Godmanchester’s 800 years a mere bagatelle

THE 800 years of Godmanchester’s charter are but an historical flea-bite by comparison with the rest of the town’s antecedents that will be celebrated later this year if the community association gets planning consent.

Permission has already been given for a heritage interpretation board near Roman Gate Flats, the site on Ermine Street of the two-storey South Gate of the second-century Roman settlement.

But now, during the ‘modern’ town’s octocentenary, the association has applied for permission for six further boards to explain millennia of history – from the Neolithic to the Victorian – to residents and visitors.

Godmanchester historian, Ken Sneath, whose new book, published last year, is already in its fourth edition after sales of 700 copies, told The Hunts Post where the key new sites are to be if the planners agree.

One is at the doctors’ surgery in Roman Gate, where the ancient West Gate used to be and where archaeologists found evidence of numerous Roman buildings, including an inn and bath-house in what is now Granary Close.

“There was also a temple there to Godmanchester’s unique river god, Abandinus – the only reference in the world,” Dr Sneath said. “An inscription was found on a bronze votive offering very close to the temple.”

A second board is planned for a site close to the allotments in Cow Lane to commemorate a much earlier Neolithic temple, reflecting the annual solstices and equinoxes revered in pre-Christian eras, that was excavated as recently as 1991.

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The old Godmanchester Mill demolished in 1927 adjacent to the public car park off Post Street opposite the bakery, will have an explanatory board, and the early years of the last two millennia will be celebrated on an overall board in The Causeway explaining the layout of Roman Godmanchester.

More recent history will be recorded in the small public garden in Cambridge Street, at the front of what used to be the 19th century Particular Baptist Chapel, which finally closed its doors in 1961 after the congregation had dwindled to around five members.

At School Hill, a further board will explain, the history of the adjacent Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, built in honour of the eponymous monarch in 1561, shortly after her accession, and the Chinese Bridge, now in its third manifestation since its creation in 1827 and a replica of the original in the grounds of Island Hall, a short distance downstream.

If the planners at Huntingdonshire District Council agree, the boards will be manufactured by Godmanchester specialist Jamy.

“And there’s a possibility that we shall do two or three more,” Dr Sneath said.

They will not be the only additions to the town’s street scene in this historic year. A town sign to commemorate the charter’s 800 years is currently under construction in preparation for erection in The Causeway during the next couple of months, according to community association chairman Stephen Spencer. It will be officially unveiled by Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester, at a formal ceremony in September.