We need to backtrack a little. The Hillesden and American Denton pieces got us a little ahead of the story. Back in the 16thcentury we spent three generations evolving in the Fens, sadly another area where little proved discoverable. These three Williams (GGF10, 9 and 8) are confirmed but I could find little about them, only details of their wives and children.
It was a period before censuses and little emerged from the genealogical sites and databases to give me ‘purchase’ with my research.
The Denton family appears to have spent much of the 16thcentury settled in the east of England, much of it in a place I assumed to be something of a backwater – the Fens. Specifically they lived in Haddenham, Cambridgeshire, set on a high ridge and the gateway to the Isle of Ely in medieval times. The Venerable Bede first recorded Ely derived from the ‘isle of eels’, a staple diet of Fenmen.
The name Haddenham means ‘Haeda’s homestead’ and in 673 CE it formed part of Queen Etheldreda’s dowry, negotiated by a loyal monk living locally named Ovin.
Ely was an island that protruded from the marshy fens and Haddenham was the access route to the two causeways (Aldreth and Earith) that connected the communities. Aldreth was the route the Romans used to reach Ely and also that taken by William the Conqueror in 1071 when he managed to quell the rebellion of Hereward the Wake, as featured in Charles Kingsley’s novel the Last of the English. One of William’s knights bribed the monks to show them the safe Aldreth route through the marshes; Hereward managed to escape.
Fifty years later in 1216 during the First Barons’ War the isle was unsuccessfully defended against the army of King John. Another fifty years later a ferry began operating the route and by the 13thcentury there was a toll bridge. The toll was a halfpenny for horsemen and a farthing for those on foot. Later Ely took an active part in the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381.
In 1562 (William Denton’s’ time) Haddenham was the most populous village in the county. In 1599 another birth in the region would lead to radical change in the whole country. This newcomer was Oliver Cromwell, born just sixteen miles west of Haddenham in Huntingdon. Oliver was descended from Katherine, the elder sister of Thomas Cromwell who was Henry VIII’s leading minister. The family had become wealthy by acquiring confiscated lands following the dissolution of the monasteries.
In 1639-40 Haddenham’s success led to Charles I setting the town a levy of £75 15s in Ship Money taxation. Larger Ely was only charged £85. Ship Money was one of the frustrations that accumulated against Charles and led to his being deposed and executed. Oliver Cromwell gathered around him a host of’ God-fearing, honest Fenmen and forged them into his New Model Army. Subsequently he was appointed Lord Protector. And, as we saw he sacked the Denton seat of Hillesden.
So the area was not quite a backwater in the days of the three William Dentons.
Their church Holy Trinity, Haddenham was originally built in the 13thcentury. In 1763 a stone bearing a Latin inscription stating ‘Grant Oh God to Ovin [Ethelreda’s monk] Thy light and rest. Amen’ was discovered being used as a horse-mount outside a public house near the church. The stone, known as ‘Ovin’s Cross’, was taken to Ely Cathedral where today it is the only piece of stonework of Saxon origin. A replica has been placed in the north-west corner of Holy Trinity churchyard.
The church originally had a steeple with a belfry containing five large bells, visible from afar in the flat countryside. One of the bellmakers ran out of bronze while casting and apparently finished off the bells by adding pewter plates stolen from the local pubs – recompense for Ovin’s cross?
In 1876 the church was rather inexpertly refurbished. This included a planned reconstruction of the steeple but locals suggest that the treasurer at the time ran off to the United States with the funds and the spire was never reinstated. A 15thcentury rood screen was thrown out at the time and lay for thirty years in a builder’s yard before it was restored and reinstated.
During WWII a bombing decoy was located at Haddenham. It was built to deflect enemy bombing from nearby RAF airfields. It was a ‘Starfish’ site, both a ‘K-type’ day decoy and a ‘Q-type’ night decoy. The daytime decoy had a replica airfield equipped with dummy aircraft. The night decoy used lights to suggest that it was an active airfield.
|Note on shorthand acronyms being used in the DFB:|
– GGF1 / GGM1 – means first great-grandfather /mother;
– GU11 / GA11 – means eleventh great-uncle / great-aunt;
– 1C3 – means first cousin three times removed