A short and informative insight into a man who left a legacy, that continues to this day, for the benefit of the people of Soham.
Benjamin Laney was born in Ipswich in 1591.
He was a student at Christ’s College, Cambridge and became a Fellow of Pembroke Hall in 1616, becoming Master from 1630.
As the Saxons invaded East Anglia the Iceni apparently withdrew to Soham and provided a Christian refuge for St Felix when he arrived in 653AD, to Christianise the East Angles. Soham was the first see of the Bishops of East Anglia. A situation regularised by the marriage of Etheldreda to Tonbert the last King of the Iceni. The first cathedral was founded here; subsequently moved to Ely about 820AD. The populace had gone to Soham Mereside to trade. The Danes changed the prows of their ships; could sail in and slaughtered the people, monks and sacked the monastic buildings. The manorial lands themselves, were settled by the Crown before the Norman Conquest and are documented in the Domesday Book. Soham is situated six and two thirds of a mile from Ely and Newmarket, because this is as far as a man could ride in a day to set up a fresh market. Soham’s market was apparently the first in the area. The statute ‘Quia Emptores’ of 1290, which still remains in force today, states that ‘no Lordship of the Manor can have a valid existence unless it existed prior to 1290’ when the act came into force. Not only did the manor of Soham pre date 1290, it did in fact predate the Conquest, and was even recorded in a visit here by King Canute –‘on skates proceeded by a fat man called Budde – (Pudding) as he crossed Soham Mere on to the monks in Ely’! In 1372 the manor was granted to John – Duke of Lancaster (the future King Henry 4th) and in 1459 all manors were made a parcel of the Duchy, regularly referred to as ‘Soham and Fordham’, along with some other smaller manors which had all returned to the crown under King Henry IV in 1399. Duke Brithnoth also had a small manor in Soham, given to the Abbot and Convent of Ely in 991AD. Other smaller manors passed to the Tiptoft family (Earls of Worcester) descending to female heirs, eventually taking the name of Netherhall Wygorne. In 1685 the Crown sold the manors to Sir Thomas Chicheley, allotting 115 acres for the use of the poor and the founding of a grammar school. He abandoned attempts to recover the ancient field strips. One and a quarter acres is as much as a horse can plough in a day.