Colourful history of Fenstanton includes infamous visitors

The village of Fenstanton lies on the old Roman Road so has had some colourful visitors over the years.

The village of Fenstanton lies on the old Roman Road so has had some colourful visitors over the years. - Credit: ARCHANT

Fenstanton lies approximately two miles south of St Ives and has a population of 3242, according to the last census.

Historically, the village has been known as Stantun,  Staunton and Stanton Gisbrit de Gant, and Fennystanton,  but the name Fenstanton means 'fenland stone enclosure'.

The village lies on the Via Devana, the Roman road that linked the army camps at Godmanchester and Cambridge and was the site of a Roman villa, possibly designed to keep order after an attack on the forces of the IX Legion Hispana, as they retreated from an ambush at Cambridge by Boudicca's tribesmen.[5]

The inhabitants of Fenstanton rose in support of Hereward the Wake. From his stronghold on the Isle of Ely Hereward led resistance against the Normans causing King William I to assemble a force in Cambridge to deal with the problem. Men were summoned from Huntingdon but they did not pass Fenstanton and escaped with their lives only by swimming across the river.[5]

Fenstanton was listed in the Domesday Book in the Hundred of Toseland in Huntingdonshire; the name of the settlement was written as Stantone in the Domesday Book. In 1086 there was just one manor at Fenstanton; the annual rent paid to the lord of the manor in 1066 was 17 and this amount had fallen to £16 by 1086. The parish contained 33 households at this time, and by 1086 there was already a church and a priest at Fenstanton.

The village is the ancestral home of John Howland, one of the Pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower in 1620 at Plymouth, Massachusetts.

In the 18th century Lancelot "Capability" Brown, the famous landscape gardener, bought the Lordship of the Manor of Fenstanton and Hilton from the Earl of Northampton. Brown and his wife are buried in the parish churchyard and the chancel bears a memorial to them.

The antiquary M. R. James wrote a ghost story entitled The Fenstanton Witch, which was not published till after his death. The story also mentions the village of Lolworth, which is a few miles away.

The village currently has two pubs, The Crown and Pipes and the Duchess, but in 1851, there were eight recorded: The Bell, the Crown, the George, the King William IV, the Rose & Crown, the Royal Oak, the White Horse, Woolpack and the Duchess.

Village Notes 1: The Church of St Peter and St Paul

The Parish Church of St Peter and St Paul dates back to the 13th Century, though there was an earlier church on the site listed in the Domesday Survey.

The octagonal spire on the West tower dates back to the 14th Century, and the church is noted for its chancel, built by 14th-century rector William de Longthorne.

The east window, which is an impressive 17 feet wide, is unusual for a church of its size. The six bells date from the 17th and 18th centuries, the latest being hung in 1981, a gift from The Howland Society in America, descendants of the Mayflower Pilgrims.
The village also has a Baptist and a United Reformed Church.

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Village Notes 2: Travellers and visitors 

Fenstanton was the only village on the old Roman road from Cambridge to Godmancheste, which meant many people have stopped off and passed through over the years.

Historical records show some of the famous people include Boadicea, Queen of the Celtic tribe the Iceni, Hereward the Wake, Godson of Thayne Ulf, one time lord of the manor of Fenstanton cum Hilton.

Also, Queen Joan of Scotland lived on the site of the present Grove House and Queen Elizabeth I dined in the village at the palace of the Bishop of Ely.

Even Samuel Pepys is said to have refreshed himself in the village on his way from Peterborough to Cambridge. During Cromwell’s time, in 1644, many of his men were stationed in the village so it is more than likely that Cromwell too past through.

Fenstanton is reputed to be the ancestral home of Dick Turpin the infamous highway robber. 

With thanks to John Deeks and Fenstanton Parish Council.