Famous Cambridgeshire Men and Women


"The famous men and women associated with the county are of two kinds, those born there and those who came to learn and teach at the university. The roll of fame of Cambridge is immense, and it may be said that as Oxford was the home of lost causes Cambridge was for the most part the nursery of the new, whether in matters of faith, learning, or affairs of State. Erasmus and Coverdale, Latimer and Ridley and Cranmer, Cromwell and Milton, Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton, Clerk-Maxwell and Kelvin and Darwin, Wordsworth and Coleridge and Byron, Tennyson and Macaulay - all had much of that spirit which urged the world forward, and all are Cambridge men.

Her natives are an interesting group. Sir John Cheke was a pioneer of the New Learning. Thomas Tenison of Cottenham was one of the Seven Bishops who defied James the Second and sounded the doom of the Stuarts. Wisbech gave to the world Clarkson who fought the slave trade and Octavia Hill fought the slums. Jeremy Taylor, a Cambridge tailor's son, taught men how to live and how to die. Among other Camridgeshire writers were Matthew Paris of Hildersham, most famous of all our chroniclers; Jeremy Collier of Stow-cum-Quy who attacked a debased stage and wrote an Ecclesiastical History; Richard Cumberland, dramatist, and William Whithead, Poet Laureate, both born at Cambridge. Cambridge had a Puritan mayor who gave, a phrase to the English language, Hobson's choice; he let out horses and every hirer had to take them in strict rotation, having no choice but Hobson's. Henry Cromwell, most illustrious of the Protector's sons, was born at Wicken, and another famous Puritan was *Francis Holcroft, who covered the county with his preaching at the time John Bunyan was doing the same for Bedfordshire. And who, recalling the associations of men and women with this proud county, can forget Samuel Pepys, who was educated here and left to his university his immortal Diary and 3000 books."

[Extract taken from Arthur Mee's Cambridgeshire, first published in 1939, reprinted 1943.
Published by Hodder and Stoughton Limited
]

* With Francis Holcroft were two other pioneers of nonconformity, Joseph Oddy and Henry Osland.

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Clarkson, Thomas (1760-1846)

*British philanthropist. From 1785 he devoted himself to a campaign against slavery. He was one of the founders of the Anti-Slavery Society 1823 and was largely responsible for the abolition of slavery in British colonies 1833.[More about Thomas Clarkson]

*British philanthropist - further reading 'The Clarksons of Wisbech' by Ellen Gibson Wilson, published by Wisbech Society & Presevation Trust Ltd., ISBN 0 9519220 0 9.

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Collier, Jeremy (1650-1726)

British Anglican cleric, a Nonjuror, who was outlawed 1696 for granting absolution on the scaffold to two men who had tried to assassinate William III. His Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage 1698 was aimed at the dramatists William Congreve and John Vanbrugh.

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Hereward of the Fens (The Wake) (11th century)

Leader (1070-71) of a revolt against William the Conqueror. Possibly the tenant of the abbey of Peterborough. Hereward and his followers sacked the abbey, perhaps in protest against the appointment of a Norman abbot. He fled to the Isle of Ely, and a band of other refugees, including Morcar, gathered round him. In 1071 King William beseiged the Isle, but Hereward escaped. His later life is obscure, but he may have been reconciled to William. He became the subject of many legends and is the hero of Charles Kingsley's last completed novel, Hereward the Wake (1866).

Matthew Paris, in his "Chronica Majors" compiled in the 13th century, made many references to the Fens, including the following statement: "AD 1071. The Earls Edwin, Morcar and Siward with Egelwin, Bishop of Durham, associated themselves with many thousand disaffected persons and rebels against William the First. At first they betake themselves to the forst and the waste plains; then they do what mischief they can to the KIng's property in various places, and finally seek a place of refuge in the Isle of Ely. There, under the leadership of Hereward the Wake, they make frequent sallies and do much damage.... The King, coming against them, surrounds the Isle with his forces, makes roads and bridges, renders the deep swamps passable for man and beast and builds the castle at Wisbech".

A lot has been written about Hereward the Wake, the Saxon patriot. There have been many novels written by eminent writers which fire the imagination but the mixture of fact and fiction have done much to undermine the hero through the creation of myths. There is sufficient evidence written by Church scholars to prove that Hereward did exist and that the Isle of Ely was the area where he enacted his inspiring achievements against a more numerical and formidable enemy. Accounts can be found in the monastic manuscript "De Gestis Herwardi Saxonis" outlining events in the epic siege and tell a great deal more about the outstanding Englishman, Hereward, and his adventures abroad; the account was written by a reputable monk-historian and is based for the most part on the knowledge of men then living, namel Hereward's colleagues-at-arms.

The name "Wake" is not to be based on myth but the fact that Hereward was part of the Wake family, the best account of which, down to 1350, can be found in the Complete Peerage, New Edition, vol. XII, part 2, pages 259-304.

The documentation accounts for Herward's birth and his life until his death. His father was Leofric of Bourne, grandson of Earl Radulf (surname Scabre); his mother was Aediva, great-great-granddaughter of Duke Oslac. As a youth he became an accomplished, courageous, fighter but was renowned for stirring up sedition and tumult among the people. His father requested that King Edward banish Hereward, which he did. This gained Hereward the name Outlaw; he was aged 18.

Hereward travelled far and wide, establishing himself as a formidable leader and warrior. He went north beyond Northumberland, down to Cornwall, across to Ireland, to Flanders, all the time building a remarkable reputation. On his return to England he found his father dead and his brother slain by the Normans. Hereward sought revenge and so started the revolt in the Fens under his leadership. Hereward is said to have married a Saxon noble woman, Turfrida.

To learn more about Hereward, and the monk-historians accounts of him a book has been compiled by Trevor Bevis, entitled "Hereward of the Fens", published by Trevor Bevis, ISBN 0 901680 43 5.

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Hill, Octavia (1838-1912)

*Housing reformer. With help from friends, notably John Ruskin, in 1865 she began to acquire dilapidated houses in London for rehabilitation and letting to the poor. Her work expanded until utlimately she was managing some 6,000 dwellings. She was also cofounder of the National Trust.

*Housing reformer - further reading 'Octavia Hill 1838-1912' by Peter Clayton, published by Wisbech Society & Presevation Trust Ltd., ISBN 0 9519220 1 7.

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Holcroft, Francis (1633-1692)

He was a fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, who had lion-like courage and was the first founder of churches on congregational principles. The words 'Apostle of Cambridgeshire' are on his tombstone. In 1655 he accepted the 'living' at Bassingbourn and conducted the church on congregational lines, holding to the doctrine of the gathered church.

In 1660 he lost the 'living' at Bassingbourn. Oliver Cromwell had been against the Established church, and whilst he was Lord Protector of England the nonconformists gained precedence in the University. Shortly after Cromwell died, Charles II was restored to the throne, who was a Catholic and he restored 'the Rights of the Established Churches' in 1660. (Holcroft lost his position within Cambridge University, which was linked with being the Vicar at Bassingbourn).

In 1662 he was officially silenced under the 'Act of Uniformity' and in 1663 he was imprisoned in Cambridge Castle for preaching at Great Eversden. He was sentenced to leave the country by exile or suffer death as a felon. A friendly gaoler let him out to preach in Eversden Woods and in Barns at Willingham, Cottenham, Haddenham, Orwell, Histon, Quy and Milton. He established thirty churches in South Cambs alone, even though most of the time he and Joseph Oddy were imprisoned in Cambridge Castle. There is a plaque to Holcroft in Eversden Village Hall, but all reference to him has been deleted from the church records at Bassingbourn - a solemn covenant was made with right hands raised.

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Oddy, Joseph (1629-1687)

Joseph Oddy became a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. He also lost his 'living' as Vicar of Meldreth at the time of the Restoration in 1660. He moved to Willingham, where the vicar, Nathaniel Bradshaw, had been ejected, but formed a church in his own house and was able to preach and pastor the flock for some of the time, when he wasn't in Cambridge Castle. Oddy and Francis Holcroft preached all over the fens, and whilst imprisoned in the Castle, they were let out by the friendly gaoler to preach at night. On the 'Declaration of Indulgence', in 1682, he moved to Cottenham until his death in 1687.

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Osland, Henry

Henry Osland supported Joseph Oddy and Francis Holcroft in their ministry. The Cottenham and Willingham Congregational Church was formed by him in 1694 and he died in 1711.

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Paris, Matthew (c. 1200-1259)

English chronicler. He entered St Albans Abbey 1217, and wrote a valuable history of England up to 1259.

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Pepys, Samuel (1633-1703)

Diarist, naval administrator, and MP. He is best known for his diary, kept from 1600 until 1669, which provides a remarkable documentary Of Charles II's London. It was written in Thomas Shelton's system of shorthand, in six volumes, and was first deciphered in 1819.

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Last Updated on: 30 April 2000
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