Huntingdon: Cromwell, a bankrupt maltster and a Sopwith Camel

On Friday 23rd March the LUKTT Team accompanied by Monica Weller (co-author of ‘Ruth Ellis, my Sister’s Secret Life with Muriel Jakubait) went on a visit to Huntingdon primarily to see Huntingdon Drama Club’s sold out production of Amanda Whittington’s The Thrill of Love about the tragic story of Ruth Ellis. Members of the drama club had taken our Ruth Ellis Taxi Tour earlier in the year so we were eager to see the play performed.

I arrived a little ahead of Ray and Monica and was able to take a short walk around this historic town, birthplace of Oliver Cromwell.

My first stop was the Cromwell Museum housed in a building which itself has a fascinating history. The one-room museum was from 1565 until the late 1930s Huntingdon Grammar School. During Cromwell’s time it was split into two floors with around 25 pupils studying on the ground floor and the schoolmaster living in the now-removed floor above. Oliver Cromwell attended this school as did Samuel Pepys a few years after him.

The Cromwell Museum

The Cromwell Museum

The school was restored in 1878 partly being paid for by Irish playwright Dion Boucicault in memory of his son who died in a terrible rail crash in Abbots Ripton just north of Huntingdon in 1876. A report in The Sketch in April 1899 suggests that Boucicault didn’t fully pay his share.

The Sketch – Wednesday 26th April 1899 Image © The British Library Board. All Rights Reserved via the British Newspaper Archive

The Sketch – Wednesday 26th April 1899 Image © The British Library Board. All Rights Reserved via the British Newspaper Archive

The history of the building goes back much further than this though as it is all that remains of a hospital of St John the Baptist founded in the 12th century.

The museum is small but there is a wealth of things to look at and the curator was generous with his time filling in the gaps in my knowledge. I didn’t take enough photos of the interior so you will just have to visit yourself. More details about the museum can be found on their website.

Oliver Cromwell's hat

Model showing the size of the hospital

On exiting the museum the next thing I spotted was the magnificent town hall sitting on the market square. In commemoration of the centenary of the Royal Air Force coming up on 1st April 2018 there is a model of a Sopwith Camel sitting on its roof!  On the far left in the first picture.

Huntingdon Town Hall

Model Sopwith Camel made by Huntingdon Council's Estates Services Team #RAF100

Model Sopwith Camel made by Huntingdon Council’s Estates Services Team #RAF100

Although quite a small town I didn’t really have enough time to do Huntingdon justice and would like to return to look in more detail at some of the old buildings up and down the high street that feature in this local guide

One thing that did jump out at me though was this tablet on the side of All Saint’s Church. I love inscriptions like this which prompt me to find out the back history.

The Honest Bankrupt

The Honest Bankrupt

Thomas Jetherell who died in June 1774 was a bankrupt maltster. Unusually he decided to leave all his money to his creditors, leaving his family with nothing. I do wonder how he managed to end up bankrupt though as at one point Huntingdon had 27 pubs so would imagine brewing was generally lucrative. I may need to dig a little deeper.

Northampton Mercury – 4th July 1774. Image © The British Library Board. All Rights Reserved via the British Newspaper Archive

Northampton Mercury – 4th July 1774. Image © The British Library Board. All Rights Reserved via the British Newspaper Archive

Next time I visit Huntingdon I intend to stay for at least one night in order to do the town justice. Maybe I will return in the summer for the annual Shakespeare at the George event  or for Huntingdon Drama Club’s next production.

Finally I should of course mention that we all thoroughly enjoyed the Thrill of Love and thought Huntingdon Drama Club’s production was excellent. We will definitely return.

By Joanna Moncrieff, Walking Tour Guide and part of the London and UK Taxi Tours Team.

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