Development of St Ives

The earliest recorded population of St Ives was about 300 in 1086, estimated from the Domesday Book. Then it was a small hamlet called Slepe. By 1800 the population had crept up to 3,000. It changed little up to the 1960s. To learn more about the town's development, read on.

Domesday Book entry for Slepe, St Ives, Cambridgeshire
Translation of Domesday Book entry for Slepe, St Ives, Cambridgeshire

Above is shown the Domesday entry for Slepe, and a translation. Only landowners and heads of households were recorded. Using accepted means of estimation, the population of Slepe was about 300.

In 1002 there was a miraculous discovery of a stone coffin by a ploughman working in the fields to the east of Slepe. Miraculous, because the remains were those of St Ivo, supposedly a Persian bishop who had come to Slepe as a missionary.

Or so the story goes. In fact, the remains were Roman. Slepe had passed into the ownership of Ramsey Abbey. The Abbott of Ramsey was quick to spot the opportunity. An increase in pilgrim traffic and their donations would be no bad thing, hence the 'miraculous' discovery. A priory was built near where the coffin was discovered.

In 1010 King Henry issued a Royal Charter granting the right to hold a fair in Slepe. Amendments to the charter changed the right from an annual to a weekly fair.

Map of Slepe and St Ives, Cambridgeshire

The structure of the town centre shows how the fair was set up. A wide street was laid out between Slepe and the priory to accommodate market stalls. Over time more permanent structures were built along the street, with lanes running off towards the river on the south and roads to the north, all to aid transport of goods.
Population graph of St Ives, Cambridgeshire

In 1801, the first date of reliable population figures, St Ives' population had climbed to just under 3,000. By 1961 it had only risen to slightly above 4,000. It was from the 1960s onwards, as housing estates were built to the north of the town, that the population increased markedly. Fortunately, St Ives centre still retains the feel of a village.

View more information below about the development of St Ives through maps.

Pettis map of St Ives, Cambridgeshire 1782
1728 Pettis map
Old map of St Ives, Cambridgeshire
Map of uncertain date
Map of St Ives, Cambridgeshire 1899
1899 OS map
Map of St Ives, Cambridgeshire 1902
1902 OS map
Map of St Ives, Cambridgeshire 1946
1946 OS map
Map of St Ives, Cambridgeshire 1956
1956 OS map
Map of St Ives, Cambridgeshire 1960
1960 OS map
Map of St Ives, Cambridgeshire 2016
St Ives today

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