An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of Cambridgeshire, Volume 1, West Cambridgshire. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1968.
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The mediaeval parishes of Great and Little Childerley, not differentiated at Domesday, were united about 1489. Even their combined area, 1069 acres, is smaller than all but three of the other parishes treated in this volume. The land, averaging about 200 ft. above O.D., drains N. towards the fen; boulder clay is the predominating soil.
Little Childerley, probably never a large village, may well have decayed before the end of the 15th century. Great Childerley was depopulated by the fifth Sir John Cutt, during the reign of Charles I, in order to enlarge his deer park. A private chapel, apparently built in the previous reign, replaced the two parish churches, the incomes of which were diverted in spite of protests from the ecclesiastical authorities. Apart from the occupants of Childerley Hall (Monument (1)) and of one or two estate cottages the parish is without inhabitants.
c(1) Childerley Hall, comprising a house and chapel, is set in parkland between the sites of the two former villages of Great and Little Childerley (Monuments (2) and (3)). Described by Cole (B.M. Add. MS. 5819,28) as 'one of the most absolute and compleate seats if not the best of the whole shire', it must have been reduced in size subsequently.
The property was acquired by Sir John Cutt in the reign of Henry VII. His male descendants, who bore the same name and title for the next five generations, continued to own it and often resided there, especially after the sale about the end of the 16th century of Horham Hall in Essex, the earlier family seat. Charles I was confined by Cromwell at Childerley Hall one night in June 1647; the principal room on the upper floor, which he is said to have occupied, is called after him. Its elaborate painted decoration (Plate 72) had probably been executed after the fourth Sir John Cutt's second marriage, to Margaret Brockett, and before 1615 when he died. The fourth Sir John may also have built the chapel (Plate 76), which was said to have been consecrated by Bishop Heaton 1600–1609 (see Archbishop Laud's account of his province for the year 1639 in History of the Troubles and Tryal of William Laud (1695), 560–1). The Cutt family sold the property at the end of the 17th century to the Calverts who continued in possession until after 1850.
The House, consisting of a brick-faced two-storeyed E. and W. range, is of the mid 16th century, but was remodelled by General Calvert in 1850 when the original brickwork was grouted over and covered with bastard tucking, considerable additions made especially to the N. and E., and the interior including the painted chamber refurbished. The new work was in Tudor idiom with dressings in Roman cement. Drawings by Relhan (C.A.S. Library) give some idea of the appearance of the house and the painted chamber early in the century.
The detailing of the principal elevation, S. to the garden and moat, is of the mid 19th century, although the walling generally is old. Two exterior chimneys, with stacks rebuilt on the original lines, divide it into a central and two side lengths. The E. chimney has a stack with three square flues, the outside ones diagonally set; the W. chimney has two flues, one octagonal, the other cylindrical with net ornament formed by intersecting cables; planted against the W. chimney is an irregular bay or oriel of full height. The E. length incorporates the main staircase block and has a single-storey porch; both are probably original features, though the porch may have lost an upper chamber. The rest of the exterior is almost entirely of the mid 19th century, except that the Victorian surface has flaked off an area of the main N. wall towards the W. end revealing some original diaper.
The interior has a ground-floor hall slightly curtailed on the W., and having a centrally placed chimney in the S. side; Relhan shows an added oriel between the chimney and a front door at the W. end of the wall, but both these features have been suppressed. The hall ceiling is divided into eight panels by intersecting roll-moulded beams and has an 18th-century enriched marble fireplace surround with flanking Ionic columns of giallo antico and central frieze panel carved with a relief of Bacchus and Ariadne. N. of the hall the 19th-century staircase hall, lit by a tall window divided by a mullion and transom into four lights with vertical tracery in a four-centred head, houses a light stair of two flights in line, having turned balusters, moulded rail and cut string.
E. of the hall is the old staircase hall, of square plan, with solid treads winding around a brick newel to the first floor; above this point a boarded continuation gives access to the roof by an old doorway with continuous chamfered jambs and four-centred head. The drawing room, W. of the hall, retains no early features. The entry from the stair hall has a boldly moulded, mid 19th-century, wooden door-case with attached shafts rising to a stilted segmental head. The white marble fireplace surround, of the late 18th or early 19th century, has side pilasters carved with ox heads and pendants, and lintel with swags.
The room over the hall, called by Cole 'King Charles's Chamber', has a cambered ceiling divided into 36 panels by intersecting moulded beams, and the E., N. and W. walls are lined with old wainscot; all are painted, but the painting of the ceiling panels is of c. 1850 and the wainscot painting was evidently restored and in part completely repainted at the same time. The three walls are uniformly decorated with antique work in early 17th-century style, the end walls with a single large panel and the long N. wall with three similar panels in elaborate borders beneath a tall frieze. The panels (Plate 72), executed in what are now sombre tones, feature symmetrical compositions of dogs and monkeys against a free arabesque of foliage, flowers and fruit. The borders are festooned with fruit, much in the manner of the main panels, between narrow bands of geometrical ornament. The frieze, in a somewhat more stilted style than the rest, has continuous strapwork relieved by terminal and other figures and interspersed with birds, beasts and conventional foliage. Repainted coats of arms over the fireplace and in the frieze at either end of the room include allusions to the fourth Sir John Cutt and Margaret Brockett his second wife; the superimposed arms of Calvert in the central wainscot panel on the N. side no doubt refer to General Calvert who restored the house in the mid 19th century. The 18th-century white marble fireplace surround, not shown by Relhan, has an eared architrave with side pendants and cherub heads; the frieze is decorated with acanthus trail and central mask.
The Chapel (Plate 76), 35 yds. W.S.W. of the house, with a small turret-like wing on the N. and a gallery in the last half bay, of brick with tiled roofs, is of the early 17th century; it seems never to have been the parish church. After years of desecration it was repaired in the mid 19th century. Only the E. end is now retained for worship; the remainder, at one time a smoking room for the gentlemen of the hall, and then a cottage, is now derelict.
The E. window of seven lights (Relhan shows six) and the W. window of four lights, both with vertical tracery in four-centred heads, have dressings covered with 19th-century stucco; one or both have probably been wrongly restored. The E. door, set in an area of rebuilt brickwork, is modern and modern buttresses have been added on the S. side. The N. wall of the N. wing retains two original clunch windows, the upper now in a gable: each is of two elliptical-headed lights in a square outer head, and the lower has a horizontal label or cornice. Jambs of a doorway, now blocked, are visible below a later W. window.
The original roof of the chapel, apparently divided into five half bays by alternate tie-beam and collar-beam trusses, has been modified and is partly ceiled in. The ties and collars are moulded, the ties having elaborate shaped and jewelled stops.
c(2) Deserted Mediaeval Village (around N.G. TL 358614, ponds only on O.S.) consists of (a) to (d) hollow-ways, (e) a cobbled street, (f) church site, (g) manor house site, (h) to (n) house or building sites, (o) fish ponds, and (p) quarries.
The remains are probably those of Great Childerley, which was depopulated by the fifth Sir John Cutt in the reign of Charles I. They lie to the E. and S.E. of the Hall, for the most part in a triangular area bounded to the N.W. and E. by streams which unite at the N. tip of the triangle. The land is highest in the centre, about 170 ft. above O.D., and slopes towards the streams; most of it is pasture but some house sites as well as the cobbled street (e) beyond the stream on the N.W. appear to have been ploughed up. The remains are variously orientated; most of them follow the E.N.E. and W.S.W. main street with variations either way of some 20°. In the following description the street is treated as if it ran E. and W., and cardinal points have been used throughout as far as possible to simplify description.
(a), the main street, survives as a hollow-way 40 ft. to 60 ft. wide, running E. and W. for 800 ft. in continuation of a farm track from the Hall and dying out 50 ft. from the E. stream. It is 20 ft. to 25 ft. wide across the bottom and 1 ft. to 1½ ft. deep but narrows to 30ft. at the E. end after intersecting with (d).
(b), S.W. of (a), encloses a roughly rectangular area on three sides. It is generally 25 ft. to 30 ft. wide and 2 ft. to 3 ft. deep. Two branches, only traceable for 30 ft., run to the E. Hollowway (b) finally joins (a), but 50 ft. from its N. end a third branch, 25 ft. wide and 9 ins. deep, runs E. for 160 ft. and then curves N. to join (a).
(c), to the S. of (b), is a pair of hollow-ways running S. and S.E. from an open area some 50 ft. across: the first is 160 ft. long, 30 ft. to 40 ft. wide, 2 ft. deep and 20 ft. to 30 ft. across the bottom; the second is slighter.
(d), in the shape of a T with its foot to the N., intersects with (a). To the N. of (a) it is 25 ft. wide, 1 ft. to 1½ ft. deep, and 10 ft. to 15 ft. across the bottom; to the S. of (a) it is a shelf 30 ft. to 50 ft. wide with scarps 2½ ft. high on the W. and 9 ins. to 1 ft. high on the E. The cross bar of the T runs W. from the E. stream; it is 30 ft. wide with a scarp 2½ ft. high on the N.; the scarps to the S. are slighter.
(e), in the ploughed area on the far bank of the N.W. stream, immediately W. of the junction with the E. stream, is an E. and W. belt of cobbles 20 ft. to 30 ft. wide which probably marks the line of another street.
(f), the reputed church site, is an irregular platform, roughly 120 ft. square and 2½ ft. high on the S. and E., with a W. spur of about 100 ft. at its S.W. corner. Some masonry is said to have been still standing in the early 19th century (F. A. Walker, Some account of the parishes of Childerley (1879)).
(g), probably the manor house site, is a rectangular area 265 ft. N. to S. by 180 ft. E. to W., limited to the E. and S. by (b). The N. and W. sides are formed by an irregular ditch 30 ft. wide, 2 ft. to 3 ft. deep, partly filled on the W. where another ditch, 35 ft. wide and 2 ft. deep, crosses it. A causeway 10 ft. wide crosses the W. side near its centre. The irregular interior has a rectangular building platform in the S.E. angle, 100 ft. N. to S. by 50 ft. E. to W. and 2 ft. to 3 ft. high. Along the N. half of the W. side of this platform is a ditch 15 ft. wide and 2½ ft. deep; the S. half has a later pond 30 ft. wide and 4 ft. deep.
(h), house or building site E. of the foregoing, is a platform defined by scarps 2 ft. to 3½ ft. high on the E., S., and N.W., a bank 15 ft. wide and 9 ins. to 1 ft. high on the N.W., and a scarp 9 ins. high on the W. A later pond, 2 ft. deep, cuts into the S.E. corner.
(k), house or building site N. of (a) and immediately E. of the modern farm buildings, is a rectangular depression 100 ft. E. to W. by 30 ft. N. to S., 9 ins. to 1½ ft. deep and divided into two by a W. scarp 6 ins. high, 45 ft. from the W. end. Excavations by J. Alexander in 1962 produced, among other finds, pottery of Saxo-Norman type; there were no indications of occupation after the 14th century.
(l), (m) and (n), three house or building sites N. of the N.W. stream, each consisting of an irregular area of cobbles 30 ft. or 40 ft. across; the area in which they are placed is separated by a curving bank 600 ft. long, visible as a belt of cobbles 10 ft. to 15 ft. wide, from N. to S. ridge and furrow. Excavations by J. Alexander in 1961 (D.M.V. Research Group, 9th Annual Report (n.d.), 9), revealed two cobbled areas, perhaps yards, and produced Romano-British pottery as well as sherds from the 11th to the 14th centuries; ploughing and bull-dozing had left very little stratified material.
(o), fish ponds, set in pairs at the W. corner of the village site and to the E. of the moated site (Monument (4)). The ponds, which are much overgrown, are roughly rectangular and 2 ft. to 3 ft. deep.
c(3) Village Remains (around N.G. TL 353617, not on O.S.). Earthworks, probably remains of the village of Little Childerley, standing on a level site of boulder clay 200 ft. above O.D. and 300 yds. N.W. of Childerley Hall, were completely destroyed by ploughing between 1955 and 1959; only oblique air photographs give any idea of their appearance. There was a straight E. and W. track about 900 ft. long and 20 ft. to 30 ft. wide with a continuous line of rectangular platforms on either side and ridge and furrow running up to their outer sides; ploughing is said to have revealed a wide cobbled strip, probably the street. Sherds of the 11th to 13th centuries occur on the site.
c(4) Moated Site (Class B; N.G. TL 356615), on the S. slope of a shallow open valley along which a small stream once flowed to the E.; it is clearly not defensive but represents a formal garden probably contemporary with the Tudor house. The N. side of the moat, which is rectangular, 300 ft. E. to W. by 250 ft. N. to S., is formed by the terrace in front of the Hall (Monument (1)); the other sides consist of a bank 32 ft. wide, 4 ft. to 5 ft. high and 7 ft. to 12 ft. across the flat top, within a V-shaped ditch 20 ft. to 35 ft. wide and 6 ft. to 8 ft. deep. The W. bank acts as a dam for the large irregular pond to the W., and the stream now flows around the S. and E. sides. At the two S. angles are circular prospect mounds 14 ft. to 18 ft. in diameter and 2½ ft. to 3 ft. higher than the bank on which they stand, making them 9 ft. higher than the interior. The interior is flat except for a scarp facing N. 1½ ft. high S. of the centre.
b(5) Embanked Pond (N.G. TL 349615), now drained, in Wood Walk Spinney, 200 ft. above O.D., consists of an area 100 ft. square, N. and S. of the stream which flows E. to the ponds near the Hall, with enclosing banks 20 ft. wide and 3 ft. high on the outside, and 4 ft. to 5 ft. above the interior. The interior was wet in 1808 (estate map 1808, C.U.L.).
b(6) Linear Earthwork (N.G. TL 349622–349615), perhaps most likely to be connected with emparking in Tudor or Stuart times. A park pale is marked along its line on a map of Boxworth of 1650 (Hunts. R.O.). The site is towards the E. edge of a ridge covered with boulder clay, level to the W. and falling gently towards the Hall on the E. with a slight rise to 220 ft. above O.D. near the centre of the line of the earthwork. The remains consist of a bank and ditch facing W. with a slight counter-scarp bank, running N. from the embanked pond in Wood Walk Spinney (Monument (5)) for 720 yds. before ending on a modern hedge line. The dimensions vary considerably but, where best preserved, the bank is 37 ft. wide and 6 ft. high with a flat top 10 ft. wide; the ditch is 30 ft. wide, 3 ft. deep and 6 ft. across the bottom; the outer bank is 10 ft. wide and 1½ ft. high. The only notable features are a double bend of 30 ft. eastwards, 230 yds. from the S. end and an entrance 60 ft. wide 200 yds. further N.; here the bank and ditch have rounded ends with the N. side, partly destroyed by ploughing, 30 ft. E. of the line of the S. stretch.
c(7) Dam (N.G. TL 361621, not on O.S.). The stream which flows N. from the deserted village site (Monument (2)) was formerly dammed 700 yds. N.E. of the Hall to form a triangular pond of 9¼ acres. This pond has been drained but the dam remains: it runs N.W. and S.E. for 618 ft. and is 62 ft. wide and 9 ft. high. On the inside, halfway down the slope, is a ledge 13 ft. wide, above which are remains of a brick revetment. The stream now flows through a cut 30 ft. wide and 15 ft. deep in the centre of the dam: the pond had already been drained by 1808 (estate map 1808, C.U.L.) when the interior was called Fish Pond Pasture; it is now covered with trees.
c(8) Moated Site (N.G. TL 354598, not on O.S.). A ditched enclosure formerly existed on flat clay land 100 yds. W. of Childerley Gate and adjoining the Cambridge to St. Neots road, 234 ft. above O.D. The E. side remains as a wet ditch 162 ft. long, 22 ft. wide and 1½ ft. deep to the water level and a depression 30 ft. wide and 1 ft. deep marks the line of the N. side. 19th-century maps (estate map 1808, C.U.L.; tithe map 1839, T.R.C.) show that it was an elongated rectangle with an entrance in the centre of the N. side, measuring about 450 ft. E. to W. by 160 ft. N. to S.
(9) Cultivation Remains. Ridge and furrow survives near the Hall (e.g. around N.G. TL 357618, 354615 and 359615; not on O.S.) but formerly existed over a larger area since ploughed. The remains all have straight ridges 80 yds. to 280 yds. long, 7 yds. to 9 yds. wide, 6 ins. to 9 ins. high with headlands of 7 yds. to 9 yds. An access way 20 ft. wide and 6 ins. deep runs N. and S. through the block around N.G. TL 354615. These were probably all in old enclosures.
Traces on air photographs show a few blocks of both straight and reversed-S ridge and furrow in Great Park and to the S.E. of Monument (2). Curved field boundaries suggest that fields were formed by enclosing open-field furlongs or blocks of furlongs.