did covenant to the use of the said John Cotton and his heirs male; for default of such issue to the use of the defendant and his heirs male of himself and in default to his right heirs.' (fn. 16) He seems, however, to have paid the debts of John Cotton, who died in 1646. (fn. 17)

Heathcote. Ermine three roundels vert each charged with a cross or.

The heir of John Cotton was his only daughter, Jane, married in 1648 to Basil Fitzherbert of Norbury (Derby) and Swinnerton (Staffs); but the manor of Steeple Gidding passed in accordance with the settlement of 1640 to Sir Thomas, (fn. 18) though Mrs. Cotton seems to have retained an interest, presumably by way of dower. Her name appears in a list of those sequestered for recusancy in 1648. (fn. 19) In Michaelmas term 1654 the manor was conveyed to William Witherington and John Davenport by Sir Thomas Cotton bart., John Cotton, Basil Fitzherbert and his wife Jane, with a quitclaim against the heirs of all the deforciants. (fn. 20) This, however, seems to have been done only in order to a fresh settlement, for after the death of Sir Thomas Cotton in 1662 William Witherington quitclaimed the manor to Sir John Cotton, (fn. 21) and the estate subsequently followed the same descent as the baronetcy until the death of the last baronet, Sir John Cotton, in 1752. (fn. 22) He left four daughters and co-heirs, Jane, Elizabeth, Frances and Mary. Jane married Thomas Hart; and Elizabeth, as the wife of Thomas Bowdler, became the mother of a more famous Thomas, whose surname and literary activities gave a new verb to the English language. (fn. 23) This Thomas, with his cousin John Hart Cotton, their aunt Mary and her husband Basil, Earl of Denbigh, quitclaimed all rights in the manor in 1771 to John Heathcote, (fn. 24) whose brother, Sir Gilbert Heathcote, had bought it from the coheirs and given it to him, reserving £400 for himself yearly until his death in 1785. (fn. 25) The property remained in the possession of Mr. Heathcote's descendants until 1915, when it was sold by his greatgrandson, Mr. J. Norman Heathcote, to Mr. Tower; (fn. 26) he sold the estate in lots and the manorial rights fell into abeyance.

At the time of the Dissolution the largest freeholder in the parish of Steeple Gidding was Richard Boton or Button, whose surname seems to have been derived from the fact that his ancestors lived above the town. The family name appears first in the records of Great Gidding, where Robert Aboveton was living in Henry III's time, (fn. 27) and in 1322 another Robert Aboveton had an interest in the Emberton fee. (fn. 28) In 1290, however, the Abbot of Ramsey had a tenant, William the son of William a boutoun, who was a juror of his court at Gidding, (fn. 29) and may perhaps be identified with the William Abovetoun who was aletaster for the manor in 1300. (fn. 30) William Aboveton died in 1302; his executors, Alice his widow, John le hache and Simon Boylloun, are named in the roll of a court held in November that year, (fn. 31) and his heir was perhaps the Alexander Boueton who appears as a juror of the court in January 1341. (fn. 32) In 1419 and 1429 Richard Boton was a juror, (fn. 33) and in the latter year John Boton, who may perhaps have been his son, was also of the jury. John Boton was the aletaster for the manor that year, and in that capacity helped to find that Maud Boton, a common brewster, had brewed against the assize. (fn. 34) She was an old offender, having been amerced more or less regularly in the manor court for the past fifteen years.

A rental of Steeple Gidding about 1443 shows that the rent paid by John Boton was 23s. 4d. (fn. 35) He seems to have been a trying neighbour, for we learn from a court roll about 1456 that he had not only failed to scour the watercourse near his house (a duty which, after all, any ordinary villager was apt to neglect), but kept 'unum gappum apertum injuste contra Shalkhill ad nocendum vicinorum,' and actually seems to have walked across a field trampling his neighbour's corn. (fn. 36) It is, however, possible that this delinquent was John Boton, the younger, who, having in his turn become the elder, in 1460 ploughed up a part of the common at Alpyte, (fn. 37) and in 1486 followed his forbear's example by neglecting to scour the ditch at the end of the village. (fn. 38) Both the elder and the younger John were on the jury this year, and one of them was elected constable; Simon Boton was also a juror. (fn. 39) A John Abeton of Great Gidding died in 1498. (fn. 40) About 1507 Robert Button was presented for 'being more than twelve years old and not sworn in a tything.' He had also acquired certain lands which carried the duty of 'repairing the watercourse running by Kyrke lane,' which he had neglected to do. (fn. 41) He died in 1527, (fn. 42) and was perhaps the father of Richard Boton, who obtained a lease of land in Sawtry in 1534 from the abbot and convent of St. Mary there, (fn. 43) and a lease of the lands of Ramsey Abbey in Steeple Gidding from the Crown after the Dissolution. (fn. 44) His successor in this lease was William Boton, possibly his son; (fn. 45) but he bequeathed his freehold at his death in 1549 to his three daughters, who sold it in 1581 to Sir John Bedell of Hamerton. (fn. 46) In the same year Sir John Bedell bought 180 acres of land and a messuage from Swithin Dixon, and in 1588 he acquired also Drewell's tenements in Gidding; but in 1597 he sold Boton's land, which is described as adjoining Hamerton, to John Bradly for £400. (fn. 47) In 1607 John Bradly settled Dovehouse close on his 'second and hopefullest son' Peter on his marriage to Winifred Pickering. (fn. 48) This son seems to have succeeded also to Botons, for he sold it in 1613 to Cotton; and in 1615 John Cotton consolidated his estate by buying the tenements formerly known as Dixons and Drewells for £1,000. (fn. 49)


The church of ST. ANDREW consists of a chancel (26½ ft. by 14½ ft.), nave (35½ ft. by 17¾ ft.), south aisle (9¼ ft. wide) and west tower (8¼ ft. by 6¼ ft.). The walls are of coursed rubble with stone dressings, and the roofs are covered with lead and tiles.

The church is not mentioned in the Domesday Survey (1086), but there was evidently a small stone church here in the 12th century, of which part of the arch of the south doorway remains. It must have had a tower and steeple before 1260, by which date the parish had already obtained its distinctive name. (fn. 50) The whole church was rebuilt during the 14th century, beginning, in the opening years, with the building of the south aisle and arcade and ending, nearly a hundred years later, with the rebuilding of the tower and spire and the north-west corner of the nave. The chancel, nave and aisles were restored and the porch rebuilt in 1874, and the tower and spire were restored in 1899.

The chancel, c. 1330, has a modern east window of three lights with reticulated tracery set in a refaced wall. In the north wall are two two-light windows with reticulated tracery. In the south wall are two similar windows; a doorway with segmental-pointed head and continuous moulded jambs; a piscina with two-centred head, octagonal basin and a wooden shelf; and a sedile of three graded seats formed in the sill of the easternmost window. The two-centred chancel arch is modern, but rests upon plain responds with semi-octagonal shafts having modern moulded capitals and bases. The roof is modern.

The 14th-century nave has, in the north wall, two square-headed three-light windows, the western mostly modern. The south arcade, c. 1300, is of four bays of two-centred arches of two chamfered orders resting on octagonal columns with moulded capitals and bases, and similar semi-octagonal responds. The west wall has a small blocked squareheaded window northward of the tower, visible on the outside only. The late 14th-century clearstory has four square-headed two-light windows on each side. The contemporary roof, much restored, is very flat, and has moulded beams and jack-legs and bold curved braces.

The south aisle, c. 1300, has a three-light east window with a pointed head and intersecting tracery. In the south wall are two square-headed three-light windows; a doorway having an arch composed of a roughly semicircular outer order of re-used 12thcentury stones with chevron ornament, a segmentalpointed inner order of 13th-century stones, and a 13th-century label, the outer order resting on 13thcentury detached shafts with carved capitals and moulded bases, and the inner on plain jambs with a roll moulding on the angles; a piscina with ogee head and octofoil basin; and a 12th-century stoup bracketed out from the wall in the form of a scalloped capital and having a square basin. The west wall has a modern single-light window.

The late 14th-century west tower, which stands halfway in the nave, has a two-centred tower arch of three chamfered orders, two of them dying into the wall and one continuous. The west window is a squareheaded single-light. There is a small square-headed opening in both the north and south walls, at the level of the nave roof. The belfry windows are two-lights with pointed heads. Just above the south window, slightly to the east, is a small 14th-century opening with trefoiled ogee head, perhaps re-used material. The tower has two buttresses projecting to the west, and is surmounted by an embattled parapet having gargoyles at the angles, and behind which rises an octagonal stone spire with two tiers of spire-lights on the cardinal faces, the lower two-lights and the upper single-lights.

The modern south porch (fn. 51) has a two-centred outer archway of two chamfered orders, the lower order resting on semicircular attached shafts with moulded capitals and bases.

The 16th-century font has a plain octagonal bowl with deeply splayed lower edge and octagonal stem and base.

There are three bells, inscribed: (1) Sancta Anna ora pro nobis. (2) Wox Augustini sonet in aure Dei. (3) J. Eayre St. Neots fecit 1748. Disce mori nostro vivere disce sono. The first and second are by Henry Jordan (1442–1468), the old third probably by William Haulsey (1617–1630). There were three bells in 1708. (fn. 52) They were rehung in 1899.

There is the matrix of a 16th-century brass on the nave floor to a civilian and wife. A late 13th-century coffin-lid, with an ornamental cross at head and foot and the double-omega ornament, has been fixed against the west wall of the south aisle.

There is a consecration cross on the buttress at the north-east corner of the nave.

The church possesses some interesting Flemish altar linen, including a large 16th-century cloth with figure of the Virgin, angels and inscriptions in Latin and Hebrew; and a 17th-century cloth with hunting scenes.

There are the following monuments: in the chancel, to Mary, daughter of Sir John Cotton, bart., and wife of Roger Kinyon, d. 1714. In the nave, to Sir Robert Cotton, bart., d. 1749, and Sir John Cotton, bart., his son, d. 1752, Robert, elder son of last, d. 1716/7, and John, younger son, d. 1739; and floor slab to Thomas . . ., (fn. 53) d. 1704. In the south aisle, floor slabs to Thomas Cotton, Lord of Manor, second son of Thomas Cotton of Conington, d. 1640; Elizabeth, daughter of Michael Shard, d. 1682; Hannah, wife of John Gray, d. 1797; and John Gray, d. 1805. In the west tower, to John Sutton, d. 1831.

The registers are as follows: (i) baptisms, marriages and burials from 9 February 1570/1 to 13 June 1783, marriages end 6 March 1754. The dates are much out of order, and some years are missing. A small paper book has been pasted in at the end containing copies of the Archdeacon's Transcripts from 13 April 1691 to 9 March 1710/1, the burials continuing to 6 October 1727. (ii) baptisms and burials from 15 March 1794 to 27 December 1812; (iii) marriages from 29 February 1784 to 29 October 1810.

The church plate (fn. 54) consists of a silver cup with a band of Elizabethan ornament round the bowl, hallmarked for 1569–70; a Britannia standing paten with gadrooned ornament round the edge and round the base, hall-marked for 1697–8, inscribed 'Steeple Gidding, Johannes Cotton Deo didit, Maii 4. 1748,' and engraved, probably in 1748, with device of the pelican in her piety, in a late ornamental cartouche; a plated flagon inscribed 'In usum fidelium apud Steeple Gidding A.S. 1877. +.'


The church of Gidding was confirmed to the Abbey of Ramsey in 1178 by Pope Alexander III. (fn. 55) In a 14th-century passage in the Ramsey Cartulary the advowson is mentioned as belonging to the abbot, whereas the manor is described as the property of the convent. (fn. 56) In 1291 the church had been assessed at £6 os. od. (fn. 57) It was valued for taxation in 1428 at nine marks, giving 6s. 8d. to the subsidy. (fn. 58) The advowson remained in the abbot's possession until the Dissolution, when it passed to the Crown and was granted in 1590 to John Cotton, together with the manor, (fn. 59) the descent of which it afterwards followed. (fn. 60) The living was in the gift of the Heathcote family throughout the 19th century, but their interest in it was acquired before 1917 by Mr. James Jackson, the owner of Whitehall and Avenue Farm in this parish. It was united in 1925 with the consolidated vicarage of Great and Little Gidding, and the patronage now belongs by turns to Mr. G. C. WentworthFitzwilliam, the Lord Chancellor, and Mr. Frank W. Dennis.

There are no charities for this parish.


  • 1. V.C.H. Hunts, i, 345; Cartul. Mon. de Rames. (Rolls Ser.), i, 96; ii, 136; Cal. Pat. R. 1334–8, p. 311; Ct. R. (Gen. Ser.), ptf. 179, nos. 54, 76.
  • 2. Pat. R. 32 Eliz. pt. xxv, mm. 41–43.
  • 3. Ct. R. (Gen. Ser.), ptf. 179, no. 67.
  • 4. Ibid. no. 68.
  • 5. Ibid. no. 76.
  • 6. Chan. Inq. p.m. (Ser. ii), dcx, 108.
  • 7. V.C.H. Hunts, i, 345a; Cartul. Mon. de Rames. i, 268.
  • 8. Ibid. ii, 136.
  • 9. Ibid. 348–9.
  • 10. Ibid. 336, 351; Cal. Feet of F. Hunts (Camb. Antiq. Soc.), p. 1.
  • 11. Cartul. Mon. de Rames. iii, 328.
  • 12. Ibid. ii, 223–4.
  • 13. Pat. R. 32 Eliz. pt. xxv, mm. 41–3.
  • 14. Ex inform. Mr. J. N. Heathcote.
  • 15. Chan. Proc. (Ser. ii), bdle. 421, no. 28.
  • 16. Ibid.
  • 17. Ex inform. Mr. J. N. Heathcote.
  • 18. The Fitzherberts obtained £4,000 in consideration of the release to Sir John son of Sir Thomas by a contract signed 28 Nov. 1648, after the marriage (MS. penes Mr. B. J. Fitzherbert, compiled 1828).
  • 19. Cal. of Com. for Comp. i, p. 90.
  • 20. Feet of F. Hunts, Mich. 1654.
  • 21. Ibid. Trin. 14 Chas. II.
  • 22. Ibid. Hil. 5 Will. and M.
  • 23. Dict. Nat. Biog.
  • 24. Feet of F. Hunts, Trin. 11 Geo. III.
  • 25. Ex inform. Mr. J. N. Heathcote.
  • 26. Ibid.
  • 27. Anct. D. (P.R.O.) A 1294.
  • 28. Cal. Inq. vi, no. 427.
  • 29. Ct. R. (Gen. Ser.), ptf. 179, no. 7.
  • 30. Ibid. no. 10.
  • 31. Ibid. no. 15. Alice was still living in 1318 (ibid. no. 18).
  • 32. Ibid. no. 30.
  • 33. Ibid. nos. 56, 59.
  • 34. Ibid. no. 59.
  • 35. Rent. and Surveys, ptf. 8, no. 52.
  • 36. Ct. R. (Gen. Ser.), ptf. 179, no. 67.
  • 37. Ibid. no. 68.
  • 38. Ibid. no. 73.
  • 39. Ibid.
  • 40. Wills, Archd. Hunt. Reg. i, fol. 172.
  • 41. Ct. R. (Gen. Ser.), ptf. 179, no. 76.
  • 42. Wills, Archd. Hunt. Reg. iii, fol. 25.
  • 43. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xii (ii), g. 1311 (20).
  • 44. Pat. R. 32 Eliz. pt. xxv, mm. 41–43.
  • 45. Ibid.
  • 46. Ex inform. Mr. J. N. Heathcote; Wills. Archd. Hunt. Reg. viii, fol. 182. A Swithin Button was buried at Steeple Gidding in 1558 (ibid. Reg. xi, fol. 354).
  • 47. Ex inform. Mr. J. N. Heathcote.
  • 48. Ibid.
  • 49. Ibid.
  • 50. Place Names, Beds and Hunts (Place Name Soc.), p. 241.
  • 51. In 1851 the church had a Perpendicular porch (The Eccles. and Arcbit. Topog. of Engl. (J. H. Parker), pt. v, Hunts, 1851).
  • 52. Rec. Archd. of Hunt. no. 229, Terriers.
  • 53. The stone is partly covered by the pulpit. The only burial recorded in the Register in 1704 is 'T. Wigson.'
  • 54. In 1708 there was a silver cup and cover, nearly 8 oz.; in 1724 a paten and a silver cup (Rec. Archd. of Hunt. no. 229, Terriers).
  • 55. Cartul. Mon. de Rames. ii, 136.
  • 56. Ibid. i, 268.
  • 57. Pope Nicb. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 36.
  • 58. Feud. Aids, ii, 481.
  • 59. Pat. R. 32 Eliz. pt. xxv, mm. 41–43.
  • 60. Chan. Inq. p.m. (Ser. ii), dcx, 108; Feet of F. Hunts, Mich. 1654; Inst. Bks. (P.R.O.).