Size and Shape of Huntingdonshire

The boundaries, size and shape of the County of Huntingdonshire in England

 

Huntingdonshire was one of the smallest counties in England, Rutland and the old county of Middlesex alone being smaller. It is about 30 miles in length from north to south and 23 miles in breadth from east to west, and is approximately diamond shaped, but in the northern is a considerable projection westward which makes the west side very irregular. Northamptonshire forms the northern and north-western boundary, Bedfordshire the south-western, Peterborough in the north and Cambridgeshire the north-eastern, eastern and south-eastern.

Few counties have more irregular boundaries that Huntingdonshire, and few are so little dependent upon natural features that form them.

Starting from Peterborough which stands at the junction of the three shires of Northampton, Cambridge and Huntingdon, and working westward, we find that the River Nene does indeed form the limit of the county for some 12 miles or so, but it ceases to do so at Elton. Here the boundary turns east, formerly passing actually through the house at Elton Hall, though lately it has been slightly shifted. From here its course, though roughly southerly, is extremely irregular.

Boundary Map

The diamond shape of Huntingdonshire - Click map for enlargement

The diamond shape of Huntingdonshire - Click map for enlargement

 

At Covington is the Three Shires Stone, marking the limit of Bedfordshire to the north. From this point the general direction of the boundary was complicated still further here by a detached portion- Swineshead, which will be referred to later- lying isolated in Bedfordshire. For about half a mile the River Kym, or Kim, forms the limit just below Kimbolton and again for about the same distance in the neighbourhood of St Neots, immediately before its junction with the Great Ouse. Near Waresley the southern limit of the county is reached,  and the third side of the diamond is entered upon, the general trend being north-east. At first, however, the line separating the county from Cambridgeshire is extraordinarily sinuous, two portions of the later projecting as peninsulas far into Huntingdonshire. Reaching Ermine Street the line leads south again along it for a short distance and thus brings in Hilton with its quaint old-world green and curious maze, and crossing the Via Devana reaches the Ouse again at Holywell near St Ives. For nearly six miles to the end of the third side of the diamond the river is the boundary until Earith is reached. Here the Bedford River runs in, and here begins the last section running north-east through the great flats of Fenland and hardly passing anything larger than a farm or small hamlet until Peterborough is once again reached.

The Local Government Act of 1888 has made some alterations in county boundaries. By this Act, Swineshead has, for administrative purposes, been transferred to Bedfordshire. Tilbrook has been transferred from Bedfordshire to Huntingdonshire; while parts of Luddington, Lutton and Thurning- formerly in Huntingdonshire-have been transferred to Northampton; that part of Winswick, which was in Northamptonshire, to Huntingdonshire; part of Papworth St Agnes from Huntingdonshire to Cambridgeshire; and part of the soke of Peterborough from Huntingdonshire to Northamptonshire; making the area of the administrative county slightly smaller than the geographical county. The area of the county before the 1888 Act was 366 square miles, but, according to the latest returns, the geographical area is 234,218 acres and that of the administrative county 233,984 acres.

As in the case of other counties, there are some parishes on the border which as partly in Huntingdonshire and partly in other counties. For example, Great Catworth has some small portions in Northamptonshire; Midloe, which is locally in the parish of Southoe, is in Gaveley, Cambridgeshire; while of the 2404 acres of land and water which form the parish of Stanground, no less than 1117 acres are in Cambridgeshire. On the other hand, the parish of Swineshead is entirely detached from the rest of the county of Huntingdonshire and is surrounded by Bedfordshire. The reason of this is that the parish stood within the great manor of Kimbolton, once the property of Earl Harold- the last Saxon king of England and, as part of this manor was held to be in Huntingdonshire though separated from the rest of the county by about half a mile at the nearest point, and, though King Harold's lands were granted to different persons by the Conqueror, Swineshead and Stonely both passed to Fitz-Piers and both remained in the county of Huntingdonshire. We find that at the time of the Domesday survey land in Kimbolton and in Swineshead was held by William de Warene, and his influence would naturally be used to keep his property in the same county.