Was the third smallest of English counties in population until merged with Cambridgeshire in 1972. The origins of the county almost certainly derive from the establishment of a Roman settlement at the point where two roads, from Cambridge and Sandy, joined Ermine Street, just before it crossed the river Ouse. Godmanchester, which arose on that site, was for centuries part mother, part rival to the town of Huntingdon, which developed just north of the bridge. The area passed into the kingdom of the East Angles but was taken over by Mercia. In the later 9th cent. it was overrun by the Danes. Reconquered in 920 by Edward the Elder, king of Wessex, it was fortified by him and had both a mint and a market by the mid‐10th cent. The earliest mention of the shire is in the Anglo‐Saxon Chronicle for 1011, when it was once more overrun by the Danes. By the time of the Domesday survey, Huntingdon was one of the largest towns in the kingdom.
The county remained overwhelmingly rural. Drained by the Ouse, the western parts were good arable land, the eastern good grazing land. Cobbett in 1822 echoed Camden in the 1580s in admiring the meadows around Huntingdon—‘the most beautiful that I ever saw in my life’. Godmanchester and Kimbolton slowly stagnated, but the existence of several other flourishing market towns seems to have inhibited the growth of Huntingdon—St Ives and St Neots remain comparable in size, and Ramsey, in the north‐east, is considerably bigger.
Subjects: British History.