St Neots during the Commonwealth


After the execution of Charles I in 1649 England became a Commonwealth under the command of Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector. He was not satisfied that all opposition had been completely quashed so he kept his well-trained and well-supplied New Model Army. A letter from an officer in Colonel John Okey’s regiment, written in 1650, stated that for 23 weeks the men were at St Neots and Kimbolton and later in the year.


At Huntingdon there was a Committee for Sequestrations.  From here troops went out to confiscate property belonging to the Royalists. They then rented it back to the landowners at high rates or leased it to those to supported the Parliamentary cause.


Oliver Cromwell was a Puritan. He did not like the elaborate rituals and the colourful decoration in the Church. He ordered that all remaining evidence of the Roman Catholic influence in the churches should be removed.


His men were ordered to smash all the stained glass windows. The windows in the three St Mary’s churches in Priory, Eynesbury and Eaton Socon were replaced with plain glass.


Any wooden statues were pulled down and burned. Stone statues were smashed with hammers. Those too high to be removed were shot at, defacing the faces. All St Mary’s churches show the damage done during this time.


Stone altar tables were removed, often placed by the door as a stone step that people had to walk over. They were replaced with simple wooden tables.


Any paintings that were not destroyed during the Reformation were whitewashed.


In many parishes the vicars were replaced by ‘Registers’. John Luke, a gentleman of Eynesbury, was sworn in as register of the several parishes of St Neots in October 1653. All births, deaths and marriages had to be recorded in the register.


Christmas Day celebrations were cancelled.


May Day festivities were banned. Maypoles were thought to be pagan symbols, and taken down. Morris dancing was forbidden.


Drinking alcohol in public houses was discouraged. Heavy taxes were put on alehouse landlords and innkeepers.


Singing and dancing in public places was banned.


Theatres were closed down.


Playing sport like football on Sundays was banned.