Cambridgeshire Places - Soham


St Felix of Burgundy, the 7th century apostle of East Anglia, founded a monastery here but it was destroyed by the Danes, and two centuries later the village was a settlement on the edge of a reedy mere which spread from Soham Lode to Fen Side in Wicken, and covered approximately 1400 acres. 18th century farmers were sometimes capsized by squalls as they tried to sail across. Soham Causeway, the present A142, was built to link Soham to Stuntney and then to Ely. The 12th century church has an imposing tower holding a peal of ten bells and the churchyard is on the site of a pagan cemetery. Just off the A142 north of the junction with the A1123 is Downfield Windmill, a working windmill open to the public on Sundays.

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Cross Green, Soham - start of the 20th century

[From Samuel Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of England 1831.]

SOHAM, a market town and parish in the hundred of STAPLOE, county of CAMBRIDGE, 5¾ miles (S.E.) from Ely, and 69 (N.N.E.) from London, containing 2856 inhabitants. This was a place of some note at a very early period. About 680, St. Felix, first Bishop of the East Angles, is said to have founded a monastery here, which he made the seat of his diocese, prior to the removal of the see to Dunwich, and where his remains were interred, they were afterwards taken up and conveyed to Romney abbey, when the cathedral church was erected by Luttingus, a Saxon nobleman. This building, as well as the bishop's palace, was destroyed by fire, and the monks, who at that time were a flourishing society, were killed by the Danish army under the command of Inguar and Ubba, in 870. Before the draining of the fens, here was a large lake, or mere, over which was anciently a dangerous passage by water to Ely, but it was subsequently rendered more safe by the construction of a causeway through the marshes, at the expense of Hervey, Bishop of Ely. The town is situated on the east bank of the river Cam, on the verge of the county; the streets are irregularly built, and the houses of mean appearance. Horticulture is carried on to a considerable extent, especially in the article of asparagus; the dairies are abundant, and cheese of a most excellent quality, and very similar to that of Stilton, is made here. A market, formerly held on Thursday, has been disused for more than a century; the present market is on Saturday: fairs are held on May 9th, for horses, cattle, and pedlary; and on the Monday before Midsummer, which is a pleasure fair; another, formerly held three days before Michaelmas, has been discontinued.

The living is a vicarage, with the chapel of Barraway, in the archdeaconry of Sudbury, and diocese of Norwich, rated in the king's books at 32.16.5½ and in the patronage of the Master and Fellows of Pembroke Hall, Cambridge. The church, which is dedicated to St. Andrew, is a venerable cruciform structure, with a lofty square embattled tower, visible at a great distance; in the interior are several monuments. There are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, Wesleyan Methodists, and Unitarians. The free school is endowed with the profits of an estate of moor land allotted for that purpose on the division of the commons, in 1685: the master's salary is about 50 per annum; poor children are apprenticed from the same fund. Three almshouses were founded for poor widows in 1502 by Richard Bond; and nine others, in 1581, by Thomas Peachey, but neither has any endowment, excepting an allowance for fuel. Some few vestiges of the ancient palace and cathedral church are yet visible, and several human bones were dug up at the east end of the street, near the church, a few years ago.

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Old Steelyards, Soham - turn of the 20th century

The steelyard today

[Extracts from Kelly's Directory of Cambridgeshire - 1900]

"SOHAM is a town and parish and the head of a county court district, with a station on the Ely and Newmarket branch of the Great Eastern railway, 75½ miles from London, 19 north-east from Cambridge, 8 north-west from Newmarket and 6 south-east from Ely, in the Eastern division of the county, in Newmarket union and petty sessional division, hundred of Staploe, rural deanery of Fordham, archdeaconry of Sudbury and diocese of Ely. The town, which is long and straggling, is lighted with gas, from works at Mere side, the property of the Soham and District Gas Company Limited. "The Lode", a navigable canal, passes through the parish and joins the Ouse at Ely."

"The parish is extensive, being in one direction more than 9 miles in length. The Fen, which covers 8,000 acres, has now, owing to the superior method of drainage, been brought into a high state of cultivation: there was formerly a large mere or lake on the western side of the town: there are many orchards and gardens, and large quantities of fruit, especially plums, are yearly sent to London, Norwich, Liverpool, Newcastle, Bradford, Leeds and Manchester."

"The church of St. Andrew, erected towards the end of the 12th century, is a cruciform edifice, chiefly in the Transition-Norman style, with portions and insertions of later date, and consists of chancel, with two chapels on the north side, now used as Vestries, clerestoried nave of four bays, aisles, transepts, north and south porches, and an embattled western tower 100 feet in height, with pinnaces, and containing a clock and 10 bells: the chancel is lighted by Decorated windows inserted about the middle of the 14th century: the stained east window is a memorial to the Rev. Henry Tasker, vicar (1832-74), who died 17 Jan. 1874; on each side of the window is a small niche, with traces of painting: the north wall retains a fresco of a bishop in the act of benediction, uncovered in 1849, and it would seem that the whole chancel was at one time ornamented in this way: the chancel roof, and the woodwork at the east end, are both of panelled oak; the stalls, 20 in number, are of the same material and with the exception of six on the north side, added in 1880, were fixed in 1849, when the rood screen, a fine example of modern work, was also erected: on the south side are ancient stone sedilia and a piscina, and there are finely carved altar rails of oak : in the chancel is buried the Rev. D. Harwood, a former vicar, d. 1746, and Mrs. Elizabeth Cawthorne, his sister, d. 1782: the easternmost of the two chapels, built in the 14th century, retains a stone altar at the east end, an aumbry and an irregular oblong tombstone, with incised lettering, as well as some old glass: here also is interred Dr. Cressener, vicar 1678-1717: the other chapel is of Late Perpendicular date and has on its east wall a monument to Edward Bernes esq. and Dorothie (Drurye), his wife; she died 18 Feb. 1598; the chapel is inclosed at the west end by a very perfect and elaborately wrought parclose screen, restored in 1880: each of the transepts has octagonal pinnacles at the angles, and in the south transept is an Early English piscina and a nearly illegible inscription and shields of arms to some member of the Dowman family, and on the east wall a brass with inscription to John Thornton gent. and Ann (Drurie), his wife; he died Sept. 13, 1598: the north transept contains an altar tomb of the 15th century, and a large marble slab, inscribed, but undated, to Thomas Dockwra and his wife: the south aisle retains an aumbrvy on the south side of the nave is a small brass to Oliver Robins, ob. 12 Aug. 1608, and Katherine (Salisbury) his wife, and at the west end are ten ancient stalls, with misereres, formerly in the chancel: the north porch is Perpendicular and has a stoup; the south porch, of the 14th century, has a large sundial over the entrance with the motto :-" Ab hoc momento pendent aeterna:" the tower, 25 feet square, is also Perpendicular: the royal arms, placed at the west end of the north aisle, date from the reign of Queen Anne: the church was completely restored in 1879-80, under the direction of Mr. J. P. St. Aubyn, at a cost of nearly 3,000, and was reopened May 18th, 1880, the whole of the galleries being removed, new roofs placed on the transepts and chapels, and the flooring repaired: parts of the pinnacles were blown down by the gale: of March 24, 1895, but have been restored under the direction of Mr. T. D. Atkinson, architect, of Cambridge. The church now affords 630 sittings: in the churchyard, near the north porch, is the grave of Mary D'Aye, great-grand-daughter of the Lord Protector Cromwell; she died Nov. 5, 1765, aged 75; on the south side of the chancel is buried Dr. John Ward, who died in 1641, aged 125. The registers are complete from the year 1558."


St. Andrew - Soham

"The Congregational chapel was built about 1837 and will seat 450 persons. In 1880 a school room, with class rooms, was built near the chapel, and there is also a minister's house. The Wesleyan chapel, erected in 1841, affords 200 sittings; the Primitive Methodist chapel, erected in 1869, will seat 300 and has Sunday school and class rooms, erected in 1890; and there is another Primitive Methodist chapel at Soham Fen, erected in 1872, and seating 164 persons. The Baptist chapel, erected in 1752 and rebuilt in 1837, seats 500; this chapel was the first pastoral charge, in 1775, of the Rev. Andrew Fuller D.D. a celebrated Baptist minister, born at Wicken in 1754, who was educated at the Free school here and died 7 May, 1815."

Soham Grammar School - early 20th century
Soham Boys School - early 20th century

"A Cemetery, of 3¾ acres, was formed in 1856, at a cost of 2,700; it is under the control of the Parish Council."

Soham Cemetery
Soham Cemetery

"The area is 12,946 acres of land and 53 of water; rateable value, 22,608; and the population in 1881 was 3,980 and in 1891 was 4,138."

Further information on Soham. See also Soham Old Grammarians.

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Last Updated on: 27 May 2003
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