Status: Huntingdonshire District, Cambridgeshire (historically Huntingdonshire), Town, England
Eating & Sleeping: N/A
Attractions: Market Square, Oliver Cromwell Statue, Great Ouse River, All Saint’s Church, St Ives Bridge, Bridge Chapel, Town Hall, United Reform Church, Golden Lion Hotel etc
We started by the edge of the Great Ouse River, outside the Church of All Saints before heading into the main town centre proper.
All Saints is the towns Parish Church, and has it’s origins as a small wooden structure in the Norman Era, during the 11th century. By 1150 it had been rebuilt in stone, and like most Churches of that era, it was rebuilt again, around 1470. Although some stonework remains of its earlier incarnation, what we see today is largely 15th century.
It sits in a prominent position directly next to the river, which cuts through the trees to emerge at the towns famous Stone Bridge, but more on that later.
Moving into the centre, we came across a small maze of tight, narrow streets whose buildings span various centuries. This was taken from “Bridge Street” looking up “Merryland”.
The building to the right, currently housing the “Genesis Hair Company” is a lovely Georgian construction from the early 1800’s, which make up a lot of towns in this area.
The other shops are of a similar time period, making for a lovely Dickensian feel.
The Market Square in the centre of St Ives is a quaint little place, marked by a statue of Oliver Cromwell (1559 – 1658, Leader of the Parliamentarians in the English Civil War, MP for Huntingdon & Cambridge) who was born in nearby Huntingdon in 1559. Statues of Cromwell are rare as he is a divisive figure, but it has been displayed proudly here in St Ives since 1901. He is also notable as being the only British head of state in history that wasn’t a Royal.
St Ives, like many historic towns, has its fair share of Churches. We soon spotted the “United Reform Church” on the South Western side of the Market Square. Designed by John Tarring (1806 – 1875, English Architect from Plymouth), it was completed in 1836.
Directly to the left of the URC stands the “Golden Lion Hotel”, an old 19th Century Coaching Inn, lying just off the main route from Huntingdon towards Cambridge, and then London. It has been a prominent hotel in the town ever since.
To the left of the Hotel is “Stanley House”, which was taken over in 1924 by St Ives Town Council to become the new Town Hall. Prior to this it was temporarily the home of Lloyds Bank before their new premises were completed, and before that it was under the ownership of a Mr William Warner.
We cut up “Free Church Lane” and came out on the banks of the Great Ouse River, home to St Ives’s most famous landmark, the “St Ives Bridge”. Completed in 1425, it replaced an earlier wooden bridge from the 12th century built for use by the monks at nearby Ramsey Abbey so they could cross the river.
Perhaps it’s most notable chapter in history occurred in 1645, when Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarian Forces held the town. The Royalist army under King Charles I would soon arrive, so they destroyed two of the arches on the far side, putting in a wooden drawbridge which could be pulled up when they attacked. Full repairs wouldn’t be carried out until 1716.
The Bridge is also notable for the small Chapel (shown centre) which was added by the monks when it was rebuilt in stone.
It is one of only four surviving Bridge Chapels in England, along with:
- Rotherham Bridge, Rotherham, South Yorkshire
- Chantry Chapel, Wakefield Medieval Bridge, West Yorkshire (see my post here)
- Old Bridge, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire
The riverside here is a beautiful place, and if you look downstream the river seems to just empty out into the distance, just the next stage in its 143 mile journey from Northamptonshire to the sea.
A number of elegant Georgian buildings line the river, creating a scene that most likely hasn’t changed much for the last 250 years!
I had parked on Bridge Street when we arrived, so it was back to the car, leaving us with a lovely snapshot of historic St Ives.
The town is a stunning little place, and was well worth the visit on our way through. Although unconnected to the rail network, it lies next to the A14 between Huntingdon and Cambridge, and is only a few miles from the A1 from London – Edinburgh.
It was time to head off, but more adventures always await…