Previously called Slepe, its name was changed to St Ives after the body, claimed to be that of a Persian bishop, of Saint Ivo (not to be confused with Ivo of Kermartin), was found buried in the town in about 1001/2.
In 1085 William the Conqueror ordered that a survey should be carried out across his kingdom to discover who owned which parts and what it was worth. The survey took place in 1086 and the results were recorded in what, since the 12th century, has become known as the Domesday Book.
Starting with the king himself, for each landholder within a county there is a list of their estates or manors; and, for each manor, there is a summary of the resources of the manor, the amount of annual rent that was collected by the lord of the manor both in 1066 and in 1086, together with the taxable value.
St Ives was listed in the Domesday Book in the Hundred of Hurstingstone in Huntingdonshire; the name of the settlement was written as Slepe in the Domesday Book. In 1086 there was just one manor at St Ives; the annual rent paid to the lord of the manor in 1066 had been £20 and the rent had fallen to £18. 25 in 1086.
The Domesday Book does not explicitly detail the population of a place but it records that there were 64 households at St Ives. There is no consensus about the average size of a household at that time; estimates range from 3. 5 to 5. 0 people per household. Using these figures then an estimate of the population of St Ives in 1086 is that it was within the range of 224 and 320 people.
The Domesday Book uses a number of units of measure for areas of land that are now unfamiliar terms, such as hides and ploughlands. In different parts of the country, these were terms for the area of land that a team of eight oxen could plough in a single season and are equivalent to 120 acres (49 hectares); this was the amount of land that was considered to be sufficient to support a single family. By 1086, the hide had become a unit of tax assessment rather than an actual land area; a hide was the amount of land that could be assessed as £1 for tax purposes. The survey records that there were 29. 5 ploughlands at St Ives in 1086. In addition to the arable land, there was 60 acres (24 hectares) of meadows and 1,892 acres (766 hectares) of woodland at St Ives.
The tax assessment in the Domesday Book was known as geld or danegeld and was a type of land-tax based on the hide or ploughland. It was originally a way of collecting a tribute to pay off the Danes when they attacked England, and was only levied when necessary. Following the Norman Conquest, the geld was used to raise money for the King and to pay for continental wars; by 1130, the geld was being collected annually. Having determined the value of a manor’s land and other assets, a tax of so many shillings and pence per pound of value would be levied on the land holder. While this was typically two shillings in the pound the amount did vary; for example, in 1084 it was as high as six shillings in the pound. For the manor at St Ives the total tax assessed was twenty geld.
By 1086 there were two churches and two priests at St Ives.
For the past 1,000 years it has been home to some of the biggest markets in the country, and in the thirteenth century it was an important entrepôt, and remains an important market in East Anglia.
Built on the banks of the wide River Great Ouse between Huntingdon and Ely, St Ives has a famous chapel on its bridge. In the Anglo-Saxon era, St Ives’s position on the river Great Ouse was strategic, as it controlled the last natural crossing point or ford on the river, 80 kilometres (50 mi) from the sea. The flint reef in the bed of the river at this point gave rise to a ford, which then provided the foundations for the celebrated bridge.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, St Ives was a hub of trade and navigation, and the town had dozens of inns and many bawdy houses. Goods were brought into the town on barges, and livestock rested on the last fattening grounds before delivery to London’s Smithfield Market. As the railway network expanded and roads improved, the use of the River Great Ouse declined. It is now mostly used for leisure boats and recreation.
The river Great Ouse at St Ives flooded in 1947, and some parts suffered seriously again at Easter 1998 and in January 2003. Extensive flood protection works were carried out on both sides of the river in 2006/2007 at a cost of nearly £9 million. 500 metres (1,600 ft) of brick-clad steel-piling was put into place to protect the town, most noticeably at the Waits where a pleasing plaza has also been created. A further 750 metres (2,460 ft) on the other side of the river protects Hemingford Grey, reducing the yearly risk of flooding from 10% to 1%. Building on the flood plain at St Ives is now discouraged.
Original historical documents relating to St Ives, including the original parish church registers, local government records, maps and photographs, are held by Cambridgeshire Archives and Local Studies at the County Record Office in Huntingdon.
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