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Legends and traditions of Huntingdonshire online

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of wholesale merchants. Mrs. Jane Scarborough was

ii6 Legends y etc.^ of Huntingdonshire.

the landlady. The following circumstance, related by
this lady, throws a glare of light upon the manner in
which the world travelled at that time. She says :
"In the latter part of the year 1814, the Bell Inn, at
Stilton, was offered for sale, but as a purchaser could
not then be found, the person who occupied it con-
tinued in the premises, and conducted the business as
usual, and we hoped that a tenant at least might in
the course of a short time be met with. In this hope,
however, we were disappointed, as the person who
kept the house became a bankrupt, and no application
was afterwards made for the inn. Now as this house,
prior to the attempt to sell it, had fallen into dis-
repute, and as it was the next posting house to ours
on the North Road, and in connexion with us, our
business by such a falling off was materially injured,
and the affair was becoming serious. AVe knew that
the innkeepers in the hue would not continue in con-
nexion with our house at Buckden, if the Bell Inn,
at Stilton was shut up, for they considered the Angel
Inn at that place as a house too inferior for the first
line of posting. In such a dilemma, what was to be
done, and how were we to act ? "We hit upon the
expedient of removing the difficulties that beset us,
by taking the Bell for our son, a very steady young
man, possessing a thorough knowledge of the business.
He took possession of the " Bell " in May, 1815, and

Legends, etCj of Huntingdonshire. 1 1 7

as its effects were disposed of by auction, we pur-
chased such of the horses, chaises, furniture, «&c., as
we thought proper. After completely repairing the
house (which it much wanted), we fitted it up in a
genteel and comfortable manner, at a very great ex-
pense. I advanced a thousand pounds of my own
to assist, and our pains were rewarded by the satisfac-
tion we gave universally to our friends and a generous
public. Unfortunately for us, however, almost im-
mediately afterwards a spirit of opposition arose upon
the road, and in consequence the prices of posting
were reduced, and company conveyed at a very low
rate ; in addition to which we were injured by the
number of opposition coaches then running, for by
these means people travelled for almost literally
nothing. And bad luck (for nothing else can it be
called), did not terminate here. At Michaelmas,
1815, a fresh tenant took possession of the Angel
Inn, at Stilton, the house directly opposite to that
which my son occupied. This man had no property
of his own to lose, and therefore would not suffer
by any adventurous schemes. He injured my son
essentially ; for having scarcely any business at his
own house, he had the audacity and meanness fre-
quently to put cards of his terms (which were reduced
far below a fair scale), into the carriages which stopt
at the Bell, and ray son was, in consequence, com-

ii8 Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire.

pelled to forward travelling parties on the same terms,
or lose their custom altogether. Either alternative
must be accompanied with loss, and of the two ends,
he chose the former. This practice, so injm-ious not
only to our affairs, but to those of every person
engaged in it, ceased at the expiration of a year,
when prices again rose to their proper level, and our
opponent of the Angel found it expedient to quit
the house."

But there were severer troubles in store for Mrs.
Scarborough. Dr. Maltby, at the academy, had
amongst his pupils a young gentleman named William
Scott Preston, the son of a gentleman in London.
One day in October, 1815, Mr. Preston, senr., gave
his clerk a £20 note to post in a letter to his son at
Buckden. ISTot having a wafer in his pocket, he put
the letter in his pocket until he got home. He then
wafered it down and gave the letter to a man to give
to the Bellman. The address on the envelope was in
l\Ir. Preston's hand writing, but it was very much
blotted, and in some respects illegible to those who
were not used to his writing. This letter, however,
never reached its destination, but there was evidence
that it was delivered to Mrs. Scarborough, at the
George Inn. She was consequently accused by the
Post Office officials of having stolen the note, and
was indicted at the Huntingdon assizes, on the 28th

Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire. 119

July, 1817, to answer the charge. Evidence was
given tracing the letter, and also that soon after
Mrs. Scarborough paid away a £20 note, which was
alleged to have been the stolen one. "Witnesses were
called in defence to prove the excellent character of
Mrs. Scarborough, amongst them behig Sir James
Duberley, George Thornhill, Esq., Rev. Dr. Maltby,
Laurence Reynolds, P]sq., Dr. Alvey, W. Day, Esq.,
Ct. J. Gorham, Esq. The jury brought in a verdict
of guilty, and she was sent to prison for twelve
months. Mrs. Scarborough afterwards published a
"plain statement" of the circumstances, which leaves
little doubt that she was wrongly convicted.


In August, of 1856, great interest was excited
throughout the county concerning an attempt made
by a man named Crewe, of Stilton, with his two
daughters, to starve another of his children, named
jMartha Crewe, 19 years of age. The father, and his
two daughters, Eliza and Rebecca, were brought
before the magistrates (Rev. W. Storey and Mr.
Vipan), on Thursday, August 28th, an immense
crowd having assemljled outside the court. The poor
girl, Martha Crewe, was brought from Stilton in a
hand carriage, and her appearance, which is described
as "more that of a dead than a living person,"

I20 Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire.

deeply affected every one who saw her. The follow-
ing is some of the evidence : — Susan Smith, a neigh-
bour of Crewe's, said : " For the last three years I
have often heard Martha crying in her father's house
for bread. When she came to my house I gave her a
slice of bread and ham. Her ghostly look frightened
me; I thought it was a ghost. She stood by my door
with the food when her sister Eliza came up, took it
from her and threw it at me, caUing me a deceitful
woman. I told Eliza that she, her sister, and her
father, all deserved to go to prison, and she turned to
Martha and said : ' You shall catch it for this.' I
have offered to give her food, but her father and
sisters have prevented me. — H. Wood, baker, said he
had not seen Martha at all during the last three years,
but had often heard her crying for bread, and had
also heard her groaning all hours of the day and
night. He made a stir in the parish two years ago,
but was over-ruled by the parish. — The wife of this
witness said she had endeavoured to send rice and
pudding to the girl, but the father and sisters had
always sent it back. She had heard the girl cry for
bread and also for water, but had not seen her out of
the house for years. — John Abbot, constable of Stil-
ton, said he lived close to Crewe's. He had not seen
Martha for two years. He knew she had been shut
up since February, 185i, and was continually crying

Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire. 121

out for food. I was passing one day, and I heard her
call out, " Murder," I demanded to be let in. Her
father refused, and I then broke down the door. I
found one daughter, Rebecca, holding Martha in
a small place against the stairs. "When I entered,
Martha held out her hands to me, and said " Oh, help
me ! " He fetched the overseer, Mr. Drage, and they
took her away, her sisters trying to prevent them.
She was too weak to walk and very emaciated. — Mr.
Drage, the overseer, said after Martha was removed
from her father's house, he took her to the " Bird in
Hand" Inn, and she was earned up stairs to bed.
Her body was that of a skeleton. Mr. Wright,
Surgeon, of Stilton, was sent for, but Crewe, who had
followed his daughter to the Inn, said he would not
consent to her having medical assistance. In reply
to questions put to her, the girl said her sisters used
to beat her, and her father locked her clothes up. —
The Rev. 0. W. Davys, Rector of Stilton, said : On
the 18th of August, Crewe's house was beset with a
crowd. He went up with the parish constable. He
could hear moans inside, and heard Martha say, " I
will go away; I have not been out for three years."
The constable that day broke into the house and took
her away. Ou a former occasion a vestry meeting
was called with reference to Crewe, and he, with the
churchwardens, and other inhabitants, went to Crewe

122 Legends^ etc., of Huntingdonshire.

and told him that if he persisted in his cruelty, they
•would proceed against him. — Mrs. Robinson, the land-
lady of the " Bird in Hand," stated that the girl was
too weak to walk, and for the first few days ate
ravenously. — Mr, "Wright, the surgeon, said he had
examined Martha, and found her suflering from glands
and scrofula, of about live years' standing, Had she
been properly treated two years ago, she would probably
have recovered, but now it was doubtful. Had she
continued as she was found on the 18th of August,
she must have soon died. He attended her about
five years ago, and sent her some cod-liver oil, but
Crewe returned it, and would not allow him to attend
her. — The magistrates then adjourned to the house
where Martha was, and found her lying on a sofa.
They took her evidence, which she gave without
hesitation. She said her sisters were the most unkind,
and used to knock her about. She could not run
away, she was watched so, and the doors were always
fast ; she tried a good many times to get away but
could not. She slept in the same bed with her father.
She had seldom anything but dry bread to eat. It
was nearly five years since she went out of the house.
Two years ago she would have left home with Mr.
Urage, but her listers told her the people would
trample her to dust if once they got her away.
Kebecca once hit her so hard she felt it now. Her

Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire. 123

arm was hurc by Eliza. — The three prisoners were
then committed for trial at Huntingdon, The follow-
ing October, at the Huntingdon quarter sessions,
Edward Crewe, Eliza Crewe, and Eebecca Crewe,
were charged with *' unlawfully imprisoning and
detaining Martha Crewe, from loth of February,
1854, to the 18th of August, 1856, and with having
assaulted and beaten her, witholding and preventing
her from having sufficient food and raiment, Avith
intent to kill and murder her." The condition of
Martha remaining very precarious, the trial was ad-
journed until March, 1857, when Chief Baron Pollock
thought the justice of the case was met by sending
the father to prison for three months, and Eliza and
Rebecca for one month each. At the same assizes a
man was transported for 14 years for setting a straw
stack on fire ; another man for stealing a fork and
spoon, was sent to prison for 18 months ; another for
stealing a bushel of potatoes, was sentenced to eight
months ; but the sentence against the Crewe's was the
lightest of all.


In 1819 a young woman of Godmanchester was
foully murdered. Her name was Mary Ann Weems,
and she had been brought up by her grandmother or
aunt, named Sawyer, in a cottage in St. Ann's Lane,

124 Legends, elc^ of Hunthigdonshire.

Godmanchester. In 1816 she married Thos. Weems,
who was described as a man of strong build and of
rough exterior. She was then only 18 years old, and
was said to be very prepossessing in appearance. A
short time after the marriage Weems deserted her,
and she went back to her relative. In the meantime
he formed an acquaintance with another woman, and
three years ulterior to this date he visited his wife at
Godmanchester, and persuaded her to accompany him,
as he alleged, to London. They journeyed along the
road, and entered a public-house, where they quar-
relled, and on renewing their journey, he took her
into a field in the parish of Wendy, Cambs., and
strangled her. He was soon apprehended on a charge
of murder. After the inquest the body of the woman
was conveyed to Godmanchester to the house where
she lived, and so great was the curiosity of the public
to see the corpse that the coffin was placed in the
front of the window, and the bed removed, so that
anyone passing could get a view of it. Weems was
tried at Cambridge assizes, and suffered the full
penalty of the law in that town. His body was used
for the purposes of anatomy at Cambridge. The
unfortunate woman's remains were interred in God-
manchester churchyard, and a stone erected to her
memory, on which the following was inscribed: — "As
a warning to the voung of both sexes this stone is

Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire. 125

erected by public subscription over the remains of
Mary Ann Weems, who, at an early age, became ac-
quainted with Thomas Weems, of this parish. This
connection terminated in a compulsory marriage, and
he soon deserted her; and wishing to be married to
another woman he filled up the measure of iniquity by
resolving to murder his wife, which he barbarously
perpetrated at Wendy, on their journey to London,
towards which place he had induced her to go under
the mask of reconciliation. May 7th, 1819. He was
taken within a few hours after the crime was com-
mitted, tried, and subsequently executed at Cambridge
on the 7th of August in that year.

E're crime you perpetrate survey this stone,
Learn hence the God of Wisdom sleeps not on his

But marks the sinner with unerring eye,
The suffering victim hears, and makes the guilty


On the 23rd October, 1851, a memorable burglary
was perpetrated at a lonely house called •'High
Holborn," near Great Raveley. Mr. Fairiey, a fine
specimen of the old English yeoman, and baiHff to
Squire Hussey, lived in the house with his wife. On
the night of the burglary, about 11 o'clock, Mr.

126 Legends^ etc., of Huntingdonshire,

Faiiiey was aroused by a noise outside resembling
thunder, and the principal door of the house fell in
with a crash. The following is his own description of
what ensued: " T jumped out of bed and wont to the
window looking into the yard. I called out, but re-
ceived no answer. I turned round and got my pistol,
and then saw a light at the stair-foot. ]\ry bedroom
door being open, I went to the door and cried
'Beware.' The light was then withdrawn, but speedily
returned, and I saw a man and fired at him. The
man said, ' Oh, you keep those things, do you ? we've
got plenty of 'em,' and he returned the fire, but
missed me. I called out to know what they wanted,
as I could hear by the whispering that there was more
than one. They said, *Come down,' but I replied
I would not. I said, ' Come up, two of you, you
cowardly rascals, if one is afraid.' They replied
that there were 10 of them, and I said, ' I don't care
if there are 20 of you,' and I fired at the man I could
see. They returned the fire ; they fired five shots at
me in all. After they had fired three times they said
they would set fire to the house, but I did not think
they would. They, however, lighted some bean straw,
and fed the fire with the leaves of a bible, the barometer,
and the clock case. The smoke nearly suffocated me.
I went to the window, but found a man in charge of
it with a pistol. My wife could stand it no longer,

Legends, etc., of Hun iingdons hire. 1 2 7

but rushed down stairs. They pushed her in a closet
and shut her in. I fired once after she went down,
but one of the men shouted out, 'If you fire attain we
Avill shoot Mrs. Fairley where she stands. I was then
obh'ged to give up calling upon them for God's sake
to have mercy on my wife. There were five men in
all, and all wore masks. They ordered me down stairs
while they searched the house, and when they had
ransacked the upper rooms, they ordered us up stairs,
striking me with a poker. I said, ' You have got ray
property, for God's sake spare our lives.' AYe sat
down on the edge of the bed when we got up stairs.
The men enjoyed themselves in the house with liquors
and wine for about 5 hours, and then left. When
they had gone, I asked my wife if she dare remain
alone while I went for assistance. I saddled my horse
and rode to Upwood, and soon returned with the
constable and other persons. The walls about the
staircase were marked with the bullets as though
there had been a seige." All the five men were after-
wards arrested, and were punished for their crime.


On the 3rd of July, 1827, a barbarous crime was
committed at Little Stukeley, when the Eev. J.
Waterhouse, 80 years of age, was murdered by Joshua

128 Legends ^ etc., of Htmtingdonshire.

Slade.* It appears that the Rev. J. Waterhouse was
the rector of Little Stukeley, and of Coton in
Cambridgeshire. He was M.A. and B.D., but whilst
he resided at Coton charges of immorality were
brought against him before the Bishop of Ely. He
exhibited great eccentricity and impropriety of
character. He had an insatiable love of money,
which induced him to hoard up his corn in anticipa-
tion of still higher prices being realized. Upon
entering the vicarage of Stukeley he fitted it up in a
costly and elegant manner, but so strong was his pro-
pensity for accumulating corn, wool, etc., that the
well-furnished rooms were converted into granaries,
and became infested with rats and mice. Although
there were 30 windows in the house, he blocked them
nearly all up, so as to avoid the window tax. He
dwelt alone. His only companions were the rats and
mice, who consumed his corn. The men of the
village disliked him because he ground them down in
regard to wages, and frequently he had the mortifica-
tion to see his hay and corn perish in the fields

* These particulars are chiefly taken from " A Sermon de-
livered at the Dissenting Chapel, Huntingdon, on Sunday,
Sep. 2nd, 1827, by W. Wriglit : occasioned by the Barbarous
Murder of the Kev. J. Waterhouse, of Stukeley Parva, and
the execution of the confessed criminal, Joshua Slade, with a
sketch of the life and character of each. Corrected and en-
larged. HuDtingdon : Printed aqd Sold by A. P. Wood,
Price : One Shilling. "

Legends^ eic^ of Huntingdonshire. 129

because no one would work for him. He is described
as being tall and stout, and naturally bold and daring.
He used to declare " No man shall ever conquer me."
He kept a blunderbus in one of his upper rooms for
his defence. His appearance was altogether un-
clerical, frequently wearing blue worsted stockings
when he went to Huntingdon. Mr. Wright describes
him as resembling " a seller of earthenware a little
smarted up." He was fond of breeding horses, and
was an early riser. His murderer, Joshua Slade, was
a native of Great Stukeley. From an early age he
was accustomed to habils of pilfering. He was
allowed to grow up in ignorance of his moral ol)li-
gations. From Slade's confession, which is given in
Mr. Wright's pamphlet, it appears that he entered the
vicarage at five in the evening without being seen,
and went to sleep in the room in which the wool was
stored. His snoring, however, attracted Mr. Water-
house's attention, and he entered the room and said
" Holloa ! who are you ?" Slade then seized him, and
he tried to get to his blunderbus. Slade dragged the
old man down stairs, and holding up a sword which
he had brought with him said, " K you will forgive
me I will forgive you, but if not, this is your death
wan'ant." Waterhouse replied : " I will suffer any-
thing first." The monster then proceeded to butcher
the old man with the sword, and afterwards went
home, had his supper, and went to bed. Suspicion

130 Legends, etc., of Hu7itingdonshire.

afterwards fell upon him, and he was tried at the
assizes on the SOfch of the same month, and condemned
to death. The day fixed for his execution was the
following Thursday, but when it came the event was
postponed. This is how Mr. Wright speaks of it :
" On the morning of this day, the whole neighbour-
hood was in motion and all drawing to the spot where
the expected scene was to be witnessed. To a feeling
mind it is painful to see the manner in which so many
young persons come to an execution. Did we not
know the cause of their eagerness and levity of
manner we should certainly conclude they were hasten-
ing to the usual sources of dissipation, of vice, fairs,
and feasts, &c. In the midst of this bustle and
anxiety it was understood that his life would be spared
another day, and some returned cursing the authors
of their disappointment. A similar state of things
was presented the following day, as it was determined
to give a respite of the young man's life till the 1st of
September." This extension was due to the doubts in
the judge's mind of his guilt, but the culprit's con-
fession to the chaplain removed all doubt, and he was
executed. The skeleton of Slade is now in the pos-
session of Mr. W. Bryant, of Cowper House School,
Huntingdon. He purchased it at a sale of Col. F. J,
Hooper's effects. It doubtless came into his possession
through his grandfather, who at the time Slade was
executed was High Sheriff, and claimed the body.

(Smtn- Xl^-B.


In 1289, all the Jews were banished from the king-
dom by a Royal proclamation, and at Huntingdon
their Synagogue was burnt to the gi'ound ; all the
fm-niture, and the library belonging, being also de-

In 1731, Ramsey was visited by a very severe
conflagration ; a large portion of the town was entirely

"A Dictionary of the World," published in 1772,
says of St. Ives : " This town was large and flourish-
ing before it was unfortunately destroyed by fire,
since which it has never quite recovered its former
beauty." Spencer's complete English Traveller,"
published about the same time, says : — " Some years
ago it [St. Ives] suffered considerably by fire ; but

132 Legends^ etc., of Huntingdonshire.

all the damage has been made good, and the houses
re-built more handsome than before."

A terrible fire broke out at Overton Longueville, on
the 3rd of March, 1797, which destroyed six houses,
and reduced several families to very great distress.

A fire, which lasted three days, occurred at Stilton
in April, 1798. It originated by a chimney catching
fire, the flames from which unfortunately communi-
cated to the adjoining houses in the west part of
the town, eight of which were burned to the ground,
together with the whole of Mr. Pitts' stock of bay and
corn, and also some hay belonging to Mr. Sibley. By
the assistance of the Leicestershire mihtia, with two
fire engines from the barracks, the flames were stopped,
though not till " all within its reach was nearly
destroyed." Three of the houses burnt were the
property of Mr. "Woods, grocer, three others belonged
to Mr. Morchen, a carrier (who had for 15 years paid
an annuity of 4/- a week to the late Mr. Mark Noble),
and he had been in possession of them only about six
weeks. The fire, which originated on Friday, was
not extinguished until Sunday morning.

A dreadful fire broke out at Alconbury, in Sep-
tember, 1802. It originated at the house of Mr.
Key, a butcher, by the inadvertent use of too much
straw in boiling a pot, which, during the absence of
a person in the house, communicated to other straw

Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire. 133

that lay about the room, and in a few minutes set the
premises in a blaze, caught a farm belonging to Mr.
Martin, and entirely consumed all his out-houses and
grain, part of his house, the adjoining farm of Mr.
Sharp's, and five or six cottages, by which terrible
accident many poor families were reduced to the
greatest distress. The flames were so rapid that the
conflagration was at its full extent before proper
assistance could be procured.

OflFord Mills, near Buckden, were bm'ned to the
ground on July 30th, 1818. The fire was caused by
a lighterman leaving a candle in the stable after
putting up the haling horses. The animals perished
in the flames.

A young man, 21 years of age, named Thomas
Savage, was sentenced to death at the Huntingdon
assizes, in August, 1824, for having set fire to a barn
at Somersham, the property of Martin Wellman, on
the 26th of May in the same year. Savage and two
other men named Woods and Cook, arranged to burn
down the premises in order that they might steal
something. Savage, meeting Woods, said to him : "I
think I shall set fire to old Billy Mason's house — yet

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