Huntingdonshire was a small English county whose borders remained unchanged since the 10th century. In 1974 it lost its historic county status and became a district of modern Cambridgeshire, so as a county, it sadly no longer exists. I believe that my branch of the family originated just across the county border in Bedfordshire and hopped back and forth during the 18th century until settling in the village of Hemingford Grey around 1799.
Hemingford Grey is a small village that lies beside the river Great Ouse as it flows between Huntingdon and St Ives. The land on which it stands is very low, mostly between only 20-40ft above sea level and the meadows to the North are liable to flooding. The village is surrounded by farmland, growing crops in strong loamy soil. Less than a mile away is the neighbouring village of Hemingford Abbots while across the river and the water meadows are the villages of Houghton and Wyton. Half an hour’s brisk walk to the East and the borders of Hemingford Grey parish meet those of the Market Town of St Ives shortly before reaching the medieval bridge across the river Ouse that leads into the town centre. At the north end of Hemingford Grey village, right beside the river, is the parish church of St James. Built around 1160, the original church had been enlarged through the years but lost its spire in a hurricane in1741 resulting in the stump that stands on top of the church tower today
Favells in Hemingford
My 4 x Great Grandfather John was born on the 3rd of September 1805 and baptised at Hemingford Grey on the 22nd of March 1807. Within a month his mother Elizabeth had died and was buried at Hemingford Grey on the 15th April 1807 at the age of only 30 years old. The Parish register records some extreme weather conditions for the village around this time. On the 7th of June 1807 a note records “The greatest flood in the memory of the oldest inhabitant” while on Wednesday the 13th of July 1808 a note refers to extreme temperature. “The thermometer at 3 o’clock in the afternoon was at 92 degrees in the shade and to the south!” The young John Favell (1805) grew up to become a Farm Labourer and went on to marry Lucy King at Hemingford Grey parish Church on the 28th October 1828.
Taken every ten years, the National census that started in 1841 gives us a snapshot of Hemingford Grey, how its population increased, and the numbers of Favells living there. In 1841 there were 165 households, 811 people and basically 2 Favell families in the village. My Great Grandfather x4, John is living with his wife Lucy and 6 children. His Father Stephen is living with another of his sons and 2 children. Stephen gave the answer ‘no’ as to whether born in this county, suggesting he had indeed been born across the border in Bedfordshire.
1851 to 1861
By 1851 the village had grown to 211 inhabited houses with a further 10 unoccupied. There were now a total of 931 people counted as living in the village, 14 with the surname Favell, and still the 2 main families as previously. My Great Grandfather x3, Stephen is shown as being 16 and working (like most of the other adult males) as an Agricultural Labourer. By 1861, as children have left home married and started to raise their own families, the number of Favells has increased to 21. Stephen was not at his parents house on the night of the census, but his future wife, Elizabeth Corbett (Eliza) age 22 is shown as a visitor.
1871 to 1881
By 1871 the number of Favells had increased to 31 and there were 7 households where a Favell was listed as being the head. My Great x3 Grandfather Stephen was living on the High street with his wife Elizabeth and their 7 children in a building that was ‘part of The Coach & Horses”. The next household was occupied by his brother William, with his wife and 4 children. It is notable that the same families varied the spelling of their surname through the years with Favell, Favel and Favele all being used. By 1881 the number of family members was 32 with younger children replacing older young adults who were starting to leave the village and migrate towards towns such as London and Bradford.
By 1891 the number of Favells living in the village had reduced to 24. From the 1870s agriculture was in depression with the expanding new wheat growing areas of Russia, North America and the colonies able to use new railway systems and ocean transport, leading to a flood of cheap grain on to the British market. Wheat prices fell and the farms were forced to turn land over to pasture for the grazing of cattle. This led to a lower demand for the farm labourer, with less need for ploughing, sowing and harvesting of crops. Wages fell and many were forced to find alternatives to working the land. Refrigeration allowed cheap meat to be imported from abroad and this also began to force prices and wages down. Life in the village labourer’s houses was basic and largely overcrowded. With such large families, sleeping arrangements were difficult with sons often sharing one bedroom while daughters shared with their parents. Older sons often slept downstairs in the living room or kitchen on makeshift beds, stored away during the day. My Great x2 Grandfather left the village in 1886 to settle in Camden Town where he married Ellen Coulson, also from Hemingford. His sister Lucy also left for Camden Town after marrying Frederick Read. Brother Albert set up home in Ipswich. Sisters Jessie and Priscilla both married at Whetstone (now in North London) and lived at Whetstone and North Finchley. His sister Caroline Coventry settled in Ealing, North London and brothers Herbert and James lived for a while with their sister Lucy in Camden Town, although Herbert returned to settle in St Ives, working many years for Huntingdon Council.
1891 to 1900
By 1871 the number of Favells living in the village had reduced to 24 and in 1901 was 25, with a further 4 living in Hemingford Abbots. For a while, some younger children born in London were brought back to Hemingford to be christened, but as the next generations were born and the last of the Londoners born in Hemingford passed away during the 1930s the link became forgotten. It was in the late 1990s that some of these connections were found again and in 2007 some very distant cousins were able to have a reunion in Hemingford Grey.