Soham is a small town in the English county of Cambridgeshire. It lies just off the A142 between Ely and Newmarket (Suffolk). Its population was 10,860 (2001 census), and it is within the district of East Cambridgeshire.
The region between Devil's Dyke and the line between Littleport and Shippea Hill shows a remarkable amount of archaeological findings of the Stone Age, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. A couple of hoards of bronze objects are found in the area of Soham, including one with swords and spearheads of the later Bronze Age as well as a gold torc, retrieved in 1938. An extensive ditch system, not visible on aerial photographs, has been identified, as well as a wooden track-way 800 m in length between Fordey Farm (Barway) and Little Thetford with associated shards of later Bronze Age pottery (1935).
St. Felix Of Burgundy 'Apostle Of The East Angles'
St Felix of Burgundy founded an abbey near Soham around 630 AD but it was destroyed by the Danes in 870 AD. Luttingus, a Saxon nobleman built a cathedral and palace at Soham around 900 AD, on the site of the present day Church of St. Andrews and adjacent land. St. Andrew's Church dates from the 12th century and traces of the Saxon Cathedral still exist within the church. In 1102 Hubert de Burgh, Chief Justice of England, granted 'Ranulph' certain lands in trust for the Church of St. Andrews. Ranulph is recorded as the first Vicar of Soham and had a hand in designing the 'new' Norman Church. The current church is mainly later with the tower being the latest addition in the 15th century. This tower was built to replace a fallen crossing tower and now contains ten bells. The back 6 were cast in 1788 with two new trebles and two bells recast in 1808. There are some pictures and a description of the church at the Cambridgeshire Churches website.
Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa 'The African'
The first black British author and anti-slave activist, Olaudah Equiano, also known as Gustavus Vassa, married local girl Susannah Cullen at St. Andrew's Church, Soham on 7 April 1792 and the couple lived in the town for a while. They had two daughters, Anna Maria was born on 16 October 1793, and was baptised in St. Andrew's Church on 30 January 1794. Their second child, Joanna Vassa was born on 11 April 1795, and was baptised in St. Andrew's Church on 29 April 1795.
William Case Morris 'Dr Barnardo of Argentina'
The most famous son of Soham was William Case Morris who made his mark many miles away in South America. Born in Soham on 16 February 1864, he and his father left Soham in search of a new life in 1872 after the death of his mother in 1868, finally settling in Argentina in 1874. William was horrified by the terrible poverty of the street children, which led him to found several children's homes in Buenos Aires. They are credited with saving thousands of youngsters from abject poverty and a life on the streets. Morris returned to Soham shortly before his death on 15 September 1932, and was buried in the Fordham Road cemetery. He is still one of Argentina's best-loved social reformers and is highly regarded, with a statue standing in Buenos Aires as well as railway stations, football stadia and a town near Buenos Aires named after him. His legacy lives on with the 'Hogar el Alba' children's homes located in Buenos Aires which still help impoverished children.
Soham Rail Disaster
The town narrowly escaped destruction on 2 June 1944, during the Second World War, when a fire developed on the lead wagon of a heavy ammunition train travelling slowly through the town. The town was saved by the bravery of four railway staff, Benjamin Gimbert (Driver), James Nightall (Fireman), Frank Bridges (Signalman) and Herbert Clarke (Guard), who uncoupled the rest of the train and drove the engine and lead wagon clear of the town, where it exploded, killing Jim Nightall and Frank Bridges but causing no further deaths. Ben Gimbert survived and spent seven weeks in hospital. Although small in comparison to what would have happened if the entire train had blown up, the explosion caused substantial property damage. Gimbert and Nightall were both awarded the George Cross (Nightall posthumously). A permanent memorial was unveiled on 2 June 2007 by HRH Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester followed by a service in St. Andrew's Church. The memorial is constructed of Portland Stone with a bronze inlay depicting interpretive artwork of the damaged train and text detailing the incident.
In August 2002, Soham became the focus of media attention following the disappearance and murders of to two 10-year-old girls, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman. They disappeared on the evening of 4 August and were found dead some 10 miles away, near RAF Lakenheath, on 17 August. In December 2003 Ian Huntley, a caretaker at a local college, was convicted of their murders and sentenced to life imprisonment, with the trial judge fixing a 40-year minimum term.