Victoria County History



A. P. M. Wright & C. P. Lewis (Editors)

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'Milton: Introduction', A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 9: Chesterton, Northstowe, and Papworth Hundreds (1989), pp. 177-179. URL: Date accessed: 27 November 2014.


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THE small ancient parish of Milton (fn. 25) lay beside the river Cam, almost 5 km. (3 miles) north-east of Cambridge. Nearly square, it covered 1,416 a. until 1912, when 1,622 a. were transferred from Chesterton, of which 694 a. were shortly transferred again to Impington, leaving Milton with 2,344 a. (fn. 26) In 1934 294 a. south of the village, containing the Cambridge sewage farm, were transferred to Cambridge, leaving Milton with 2,050 a. (830 ha.) in 1981, including a detached area east of the sewage farm in the former Chesterton fen. (fn. 27)

Milton lies upon the gault, overlaid along the river bank by alluvium and further west largely by gravels. (fn. 28) It is virtually flat, lying at under 10 m. (33 ft.). To the east near the river its former fen is drained by a network of channels. In the early 17th century the fen, divided into Lug (Lodge) and Baitsbite fens, covered probably 230 a. (fn. 29) The manorial court then often appointed fen and field reeves to oversee the repair of the banks and maintenance of the watercourses there. (fn. 30) The banks were being repaired in the 1770s at much expense, though not entirely effectively, because Samuel Knight, then lord, and other landowners would not cooperate. (fn. 31) At inclosure in 1802 a new bank was made; (fn. 32) the windmill put up to drain the ditch was taken down in 1841. (fn. 33) No ancient woodland survives, but the grounds of Milton Hall were from the late 18th century well planted. (fn. 34) The parish was formerly devoted mainly to arable farming, being cultivated in three open fields until 1800. After 1900 much land was used for market gardening and gravel digging, and some was absorbed by suburbs. (fn. 35)

The population probably increased considerably between 1086, when there were 31 peasants, besides 5 servi, (fn. 36) and 1279, when there were some 75 tenants. (fn. 37) In 1327 there were 30 resident taxpayers, (fn. 38) while 146 adults paid the poll tax in 1377. (fn. 39) Although in 1524 only 18 people paid the subsidy, (fn. 40) by 1563 there were 36 households, (fn. 41) and still under Charles II some 40 dwellings, (fn. 42) which contained in 1676 c. 86 adults. (fn. 43) Milton grew slowly until the late 18th century: 40 families contained 170 souls in 1728, (fn. 44) while 39 houses held 224 inhabitants in 1782, (fn. 45) and c. 40 dwellings housed some 55 families c. 1800 with 270 people. (fn. 46) After growing gradually to 377 in 1831, numbers increased by over 90 in each decade until 1851 and after dropping by a tenth by 1861 recovered to 576 in 1871. The late 19th-century decline usual in the area, to 471 by 1901, was masked from 1911 by the addition of part of Chesterton, then containing c. 75 people. Thereafter the population of the enlarged parish was almost static at 740 from the 1910s to the 1950s. Growth thereafter was rapid: the population doubled from 850 in 1961 to over 1,700 in private households in 1971, falling slightly by 1981. (fn. 47)

The village stood almost in the centre of the ancient parish by a road leading north-east from Cambridge, which until the 1790s forked at a triangular green in the middle of the village into Beach Way, running north to Landbeach, and Waterbeach Way, both so named by 1600. (fn. 48) The latter formed a section of the Cambridge-Ely turnpike road from 1763 to 1874, (fn. 49) when the toll keeper's cottage put up c. 1824 was demolished. (fn. 50) The road was diverted in 1795 round the new manorial park, (fn. 51) but a new road laid out in the 1970s virtually followed the earlier route. From the green Fen Lane or Road led past Hall, later Fen, End to the Cam at Baitsbite Lock. The parish's straight western boundary follows the line of a Roman road, (fn. 52) perhaps once locally called Street Way. (fn. 53) At inclosure in 1802 a straight road was laid out leading west to Impington from Butt Lane in the village, which later gave its name to the whole route. (fn. 54) A bypass built between 1976 and 1978 west of the village, cutting off Butt Lane, runs from the Cambridge northern bypass, which occupies much of the south of the enlarged parish. (fn. 55) The CambridgeEly line, built by the Great Eastern Railway and opened in 1845, (fn. 56) was still in regular use in the 1980s.

By the late 18th century (fn. 57) buildings in the village stood mostly on the high street and along Fen Lane to its east. From the early 17th century the northern half of the village area was largely occupied by manorial closes, which were later converted into parkland. One house was distinguished as the 'tiled house' in 1521. (fn. 58) East of the green a few thatched cottages of the 17th century and later stand at the junction of Fen Lane with Church Lane leading north-east to the church and Hall. Most notable is Queen Anne Lodge, on a late medieval plan of hall and cross wing, although its present structure is probably 17th-century. Its exterior has plaster reliefs of busts, lions' heads, and fruit swags, augmented in the 20th century; inside one room has moulded ceiling beams. (fn. 59) It was restored c. 1960 and in 1976. (fn. 60) Many older houses were lost in a great fire of 1735. (fn. 61) At inclosure there were 14 houses and 21 cottages. (fn. 62) Most of the existing older buildings in the village are plain grey-brick 19th-century cottages and farmhouses. Only after inclosure could a few farmsteads be put up on the former open fields, such as Rectory Farm to the north and Benet Farm (fn. 63) by the old Chesterton border. In the mid 19th century there were usually c. 60 dwellings along the high street, 30-35 at Fen End, 5 on Church Lane, and 7 on Butt Lane, gradually rising to 17 by 1881. There were 14 empty houses in the 1870s, while the number occupied fell from c. 125 in 1871 to c. 100 by 1901. (fn. 64) By 1910, when Milton contained c. 40 houses and 83 cottages, almost half the cottages were at Fen End. (fn. 65)

After 1914 the number of dwellings increased steadily to 199 by 1931 and 285 in 1961. (fn. 66) Growth in the village was mainly by infilling, but to the south there was some ribbon building along the road towards Cambridge, including c. 20 council houses on the east side. Piped water and electricity reached the village by the 1940s, but there was still no main sewerage c. 1945. (fn. 67) Rapid growth overtook Milton in the early 1960s: by 1971 it had 580 houses. (fn. 68) Cole's Lane was laid out parallel to the high street to the southeast and Old School Lane off the street on the east. Major growth was then deliberately delayed, partly because of drainage difficulties, (fn. 69) for almost ten years. A plan in the 1970s by Cambridge city council to build 1,800 houses to the south-west (fn. 70) was modified in 1982, after prolonged and vigorous resistance by the villagers, (fn. 71) to permit c. 600 houses each side of Butt Lane as far as the village bypass. (fn. 72) By 1986 only the area north of the lane had been built over.

In the 19th century the village had 4 or 5 public houses, besides beerhouses. (fn. 73) The Three Tuns, established by 1765, closed after 1910, (fn. 74) while the White Horse on the high street, also open in the 1760s, (fn. 75) was still open in 1986. The Lion and Lamb, open by 1841, remained in 1986 in a 17th-century house, cased later in brick. (fn. 76) Between 1848 and the 1870s it was the meeting place of the local lodge of the Ancient Shepherds. (fn. 77) At the Jolly Brewers off Fen Lane the Essex family ran a brewery from the 1840s (fn. 78) to c. 1925. (fn. 79)

In 1802 the village's Camping close, previously claimed by King's College, the patron, was ceded to the rector. (fn. 80) About 1800 the village Feast was being held about mid Lent, (fn. 81) but c. 1835 to reduce disorder its three days were moved to run from the second Sunday in May. (fn. 82) W. H. Illingworth, a local builder, in 1892 gave a reading room off the high street, which had 65 members in 1897. (fn. 83) Still used as the village institute in the 1960s, (fn. 84) it was sold and demolished in 1968, (fn. 85) following the opening of a new village hall and sports pavilion in 1964 at the corner of the recreation ground off Cole's Lane newly acquired by the parish council. (fn. 86) The new hall was enlarged in 1971 and 1976, (fn. 87) but was again too small by 1985. (fn. 88) From the 1960s Milton had a range of clubs catering for various ages, sexes, and sports, including football and cricket. (fn. 89)

The antiquary William Cole, a pioneer of local history in Cambridgeshire, lived at Milton between 1770 and his death in 1782. (fn. 90) Between 1768 and 1770 he spent £600 on reconstructing and enlarging a small timber-framed 17th-century farmhouse belonging to King's College. He built out two bow windows with Gothick window frames toward the garden, and incorporated fragments of late medieval masonry in the north exterior walls. His collection of stained glass in the windows was removed and sold under his will in 1783. (fn. 91) T. W. Dunn, an antiques dealer, who bought the house in the 1920s, added a bay to the west in matching style by c. 1930. (fn. 92)


25 This account was completed in 1986. Previous accounts of the parish include W. K. Clay, Hist. Parish of Milton (1869, C.A.S. 8vo ser. xi); K. A. Humphries, 'Story of Milton, or Middleton' (1962): copy in Cambs. Colln.
26 Census, 1891, 1911, 1921. This account does not cover the area transferred from Chesterton except for aspects of it that impinge directly upon Milton village.
27 Census, 1931, 1971, 1981.
28 Geol. Surv. Map 1/50,000, drift, sheet 187 (1975 edn.). For the parish, O.S. Maps 6", Cambs. XL. NW., NE., SE. (1889 and later edns.); 1/25,000, TL 46 (1958 and later edns.); above, Landbeach, intro., map.
29 B.L. Add. MS. 33466, f. 186; Wells, Bedf. Level, ii. 174.
30 C.R.O., L 3/9, s.a. 1650, 1666-7.
31 B.L. Add. MS. 5810, f. 165v.; cf. Vancouver, Agric. in Cambs. 131.
32 Milton Incl. Act, 39 & 40 Geo. 111, c. 19 (Private, not printed), p. 13; C.R.O., Q/RDz 5, pp. 95-6.
33 Humphries, 'Milton', 7.
34 Below, manor.
35 Below, econ. hist.
36 V.C.H. Cambs. i. 395.
37 Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 452-3.
38 Cambs. Lay Subsidy, 1327, 67-8.
39 East Anglian, n.s. xii. 256.
40 P.R.O., E 179/81/126, m. 25.
41 B.L. Harl. MS. 594, f. 199v.
42 Below, Analysis of Hearth Tax Assessments.
43 Compton Census, ed. Whiteman, 157.
44 C.U.L., E.D.R., B 8/1, f. 24.
45 B.L. Add. MS. 5033, f. 55v.
46 Vancouver, Agric. in Cambs, 132; Census, 1801.
47 Census, 1811-1981.
48 Cf. C.R.O., L 35/1, 2.
49 Above, Chesterton, intro.; cf. C.R.O., Q/RDz 5, p. 42.
50 Camb. Chron. 11 June 1824; 30 May 1874.
51 C.R.O., L 35/2.
52 Cf. above, Waterbeach, intro.
53 e.g. C.R.O., L 35/1-2.
54 Ibid. Q/RDz 5, pp. 42-3.
55 Camb. Evening News, 25 Oct., 2 Nov. 1976; 9 Aug., 8 Nov. 1977; 3 Oct. 1978.
56 V.C.H. Cambs. ii. 131 sqq.
57 For layout, C.R.O., Q/RDc 4 (incl. map); for street names and houses: P.R.O., HO 107/69; HO 107/1759; ibid. RG 9/1021; RG 10/1582; RG 11/1661.
58 B.L. Add. MS. 5861, f. 76v.
59 M.H.L.G. list; date 1703 on a gable possibly placed there only during 20th-cent. alterations: Camb. Ind. Press, 5 Feb. 1960; cf. note on illus. of ho. in Cambs. Colln.
60 Camb. Ind. Press, 29 Jan. 1960; Camb. Evening News, 7 Aug. 1976.
61 East Anglian, N.S. ii. 96.
62 C.R.O., Q/RDc 4, table.
63 So named only in 19th cent.; cf. below, econ. hist.
64 Census, 1871-1901.
65 C.R.O., 470/0 103.
66 Census, 1921-61.
67 Bartlett Sch. of Archit., Milton Regional Development Scheme, Rep. (1942-5), p. 24 (copy in Cambs. Colln.).
68 K. A. Humphries, 'Milton Area District Plan, studies' (1979) (copy in Cambs. Colln.).
69 Census, 1971.
70 e.g. Camb. Evening News, 4 Aug. 1970; 14 Nov. 1974; 20 Jan. 1975; 2 Mar., 6 Dec. 1977; 3 Sept. 1978.
71 Ibid. 1 Feb. 1978; 3 July 1979; 12, 20, 26 Feb. 1980; 5 June 1981.
72 Ibid. 19 Aug., 25 Sept. 1981; 19 May, 10, 21 Sept. 1982; 25 Apr. 1983; 2 Feb., 31 May 1984; 9 May 1985.
73 Para. based mainly on Gardner's Dir. Cambs. (1851); Kelly's Dir. Cambs. (1858-1937).
74 Cf. C.R.O., 470/0 103.
75 C.R.O., Q/RLv 2, ff. 23, 132, 244 (from card index).
76 Camb. Chron. 28 Aug. 1841; cf. M.H.L.G. list.
77 Camb. Chron. 14 July 1849; 7 Jan. 1855; 9 Jan. 1869.
78 e.g. P.R.O., HO 107/69; C.R.O., L 35/11.
79 C.R.O., 515/SP 789.
80 C.U.L., E.D.R., H 1/Milton 1638; C.R.O., Q/RDz 5, p. 46; cf. Incl. Act, p. 14; Clay, Milton, 25.
81 B.L. Add. MS. 9413, f. 9v.
82 Clay, Milton, 29-30; cf. Camb. Chron. 14 May 1870.
83 Camb. Chron. 28 Oct. 1892; C.U.L., E.D.R., C 3/38.
84 Cf. Kelly's Dir. Cambs. (1896-1937).
85 Camb. News, Aug. 1967 (Cambs. Colln., press cuttings: villages: Milton); ibid. 13 Nov. 1968.
86 Camb. News, 24 July, 15 Dec. 1964; 11 Jan. 1968.
87 Camb. Evening News, 19 May, 30 June 1973; 3 Oct. 1975; 11 May 1976.
88 Ibid. 27 July 1984; 23 Jan., 13 June 1985.
89 Camb. Ind. Press, 29 Jan. 1960; Camb. Evening News, 29 Mar. 1974.
90 D.N.B.
91 Palmer, Wm. Cole, 32-43; Horace Walpole, Corr. ed. W. S. Lewis, i. 142-3, 155, 193; J. Nichols, Literary Illustrations, vi. 297-300; B.L. Add. MS. 5834, ff. 192-8.
92 Palmer, Wm. Cole, 32; above, plate facing p. 77; cf. Kelly's Dir. Cambs. (1922-9).