Poor Folk's Square, Poor Folk's Lane, St Ives

Poor Folk's Square and Lane
An address of Poor Folk's Square might today bring up visions of quaint old cottages, lovingly restored. The hovels that comprised the Square, and Poor Folk's Lane along it, were anything but quaint. Remembering past times, John Skeeles wrote just before 1930 of a strip of land barely twenty yards wide in which 'the present generation would not believe the number of human habitations and occupants that were crowded on the small space between the land and Vicarage garden wall'.

The earliest and best depiction of the area is from Pettis' map of 1728. Poor Folk's Square appears to have taken up the area which is now part of All Saints Parish Church cemetery adjacent to Ramsey Road. Poor Folk's Lane is most probably what is now Church Lane, running down the side of what was the Dun Horse public house, more recently the Aviator.

Pettis map 1728
                                                                 Section of Pettis map 1728                                                     Courtesy of The Norris Museum 
Before 1841 part of Poor Folk's Square had been cleared. The corner opposite the Dun Horse was used to accommodate burials from the 1825 typhus and 1832 cholera epidemics that hit St Ives.

The 1841 Census was the first complete record of residents. Poor Folk's Square contained just eight houses, one of which was uninhabited. With thirty-five residents, each house had an average occupancy of five. Poor Folk's Lane had four houses and twenty-four residents, with an average occupancy of six. There was also a beer house, most likely the Dun Horse. Over half the occupations were labourers, almost certainly agricultural workers.

The 1851 Census has no record of Poor Folk's Square. It appears the remaining area was cleared to enable the full extension of All Saints Parish Church cemetery to its current setting adjacent to Ramsey Road.

The 1851 Census shows Poor Folk's Lane renamed as Church Lane. In the 1861 census it's back to just Poor Lane. By 1871 it's returned to Church Lane, the name given today.

A good account of some residents of Poor Folk's Lane is given in the Cambridge Chronicle & Journal 3 August 1844 under the heading 'Fatal Outrage at St Ives'. This details the inquest held at the Crown Inn into the death of William Hall from Houghton. On completion of proceedings William Lewis and John Wrightson were immediately conveyed to prison on a charge of manslaughter. Both were subsequently acquitted.

Another of the key players in the drama, Martha Asplin, was charged with keeping a house of ill fame. She defaulted on bail and was imprisoned, as reported in the Stamford Mercury 9 August 1844. At her first court appearance, reported in the Cambridge Independent Press 10 August 1844, she admitted to the charge, pleading that the parish 'refused to allow her sufficient to live honestly' and she wouldn't see her children starve. Martha was committed to prison for another two months until the Quarter Session in Huntingdon freed her, as reported by the Cambridge Chronicle and Journal 19 October 1844.

Henry Armstead lived in Poor Folk's Square. He was the last St Ivian to be transported to Australia. Henry was convicted of larceny in 1846 for stealing butter. Being his second offence, the sentence was transportation for ten years. Henry spent three years in Millbank prison in solitary confinement and imposed silence, on bread and water rations, before he sailed for Australia.

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