The Hemingfords in World War 1
1. Housing and Amenities
The quality of housing in 1914 varied greatly in both villages.
At the outbreak of war in August 1914 Water was drawn from the many wells in both villages and drainage was
provided by cess/ash pits and rudimentary surface water drainage into ponds.
In 1914 the population of Hemingford Grey was approximately 800 including 100 in the Union Workhouse, now The Limes,
which could hold up to 450 inmates. The population of Hemingford Abbots was just under 400.
The Huntingdon to Cambridge railway line (joint Midland/Great Eastern/Great Northern) ran very close
to the northern edge of both villages but there was no station, not even a ‘Halt’ for the villages.
Because of the good railway communications, Hemingford Meadow, and stabling in St Ives,
cavalry regiments were sometimes billeted in the local area.
Villagers had to go to St Ives to catch a train or collect goods.
If they lived at the western end of the Abbots the station at Godmanchester might have been easier to get to!
The roads were largely of crushed gravel, there being plenty of this available locally, but in the event of
heavy rain or flooding these became quagmires.
By 1914, cycles were commonplace, if you had the money, and much advanced on the old Penny Farthing!
Though motor vehicles were available in 1914 and they became increasingly used as the war progressed,
the horse was still the main motive power for both the farming community and individuals.
There was a Post Office (PO) in both villages. Both had three deliveries a day and correspondingly three ‘dispatches’.
(Compare this service to that of today!) The Grey PO had ‘Telegraph’ (for a Telegram, a sort of paper e-mail)
and ‘Money Order’ facilities, and was run by George Geeson; it was also a grocery and general store.
The Abbots PO was run by Alfred Fear and was also a shop.
Both villages had schools, Abbots for 80 children under Headmaster Arthur Cattell, Grey for 165 children under
Headmaster George Wilson.
The river was little used for commercial transport upriver of St Ives, but the Water Mill in the Grey
was operated by Thomas Knights and Son. The Windmill was operated by Charles and Erastus Watts.
The Gas Works in St. Ives (now the disused Murketts site in London Road) supplied the town,
and although evidence of ancient gas piping has been found in some of the older village houses it has
not been possible to discover whether gas (Town Gas) was available in 1914. There was no electricity
delivery system into the villages so lighting, heating and cooking was provided by oil, coal, wood and coke. Thus, no street lighting!
Telephone systems existed in the local larger towns, e.g. Huntingdon. At the outbreak of war one could contact the
Huntingdonshire Cyclist Battalion on Huntingdon 39!
The Churches were much as they are today with St Margaret’s
and St James’ respectively but with the addition of a Congregational Chapel in Front Street (now High Street) in the Grey.
This is now a private house.
The Reading Room in the Grey (still there!) had a library of some
The Pubs were a great centre of social activity. In the Abbots there were The Fleur-de-Lis,
The Oak and The Axe and Compass, which still flourishes! In addition, there were 3 ‘Beer Retailers’.
In the Grey there was the The Anchor, The Cock (still with us) and 3 ‘Beer Retailers’, one of whom was a William Chandler.
The villages were largely self supporting in that together they had farmers, bakers, thatchers, wheelwrights,
blacksmiths, grocers and drapers, boot and shoe-makers, market gardeners, carpenters, builders, nurserymen,
florists, basketmakers, artists and a laundry run by a Miss Gertrude Rainey. The laundry was on the site of what is now St James’s Court.
And of course the Monday Markets ran in St Ives, as they still do to this day.
Doctors were available in/from St. Ives
and there was a hospital in Huntingdon.