One of England’s smallest historic counties ceased to exist in it’s own right in 1974, although by name it is now a district in Cambridgeshire. I refer of course to Huntingdonshire, and we soon arrived in the county town, Huntingdon…
Status: Huntingdonshire District, Cambridgeshire (historically Huntingdonshire), Town, England
Eating & Sleeping: N/A
Attractions: Market Square, Town Hall, Cromwell Museum, Church of All Saints, South African War Memorial, Gazeley House, Church of St Mary, Falcon Inn, Wykeham House etc
As we were travelling down to Cambridge one evening, we decided to pop into Huntingdon on the way past. It was after dark, and by the lovely glow of the street lights, we arrived into the central Market Square, around which are located many of the towns major landmarks.
A beacon of light at the South Eastern edge of the square was Huntingdon Town Hall, from 1745. It replaced the earlier Court Hall, and indeed a new set of Courts/Cells were built on the ground floor, still visible today. The Council still regularly meet in the grand Assembly Room on the top floor, reputed to feature a number of impressive portraits, including those of King George’s II and III.
Outside, in the centre of the square stands the Huntingdon War Memorial, also known as the “Thinking Soldier”. It was beautifully created by Kathleen Scott (1878 – 1947, British Sculptor), the widow of the late Captain Robert Falcon Scott (1868 – 1912, Royal Naval Explorer who perished in Antarctica in 1912). Unveiled in 1923, it pays tribute to all the soldiers from the town who gave their lives in WWI, and later WWII.
On the West side of the square you will find a number of historic buildings, many from the 18th century. A few in particular stood out, starting with the charming 16th Century “Falcon Inn”. Oliver Cromwell was born here in 1599, and of course was in charge of the Parliamentarian Army during the Civil War, and reputedly used the Falcon as his HQ when he was in the area. The Royalists captured the town in 1645, and blew out an arch of the Old Town Bridge over the Great Ouse River to slow down the Parliamentarian army.
To the right of the Falcon is “Wykeham House”, which opened as the Huntingdon Branch of the “London & County Bank” in the early 1700’s. The Bank eventually merged with “The Westminster Bank” to create the National Westminster Bank, or NatWest.
Huntingdon only has two remaining medieval Churches, one of which is the Church of All Saints, on the North Western side of the square.
Originally a Norman Church from the 12th century, it has been rebuilt a number of times over the years. One of the oldest sections is the 14th century Tower, with the rest of the building dating from the late 15th/early 16th. Like many other Churches across the country, it was given an extensive Victorian restoration by Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811 – 1878) in the 1850’s, and later Harold Doe 100 years later.
Towards the rear of the Town Hall stands the Jubilee Drinking Fountain (shown far right), erected by the Borough Council in 1887 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee that year.
The square is also surrounded by a lovely array of cobbles, which together with the glow of the streetlamps help create the perfect night scene!
Oliver Cromwell also went to school in Huntingdon, in the old Grammar School building, shown above, opposite the Church. Originally built in the 12th century, it was one half of a long Hall, part of the “Hospital of St John the Baptist”. After the Hospital fell under the control of the local council in the 14th century, the Hall was shortened to its present length, and then converted into the Grammar School in 1565. Today it houses the Oliver Cromwell Museum, which opened in 1962.
Huntingdon is a beautiful little town, and I would love to experience it by day, which would no doubt lend a whole new perspective to it. The centre is very historic, and every building around the Market Square looks like it was built yesterday, despite its age.
The town is reasonably well connected transport wise, with the A1 from London – Edinburgh via the East Midlands/North East of England running just to the West. Huntingdon is also directly connected to Cambridge via the A14, and King’s Lynn in Norfolk via the A141/A47.
The local train station is on the East Coast Main Line, although the main services towards Scotland/London don’t call at the station. It is instead served by “Great Northern” trains from London towards Peterborough along the same route.
We were making a habit of twilight visits to Huntingdonshire, as on our second trip to the nearby city of Ely, we stopped in the area again after the sun had set, this time in St Ives…