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 the 1270s the prior of Ely had at Swaffham Prior view of frankpledge and the assizes of bread and of ale, in 1299 also sake and soke and infangthief, (fn. 1) implying the potential use of the gallows whose repair his court occasionally ordered c. 1320. (fn. 2) In 1315 Ely protested when Ramsey abbey as lords at Burwell erected a gallows within the Ely liberty, perhaps on the Devil's Ditch, (fn. 3) near which in 1441 Ely had its own gallows pulled down by the men of Burwell. (fn. 4) That gallows presumably stood on part of Gallows hill, so named by 1638, in Ditch field east of the village. (fn. 5) Court rolls survive for the Ely priory manor between c. 1270 and 1377, (fn. 6) and for 1422-56, (fn. 7) 1561- 1622, (fn. 8) and 1660-9. (fn. 9) John Baldwin was also holding view of frankpledge before 1275. (fn. 10)
In the 14th and early 15th centuries the court met only twice or thrice a year, including the main spring and autumn leet sessions. Even so, besides handling tenurial business and regulating farming practices, it commonly, though less often from the 1430s, heard villagers' lawsuits about debt and trespass; some were settled by arbitration (fn. 11) or, as late as 1445, by wager of law. (fn. 12) It sometimes dealt, less frequently after 1400, with minor acts of violence, (fn. 13) including until the mid 14th century 'hamsocn'. (fn. 14) It enforced membership of tithings into the 1450s. (fn. 15) The stocks were occasionally used (fn. 16) and a cucking stool at least existed. (fn. 17) The constables 'of the peace', recorded since c. 1320, (fn. 18) were appointed by the Ely court by 1440. (fn. 19) Into the mid 15th century that court regularly enforced the assizes of ale and from the 1420s of bread. It also named aletasters until after 1600, (fn. 20) besides haywards and by the 1440s fenreeves. (fn. 21) An aletaster was named for Reach by the 1330s. (fn. 22) Eventually, in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, one of each set of two or three parish officers was appointed specifically for that hamlet. (fn. 23) In the 15th century, despite the prior's claims to be principal lord of the vill, (fn. 24) the court saw its jurisdiction challenged by villagers who chose, despite bylaws, to sue their neighbours elsewhere, in the local court of the honor of Richmond (fn. 25) or the bishop of Ely's court for Balsham manor. (fn. 26) About 1440-50, too, the under-sheriff and the bailiff of Staine hundred intruded to make arrests. (fn. 27) In 1454 the bailiff of Cambridge arrested men in their houses during Reach fair. (fn. 28)
In the 16th century the Ely court also concerned itself with the performance of the statutory annual day's work on road repairs (fn. 29) and with similar days' works, six by 1598, which the villagers had to devote to maintaining watercourses. (fn. 30) In 1590 the dean agreed that half the fines exacted at the court be spent by six chief inhabitants on drainage works. (fn. 31) Pressure of population on resources also led the court in 1580 to forbid house-owners from allowing more than one tenant to dwell in a house, (fn. 32) and in 1598 to insist that villagers taking in newcomers should secure the parish against consequent expense. (fn. 33) From the early 17th century the court was increasingly concerned solely with admissions to copyholdings, as were later those of Knights and of Baldwins or Lees manors. Court books survive for both those manors between 1673 and 1936, (fn. 34) and a few court rolls for Shadworths for 1519-24. (fn. 35)
In the early 18th century expenditure on the parish's poor, managed until the 1750s by two pairs of overseers supervised by a vestry of six or more farmers, usually cost £100-130 yearly. (fn. 36) Until the 1790s the money went largely to support through the 'weekly collection' c. 25 regular recipients, half or more being widows. Occasional grants were also made for cottage rents, clothing, medical assistance, four guineas being regularly subscribed by the 1770s to Addenbrooke's hospital, Cambridge, and coffins. Fuel, usually before 1800 loads of turf, was also bought for sale to the poor below cost. Although spinning wheels were sometimes purchased, the 'workhouse' built before 1730 (fn. 37) was not recorded as being used for any productive activity. From the 1760s there was a slow, but steady rise in the annual cost of poor relief to £160-80 in the 1770s and over £250 c. 1780-95, when 30-35 people, about half at Reach, were regularly assisted. In the late 1790s employed labourers began to receive casual relief, and in years of high corn prices, such as 1799-1801, grain was bought and ground at the village mill for sale to the poor at a loss. In 1803 25 adults received occasional help. The rates were doubled to meet an expenditure, which then came to over £700. It was running at £550-650 in the early 1810s, of which the 'weekly pay' for up to 40 people, then costing £15-20 each month, accounted for barely half. By the 1810s labourers were often paid for breaking stones for the highway surveyors. Although the number receiving casual relief was more than halved from 48 to 21 between 1813 and 1815, expenditure fell only slightly (fn. 38) and between 1815 and 1830 it usually still ranged between £550 and £650, rising c. 1820 to almost £1,000. In the early 1830s, when another rise occurred, (fn. 39) the parish employed several men on its roads, although there was no formal apportionment of labourers. (fn. 40) From 1835 Swaffham Prior was included in the Newmarket poor-law union. (fn. 41) It remained in the succeeding Newmarket R.D. from 1894 until its incorporation into East Cambridgeshire in 1974. (fn. 42) The workhouse was sold in 1836. (fn. 43)
In the mid 19th century the vestry continued to elect a full set of parish officers, including two fenreeves. (fn. 44) There was a resident policeman from the 1860s to the 1990s. (fn. 45) The parish councils chosen from 1894 (fn. 46) inherited a fire engine given in 1791 by Mrs. Sarah Allix. Often in action in the 19th century, it remained in use until c. 1920. Removed in 1940, it was recovered in the 1950s from a council rubbish dump. It was renovated and from 1961 preserved in its former house, (fn. 47) which stood behind the twocelled brick parish lock-up which had its gable surmounted with crosses: that lockup had been built shortly before 1849 on a new site at the walled pound off Cage Hill. (fn. 48)