Village Focus: Somerham boasts classic cars and a beautiful old church
- Credit: ARCHANT
The village of Somersham lies approximately nine miles east of Huntingdon and four miles north of St Ives and has a population of 3, 310.
There has been a settlement in this corner of the district for at least 2,500 years and although the village does not possess many ancient buildings, it does have a rich history.
Interestingly, Somersham lies on the Greenwich Meridian Line, which helps to divide the Earth into sections. There is a marker on the pavement in the High Street denoting the location of the October 1884 Greenwich Prime Zero Meridian Line. which means visitors can put a foot in the eastern and western camp.
There used to be a railway station in Somersham, which connected the village to March, St Ives and Ramsey. The railway line from Cambridge to March was built in 1848 for the transport of coal and agricultural produce before closing in 1967. The white gates at the station approach entrance are still there and are a reminder of the old level crossing that one stood here as well as a bridge across the Chatteris Road. The old station buildings were transferred brick by brick to the William McAlpine Estate in Oxfordshire.
Historically, the manor of Somersham was held by the Abbots (later Bishops) of Ely who obtained it from the Anglo Saxon Ealdorman Byrtnoth, following his death in 991 AD.
Somersham was listed as Summersham in the Domesday Book and in 1086 there was one manor Somersham and 41 households.
The manor house dates back to around the 12th Century. A Tudor palace was constructed over the mediaeval building by Bishop James Stanley of Ely under the reign of Henry VII and is was later owned by the Hammond family but the buildings fell into a poor state of repair and were pulled down in the middle of the 18th Century.
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Village Notes 1: West End Classic Garage.
Garage owner Keith Evans has shared some interesting history about the showroom, which sells vintage cars.
He said: “A petrol station used to sit on the site and a family called the Dolby’s used to run it from the late 1930s to 1968.
“It then sat dormant until I bought it and the house in roughly 1996. I decided I no longer wanted to run the petrol station and built a showroom in it’s place instead.”
“My office in between the house and the showroom used to be a cycle repair shop and I remember as a young boy driving past there with my dad and seeing a bicycle in the window.”
In the 1960s petrol pumps used to have a light bulb on top of them with the name of the type of petrol they used to distribute from there.
Between 1930-1960, the Dolby's used to sell a type of petrol called ‘Cleaveland’ and Keith has an iconic sign with the name on it, erected next to the showroom, on a white pole in memory.
He also has attached to the front of his house two of the old-style petrol pumps with the light bulbs on top, one Esso and the other Shell.
Village Notes: The Parish Church of St John the Baptist
Other landmarks in the village such as the church also have an interesting history.
The Parish Church of St John the Baptist is the largest of the churches in the Benefice. Situated in Church Street, in the heart of the village , the church stands on a site which in all probability has been consecrated for Christian worship since the second half of the 7th Century.
The current building though dates from the period between 1250 and 1300 and is likely to have been built and paid-for by one of the bishops living in the (now disappeared) Bishops Palace which was sited only a few hundred yards from where the church now stands.
In the east window within the church is a memorial to Somersham soldiers who died in the First World War.
Other features in the church include medieval roof bosses, carved corbels, an early 20th Century pipe organ, various stone plaques and memorials in the chancel and sanctuary.
The church also has a brass candelabrum hanging in the sanctuary, carved corbel and a medieval five lock chest made of a single piece of timber.