W. H. Bernard Saunders.

Legends and traditions of Huntingdonshire online

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arranged, and in some cases the terms for letting the
embryo farms actually agreed upon, when on the 12th
of November, the water in the outer rivers being swollen
by heavy rains and pressing against the newly formed
banks with a force they were unable to withstand, a
breach was made, and in a few hours "VVhittlesea Mere
was itself again. Disheartening as this event was, it
showed — fortunately at the least calamitous moment
that it could have occurred — where the weak point
was. The pump was set to work, and it took three
weeks to exhaust the water, when the land, but certainly
not terra firma^ was again everywhere visible. In-
numerable ditches were formed, with the result that as
the mud dried great cracks and fissures appeared.
For some time the mud would not allow the weight
of a man, and even when boards were strapped to
the feet it was a matter of great difficulty and
danger to walk over it. For a year or two after
it would not bear a horse, and consequently it was

252 Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire.

extremely difficult to make any headway with
agriculture. Had boards been affixed to the horses
hoofs the experiment would have been dangerous, owing
to the wide fissures that had been formed. The whole
area, therefore, for a time had to be prepared for culti-
vation by hand. Of such a depth were the cracks that
after the area had been dug and forked over for several
years the ugly scars still remained. When all these
difficulties had been overcome, the soil was found to be
rich, and largely impregnated with animal matter, so
that the wind, which in the autumn of 1851 was curl-
ing the blue waters of the lake, was, in the autumn of
1853, blowing in the same place over fields of yellow

After the Mere had been drained, various articles in
gold and silver were taken from the bed. Among
other things a gold censer, which the Marquis of
Northampton endeavoured to secure for the British
Museum; also very many swords, all of which were
covered with fresh water mussels. A valuable
chandelier was also found, which, when lighted up,
represented the west front of Peterborough Cathedral.

^ /j\ /j\ /jv / jv /;\ ^

Cfjapter XXX*


In Dr. Layard's account of the Somersham water*
he says that the county of Huntingdon contains several
springs suitable for medicinal purposes. Camden gives
the earliest account of the purgative salt waters at
Hailweston, and a late writer in 1720 mentions that
St. Neots and St. Ives were famous for medicinal
water; but as no springs of such a nature existed in
his time (1767), he thinks it is probable that they
became noted by the residence of such persons who
came to drink and use the purging Hailweston water,
either internally or outwardly, or by those who came
to drink the chalybeate waters on Somersham Heath.
Dr. Layard observes that Camden takes no notice of
the pure and excellent water, known at Huntingdon by

254 Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire.

the name of the Huntingdon Horse Common Water, of
the pure limpid spring in Holywell Churchyard, or of
the chalybeate waters of Nill Well, or St. Agnes' Well
in Papworth St. Agnes, at Elton Hall, and other light
chalybeate springs rising in Salome Wood, and many
other places, nor did he probably know of a very strong
briny spring in a close at Bury, near Ramsey. He
goes on to say that for medicinal purposes the waters
chiefly to be recommended in this county are the Horse
Common water at Huntingdon, the Hailweston water,
and the Somersham Water. The latter, he says, issues
from the declivity of a small hill on a heath near the
highroad between St. Ives and Somersham. This
heath was formerly covered by part of the royal forests,
cut down in the reign of Henry II., III., or of Edward
I. Neither by record nor tradition is it known when
the Somersham water was first discovered. The earliest
account to be depended upon is that the Somersham
water having been drunk at the end of the 17th
centmy, but afterwards neglected, was revived under
the patronage of Dr. More, Bishop of Ely. About
1720, the Duke of Manchester, Lord Hinchingbrook,
Dr. Wake, Bishop of Lincoln, with other principal resi-
dents in the county, joined in a subscription for erect-
ing a house near the spring, which was fitted up with
a bowling green, and other accommodations. Many
persons came to St. Ives, Somersham, and to the

Legends^ etc.^ of Huntingdonshire. 255

pleasant villages of Earith, Colne, Pidley, Woodhurst,
and Old Hurst to reside during the summer and drink
this water, others sent for it to Ely, Cambridge, and
even to some distant parts of Lincolnshire and Norfolk,
where it was drank not only as a medicine, but at table
mixed with wine. Some having injudiciously drank
the water while suffering from stone or gravel and
having died, a report was spread that the water pro-
duced stone diseases, and all that could be said in its
defence by physicians was to no purpose. The torrent
of prejudice could not be stemmed, the spring became
totally neglected, and so few persons continued the use
of the water, that the attendants' profit being very
small the house fell to ruin, and the materials were
removed. However, a good opinion was still enter-
tained of the Somersham water, from its manifest
success in many families, and in 1758 a subscription list
was opened to erect a house and proper accommodation
near the spring, and a committee of management was
appointed. Dr. Layard furnishes the rules which were
adopted for regulating the Spa, and also gives the
directions for using the water.

(s:mttv xxxi.


In the hilliest part of the county, Alconbury brook
running on the east, and a rising highland on the west,
are grouped together a collection of villages under the
name of Gidding, one being distinguished from the
other by the titles of Steeple, Great, and Little. The
last-named, and the smallest of the three, consisting
only of about a dozen cottages and a farmhouse or two,
has attracted to itself more notice than any of the
others, on account of the settlement in it, in the early
part of the 17th century, of a rehgious establishment
which became known throughout England under the
name of the Protestant Nunnery. Travellers on the
Great North Road turned aside to see it, Protestant
Church dignitaries, and even King Charles the First
himself being amongst the number.




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possession of Lord Esme Stuart Gordon,

Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire. 257

The Ferrars derived their descent from "Walkeline
de Ferrariis, who came into England with the Conqueror,
and whose descendants branched out into several
different counties. One line settled in Yorkshire, from
which sprang Nicholas Ferrar, Esquire, a merchant
adventurer of great repute in the City of London;
whose table was frequented by those distinguished
seamen Hawkins, Drake, and Raleigh. He married
Mary, daughter of Lawrence Wodenoth, Esq., of the
ancient family of that name, who had been seated at
Savington Hall, Cheshire, nearly 500 years. They
had several children, the fourth of whom was Nicholas,
the founder of the society at Gidding. He was born
on February 22nd, 1592, in the parish of St. Mary
Stayning, Mark Lane, London. His mind was early
imbued with the principles of virtue and piety, by the
conversation and example of his parents; and being
fond of learning, he acquired a rapid knowledge of the
Latin and Greek languages. In his fourteenth year
he was admitted to Clare College, Cambridge, of which
he afterwards became Fellow. In 1613 he took the
degree of M.A., and in the same year he commenced
to travel on the Continent, where he not only acquired
a knowledge of low and high Dutch, Italian, French,
and Spanish, but witnessing the great fervour and
religious perfection of the monks and nuns of the
religious orders in the latter countries, he became


258 Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire.

inflamed with a holy admiration for their state of life,
and resolved on the first opportunity to imitate their
example. He studied at the Universities of Leipsic in
Germany, and Padua in Italy. After his return to
England he was appointed King's Counsel for the
Virginia Plantation, in place of his brother John, who
had been promoted Deputy Governor of the Virginia
Company. To this office Nicholas succeeded about
three years afterwards, but he did not hold it long, for
King James I., in 1623, had the Charter of the
Company declared " null and void." He was elected a
member of Parliament in the following year, but shortly
afterwards retired from public hfe, and resolved to live
in a state of retirement, and imitate as far as possible
the order and rule which he had noticed to be observed
in the religious houses of the Continent. "With this
object in view he purchased the lordship of Little

His brother John, and his mother, 73 years of age,
with her daughter and son-in-law, and their numerous
family, settled at Gidding in 1625, the community,
with servants, numbering nearly 40 persons. The
following year Nicholas Ferrar was ordained deacon,
and he restored the Church and repaired the Manor
House. The house being very large, and containing
many apartments, Mr, FeiTar allotted one great room
for family devotions. This he called the oratory.

Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire. 259

Adjoining it were two other convenient rooms, one used
as a night oratory for the men, and the other a night
oratory for the women. He also set out a chamber
and closet for each of his nephews and nieces; three
more he reserved for the masters whom he had provided
for teaching as well the children of the family as those
of the inhabitants of the neighbouring places. His
own lodgings were so contrived that he could
conveniently see that everything was conducted with
decency and order. He also laid out the garden in a
beautiful manner.

The regularity of the arrangements, and the exact-
ness with which the rules Avere observed, attracted
general attention. The name given to it by the people
of the neighbourhood was " The Protestant Nunnery."

Chapters out of Fuller's " Holy State," or, as some
affirm (including Dr. Peckard and Mr. Bingley), out
of works written by Mr. Ferrar himself, and which
were adopted by Mr. Fuller afterwards, were read at
regular intervals.

In May, 1633, King Charles made his first visit to
the Protestant Nunnery, and again in April, 1 646. On
the occasion of his first visit he was delighted with
what he saw, and at his Majesty's request Mr. Ferrar
wrote " The Harmony of the Evangelists," and a com-
mentary on the Books of the Kings, for his Majesty's
use. Freq^uent communications afterwards passed

26o Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire.

between the King and the family at the Protestant

Mr. Ferrar did not live long under the rule he
had established. In 1637, eleven years after adopting
the semi-conventional style of life, he died, his death
being, it is stated, accelerated by the mortifications
and austerities which he practised in imitation of
the members of religious orders, but which, not be-
ing moderated by obedience to superiors, and that
prudence which regulates such matters in the houses
of religious orders, his zeal carried him beyond
discretion. Towards the close of his life he was ac-
customed to wrap himself up in a loose frieze gown, and
sleep on the boards, with only a bear's skin to cover
him. He also denied himself sleep for three nights
in the week, "watching" those nights in the oratory,
in imitation of those monks and nuns who never allow
an hour in the day or night to pass but some member
of their order is watching in front of the Tabernacle.
His nephew also succumbed to the vigorous rule im-
posed on the members of the family, but not before he
had composed several works for the use of Prince
Charles. Both Nicholas Ferrar and his nephew had
the makings of true religious men, and had they
adopted the rule of one of the religious orders then in
existence, and learned the practice of austerities suitable
to their health and condition, might have lived in the

Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire. 261

service of God to a good old age. Their manner of
life, however, was too singular, and their austerities
being under no prudent control, became in a measure

King Charles' second visit to the Protestant Nunnery
was nine years after the death of Mr. Nicholas Ferrar,
and five years after the death of the nephew. The
mother had also died at the age of 83 since his first
visit. The King was making his secret journey north-
wards to place himself under the protection of the
Scotch army, and knowing the friendliness of the
Ferrar family, he might take refuge at their house
He travelled with Dr. Hudson from Downham, in
Norfolk, and reached Gidding on May 2nd, 1646. Mr.
John Ferrar was then the head of the family, and he
received his Majesty with becoming respect and loyalty.
Fearing, however, that the known adhesion of the
Ferrar's to the Royal cause might make their house an
unsafe refuge for his Majesty, the King was accord-
ingly conducted to a private house at Coppingford,
where he slept that night in safety, and then went on
to Stamford.

During the Civil Wars many falsehoods were circu-
lated by Puritanical zealots respecting the establish-
ment at Gidding, as they are still circulated by the
descendants of the Puritans with respect to all similar
institutions. The appellation of Nunnery, which the

262 Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire.

people had applied to the establishment, was quite
sufficient to arouse the bigotry of the Puritans, and a
party of these hypocritical and not too honest gentle-
men resolved — of course, in the interests of religious
liberty — to plunder the home of the Ferrars. The
members of the family, however, had notice of their
intention, and thought it prudent to fly, that they
might, as to their persons at least, escape the intended
violence. The attacking party — which consisted of
some soldiers of the ParUament army — ransacked both
the Church and the mansion. In doing this, they
exhibited a special spite against the organ, which they
broke into pieces, making a large fire of the wood
and roasting several sheep which they had killed
in the grounds. They then seized all the plate, furni-
ture, and provisions which they could conveniently
carry away, and in the general devastation which
resulted the manuscripts of Mr. J^icholas FeiTar were

The house of the Ferrars does not now exist, bnt its
site may be discerned. Many of the materials, however
which composed it are still to be found in the
structures of the few cottages which constitute the
village of Little Gidding.

A tractate concerning this institution was published
in 1641, and the following are extracts from it: —
'* The Arminian Nvnnrey : or a briefe description and

Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire. 263

relation of the late erected Monasticall place, called
the Arminian Nvniiery, at Little Gidding, in Hvnting-
ton-Shire. The Foundation is by a Company of
Farrars, at Gidding. There stands a faire Hovse well
scituated, with a fine grove and sweet walks Letticed
and Gardined on both sides; their livelihood or
Revenew about 500/. per annum. One of my Lord
Montagues Mansion-Houses being within two or three
miles off called Hemmington House, not farre from
Oundle. A gentleman coming to visit the said House
was first brought to faire spacious Parlour, where soone
after appeared the old Gentlewomans second sonne, a
Batchelour of a plain perencc, but pregnant of speech
and parts, unto whom when I had deprecated and
excused my selfe for so sudden and bold a visit, he
entertained me with seeming civilitie and humilitie.
After deprecations and some complements past betwixt
us, he said I should see his Mother if I pleased, and I
shewing my desire, hee went up into a chamber, and
presently returned with his Mother (a tall ancient
Gentlewoman, about 80 years of age), shee being
Matron of the House, his elder brother a Priest-like
man in habit and haire. Now he had a sister married
in the house to one Mr. Cooles, who had 14 or lo
Children in the House, and of these, with a man servant
and 2 or 3 maid-servants, the family then consisted. I
I was permitted to salute the mother and daughters as

264 Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire.

we use to salute otber women ; and after we were all
sitten circular, I had leave to speake ingenuously of
what I had heard and did or might conceive of their
House. I first told him what I had heard of the
Nunns of Gidding; of two watching and praying all
night ; of their Canonicall houres ; of their crosses on
the outside and inside of the Chappell ; of an altar
richly decked with tapestry, Plate, and Tapers; of their
adorations, genuflections, and geniculations, which I
told them plainly might strongly savour of superstition
and Popery. Now you must understand that the
younger brother who first came unto me is a jolly
pragmaticall and priest-like fellow, and is the m,outh
for all the rest, and he began to cut me ofi", and
answered with a serious protestation (though not so
properly) that he did as verily believe the Pope to be
Antichrist, as any article of his Faith, which I noted
and gave the hearing; and therein if he spake from
his heart he much differed from the opinions of Priest
Shelford,* Priest Squire, Dr. Brassy, the red dragon
of Arminians, and other eminent Arminians. He
denied the place to be a Nunnery, and that none of his
Neeces were Nunnes; but he confessed that two of his
nieces had lived the one thirty, the other thirty and

*Martyrs of the Roman Catholic Religion in England. They
were executed for their adherence to the old faith at the time
of the Reformatiou.

Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire. 265

two yeares Virgins, and so resolved to continue (as he
hoped they would) to give themselves to Fasting and
Prayers; but had made no vowes. For their canonicall
houres, he said they usually prayed G times a day, viz.,
2 times a day publikly in the Chappel, and 4 times a
day more privately in the House; in the chappel after
the Order of the Booke of Common Prayer, at l)oth
times chanting out aloud the Letany; and in their
House particular private Prayers for a Family.

This Prolocutor confessed himself to

bee about 42 yeares of age, was a fellow in a House in
Cambridge (he named not what House), and that he
had taken Orders of a Deacon (but he said nothing of
his having beene at Rome, as it is well knowne he hath
beene). Now, I was invited by this Deacon to go
with him into the chappell to their devotions, at the
entrance whereof this priest-like deft Deacon made a
low obeysance, a few paces farther lower, and coming
to the halfe place, which is at the east end where the
altered table stood, hee bowed and prostrated himselfe
to the ground; then he went up into a faire large
reading place (having placed mee above with a faire
large window cushion of green velvet before me). The
Mother Matron with all her Traine, which were her
daughters and daughter's daughters, who, with fourc
sonnes, kneeled all the while on the body of the halfe
place, all being in black gownes, and as they came to

266 Legends^ etc., of Huntingdonshire.

Church in round Monmouth capps, all I say in black,
save one of the daughters who was in a Friers grey

gowne It seems, moreover, that at their

monthly receiving the Sacrament (which this defendant
deacon performeth and consecrateth the bread and
wine) their servants when they received were attended
by their Master and Mistris, and not suffered to lay or
take away their own trenchers, as it is reported,"

W W W W W W W W^^ '^'


©Dapter XXXM.


Passing along the Valley of the Ouse from St. Neots,
with the river on the left aud the rising hills on the
right, and surrounded on all sides with some of the
prettiest scenery in the county, the traveller arrives
at Paxton. For many years the Reynolds family have
had their seat here. In 1840, the name of Captain
R. A. Reynolds, the then head of the family, became a
household word throughout the kingdom. He joined the
army in 1825, and served his Sovereign and country
for about 15 years, earning the good opinion of some
of the best and bravest officers in the service. He was
attached to the 11th Hussars (Prince Albert's Own),
and, after about 13 years service, most of it in India,

268 Legends^ etc., of Huntingdonshire.

he returned with his regiment to England. Lord
Cardigan was the Lieutenant-Colonel of the regiment.
One day, shortly after the return of the regiment,
Lord Cardigan sent an uncourteous message, respecting
iaf the introduction of some Moselle in a black bottle
at the mess-table, to Captain R. A. Reynolds. That
gentleman told the messenger, another officer of the
regiment, Captain Jones, that he should consider him
responsible if he delivered any more similar messages.
One of the offensive expressions used by Lord Cardigan
to Captain Reynolds was that he was ' * an Lidian
officer." Thus following the example of Napoleon,
who contemptuously designated the Duke of
Wellington " A General of Sepoys."

Shortly afterwards, in August, 1840, Lord Cardigan
gave a private party at his house at Brighton. Amongst
the guests was a young lady, who, after dancing had
commenced, accosted Lord Cardigan with the question :

" I do not see Captain Reynolds present, where is he?"

" I have not invited him," replied Lord Cardigan.

"Why not?" said the fair examiner.

" Because," replied his lordship, " I don't happen to
be on good terms with him, and if you are anxious to
see him, you are not very likely to meet him here."

'* Why are you not on good terms?" persisted the
lady, with genuine curiosity.

" Oh, that is a very long story, and I don't wish to

Legends, etc., of Hunhngdonshire. 269

enter into it ; but he shall never enter my house again
as long as he lives."

This conversation was overheard, and Captain
Reynolds was informed of it. He considered the last
expression cast a serious imputation upon his honour,
and he therefore wrote to Lord Cardigan stating what
had been reported to him, and asking permission to
contradict it. Lord Cardigan took no notice of the
letter; but on the following morning, August 28th,
when the regiment was formed for field exercise, he
called Captain Reynolds out, away from the regiment,
and in the presence of the Adjutant and Captain Jones,
addressed him as follows: — "Captain Reynolds, I
yesterday received a communication from you, to
which I beg to inform you I have no reply whatever
to make, inasmuch as I consider it was a letter of an
improper nature for you to address to me, and I have
to request that in future all communications from you
to me may be strictly official, with my military rank
affixed to the address, and your own to your signature."

This act of the Lieutenant- Colonel, in making what
was a purely personal matter between two gentlemen a
subject for military discipline, was reprehensible in the
extreme. Having cast the imputation upon Captain
Reynolds, he could not draw fi-om it, and he was thus
apparently afraid of facing the consequences. After
such treatment, no doubt Captain Reynolds burned

270 Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire.

with indignation, and after the exercise he wrote the

following letter: —

"August 28th, 1840.

" My Lord,— Having in my letter to your lordship of yester-
day stated to your lordship that a report had reached me that
your lordship had spoken of me in such a manner as I deem
prejudicial to me, considering the position in which I am
placed ; and having, in the most respectful manner, requested
your lordship to allow me to contradict such report, and your
lordship having this morning positively refused to give me any
answer, I beg to tell your lordship that you are in no wise
justified in speaking of me at all at a public party given by
your lordship, and more particularly in such a manner as to
make it appear that my conduct has been such as to exclude

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