Medieval Huntingdon, the history of Huntingdon between 1000AD and 1500AD
Domesday tells us that the mint was still in place and supporting three moneyers at the time of the Confessor. William the Conqueror is reputed by Ordericus Vitalis to of visited Huntingdon on his way to his second visit to York. Although during the wars Huntingdon suffered greatly, at the time of his visit times were more settled.
During the reign of Stephen Huntingdon suffered under the Danegeld, with the taxable value in 1144 being half that of 1135. The dismantling of the castle seems to of caused a more peaceful existence to be achieved, with Henry of Huntingdon painting a picture of rural calm, with plentiful game and fish, a vineyard once part of the castle in full production.
Over the centuries as the religious house became more powerful, Huntingdon was recognized as a profitable summary acquisition. With tolls on the bridge, and a regular market, the wharf bringing wares in from the Wash, Kings Lynn, and overseas, also taking produce away down the river all added to the town’s affluence.
By the 13th century Huntingdon was only very slightly smaller that today. At this time there were sixteen parishes with churches in its confines. Plus six religious houses around the Borough of Huntingdonshire. St Mary’s priory owning nine of the sixteen parishes. Hinchingbrooke Priory in the west, St Margaret’s in the north where the modern Spittal's Way is, a leper hospital of St Giles, and the Austin Friars, whose lands and buildings ended up with the Cromwell's. Oliver Cromwell being born within the refurbished buildings known know as Cromwell House (external website in new window). Added to this some 17 priories and abbeys had call upon lands and titles within the parishes of Huntingdon.
But fate was not on Huntingdon’s side, the course of the River Ouse to Kings Lynn was being impeded, mill-pools, sluices, diverting the water, and narrowing the waterway. An example of a large mill is only a few miles away at Houghton, now owned by the National Trust, and open to the public as Houghton Mill (external website in new window). Also the building of a bridge at St Ives, plus the granting of a fair all helped in Huntingdon’s decline. Loss of revenues from tolls etc taking there full affect on the towns dwindling finances.
The final blow was the coming of the Black Death, which seemed to hit the town especially hard. By 1363 one quarter of Huntingdon was uninhabited, the remaining residents scarcely scraping a living, and facing a heavy taxation. In 1364 three parish churches are reported derelict. And eight others were not allocated incumbents from the 14th century shared the same fate.
A new charter in 1363 was hoped to help by giving the town authorities (burgesses) the right to exact payment from strangers renting houses, or hiring storage facilities. Also later on the right to confiscate the belongings of all outlaws and felons found within the borough, this was put to extensive use during the Peasants Rising of 1381.
Despite this during the 15th and 16th centuries the burden of taxes took its toll. Burgesses fled rather than take office.