The Origins of Godmanchester, Huntingdonshire

Godmanchester is a small town on the River Great Ouse in the Huntingdonshire district of Cambridgeshire county. It owes its name and origin to the Roman occupation of Britain. The settlement was at the crossroads of two Roman roads, one of which (Ermine Street) was utilized by the Roman army in the crossing of the Ouse. River crossings were carefully guarded by Roman armies and commerce was an important by-product of the fortified city. Excavations of Godmanchester's city centre have revealed an ancient basillica (town hall), a mansio (inn), a temple and bath house. These findings reflect the settlement's past importance in the Roman culture.

In the third century, the Roman settlement was pillaged by Anglo-Saxons who built up the town of Huntingdon into a fortified Scandinavian city on the north side of the Ouse. It soon became the dominant city with the prominent market. By the fifth century, Godmanchester was a self-governed manor held by the King. Many cities who had involved landlords went through radical planning and redesigning. This would allow for the central location of markets and services for the community. Godmanchester had no such redesign, being locally administered by a committee. Yet it prospered.

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Chartered by King John in 1212, it is said that he "bade them use well their ploughs" when he left the area to his tenants. The people of Godmanchester had grown accustomed to visits by the Monarchs due to the town's location between London and York. In 1603, King James I came through Godmanchester and was greeted by 70 teams of horses and their ploughs. When James later rewrote the city charter, he excluded the requisition of horses by the King, most probably due to his memory of his visit the year prior.

The sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries brought about terrific building. Conservation over the later centuries has preserved many of these buildings and homes. Today, 130 of these buildings are cited for architectural interest, many of them Tudor in size and style. Tours of many of the buildings are available to the historically minded.

Two bridges ford the River Great Ouse over to Huntingdon: One, a medieval arched bridge made of stone, the second a modern high level bridge carrying the A14 to Cambridge. A third bridge crosses a tributary of the Ouse, known as Mill Pond, leading to Portholme, England's largest meadow. The bridge is built in the Chinese Chippendale style in 1827 to the specifications of architect James Gallier. The original bridge fell into disrepair and was replaced in 1960. A second reproduction was crafted and set into place in February of 2010.

Copyright Friends of Godmanchester 2010