Thorney in 1836
Thorney is a small town (in Witchford hundred, 39 miles from Cambridge) on a slight eminence rising out of the midst of the fens (marshland). Here was anciently a monastery or hermitage, said to have been founded by Saxulph, first abbot of Medeshamsted or Peterborough ; and here, in the year 870, were a prior and several anchorites. The monastery was called Ancarig, but the spot on which it stood had the name of Thorn-ev, from the thickets with which it abounded. Thorneie propter condensitatem dumorum vocata.' Gul. Malmesbury. de gestis Pontif, in Dugdale's Monasticon. In 972, this establishment, which had been destroyed by the Danes, was refounded by Ethelwold, bishop of Winchester, for Benedictine monks. Its revenue, at the time of the Domesday Survey, appears to have arisen from rents, amounting to £52 15 shillings, and from the profits of some fisheries and meres in Huntingdonshire. William of Malmesbury (quoted above), who lived in the reign of Henry II, speaks enthusiastically of the natural beauty of the situation and of the holiness of the inhabitants, he speaks with rapture of the, trees, apple orchards, and vineyards. The abbot was mitred. The revenues, ,at the suppression, were £508, 12 shillings and 5 pence gross (Speed), or £411, 12 shillings and 11 pence clear (Dugdale). The possessions and site were granted to the then earl of Bedford, whose heir, the present duke of Bedford, is proprietor of the whole parish and lord of the manor. There was also an hospital for poor persons under the government of the abbey.
A part of the conventual church, rebuilt in 1085 and 1125, is yet standing, and serves as the parish church. The part which remains is the nave of the church ; the aisles have been destroyed, and the arches, five in number, walled up. The west end is a fine specimen of architecture, though in a very mixed style, being flanked with Norman square turrets. crowned with octagonal perpendicular tops ; the doorway has deep mouldings and niches ; and the whole of this front has an imposing appearance.
Thorney has a small weekly market on Tuesday, chiefly for butcher's meat: and three annual fairs, two of them much frequented for the sale of horses and cattle. Population, in 1831, 2,035, chiefly agricultural. The living is a donative, exempt from episcopal jurisdiction, and in the gift of the duke of Bedford : income, in 1831, £220. There is a school-house : built by an ancestor of the duke of Bedford, who allows the master £20 per annum : the duke also supports ten or twelve poor families in some almshouses, which have no permanent endowment. A colony of French and Walloon refugees were settled here about the middle of the seventeenth century, and employed by the then earl of Bedford in draining the fens. Several of these refugees have tombs in the churchyard, and many of the inhabitants are descended from them.
In Gorton's Top. Dictionary, mention is made of a literary society established here in 1823, and possessing a good library.