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 Stow, assessed at 5½ out of 10 hides, had seven ploughlands, Quy, assessed at 4½ hides, five others. On the two larger estates held by Picot there were 13 villani with 4 teams at Stow, 2 at Quy. The two smaller estates had together only 4 bordars and apparently no teams. (fn. 1)
In 1279 (fn. 2) the two manors based at Stow included only c. 400 a. of arable, while those at Quy had probably more than 600 a. Apart from church land (c. 90 a.), the fieldland included 260 a. of freehold, over half on Quy manor, but only 100 a. of customary land, apart from the holdings of c. 20 cottagers. The demesnes probably occupied about half the arable. That of Holmhall manor later included 220-60 a., (fn. 3) and in 1737 308 a., (fn. 4) after 50 a. had been acquired 1635 × 1650. (fn. 5) The Dengaines demesne arable, 120 a. in 1279, comprised 127 a. in the early 17th century, (fn. 6) later 148 a. (fn. 7) The FitzAlan demesne's 80 a. (fn. 8) matched the arable, 85 a., owned by Corpus Christi College from the 1580s. (fn. 9) In 1279 Walkelin of Quy had 90 a. of freehold arable, while seven other ancient freeholds of 10-30 a. totalled 125 a. The larger customary holdings, typically of 10.a., were mostly on the later Holmhall manor; smaller ones, typically 3 a., on Dengaines manor totalled 24 a.
Labour services on Dengaines, relatively light, included in 1279 only 6 days' ploughing, a day's digging in the fen, carting, haymaking, and 4 harvest boons. On Quy manor they had formerly been heavier, 2 or 3 days' weekwork in one half of the year, 1 or 2 in the other half, besides 6-10 boonworks in harvest. By 1279 rent had replaced the weekwork on five out of the eight villein holdings, but even those thus disburdened still owed boonworks and haymaking, as did the three of 5-10 a. lately enfranchised, (fn. 10) By 1360 only assize rent was reported. (fn. 11) No customary tenure remained on Holmhall, once Quy, manor in the 1550s, when all its tenants held freely by charter, paying reliefs equal to their annual quitrents. (fn. 12)
Quy manor demesne was probably in its lord's hands in 1185 (fn. 13) and 1272. (fn. 14) The lord was still farming some land c. 1460, when he bequeathed crops, with ploughs and carts. (fn. 15) By the 1520s Holmhall demesne was on lease to a farmer who neglected to maintain its farmbuildings. About 1535 he was taking in, from outsiders, cattle and up to 300 sheep to feed on the lord's several pastures. (fn. 16)
The fenland north of the village was common pasture in the Middle Ages, while open fields extended south-west and south-east from the closes round Quy village. By the late Middle Ages there were four fields, (fn. 17) supposedly covering c. 865 a., besides 52 a. of baulks. (fn. 18) The 'Ald' field, so called by 1410. (fn. 19) but by the mid 16th century known as Alder field, (fn. 20) was possibly the earliest cultivated area. It covered 255-60 a. in the slightly more elevated south-eastern corner of the parish. Brading, later Braden, field, c. 95-115 a., lay to the north-west by the Bottisham border. Town field, called in the late 18th century Home field, c. 290 a., stretched across the parish south of the two settlements. Stow field, c. 165 a., occupied the south-west corner. The Stow and Quy demesne arable was scattered across all four fields, much of it in large blocks. In 1839 that of Holmhall (Quy) had c. 225 a. in lots of 5 a. or more, including two of 30-40 a., (fn. 21) while Stow had by 1500 two of 30 a. and one of 15 a. (fn. 22) In 1580 half Corpus Christi's arable lay in a 45-a. block south-west of Quy village, then called Brians pieces. Though formally apportioned c. 1600 between the two adjoining fields, (fn. 23) by 1800 it was ring-fenced and virtually a several close, though still commoned with the adjoining fallow. (fn. 24)
The fields, still subject c. 1795 to the region's usual triennial rotation, (fn. 25) had provided in the late 16th century pasture for sheep on the stubble and fallow between Michaelmas and early spring. (fn. 26) By the 16th century the main crop was probably barley, but rye as well as wheat were also then grown. (fn. 27) By the 1520s saffron was apparently cultivated in the open fields, (fn. 28) men being regularly ordered to fence their plots in the saffron 'garden' to keep out sheep. (fn. 29)
Until the mid 17th century there was extensive common in the fens (fn. 30) which extended south of Quy water: Brians fen (30 a.) lay north-west of the village, Aff (fn. 31) (later Off) fen (33 a.), divided into lots as meadow and still subject to cowgates in 1726, (fn. 32) to the north-east. The narrow Def-fen, so named by 1430, (fn. 33) stretched along the south-west border by Little Wilbraham fen. Little fen, Hawkesborough, and Broad meadow, in all 33 a., recorded from the 16th century, (fn. 34) almost surrounded Stow field.
In 1279 the men of Stow complained that the lady of Quy was impeding their customary access over the sown fields to their commons. (fn. 35) Part of the area to the north-west, called from the late 17th century the Sheepwalk, c. 46 a. in 1737, (fn. 36) was presumably reserved for the manorial sheepflocks. About 1560 Holmhall manor had rights of sheepwalk for 240 sheep and the two manors occupied by the Hindes for 280, half for Brians. (fn. 37) About 1800 Corpus Christi claimed sheepwalk for two of the three flocks of 160-180 then permitted. In practice the Martins, its lessees, shared out the sheepwalk between their three or four tenant farmers. (fn. 38) The stint for ordinary freeholders feeding cattle on the commons, set in 1562 at 14, perhaps with 6 more plough cattle, was reduced in 1572 to 10 beasts for each 'ploughland'. (fn. 39) In 1839 each of the 38 commonable messuages might feed 2 cows or 3 horses. (fn. 40) In the late 16th century only plough cattle might graze in the sown fields, presumably on the baulks, before harvest. (fn. 41) Other cattle had to go in the common herd, but byherds were reported by the 1580s. (fn. 42) Villagers were forbidden to take in outsiders' cattle from the 1570s. (fn. 43) After 1573 cottagers were allowed only one common right each. (fn. 44) From the late 1560s Brians fen and some meadows around Stow field were repeatedly closed to grazing for several years at a time. (fn. 45) The village also reserved other fen produce for its inhabitants. Orders frequently forbade selling turf or sedge out of the parish. In 1572 nonresident landowners were barred from taking away over 100 'sedges' and 1,000 turves. (fn. 46) Those rules were repeatedly broken: 5 men exported 23,000 turves in 1600. (fn. 47) From 1580 villagers were sometimes allowed to sell to outsiders, provided that they had first offered the turves to their neighbours in church at a set price. (fn. 48)
The northernmost part of the parish, divided in the 16th and 17th centuries into Low fen and High fen, parts of which were being divided up with hedges in 1559, (fn. 49) also provided grazing for cattle. A small part, c. 70 a., was intercommonable with Fen Ditton and Horningsea, another 40-50 a., to the east with Bottisham also. (fn. 50) The intercommons were left as common (fn. 51) when most of the remaining fenland was finally taken into severalty after 1660. In 1720 they were reserved for poor men's cows. (fn. 52)
Encroachment on the fens had begun before 1185, when the justiciar Ranulf de Glanville inclosed for his ward Robert Picot the 5-a. New meadow, still so named in 1839, east of Quy manor house. (fn. 53) The lords of Holmhall made further extensive assarts in the later Middle Ages. By 1525 they owned the inclosed Hall field, covering 132 a. north of the manor house in 1657; a 30-a. close in it was called Wood field in 1737. (fn. 54) A neighbouring close called New Wood had lately been cleared of timber in 1525. (fn. 55) Land to the west was occupied by 1675 by 156 a. of large closes owned solely by the lord, including the former Sheepwalk, (fn. 56) part of which was ploughland by 1726, when some closes nearby were called oat grounds. (fn. 57) Some of the intercommon was included in '400 a.' assigned to the Bedford Level Adventurers in 1637, (fn. 58) and most of the remaining common fen was formally divided into individually owned property in the mid 1660s by authority of the Commissioners for draining the Great Level: dykes from Stow mill dam to High fen were mentioned in 1675. (fn. 59) The land involved, including 55 a. in High fen and 80 a. further east, was allotted to Quy landowners, mostly in parcels of 5-7 a., grouped in blocks separated by droveways and perhaps actually inclosed in stages. In 1665 Magdalene College received 15 a. of improved fen in Brians fen. (fn. 60) The lord of Holmhall obtained c. 65 a. of the northern fens by 1737, when five others shared the remainder. (fn. 61)
The eventual main beneficiaries of those inclosures were the lords of Holmhall manor, who in 1737 owned c. 990 a. in the parish, including 308 a. of open-field arable and c. 610 a. of closes; other landowners then had altogether c. 680 a., including 213 a. of closes around the village and in the fen. (fn. 62) In the late 16th and 17th centuries there had been a few prosperous villagers. In 1524 most had apparently had some property: only three out of c. 30 people were taxed on their wages, but while eight men were worth £4 to £8 and two paid on c. £17, c. 15 others were taxed on only £1 or £2. (fn. 63) In 1597 two families, the Sternes and Smiths, employed and apparently accommodated 15 of the 20 waged labourers then mentioned. (fn. 64) About 1625 members of those families had the largest shares of the 250 a. held freely of Holmhall manor, the main branch of each possessing c. 60 a. (fn. 65) Few other tenants owned over 20 a. each. (fn. 66)
In the late 16th century the Sternes and Smiths also held alternately, through marriage to one another's widows, the lease of the Holmhall demesne. (fn. 67) Edward Sterne, reckoned a gentleman by 1620, (fn. 68) besides sharing that lease in 1625 with Henry Smith, (fn. 69) was lessee of Dengaines farm c. 1610-35, (fn. 70) and from the 1630s to his death in 1649 held the underlease of the rectorial glebe and tithes. (fn. 71) His son John Sterne sold most of his lands c. 1655, (fn. 72) and the Smiths theirs in the 1660s. (fn. 73) In the 1660s there were 30-5 dwellings with only one or two hearths, but only 5 or 6 with four or more. (fn. 74) By the 18th century, when much land had been acquired by Cambridge colleges, (fn. 75) the larger non-manorial landholdings, including two of 80 a. and one of 40 a., partly enclosed fenland, belonged to outsiders. (fn. 76) Between 1770 and 1800 the Martins, lords of Holmhall, bought up most of those freeholds, totalling 216 a. Their possession on lease of collegiate land left barely 250 a. of the open fields outside their control. (fn. 77) By the 1830s they owned c. 675 a. in severalty, and 416 a. of open-field land, while rectorial and college property accounted for another 385 a. Other holdings totalled only 100 a. (fn. 78)
In 1737 most of the Holmhall estate was worked as one large farm of 687 a. from the farmstead north of the Hall. It comprised most of the lords' fenland closes, with 160 a. of openfield arable. Their other farms ranged from 40 a. to 97 a. (fn. 79) From the 1770s the estate was usually leased in three or four farms of c. 320 a. A small group of families, including c. 1730-1860 the Muggletons and c. 1810-1910 the Ellises at Village, later Park, farm, usually occupied most of that tenanted land. (fn. 80)
When the Martins achieved sole possession of the former fenland by exchanges at inclosure in 1839-40, (fn. 81) much was already under the plough. In 1839, out of c. 665 a. north of Quy water, over 275 a. was arable and only 225 a., mostly in High fen, was still fen, the rest being permanent pasture. (fn. 82) Possessing most of the farmed land which they let by whole furlongs, (fn. 83) the Martins had no need to hasten inclosure, which was proposed only in 1836. An Act was obtained in 1838, (fn. 84) the land being divided later that year, (fn. 85) and the award executed in 1840. (fn. 86) It covered 1,918 a., including nominally 960 a. of old inclosures, 799 a. of open-field arable, and c. 122 a. of common, half on baulks. (fn. 87) The largest allotment, 408 a., went to J. T. Martin, 337 a. to the colleges and the rectory, which together had only 19 a. of closes, and 117 a. to 15 other owners, who had 60 a. of closes. (fn. 88)
The farmland continued, as in 1839 when five farmers occupied 1,635 a., (fn. 89) to be worked in a few large farms, mostly on the Hall estate. (fn. 90) Between 1840 and 1910 the Ambroses created another, combining the rectory, Caius, and Corpus farms with their own 80 a., inherited c. 1820. (fn. 91) The farmers on the Quy Hall estate still had their land scattered in blocks through the parish until c. 1863 when their landlord, Clement Francis, reorganized his farmland into three or four physically separate farms which survived into the mid 20th century. 'Allicky' or Lower farm, c. 275 a., in the fens was detached to leave Mill farm, previously up to 600 a., with c. 260 a. by the western border, while c. 385 a. to the south-east were worked from Park Farm and 150-200 a. in the centre from Manor, later from Bush, Farm. (fn. 92) About 1900 barely 200 a. out of 1,750 a. farmed were owner-occupied. (fn. 93) After the 1940s the owners of Quy Hall took most of their land north of the parish in hand, while Park farm was expanded westward to cover most of their land south of the village. (fn. 94)
About 1830 there was little unemployment among c. 50 adult labourers. (fn. 95) In 1861, when emigration had reduced the number available for work from 80 in 1851 to c. 60, the large farmers had work for 52 men and 25 boys. (fn. 96) Fires at farms, such as two in 1838 (fn. 97) and one in 1849, which also destroyed a too industrious labourer's cottage, were often ascribed to arson. (fn. 98) In 1888, to provide work for the labourers, Mrs. Francis agreed that a company formed by the intercommoning parishes should dig coprolites in Quy's Poor Fen, but the belated diggings lost money and work ceased in 1893. (fn. 99) The pits then made were still visible in the 1950s. (fn. 100) Horkeys after harvest were kept up on Park farm until 1917. (fn. 101) The number of farm labourers steadily declined after 1930, when 64 men were employed. By 1970 only 33 people, including 10 working farmers, half smallholders, worked on the farms. (fn. 102)
In 1863 the Quy Hall estate, on which a fourcourse rotation was required from the 1840s, had 768 a. of arable, compared with 293 a. of grass, including 200 a. in the former fen. (fn. 103) Into the early 20th century the farmers' main crops on c. 800 a. of cornland were wheat and barley, the former usually predominating until after 1930. On the Ambroses' former Bury farm traditional rotations including fallows remained in use until the 1960s. Of c. 450-500 a. of grass before 1900, barely half was permanent pasture, although by 1910 the total grassland had increased to 590 a. In the early 20th century three of the four Quy Hall estate farms still kept milking cattle and sheep, smallholders also producing much milk for sale: 240 or more cows were kept c. 1910-30, though the number of grown sheep, 1,250 before 1900, halved over that period to 300. The last flock was abandoned in 1967 and by the 1970s the parish was largely devoted to cereal farming, twice as much barley as wheat being grown on c. 1,500 a. in 1970. Beef cattle were kept on under 300 a. of grass. Sugar beet, then covering 250 a., had been grown since the 1930s. (fn. 104)
There were four mills in 1086. Two belonged to Quy manor, which shared a third with Stow manor, the fourth mill to the Richmond fee. (fn. 105) In the late 13th century Quy manor included one mill, (fn. 106) in 1360 and 1556 supposedly two. (fn. 107) The mill serving Stow, probably that attached in 1307 to the FitzAlan estate, (fn. 108) descended from Sir John Hinde (d. 1550) to his son Sir Francis. In 1596 he sold it with 68 a. to Thomas Webb. (fn. 109) Two water mills were in use in the 1580s. (fn. 110) One serving Quy possibly still stood in 1675, (fn. 111) but was disused by 1685 (fn. 112) and had been replaced with a gatehouse by 1726; (fn. 113) a millpond which had presumably supplied it lay south-east of Holmhall manor house in 1737. (fn. 114) The Stow mill, called after 1800 Quy mill, worked by the Colletts 1775-1890, (fn. 115) survived, being rebuilt in brick c. 1840. (fn. 116) From 1895 the miller's house became a farmhouse, but the mill continued in use, with steam machinery installed in 1912, until c. 1950. The mill buildings, used from 1957 for workshops and offices, (fn. 117) were expensively converted in the late 1980s to make a 21-bedroom hotel. (fn. 118)
About 1820 only three families, though by 1831 seven, depended on trades and crafts. (fn. 122) In the mid 19th century one family produced a butcher, a carpenter, and one of two shopkeepers. One shop, which survived in 1990, had been kept into the 1950s by the Bidwells, hereditary parish clerks. In 1990 the Watts family still continued a family business as builders and wheelwrights, started in the 1860s. (fn. 123) The Holmhall estate had a smithy in 1675, as in the 19th and 20th centuries. (fn. 124) A new forge built for it off the village crossroads in 1923 was in use until 1974, when it was taken over by Morley Precision Engineering, founded in the village in 1959 by Mr. A. Morley. That building was replaced in 1973-4 by a larger factory, started in 1974 with TecVac, an offshoot of a Histon firm. That made, and did research on, hardwearing coatings for metallic and other tools; much of its production was exported. Both firms were still in business in 1990. (fn. 125)