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Houghton and Wyton Parish Council

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History of the Parish

Houghton and Wyton lie side by side on the north bank of the River Great Ouse, some two miles west of St Ives in Cambridgeshire. In 1934 the two villages were united to form the civil parish of Houghton and Wyton. The distinctive features that make the village a popular visitor destination include Houghton Mill, Houghton Equestrian Centre, Huntingdon Garden Centre, the river Great Ouse and its flood meadows, plus the range of historic houses and cottages.

A significant number of prehistoric, Iron Age and Saxon finds have been discovered in the parish and there have been a scattering of archaeological finds along Houghton Hill in the east of the parish, indicating the presence of people here from very early times, including stone and flint tools, a Bronze Age ‘Beaker’ burial and a Romano-British cemetery. Thicket Lane, joining the settlement with St Ives, is recorded in the Historic Environment Record as a monument. It appears that Houghton was founded during the 7th century. The name comes from ‘tun’ meaning enclosure, farmstead, settlement, village; ‘hoh’ is also old English meaning a heel, or projection of land below the crest of a hill. Together these two words as ‘Hohtun’ describe a settlement on a projecting hillside – a description that fits the hillside rather than the riverside settlement seen today. The village is sited around a green, (which is now a tarmac area where 5 roads converge) which was once larger than it is now. Wyton, perhaps a century or so later in date, grew up west of Houghton along the same road and originally may have been a hamlet, which developed into a fully-fledged village later. The curious network of tracks known as The Lanes in Houghton is part of the old network of paths originally leading to open fields and meadows.

Houghton Mill is one of the last and most complete water mills to survive on the river Great Ouse. There has been a mill on the site since 974, originally belonging to Ramsey Abbey. The current mill dates from the 17th century and was extended in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is listed Grade II*. The mill ceased working in 1930 at which stage local people helped to buy it and donated it to the National Trust. It was used by the Youth Hostel Association from 1934 until 1983. Thereafter it fell into relative disrepair before work commenced in 1998 on a complete restoration project to restore the waterwheels and install a turbine. In 2012, a recycled pair of millstones was installed, driven by electricity to enable the Mill to operate all year round. The National Trust acquired the 19th century mill house in 1983 and developed a tearoom and toilets.

The Parish Church of St Mary (Listed Grade II) in Houghton, mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086), is built in the Perpendicular style, mainly 14th century but with a 13th century chancel rebuilt in 1851 and an embattled west tower with a spire containing five bells. The chancel has an elegant piscina (double stone basin) and a stone seat in early English style. The pulpit was made in 1893 from the wood of a tree from Houghton Hill House. A new stained glass window was installed to commemorate the Millennium.

The former Parish Church in Wyton, listed Grade I, dates from the early 13th century with a 14th century chancel and a 19th century north aisle.

The many attractive houses and cottages which border the streets and lanes of Houghton and Wyton form one of the distinctive features of the parish. The oldest surviving houses were originally yeoman-farmers’ homes and of timber construction. These tend to be situated on the principal streets and basically consist of three rooms on the ground floor and three rooms above. Another style of housing to be found in the village is that of husbandmen or lesser farmers, usually found down back streets and lanes. The village also boasts some remaining examples of labourers' cottages. Within the parish there are 57 listed buildings (of which three are Grade II*).

With the coming of the Enclosures Act in 1773 and new farming techniques, the reliance on farming as the major source of employment began to decline and with this many of the older houses disappeared or fell into disrepair.

However, from about 1840 onwards the villages became very popular, partly due to the river Great Ouse and the popularity of holidaying and spending leisure time on the river. This attracted a new style of gentry to the village who built the grand houses of the village, including Houghton Hill House, Houghton Grange, The Dingle, The Elms and Houghton Manor. During this period many earlier houses were modernized and extended, disguising their origins.

Wyton experienced the first post-war expansion when a small group of council houses was built at Manor Close in the 1920s. This was followed by the construction in Houghton of Hill Estate (1952) and Brookside (1966). A controversial estate of nearly 50 bungalows was later built at Victoria Crescent, gaining contemporary praise for their design. Between 1975 and 1978 three new developments were constructed on the land of Manor Farm in Wyton, these being St Margaret’s Road, Loxley Green and Warren Close.

The Ministry of Defence sold off housing adjacent to the airfield in 2000, creating a new community which later became a separate parishes (Wyton on the Hill). The village of Houghton and Wyton has expanded significantly since the 1950s, but has managed to retain its village character.

Houghton and Wyton today

The Parish of Houghton and Wyton is in a particularly attractive area of the Great Ouse River valley with splendid riverside meadows and the rising landscape towards the North providing a backdrop to the river views.

Located on the western side of East Anglia there is good road access North and South via the A1 and East and West by the A14. Huntingdon is on the East Coast main railway line with fast services to London and the North. The new guided bus has proved successful allowing improved access for residents going to Cambridge and tourists from Cambridge visiting the Parish.

Local services are provided by Huntingdon (with its local hospital) and St Ives, both within three miles. All major services are at Peterborough and Cambridge, twenty miles away, and include the University, Addenbrookes and Papworth Hospitals (all world class).

On the south side of the A1123 are Wyton marina and Hartford marina, together with its restaurant, flats and floating lodges, providing leisure activities on the river, plus holiday and permanent accommodation. On the north side of that road is Huntingdon garden centre, a shopping destination attracting people from a wide area. Further towards Hartford is a commercial fishing lake.

On the northern edge of the Parish, along the south side of Sawtry Way, is a commercial area , opposite RAF Wyton, providing local employment and opposite Wyton-on-the-Hill is Pine Hill Park mobile homes providing low-cost housing for the over 55s, in an attractive hillside setting. Nearer the village on the eastern side of Mere Way is an alpaca farm which may develop as a visitors’ centre.

Within the village there are two pubs, three small shops, and a Community owned mini-supermarket which houses a post office. The village also boasts a successful primary school and St Mary's Church. The river provides the southern boundary and there are the navigation lock and the historic flour mill, caravan park, car park and tearooms managed by the National Trust which together form a major tourist attraction.

The Conservation Area boundary was re-drawn in 2012 and covers an area of considerable historic, architectural and archaeological interest demonstrating more than a thousand years of continuous settlement.

 

The above description is an updated extract from the current Houghton & Wyton Neighbourhood Plan.

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