St. Ives is a market town in Cambridgeshire, East Anglia, England. It lies in the historic county of Huntingdonshire. There have been people living in this area for at least 50,000 years, but it’s history begins with the Saxons who settled here in around AD 500. The village was named “Slepe” at this time, a Saxon word meaning “slippery”. In around 1001/2 the name was changed following the discovery of the skeleton of St Ivo, a Persian Bishop who had come here as a missionary. A small monastery, St Ivo’s Priory was built here, one can still see the walls of one of its outbuildings. It is now known that a Roman Villa was here and that this is where the bones most probably originated from.
St Ives has been an important market town for the last 1,000 years. In about the year 1100 the first bridge, built of wood, across the River Great Ouse was built here. St Ives’s position on the river Great Ouse was strategic, as it controlled the last natural crossing point or ford on the river, 80 kilometres (50 mi) from the sea. The flint reef in the bed of the river at this point gave rise to a ford, which then provided the foundations for the celebrated bridge. The Bridge was rebuilt after Oliver Cromwell blew it up in the English Civil War to prevent King Charles I’s troops from approaching London. For a while there was drawbridge before the bridge was rebuilt and this is why the two southernmost arches differ in shape to the others. There is an unusual feature in the middle of the bridge, a small chapel juts out over the water. This chapel is one of only four in England. The town square contains one of the four statues of Cromwell on public display in Britain, the others being in Parliament Square, outside Wythenshawe Hall and in Warrington.
St Ives was home to one of the biggest fairs in England in the 13th century, King Henry I had granted a charter for a fair to be held here every Easter, in 1110. The town centre still has the wide streets from the place where the fairs were held and there is still a weekly market every Monday. St.Ives once had one of the biggest cattle markets in the country, the cattle could graze on the meadows here before being transported to Smithfield market in London. The Lodges built in 1886 now form the entrance to the bus station.
There are ten places of worship in St Ives including the lovely Parish Church beside the river whose spire has had to be replaced on several occasions following disasters. St.Ives has also had problems over the years with flooding but there have now been defences put in place to greatly reduce the yearly risk of flooding.
St Ives is excellent for cycling, both in town and on both sides of the river to Huntingdon. The Guided Busway comes with a cycle way providing an almost flat, straight route direct to Cambridge.
The name St Ives is world-famous partly because of the anonymous nursery rhyme/riddle “As I was going to St Ives”. While sometimes claimed to be St Ives, Cornwall, the man with seven wives, each with seven sacks containing seven cats etc. may have been on his way to (or coming from) the Great Fair at St Ives.
Today St.Ives is still a lovely, lively market town. Well tended with flower beds and tree-lined walks along the riverside. Swans swim alongside the pathway waiting for a crumb and fighting one-another away in their quest to be the one to get it. There is a good range of shops from national chains to specialist shops. Monday market and large events on Bank Holidays. Smaller markets are held on Fridays and farmers markets on the first and third Saturdays of the month. No-one will go hungry or thirsty as there are plenty of cafés, tea shops, pubs, restaurants and hotels in St.Ives. The countryside around St.Ives is beautiful and within easy walking distance of the town centre.Take a walk past the parish church and along the riverside path to Houghton and Houghton Mill. Cross over the river and enjoy a leisurely stroll in Hemingford Meadow or Wilhorn Meadow.
There is also the Norris Museum, set in one of the most beautiful positions on the river bank. The Museum takes its name from its founder Herbert Norris, who left his lifetime’s collection of Huntingdonshire history to his native town, when he died in 1931. Here one can see fossils from the age of the dinosaurs and relics of the Mammoths which lived here in the Ice Age. There are pre-historic tools and weapons, Roman displays, and arms and armour from the English Civil War. The Museum also holds regular events and exhibitions in the building or in the beautiful gardens. The Museum is free admission and is open all year round.
Norris Museum – Official Website : www.norrismuseum.org.uk
St. Ives Town Council – Official Website : www.stivestowncouncil.gov.uk
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