The Bell Inn
Stilton shown within Cambridgeshire
|Population||3,110 (2001 census)|
|OS grid reference|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Ambulance||East of England|
|EU Parliament||East of England|
|UK Parliament||North West Cambridgeshire|
Stilton lies south of the city of Peterborough. It lies on the old Great North Road, 70 miles (110 km) from London and was an important coaching stop in the days before motorised transport. It lies just south of Norman Cross. In 1998, the village was bypassed by the new A1(M), with access limited to the A15 intersection at Norman Cross.
There is evidence of Neolithic occupation of the parish, and a number of Roman finds have been uncovered in the village; as well as a Roman silver ring and a 2nd-century jug, archaeologists found a potential Roman settlement in the village as well as Roman cheese press.
The Roman Ermine Street, which later became the Great North Road, was integral to the development of the village, and in late medieval times the village was a popular posting station and coaching stop. At one time there were 14 public houses for a population of around 500.
The main inns of the period were The Bell and The Angel, both of which are still in existence. The Bell Inn has been recorded since 1515 and was rebuilt in 1642. The Angel Inn, dating from the early 17th century was rebuilt as an impressive red brick house in the 18th century ceased to be an inn and was badly burned in 1923. Fires also damaged the village as a whole in 1729, 1798 and 1895.
Stilton's reliance on its position on the Great North Road has twice led to problems when use of the road reduced; the arrival of the railway several miles to the east in the 19th century cut goods transportation along the road, and the opening of the 1.25 mile-long A1 bypass on 21 July 1958 by David Renton, Baron Renton reduced passing trade through the village to almost nil. The bypass was the first from London to Newcastle when the A1 was completely improved in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
The Bell Inn closed and fell into disrepair and the village as a whole lost many businesses. To try to revive interest, on Easter Monday 1962 Tom McDonald of The Talbot and Malcolm Moyer of The Bell organised the first Cheese Rolling race along a course near the Post Office. Now held every May Day holiday it has become a popular annual event.
The village gave its name to Stilton cheese. Previously the most widely accepted explanation was that the cheese came down to be sold at the coaching inns in Stilton. Daniel Defoe in 1722 described the village as famous for its cheese. Traditionally it was thought that supplies were obtained from the housekeeper at Quenby Hall, Hungarton, Leicestershire, near Melton Mowbray, and were sold via her brother-in-law to travellers in Stilton's coaching inns, namely The Bell or The Angel. Subsequent research has led to claims that the cheese did originate in the village in the late 17th or early 18th centuries, before any contemporary references to its production in Leicestershire.
Today Stilton cheese is made in Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire. The manufacturers of Stilton cheese in these counties applied for and received Protected Geographical Status (PGS) in 1996 so that production is currently limited to these three counties and must use pasteurised milk, which can be drawn from many counties within the central belt of England. Recent evidence indicates that it is unlikely that the village would have been a centre for selling of cheese unless cheese was also made in the area. Furthermore, the original recipe for a cream cheese made in Stilton in the early 18th century has since been discovered and since more than one type of cheese was usually made, it is possible that a blue cheese was also made in the area. The Parish of Stilton applied to Defra for an amendment to the Stilton PDO to be included into the Protected area but was unsuccessful. However, a new application is currently (June 2014) being prepared and this is being supported by Shailesh Vara MP, the Member of Parliament for North West Cambridgeshire.
There is no record of a church in Stilton before the 13th century and the earliest parts of the present church date from that period. The present parish church of St Mary consists of a chancel with vestry and organ chamber, nave, north and south aisles, west tower and south porch most of which was built in the 15th century with the nave arcades 13th century.
Stilton has its own Church of England primary school. The village has two shops, three active pubs; The Bell Inn, The Talbot and The Stilton Cheese Inn, one club, The Stilton Country Club (now The Stilton Tunnels as of 2015) and Colbrook's, a Rolls Royce and Bentley specialist garage.
- "A port and Stilton". Time Team, Channel 4. 2007.
- A History of the County of Huntingdon: Volume 3. Victoria County History. 1936. pp. 222–227.
- "Stilton history".
- A. D. Mills (2003). A Dictionary of British Place-Names.
- A Tour through England & Wales. Everyman's Library (London/New York: Dent/Dutton, 1928), Vol. II, p. 110.
- Quenby Hall
- Stilton Village site
- BBC Radio 4 The Food Programme, "Food Myths", 20 September 2009
- "Villagers' bid to make Stilton cheese in Stilton is rejected", Daily Mirror 23 October 2013
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