Over three centuries old and the Langley Bread is still not stale! A total of 350 years after St Ives resident Robert Langley left money in his will, his legacy lives on with the annual distribution of the Langley Bread, only now there s much more than a

Mayor Councillor Jason Ablewhite with the Langley bread

Over three centuries old and the Langley Bread is still not stale!

A total of 350 years after St Ives resident Robert Langley left money in his will, his legacy lives on with the annual distribution of the Langley Bread, only now there's much more than a loaf on offer.

It was an early start for organisers as from 8am, Thursday January 12, a busy team was getting ready for one of the oldest annual traditions in Cambridgeshire.

The packing of 225 bags was performed by a team that included town clerk George Cooper, St Ives Town Councillor Maria O'Neill, town and district Councillor Deborah Reynolds, district Councillor Jean Chandler and Jayne Westlake.

2006 was Mr Cooper's third Langley Bread, but he has a long way to go to catch up with Mrs Chandler, who has helped at the annual event for the last 30 years.

Parishioners queued up to receive the parcels from Mayor Councillor Jason Ablewhite, after their name was checked on the electoral register and they were given a raffle ticket.

The tradition began in 1656 when Robert Langley specified that an annual payment of 40 shillings should be made to "poor widows and fatherless children."

Langley's wishes are still honoured every January, although for the last 150 years the widowed have been given bread rather than money - it was not until 1860 when organisers introduced sexual equality to the provision, making widowers eligible as well as widows.

In January 1990, the traditional parcels of bread were substituted for a grocery bag including not just bread, but sugar, teabags and butter - 2005 saw a packet of biscuits being added to the bag for the first time.

Many are unsure of the reasons behind Langley making the request in his will, with a variety of explanations offered; although a commonly-told story involves a late night lost in bad weather.

This myth says that Langley was caught one winter's night lost in the snow across the town meadow but was guided home by the sound of the parish church bells, resulting in him putting the provision in his will as a token of his gratitude.

However, curator of the Norris museum in St Ives, Bob Burn-Murdoch, debunks this tale as fiction, as Langley bequested money to both St Ives and Hemingford Grey Parishes, in particular to the parishes' bellringers.

Mr Burn-Murdoch says: "The start of this yearly tradition was actually to commemorate the death of his father, who passed away on January 9.

"It is also important to remember that 1656 marked the first few years of Oliver Cromwell's rule and the influence of the Puritans, who frowned upon bellringing, so Robert Langley was giving money to people who were under threat."

Although the proceedings did not officially start until 10.30am, the Parish Church Hall was a hive of activity long before this, as local parishioners filled the hall.

Majorie Parson said: "It is so nice that they're doing something like this - especially when it has been going for so long."

Audrey Rycroft said: "I can't believe its still going strong after all these years."

The hall had a special community atmosphere, with many also collecting Langley bags for friends and neighbours who were unable to attend.

This year, the groceries cost £714.38 and were paid for by St Ives United Charities.