The History of Sawtry in Cambridgeshire

Historical notes about the town of Sawtry in Cambridgehsire.

The Village and Parish of Sawtry

Incorporating the former parishes of All Saints, St Andrew and Sawtry Judith

The three parishes of Sawtry lie on the Great North Road, and are bounded on the north by Conington, east by Higney and Woodwalton, south by Abbot's Ripton, Upton and Copmanford, and south-west by the Giddings. Of the area thus enclosed, the northern part forms the parishes of Sawtry All Saints and Sawtry St. Andrew, but the two parishes are so intermixed that it is impossible, without a map, to know where the divisions between them run, and the houses are all grouped together in one village just west of the Great North Road. The church of All Saints stands on the eastern edge of the village, while that of St. Andrew was on the eastern side of the road, where its churchyard still lies.

The southern part of the area formed the parish, now the extra-parochial district, of Sawtry Judith. The abbey, with the church of St. Mary, stood in the north-east corner, but most of the houses are now grouped together much farther west and adjoining the village of the other two parishes.

The three parishes were consolidated by different steps during the 19th century. In 1851 the Sawtry Local Government District was formed from the two parishes of Sawtry All Saints and Sawtry St. Andrew, under the Public Health Act of 1848.  In 1873, the two ecclesiastical parishes were united, and in 1879 the two churches were pulled down, a new church being built on the site of All Saints. In 1886, the two civil parishes were consolidated into the parish of Sawtry All Saints and St. Andrew.

Sawtry Judith has been an extra-parochial district since 1573, but the inhabitants attend the parish church of All Saints. For educational purposes it was joined in 1874, with Sawtry All Saints and Sawtry St. Andrew, into the Sawtry United School District.

The area of the united parish of Sawtry All Saints and St. Andrew is 3,341 acres, and of Sawtry Judith 2,932 acres. The subsoil is mainly Oxford Clay. A considerable area is fen land which has now been drained. In 1278, 15 acres of meadow had been recently reclaimed from the fen and added to the manorial demesne of Sawtry Moyne, while some of the inhabitants of Sawtry Judith paid rent to the lord of Sawtry Moyne manor for common rights in Sawtry Fen. The main portion of Sawtry Fen was included in the Great Level Drainage undertaking of the Duke of Bedford in the 17th century.

The parish of All Saints appears to have had but little woodland, although Stalling Wood is mentioned in 1278; but St. Andrew's parish had a wood now called Aversley Wood. Sawtry Judith had a great wood known as Ewingeswood, and later as Monks' Wood, and a smaller wood known as the Little Wood, but now called Archer's Wood. There are two moat sites not far from All Saints' Church, the one to the south-west being probably the site of the windmill. A third homestead site lies to the south-west of Archer's Wood. Stone implements of the Neolithic Age or later have been found, the most important being a British hammer axe found in Sawtry Fen.

Roman remains were found near Ermine Street in 1722. An Iron Age and Romano-British village site at Stocking Close, near Monks' Wood, has been excavated by Dr. Garrood in recent years. The village lies to the west of the Great North Road, about 4 miles south-west of Holme Station on the London and North Eastern Railway. The parishes of Sawtry All Saints and Sawtry St. Andrew were inclosed in 1804 by Act of Parliament. Jean Dubordieu, a refugee from France after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, was presented to the rectory of All Saints in 1701 by the Duke of Devonshire.

The Cistercian Abbey of Saint Mary was founded about 1147  by Simon de St. Liz, Earl of Northampton, its site lying in the extreme north-east of the parish, as far removed as possible, as befitted a Cistercian house, from the traffic of the Great North Road. The abbey demesnes were surrounded on three sides by deep ditches, and one of the first works of the original monks who came from the Abbey of Warden, co. Beds, was to make a ditch or lode from the new site to Whittlesea Mere, along which building materials and other goods could be brought by water. Little is known of the history of the abbey, although it was famed in local rhyme for its generosity in almsgiving. The royal court stayed at Sawtry, presumably at the abbey, on various occasions on journeys to and from the north, and royal documents were dated there in 1235, 1293, 1315, 1324, 1332 and 1334. In 1315, Edward II was clearly there himself. The abbey was entirely destroyed after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and nothing remains of its buildings, church, gate-house and bell-tower, nor of the parish church at its gates. The site was excavated in the middle of the 19th century, when the foundations of many of the buildings were traced.

A great many place-names are to be found in the documents relating to the abbey lands at Sawtry; of these may be specially noted Stanegate, the 'Stumpyd Crosse,' Cowbridge, Slakemere, Stanchille, Wileweuestubstede, Greenhurst and Prestescroft.

Victoria County History: Huntingdonshire Printed 1932