Sawtry Village


Sawtry (pop: 5500-6000) found off the A1M, the B1043 (Great North Road) or a more gentle route, along the road from Glatton. The village sign shows a version of the original name, a boat which seems to be full of salt, 2 men carrying full sacks, the initials SJ (Sawtry Judith), a cow grazing, cars, lorries and several heraldic figures and of course the village name.

In 11th century Sawtry or Saltrede as it was known then, was an area for salt making, the salt being brought from the fenland waterways, possibly near Black Horse Drain and was a very valuable commodity allowing people to preserve food. It is thought that Sawtry was divided into three parishes, All Saints, St Andrew and Judith (sometimes referred to as Sawtry Judith). Sawtry Abbey, a Cistercian Abbey of St Mary was built over a 91year period, from the 12th century  on the south-east edge of Sawtry, unfortunately this was then totally destroyed in the 16th century. Foundations of a church, gate house with bell tower were later excavated in the 19th century.  The Abbey was set well back from Ermine Street but provided rest and food for Royal visitors, travelling from North to South and it is recorded that Queen Katherine, Henry VIII’s divorced wife’s funeral procession, rested there on the way to her final resting place at Peterborough Cathedral.

Ermine Street (Great North Road) is said to trace a direct line of the B1043. Ermine Street being the main thorofare of the Romans and evidence of settlements have been found near the route of the B1043. St Andrews churchyard, found along this road holds old and new graves, it has fine examples of ‘Death Heads’ on gravestones. One grave is of a 37year old man from Leicester, believed to have lost his life in a duel on Tort Hill.

Approaching Sawtry from Glatton, you come across a small industrial site on the left and one of the many housing estates on the right, turning left into Church Street, called Back Street on an 1801 map of Sawtry. Church Hall used to house the Feast Supper for 40 years until being sold in the 1990’s. Opposite the Church Hall were Prefab housing built after the war, these were demolished in 1986. Moving further along there is a cottage on the right proudly displaying the old Public house sign ‘The Oddfellows Arms’, this being one of the original 6 Public houses in the Village, also a row of farm cottages owned by the Conington Estate. Turning left at the bottom of the street onto Tort Hill, this road leads to a 17th century Cromwellian gun emplacement, enabling the control of approaching armies along the Great North Road.

All Saints Church sits at the end of Church Causeway, the original church, along with St Andrews Church were demolished in 1879. All Saints church was rebuilt in 1880 using the best of the stones from both churches. It was dedicated on 14th of September 1880 by the Bishop of Ely. To the left as you enter the churchyard is the War Memorial proudly displaying the fallen soldiers of World War I and II. The church is open to all whatever your beliefs, everyone is welcome, on a Saturday afternoon you can go along for a cup of tea, chat and to meet other people.

Moving back to the corner of Church Street and High Street, formerly called Front Street, there was a sweet shop run by Dora Garrett, next door to Mr Gaunt’s cobblers shop. On the opposite side of the road along High Street, is  the Wellside Doctors Surgery and to the right of that is White House Farm, an imposing 3 storey house believed to be the original farmhouse from the 17th century, sitting alongside a row of pretty old farm cottages. Whether these were White House farm cottages or farm cottages owned by the Heathcote family from Conington it is not clear.

Newton’s the Bakers and later a Newsagents once occupied the property which is now Boots the Chemist. Overlooking the green was the cottage owned by Percy Slater the village photographer, who attributed his long life to two long walks a day, which he did on his 90th birthday.

Moving on to The Green, once the centre of village activities, fairs were held on feast days, the fee in 1899 for public hire was 1s 5d for 24 hours, but no selling of goods or entertainment were held after 11pm. Today, events are still held on the green for all to join in. Tinkers Lane was so named after the tinkers that travelled with the fair, they used to park their caravans along this piece of road.  To the east of the green sat the Constables house with a Lock-up a Grade 2 listed building (which remains today) a 2 cell building, mainly used at the weekend when local enthusiastic drinkers needed to sober up. The lock-up key was formerly handed over to the Parish Council in 1901.

Also on the East side of The Green was the Fire Engine Shed, the engine was horse-drawn and was operated by hand. The call out fee was £4.00 for up to 10hours, anytime over this was charged at 5s per hour. It was the job of the Boy Scouts to look after the engine and in recognition of a good job they were treated to a new hose by the Parish Council. The original engine is preserved at Yaxley Fire Station.

To the West of The Green is the old Chequers Public House, another popular public house of its time. Burtons Drapers and Grocers (1904) Lamberts Grocers and Post Office (1925) Post Office (1950’s) and another Grocers (60/70’s) these are names and businesses that occupied the premises to the left of the Chequers, and an Animal Feed shop was in the premises which is now the Pizza house. The Post Office did move to the opposite side of the road, there was once a cart outside, believed to be used for deliveries and picking up post from locals and the Railway Station. Colletts Butcher and Freezer shop was also along this side of the road.

On the corner of Tinkers Lane, hidden behind a wall is a very large house once the Manor House occupied by Squire Ben Irish. He owned a horse called Papyrus which won the Derby in 1923, it is said that when the horse won Ben Irish gave all the householders in Sawtry a box of groceries and a bag of coal. There is also a road named Papyrus Way in one of the local housing estates. While the wall around the Manor House was being rebuilt in the 70’s a well was discovered, this can be seen today on the outside of the wall, and another interesting feature is that the wall was built to accommodate the branches of the large tree in the corner.

Along the south side of The Green is Greystones, another public house, which has had a more prolific history than most. It was once called Chesham House owned by the family of Lord Chesham, descendant of the Duke of Devonshire. It is said that the stones to build the property came from the remains of Sawtry Abbey or possibly some of the stones came from the 2 churches when they were demolished.

Here the road splits 3 ways, Fen Lane going South East, Green End Road, going South and Gidding Road running west. Along Gidding Road are the WI Hall and the British Legion Hall, both used for a variety of activities. Opposite to the British Legion was a Dairy at Westfield House owned by Mrs Jackson, apart from the 2 cows that had to be milked by hand, milk was delivered in churns, bottled and cardboard discs inserted on the top before delivery. Behind the British Legion Hall used to be a reservoir for drinking water, other water supplies were obtained from ponds and wells around the village. Also along this road are the remains of a Smock Mill, believed to be so named because of the shape of the dresses worn by the women of the time. Its use was for grounding the corn for bread for local farmers and for locals who obtained corn by gleaning (picking up loose corn left on the fields) the corn was used by the local baker who baked the bread.  It is said that on a Sunday locals could for a fee, take their Sunday dinners to the Bakers to be cooked and have their bread baked. Sawtry was well served and self supporting with a millers, bakers, 2 blacksmiths and engineering works, a cobbler, carpenter saddler and a carrier who went to local markets on a Wednesday and Saturday.

Near where Greenways is now was the site of the Cross Keys Public House. Greenways, as we know it now, was built in the early 1970’s and has a variety of shops and businesses.  The property next to Greenways is the Old Granary where you can still see where the door was situated which was used to haul the grain to the upper floors, a house was built next door to accommodate the owner. Along on the left had side of the road is the Methodist Church and hall, another function hall well used by the villagers. Further along on the right and side of the road is the Fire Station which houses 1 Fire Engine and is staffed by Fire Fighters on a retained duty rota.

One of the oldest houses in the village is a thatched house on the opposite side of the road to the Old School Hall, it is thought to date from the 16th century. The Old School Hall itself dates back to the 19th century. It was originally called ‘Junior Department of Sawtry United District Board School’ and was opened by J.M. Heathcote from Conington Castle on the 1st May 1876. Pupils were aged between 5 and 12 and along with the 3’R’s, the girls were expected to become competent in needlework and learnt to make shirts from calico and the boys were taught basic horticultural skills to stand them in good stead for when they started work. It was closed as a school in 1982 on completion of the new Junior School. The original School Bell is displayed in one of the rooms. The Old School Hall today is used for a variety activities and a busy venue for the villagers. Standing behind the Hall is the Caresco, a fund raising charity for the local area and the publishers of the informative Sawtry Eye, keeping everybody up to date with local news and events.

We find another Public House on the left, this time it is The Bell, one of the remaining Public Houses  in the village. Next door to the current Post Office, once stood Lane and Waterman’s Drapers Shop, dating from at least 1898, looking at an old photograph of the widow display, it seemed to sell everything from Safety pins to the then Ladies fashion items, including underwear. George Lane born 1834 in Sawtry, a former Platelayer on the railways had a daughter called Lizzie, she met George Westerman, born 1865 in Wakefield Yorks, at Dewsbury in approx 1881, and they were married in 1888. It was later taken over in 1945 by Ed Green and became a Grocers shop, this extended to where the Co Op Funeral Parlour is located. They used to cook the big hams and slice them ready for delivery on the Grocery van and to sell in the shop, they also used to slice the bacon and cheeses, a local gentleman from the village said that after school he would go round to the shop and weigh the sugar and put it in the blue bags also for distribution on the Grocers Van which used to visit the surrounding villages, it also delivered Paraffin, from a tank which was kept under the van. Later the Post Office moved from The Green in 1966. At one time 5 cottages stood in position of the now Co Op Funeral Parlour.

On the opposite side of the road, just past the Bus Stop are some metal gates at the entrance to a piece of land with a big shed, the shed was once the home to 2 Traction Engines, one owner being Mr Jackson from Gidding Road. Memories once again from a local gentleman tell of how he used to watch the engines from his home in Fen Lane, getting up steam ready to plough the fields.  One engine would pull the plough one way and the other would pull it back. There was also a water tank to top up the engines when required, apart from ploughing the engines were used for threshing and other activities around the farms.

On the corner of St Judiths Lane, once stood a further Public House called the Durham Ox, but it appears that the locals preferred to call it the Black Bull or The Bull. The road leads to 2 important woodland areas. Aversley Wood one of the largest and oldest woods in Cambridgeshire, with the oldest parts dating back to the Ice Age. It gives us interesting walks and an opportunity to see ancient service trees and wild flowers, such as bluebells, moving through the wood you reach a small bank of earth which is believed to be the medieval boundary where the woods would have ended in Roman times. Walking along Bullock Road, reached by continuing to the edge of Aversley Wood and reaching Coppingford Road walk past Archers Wood Farm and you will find the entrance to Archers Wood a haven for wildlife.

Apart from the wildlife, Archers Wood is very important in the history of Sawtry, it being the site of Sawtry Judith Manor being recognised as such following an excavation by E W Joyce in 1967. Walls, cobbles, and a number of iron objects and 13th-16th century pottery. A further rescue excavation was launched in 1979/1980, it was revealed to be a Monastic Grange of the late 14th to early 16th century research suggested that the site was one of two granges operated by the Cistercian Foundation of Sawtry Abbey, a large quantity of pottery and many small finds were recovered.

Manor Farm, possibly once Grange Farm, along Judiths Lane, produced Meat, Vegetables and Grain for Sawtry Judith Manor. When Judith’s grandson gifted land for the purpose of building Sawtry Abbey, Grange Farm was used to supply produce food for the Manor and the Abbey, Monks provided Fish and Ale at the Abbey. Talk of a tunnel between the Abbey and the Manor would have been used to prevent the robbery of valuable foodstuffs. Judith was said to be a very caring lady who looked after the village folk and was well thought of which earned her the name ‘Saint’ Judith. Matilda (Maud), the daughter of Judith married David of Scotland, who became the Earl of Huntingdon once owned the Manor, Abbey and the surrounding Estates, also Estates in Conington. When David became King of Scotland the land reverted to Simon de St Liz, who was Matilda’s son by her first marriage, and as stated previously he gifted the land for the Abbey to be built.

Following Green End Road towards Coppingford, you come across Toll Bar Way, giving us a clue to the whereabouts of the Toll Bar Cottages. These used to be where the Flyover now passes over the A1M towards Wood Walton. The board displaying the Toll charges, the cost of horses, donkeys, anything that passed by the cottages was said to be displayed in ‘The Bull”.

Turning left at the roundabout on the other side of the flyover takes you back towards Sawtry along the B1043, along this road on the right stands Chapman’s Garage and near that a White house that used to house a cafe. The road around this area has changed quite a bit, but opposite where the Galvanising factory now stands once stood the last public house, which was the Royal Oak. On the same side as the factory you can see the outline of Black Horse Farm, a road leads to Greenfields, a sports area and a pleasant walk providing a fishing lake, providing not only fish but the opportunity for canoeing, a variety of wildlife can also be seen. The walk continues round taking in the Earthworks site of the Sawtry Abbey. It is interesting to note that before the Galvanising factory was built, an Archaeology  dig was carried out and discovered an ancient settlement which would have one stood on the edge of the Whittlesey Mere, this site remains protected under the factory. Returning to the main road turn left back over the A1M and into Fen Lane, turn right along the Lane and you reach Sawtry Community College. Formerly called Sawtry Village College, it serves many of the surrounding villages and was opened in 1963, over the years extensions have been built to include a sports hall, a Library was built and opened in 1976, a valuable asset to the village.

Sawtry has grown into a large diverse population, catering for young and old with a wide range of activities to suit all, being serviced by a variety of shops and businesses from Hairdressing to Martial Arts, Newspapers to Animal feeds. Local walks take in the old and new scenery including wildlife, flora and fauna, along old paths used by Agricultural workers, and possibly walked along by Roman foot soldiers, such is the History of the area. A local community that likes to get involved with the village and support events put on by Clubs and local Charities, a supporting Bus service is available taking you to Huntingdon, Peterborough and beyond.