Magpie Alley, St Ives

Magpie Alley
Such a name might bring visions of a dark passage somewhere in London, and in fact that place name does exist, in the East End. St Ives also had its own Magpie Alley, another of those local names lost to history. You can still wander down Magpie Alley. Today it's the narrow part of Wellington Street.

The alley was probably named from the Magpie and Stump, one of St Ives' long lost pubs. Located at 2 The Quay and now a private house, the pub existed before 1838 but closed down in the 1850s.

Magpie Alley, St Ives, 1728
Pettis' 1728 map with Magpie Alley marked in red.
The earliest record of who lived at the location is the 1841 Census, listing 98 residents. Of the 29 occupations shown, by far the largest categories were watermen (11), reflecting the alley's close proximity to the Quay, and labourers (8), primarily agricultural. There were  27 family groups.

The 1851 Census shows 85 residents in 20 dwellings. Two were unoccupied. A railway porter living in the alley indicates the advent of railway transport in St Ives. Labourers (9) and watermen (7) remain the largest occupation categories.

Three occupants described as paupers indicate more difficult economic times for St Ives. In the decade to 1851 occupants of the St Ives Union Workhouse quadrupled from 88 to 320, more than half through unemployment. The Irish Potato Famine started in 1845, causing the emigration of one million people. Some travelled to ports such as Liverpool, Cardiff and Glasgow. Too destitute to venture further inland, many stayed near to where they landed. There is evidence some made it as far as St Ives. Four workhouse inmates are described as 'Irish tramp'. No doubt more were working in and around St Ives. With an excess of available labour, employers could reduce wages.

In the 1861 Census 101 residents occupied 23 dwellings, with one unoccupied. The largest occupation group remained as labourers (6), with other occupations dispersed. There were three paupers. Only two watermen indicates the impact of railway transport on river trade.

Magpie Alley, St Ives, Cambridgeshire
Magpie Alley today, now renamed Wellington Street.
The last mention of Magpie Alley was in the Cambridge Independent Press 2 September 1865 when it reported a chimney fire. Magpie Alley was renamed Wellington Street some time after that date. The 1st Duke of Wellington, the hero of the Battle of Waterloo and, according to Tennyson, the 'last great Englishman', died in 1852. Throughout England there are hundreds of examples of locations named after Wellington.

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