Holywell, Cambridgeshire

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Holywell is located in Cambridgeshire
Holywell shown within Cambridgeshire
Population 2,517 (Including Needingworth. 2011)
OS grid reference TL340709
Shire county
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town St Ives
Postcode district PE27
EU Parliament East of England
List of places
52°19′08″N 0°02′02″W / 52.319°N 0.034°W / 52.319; -0.034Coordinates: 52°19′08″N 0°02′02″W / 52.319°N 0.034°W / 52.319; -0.034
Signpost in Holywell cum Needingworth

Holywell is a village in Cambridgeshire, England.[1] Holywell lies approximately 6 miles (10 km) east of Huntingdon. Holywell is in the civil parish of Holywell-cum-Needingworth. Holywell is situated within Huntingdonshire, which is a non-metropolitan district of Cambridgeshire as well as being a historic county of England.


Holywell is a Saxon ring village, one of only three in Cambridgeshire. It is served by a small road from Needingworth and is a dead-end to motor traffic. There are approximately 80 houses, the oldest dating to the 16th century, a parish church and a public house in the village.


Holywell is part of the civil parish of Holywell-cum-Needingworth, which has a parish council. The parish council is elected by the residents of the parish who have registered on the electoral roll; the parish council is the lowest tier of government in England. A parish council is responsible for providing and maintaining a variety of local services including allotments and a cemetery; grass cutting and tree planting within public open spaces such as a village green or playing fields. The parish council reviews all planning applications that might affect the parish and makes recommendations to Huntingdonshire District Council, which is the local planning authority for the parish. The parish council also represents the views of the parish on issues such as local transport, policing and the environment. The parish council raises its own tax to pay for these services, known as the parish precept, which is collected as part of the Council Tax. The parish council consists of fourteen councillors and has a parish clerk; the parish council normally meets once a month.[2]

Holywell was in the historic and administrative county of Huntingdonshire until 1965. From 1965, the village was part of the new administrative county of Huntingdon and Peterborough. Then in 1974, following the Local Government Act 1972, Holywell became a part of the county of Cambridgeshire.

The second tier of local government is Huntingdonshire District Council which is a non-metropolitan district of Cambridgeshire and has its headquarters in Huntingdon. Huntingdonshire District Council has 52 councillors representing 29 district wards.[3] Huntingdonshire District Council collects the council tax, and provides services such as building regulations, local planning, environmental health, leisure and tourism.[4] Holywell is a part of the district ward of Earith and is represented on the district council by two councillors.[5][3] District councillors serve for four-year terms following elections to Huntingdonshire District Council.

For Holywell the highest tier of local government is Cambridgeshire County Council which has administration buildings in Cambridge. The county council provides county-wide services such as major road infrastructure, fire and rescue, education, social services, libraries and heritage services.[6] Cambridgeshire County Council consists of 69 councillors representing 60 electoral divisions.[7] Holywell is part of the electoral division of Somersham and Earith[5] and is represented on the county council by one councillor.[7]

At Westminster Holywell is in the parliamentary constituency of North West Cambridgeshire,[5] and elects one Member of Parliament (MP) by the first past the post system of election. Holywell is represented in the House of Commons by Shailesh Vara (Conservative). Shailesh Vara has represented the constituency since 2005. The previous member of parliament was Brian Mawhinney (Conservative) who represented the constituency between 1997 and 2005. For the European Parliament Holywell is part of the East of England constituency which elects seven MEPs using the d'Hondt method of party-list proportional representation.


The road at the southern aspect faces onto farmland and the River Great Ouse. The river levels are regulated by a system of locks and sluices, and after heavy rains the river is allowed to flood across the large area of meadows on Holywell Front to a depth of several feet, often covering the road. Access to the houses, which are all in an elevated position on a gravel bank running roughly east-west, is via a footpath or access track from the northern side of the village.



In the period 1801 to 1901 the population of Holywell-cum-Needingworth was recorded every ten years by the UK census. During this time the population was in the range of 623 (the lowest was in 1801) and 959 (the highest was in 1841).[8]

From 1901, a census was taken every ten years with the exception of 1941 (due to the Second World War).

Holywell-cum-Needingworth 607 578 520 684 753 1398 2206 2421 2539 2517

All population census figures from report Historic Census figures Cambridgeshire to 2011 by Cambridgeshire Insight.[8]

In 2011, the parish covered an area of 2,881 acres (1,166 hectares)[8] and the population density of Holywell-cum-Needingworth in 2011 was 559.1 persons per square mile (215.9 per square kilometre).

The legends[edit]

Legend has it that a young girl named Juliet committed suicide near the church in the time of Edward the Confessor. The story runs that she committed the act having been jilted in love by the local woodcutter, and was buried on the banks of the Ouse at the ferry crossing point in AD 1050. It is claimed the Old Ferry Boat Inn public house was built on top of her grave. A stone slab can be found within the pub, set into the floor on the south west side of the pub.

A seance was conducted in the 1950s, during which the participants claim to have contacted the spirit of the young girl. During questioning, she apparently identified herself as Juliet Tewsley and that the local woodcutter was named Thomas Zoul. However, no Norman records have been found to support this claim. During a second seance the following year, the date moved forward to the 15th century.

On the anniversary of her death, which is St. Patrick's day (17 March, according to tradition) her ghost is said to appear as a spectral figure slowly moving towards the river bank. Occasionally the apparition has been witnessed within the Ferry Boat Inn, but this may relate to the themed evening hosted inside, and the alcoholic drink promotions of the night. Juliet's gravestone is preserved within the pub, but to walk on it is to invite serious ill-luck and drinks must be bought for all and sundry within should a visitor do so. A number of paranormal groups investigate the inn every 17th March, but evidence is generally inconclusive.

Religious sites[edit]

The holy water well from which the village takes its name is located in front of the church, as you exit the building with the River Great Ouse ahead of you. It has been refurbished and repaired many times over the years. The "well" is in fact a stone structure built over a natural spring which emerges at this point. There are several other natural springs, or chalybeates, along Holywell Front; water seeps out under the gravel bank where it meets the underlying clay. A well dressing ceremony takes place each year in June, and children from the local primary school are involved in making floral garlands and decorations for the well.

The existence of a church on the site dates back further than reliable records exist, but there is a register of church rectors dating back to AD 990. The living was in the gift of the Abbot of Ramsey, and there remains at the west end of the village evidence of mediaeval fishponds which were managed by monks from the Abbey. The current church building is mainly 14th century, with a fine 16th-century tower reputedly built with stone taken from Ramsey Abbey after the Dissolution.


The Old Ferry Boat[edit]

The Old Ferry Boat Inn (or Ye Olde Ferry Boat Inn) is one of village's main attractions. It is a large public house with restaurant, conference rooms and seven large bedrooms available to the public. Over the years it has grown from a small tavern for local labourers into the commercially profitable venue that it is now. The inn, and other buildings in and around Holywell, were the subject of paintings by the watercolour artist W. F. Garden (Garden William Fraser), who lived at the Old Ferry Boat from 1904 until his death in 1921.[9] It has been owned by various families, breweries and private concerns and is seen as a jewel-in-the-crown to brewing outfits due its picture postcard looks and large visitor numbers. It is currently serviced by the Greene King chain.

The Ferry Boat Inn is one of scores of pubs in the UK to lay claim to being the country's oldest. Others include Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, Nottingham and Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, St Albans.


  1. ^ Ordnance Survey: Landranger map sheet 154 Cambridge & Newmarket (Saffron Walden) (Map). Ordnance Survey. 2012. ISBN 9780319231739. 
  2. ^ "Holywell-cum-Needingworth Parish Council:Councillors". www.holywell-cum-needingworthparishcouncil.co.uk. Holywell-cum-Needingworth Parish Council. Retrieved 7 February 2016. 
  3. ^ a b "Huntingdonshire District Council: Councillors". www.huntingdonshire.gov.uk. Huntingdonshire District Council. Retrieved 23 February 2016. 
  4. ^ "Huntingdonshire District Council". www.huntingdonshire.gov.uk. Huntingdonshire District Council. Retrieved 23 February 2016. 
  5. ^ a b c "Ordnance Survey Election Maps". www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk. Ordnance Survey. Retrieved 23 February 2016. 
  6. ^ "Cambridgeshire County Council". www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk. Cambridgeshire County Council. Retrieved 23 February 2016. 
  7. ^ a b "Cambridgeshire County Council: Councillors". www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk. Cambridgeshire County Council. Retrieved 15 February 2016. 
  8. ^ a b c "Historic Census figures Cambridgeshire to 2011" (xlsx – download). www.cambridgeshireinsight.org.uk. Cambridgeshire Insight. Retrieved 12 February 2016. 
  9. ^ The Fraser Family. Charles Lane. Publ. Chris Beetles, 2010

External links[edit]