How Cambridge Made England

12th December 2023, a talk for Stapleford History Society by Chip Colquhoun

Chip didn’t need a screen to show pictures as he is a storyteller – yet he held us fascinated by the story he had to tell. Starting with brief descriptions of the parts that Alan Turing played in solving the workings of the German enigma code machine and Prof. Hawkins made to our understanding of the universe, Chip progressed to the 19th Century. Thomas Clarkson form Wisbech should be better known for his part in the abolition of slavery. In the 17th Century James 1st progressed from Edinburgh to London collecting money and gifts all the way. At this time the Cromwell family in Huntingdon were great Royalists and showed their loyalty by persuading hundreds of local men to beg or borrow horses to ride to Huntingdon to welcome the King. This loyalty may have contributed to James building a hunting lodge in Royston which, at that time, was in Cambridgeshire and he spent more time here than he did in London. Half a century later, Oliver Cromwell played a major part in the civil war and the defeat of James’ son, Charles. Parliament made Cromwell Lord Protector and he produced the first written constitution of any country in the world.

The main talk was about the period after the departure of the Romans and the arrival of the Angles and Saxons who settled in the country and the names England and English evolved from these names. There were seven separate kingdoms each with different laws and traditions. The warlike Norsemen from Scandinavia, later called Vikings, succeeded in defeating the separate kingdoms. King Alfred of Wessex united several of the kingdoms and drove the Norsemen back to the north. Peace and various treaties never lasted more than a few years. In 1002 Ethelred ordered the slaughter of all Danes but this led to the arrival of a huge Viking force with Canute (Cnut) at its head. He defeated all seven of the kingdoms and was the first to call himself king of E England.

As a writer of children’s books Chip Colquhoun was asked to write a children’s version of Cambridgeshire Folklore. There were stories that Cnut travelled in the Fens to discover more about the people of his kingdom in addition to the well-known story of ordering the tide to retreat which was to prove to his lords that there were some things that even a king couldn’t control. Chip did much research into one particular legend about king Cnut meeting and befriending Saxons in the Fens whose women were bring abducted by monks. This legend had a grain of truth as both Ely and Ramsey Abbeys have documents showing that the monks had not always dedicated their lives to abstinence and as a consequence King Cnut suggested that the Saxons lived in groups rather than in isolated farms. Littleport in considered to be the first village in England following King Cnut’s wise suggestion. King Cnut was the first king to decree that whether you were Saxon or Viking everyone would have to obey the same law and have equal rights across his kingdom of England.

[report by Keith Dixon]