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 Rohese de Dunstanville exercised through her lessee of Great Isleham manor view of frankpledge with the assizes of bread and ale, (fn. 1) paying the king's hundred bailiff 6s. 8d. for attending the leet. Those liberties, forfeited in 1299 after alienation without royal licence, were restored in 1300 (fn. 2) and remained attached to the manor thereafter. (fn. 3) In 1275 and 1299 Ely priory also claimed those assizes with infangthief, while in 1279 the bishop of Rochester was perhaps drawing his Isleham tenants to his court at Freckenham. (fn. 4) About 1314 Sir Robert Walkefare complained that the king's hundred bailiff had wrongfully taken over Walkefare's leet held for that Rochester manor; (fn. 5) that leet was presumably restored by the 1360s when Walkefare tenants owed suit to a court held at Michaelmas and Easter. (fn. 6) About 1332 a writ of right for Isleham was heard in Shrewsbury abbey's manorial court. (fn. 7)
From the late 15th century to the 19th King's College continued to hold courts for Shrewsbury's manor, almost entirely concerned with tenurial matters. Court rolls survive for 1480-7 and for courts held at long intervals between 1540 and 1671, also for 1848-65. (fn. 8) Court books, starting with drafts from 1611, formally cover that court's proceedings from 1694 to 1738. (fn. 9) Although all the other courts had effectively merged by the 17th century into those held for the Peytons and their successors, formally separate courts were still held into the late 19th century for Great Isleham with Great Bernards, for Beckhall, and for Newhall and Uphall manors. From 1689, however, their proceedings were all recorded in the same set of court books running from 1673 to 1931. (fn. 10)
Before 1700 courts handled a wide variety of agrarian business. (fn. 11) Especially after the 1710s, however, their sessions were almost entirely concerned with copyhold transfers. Not infrequently until c. 1710, but only occasionally thereafter, the courts registered bylaws regulating the use of the remaining commonable land. (fn. 12) They also named pairs of aletasters until 1700 (fn. 13) and of constables until 1730. (fn. 14) In 1586 the town's two constables were under the influence of Robert Peyton (d. 1590); they assisted him as the resident J.P. in pursuing a local feud under the pretence of keeping the peace. (fn. 15) The courts also appointed pinders, one in the 17th century, two to four in the 18th, (fn. 16) six by 1815, besides three constables. (fn. 17) The constables were still trying to keep order in the 1820s. (fn. 18) In 1846 hired parish constables were required to maintain good order in public houses, and to patrol the streets at night in winter. (fn. 19) The parish had a thatched cage a little west of the former pound at the south-west end of Pound Lane. That pound was still being maintained in 1904. (fn. 20) Its site was sold c. 1971, the structure being soon after removed. (fn. 21)
By the 1790s the parish was distributing 'town coal' in winter to 35-45 people. (fn. 22) In 1750 the vestry agreed to buy a building for a workhouse, shortly hiring a contractor to run it. (fn. 23) Although Isleham still had a workhouse in the early 19th century, (fn. 24) by then it had only 10-20 inmates, who cost £35 a year out of the £511 spent on the poor in 1803, when 30 others were relieved outside. By the early 1810s 110-20 villagers received outside relief at a total cost, in 1813, of £1,466. Save for a brief decline c. 1815 the cost of such relief usually ranged until the 1830s between £1,150 and £1,450. It was increasing in the early 1830s, (fn. 25) when large families received allowances from the rates. The parish had then to support 120 people in winter, including 60 unemployed men working on its roads, out of at least 134 adult labourers, who were normally apportioned among the farmers in proportion to the size of their farms. The workhouse only held 15, half old people, the rest mostly children. Rates had their level set at an open vestry by a majority of all who came, but were assessed by the overseers and 'principal inhabitants'. (fn. 26) In the late 1840s the vestry still tried to pay more to those men engaged in roadwork who had large families. (fn. 27) Isleham belonged from 1835 to the Newmarket poor-law union, (fn. 28) and passed in 1894 to the Newmarket rural district. From 1974 it belonged to East Cambridgeshire district. (fn. 29)
By 1829 the parish had a horse-drawn fire engine, regularly used into the early 20th century. Probably into the 1970s it was kept in an engine house near the vicarage gateway, enlarged in 1858 and demolished c. 1977. (fn. 30) In the late 19th century the income from the parish's 'Dunstall' land was used to repair roads and tunnels in the fen, and for street lighting and other public purposes. (fn. 31) By 1905 the parish council provided, partly on Dunstall, partly on rented land, allotments, (fn. 32) covering 18 a. in 1973 and still in demand in the 1980s. (fn. 33) It also by 1910 organized street lighting with oil lamps. (fn. 34) About 1979 it spent the proceeds of selling one of its two gravel pits, one of 10¾ a. allotted in 1854, another bought in 1856, on improving street lighting. (fn. 35)