A Brief History of the Parish

History the parish of Holywell-cum-Needingworth lies on the north bank of the River Ouse which, at this point, was the old boundary between Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire. To the east, the Greenwich Meridian passes through a corner of the parish.

The village of Holywell itself developed by the river as a traditional ring village. Many fragments of Roman and prehistoric pottery have been found here. The village takes its name from the ancient spring which can still be seen in the churchyard. This was surmounted by a stone canopy in 1845 and was originally credited with healing properties. Each year in June there is a well dressing to celebrate the Church Patronal Festival.

The Church of St John the Baptist is built of stone in the early English style. The registers date from 1667 and there is a list of Rectors from 990, including Thomas Tenison (1667-81), who later became Archbishopof Canterbury (1696 – 1716).

At the other end of the ‘ring’ is the Ferry Boat Inn, which claims to be the oldest inn in Englnad. The ghost of Juliet Tewsley is reputed to walk each year on March 17th, the anniversary of her suicide for love in 1050. For hundreds of years a ferry crossed the river at this point to Over and, according to Charles Kingsley, Herewrad the Wake was one famous passenger after he escaped from the Normans at Madingley.

Holywell is a conservation area and many of the buildings are thatched and worthy of note. Probably the oldest house in the village is Moynes Hall, now a farmhouse, which was formerly one of the residences of the family of Le Moygne. The Ouse Valley Way runs for 26 miles along the River Great Ouse through Huntingdonshire, starting at Eaton Socon and along the Common Land besides Holywell Front before finishing at Earith.

As river traffic declined, the prosperity of Holywell as a trading centre diminished and the hamlet of Needingworth began to develop along the road which linked St Ives with Ely. There was formerly a chapel of ease here dedicated to St James.

Needingworth steadily developed until it became the larger of the two settlements. On September 16th 1847 there was a terrible fire, caused by accident, which completely destroyed 86 houses and damaged others. Copies of the insurance map of the Great Fire have been preserved and are housed both at the County Record Office and within the village. The fire hooks in the High Street are a reminder of the days when many houses were thatched and such implements were needed to remove the smouldering straw. One of the notable buildings to survive intact was the Chestnuts. There is a baptist Chapel erected in 1861 and a Methodist Chapel, now a private residence.

Sir Ambrose Nicholas, Lord Mayor of London in 1576, was born in Needingworth. In the centre of the High Street there is a war memorial in portland stone which commemorates the men connected with the Parish who gave their lives in two World Wars and subsequent conflicts. Nearby is the old Village Lock-up or Cage which was used by the Parish Constables to restrain drunkards and wrongdoers until they could be conveyed to the local Police Station or prison.

The soil of the parish consists of varying proportions of mixed clay and loam, with a large area of meadow lands, which were originally submerged for the greater portion of the year. Arable farming has always been the principal occupation in the area, together with orchards of apples and plums trees, but gravel extraction and bricklaying has also regularly taken place and ARC continues this tradition at the new Barleycroft Quarry. In Holywell, eels were caught and rushes cut.

Between Holywell and Needingworth, there was an old post windmill, and part of this road is still called Mill Way. The stones may be seen both outside Mill Bungalow and in Holywell are still owned by the Parish. Between the settlements is the Falklands Walk, an area of woodlands and footpaths funded by a unit of the Royal Engineers after their posting to the Falklands in 1989. This is also the site of the Parish Cemetery, the Garden Plots and Millfields, the new sports area for the Parish which has largly been funded by the Lottery through the Sports Council.

Overcote Lane leads from the War Memorial, past the sports field and Village Hall to the Pike and Eel Inn, which is another popular hostelry on the river. Here, a ferry also crossed over to Over. The Inn may be reached by the Ouse Vally Way from Holywell.

In both Needingworth and Holywell there were originally many public houses including the White Horse and the Three Horseshoes. The Queens Head now remains alone in the Needingworth High Street and is a popular meeting place.

A modern school stands in Mill Way on the site of the former Victorian building and the Village Shop and Post Offiice are situated in the High Street.

In 1996, to mark their own centenary, the Womens’ Institute presented the Parish with its own Village Sign which now stands by the road on Pound Hill.

Another Article holywell-cum-needingworthparishcouncil.co.uk :