The History of Somersham in Cambridgeshire

Historical notes about the town of Somersham in Cambridgehsire.

It’s thought that Somersham got its name from the Romans who took the waters here as spa waters, it became a ‘summer station’. It’s believed that later on the bishops also drank the spa water, as well as using it to brew ale.

The Saxon hero Brithnorth gave the parish to the Abbot of Ely in 991 as he had been hospitable to Brithnorth and his troops as they marched to meet the Danish invaders. The Abbot of Ramsey had not been so generous; he being the former owner of this land losing it to Ely on the understanding they would give Brithnorth a Christian burial, which soon came to pass during a battle with the Danes.

Domesday Somersham - Land of the Abbot of Ely

In SOMERSHAM the Abbot of Ely had 8 hides to the geld. [There is] land for 12 ploughs and, apart from these hides, [he had] land for 2 ploughs in demesne. There are now 2 ploughs in demesne; and 32 villans and 9 bordars having 9 ploughs. There are 3 fishponds [rendering] 2s, and 20 acres of meadow, [and] woodland pasture 1 league long and 7 furlongs broad. TRE worth £7, now £8.

(Note: Demesne - Land retained by the Lord of the Manor for his own use and TRE - Tempora Regis Eduardis - In the time of King Edward the Confessor.)

Somersham does have an entry in the Domesday Book (above), it was still part of the abbey of Ely covering 1000 acres, with 20 acres of meadow, 3 fish ponds and 3 square miles of woodland. The first bishop was called Hervey not only taking over the diocese of Ely but the new bishopric as well; Somersham was the site he choose to have as his official residence. See Somersham Bishops Palace. Over the next hundred years the Bishops of Ely residence in the village was to grow into a palace by 1109, one which would remain until 1762 when it was partially demolished.

The only wing of the bishop’s palace which remained was pulled down in 1778. The site is now occupied by a farmhouse, known as “The Place”; in this a family named Moseley lived, and at the beginning of the 20th century it was occupied by Frederick Street. Park Hall was occupied for many years by members of the Thomson family.

The principal Manor of Somersham included Free Somersham Chace, and the Soke of Somersham, that is Fenton, Pidley, Colne, Bluntisham and Earith. Somersham was alienated by Martin Heton, Bishop of Ely, to Queen Elizabeth I in the 42nd year of her reign (1600). It was settled by Charles I on his Queen Henrietta Maria as part of her dower, but was sequestered by Parliament. In 1649, it was sold to Captain Valentine Wauton, of Great Staughton, one of the Regicides. Theophilus, 2nd Earl of Suffolk, then became the steward.

The Manor of Somersham became the property of the Hammonds shortly after the Restoration. Thomas Hammond, who died in 1758, sold it to the Duke of Manchester, from whom it passed Sir Thomas Burton, Knight, who was still owner in 1808; and by 1910 was the property of William Alsagar Elgood.