The History of Earith in Cambridgeshire

Historical notes about the town of Earith in Cambridgehsire.

Earith means mud (or more probably gravel), hithe, a landing place. It has always had an importance distinct from Bluntisham because of its propinquity to the river. The village lies chiefly along the road coming from Earith Bridge towards St. Ives, and extends for about half a mile. A few houses, including the British School, stand along the road turning northwards to Colne. Many Quakers had their home in Earith after 1650, and they still have a meeting-house in a retired spot at the western end which was originally built at Bluntisham in 1755. There is also a Wesleyan chapel and a Mission room which is used for church services and for Sunday school.

Earith Bridge has always been important. As early as 1346 the commonalty of the county complained to parliament that the bridge which had been used from ancient time was entirely gone for default of repair. A commission was therefore issued to William Moyne and others to inquire into the matter and to compel those who were liable to carry out the necessary repairs. The bridge and causeway over Haddenham Fen, then known as 'Earith Causey,' were looked after by hermits in the 14th and 15th centuries. Indulgences were granted in 1397 for Richard de Grymston, a poor hermit, and in 1401 for Henry Bourne, for the repair of Earith Causeway. There is a record also of the 'profession' of John Thomson, hermit of Earith Causeway. In 1455 a carpenter was paid for repairing divers defects in the making of the roadway of the Great Bridge of Earith which indicates that the bridge was of timber. The question of the liability to repair the Great Bridge and Earith Causeway was raised about 1638 when it was stated that the causeway and bridge were anciently maintained by the Bishops of Ely 'by right of sundry great manors belonging to the see.' During the long vacancy of the see, however, in Elizabeth's reign they were repaired by the crown, and later, when the bishop surrendered several of the manors of the see to the crown, the crown grantee became thereupon liable. About 1613, it is said, the High Bridge or Great Bridge over the Ouse fell down and was not rebuilt, but Earith Bridge seems to have been still in existence in 1637. This bridge, called the Great Bridge, was over the West Water, which dried up after the Bedford Rivers were made, and it is difficult now to locate its exact position.

The bridge known as Seven Holes over the Old Bedford River, was erected in 1812, and the cast-iron bridge over the New Bedford River was built in 1826, at the same time as the Hermitage sluice or 'sasse' was rebuilt.

The Old Bedford River was declared finished in 1636, and the New Bedford River in 1653. It would seem that a loop lying in the curve of the West Water was cut away from the parish by the new river, where lay the Hermitage and the chapel of St. Mary. Earith has always been interested in the navigation of the River Ouse. John Christine of Earith was due to deliver 60 tons of wheat at Lynne to a merchant of Bordeaux in 1425. From Stuart times till the middle of the 19th century busy trade went on with barges or lighters conveying corn, wood, iron, salt, coal, stone, oilcake, etc. In order to improve navigation, about 1830 a staunch was made at the southern limit of the parish between Earith and Overcote, called Brownshill Staunch. The improvement of land transport, and especially the coming of railways, took from Earith many industries that depended on river carriage. The chief survivor of Earith industries at the present day is Messrs. Jewson's Wood Yard, the river serving chiefly as an attraction for devotees of the art of coarse fishing.

Bury Fen is a name well known in skating literature, and claims to be the home of 'bandy,' there being evidence of matches played early in the 19th century. The railway from Ely, completed in 1878, now crosses it, and has spoilt its mile-long course, but it is still a popular resort, whenever a frost gives a chance of skating.

Earith Bulwarks have already been described. They probably date from the Civil Wars of the 17th century. There is mention of Parliamentary forces holding the 'Hermitage Pass' in 1643. Camden has a passage stating that outlaws and rebellious barons 'built fortresses both at Earith and Aldreth.'

Victoria County History: Huntingdonshire ~ Printed 1932