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Legends and traditions of Huntingdonshire online

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effect thereof : 2, Haile (having an affinity with Heih
the Saxon Esculapius) imputeth cure or medicine to a
maladie. Now in the aforesaid village there be two
fountainlets, that are not far asunder, (1) one sweet,
conceived good to help the dimnesse of the eyes ;
(2) the other in a great measure salt, esteemed
sovereign against the scab and leprosie. What saith
St. James ? ' Doth a fountain send forth at the same
place, sweet water and bitter ?' meaning in an ordi-
nary way, without miracle. Now although these dif-
ferent waters flow from diflerent fountains, yet seeing

Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire. 75

they are so near together it may justly be advanced to
the reputation of a wonder."

In 1770 the spring was still highly esteemed, for a
work, published in that year, says : — " There is a
mineral spring at a village called Hail Weston, near
St. Neots, which is esteemed extremely useful in
curing many disorders incident to the eyes and like-
wise for eruptions of the skin."

At Somersham there was a mineral spring, dis-
covered by Dr. Layard, but the virtues are now
entirely neglected.

At Holywell, a village on the east of St. Ives, there
is a spring of very soft water, rising near the church
yard. Like many other springs, it either possessed,
or was reputed to possess, healing qualities, which
caused it to be visited by large numbers. Some
writers have urged that in pre-reformation times its
healing qualities were ascribed to a miraculous agency
but there is no evidence of this.

©Japtn- fiX-


At the close of the 18th and commencement of the
19th centuries the records throughout England abound
with instances of curious feats and wagers. A few
of those connected with Huntingdonshire are stated
below : —

"Cooper Thornhill was a famous man, and it is
recorded that he rode three times from Stilton to
London in eleven hours, and that he won the cup at
Kimbolton with a mare which he took accidentaly on
the course, after a journey of twelve miles. In a
private diary of a contemporary resident the fol-
lowing entry appears : — " 1745, Oct. 29th, Mr.
Cooper Thornhill, innkeeper, Stilton, left there at
4 a.m., rode to the King's Arms, Shoreditch, London,
at 7-50 p.m., returned to Stilton immediately and

Legends^ etc., of Huntingdonshire, 'jy

reached home at 4-15 p.m., 213 miles in 12 hours and
15 minutes, the bet being that the journey would
take 15 hours. On the 4th, he rode the distance in
3 hours 56 minutes against time 4 hours and 30
minutes. ]\rany horses engaged."

In 1789, the then famous prize fighters, Humphrey
and Mendosey, visited Stilton on May Gth, and fought
in the presence of a large number of spectators.

"Dare Devil," a horse, the property of Mr. J.
Gilbert, ran, on Feb. 14th, 1798, from the "Black
Swan," Peterborough, to the " Black Horse," Sawtry,
a distance of 10 miles, and then back again, making
20 miles in all, in less than 57 minutes. It was
ridden by a man weighing 8st. 5^1bs.

A trotting match against time was performed on
the turnpike road, between Cambridge and Hunting-
don, on Sept. 15th, 1798. The wager was for 400gs.
to lOOgs. that a certain horse would not trot 17 miles
in 56 minutes. The horse, however, performed the
task "with seeming ease in 52 minutes, to the surprise
of many spectators." The animal is thus described :
" The mare is blind with one eye, 1 7 years of age, and
was lately purchased for lOgs. ; she is again matched
to trot 19 miles within the time."

A similar match took place on the 14th July, 1800,
on the road between Cambridge and Huntingdon,
when a horse, the property of a dealer in London,

78 Legends, etc., of H2intingdo7ishire.

started against time to trot 17 miles in one hour,
which he completed in 56 minutes. It is added :
"many bets were depending, and the wager was a
very considerable sum of money."

The following is an ordinary announcement of a
cock fight : "Cocking. To be fought at the Fountain
Inn, Huntingdon, on Tuesday, "Wednesday, and Thurs-
day, the 29th, 30th, and 31st of July, 1800, between
the gentlemen of Huntingdonshire and "Warwickshire,
a Main of Cocks : to shew thirty one in the Main,
for five guineas a battle and one hundred the odd ;
and eleven byes, for two guineas a battle. To fight
in fair silver spurs. Two Ingoes each day. To
begin at 10 o'clock precisely. Small and Gilliver,

The Duke of Rutland purchased a horse from Capt.
"Wardell for 400gs., in IMarch 1802, and the animal
had the reputation of being "a most astonishing
leaper," for "a few weeks since it leaped a river near
Huntingdon, ten yards wide."

A grey mare, the property of Mr. Stevens, of
Godmanchester, in September, 1804, trotted 15 miles
on the road between Huntingdon and Cambridge in
56 minutes, carrying 13st. 71bs.

A "battle" was fought at Huntingdon, on the
31st Oct., 1804, between J. Fuller, a waterman, of
Stanground, and John Fisher, of Godmanchester,

Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire. 79

shepherd, when the former was killed on the spot.
Fisher absconded, but a reward was offered for his

Two men at Brampton mills, in June, 1816, set
themselves a Herculean task. While measuring barley
they challenged each other who should measure the
fastest for a gallon of ale. The first in 20 minutes
and a half sacked 20 quarters, his companion com-
pleted the same number in 20 minutes, thus filling
the bushel, striking, and emptying it into a sack,
eight times each minute.

Mr. Charles Green, of Buckden, in April, 1818,
laid a wager of £10 that he had a horse, of a small
size, which would draw lOqrs. of barley from the
Red Lion Inn, Alconbury, to his house in Buckden,
a distance of nearly five miles, in two hours. The
wager was accepted, and the pony was loaded with
20 sacks of corn, and it accomplished the task in one
hour and 37 minutes. The grain and waggon weighed
two tons and 13 cwts.

A boxing match took place at Horsey Bridge, on
12th May, 1819, between Robt. Woods, a "whittower,"
of Stilton, (formerly a life guardsman), weighing
12st. 7lbs., and John Brown, a baker, of Peter-
borough, weighing list. 121bs. The fight was for
a purse of £40 made up by the combatants. The
fight took place at 10 o'clock in the morning, in the

8o Legends, etc., of Huntingdo7ishire.

presence of a large concourse of spectators, who
formed a 150 feet ring. Mendosa, jun., a London
pugilist was second to Brown; and Jones, also a Lon-
don pugilist, was second to "Woods. The four first
rounds were much in favour of Brown, and the
betting on him was six to four ; but in the fifth round
Woods planted a blow on the head and a tremendous
body-blow, which felled his antagonist, and changed
the battle. The betting was then four to one in
favour of Woods. From this time the tide of success
was all his own, and after 18 rounds, which lasted 25
minutes (only half a minute being allowed between
the rounds). Woods was hailed as victor, very little
the worse for the encounter, whilst Brown, dreadfully
beaten, was obliged to give in.

During the Huntingdon race days, in 1822, a Main
of Cocks was fought between the gentlemen of
Huntingdonshire (Fleming, feeder), and the gentle-
men of Cambridgeshire (Shadbolt, feeder), for lOgs.
a battle and 200 games the main, 26 mains 15 byes.
The scoring was : —


Tuesday 3 1

Wednesday 2 5

Thursday 8 1




Tuesday 5 5

Wednesday 6 1

Thursday 2 1

dr. main. 13 7

Legetids, etc,, of Huntingdonshire. 8 1

Mr. Abbot, of Bridgetown, Huntingdonshire, on
9th Oct., 1823, started on a match to gallop 60
miles in three hours at daybreak for 200 sovereigns,
on six successive horses. The rider weighed 9st. 81bs.
mounted, and betting was five to four on time. He
started upon a fine blood mare belonging to Herbert
Pearson, Esq., at Alconbury, and did 11 miles in 32
minutes. He rode the next horse, " Beader," 12 miles
in 34 minutes, and the third horse 7 miles in 24
minutes, making 30 miles in an hour and a half. The
fourth horse performed II miles in 33 minutes, the
fifth did 9 miles in 24 minutes, and the last horse
belonging to the rider went 10 miles in 27 minutes,
and won the match with four minutes to spare. The
match, it is said, equalled the famous ride of Milton's
race against time to Stamford.

In June, 1840, two men at Huntingdon laid a
wager as to which of them could drink the greater
quantity of raw rum. One of them, named Peacock,
upon finishing drinking went home and shortly after-
wards expired. The other recovered, and when in-
formed of the death of his companion, he exclaimed :
" He has died in his glory, and I hope I shall die hke
him ! "

On 15th January, 1859, a steeple chase came off on
the North Road, between Chesterton and Water-
newton, between Mr, Ser's and Mr. Brown's horses.


82 Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire.

The amount of the stakes is not recorded, but the
match was witnessed by large numbers of people, in-
cluding Lord Milton, the Earl of Aboyne, Hon. G. W.
Fitz William, T. Thomson, Esq. Mr. Ser's horse won
by five yards.

ffi^apter X*


For more than three centuries there flourished in
this county a family named Mason, whose seat was at
Great Gransden. They originally came from York-
shire, but settled in Huntingdonshire it is supposed
about the year 1400, and remained there until the
beginning of the last century, when the estates were
sold, and the family, so far as their connection with
Huntingdonshire was concerned, ended.

Not to go too far back, we find a Simon Mason in
the early part of the 17th century in possession of
his ancestors' estates. He married three times, each
wife bringing to him a handsome fortune. This en-
abled him to considerably improve his residence. His
grandson (who wrote his own life), tells us that liis
ancestor " built a large handsome house with gardens,

84 Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire.

groves, fish ponds, long rows of trees leading up
to a pleasant large wood, a very agreeable place, in
a good situation, about fifty measured miles from
London, in the centre of several market towns."
This " agreeable place, in a good situation," was the
parish of Great Gransden. As to the value of the
estates at that time, the grandson says : " I can't say
exactly what my grandfather died worth, but to the
best of my knowledge 'twas near twenty thousand
pounds ; he left three daughters, whose fortunes were
three thousand pounds each." An estate worth in
1680, twenty thousand pounds, was by no means a
mean possession. Either this Simon Mason or his
father, by a will dated 1679, left a yearly sum of
money to buy coals for the poor of the parish of
Great Gransden. This charity still exists, the dis-
tribution being made annually in accordance with the
terms of the will. The money is derived from land
at Over, in Cambridgeshire. A son and heir was born
to Simon Mason in 1689, and he was carried to the
font in Great Gransden church, and received the same
christian name as his father, but while yet a child his
father died, and he was placed under the care of his
uncle, John Mason, then an attorney at St. Ives. His
uncle, having regard to the fact that his young charge
was the head of the family and the heir to the estates,
bad him educated in a manner befitting his station.

Legends, etc., of Htmtingdonshire. 85

After leaving school he was sent to Cambridge Uni-
versity, where he was admitted as a pensioner of Clare
Hall. He afterwards took chambers in Lincoln's Inn
and was called to the Bar. He then returned to the
family seat at Great Gransden, but did not lead an
idle life but practised as a barrister at law. He
married Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Thomas Salmon,
rector of Mepsal, in Bedfordshire, by whom he had
seven sons and six daughters.

With regard to the time he spent under the care of
his uncle at St. Ives, the son writes : " I can't say
what account his uncle gave of his stewardship, when
he was guardian for my father, though I believe it
was a very bad one, as I have often heard my father
relate." Bad or good, Simon Mason felt himself
under an obligation to his uncle, and when his uncle
was appointed General Receiver for Huntingdonshire,
he became security for him to the government to
the extent of several thousand pounds. There was
possibly another motive for this, because being his
uncle's heir, he wished to conciliate him. It was,
however, an evil day for himself, his wife, and his
thirteen children, when he signed the bond, for al-
thousrh his uncle was "esteemed an honest man in
great circumstances," he managed to break, being at
the time of his failure in the government's debt to
the extent of some thousands. Messengers were con-

86 Legends^ etc., of Huntingdonshire.

sequsnfcly at once despatched to take possession of
the Masons' Gransden estates, which were sold to
make good the uncle's deficiencies. The uncle made
•*a decent retreat with a modest revenue of about two
hundred pounds per annum into the Fleet, where he
lived many years very genteely."

The writer quoted above, adds : *' This fatal blow
of an extent for the government to seize and sell so
great a portion of my father's estate, began the
destruction of a family who had lived so many years
in plentiful fortunes and good esteem. Here began a
scene of affliction which brought on other unhappy
law disputes that lasted many years, and so reduced
my father, having a large family to support, that he
lived very little in the county afterwards ; as his
chief dependence was upon his practice as counsel
which obliged him to be mostly in London, where, in
1725, he died of a pleurisy at his lodging near the
Temple in Fleet Street, in the 36th year of his age."

Concerning this last illness, his son gives the follow-
ing account, which will be read as affording an insight
into the progress of medical science during the past
150 years. He describes his father previous to this
attack of pleurisy as " an Hearty, Healthy Man," and
says : — *' I went to London to my father fur advice,
whom I found out of order, with the symptoms of a
pleurisy, and the next day, he growing worse, I asked

Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire. 87

him who was his physician, he told me Dr. Lewis,
who was his old acquaintance, and co-temporary with
him at Clare Hall. I sent immediately for Dr. Lewis,
who came and according to custom ordered hot medi-
cines, without bleeding, which he took ; the symptoms
increasing he blistered him and gave oyl and syrups
in plenty! More boluses, and Juleps ! " He goes on:
" I was then but a young practitioner, yet old enough
to disapprove the Doctor's practice, my father in a
high fever, with an acute pain in his side, a difficulty
in breathing, with a set red colour in his face. I
address'd my father in this manner. Sir, to stand by
and see a father lost for want of proper treatment, is
what I can't tacitly submit to, without being guilty of
the greatest breach of duty, which would give me a
lasting concern, was I not, before it is too late I hope,
to apprise you of your danger ; your case requires
inmiediate large bleeding which has been omitted too
long, and instead of these hot medicines, they ought
to be cooling diluting medicines ; you may drink cool
tankard and small beer if you please, and I have too
much reason to fear that unless you are directly
treated after this manner you'll not recover. I tell
you my thoughts as I ought to, and if you'll give me
leave I'll mention it to the Doctor, and if he don't
consent to what I propose I shall break in upon dis-
tinction, and take upon me to relieve you : Here I

88 Legends, etc., of Htmiingdonshire.

must observe that the little knowledge I had so early
acquired in physick was chiefly owing to my late
valuable friend Dr. "Wallis, then fellow of Magdalen
College, Caniljridge, who took no small pains to im-
prove the imperfect ideas I had of the practice of
physick ; but to return, my Father thanked me, and
commended me for my regard, but answered: Simon,
you are a young man, your notions may be just and
seem so to be, but should I die under them, that may
give uneasiness to yourself and room for others to
reflect, so I think it will be most advisable to pursue
the doctor's directions, which we did. I told Mr.
Barecrof t, his apothecary, my sentiments, who told me
if I desired it he would take the method I proposed,
which he believed to be right, but according to my
father's desire forbore, and soon I was an eye witness
of the consequences of such treatment^ and my father
was interred in St. Dunstan's Church, Fleet Street, in
the year 1725."

Filial aflfection prompts the son thus to describe his
father : " The misfortunes that happened to my father
were such as might have happened to any other gentle-
man. He suifered by his uncle, from whom he had
great expectations. Had my father neglected his
wife and numerous family, and spent his estate in
boxing and debauchery, or had he either gamed or
sported it away, he must not only have been repudiated

Legends, etc., of Htintingdonshire. 89

by the world, but blamed and censured by his wife
and children. But in justice to his memory I must
assert, he was a great scholar, an eminent counsel, a
sober, honest, religious man, who scorned in all cir-
cumstances of his life a mean action, and abhorred a
dishonest one, but was ever steadfast to his trust, he
was a loving husband, and tender father. The regard
and compassion he had for the distressed often engaged
him in pauper causes which he used to support at his
own expense, and at a time he could not well afford
it, but as it was from a motive of doing good, I hope
he now receives his reward in heaven."

The last of the Masons was the autobiogi-aphist
whose words have been quoted above. He was born,
before the evil fortunes befel the family at Great
Gransden, in the year 1701. He was the eldest son
of a family of eight, consisting of four boys and four
sisters. He went to school at Great Gransden until
he was ten years of age, when his uncle, a physician
at Bishop's Stortford, took him in hand and had him
educated in that town under Dr. Tooke. In after Ufe
he published his life, the title page being :—

"A narrative of the life and distresses of Simon
Mason, apothecary. Setting forth the injurious treat-
ment he hath met with; with many other transactions,
in a series of events, both serious and diverting, &c."

In this volume he says : — " I studied at Bishop's

90 Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire.

Stortford school, till my uncle could send me to
the University of Cambridge and be bred a physician
or go to London and be bred an apothecary ; but I,
like other silly boys, willing to get from school, refused
to go to Cambridge, which to this day I earnestly
lament, but imprudently chose to go apprentice to an
apothecary in London."

He describes the following incidents in connection
with his apprenticeship : His mistress, Mrs. Cornelius,
" would have brought about a match, betwixt me and
Miss "Westron, an only daughter of a wealthy haber-
dasher of small wares, next door but one to us. This
young gentlewoman, as never being from home, was
wanting in those accomplishments her fortune required,
and her charms were chiefly in her Father's long
Baggs, who was computed to be a twenty thousand
pound man. My good mistress, in order to my carry-
ing on an amour, got a milk-woman into the secret,
where I was to meet Miss to drink Sillabub; and I
believe had I followed the advice my mistress gave
me, by a close pursuit of my addresses, I should have
succeeded. But the principal reason of my indifferance
was, a Pretty young lass apprentice to my namesake
a milliner at the Queen's Head, in Lombard St., with
whom I was much captivated, and she really was a
well bred, sober, genteel, young woman, whose ac-
complishments and person were equally engaging.

Legends, etc., of HtLuiingdoushire. 91

She was the daughter of a respectable attorney in the
city." The young lady's name was Miss Nanny
Stacey, and according to advice given him, they de-
cided to part, both being too poor to engage in

Shortly afterwards, however, having left his old
master, he fell in love again with the daughter of
one of his master's patients. He says: "I contracted
such a liking to her, that I asked her father-in-law if
he would bestow his daugliter on me?" And " I told
the father and mother I liked their daughter so well,
if they would give me three hundred pounds (for
which sum Mr. Clarke would take me into partner-
ship) I would gladly marry their daughter." The
money was promised, and the two were married October
4th, 1722. "In a few days," says the bridegroom, "I
was too much convinced what must be the unhappy
consequences of so rash and irretrievable an action.
God knows, I had only £5 I borrowed of a distiller's
man to purchase a license and to pay for the celebra-
tion of those happy nuptials, and after a wedding
dinner at the Swan at Chelsea my stock was greatly
exhausted, and instead of three hundred pounds not
one farthing. A dinner or two I was favoured with
when I soon discovered a coolness. My new mother
first began with her dislike to my tye-Wigg and
Ruffles ; she thought they were too grand for her

92 Legends^ etc., of Htmtingdonshire.

son, and indeed, I as soon thought they did look too
grand for my new parents. I told good madam
Pemberton, Ruffles were what I ever wore, and most
of ray profession did tye-wiggs, as for me I wore
them most part of my apprenticeship."

Then commenced a life of trouble. The pages of
the author's life bristle with relations which impress
the reader with an idea that all men and even the
elements had conspired against poor Simon to bear
him to the ground. At the conclusion he sums up
his misfortunes thus : " my sufferings have been such
as no man besides myself ever underwent ; for there
is no man but surely saw some happy days in thirty

The last record of him is a work " Some Practical
Observations in Physick," which he published some-
where about the year 1754.

©fjapter Xfi.


Early one morning, in the latter part of the reign
of King Edward IIL, some houses at Colne were dis-
covered to be in flames. The fire was with difficulty
extinguished, and an enquiry being made, several
young men of the neighbourhood, animated with a
love of mischief or with the desire to obtain some
spoil, were strongly suspected of having wilfully set
them on fire. The houses belonged to Lady Blanche
Wake, a lady of royal descent, but whose character
exhibits very little that can be admired. According
to all accounts she was a cross-grained, ill-conditioned
old maid, who would live peacably with no one. She
was naturally extremely indignant that these young
men should have acted as they had done, and ordered
them to be immediately arrested, But the culprits,

94 Legends, etc., of Htintingdonshire.

knowing that Lady Blanche had a particular old
grudge against the Bishop of Ely, who resided in the
palace at Somersham, about a mile from the ancestral
home of the Wakes, conceived the idea of making
out that his lordship had set fire to the houses. The
Bishop was a good, pious, but plain spoken old soul,
attending to the duties of his diocsse and troubling
himself very little about the old maid, his neighbour.
But the Bishop was in bad odour just now at court.
In those days Bishops in England had great and high
ideas of the episcopacy ; they spoke without any
regard to persons, and Bishop Lylde had spoken his
mind very freely to the King. Lady Blanche therefore
conceived the idea of carrying into execution a plot
by which she hoped she could make his lordship
smart. In what way the Bishop had incurred the
old lady's displeasure does not appear, but being of
royal blood, she commenced a suit against him, in the
King's court, for having set fire to her houses. No
notice or summons was sent to the Bishop, but the
lady having made an exparte statement, by the com-
mandment of the King, a nisi jprius was issued
against the Bishop, and he was ordered to pay £900.
This order was the first intimation of the suit which
the Bishop received. Like a dutiful subject, he paid
the money, and at the same time demanded a trial by
jury. In order to do this, however, a copy of the

Legends^ etc., of Htmtingdonshire. 95

former judgment was necessary. But Lady Blanche
exerted her influence with the court, and the ap-

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