Chippenham: Economic history

Pages 379-384

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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The earliest area worked as arable was probably in the north of the parish near the Iron-Age settlement and Anglo-Saxon cemetery. Thremhowe and Flothowe fields, to the south-west of the village, have Scandinavian names, suggesting more intensive cultivation there following the 9thcentury Danish occupation. (fn. 1) In the late 10th century there was an active land market: Abbot Beorhtnoth was engaged c. 980 in the purchase of estates ranging from 10-20 a. up to 80 a. and 124 a., including potentially 12½ farmsteads on the holdings (predia) involved, and two peasants apparently sought to buy 7 a. The estate acquired by the abbot may have had 15 cartloads of grain in its barns when exchanged c. 980. (fn. 2)

Between 1066 and 1086 the fiscal hidage assessed in Chippenham was halved, and rents to the lord nearly doubled, but at Badlingham hidage reductions were accompanied by a fall in value. (fn. 3) At Chippenham the demesne had only three ploughteams to the peasants' fourteen ploughteams, but at Badlingham the demesne and peasants' teams were nearly equal in number. In 1086 there were 38 villani, 19 bordars, and 12 servi at Chippenham and Badlingham.

During the mid 13th century Richard the Chamberlain sold half a yardland to Thomas of Bradwell, (fn. 4) and granted three yardlands to Chippenham preceptory, while two other freeholders' half yardlands passed to Walden abbey. (fn. 5) Despite those reductions freehold tenure was still important c. 1279, when two freeholders held 60 a. and 90 a. each, three held half yardlands, and thirteen held between 1 a. and 8 a. (fn. 6)

The freeholders paid £5 5s. in rent altogether. The main burden of labour services fell upon the preceptory's 70 villeins, who each held one half yardland, and owed 30½ days weekwork, ploughing and harvesting work on 8½ a., and rent of 2s. 6d. Three other villeins did no ploughing but paid higher rents. Fifty-one cottars each held 1-a. plots. The preceptor received £21 14s. from free and unfree tenants in cash rents in 1279, and £20 8s. 10d. in 1338, when the demesne of the preceptory was said to include 660 a. of arable. (fn. 7)

In 1279 one freeholder at Badlingham held a yardland, two held half yardlands, and two c. 2-3 a. Thirteen villeins each held half yardlands: each owed 56 days of weekwork and ploughing service on 20 a. The three cottars, who held 2 a. each, rendered 48 days' weekwork. In 1390 a tenant at Chippenham was amerced for not performing long-established reaping and ploughing services, and in the early 16th century 15 tenants there were still subject to labour services. (fn. 8)

Chippenham c. 1544 (excluding Badlingham)

By the mid 16th century the north-eastern third of the parish was probably occupied by old inclosures belonging to Badlingham manor. In the rest of the parish there were seven medieval open fields: Sound and Stonehill fields were first recorded c. 1144-6, and the others were named by the late 12th century and the early 13th. (fn. 9) Pudmanhill and Stonehill fields lay alongside farmland of Badlingham manor. At Chippenham in 1544 there were 424 a. in North field to the north of the village, beyond the Badlingham road. (fn. 10) West field, to the west of the village between Newyards Lane and Port Way, covered 218 a., and there were 133 a. in Pudmanhill field to the east. South-west of the village Thremhowe field included 279 a., and there were 392 a. to its south in Sound field. Immediately south of the village Little Beck field had 190 a., and to the south-east of the village there were 94 a. in Stonehill field. The eighth field, Blackland field, between Little Beck and Stonehill fields, created partly out of land previously in cultivation and partly from newly cleared heathland, occupied 182 a. in 1544. By 1712 it had been renamed Lodge field, and by 1780 North field had been renamed Mill field.

Between the mid 16th century and the early 18th the number of open fields was reduced from eight to five. In 1712 parts of Pudmanhill field were incorporated into North field; Thremhowe field was divided between West and Sound fields, while the remnants of Stonehill field were divided between Mill field and Shannels land. (fn. 11) Little Beck and Lodge fields remained largely unchanged. By 1780 there were three open fields: Mill field had c. 500 a.; West field had c. 400 a.; and Sound field c. 630 a; while closes in Lodge field, and Shannels land attached to New farm comprised c. 200 a. (fn. 12)

Customary tenants' rents declined from 10s. an acre in the late 14th century to 8s. an acre in the 15th century and the early 16th. (fn. 13) In 1780 an acre was valued at 10s. in three open fields, but in Lodge field an acre was valued at 8s. because of the poorer quality of the soil. An inclosure Act was passed in 1791, covering 2,240 a. of arable in Chippenham and Badlingham. (fn. 14) There were c. 2,200 a. of arable c. 1870-1970, but c. 230 a. was turned into grassland in the early 1980s for two stud farms. (fn. 15)

Tenure, strips, and farms were consolidated between the mid 16th century and the early 18th century. There was 1,276 a. of freehold and copyhold in 1544, but by 1560 land held by those tenures had been reduced to 1,099 a. (fn. 16) In 1563 Thomas Revett purchased 100 a. of freehold. (fn. 17) In the late 16th century there was a tendency for medium-sized copyholds to be bought up by the lords to make larger leasehold farms, and by 1636 only 523 a. of copyhold and freehold was left. (fn. 18) In 1696 Lord Orford purchased c. 500 a. of copyhold, making leasehold the predominant tenure. (fn. 19) In 1791 John Tharp bought the last remaining 67 a. of copyhold. (fn. 20) Between 1544 and 1712 the total number of open-field strips had declined from 2,601 to 812, with 1-a. strips increasing from a tenth to half of the total. (fn. 21) The process, however, was an uneven one: 79 of the 245 strips in Mill field were less than 1 a. in 1712, but in Lodge field 14 out of 24 blocks were c. 5-23 a. (fn. 22) Between those extremes Little Beck and Sound fields had fewer but larger strips.

The medieval division of holdings into numerous half yardlands gradually gave way in the 17th and 18th centuries to six large farms, little altered thereafter. In 1544 there were 41 holdings of between half a yardland and a few acres, three yardlands, and one farm of 100 a. (fn. 23) In 1636 Sir William Russell's leasehold farms comprised four under 40 a., three yardlands, and three of c. 90-200 a. each. (fn. 24) There were still traces of the medieval pattern in 1712, with eleven farms of between 60 a. and a few acres, but they were overshadowed by three farms of c. 100-150 a., worked from the northern end of the village, two farms of c. 250-400 a. worked from the southern end, and New farm on the former site of the Chicksands grange with 280 a. (fn. 25) All the small farms had undergone amalgamation by 1780, when there were four farms of c. 500-620 a., one of c. 320 a., and two of c. 132-182 a. (fn. 26) After inclosure in 1791 there were eight farms in the parish, five worked from near the village: Manor farm at its northern end, and Park farm at its western side respectively had c. 450 and 500 a. each; and Church farm at the southern end had c. 150 a. (fn. 27) New farm, renamed La Hogue Hall farm c. 1712-80, comprised c. 650 a., and was rented in succession by two families, the Reynolds family c. 1780-1835, and the Kents c. 1836-1922. (fn. 28) One of the other farms bordering upon the heathland was also held by members of the Reynolds and Kent families c. 1818-71. (fn. 29) After the 1870s Manor and Park farms each comprised c. 600 a., and Church farm had c. 250 a., incorporating the land of the other three village farms. (fn. 30) There was further consolidation of the Chippenham farms in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the 1930s the Chippenham Park estate collected very low rents from its farmers. (fn. 31) In 1947 La Hogue, Church, and Water Hall farms were sold off, followed by Manor farm in 1981. In the 1980s and 1990s the estate's remaining agricultural land was divided between two tenancies.

Badlingham Hall farm covering c. 350 a. in 1818, had separate wheat and barley barns in 1826. (fn. 32) In the late 19th century and early 20th its acreage totalled c. 650 a., and it was occupied by successive members of the Kent family from 1847 until 1949, when it was sold off by the Chippenham Park estate. (fn. 33) Grange farm of c. 150 a. at the south-eastern edge of the parish may have occupied the former site of Sibton grange. (fn. 34)

In the Middle Ages barley and oats were grown at Badlingham, while at Chippenham rye and barley were the main crops. (fn. 35) In 1404-5 a peasant was fined for growing barley out of turn instead of rye. (fn. 36) In the early 19th century there were four-, five-, and six-course rotations on various farms, producing barley, wheat, oats, rye, clover, and turnips. (fn. 37) In 1870 there was c. 700 a. of barley, and c. 670 a. of wheat. (fn. 38) Barley and wheat occupied nearly equal acreages in 1910, but by 1930 barley covered twice the acreage of wheat, and by 1950 five times as much as wheat. In 1970 there was c. 1,100 a. of barley and c. 500 a. of wheat. Turnips were grown on the heathland from c. 1810 until the 1850s. (fn. 39)

In the 12th and 13th centuries lords sometimes assarted the elevated southern heathland, but it was only cultivated intermittently. (fn. 40) The heath had been grazed by sheep since at least the mid 12th century: Geoffrey de Mandeville granted Chicksands priory pasture for 500 sheep c. 1144-6, and his brother William granted 11 a. of sheepwalk c. 1166-87. (fn. 41) There were c. 600 a. of grazing land c. 1544-1780. (fn. 42) In 1544 Chicksands grange occupied 1½ ha. (fn. 43) Both free and villein tenants were entitled to erect their own folds in the 14th and early 15th centuries, but the villeins had to pay for that right. (fn. 44) Half the heath was common to the tenants in 1544, but by then their rights were restricted by lords' overstocking the heath with demesne flocks of around 2,000 sheep. (fn. 45)

Shepherds worked from Noak's nest at the south-west corner of the heathland in 1712. (fn. 46) By then tenants' common rights had probably mostly been bought up by the lord, and by 1780 the heath was apportioned between three of the leasehold farms. (fn. 47) Around 2,000 sheep were kept on the heath c. 1791-6, but they suffered high mortality rates. Soon after, John Tharp (d. 1851) built new fold yards to lodge the sheep in winter, and in 1811 there were 2,140 sheep, one fifth of which were fattened annually. (fn. 48) The main breeds were Norfolks and Southdowns, but after Heath and Manor farms were combined in 1808 merino sheep were raised. (fn. 49) Sheep were driven from the heathland to the pastures during the lambing season, damaging crops, c. 1808-18. (fn. 50) Between 1890 and 1950 sheep numbers declined from c. 1,600 to c. 900, but in 1970 there were still 358 sheep. Between 1930 and 1970 the number of cattle increased from c. 100 to c. 500. (fn. 51) The farmer of Badlingham Hall farm enjoyed success in national competitions c. 1972-7 with his Suffolk sheep and Hereford cattle. (fn. 52)

In 1671 Chippenham was overrun with grooms and racehorses. (fn. 53) There was a stud farm at Chippenham Park c. 1802-4, breeding racing horses for Lord Clermont, and another stud farm at Manor farm in 1831. (fn. 54) In 1883 the Newmarket Jockey Club purchased 300 a. of heathland. The land subsequently formed part of the Limekilns gallops, and of the Water Hall training ground between the Bury road and the line of the present Newmarket bypass. (fn. 55) In the 1990s Water Hall ground included two canters of c. 6-9 furlongs each, used in winter and spring, and the western section of a 4-km. dryweather gallop which extends into Snailwell parish. (fn. 56) After the Second World War Chippenham Lodge Stud was established in the grounds of Chippenham Lodge, which in 1984 had 100 a., housing 15 mares, and one stallion. (fn. 57) In 1981 two stud farms were started on the former arable of Manor farm. Mill Stud west of the Isleham Road at the site of the old windmill had c. 100 a., and stabled 25 mares in 1997. (fn. 58) Brookside Stud off the Freckenham Road had c. 130 a., and stables for 50 mares. (fn. 59)

The fen at the north-west corner of the parish was used primarily for fuel and grazing from the Middle Ages until the 19th century. In 1086 a fishery, presumably at the fen, rendered 1,500 eels. (fn. 60) Sibton abbey was granted 13 cartloads of turf annually from Chippenham fen by Rohese de Mandeville c. 1144-63. (fn. 61) In the mid 13th century the preceptor of Chippenham granted a tenant the right to cut 13 cartloads of turf a year, and c. 1279 villeins had to cut 80 cartloads of turf for the preceptor. (fn. 62) In 1702 the eleven remaining freeholders released their rights of common over 166 a. in Moor fen. (fn. 63) In the late 18th century the fenland was predominantly used for the grazing of cows. (fn. 64) After the inclosure of the fen in 1796, every cottager was restricted to cutting three loads of turf a year, their common rights being exchanged for 3 a. in all. (fn. 65) The poor, however, were granted 36 a. from which to cut sedge, which was only to be sold in the parish. (fn. 66) In 1858 the poor had to give the fen reeves one day's notice before proceeding to cut turf, and in the 19th and 20th centuries the fenland was mainly used as shelter for game birds, and also for supporting wildlife. (fn. 67)

The preceptor of Chippenham bought out common rights and exchanged lands with freeholders in the 1280s to create the rabbit warren to the south-east of Ditch Way along the boundary with Kennett. (fn. 68) In the mid 16th century it was let for a rent of 505 rabbits, but by 1712 the warren had been converted into arable attached to New farm. (fn. 69) Coursing controlled the rabbit population in the 19th century. (fn. 70) Since 1988 there has been a 100-a. deer farm at Isleham plantation between the Isleham and Fordham roads. (fn. 71)

From the early 18th century until the early 20th agriculture was the main source of employment. In 1712 there were 26 landless householders who presumably worked on the farms. (fn. 72) The number of agricultural workers declined from 104 to 84 persons c. 1801-11, but c. 1821-31 rose from 100 to 115. (fn. 73) Male agricultural labourers increased c. 1841-51 from 120 to 164, but then declined from 156 to 141 between 1861 and 1871. The number of women fieldworkers fell from 35 in 1861 to 13 in 1871. In 1861 thirty of the male labourers were children aged 14 and under, but 65 boys were employed at the five Chippenham farms. In 1871 only sixteen of Chippenham's boys aged 14 and under worked as farm hands, but the farmers employed 60 boys most of whom presumably lived in neighbouring parishes. On the five smaller farms of c. 50-340 a. nearly equal numbers of men and boys were employed, but at Badlingham, La Hogue, Manor, and Park farms men outnumbered boys by almost two to one. In 1852 unemployment was severe, but tenants of La Hogue and Badlingham farms provided their employees with generous Christmas gifts c. 1865-73. (fn. 74) A strike in 1874 resulted in a lockout, and the South Cambridgeshire Agricultural Labourers Society paid the rents and shoe bills of 26 men from Chippenham. (fn. 75) Fine weather permitted the collection of the harvest without the strikers' help, but the Chippenham farmers finally agreed to raise wages by 3s. a week. A horse-chestnut called Union tree, planted at the Scotland End fork to commemorate the strike, lived until 1995. In 1891 farm hands were seldom asked to accept less than their usual week's pay. (fn. 76)

After 1881 no women were employed as farm labourers, and between 1881 and 1891 the number of male agricultural labourers in Chippenham declined from 150 to 111. Between 1851 and 1871 the number of shepherds increased from five to eleven, then remained stable at nine in the 1880s, but then declined sharply.

In 1717-18 at Chippenham Hall 18 men, 8 women, and 2 boys were employed as servants, but in 1780 there was no employment at the empty Hall. (fn. 77) There were 25-30 domestic servants c. 1841-81, but only seventeen servants c. 1861. In the late 19th century there were between two and four times as many female as male servants at the Hall and the Cottage. In 1891 half of the 21 servants employed were at the Hall, and the rest at the Cottage and main farmhouses. Between the First and Second World Wars domestic service ceased to provide much employment.

In 1851 thirty-one people were employed as blacksmiths, cordwainers, carpenters, bricklayers, grocers, and in other village trades, but by 1881 numbers had fallen to 22, and decreased further between 1891 and 1901. By 1949 there were only a butcher's shop, a bakery, and a post office, and since the closure in 1982 of the bakery, which had been in the same family's possession for a century, there have been no shops in the village. (fn. 78) In 1950 76 persons worked full-time on farms in the parish, but by 1970 the figure had halved, and in the 1980s and 1990s virtually all of the inhabitants worked outside the parish, mostly in the surrounding region. (fn. 79)

In 1086 at Badlingham there were two mills, one serving the demesne, the other the tenants. In 1338 the Hospitallers had two windmills at Chippenham. (fn. 80) A windmill stood at the northern boundary in 1712. (fn. 81) In 1734 a windmill was built in the centre of North field on the left hand side of the Isleham Road. It remained in use until the 1950s, but was a ruin in 1997. (fn. 82) A windmill built in 1791 was not recorded thereafter. (fn. 83)


  • 1. P.N. Cambs. (E.P.N.S.), 329.
  • 2. Statements for late 10th cent. based on Liber Elien. (Camd. 3rd ser. xcii), pp. 87-91.
  • 3. Statements for late 11th cent. based on V.C.H. Cambs. i. 378, 382-3.
  • 4. P.R.O., CP 25/1/24/16, no. 10.
  • 5. B.L. Cott. MS. Nero C. ix, ff. 29-42v.; ibid. Harl. MS. 3697, ff. 155-160 v.; 162-3.
  • 6. Statements for 1279 in this and next para. based on Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 500-1, 506.
  • 7. Hospitallers in Eng. (Camd. Soc. 1st ser. lxv), 78.
  • 8. Spufford, 'Cambs. Community', 34.
  • 9. B.L. Cott. MS. Nero C. ix, f. 29; ibid. Harl. MS. 3697, ff. 155-163.
  • 10. Layout in 1544: C.R.O, R 55/7/5/1(15); Spufford, Contrasting Communities, 60.
  • 11. C.R.O., 71/P 3.
  • 12. Ibid. R 55/7/10/3.
  • 13. Ibid.; Spufford, Contrasting Communities, 35.
  • 14. C.R.O., R 55/7/10/1-2; Proc. C.A.S. xl. 82.
  • 15. P.R.O., MAF 68/232, 1258, 2398, 3502, 4304, 5161; Newmarket Jnl. 29 Aug. 1991.
  • 16. C.R.O., R 55/7/5/1(15); R 55/7/5/1(1).
  • 17. P.R.O., CP 25(2)/93/833/6 Eliz. I Hil. no. 10.
  • 18. Spufford, 'Cambs. Community', 37-9; C.R.O., R 55/7/5/1(1).
  • 19. C.R.O., R 55/7/4(d)/8-10.
  • 20. Ibid. R 55/7/7/89.
  • 21. Spufford, 'Cambs. Community', 40-4; C.R.O., 71/ P 3.
  • 22. C.R.O., 71/P 3.
  • 23. Ibid. R 55/7/5/1(15).
  • 24. Ibid. R 55/7/5/1(1).
  • 25. Ibid. 71/P 3.
  • 26. Ibid. R 55/7/10/3.
  • 27. Ibid. R 55/7/23/19; R 55/7/114/7.
  • 28. Ibid. R 55/7/23/21; R 55/7/7/256; Kelly's Dir. Cambs. (1847-1922); Camb. Chron. 8 Nov. 1879, p. 4; Gardner's Dir. Cambs. (1851).
  • 29. C.R.O., R 55/7/1; R 55/7/116/1-3; P.R.O., HO 107/1763, f. 24v.; Kelly's Dir. Cambs. (1847-75).
  • 30. P.R.O., RG 9/1035, f. 10; RG 10/1600, f. 8.
  • 31. Inf. from Mr. Eustace Crawley.
  • 32. C.R.O., R 55/7/114/33; R 55/7/114/37-41.
  • 33. P.R.O., RG 9/1035, f. 16; Kelly's Dir. Cambs. (1847-1933); Camb. Evening News, 8 Feb. 1977.
  • 34. P.R.O., RG 9/1035, f. 16; Kelly's Dir. Cambs. (1847-1933); Sibton Cart. ii (Suff. Chart. viii), 28-9.
  • 35. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 500-1, 506; Spufford, Contrasting Communities, 77.
  • 36. Spufford, 'Cambs. Community', 19.
  • 37. Vancouver, Agric. in Cambs. 31; Gooch, Agric. of Cambs. 81, 103; C.R.O., R 55/7/116/24.
  • 38. P.R.O., MAF 68/232, 1258, 2398, 3502, 4304, 5161.
  • 39. C.R.O., R 55/7/116/15(a); Camb. Chron. 28 Feb. 1852, p. 2; Gooch, Agric. of Cambs. 128-33.
  • 40. Spufford, 'Cambs. Community', 14, 19.
  • 41. B.L. Cott. MS. Nero C. ix, f. 144 and v.
  • 42. C.R.O., R 55/7/5/1(15); ibid. 71/P 3; ibid. R 55/7/10/3.
  • 43. C.R.O., R 55/7/5/1(15), f. 75.
  • 44. Spufford, 'Cambs. Community', 20.
  • 45. Ibid. 43-44.
  • 46. C.R.O., 71/P 3.
  • 47. Ibid. R 55/7/10/3.
  • 48. Gooch, Agric. of Cambs. 81.
  • 49. C.R.O., R 55/7/116/15(a); ibid. R 55/7/14/2; Camb. Chron. 27 Aug. 1808, p. 2.
  • 50. C.R.O., R 55/7/116/15(a).
  • 51. P.R.O., MAF 68/232; 68/1258, 2398, 3502, 4304, 5161.
  • 52. Camb. Evening News, 1 June 1972; 8 Aug. 1977.
  • 53. Two East Anglian Diaries, ed. Storey, 137.
  • 54. Camb. Evening News, 26 April 1976.
  • 55. R. Onslow, Headquarters: Hist. Newmarket and its Racing, 160, 295.
  • 56. Jockey Club Training Ground Map (Bidwell's, Cambridge, 1992).
  • 57. Dir. Turf (1984).
  • 58. Inf. from Mr. D. Sheckles, Mill Stud, Chippenham.
  • 59. Newmarket Jnl. 29 Sept. 1991.
  • 60. V.C.H. Cambs. i. 382.
  • 61. Sibton Cart. ii (Suff. Chart. viii), 28.
  • 62. B.L. Cott. MS. Nero C. ix, f. 146 and v.; Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 506.
  • 63. C.R.O., R 55/7/7/55.
  • 64. Young, Annals of Agric. xliii. 51.
  • 65. C.R.O., R 55/7/117/16; ibid. R 55/7/4(b)/1-8.
  • 66. Ibid. R 55/7/117/16.
  • 67. Camb. Chron. 20 Nov. 1858, p. 4.; above, intro.
  • 68. C.R.O., P 44/28/2.
  • 69. Ibid. 71/P 3; Spufford, Contrasting Communities, 23 n. 4.
  • 70. Above, intro.
  • 71. Newmarket Jnl. 12 May 1988.
  • 72. Spufford, 'Cambs. Community', 10.
  • 73. Employment statistics: Census, 1801-1931.
  • 74. Camb. Ind. Press, 8 May 1852, p. 3; Camb. Chron. 30 Dec. 1865, p. 8; 12 Jan. 1867, p. 8; 28 Dec. 1867, p. 8; 9 Jan. 1869, p. 5; 1 Jan. 1870, p. 8; 8 Jan. 1870, p. 8; 27 Dec. 1873, p. 4.
  • 75. Account based on Camb. Chron. 15 Aug. 1874, p. 5; 28 Nov. 1874, p. 4; Barber, Hist. Chippenham, 35; Camb. Ind. Press, 19 Feb. 1960.
  • 76. Camb. Ind. Press, 10 Jan. 1891, p. 8.
  • 77. C.R.O., 683/A1; P.R.O., T 47/8.
  • 78. Camb. Evening News, 27 Aug. 1982.
  • 79. P.R.O., MAF 68/4304, 5161.
  • 80. V.C.H. Cambs. i. 378; Hospitallers in Eng. (Camd. Soc. 1st ser. lxv), 78.
  • 81. C.R.O., 71/P 3.
  • 82. Ibid. 470/O 45; P.R.O., HO 107/1763; inf. from Mr. D. Sheckles of Mill Stud.
  • 83. C.R.O., R 55/7/7/247.