Walk 107: St Ives Town Walk: Worth ‘The Wait’

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 1.3 miles (2 km)

Time to walk: This is a town walk so there’s no time limits, especially if it’s a nice day to spend a while sitting by the Quay or in The Waits area, or to explore the market

Difficulty: All on hard town paths. We are in the Fens so there aren’t many hills to negotiate!

Parking: Plenty of Pay & Display car parks dotted around the town. Be aware if you’re visiting on a market day as they do close off the road through the centre of town

Public toilets: On the old cattle market which is now the bus station & where this walk starts

Map of the route:

Thanks to the St Ives Town Walk website for this one – as always we taken it & added our own twists, additional information & thoughts…

We were working in St Ives, Cambridgeshire (not Cornwall) & confess to never having visited the town before, despite it only being just over the County border. We were very impressed!

St Ives is a traditional market town which lies about 5 miles east of Huntingdon & 12 miles north-west of Cambridge. Previously called Slepe, its name was changed to St Ives after a body, claimed to be that of a Persian bishop, Saint Ivo, was found buried in the town in about 1001/2

For the past 1,000 years it has been home to some of the biggest markets in the country. As we’ll see, it was market day when we did this walk & the street gets closed to accommodate it

St Ives sits on the banks of the wide River Great Ouse &, in Anglo-Saxon times, its position on the river was strategic, as it controlled the last natural crossing point or ford on the river, 50 miles from the sea. During the 18th & 19th centuries, the town was a hub of trade & navigation, & goods were brought into the town on barges, & livestock rested on the last fattening grounds before delivery to London’s Smithfield Market. As the railway network expanded & roads improved, the use of the River Great Ouse declined

We’ll look at more of the historic places as we go so…

Let’s Walk!

1. Our look at St Ives begins in the car park & Bus Station right in the town centre. This used to be the cattle market & animals were traded in the wide street that’s now The Broadway. The street used to be called ‘Bullock Market’ &, in the late 1800s, there could be up to 12,000 animals penned where we’re now standing

Not much remains of the old market now, but the two gatehouses still stand proudly at the entrance…

2. Come out of the car park & turn left. To the right is the start of the market, which we’ll have a closer look at later, but it’s good to see it was really busy & clearly thriving

Cross over the road down Priory Road…

The small building on the right’s the Old Toll House which was in danger of falling into disrepair. Fortunately it’s now home to the fantastic Tom’s Cakes which has an amazing variety of cakes & pastries – we deny you not to go ‘Wow’ as you walk through the door!

3. Continue along Priory Road passing the Old Police Station & Courthouse which date back to 1845 & were closed in 1973

4. Opposite & slightly further on is a very large house called The Priory (hence the name of the Road)…

Have a look through the gates at the very old wall on the left. This is all that remains of the Old Priory. In 1001 AD a ploughman discovered a stone coffin containing bones which the landowner, the Abbot of Ramsey Abbey, hopefully declared to be those of St Ivo, who was claimed to be a Persian missionary bishop, said to have died here around 600 AD. In fact it was probably a Roman burial, as it is now known that there had been a Roman villa on the site

The discovery of Ivo’s supposed body was very important, as it led to the foundation of St Ivo’s priory on the site, which attracted many pilgrims, with the result that the first bridge across the river was built, & a famous annual fair (one of the four largest in the country) was held

It was awarded its charter by Henry I in 1110 & its clothing attracted buyers from the continent, as well as people from all over the country, including English royalty

5. Walk to the end of Priory Road to find the old river – the wider Great Ouse lies further across the water meadows

Look in the other direction & in the distance you can just make out the bridge which we’ll visit next – it really is a lovely spot with some beautiful riverside cottages

6. Turn round & bear left along narrow Wellington Street…

…past the cottages. In the 1800s the town had 64 pubs & there were a few along this alley. No.22 below was the Jolly Waterman

There was another at the cottage that’s now No.14 – for some reason it was called The Hole in the Wall…

7. There is one remaining inn as the alley widens out. The Oliver Cromwell dates back to the 1840s. Oliver Cromwell was born in nearby Huntingdon & lived in the St Ives for five years as he marshalled his Roundhead troops

Their menu looks very good, however be aware they only serve food at lunchtimes

8. Wanna see a sneaky view…? Cause we like sneaky views & this is a cracker as it says just 10 yards further on you’re going to see something a bit special…

…& there you go…

9. This is the Old Riverside & St Ive’s ‘Jewel in the Crown’ & we love it – what a fabulous place & it must be buzzing in the summer

Behind us is the Masonic Lodge which was built in 1898…

10. St Ives Bridge dates back to the 15th century & is noted for being one of only four bridges in England to incorporate a chapel, the others being at Rotherham, Wakefield, & Bradford-on-Avon

Prior to the first bridge here there was a ford across the Ouse, probably dating back several thousand years. The river was at that time wider & shallower until locks were added to make it navigable. The St Ives settlement was developed by the monks of Ramsey Abbey who built the town’s first bridge, a wooden structure, in 1107. In 1414 it was decided to replace this bridge with a stone arch bridge, which was completed in 1425, adding the bridge chapel dedicated to St Leger in 1426

Such chapels were relatively common in medieval times & served as toll-houses, as well as to allow travellers to pray or to give thanks for a safe journey. They also hosted church services. During the English Civil War the bridge was partially blown up by the troops of Oliver Cromwell to prevent King Charles I‘s troops approaching London from the Royalist base in Lincolnshire. The two arches on the southern side were demolished & a drawbridge installed in 1645 as a defensive measure by Cromwell’s forces, who held the town. The drawbridge remained in use until 1716 when the bridge was partially rebuilt that year, the shape of the new arches was different from the surviving ones, leaving the bridge with two rounded arches on its South side & two Gothic arches on the North

The chapel was restored in 1930, having previously served as a toll house, inn & a private residence

11. Look across the river to the left to see the seven storey old mill with was built as a steam powered corn mill in 1854. Today it’s been converted into flats & is famous for where Clive Sinclair invented the world’s first pocket calculator…

12. Directly ahead at the end of the bridge’s the large Elizabethan timber-framed Manor House which is the oldest house in St Ives, having being constructed around 1600

It was owned at that time by the Lord of the Manor, however it was probably used more as an estate office for collecting rents & tolls than as a dwelling

13. We’re going to revisit the bridge shortly but, for now, turn around & walk back down towards the Masonic Lodge…

…& turn left along the delightful Free Church Passage

14. Just after the junction with Bull Lane is the Independence Meeting House, but before you get there you might be feeling a little ‘Quackers’….

The Meeting House was originally built as a Chapel in 1811 & was converted into a Sunday School in 1864

15. Walk out of the alley & into the wide street that’s Market Hill where the market’s in full flow…

On the right’s The Free Church which traces its roots back to the early 17th century. By that time Oliver Cromwell was living in the town & there was an active group of “non-conformists” meeting in people’s houses

In 1691 the non-conformists of St Ives received their licence to worship freely. The first meeting house was built on land belonging to Ephraim White. A tombstone, from this original chapel, is preserved in the current porch chapel. Throughout the 18th century, the non conformists continued to call their own ministers, though it was not until 1785 that their baptisms were given the same status as those of the Parish Church

16. Walk across to the island in the centre of the road to see the imposing statue of Oliver Cromwell. As previously mentioned, Cromwell was born close by in Huntingdon & the statue was supposed to have been erected there to celebrate his 300th birthday in 1899. However the town couldn’t raise the funds & it was therefore relocated here in 1901 as Cromwell lived in St Ives for a time

17. Market Hill’s worth taking a meander around. On the same side as the church is the imposing Golden Lion

The traditional coaching inn dates back to the 19th century – look up to see the lion!

18. Walk down towards the cross passing the Town Hall…

…which was built in 1850, initially as a private house in an Italian Renaissance style

Almost next to that’s the very distinctive Red House which dates back to the 18th century. There’s a plaque on the wall informing visitors that it was once the home of Theodore Watts Dunton. a critic & poet

19. On the other side of the wide thoroughfare’s another late 1600’s inn, the White Hart which is one of the oldest inns still operating in the town

Facing the White Hart turn left & start to walk up Market Hill past the statue again…

…stopping outside another old pub that unfortunately didn’t make it. The Bell was built in 1719. Face it & look up…you can still see the outline of a bell shaped into the brickwork…

20. At the top of Market Hill turn left into Bridge Street. Stop outside Oxfam which is based in the Old Chemist Shop. It retains its Victorian features & was built in 1728…

Continue down to have a closer look at the bridge & chapel

There’s some cracking water meadow walks that start from here including the one that heads north to Houghton Mill. That’s one we’ll definitely have to share when next in the area

21. Turn around & walk back to the junction & head left down lovely Merryland. The attractive Nelson’s Head promotes itself as one of Cambridgeshire’s most popular pubs

22. Merryfield opens out into another wide avenue, aptly called The Broadway which also formed part of the old market held in the past. It’s easy to imagine the street in its heyday with all of the hustle & bustle. In the centre is the Victoria Memorial but, as with the Cromwell statue, all is not as it seems…

Like the Cromwell statue, the Jubilee Memorial was put up several years after the event that it was supposed to commemorate, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, which was in 1897. Some time afterwards, Elliott Odams, a brewer from Fenstanton, was on holiday at Sandown in the Isle of Wight & spotted the jubilee memorial that had been erected there. He liked it so much, that he hired the Sandown architect to design a replica memorial for St Ives

By this time Queen Victoria had died, so Odams decided to present the memorial to the town on the Coronation Day of her son, Edward VII. The Coronation was fixed for Thursday 26th June, 1902, but had to be postponed, because the new King had appendicitis

The Jubilee Memorial was unveiled on the following Monday, but an inscription had already been carved, which claimed that the ceremony had taken place on Edward’s Coronation Day. Check it out…no-one’s ever got round to changing the inscription!

23. The Broadway was full of fine coaching inns, hostelries & exclusive private dwellings. The large building on the left was once a grand house built at the start of the 19th century for a local brewing family, the Osborns

24. Continue to where The Broadway meets the riverside area known as the Waits. On the left here can be found the Norris Museum which opened in 1933 to house a collection dedicated to the town by local historian, Herbert Norris. It contains an original diverse collection of Huntingdonshire’s history. The collections have grown steadily & the museum continues to collect from within the old county boundary. There are just over 33,000 items

If it’s a warm day then The Waits is a lovely area to sit on the wall, or a bench, & watch the world go by. Some say the name comes from when barges used to have to ‘wait’ here before docking at the Quay. It is more likely, though, that the word came from the Anglo-Saxon word “wiht”, meaning a bend in the river

25. There’s a couple of buildings of note along here…firstly Burleigh House, across the road from the museum which dates back to the 18th century & has had several uses including a school

But our favourite one is slightly further along…the Old Butchers Shop…

Originally dating back to the late 1800s, what’s special about this building is the decorative  tiles that still remain showing its former use

26. Directly ahead’s the imposing Manchester House which used to be the old boys’ grammar school dating back to 1856

It closed at the end of 1939, after a rather unsavoury incident

27. Behind the old school lays our journey’s end… the Parish Church of All Saints

The earliest recorded mention of the Parish Church of St Ives is in the Domesday Book, when it’s stated that there was here a “priest and a church”. However an old manuscript tells us there’s been a church here which dates back to “970 AD in the twelfth year of Edgar, surnamed Peaceful, Adnothus, Abbot of Ramsey.”  This original church would have been small & probably of made wood

By about 1150 this wooden church had been replaced by a stone building & around 1470 an entire rebuilding took place. The spire hasn’t had the luckiest of lives. It was blown down in a storm in 1741 & then, in 1918, an aircraft crashed into it causing it had to be restored again, which wasn’t completed until 1930

So this is where our short stroll around St Ives ends. It just goes to prove how many hidden secrets we do have within our own Shire & also just over the border

So maybe next time instead of just dashing down to the tourist draws like beautiful Cambridge, come off the busy A14 & try this lovely town

Go Walk!