Little Wilbraham


Victoria County History



A F Wareham, A P M Wright

Year published


Supporting documents




Comment on this article
Double click anywhere on the text to add an annotation in-line

Citation Show another format:

'Little Wilbraham ', A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 10: Cheveley, Flendish, Staine and Staploe Hundreds (north-eastern Cambridgeshire) (2002), pp. 319-321. URL: Date accessed: 26 November 2014.


(Min 3 characters)


Little Wilbraham, lying c. 8 km. (5 miles) east of Cambridge, (fn. 38) and covering 806 ha. (1,990 a.), (fn. 39) was by 1086 an independent vill, (fn. 40) known as Little Wilbraham by the mid 13th century. (fn. 41) It is divided from its slightly larger southern neighbour, Great Wilbraham, by the Little Wilbraham river, which rises near Wilbraham Temple, the main house in Great Wilbraham parish. Further south-east the parish has a long straight boundary stretching to the line of the Icknield way. The elongated parish, which reaches across that way, includes at its southeast extremity the 19th-century settlement called Six Mile Bottom after its distance from the Newmarket racecourse start. Little Wilbraham's north-eastern and northern boundaries follow former field and fen boundaries. The parish lies on the Middle Chalk, overlaid in the north-west with Totternhoe Stone and the Cambridge Greensand. There are deposits of river gravels, especially near the brook and the village. (fn. 42) The surface slopes gently from over 30 m. (100 ft.) in the south-east to 15 m. (50 ft.) near the village, while the north-west end of the parish consists of fenland below 15 m., imperfectly drained until after 1800. (fn. 43)

No ancient woodland was recorded in 1086. (fn. 44) In the late 19th century belts of trees were planted on the Six Mile Bottom estate to assist game preservation. (fn. 45) A 25-a. field facing Wilbraham Temple had been similarly planted after 1800 so as to be visually part of that house's parkland. (fn. 46) A royal forester of Wilbraham was recorded from the 1170s until the 1220s. (fn. 47) Newmarket being a centre for the Stuart kings' hunting, from 1605 to the 1680s the Crown regularly appointed keepers, perhaps after 1660 sinecurists, for a royal warren called Wilbraham Bushes, (fn. 48) which probably included the parish's south-eastern corner.

An Anglo-Saxon cemetery a mile south-east of the village, was excavated, mostly in 1851, partly c. 1926. It contained c. 300 burials, a third cremations, probably dating from the pagan period. (fn. 49) From the 13 peasants recorded, with 5 servi, in 1086 (fn. 50) the number of landholders increased to c. 40 by 1279. (fn. 51) The fifteenth was paid by 38 people in 1327, (fn. 52) the poll tax by 108 adults in 1377, (fn. 53) and the subsidy by c. 30 people in 1524. (fn. 54) In 1563 there were only 21 families, (fn. 55) but the population may have risen in the late 16th and early 17th centuries before declining after 1640. (fn. 56) Under Charles II there were c. 40 dwellings, and 124 adults were reported in 1676. (fn. 57) After probably declining by a third or more between 1690 and c. 1740, numbers recovered from the 1750s (fn. 58) and stood at 183, in 41 families, in 1801. The total population in the parish rose steadily to reach 397 in 1851, and after dipping briefly in the 1860s stood at 412 in 1881 before falling gradually to 266 in 1951. It rose to 388 in 1961 and was c. 350 in the 1980s. (fn. 59)

Little Wilbraham, almost entirely devoted to agriculture, consisted until inclosure in 1797 of arable open fields in the south-eastern two thirds and fen pasture in the north-west. The village, close to their meeting point, lay largely along a curving street, running east-west, ¼ mile north of the brook.

In the 1980s a few small farmhouses and cottages, timber-framed, but some partly cased in brick, and some still thatched, survived from the 17th and early 18th century. (fn. 60) White Hall, timber-framed of c. 1600, has a central two-storeyed projecting gabled porch, with matching pendants and finials. Its central room contains a pilastered oak fireplace with a panelled overmantel. (fn. 61)

In 1800, as still in the 1980s, (fn. 62) there was a gap in habitation where the village street curved south, west of its junction with a road from Bottisham. To the east, on the part called Green street by 1460, (fn. 63) lay the church and rectory, to the west, on a section probably called Hawk street by 1350, (fn. 64) were most of the farmhouses and cottages. In the mid 19th century (fn. 65) there were 15-20 houses at Church End to the east, 35-40 along Main or Front Street to the west, and another 10-12 on Mill Street (fn. 66) and at Frog End beyond. After 1880 the falling population led to c. 12 houses being empty by the 1890s. (fn. 67) In 1910 there were 18 houses and 43 cottages in and near the village. (fn. 68) New houses were built between 1960 and 1975 at the west end of the main street and near Rectory Farm. (fn. 69)

By the 1790s a stable keeper had paddocks at Six Mile Bottom. (fn. 70) By 1802 a substantial house, later called the Lodge, had been built there, just across the Bottisham border amidst c. 37 a. mostly inclosed in 1802 from Bottisham heath. An early occupant was probably Col. George Leigh, a racing man and intimate of the Prince of Wales, on whose behalf it was ostensibly acquired in 1806. (fn. 71) Leigh's wife Augusta was half-sister to Lord Byron, who several times visited her there, 1813-15. (fn. 72) The plain Regency house, whose owner enlarged it to the rear in the 1870s, had 55 a. of grounds when offered for sale in 1879. (fn. 73) It belonged by 1890 to Herbert De la Rue of the printing family, who in 1891 had it remodelled and added a larger wing to the south-east. He occupied it with those grounds until c. 1920. From the 1920s it served the Swynford Paddocks stud. (fn. 74) The house was by the 1980s a country hotel, while 40 a. of surrounding paddocks were still in use in 1990 as a stud. (fn. 75)

There was little other settlement near that house before the 1840s. In 1851 at Six Mile Bottom there were 14-17 dwellings, by 1861 22, by 1871 27, while its inhabitants numbered c. 100 from the 1860s and c. 170 in 1921. (fn. 76) The 22 dwellings there in 1912 almost all belonged to the owners of the Six Mile Bottom estate. (fn. 77) About 1975 the estate modernized 20 of its 34 houses, replacing a row of the 10 earliest cottages with bungalows. (fn. 78)

By the 13th century the parish was crossed by the Street way, running parallel with the Icknield way. (fn. 79) Curving fieldways, called by 1600 the Wilbraham, Bottisham, and Cambridge ways, connected the village with Great Wilbraham, Bottisham, and the line of the later CambridgeNewmarket turnpike road to the north. The Wood or Westley way led south-east, across Street Way, towards the Icknield way, (fn. 80) whose line formed between 1724 and 1871 formed part of the Great Chesterford to Newmarket turnpike. (fn. 81) The Great Eastern railway line to Newmarket, first opened in 1848 and linked to Cambridge in 1851, (fn. 82) had by the 1860s a station at Six Mile Bottom. (fn. 83) The line was still open in 1989, but the station was closed in stages between 1964 and 1967 and sold soon after. (fn. 84) In the late 1970s a section of dual carriageway, linking the former turnpike with the improved Cambridge-Newmarket road and Newmarket bypass was laid out, mostly on an embankment, across the south-east end of the parish. (fn. 85)

The Gate, originally the village's main public house, recorded from 1783 and rebuilt in brick c. 1859, (fn. 86) closed after 1937. Of two others the Greyhound, rebuilt in 1913, closed c. 1970. The Hole in the Wall was still open in 1989, in a 3bayed, probably mid 16th-century house, enlarged westward in the 18th; it retains a 2bayed hall with a chamber above it and a service wing to the east. (fn. 87) The Green Man at Six Mile Bottom, part of the former Anglesey estate c. 1800 as in the 1920s, (fn. 88) was perhaps the inn with stabling for 22 horses reported in 1686. (fn. 89) It catered for turnpike traffic by 1780 and was still open in 1989. (fn. 90)

The village feast, held on the green by the church on the Thursday after Midsummer, was still being celebrated c. 1915. (fn. 91) A former poorhouse, perhaps the Town house mentioned in 1616, and used in the 19th century as the village cage, was by the 1920s converted into a reading room. (fn. 92) At Six Mile Bottom W. H. Hall, the landowner, from 1870 provided a recreation ground for his tenantry; from 1978 it was a cricket field, where a local cricket club played in the 1980s. In 1874 Hall opened a reading room, in use until the 1930s. An associated coffee room closed after 1912. (fn. 93) In 1975 his successor Lady Delemere opened the former Six Mile Bottom school as a community centre. (fn. 94) By the 1970s Little Wilbraham parish council was renting a recreation ground near the village from the district council. (fn. 95)


38 This account was completed in 1991. Earlier ones include H. P. Stokes, Hist. Wilbraham Parishes (C.A.S. 8vo ser. 1) (1926), esp. 87-137. For the parish, O.S. Maps 6", Cambs. XLI. SW.; XLVIII. NW., NE., SE. (1898-91 and later edns.); 1/25,000, TL 55 (1956 and later edns.).
39 Census, 1891, 1971.
40 V.C.H. Cambs. i. 404.
41 e.g. Val. of Norwich, ed. Lunt, 214; Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 492; not 'Little' in Liber de Bernewelle, 214; Feud. Aids, ii. 921.
42 Geol. Surv. Map 1", solid and drift, sheet 188 (1965 edn.).
43 Below, econ. hist.; local govt.
44 None mentioned: V.C.H. Cambs. i. 361, 390, 404.
45 Ibid. v. 301.
46 Cf. O.S. Map 6", Cambs. XLVIII. NW. (1889 edn.).
47 e.g. Pipe R. 1171 (P.R.S. xviii), 168; 1188 (P.R.S. xxxviii), 47; 1199 (P.R.S. N.S. x), 154; 1218 (P.R.S.N.S. xxxix), 139.
48 Proc. C.A.S. xxiii. 71-3; Cal. S.P. Dom. 1678, p. 347.
49 V.C.H. Cambs. i. 318; Proc. C.A.S. xxix. 95-104; lxix. 9-26; Fox, Arch. Camb. Region, 260-2; A. Meaney, Gazetteer of Early A.-S. Burial Sites, 70-1.
50 V.C.H. Cambs. i. 390.
51 Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 492-4.
52 Cambs. Lay Subsidy, 1327, 11-12.
53 East Anglian, N.S. xii. 258.
54 P.R.O., E 179/81/163, mm. 10d.-11 (faded).
55 B.L. Harl. MS. 594, f. 199v.
56 Deduced from C.R.O., par. reg. transcript, for 1558- 1801.
57 Below, hearth tax returns; Compton Census, ed. Whiteman, 164.
58 C.R.O., par. reg. transcript.
59 Ibid. P 175/25/1, at end (original 1801 census return); Census, 1811-1991.
60 Bldgs. described, D.o.E. list.
61 Ibid. no. 50/489.
62 Compare C.R.O., P 175/26/6 (incl. map 1802); O.S. Map 1/10,000, TL 55 NW. (1981 edn.); cf. map 21.
63 P.R.O., SC 2/155/78: ct. roll 2 Edw. IV; cf. C.C.C. Mun., XXIII/18: 34 Eliz. I.
64 e.g. P.R.O., E 40/14476; cf. P.N. Cambs. (E.P.N.S.), 189.
65 For 19th-cent. layout and street names, P.R.O., HO 107/72, pp. 1-14; HO 107/1759, ff. 524v.-33; ibid. RG 9/1021, ff. 20-26v.; RG 10/1582, ff. 1-10; RG 11/1661, ff. 116-23.
66 e.g. P.R.O., E 40/14513: 'Milnway' (1345).
67 Census, 1891-1901.
68 C.R.O., 470/O 127; cf. ibid. 296/SP 1078.
69 O.S. Map 1/10,000, TL 55 NW. (1960, 1974, 1981 edns.); cf. Camb. Evening News, 20 July 1973.
70 Camb. Chron. 24 Oct. 1785, p. 2; 6 Feb. 1796, p. 3.
71 C.U.L., Doc. 1391; cf. C.R.O., Q/RDz 5, pp. 117, 260.
72 P. Quennell, Byron (1974), 123-5, 137-8, 187, 194, 198, 200, 211-13, 218; cf. Camb. Evening News, 17 Sept. 1984.
73 W. Suff. R.O., HE 500/1/10.
74 Kelly's Dir. Cambs (1883-1937); Camb. Daily News, 19 June 1891, p. 6, illustrating both hos.
75 Camb. Evening News, 17 Aug., 25 Sept. 1984; C.R.O., SP 175/7; Cambs. Dir. Commerce and Ind. (1988).
76 P.R.O., HO 107/1759, ff. 523v.-524; HO 107/1762, f. 299v.; ibid. RG 9/1021, ff. 26v.-28; RG 9/1033, f. 29; RG 10/1582, ff. 10-12; RG 10/1598, f. 19; (nos. of hos. include 3-4 in Bottisham parish); Camb. Chron. 12 Jan. 1867, p. 8; Stokes, Wilbrahams, 139.
77 C.R.O., 47O/O 127; cf. ibid. 296/SP 1078.
78 Camb. Evening News, 1 Apr. 1972; 4 Jan. 1973; 24 Mar. 1975.
79 e.g. P.R.O., E 40/14355, 14473.
80 For pre-incl. road layout and names, C.U.L., E.D.R., H 1/Lt. Wilbraham 1615, 1787; C.R.O., Q/RDz 4, pp. 161-2.
81 Stump Cross Turnpike Road Act, 10 Geo. I, c. 12; Annual Turnpike Acts Continuance Act, 33 & 34 Vic. c. 73.
82 V.C.H. Cambs. ii. 132-3.
83 Cf. P.R.O., RG 9/1021, ff. 27v.-28; RG 11/1661, ff. 123-125v.
84 C.R. Clinker, Reg. Closed Stations (2nd edn., 1988.), 124, 173; C.R.O., SP 175/5.
85 O.S. Map, 1/10,000, TL 55 NE. (1981 edn.); cf. above, Stow cum Quy.
86 e.g. C.R.O., Q/RLv 2, p. 87; Q/RLv 6, p. 241; C.R.O., L 76/199.
87 Kelly's Dir. Cambs. (1858-1937); C.R.O., 296/SP 967; Newmarket Fnl, 20 Jan. 1977; 5 Feb. 1981; D.o.E. list, no. 17/37.
88 e.g. 28th Rep. Com. Char. [606], p. 208, H.C. (1834), xxii; C.R.O., 296/SP 1138.
89 P.R.O., WO 30/48, f. 17v.; cf. J.P. Hore, Hist. Newmarket, ii. 382-4.
90 C.R.O., Q/RLv 2, p. 18; Camb. Evening News, 6 July 1988.
91 C.R.O., P 175/AM 1, p. 186.
92 Stokes, Wilbrahams, 130; cf. C.C.C. Mun., XXIII/19: 14 Jas. I.
93 Kelly's Dir. Cambs. (1879-1937); C.R.O., 296/SP 1078; Camb. Chron. 17 Jan. 1874, p. 4; Camb. Evening News, 27 Nov. 1974; 6 Apr. 1978.
94 Camb. Evening News, 24 Mar. 1975.
95 Ibid. 13 July 1979.