Why does the main street have this sharp bend?

For some time now I have been wondering why the main road through Needingworth to the east of the village (at this point called Bluntisham Road) bends sharply
(at Lat 52.333795169044315, Long -0.02742558717727661).
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2 Carey This bend is on all the old maps, e.g. Cary’s 1801 map of Huntingdonshire.
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It is also shown clearly in the Cambridgeshire County Council 1988 pre-bypass plan (this version of the plan shows the bypass joining the main road at this bend, whereas the bypass as actually built is further away from Needingworth and joins the old road further north-east towards Bluntisham).
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3 Bypass
4 1958 Notice that there is a corresponding bending to the west of Needingworth but this is less pronounced as this 1958 map shows.
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This Google satellite view shows the pair of bends as they are currently. To the East the bend is still clear, but to the West the bend is not so clear because of the bypass.
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Somersham has a similar pair of bends, as shown in this Google satellite view.  However I am told that this was caused by the family in the main house on Church Street causing the road to be diverted.
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The A1123 by Bluntisham also has a pair of bends, although Bluntisham itself has a more complicated set of roads off this road, and the history of these roads has been outlined in C F Tebbut’s book “Bluntisham-cum-Earith Huntingdonshire: Records of a Fenland Parish”. In Bluntisham’s case there is still a track joining the two bends, along what is possibly the old route.
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The possible classes of reason for the bend I can think of are:-

  • Physical (e.g. hill, lake, marsh)
  • Imposed (e.g. by a lord of the manor as at Somersham, enclosure arrangements in neighbouring parishes)
  • Historic organic development (e.g. a cross roads where two arms fell out of use, a diversion from an existing road or track)

I can see no physical reasons for this particular bend in Needingworth, nor have I been able to find any imposed reasons for it. I am therefore left with some sort of historic organic development.

My hypothesis is that:-

  1. Holywell was the original hamlet in the area – its being by the river and where landings are possible make it an attractive spot to settle (it is mentioned in Domesday, and some claim Roman origins).
  2. For some reason (there seem to have been raised water levels, and Viking raids up the rivers, around the 700s/800s) some people in Holywell wanted to move to nearby higher ground away from the river.
  3. Some time by the 800s they settled a mile away in what is now Needingworth, where the land is higher and less prone to flooding (see the environment agency maps at maps.environment-agency.gov.uk –  Risk of Flooding from Rivers and Sea) and where it is easy to get water from wells. Needingworth is said to have been bought from King Edgar by St. Oswald (c. 969) in order to bestow it on Ramsey Abbey (Victoria County History).
  4. Most histories claim that Needingworth is “on the St Ives to Ely road”, but I wonder if in fact those first dwellings were not on this road (which probably was more a track and used primarily by pilgrims and others going up to St Audrey’s fair at Ely from the West via Earith), but slightly to the south of the track.  This may have been because the road took the easier route avoiding the slight hill in Needingworth, but the settlers had wanted to be on the higher ground.
  5. Over time pilgrims on the St Ives to Ely track would have detoured via the Needingworth hamlet, causing the track/road itself to change, a pair of bends to appear, and a section of the old track to disappear.
  6. A parallel hypothesis applied to the riverside settlement of Earith, with Bluntisham being on the higher ground, might also explain the pair of bends in what is now the A1123. One difference is that the parish church in Holywell-cum-Needingworth was by the river, whereas that in Bluntisham-cum-Earith is on the higher ground.

1 google_bend
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