St. Ives, Huntingdonshire

St. Ives Bridge Chapel, St. Ives, Huntingdonshire

The monks of Ramsey Abbey first replaced the ford over the Great Ouse in St. Ives with a wooden bridge around 1107. In 1414 the decision was made to rebuild in stone and the fine stone-arch bridge was constructed. It was completed in 1425 and the little chapel was added and dedication to St. Leger in 1426.

Once these Chapels were common, but today only four remain on bridges, plus two on the bank. The four on bridges are at Bradford-on-Avon, Rotherham, Wakefield and here at St. Ives (the two bankside ones are at Rochester and Derby).

The Chapel and Bridge survived unmolested until local boy Oliver Cromwell blew up one end of the bridge to prevent Royalist troops approaching London from their strongholds in Lincolnshire (although quite why they would be crossing the Ouse at St. Ives is anyones guess). The two southern arches were demolished and a drawbridge was installed. It remained in use until 1716 when the southern end of the bridge was rebuilt (it now has two round arches and two Gothic ones).

At around the same time the Chapel went out of ecumenical use and became first a toll booth, then an inn and finally a private house. In 1736 whilst being used as a house two extra floors were added. In the 1850s and 1860s it was once more being used as a pub and it was known to be notorious and was nicknamed “Little Hell” by the locals. By 1930 the additional floors were unsafe and so they were removed and a new roof was added.

Uniquely amongst all these Chapels, St. Ives has a crypt which stands about two metres above water level. All is now Grade I listed and is open on sporadic days to the public.

The bridge is now pedestrianised but until 1980 it was the only crossing of the Great Ouse in St. Ives – one of the prettiest and most pleasing towns in Huntingdonshire.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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