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Castor

The Ancient Parish of Castor

Castor is a village and civil parish in the City of Peterborough unitary authority, about 4 miles (6.4 km) west of the city centre. The parish is part of the former Soke of Peterborough, which was once considered part of Northamptonshire but was more recently part of Cambridgeshire.

Castor is internationally known among archaeologists as the centre of an important Roman settlement along the Nene Valley west of Peterborough. A Roman palace or praetorium (c 250AD) was the second largest Roman building in Britain. The parish church is built on the site of the palace courtyard. The nearby Roman market town of Durobrivae was on the South bank of the River Nene opposite Castor and the whole area between Castor and the A1 was the site of sprawling Roman industrial suburbs where the distinctive pottery known as Castor Ware was made. The Roman palace was first excavated by Edmund Artis, agent to Lord Fitzwilliam of nearby Milton Hall. The palace ceased to be inhabited about 450AD.

In 650AD, St Kyneburgha, a daughter of King Penda of Mercia founded a Saxon convent among the ruins. It seems possible that this was ransacked by the Vikings between 850 and 1000AD.

One of the earliest recorded descriptions of Castor as a village is by a travelling historian, William Camden who, in 1612, wrote:

‘The Avon or Nen river, running under a beautiful bridge at Walmesford (Wansford), passes by Durobrivae, a very ancient city, called in Saxon Dormancaster, took up a great deal of ground on each side of the river in both counties. For the little village of Castor, which stands one mile from the river, seems to have been part of it, by the inlaid chequered pavements found there. And doubtless it was a place of more than ordinary note; in the adjoining fields (which instead of Dormanton they call Normangate) such quantities of Roman coins are thrown up you would think they had been sewn. Ermine Street, known as the forty foot way or The Way of St Kyneburgha, now known as Lady Connyburrow’s Way must have been up towards Water Newton, if one may judge from, it seems to have been paved with a sort of cubical bricks and tiles.’*

*Extract from ‘Five Parishes: Their People and Places’ by The CAMUS Project 2004. Available in full on line at http://www.thearchive.org.uk/thebook/thebook.htm

By Camden’s time, Castor was a village made up of a collection of tenant farms and cottages, remaining much the same until the time of the Second World War. The village had developed out of the late Saxon village of the time of the Domesday Book, that village having itself grown up among the ruins of the extensive Roman villa and estate that preceded it. The Nene Valley Railway, closed by BR in 1957, is now a preserved steam line running close by from Wansford into Peterborough. There are two pubs in Castor, The Prince of Wales Feathers and the Royal Oak, (possibly testament to C17 Royalist sympathies) and the Fitzwilliam Arms, now an Italian restaurant. In 2001 the population was 817.

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Ailsworth or Ailesworth is a neighbouring village and civil parish in the City of Peterborough unitary authority, about 4.5 miles (7.2 km) west of the city centre. There is no parish church, only a small Methodist chapel. Instead it shares the church with neighbouring Castor. The parish is part of the former Soke of Peterborough and is now in Cambridgeshire. The village's toponym comes from the Old English Ćgeleswurth. The Domesday Book of 1086 records it as Eglesworde. The common lands of Ailsworth and the neighbouring parish of Castor were not enclosed until 1898. In 2001 the population was 413.

THE CAMUS PROJECT - Named after 5 neighbouring villages of which Castor is the largest (Castor, Ailsworth, Milton, Upton and Sutton) The Camus Project grew out of the Castor Parish Church Archive Group which was concerned with researching, collecting and indexing material about the history of the five villages. The writing of the book commenced in 2002 and by 2004 the limited edition was sold out and there was no reprint, although it may still be available on CD and it is published in its entirety at http://thearchive.org.uk/thebook/thebook.htm, with a foreword by the late Sir Stephen Hastings. It was edited by the Rector of Castor, the Rev William Burke, who promoted and organised the whole enterprise. It is packed with descriptions of life in the villages from Prehistoric and Roman Times up to the present day.

Marriages

King Henry VIII began the systemic recording of births, marriages and deaths by using the church to record by parish. 1837 saw the introduction of the national secular system of recording Births, Marriages and Death, Church Parish Records continued with their records of church celebration - baptisms, marriages and funerals.

The original Castor Parish records of marriages 1754 - 1812 and 1813 – 1864 are deposited in Northants County Record Office but these lists of marriages, along with those from 1995 to 2002 for Castor, Marholm, Sutton and Upton are available at http://www.thearchive.org.uk/im.htm

Baptisms

Baptismal records from 1538 to 1751 as well as 1996 to 2002 are available at http://www.thearchive.org.uk/ib.htm

Deaths/Funerals

A limited list of funerals from 1998 to 2001 is available for Castor and Marholm at http://www.thearchive.org.uk/if.htm 

Family Trees

Family tree material for the Fordham and Sargeant families of Castor is available at http://www.thearchive.org.uk/families.htm

Military Records

To look for those from Castor and Ailsworth who served in the 1914-18 war go to

http://www.roll-of-honour.com/Northamptonshire/CastorandAilsworth.html

For a more detailed pen pictures and photographs of those who gave their lives in WW1 and WW2, refer to http://www.thearchive.org.uk/military/war_memorial/c&a_war_memorial_file.htm

For detailed reminiscences of those who served in WW2 transcribed following in depth interviews got to http://www.thearchive.org.uk/militar.htm

Individual Reminiscences

Transcribed interviews undertaken with villagers still living in 2002/3 are available at

http://www.thearchive.org.uk/indiv.htm

Parish Officers’ Records

A miscellany of information taken from various local papers/documents such as -; 1536 Muster Rolls; Nassaburg Hundred Militia Lists – 1762; 1844 Tithe Register and Extracts from letters, books and lists etc may be obtained at http://www.thearchive.org.uk/parish.htm

Listed Buildings in Ailsworth & Castor

Lists of prescribed properties are available at http://www.thearchive.org.uk/build.htm

Historical Miscellany of Information

Although much is repeated under the Parish Officers’ Records, there are other interesting sources of local history information at http://www.thearchive.org.uk/history.htm Here you will find an extract of the Doomsday Book for Ailsworth; An 1801 Census Return; Extracts in Latin relevant to Castor from the unique White Book of Peterborough which is a manuscript dating from the days of Peterborough Abbey (C13c/14c) and much more.

Churches

Many references to the historically fascinating church of St Kyneburgha’s in Castor (unique dedication to this Saxon princess who founded a convent in the remains of the demolished Roman Praetorium) are available at http://www.thearchive.org.uk/churches.htm  This link also has some information about the long gone chapel of ease at Ailsworth and lists of Rectors of Castor (1217-1995) including the Bishop of Peterborough.

Archaeology

Two references at http://www.thearchive.org.uk/archaeo.htm describing a Roman aqueduct and the Water Newton Treasure (now in the British Museum) which although strictly not found in Castor but in the neighbouring parish of Water Newton, one theory is that it came from the Roman Palace at Castor.

Toll Roads

Clicking on http://www.thearchive.org.uk/transpor/t1004.htm will take one to a description of the Milton ferry Tollgate in the mid 20c.

Local Estates

Information about the two great landowners in this area in times gone by, The Fitzwilliam Family at Milton and the Dean & Chapter of Peterborough Cathedral is available at http://www.thearchive.org.uk/estates.htm

The Story of St Kyneburgha

Read Avril Morris's account of the story of the daughter of the heathen King Penda of Mercia who 'politically' married the Christian prince Ahlfrith from Northumbria and was subsequently introduced to Christianity by her father in law, Oswiu. She established a double monastery and nunnery at Castor with the help of her brother Wulfhere and Bishop Wilfrid.http://castorchurch.ds5075.dedicated.turbodns.co.uk/OldWebSite/kyne.htm

The above information was kindly provided by Richard Perkins (rvynerp@btopenworld.com)


(Updated 26 August 2011 - Maurice Kellner)