A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 10, Cheveley, Flendish, Staine and Staploe Hundreds (North-Eastern Cambridgeshire). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2002.
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In 1086, when probably half of 25 hides, including all the 2½ on the Mandeville manor, but only 14 out of 35 ploughlands, were held in demesne, the four lords other than the king's sheriff had only 9 ploughteams between them. The peasantry, including besides the 26 royal sokemen 32 villani and 29 bordars and cottars, possessed altogether another 20 teams. The yield of the then Ely manor, with no demesne team, had fallen since 1066 by £5 to £1; that of the other non-royal ones was constant at £28. (fn. 1)
By 1279 (fn. 2) the proportion of arable held in demesne had probably declined in relation to that held by the peasantry, who occupied land assessed at c. 70 yardlands, of which only 26½ were held in villeinage. Zouches demesne, which had probably been in its lord's hands since the 1220s, his crops being plundered by Montfortians c. 1266, (fn. 3) supposedly covered 180 a. in 1368. (fn. 4) The Beauchamp demesne, later Colvilles, was reckoned as 147 a. in 1302, (fn. 5) but 280 a. by 1375, (fn. 6) while that of Dunmows comprised 100-120 a. c. 1370 (fn. 7) and Shardelowes' c. 100 a. c. 1400. (fn. 8)
In 1279 (fn. 9) the freehold included 13 yardlands on Zouches manor, 23 on the Giffards', later Shardelowes, and Dunmows' manors, and 7½ on the other two. It was then still nominally divided into c. 16 full, 44 half, and 21 quarter yardlands. In practice alienation, sometimes to kinsfolk, had greatly fragmented the traditional holdings; some head tenants of ancient yardlands apparently occupied only a few acres. About 27 freeholders who owned 20 a. or more, eleven of them having over 30 a., possessed almost 1,000 a., and another 46 with 5-19 a. just over 500 a., but c. 110 others with under 5 a. each had barely 160 a. altogether. Forty more had merely houses or cottages. Although the rents set on free half yardlands varied greatly from 5-7s. up to 15-20s., the subinfeudated freeholdings throughout the vill paid rents at a virtually standard rate of 1d. per arable rood. The customary holdings were ostensibly more intact in 1279, when they comprised c. 8 full, 31 half, and 12 quarter yardlands, of which 3, 22, and 2 belonged to Zouches manor; most of the smallest tenements were held of the Beauchamps. (fn. 10) In 1279 villein tenants' labour services, relatively light, no weekwork being required on any manor, included instead ploughing (1½ a.), harrowing, haymaking, and harvest boons.
About 1435 a few customary tenants holding of Manners and Colvilles manors were still formally liable to plough and harrow. On Zouches manor the three traditional loveboons then, as in 1279, due from 15 tenants were used to reap 40 a. of wheat and barley. In practice most holdings had been rented out for cash, and others were in the lord's hands, sometimes abandoned by bondmen who had fled. (fn. 11) On Dunmows manor one family of bondmen by blood was still recorded c. 1390-1430. (fn. 12)
The lords of Zouches still had their demesne in hand, not only in 1360, (fn. 13) but as late as 1435-6 when c. 360 a. derived from that, Manners, and Colvilles demesnes were being cropped; another 70 a. was leased to villagers. Besides assize rents totalling nominally £32 (£22 net), over two thirds of which arose from Zouches manor, the lord obtained from his farm a profit of £18, on £55 expended, from selling wheat (98 qr.), malted barley (120 qr.), and 306 fleeces. The land was largely worked by the waged staff, including a carter, two shepherds, and three pairs of ploughmen, although 22 'acremen' were apparently hired for the harvest. (fn. 14) That demesne, probably leased out soon after, was again briefly taken back into the lord's hands c. 1460-1 on a reduced scale and restocked, horses being acquired for draught. Only 195 a., however, were sown and no sheep were kept. (fn. 15) From 1464 to the 1480s the whole remaining demesne of Zouches, Manners, and Colvilles was leased out for terms of 9 years, partly in parcels, to local men. (fn. 16) By 1505 Robert Wright, who c. 1500 owned 120 a. of his own, was lessee. He also farmed Shardelowes demesne, (fn. 17) which had been leased by 1380 (fn. 18) and remained a separate unit during the 15th century. (fn. 19) Dunmows demesne had probably been kept in the hands of its often resident lords into the early 15th century, (fn. 20) although small pieces were sometimes leased out. (fn. 21) The whole was finally leased as one farm from 1464 at latest. (fn. 22)
On Colvilles manor c. 80 a. of customary land had been left by 1375 in its lady's hands. (fn. 23) On Zouches and its attached manors, too, the equivalent of 10½ customary yardlands was nominally in the lord's hands in the early 15th century, although most of it was rented out again by 1435, partly under Lord Burnell, 1400-20, for terms mostly of up to 15 years. The rents initially set at £1 per half yardland had by 1435 been mostly reduced to 12-16s. (fn. 24) Some land was still known to be of 'Manners tenure' in 1535, (fn. 25) but by the 17th century all was treated as copyhold of Zouches manor. (fn. 26) In the 18th century entry fines were formally at the lord's will. (fn. 27) At inclosure only 362 a. were claimed as copyhold of Zouches. (fn. 28) The 338 a. allotted for it with 61 a. assigned for copyhold common rights (fn. 29) were gradually enfranchised from the 1850s. (fn. 30)
By the late 12th century, when baulks to divide furlongs were still possibly being created by ploughing near Wulves Street in the far west of the vill, (fn. 31) the arable south and west of the village was mostly divided, as it continued to be until 1808, into three large fields. (fn. 32) Woodbridge field lay to the south-east, Smallway field to the south-west, Cross, before 1500 Cors, (fn. 33) field, in the western angle. A smaller field called Eye field then occupied the slightly rising ground north of the village. Its earlier name, presumably indicating its being islanded among fenland, was between 1500 and 1570 corrupted to High field. Some blocks in the common fields hedged round by the 14th century were still internally divided into strips held in severalty by various owners, as in Rushcroft in Cross field, recorded in 1350. (fn. 34) A wide strip of former fen east of Eye field, beyond Hay Street, had also been assarted into closes, totalling at inclosure 120 a. (fn. 35) That was probably effected by the late 13th century: one 20-a. close was named after the Ingulfs, then prominent freeholders. (fn. 36) About 1800 there were several groups of arable closes in the fields, the largest south of the village. (fn. 37) The 2,160 a. traditionally titheable to All Saints rectory supposedly included 179 a. of such inclosed land. (fn. 38) As surveyed in 1807 the fields actually covered 3,065 a. with 784 a. of common fen to their north and 818 a. of several heath to the south. Of 505 a. of ancient closes then recorded (fn. 39) 190 a. mostly belonging to the manorial estates lay in a block east of the village. (fn. 40)
In 1279 Fulbourn's common heath stretched along the Icknield way, between the Fleam Dyke and Babraham way. (fn. 41) By 1800, as probably already in the late 16th century, most of the heathland had been appropriated as several by six large owners; their shares included Shardelowes heath (106 a.), the Vicarage heath (70 a.), and the Townleys', once the Docwras', Hall heath (205 a.) which lay in 1573 in the southern angle of the parish. Fulbourn's western angle was occupied by Cross heath (145 a.), similarly divided into shares. Only the Town heath (70 a.), so named in 1573, just south-west of the Fleam Dyke, remained formally common land, but it also was mostly grazed by 1800 by the flocks of the large sheepmasters who tended to claim exclusive rights over it. (fn. 42)
The common fenland extended in 1279, as c. 1800, from east of the assarts off Hay Street around the northern and western edges of Eye field. Its eastern section, partly called in 1279 Red fen, then probably stretched for 20 furlongs from the end of the Fleam Dyke to the Teversham border and round to 'Ressecroft' and 'Smalehe', perhaps Smallway field, while the smaller Hard fen lay on drier ground to the west. (fn. 43) In the 13th century some fenland may have been held at times in severalty: strips of up to 2 a. in Red fen were mentioned c. 1300. (fn. 44) In 1800 it was all permanent common. (fn. 45)
The open fields were under a triennial rotation in 1435-6 when the winter crops on Zouches demesne included wheat (107 a.) and maslin (54 a.), the spring crops barley (108 a.) and dredge (87 a.). The whole of Cross field was then cultivated in one 'season', while Eye field, the smallest, was grouped with Woodbridge field in another. (fn. 46) By 1461, however, the match between cropping seasons and fields was less definite: maslin was sown in Woodbridge field along with dredge and barley, which were also sown in Smallway field. (fn. 47) Although barley soon probably became the principal crop, (fn. 48) rye was still grown: one man in 1495 bequeathed 10 qr. of wheat, 30 of barley, 5 of rye. (fn. 49) In 1599 Edward Wood, still working his own large farm, grew rye as well as wheat. (fn. 50) In the 17th century some plots in High field could be kept hedged as grass leys when it was under the plough, but had to be laid open in years when it was fallow and commonable. (fn. 51) A Londoner, who had bought English saffron at Fulbourn in the 1490s, (fn. 52) was by 1506 leasing part of Shardelowes demesne to grow it. (fn. 53) Local men were also growing saffron by 1520. (fn. 54) In the 17th century it was usually planted in the open fields in hedged or fenced plots, whose inclosure by 1 May, or by Lammas, was still regularly prescribed in 18th-century agrarian bylaws. (fn. 55) Although saffron was still being grown in the 1690s, (fn. 56) well before 1800 its cultivation had ceased owing to declining demand and competition from imports. (fn. 57) In 1801 the winter sowing included 656 a. of wheat and 105 a. of rye, the spring one, besides 123 a. of oats, 790 a. of barley; turnips were sown to be fed off by livestock, while c. 130 a. more of turnips and clover were sown for seed. (fn. 58)
The southern heathland was largely devoted to pasture for sheep, which could also start feeding on the stubble field within three days after harvest ended. (fn. 59) In the 13th century rights of sheepwalk may have been widespread: one freeholder in 1286 claimed common for 30 sheep. (fn. 60) Substantial rights of foldage could still be conveyed with holdings as small as ½ a. not only c. 1270, but as late as 1420. (fn. 61) In modern times, however, right of sheepwalk, traditionally reckoned in long hundreds, was confined to a few large landowners. The Docwras, who had acquired common for '1,000' sheep with the demesnes in 1554, (fn. 62) enjoyed sheepwalk for six hundred for their main demesne farm in 1693 and four more hundred for Shardelowes, (fn. 63) while a 120-a. freehold had three hundred c. 1555-90. (fn. 64) In 1540 the lord of Zouches recognized Queens' College's right to common for 260 sheep for its 210-a. farm. (fn. 65) At inclosure such rights were claimed for c. 20 long hundreds altogether. (fn. 66) The Richmond manor had actually carried a flock of 150 sheep in 1086, (fn. 67) and Zouches demesne one of 336 in 1435-6. (fn. 68) In 1795 2,500 sheep were kept in the whole parish. (fn. 69)
By the 1280s the marshland was subject to rights of common at least for horses and oxen and, as some claimed, for all cattle, besides turbary. (fn. 70) In the 17th and 18th centuries (fn. 71) the fen commons were used mainly for pasturing cattle, which had to feed in a common herd, byherds being prohibited between Mayday and Michaelmas. By 1700 sheep might also feed there in December and January. In 1750 it was forbidden to put in cattle before 1 May, when the grass was sufficiently grown and the ground dried out. In 1795 cattle fed there between April and November. (fn. 72) Commoners could also dig turf for fuel there and cut straw, but only by day, between May or early June and Lammas; they must remove it by Michaelmas at latest. From 1733 straw cutting was restricted to two fens, one being Hard fen. By the 1760s turkeys were also being fed on the commons. Rights to common cattle were still nominally unstinted at inclosure, when 114 of 122 claims were allowed. Most owners had only one or two rights for their ancient messuages. (fn. 73) Only in 1803 was the letting of such rights to outsiders formally prohibited, while even then men not occupying commonable houses might feed stock and cut straw on the common. (fn. 74)
Further concentration of ownership had resulted by the late 15th century from an active market in freehold land. The 500 a. possessed in 1479 by Alexander Wood included two previous accumulations of 200 a. and 80 a. (fn. 75) By 1520 John Wood's estate had absorbed holdings of 8-24 a. once owned by over 15 other families. (fn. 76) There was much inequality by 1524: out of £412 of goods taxed in the vill, five people assessed on £20 or more owned £124 and 22 others worth £4-10 another £180, but 62 had only £2-3 each and 28 paid merely on their wages. (fn. 77) Some holdings, mostly copyhold, of 15-25 a. and of 35-45 a., survived, however, as independent units well into the early 17th century. (fn. 78) Occasional accumulations might be dispersed within families: in 1625 one holding of 67 a. was thus divided almost equally between its late owner's three sons. (fn. 79) In the late 16th century there were probably, besides the manorial and corporate estates, up to 20 substantial landholdings and 25-35 lesser ones. (fn. 80) Some yeoman families such as the Tunwells (fn. 81) and Hancocks (fn. 82) survived and prospered in one or more branches from the early 16th century to the late 18th. Other larger holdings, however, passed in the late 18th century to outsiders: c. 86 a. by 1780 to Royston brewers, (fn. 83) 330 a. c. 1792 to Bristol merchants. (fn. 84)
About 1800 (fn. 85) the two manorial farms, the Townleys' Hall farm then totalling 278 a. with 220 a. of closes, and Shardelowes farm with 298 a. in 1693, (fn. 86) later covering 306 a., occupied between them barely a seventh of the open-field arable. The parish clergy and charities had another 350 a., while collegiate and corporate property accounted for c. 800 a., including two farms of 220-40 a. and two more of c. 110 a., some recently held on beneficial leases by William Greaves. (fn. 87) Three large farms of over 200 a., two probably owner-occupied, covered 843 a. in all and five others of 100-60 a. each, another 710 a.; c. 25 lesser landholders, mostly with under 50 a. each, possessed 280 a. and 56 others with under 5 a. each had 27 a. in all.
An inclosure Act, proposed in 1804, (fn. 88) was obtained in 1806 (fn. 89) with little opposition. (fn. 90) It required that the public costs of inclosure be met by selling common land, (fn. 91) but, when the proposed sale was extended from the Town heath, originally intended, to include all the fens, 46 poorer commoners and cottagers, supported by the squire R. G. Townley, successfully protested. (fn. 92) An amending Act of 1808 laid those costs on a rate as usual. (fn. 93) Allotments were set out and the open-field system ended after the harvest of 1808, (fn. 94) but the award was delayed until 1814. (fn. 95) It covered altogether 4,512 a. of open fields and commons, besides 511 a. of ancient closes, partly exchanged. (fn. 96) The total share of the two manorial estates, including tithe allotments, was enlarged by almost a third to 1,535 a., while that of the clergy rose from 175 a. to 653 a., the amount of corporate property remaining nearly stable at 970 a. The main losers were the middling landowners with 100-350 a. each, whose total share fell from 1,860 a. including 250 a. of several heath, to 1,400 a. in all. Thirty smaller owners emerged with 220 a., and 40 owners of common rights, allotted 3-4 a. each, obtained in all 88 a., mostly in small lots off the Teversham road. (fn. 97)
Thereafter the bulk of the land (fn. 98) was contained in 7-8 large farms of 250 a. or more, mostly spread fanwise south and west of the village. At least five had farmhouses erected by 1820. (fn. 99) They covered 3,200-3,750 a. in the 1850s, when two farms exceeded 750 a., and c. 2,950 a. in 1910, when there were two of over 650 a. Most farms were leasehold, the Wrights occupying Hall farm under the Townleys from the 1830s to the 1980s. (fn. 100) The Chaplins owned 750 a. of the 1,250 a. which they farmed in 1910. In the early 20th century there were usually 20-25 smallholders with under 50 a. and 10-12 middling farmers. Five men then farmed over 300 a., but only two in 1970 when only ten smallholders remained. (fn. 101)
By the 1830s most of the parish was under the plough, only 130 a. of grassland being reported compared to 4,700 a. of arable. (fn. 102) By the 1820s a four-course rotation was being required on some farms. (fn. 103) On the half of the arable under corn, (fn. 104) usually 2,250-350 a. yearly until after 1900, wheat and barley were the main crops; much oats was also grown c. 1910-50. Barley overtook wheat from the 1930s, occupying 2-4 times as much land from the 1950s. Over 400 a. of sugar beet were grown by 1930 and almost 700 a. in 1970, with 120 a. of mustard. The area under grass rose sharply from c. 900 a. in 1870 to c. 1,300 a. about 1900, a third consisting of permanent pasture which was reduced to 200-300 a., apart from 165 a. of rough grazing, after 1950. The larger farms often carried flocks of 200-400 sheep. (fn. 105) Almost 3,000 grown sheep were fed in 1870, and still 2,000 in 1910, but keeping sheep had ceased by 1950. Often 1-200 grown cattle were then kept, mostly for milk. Half of the 470 recorded in 1950 were reared for meat, as were probably all the 270 of 1970.
In the mid 19th century, when the village could supply 145-150 adult labourers, a number reduced to 110 in the 1870s, the larger farmers had work for 143 men in 1851 and the smaller ones for 36 more, while in 1861 the farms altogether employed 126 men and 48 boys. Some farmers still held the traditional horkeys after harvest in 1863. (fn. 106) Threshing machines could be hired locally by 1830 (fn. 107) and drilling machines were in use by 1848. (fn. 108) By 1870 some farmers hired steam ploughs, available from a local contractor, for heavy work in the fen. (fn. 109) A local Agricultural Society, started in 1852, promoted ploughing matches into the 1860s. (fn. 110) About 1880 some farmers were employing only the minimum amount of labour needed. (fn. 111) By 1893 one large farm had gone out of cultivation, (fn. 112) but the larger farmers mostly survived the recent agricultural depression, few farms changing hands. In 1930 c. 180 men were still employed in the farms, 155 full-time, but by 1970 the number engaged in farming had fallen to c. 40. (fn. 113) On the former Queens' College farm, where eight men had worked 240 a. c. 1920, just two handled 900 a. by 1970. (fn. 114) About 1980 barely 2 per cent of those employed in Fulbourn worked in agriculture. (fn. 115)
A nursery producing flowers and trees, established on Station Road by 1873, was still in business c. 1950, (fn. 116) and there were usually 3-6 market gardeners 1900-35. (fn. 117) Two had extensive glasshouses c. 1916. (fn. 118) Although c. 1950-70 c. 55 a. were still occupied by market gardens, (fn. 119) in the late 20th century the sites of greenhouses, such as those on Mill Hill, partly disused by 1968, were threatened with redevelopment for housing. (fn. 120)
In 1086 the later Zouches manor had included a mill, (fn. 121) probably the water mill attached to it in the 14th century. (fn. 122) It stood south-east of the village, between Mill yard and Mill pen, on a watercourse running off the Great Wilbraham river. (fn. 123) Leased out by the lord by 1435 (fn. 124) as in the 16th century, (fn. 125) it was granted as copyhold by the Crown c. 1550. (fn. 126) It continued to be so held into the 1740s, (fn. 127) but was again owned by the lords by 1806. (fn. 128) That mill was removed in 1809 with R. G. Townley's consent to improve drainage in the fen, (fn. 129) but the miller's house still stood there in the 1980s. (fn. 130) By the late 13th century there were several windmills. Colvilles and Shardelowes manors had at least one each c. 1280-1300; (fn. 131) Shardelowes' survived in 1439. (fn. 132) One or more mills belonged to freeholders in 1255 and 1327. (fn. 133) By 1350, when Mill way was recorded leading west through Smallway field, a windmill perhaps stood on the site of the modern windmill, the brow of a rise, later called Mill Hill, lying west of the village. (fn. 134) In 1573 a windmill, perhaps the same one, was recorded near the south edge of Cross field. (fn. 135) A post mill in Woodbridge field was removed in 1800. (fn. 136) That on Mill Hill was rebuilt in 1808 as a smock mill on a brick base by its owner John Chaplin, whose descendants worked it thenceforth, usually through a foreman, until its sale in 1920. Later it ground animal feed until it was closed, after storm damage, c. 1937. Between 1974 and 1987 a village Windmill Society, formally organized in 1976, gradually restored the mill for preservation as a local landmark, occasionally working the renovated machinery. (fn. 137) A steam mill opened by 1863 near the railway station was worked into the 1930s and finally closed in 1963, (fn. 138) although grain continued to be ground c. 1990 at corn silos built nearby in the early 1940s. (fn. 139)
Traders in food were recorded from the late 14th century, including bakers, (fn. 140) some making white bread from the 1430s, (fn. 141) and a hereditary common butcher with a shop on the main street. (fn. 142) From the late 18th century (fn. 143) the populous village could support a considerable range of craftsmen and shopkeepers. Besides 2-4 master carpenters and shoemakers, they included into the 1930s a blacksmith, (fn. 144) a wheelwright, one still in business c. 1950, (fn. 145) a harness maker, a tailor, and usually two small builders, one working into the 1950s. (fn. 146) Shops, some in place from the 1760s, (fn. 147) included 2-3 butchers, bakers, and grocers. Even after 1950 Fulbourn's increased population enabled it to remain a local shopping centre, its high street being lined with shops in 1990: (fn. 148) besides those providing food, clothing, and other necessities, others sold carpets, (fn. 149) antique cars, (fn. 150) video films, and pianos. A Co-operative store opened by 1933 and occupying by 1967 the site of a former public house (fn. 151) was rebuilt c. 1990. Between 1979 and 1982 a small industrial estate with several warehouses was laid out on former goods yards near the station; 50-70 people were employed on it in the early 1980s. (fn. 152) Firms in business at Fulbourn in 1990, mostly on that Station Yard estate, included farm machinery suppliers and repairers, tyre suppliers, 3-4 builders, shippers, printers and directory publishers, medical equipment suppliers, and computer software consultants. (fn. 153) In the early 1980s about a tenth of the employed population were engaged in manufacturing, a third in building, distribution, and transport, and almost half in service industries. The majority drove or cycled to work in Cambridge. (fn. 154)