Some places in St Ives that may not be so immediately obvious
Click Oliver Cromwell (who once lived here) to go to contents list.
A personal view
by Philip Grosset
Nothing remains of the Priory (founded in 1017) except for this (restored) part of the wall of a 13th century barn that used to be in its grounds, a 12th century grotesquely carved gargoyle in the garden of the Norris Museum on the Broadway, and possibly some medieval stonework, including that now suppporting the exterior walls of the Norris Museum. To see the priory wall, turn down Priory Road from Market Hill (almost opposite the bus station), and it is on the right-hand side, just round the corner from the old house that was built on the priory site, now converted into offices. There was a 6 week archaeological dig in 1998 before there was further building of flats on the site, but no remains were found either of the priory (no-one knows exactly where it was) or the Roman villa that was probably somewhere near - perhaps under the house! But there were considerable remains of Roman and Anglo-Saxon pottery.
Between the bottom end of Priory Road and the Quay is Wellington Street (which was once called Fish Street, where fish brought in by barges from Kings Lynn used to be sold). A few yards down it, is the pink-washed Oliver Cromwell pub (recommended). This dates from the early 18th century. Outside is the wrought-iron sign bracket that belonged to the Ship Inn that used to be on the Quay. The sign itself is modern.The area round here is known as the Lanes and is a network of narrow alleyways, dating from rebuilding following the Great Fire of 30th April 1689 when 122 houses (a third of the town) were burned down.
Merryland is one of two parallel streets running from the town end of Bridge Street to The Broadway. It is the one nearer the river. Its name is more likely to be a reference to the Virgin Mary than to derive from the fact that there used to be at least five pubs in this small area. These were much patronised by drovers and watermen, and stayed open all night. Nowadays the Nelson's Head is the sole survivor - so things are not as merry as they used to be! But there are several 18th century houses and some interesting little shops. The Free Church spire is in the background.
A fellow worshipper was the puritan-with-a-sense-of-humour Dr Robert Wilde, a clerygman (and poet -- of a sort, but his poetry was popular at the time), who left a will when he died in 1679, leaving £50, which was to be invested in land to produce an income of £3 a year. Then each year at Whitsun, six boys and six girls were to be chosen to cast dice on the altar to select six winners who would each be awarded a bible.The idea, of course, was to show his Puritan disregard for the altar. Despite the Anglo-Catholicism of All Saints today, this ceremony is still held every year, although the dice are now cast on a plain wooden table. 24 children (of four different denominations, including Roman Catholics) - or as many as can be persuaded to take part - now gamble for 12 bibles. Dr Wilde himself, of course, would have been far from pleased by all the high church decoration and statuary now to be found in the church!
Most of the present building dates back to the late 15th century. The richly decorated interior of the church is worth seeing, although much of it is comparatively recent. The fine rood screen and figures of saints on the pillars are by Sir Ninian Comper (1893), but the carved stone brackets below them go back to 1470. There is a Norman font that comes from the earlier church. A Sung Eucharist is celebrated every Sunday at 10.15am.
This is the large tomb of George Game Day and his family. He was a local lawyer and political fixer who in 1835 ended up in court because he had bought a small farm near Hartford then sold it off in 35 separate pieces so creating many new landowners who could join him in voting Whig. However, in 1849 this did not prevent him from becoming the first Clerk of the St Ives Improvement Council (the forerunner of the present Town Council). His son, grandson and great grandson were all to become Town Clerks after him. Their family home was Rheola, now an old people's home.
Before you leave the churchyard, have a look at the West Door and see if you can spot the two rabbits carved there. The one in the photo is on the left side, then on the right side there's the rear end of a rabbit disappearing down a hole!
It was during a great flood in 1571, that the water is said to have risen so high that "boats were rowed over the churchyard wall, two yards high, without touching it." This is the wall as seen from Holt Island, with the river at normal level.
This window on the eastern side dates from the early 1300s. When the church was rebuilt around1470, the parishioners may have liked it so much that they were prepared to add a kink to the parapet, as seen here, to fit it in.
The White Post is an interesting old direction post to the north of the town, on the side of the roundabout between the road leading to Somersham and a second roundabout, on the opposite side to the petrol station. Originally erected in 1772, it was discovered in two pieces, acting as gateposts for Republic Cottage, an old toll-bar house.
When the cottage was demolished for road widening, the White Post was restored to what was thought to have been its original position by the county surveyor. But it probably wasn't its original position, as it includes a "London" sign that points the wrong way. Or it's even possible that "London" was a mistake for "Huntingdon"!
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