W. H. Bernard Saunders.

Legends and traditions of Huntingdonshire online

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ITonbon :

SIMPKIN, MARSHALL, & Co., Stationers' Hall Court.

ELLIOT STOCK, Paternoster Row,

GEO. C. CASTER, Market Place.



















Alwalton and Robin Hood 105

Apeebce, The Venerable, of Washinglet lOi)

Battle of St. Neots 33

Black Bottle of Moselle 207

Crimes and Trials 113

How a St. Neots Murderer was Discovered — Assassi-
nation of the Prime Minister by Mr. Bellingham,
of St. Neots — The Case of Mrs. Scarborough —
Starving a Daughter at Stilton — A Godman Chester
Murder — A Memorable Burglary at Great Raveley
— Murder of the Rev. J. Waterhouse, of Stukeley.

Curious Incidents 201

A Strange Dream — The Sweat of Blood — A Curious
Jury List — Huntingdon Sturgeons and Godman-
chester Black Hogs— The Plague— The Beggar's
Bush at Godmanchester — Zeal for Glory — Extra-
ordinary Incident — Curious Fatalities at Sawtry —
A Sad Incident — Purity Rewarded — A Hope Ful-
filled—A Trance— A Night Adventure— A Cheap
House — Curious Recovery of Sight — A Novel Mode
of Ejectment.

Celebrities 219

Devil, The, Carries Away Mr. Leech l



Dead Deummer Boy of Alconbury 98

executioks for witchcraft, fabricated ac- \ jgg
counts of j

Feats and Wagers 76

Riding against Time— Prize Fighters— Cock Fighting
— An Astonishing Leaper — A Fatal Battle — Feats
of Skill— Feats of Strength— Dying in his Glory.

Fairy Morgana, The 169

Fens, Stories of the 243

The Meres and Fens of Huntingdonshire — A Subter-
ranean Forest — Fatal Dispute between Clergymen
— The Fen on Fire — Whittlesey Mere Dried by the
Heat — Lake Festivities — How Whittlesey Mere

Folk Lore 272

Anchor Ice — Gnats and Smallpox— Sixpences for a
Ring — Sneets or Snotes — The Wise Tree — Selling
a Wife — Observance of the Leap Year Privilege —
Squeaking Boots — Going a Gooding — Rhymes.

kimbolton and queen catharine 172

Last op the Masons 83

Lady Blanche op Colne 93

Lynching a Witch at Great Paxton 155

Miraculous Wells 71

Hailweston — Somersham — Holywell.

Memorable Fires 131

St. Ives Destroyed— A Three Days' Fire at Stilton-
Sentence of Death for Arson — Fire at Hinching-
brooke — Woodhurst Laid in Ruins — Great Fire at
Haddon — An Alarming Scene,



Miscellaneous 292

Borough English — Connington Castle — A Singular
Funeral — Godmanchester Town Accounts in 1723
— Ejected Ministers under the Act of Uniformity
— A Tradition of Covington — Origin of Stilton
Cheese — Earthquake in Huntingdonshire — Curious
Objects — Kiots — Ancient Stones — Stone Coffins at
Hartford — Provisions in 1822 — Phenomena at
Wood Walton — A Roman Jupiter — A Church Census
in 1837.

Norman Cross Prisoners 10

History of the Barracks — Prison Discipline — Escapes
— Prisoners' Gaming Propensities — An Extraordin-
ary Circumstance — The Number of Prisoners —
Insubordination — Forgery — A Personal Narrative
— Release.

Oddities 226

A Sporting Oddity — A Nonogenarian — An Eccentric
Shoemaker — Raveley Jack — Cooper Thornhill.

Oliver Cromwell and Hinchingbeooke 23G

Origin of the County Place Names 280

Protestant Nunnery. The 256

Prince Rector, The, op Woolley 195

Penances and Dispensations 212

Stolen Heir op Spaldwick 23

Stage Coaches and Highwaymen 42

The Great North Road — Stage Coaches and Posting
Houses — List of Coaches — The Highwaymen's Den
at Alconbury — Robbing Travellers — The Mail
Robbed — Accidents to Coaches and Stage Wag-
gons — A Highwayman Catches a Tartar.



Stobms and Floods 63

Storms on Whittlesey Mere— Large Hail Stones-
Great Flood at St. Neots— A Furious Hurricane —
An Extraordinary Storm at Bluntisham— Dis-
astrous Flood at St. Ives— Thunder Storms-
Heavy Falls of Snow— Houses Blown Down—

Saints and their Relics 181

St. Botolph— Founding of Ramsey Abbey— " Steal-
ing " the Relics of St. Neot— St. Ivo— Elfled.

someesham baths 253

Tombstone Inscriptions 57

Witches of Warboys, The 138



The object of the present vokime is to furnish
in a few short sketches some of the more interesting
and curious incidents which relate to the County of
Huntingdon. They are not encumbered by dry
statistics, genealogical tables, registers of land sales,
or other matters which may be of interest to the
archteologist, but which have no attraction for the
ordinary reader. The historic legends and incidents
recorded will be found to command a wider interest
than a more connected, but drier, nan-ative could
possibly do. Thus the present volume will, in a small
and concise form, supply a general review of the
history of the County, in a manner suitable to popular
tastes. Each Chapter, to a great extent, tells the
story of an historic episode ; or furnishes a group of
such incidents. The work is issued with a full know-
ledge of its many shortcomings and failings. It is
not intended to be a manorial history ; it does not
profess to give a record of the County families ; it


does not touch the all absorbing subject of the Parish
Churches in the County. Further than that, bhere
are no doubt many historical incidents which find no
place in its pages. Some of these have been purposely
rejected on the ground of the slender evidence on
which they resc, or because they were not of sufficient
interest, and their insertion would have unduly swelled
the limits of the work. The object of the writer has
been to collect as much fresh matter as possible, and
the result has been that the greater part of the
volume is taken up with historic incidents and legends
which are fresh and new, and have never been pub-
lished in any work on the County previously. Thus
the volume will probably be valuable to historical
students, as well as fulfilling its chief aim of popu-
larising the subject with which it deals.

The Author wishes to express his gratitude to
Lord Esme Stuaut Gordon for much valuable
assistance received ; also to ^Ir. Dack, of Peter-
borough ; Mr. W. Emery, of St. Neots ; Rev. J.
PiNDER, of Godmanchester ; Mr. W. Bryant, of
Huntingdon ; Mr. Carter, of Kimbolton ; and many
others. The illustrations are produced by Mr. G. C.
Caster, Cathedral Studio, Peterborough.


Fac-Simile of the Title Page of the
True and Strange

Representation of Huntingdonshire in"! Frontls-

Dratton's Poly-Olbion J piece.

'LE Page of the ] , „„„ ,

Relation | 1^^^^ ^

Huntingdon in 1610 64

View of Kimbolton Castle 172

View of Hinchingbrooke House 236

Fac-Simile op the Title Page of the Gidding \ ^gg

Nunnery Pamphlet J

liu. 11 i.ii.1 I ■ Ti|.n,,|i -^



Of One

Mr. yol-IN L E t C il ,

Lived m H u N T I N^G T o N- Shire,

at a place called Kti'i-elyy not fm r c di ■
ftant trom llmttingtim forrn^ who was
(about ten da^'e* agoe)carricd twelve
miles in i^it Ayfc^by two Finnes^ and
' alib of his fad and feme n tabic death.

-^-. 1*^., 1^- r*-—

Artefted hy fcrpKS of unqueftionabic
t^icdit, who have hereunto fct

their Haifdb.

■» ' — —


;4 -i' -


Fac Simile of Title Page of Original Pamphlet, in the

posession of Lord Esinc Stuart Gordon

chapter 3J.


An old tractate published in 1GG2 gives an account,
attested by "six of the sufficientest men of the town,"
of an astonishing incident which occurred to a Eave-
ley man. It appears that Mr. John Leech was a
farmer living at Eaveley, and he was desirous of
visiting Whittlesea fair, but before doing so he called
a neighbour into an inn — situated some two miles
away from his own home — for the purpose of drink-
ing "his morninges draught." He was at the time
" almost drunk," and his object in visiting Whittlesea
was to " drink there with some of his friends."
Whilst the two were enjoying the " morninges
draught," Mr. Leach " began to be very merry," and
seeing his friend wished to go, he exclaimed, "Let


2 Legendsy etc., of Huntifigdonshire.

the Devil take him who goeth out of this house to-
day," But in his merriment he forgot his rash
observation, and shortly afterwards calling for his
horse, set out for the fair. He had not travelled far
upon his journey when he remembered what he had
said, " his conscience being sore troubled at that dam-
nable oath which he had took." Not knowing what
to do, he rode about first one way and then another,
until darkness set in. When about two o'clock in the
night, " he spied two grim creatures before him in the
likeness of griffins." These were the Devil's mes-
sengers, who had been sent to take him at his word,
and take him they did, according to the testimony of
the "six sufficientest men of the town." They
roughly handled him, took him up in the air, stripped
him, and then dropped him, " a sad spectacle all
bloody and goared," in a farm yard just outside the
town of Doddington. Here he was discovered, lying
upon some harrows, in the condition described. He
was picked up and carried into a gentleman's house,
Avhere, being well nursed, he described the remarkable
adventures which had befallen him. But before long
he '' grew into a frenzy so desperate that they were
afraid to stay in his chamber," and the gentleman of
the house not knowing what else to do, sent for " the
parson of the town." It is natural to suppose that
the Devil and Parsons are not good company, an4

Legends, etc, of Huntingdonshire,

prompted, as we are led to suppose, by the satanic
influence which still held him, the man rushed at the
minister, and attacked him with so much fury, that
it was "hke to have cost him his Hfe." But the noise
being heard below, the servants rushed up, rescued
the parson, and tied the "faithless man" down in his
bed and left him. The next morning, hearing nothing,
they thought he was asleep, but upon entering his
room he was discovered with "his neck broke, his
tongue out of his mouth, and his body as black as a
shoo, all swelled, and every bone in his body out of

The following is an exact copy of the account,
the curious expressions, spelhng, and punctuation
being faithfully followed : —





Of One


Lived in Huntington-Shire,

at a place called Ravehj, not farre di-
stant from Hmiiington Toivn, who was
(about ten dayes agoe) carried twelve

4 Legends, etc, of Huntingdonshire.

miles in the Ayre, by two Finnes, and
also of his sad and lamentable death

Attested by Persons of unquestionable

Credit, who have hereunto set

their Hands

5 John Webher 1 ( Francis Hall '\

Jeffery Holldm > Gent -^ James Smith >
Rolert Shipton ) ( Thomas Cracrof t )

London, Printed for Fr. Grant, and are to be sould at
the Royal Exchange, Westminster-Hall, and
Fleet-street, 1G62.
"To see the just judgements of God fall in the
very nick of time, when we are fit for nothing but
ever lasting Torments ; This Man it seems was going
to a Fair \^ith a resolution to drink there with some
of his friends, which did happen too soon I fear to
his confutation ; before he got two miles from his own
house, by chance, he met a neighbour of his, and
would needs force him to go along and drink his
raorninges draught with him, (which proved the bit-
terest that ever he drank) the honest man being
something loath, seeing him in that desperate con-
dition, alledged a great deale of business, which of
necessity should be done that day, he being not satis-
fied with that answer, forst him (whether he would or

Legends, etc, of Huntingdonshire.

no) into the house, they being thus both together, he
(almost drunk) began to be very merry, at last his
friend asked the people of the House what it was a
clock, they said it was almost eleven, Mr Leech
replyed, then let the Devil take him who goeth out of
this House to day, they had not sat much longer,
but he was of another mind, and said he must needs
go to the Fair, which was kept at a place called Wil-
ielsea, sayes his friend to him, you do not remember
the oath you made just now ; ha, ha, ha, saith he,
I'le warrant you the Devil will not trouble, besides I
am so heavy, he will not be able to carry me halfe way
to the Fair, but he will be able to carry you to your
journeys end somewhere else, replyed his friend, I'le
venter him, said Mr Leech, and so called for his Horse
and took his leave of his friend, and rod towards the
Fair, he had not got above two miles from the House,
where he was a drinking, but then he began to
consider of his unlawfull Oath which he had broken,
so that he was extreamley troubled in his conscience,
that he did think to turn homcAvards, thus he rod up
and down all the day, not knowing what he did, his
conscience being so sorely troubled at that damnable
Oath which he had took, and afterwards so simply
broken ; he not knowing whereabouts he was, it being
almost dark night, did wander backwards and forwards
halfe the night, in amazement ; at last about one or

6 Legends, etc., of Htiutingdonshire.

two o'clock he espied two grim Creatures before him,
in the likeness of Griffins, which did terrific him very
much, then presently he heard a terrible voice, which
said three times, remember thy sins and the Oath
thou hast broken this day, at which sound, he fell
from his Horse to the ground, as it were in a trance,
but presently felt himself very roughly handled,
between the two Finnes, who did hurry him in the
Aire above 12 miles from that place, over a great
water called WUtehea meare, and Ramseij meare to a
town called Dunington, and there draped in the
Patrons Yard, without either cloathes or sence, the
next morning the servants going to make their Plows
and haiTows fit for work, beheld that sad spectacle all
bloody and geared with the Harrows (they thought)
and being very much astonished at it, demanded how
he came there, what he was, and where he Uved ; he
not being able to answer them with anything but sighs
and gToanes, the Servants very much grieved at the
poor Mans condition, ran in and acquainted their
Master with the passage, he seeing, with great ad-
miration, this sad spectacle, immediately caused a Bed
to be made, and he to be laid in it, and to be covered
very warm, which accordingly was done, he being
thus refreshed began to recover his sences and there
told them the whole story, who he was, where he Hved,
whither he was agoing, and how he came there, and

Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire. 7

likewise desired that he might have the liberty to
repose himself another day or two there, which was
granted by the good gentleman ; In the meantime
some of the Servants of the House, going about some
businesse near two miles off from that place, by chance
found some cloathes all torne, which they brought
home, supposing to be his, which being showed
to him he owned, still continuing there, at last he
grew into a Frenzy so desperate, that they were afraid
to stay in his Chamber, the Gentleman of the House
asked him if he should send for the Minister to pray
by him, to which he made a very desperate answer
and said I am past his recovery, the Gentleman very
much troubled at his answer, sent privately to the
Parson of the Town, and desired him to come to him
presently, the Minister making what hast he could
possible, came to the Gentlemans house, who up and
told him this sad accident, the Minister hearing this,
desired that he might be suffered to go up to him
alone, and he would see what he could do towards the
recovery of his soul, which he feared at that time was
in very great danger, the Minister had no sooner
entered into his Chamber, but he immediately rose
out of his Bed and ran to him and violently threw
him on the ground, (which had like to have cost the
Ministers life) saying what earnest thou hither for, the
Minister answered, (as well as he could,) to comfort

8 Legends, etc., of Httntingdonshire.

the faithless man, the noise being heard down stairs,
they were afraid he had mischieved the Minister,
which had proved true, had they not came up as they
did, for they found him beating the Parson with all
the might he had, they seeing that, presently got
hold of both his arms, and bound them, and laid him
in his bed ; he seeing himselfe bound, made a terrible
noise, and at last broke them and got loose, they
seeing that, were afraid of him, and locked the door,
not daring any more to go into his Chamber that day
nor night, the next morning they went to the door
to listen if they could hear him stir, but not hearing
him make any noise, supposed him to be asleep, opened
the door when they beheld him upon the bed with his
neck broke, his tongue out of his mouth, and his body
as black as a shoo, all swelled, and every bone in his
body out of joint ; this sad spectacle being seen by
most of the people of the Town, was buryed being it
could no longer be kept, the stanch was so gTeat ; the
sufficientest men of the Town who saw this sad sight
have hereunto set their hands, John Weibei; Gentle-
man. Jeffery HoMiJis, Gentleman. Robert Shipton,
Gentleman. Francis Hall, Yeoman. James Smithy
Yeoman. Tlwmas Cracroft, Yeoman."

Such is the story as it is handed down to us through
two centuries, but a little critical observation seems to
rob it of its supernatural and weirdly character. Not

Legends, etc., of Hunti7tgdonsJiire. 9

only is there a confusion in the places, but the details
are not satisfactory. For instance he is said to have
been carried across " Wittelsea Meare and Ramsey
Meare," which would have been a very round about
way indeed, either from Raveley or Whittlesey, to
Doddington, and would have necessarily made the
distance considerably more than "12 miles," A
course of 12 miles from Doddington over the two
meres, would have made him start somewhere about
Yaxley. The fact, too, that he was discovered amongst
the harrows sufficiently explains the " gearing."

Considering the admissions that he was " almost
drunk " when he went for his morning's draught, and
that at eleven o'clock "he began to be very merry,"
and knowing, as we do, the good understanding that
exists between the individual who exercises authority
in the regions below and gentlemen suffering from
delirium tremens, the reader will have little difficulty
in deciding

in deciding what was the real nature of Mr. Leech's


Cijaptei* 3iJ[»


The barracks at Norman Cross for prisoners of
war were erected in 1790, the spot being near to the
site of the old toll-bar. They occupied two-thirds of
a square, one side facing the great north road, the
other facing a division of the road leading to Peter-
borough. The barracks and necessary appendages
covered about 40 acres of ground, and were capable
of holding 6,000 soldiers. More than 500 carpenters
and labourers were employed in their erection, and so
urgent was it considered that the work should be
pushed forward, that all who refused to work on
Sundays were discharged. The French prisoners were
marched into the barracks in detachments ; occasionally
they were brought up the Nene from Lynn in barges

Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire, ii

and landed at Peterborough quay, and then marched
to the barracks.

Great inconvenience having been felt in the summer
of 1797, in consequence of the large numbers of
people who from places in the neighbourhood of the
prison resorted there to visit the prisoners, thereby-
rendering it extremely difficult to observe a proper
degree of control and vigilance over the prisoners
(whose number and description demanded the greatest
precautions), it became absolutely necessary to issue
positive orders preventing persons from being admitted
unless actually accompanied by a commissioned officer.

Two of the French prisoners escaped in June, 1797,
but were re-taken at Wisbech, and were conveyed back
to the prison " to more solitary and secure quarters."

An officer succeeded in making good his escape in
December of the same year.

One Sunday in February, 1798, as a soldier named
Lowder, employed at the barracks, was amusing him-
self with shooting, as, it is said, "was his constant
practice on Sunday," the breach pin of the gun flew
out, and buried itself in his forehead, just above the
nose. His eyes were nearly forced out. He died
raving mad a few days after.

The deplorable condition of the French prisoners
of war had, in 1800 and 1801, begun to attract
considerable attention, and the Government published

12 Legends, etc., of Htcntingdonshire.

a long correspondence on the subject, from which it
appeared that the French Consul refused to supply the
French prisoners with clothes, although the British
Government had paid for the clothing of the English
prisoners in France. The report iu the correspondence
says : " These unfortunate French prisoners have such
a propensity for gaming with one another, that, (not-
withstanding every precaution is used to prevent it),
many of them sell their clothes, bedding, and even
their victuals before it is due, to raise a trifle to
gamble with. From all that we (^Dr. Johnson and
Mr. Serle) know and see, we have no hesitation to
conclude that the proportion of food allowed is fully
suflBcient for life and health, if properly received, and
not shamefully lost by gaming or otherwise. Destitute
in many instances of the necessary warmth of cover-
ing, no diet whatever can preserve health, and there-
fore in order to restore it we have directed, in company
with the instructions of the Lords of the Admiralty,
that the naked should be clothed without waiting
longer, and probably in vain, for the exercise of
French humanity."

In April, 1801, seven of the prisoners succeeded in
making their escape, three of them were officers of
privateers, who were re-captured at Boston by the
particular exertions of the magistrates there, and
were escorted back by the Spalding cavaky. Three

Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire. 13

of the others got a fishing boat, which they stole from
the Freestone shore, though closely pursued, and
succeeded in getting out to sea. They were, however,
re-captured on the Norfolk coast by a custom house
cutter. A complete chart of the Lincolnshire coast
was found in the hat of one of them ; with particular
remarks on it, which was at once forwarded to the
Secretary of State.

A very extraordinary circumstance occurred in May,
1804. Two of the French prisoners contrived to
make their escape. On clearing the precincts of the
barracks, they pursued different routes, and one of
them was fortunate to get clear away. The other,
quitting the public road, had pursued his course a
few miles when he met with a most singular obstruction.
In crossing a stile he was beset by a shepherd's dog
"of the ordinary, and true English breed," which
absolutely opposed the progress of the poor French-
man. Neither enticement nor resistance availed, the
dog repeatedly fastened on the legs and heels of the
fugitive, and held him at bav until the continued
noise of the quarrel brought some persons to the spot,
and ultimately led to the detection of the prisoner
and his re-incarceration in the prison at Norman Cross.

In July, 1804, it was stated that the number of
prisoners in the barracks was 1,600, among whom
were part of Bonaparte's boasted "Army of England,"

14 Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire,

An alarming spirit of insubordination manifested
itself in October, 1804, amongst the prisoners, then
about 3,000 in number. An intolerable and incessant
uproar was kept up all the morning, and at noon their
intention to attempt the destruction of the barriers

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Online LibraryW. H. Bernard SaundersLegends and traditions of Huntingdonshire → online text (page 1 of 16)