St Ives is a delightful little market town with a picturesque riverside setting. The wide main street is lined with many attractive buildings and the old Quay, alongside the river, has several handsome oldy-worldy properties. One of the finest of these is an Jacobean manor house (circa 1600), with superb brick chimneys. The market square (Market Hill), has a good variety of shops, from national chains to small specialist outlets. There is also a very good selection of pubs, clubs and restaurants for such a small town. The Corn Exchange and the Post Office buildings on Market Hill are both Victorian.

St Ives Bridge Cambs
St Ives Medieval Bridge © Travel About Britain

The history of the St Ives began with Saxons who settled by the River Great Ouse in AD 500. The original settlement was called "Slepe" (meaning a slippery landing place). In 969 it became a manor of Ramsey Abbey. In AD 1000 a local farmer discovered a stone coffin in a field near the river. The remains were claimed by the friars at the abbey to be Saint Ivo, a Persian bishop who came here as a missionary in AD 600. A monastery named Saint Ivo's Priory was then built on the spot where his grave was found. A prosperous town developed around it and the old name of Slepe gave way to that of St Ives. Very little remains of the original ecclesiastical buildings today except for the walls of a 14th-c barn, near a Victorian House call The Priory.

St Ives Quay

St Ives Quay © TAB

Around AD 1100 a wooden bridge was built across the river to replace the forded crossing. A few years later King Henry I granted St Ives a charter for a market and annual fair. By the 13th-c the fair was one of the largest in the country, and a weekly Monday Market is still held in the town to this day. By the early 15th-c the wooden bridge was replaced with the current six arched, Barnack stone structure. The rare, two-decker bridge Chapel of St Leger, is one of only four of its kind left in England. It was originally built as a sanctuary, where travellers could pause to offer up a prayer for a safe journey, either by river or by road. The chapel is still used for church services and is open to the public. A key is available from the Town Hall and the Norris Museum.

The Black Death of 1349 caused much devastation to both the population and the local wool trade, causing the town to decline in importance thereafter. In April 1689 a great fire swept through St Ives destroying many properties. The town was eventually rebuilt and by the 19th-c developed into a bustling conurbation, with 70 public houses and six local breweries. Although only a few of these establishments now remain.

During the early 17th-c, Oliver Cromwell lived nearby as a farmer, before his rise to fame as a Civil War general. His life-size bronze statue stands proudly in the market place, outside the neo-Gothic style free church. During the Civil War a section of the stone bridge was demolished and replaced with a drawbridge, to defend the town from Royalist attack. The bridge was rebuilt at the end of the war, and if you look closely you can see that the bridge's two southernmost arches are a different shape from the others.

Enderby's Mill

The seven-storey Enderby Mill, on the south side of the river, was built in 1854. It was used to mill corn right up until 1901, when it was converted for use as a printing works by Enderby & Co Ltd. During the 70's the building was repurposed again by Sir Clive Sinclair to manufacture his pocket calculators. It was then later converted into residential accommodation.

Water meadows, stretching both upstream and downstream of the town, provide an unspoiled green open space, forming part of the Ouse Valley Way (long distance path). The stretch from St Ives to Houghton Mill, is particularly picturesque.

St Ives Churches

St Ives Free Church

St Ives Free Church © TAB

The 14/15th-c All Saints has an exceptionally fine steeple and ornate west door. Its spire has been rebuilt several times, most recently in 1918 after it was hit by an aircraft. Oliver Cromwell was church warden here when he lived in on farm in the rich countryside nearby.

The neo-Gothic style Free Church (1863-64), in Market Hill, has a 156 ft spire, rivaling that of the parish church. It was deliberately made a few feet higher to assert the strength of non-conformity and liberalism in the town.

The Pugin designed Roman Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart, in Needingworth Rd, originally stood in Cambridge, but was dismantled and rebuilt in St Ives in 1902.

Places of interest to visit in St Ives

The Norris Museum

Named after Herbert Norris, a local historian and archaeologist who bequeathed his lifetime's collection to the town when he died in 1931. Exhibits include ancient fossils and remains of Ice Age Mammoths, prehistoric tools and weapons and artifacts from of Roman times. There is also a fine collection of arms and armour from the English Civil War. Local crafts and lace-making. Includes story of 16th and 17th-century witch trials. Outside the building is an attractive riverside courtyard garden.

Opening times: daily from 10am to 4pm (Sunday from 1pm) - Free Entry
Location: 41 The Broadway, Saint Ives PE27 5BX
Tel: 01480 497314

The Corn Exchange

The community centre at the heart of St. Ives is used for a wide range of uses by clubs, societies, businesses events and conferences.

Location: Market Hill, Saint Ives PE27 5AG
Tel: 01480 496454

Map of St Ives


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