St Ives, Huntingdonshire

From Wikishire
Jump to: navigation, search
St Ives
"Rather Than Send Them to St Ives" - - 47323.jpg
St Ives and the bridge
Grid reference: TL305725
Location: 52°20’6"N, 0°5’1"W
Population: 15,860
Post town: St Ives
Postcode: PE27
Dialling code: 01480
Local Government
Council: Huntingdonshire

St Ives is a pretty market town in Huntingdonshire, standing on the north bank of the River Great Ouse downstream from Huntingdon. It is famous for its mediæval bridge which has a chapel in the middle.

The Great Ouse is broad at St Ives and runs over a flint bed. In former days St Ives was the lowest natural ford on the river, 50 miles from the sea, and thus the town had strategic value. In the Middle Ages the flint riverbed provided the foundations for the celebrated bridge. Across the bridge lies the village of Hemingford Grey.

St Ives has a spacious Town Centre. Portions of this open space between Merryland and Crown Street were lost to market stalls that turned into permanent buildings. Some of the shops in the town centre are still to the same layout as in the Middle Ages, one rod in width, the standard length for floor and roof joists. The lanes along the north side of town are believed to follow the layout of the narrow mediæval fields, and are slightly S-shaped because of the way ploughs turned at each end. Similar field boundaries can be seen in Warners Park.

Market and carnival

The Monday market takes over the town centre, and is larger in scale on Bank Holidays in May and August. There is a Friday market, and a Farmers' Market on the first and third Saturday every month. The Michaelmas Fair takes over for three days on the second Monday in October, and there is a Carnival,[1] the biggest public gathering in Huntingdonshire.


St Ives Bridge and the bridge chapel

The town was once called Slepe. Its name was changed to St Ives after the foundation of a monastery here, named after the Persian bishop Saint Ivo, whose body was claimed to be found buried in the town. For the past 1,000 years St Ives has been home to some of the biggest markets in the country and remains an important market.

During the English Civil War, part of the bridge was blown up by the orders of Oliver Cromwell to deny a crossing to the King's forces. The missing section was replaced long after the war had finished.

St Ives – Cromwell's statue

During the 18th century and 19th century, St Ives was a hub of trade and navigation. Goods were brought into the town on barges, and livestock rested on the last fattening grounds before delivery to London's Smithfield Market. As the railway network expanded and roads improved, the use of the River Great Ouse declined. It is now mostly used for leisure boats and recreation.

The river Great Ouse at St Ives flooded in 1947, and some parts suffered seriously again at Easter 1998 and in January 2003. Extensive flood protection works were carried out on both sides of the river in 2006/2007 at a cost of nearly £9 million. Hundreds of feet of brick-clad steel-piling were put into place to protect the town, most noticeably at the Waits where a pleasing plaza has also been created. Further walls were built on the other side of the river to protect Hemingford Grey, reducing the yearly risk of flooding from 10% to 1%.[2] Building on the flood plain is now discouraged at St Ives.

Original historical documents relating to St Ives, including the original parish church registers, local government records, maps and photographs, are held at the County Record Office, Huntingdon.

Sights of the town

  • St Ives Bridge is a rare example of a bridge incorporating a chapel; the most striking of only five examples in England. Also unusual are its two southern arches which are a different shape from the rest of the bridge, being rounded instead of slightly gothic. They were rebuilt this way after Oliver Cromwell blew them up in the English Civil War to prevent King Charles I's troops approaching London from the Royalist base in Lincolnshire. During the war and for some period afterwards, the gap was covered by a drawbridge.
  • The town square contains one of the four statues of Cromwell on public display in Britain, the others being in Parliament Square, outside Wythenshawe Hall, Cheshire and in Warrington, Lancashire.
  • The Corn Exchange is a Grade II listed building in the centre of town. It was built in 1858, and is hence the same age as Stanley House, now home to the Town Council. In 2001, serious structural problems were discovered and the Corn Exchange was closed on safety grounds. Plans to dispose of the building were fought by an action group called "Action Corn Exchange".[3] The hall was saved and is to be re-opened in 2010.
  • Holt Island is an island in the river. The eastern or town end of Holt Island is nature reserve and the western end, opposite the parish church, is a facility for the Scouts. The scouts' portion contains what was, before the opening of the Leisure Centre, the town's outdoor town swimming pool. The pool was dug in 1913 and closed to the public in 1949.[4] It is now used by the scouts for canoeing, rappelling and the mooring of a small narrowboat. In November 1995, the island was the locus of a significant lawsuit and a break-away Scouting Association was prevented from using and developing a claim to it.[5]


The Norris Museum holds a deal of local history, including a number of books written by its curator, Bob Burn-Murdoch.[6]

Popular culture

The name "St Ives" is known across the English-speaking world because of the anonymous nursery rhyme or riddle "As I was going to St Ives". Both St Ives in Huntingdonshire and St Ives in Cornwall claim to be the origin of the rhyme. On Huntingdonshire's part it has been said that the man with seven wives (each wife had seven sacks, each sack had seven cats and so forth) might have been on his way to or from) the Great Fair at St Ives.[7]

The Seven Wives pub on a summer's night

The "Seven Wives" pub itself is on Ramsey Road, where it runs to the north of the town centre. However, this is a modern pub with no connection to the ancient rhyme other than the name.[8]

In Rupert Brooke's famous poem "The Old Vicarage, Grantchester", Brooke heaped praise on his own village, while writing quite unflattering things about nearby towns. St Ives is the only village mentioned outside Cambridgeshire and of it he said:

Strong men have blanched and shot their wives,
Rather than send them to St Ives.[9]

The reason for Brooke's thoughts on St Ives are unknown.

Outside links


  1. St Ives Events and St Ives Carnival
  2. "£8.8m flood defence scheme opened". BBC News. 22 June 2007. Retrieved 6 September 2009. 
  3. "St Ives Corn Exchange - Supplementary Information to the ACE Report issued February 2007". Action Corn Excange. 24 April 2007. Retrieved 6 September 2009. 
  4. "St Ives a new Millenium". St Ives Photo Publication Group (Inchcape): pp. 8–9. 2002. 
  5. "Scouts Fight for Right to Island". Local Government Chronicle/Emap Communications. 19 November 1995. Retrieved 6 November 2008. 
  6. Norris Museum.
  7. Hudson, Noel (1989). St Ives, Slepe by the Ouse. St Ives Town Council. p. 131. ISBN 978-0951529805. 
  8. Indeed in the earliest recorded English version of the riddle, of 1730, there were nine wives. See main article.
  9. Brooke, Rupert (May 1912). The Old Vicarage, Grantchester. Café des Westerns, Berlin. Retrieved 21 March 2009. 

Books about the town

St Ives, Slepe by the Ouse, by Noel Hudson. Black Bear Press, 1989, ISBN 0 9515298 0 3