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.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
In 1086 Count Alan's manorial demesne at Wicken included three out of the seven hides formerly assessed on the vill, and a third of its twelve ploughlands. But he had on it, with 5 servi, only three ploughteams, while eight teams were possessed by the eleven villani, who with eight bordars occupied the remaining land. (fn. 1)
In 1279 barely 50 a., over half on the Little Isleham fee, were held freely of Wicken manor, excluding Spinney priory's 115 a. The lord had ten villeins holding 15-a. half yardlands, and thirteen more with quarter yardlands. The half yardlanders owed two works a week outside, and three during harvest, the quarterlanders half as much. The thirteen cottagers who had messuages and crofts owed one work each week, two others with only tofts merely haymaking. One rent-paying half yardlander still had to send two men to 2½ harvest boons. (fn. 2) By 1345 Wicken manor had thirteen non-monastic free tenants, including five gentry outsiders, compared with only five in 1279. (fn. 3)
Even after a further 130 a. of arable and 45 a. of meadow had been granted to Spinney priory between 1299 and 1320, the manorial demesne remained large. In 1299 Mary Bassingbourn was said to have 702 a. of arable, probably including her customary tenants' fieldland, and 60 a. of meadow. The demesne, which c. 1320 included one 40-a. furlong (cultura), (fn. 4) in 1366 comprised 215 a. of arable and 37 a. of meadow. The lord was then entitled, besides £8 from assize rents, to bondmen's works worth £4 9s. (fn. 5) He still had bondmen by blood in the 1410s, when he sought fines for marrying outside the homage from some who had left the village. (fn. 6)
Some of the surviving customary holdings, styled 'full' and 'half' yardlands and 'cotsetles lands', were still held heritably in the 1410s. (fn. 7) Others were being granted for terms ranging from 3–7 years up to ten or twenty. (fn. 8) No customary holdings were as yet permanently rented out. Tenants could not alway s be easily found: in 1415 the reeve was ordered to provide some for 40 a. of land in eight lots. (fn. 9) Few villagers were wealthy in 1524, when Robert Peyton was assessed on land worth £70; only two men had over £5, and thirty only £1–2, of goods. (fn. 10)
'Labour services were not reported after 1400, except that in 1414 the tenants mowed the fodder fen on the lord's orders; (fn. 11) they were also still supposed to put their sheep in the lord's fold. (fn. 12) By 1430 the demesne was held on lease by two farmers. (fn. 13) By the mid 16th century the leased Spinney priory demesne was sublet to local tenant farmers. (fn. 14)
One cottage built on the waste was already held by copy in 1417. (fn. 15) By the mid 16th century at latest the customary tenants' land was normally copyhold. (fn. 16) By the late 17th it was apparently subject to fines on transfer at the lord's will. (fn. 17) Of the open-field land allotted at inclosure in the 1840s, 320 a. was assigned for copyhold, (fn. 18) which totalled 701 a. in 1881. (fn. 19)
Wicken's open fields, which occupied at inclosure barely a fifth of the parish, then mostly curved, 2/3 mile west of the village, along the higher ground parallel to the river Cam, from which they were divided by fen pasture surviving into the 19th century. (fn. 20) In the 17th century, and probably already in the 15th, Wicken had four fields, and a fragment of a fifth. (fn. 21) Padney field (90 a.), mentioned in 1417, (fn. 22) was the most northerly. The squarish Arbistrall field (120 a.), corrupted by 1730 to Abbaster field (fn. 23) and renamed by 1830 after the adjoining High Fen, (fn. 24) lay to the south-west. South of Arbistrall field were two long, parallel fields, on the west Fodder Fen field (105 a.), on the east Frith field (130 a.), also called by the 1730s Mill field. (fn. 25)
Between the two ways running north-west from the village there had probably once been a long, narrow open field, called in the 17th century Afterway field. (fn. 26) By the 19th century its south-eastern part had been taken into severalty as Afterway closes (25 a.). (fn. 27) Other land, possibly once in that field's north-west part, under the plough by the 1730s, had probably then been long included in the several closes attached to the Spinney and Thornhall estates: part of them perhaps derived from two furlongs (culture) near Spinney's site given to it in 1232. (fn. 28) By 1840 barely 25 a. of Afterway was still open field.
Probably by 1500, much of the southern part of the parish was included in closes held in severalty belonging to manorial estates. In 1772 the Wicken Hall estate, which then had only 57 a. of open-field land, lying in blocks of 8–18 a., included a 178-a. group of closes around Hall Farm in the parish's south-east corner, of which all but 105 a. were grassland in 1800. Another 55 a. of the former Northup fen to its north (fn. 29) had been added to that farm in the 1660s, besides other 17th-century allotments of fenland. (fn. 30) The farm also retained, along with 52 a. of anciently inclosed fen called the Breeds just west of the village, doles, totalling 52 a. in 1839, in those fens still then common. (fn. 31)
Some early inclosures were probably made near Upware in Wicken's south-west corner. In 1240 the lord of Wicken released to its overlord, Walter of Little Isleham, all the fen near Walter's headland. (fn. 32) In 1287 an exchange of 16a. blocks of fen in Wicken's 'frith' and 'middle frith' assured access for the cattle of the lord and his tenants over a presumably otherwise several meadow. (fn. 33) The 63 a. of several fen reported near Upware in 1636 were probably mostly part of the formerly manorial Upware farm, whose 132 a. included 114 a. of old inclosures by 1800. (fn. 34)
The largest group of several closes was that lying around Spinney Abbey; their 343 a. occupied by the 1650s a blunted, ring-fenced triangle, bounded on the north-east by the later Lower Drove. It was divided from Frith field to the west by a 'new bank' along the Upware road, beside which lay a long close called by 1600 Spinney several sheepwalk. (fn. 35) Inclosure around Spinney had, probably from the mid 13th century, gradually absorbed the Frith fen granted to the priory in 1232. Ditched round by 1342 it was probably the origin of the Frith meadow ground, covering 50 a. in the 1650s, also of the 70 a. called Wood frith. (fn. 36) The prior had inclosed 40 a. of Frith fen as several pasture by 1286, when he successfully asserted exclusive rights there against the lord of Wicken and thirteen villagers. (fn. 37) Closes, totalling 123 a., which lay close to Spinney Abbey in the 1650s, included four called the Stockings (12 a.). The 30-a. 'New Park' of 'low meadow fen ground' was presumably a later reclamation. (fn. 38) About 1795 the Spinney closes supposedly included 40 a. of inclosed pasture, 30 a. of 'skirtland', and 150 a. of less valuable fen. (fn. 39) The Abbey estate also retained some open-field land, for which 64 a. were allotted in the 1840s. (fn. 40)
The extension of Spinney's inclosures caused much trouble in the late 1410s, when the villagers repeatedly objected to its prior's ploughing up, and hedging and ditching, land close to his priory gates, (fn. 41) and also customarily common meadow at Upware. (fn. 42) He also impounded villagers' cattle in unaccustomed places, driving them from his pinfold to his manorial pound at Spinney. (fn. 43)
The remainder of Wicken parish was occupied until the 17th century by fens: one was said in 1279 to stretch for two leagues, a league broad, from 'Alwoldingswere' to 'Stremlake', possibly along the eastern side of the parish; another to extend for a league on its south between Upware and the village. (fn. 44) The latter area probably served in 1400, as later, as the Sedge fen mentioned from the 1410s. (fn. 45) Some of the fens, then described as intercommon, (fn. 46) were subject in the 1420s to incursions by Ramsey abbey's men from Burwell and Reach, to pasture cattle, cut turf, and fish. (fn. 47)
The southern part of the fenland which lay along Wicken's western border was occupied from the 1410s by the Fodder fen, already then divided from north to south by the river Cam. (fn. 48) Reckoned to cover c. 300 a. in 1636, it was still also styled the Lammas land c. 1840, when its eastern half covered 170 a., with another 160 a. in the 'Meadow west of the river', so named by the 1760s. (fn. 49) In the 17th century Upware fore fen (27 a.) lay in the south-west corner of the parish, with Broad meadow, mentioned in 1414, probably the western part of the 20th-century Wicken fen, to its east. (fn. 50) By 1600 the name of Edmunds fen was applied to a tongue of the Sedge fen, covering 55–60 a., which stretched east, between Monks' lode and land south of the village, called the Waits, mentioned from c. 1400, (fn. 51) which were inclosed by the 1650s. (fn. 52)
Along Wicken's north-eastern boundary there lay until after 1600 a wide band of fenland, (fn. 53) by the 1220s mainly bounded on the east by Soham Mere ditch. (fn. 54) That fen stretched from Northup fen (75 a.), north-east of the village, through Hardwell fen (256 a.), adjoining Padney field, and mentioned in 1413. (fn. 55) Further north were other fens called Stearmer (fn. 56) (127 a.) and Padney Holt (156 a.), both near Padney field and 'hill', and Sealode fen, with the High fen to their west, and beyond it Fordey fen. (fn. 57) In 1636 that whole area of fen was reckoned to cover 1,345 a. (fn. 58)
By the 1280s, when the lord of Wicken secured his right of common after harvest over 7 a. of Spinney priory's arable, (fn. 59) the open fields were presumably subject to a rotation, perhaps four-yearly by the 1790s. (fn. 60) The fallow field was still commoned by cattle in the 1710s. (fn. 61) In the 15th and 16th centuries the principal crop may have been barley; c. 1430 the stock on Wicken demesne included 114 qr. of barley, but only 24 qr. of wheat, (fn. 62) while c. 1583 Robert Peyton had 126 combs of barley for sale from his manorial farmland. (fn. 63) In the 1790s, when a fallow followed three successive crops, wheat, barley, and beans were the main produce. (fn. 64) About 1839 the 'usual course' of cropping used on 358 a. of fieldland consisted of wheat, then oats and some barley, then beans. In 1837, just before inclosure, the tithes yielded 316 combs of wheat, 146 of oats with 114 of barley, and 65 of beans, besides peas, coleseed, mangolds, and mustard, and 104 sacks of potatoes. (fn. 65)
The fens were used for common pasture, partly for cattle, and for mowing, fishing, and turbary from the 13th century. (fn. 66) In 1228 Spinney priory's founding grant included common for 10 cows and 30 ewes, and turbary. (fn. 67) In the 13th century Anglesey priory received with 2 a. the right to feed 200 sheep. (fn. 68) In 1286 a villager complained that a recently made ditch obstructed his cattle's passage from the village to pasture in Wicken fens. (fn. 69) In 1405 the former Bassingbourn of Badlingham appanage in Wicken included three half fodderfens and half a sedge fen, besides a fold for 200 sheep. (fn. 70)
In the 1410s 20–25 villagers often trespassed in the lord's crops with livestock, including horses, cattle, pigs, and sheep; several had 20–30 sheep each. (fn. 71) One man from Upware kept 50 bullocks in 1421. (fn. 72) Some villagers had milking cattle in the 17th century, (fn. 73) when the sheepflocks were mainly on the manorial estates: Sir Robert Peyton had 500 sheep at Wicken in 1518. (fn. 74) In 1556 and later the Spinney estate had foldage for 300 sheep. (fn. 75) By the 1830s the owners of the separated Spinney Abbey sheepwalk rigidly enforced their exclusive rights to feed sheep on the open fields and commons, not allowing the farmers to plough the fallow until Old Lady Day. Several farmers, however, kept up to ten milking cows each. About 100 cows were tithed in 1837–8. (fn. 76) In 1814 John Rayner's livestock sold from Hall farm had included, besides c. 65 cattle, 15 for milking and 14 for beef, 370 adult Down sheep and 120 lambs. (fn. 77)
Wicken fen, which in 1086 had yielded 4,201 eels to the lord, (fn. 78) provided in the Middle Ages fisheries in named stretches of water called lakes: one, in Goosemere, was granted to Spinney priory in 1232, four others with a house c. 1290. (fn. 79) Until 1342 the tenants of Wicken manor claimed liberty to fish in the ditches surrounding the Spinney closes. (fn. 80) In the 15th century, when the size of nets was probably still being regulated, (fn. 81) and probably still in the late 16th, such lakes and rights of fishing belonged not only to manors, but to freeholds, (fn. 82) and to some customary holdings, even those of cottagers. (fn. 83)
The Sedge fen, occupying much of the south of the parish, was in the 15th century, as later, mainly dug for turf and cut for sedge; (fn. 84) cattle were formally excluded from it in the 18th century. (fn. 85) Villagers were often, though vainly, forbidden to sell such produce outside Wicken, both in the 1410s (fn. 86) and in the mid 17th century, (fn. 87) when they had to remove by Midsummer what they had cut. In 1414 only one man was allowed to dig turf for each holding. (fn. 88) Later, turf digging was stinted: in the 1650s owners of commonable tenements could take 4,000 turves from 'beyond Northup' and 2,000 from 'Broad fen', but 'under-settles' of their houses only a quarter as much. (fn. 89)
Other areas of fen, such as the Fodder fen, served as meadow. (fn. 90) The doles each side of the river, called in the mid 17th century mowing fens or Lammas grounds, were still in the early 19th mown by their owners before being fed in common by cattle. (fn. 91) Those fens were customarily shared among commoners by doles, usually in pairs, measured by poles: (fn. 92) in the mid 17th century most mowable fenland was still thus set out yearly in severalty, but the Sedge fen was apparently divided annually into three large blocks, of which one was then mown. (fn. 93) In the early 19th century the doles in the Fodder fen still had their positions changed annually. (fn. 94) Agisting outsiders' cattle was forbidden in the 17th; in 1658 only residents might feed cattle on the commons. (fn. 95)
Except for the Fodder fen, already bounded by 1598 by a New ditch, (fn. 96) Wicken's fens were steadily taken into severalty during the 17th century. In 1609 the lords of Wicken and Spinney agreed with eighteen villagers, acting for all tenants and inhabitants with ancient commonable messuages, to renounce their rights to feed beasts on, and mow, the common Sedge fen. The lord of Wicken, till then entitled to take 11,000 sedges there yearly, was instead to have in severalty 40 a. ditched off in that fen's southeast corner adjoining Newland and Monks' lodes. The Barrows of Spinney, who then received 80 a., also newly ditched, lying in Broad meadow and Breed fen, agreed in return to let the villagers enjoy common over 80 a. of the Frith fen. Common rights over the remainder of Broad and Sedge fens, probably reduced to 457 a. by 1636, were to be regulated by a majority of householding commoners. (fn. 97) In 1653 Thomas Peyton as lord released his right of sheepwalk in Padney Holt in return for 60 a. there, probably inclosures north of Padney field later described as sheepwalk. (fn. 98)
The Spinney portion of newly inclosed fen, reckoned as 57 a. in 1636, was in the 1660s separated from the rest of Sedge fen to its south by 'Mr. Cromwell's Mill bank', (fn. 99) probably commemorating a drainage windmill recorded from the 1630s (fn. 100) on a site towards its western end. A single mill there, replaced c. 1903, drained the Spinney closes until another, replaced 1903 × 1918, was added in the 1850s. (fn. 101)
Meanwhile the Adventurers draining the Bedford Level had been assigned in 1637 c. 605 a. of Wicken's fens, including 300 a. in and near Broad meadow, 150 a. of the High fen, 100 a. of the 'mowing' Fodder fen, including 55 a. west of the river, besides another 55 a. out of the Peytons' and Barrows' already inclosed fens in the Sedge fen and elsewhere near the southern border. (fn. 102) The Adventurers' claims initially met in 1637–8 with violent resistance, their new banks being cast down. Neither Isaac Barrow, the resident J.P., nor the curate and constable would provide effective support for official emissaries then sent to arrest the leading rioters, but faced by an armed and mocking crowd. (fn. 103)
By the early 1650s the drainage works had ostensibly been completed and the lands taken, including 150 a. in High fen, were being allotted among the Adventurers. (fn. 104) In 1655 a Wicken yeoman leased the 300 a. taken in the west of Sedge fen. (fn. 105) About 1840, however, outsiders possessed most of the 260 a. of large closes there, called Reed fen c. 1840. (fn. 106) Another 65 a. of Adventurers' land just to the west was cut off, being eventually converted to arable, by the erection, 1727 × 1742, of Howes bank, named from an adjoining 186-a. farm which included that land and standing along the north-west side of the modern Sedge fen, further east than an earlier embankment. (fn. 107) There were then another 193 a. of Adventurers' land in the former High fen, occupied by two large landowners. (fn. 108)
The villagers, who had reckoned in the 1650s that they had lost a quarter of their previous 2,000 a. of fen, complained in 1655–6 that the allotment to the Adventurers of land east of the river along the middle of Fodder fen obstructed commoners' access to the 300 a. which was left for them there. At their request the Adventurers received instead 44 a. more of fenland further north. (fn. 109)
In the 1660s the villagers took advantage of the Bedford Level Commissioners' powers to have most of Wicken's remaining common fens, c. 1,400 a., allotted in severalty. In 1664 Thomas Peyton received for his manorial estate's rights 380 a., including 330 a. of High fen south of the Adventurers' land there, and 50 a. in Northup fen. (fn. 110) The remaining fens on the east and south of the parish were divided in 1666–7, when c. 70 commonable messuages were reported in the parish including two at Upware: for each such house 34 people owning up to 52 of them obtained standard allotments averaging 16½ a. Each lot consisted of 8 a. in Northup, Hardwell, or Stearmer fens, or in Upware fore fen, and of 6 a. in Padney Holt and other more northerly fens. They also each received narrow lots of 1¾ a., totalling c. 90 a., each side of an east–west drove in the eastern part of Sedge fen, and of 3/4 a. in Edmunds fen. (fn. 111)
Thenceforth most Wicken landholdings included lots in the two groups of fens, including larger 6- to 8-a. dolvers along the eastern border (fn. 112) which were thought c. 1840 to cover altogether 640 a. The dolvers long remained subject to frequent flooding, especially at their lower northern end, the three drainage windmills occasionally used in the parish c. 1795 being inadequate. Flooding was reduced in the 1820s after steampower replaced windpumps in draining the adjoining Soham Mere. Though still sometimes dug for turf, the dolvers were cultivated from time to time. In 1839 it was thought that since 1800 only 40 a. of them had not been at some time ploughed for 2–3 years before reverting to pasture, and in the 1840s at least 415 a. of them was reported as arable. (fn. 113)
Those parts of the southern fen held in severalty, both the Adventurers' 300 a. and Wicken Hall's 40 a., were much dug for peat in the 18th and 19th centuries. (fn. 114) The eastern part of Sedge fen, and particularly the small commoners' lots there, continued mainly to be cut for sedge, customarily every three years. It was sold for thatching into the late 19th century, when local sedge dealers sometimes owned or hired blocks there: Wicken was the last large local source of thatching material. Villagers also cut other fen plants annually for cattle litter. Commercial sedge cutting largely ceased after the 1870s. (fn. 115) In the late 19th century a few villagers continued to dig and deal around the neighbourhood in turf for fuel, piled under sheds beside the northeast end of the lode until removed by lighter. One family, the Baileys, active from the 1860s, continued turf cutting into the 1930s. (fn. 116)
Although in 1609 most of the Wicken manor demesne had apparently been occupied by one farmer, (fn. 117) by the 1660s much of its land, then c. 400 a., was divided into two larger farms: one of 138 a. was probably worked from the manor house; the other covered 76 a. Other tenants leased holdings ranging from 56 a. down to smallholdings of a few acres. (fn. 118)
Since they were partly supported by the resources of the fen, few villagers then occupied much arable farmland. In the 18th century some families, such as the Grays (fn. 119) and the Jervises, (fn. 120). accumulated former 20-a. yardlands, or large fractions of them, to produce relatively large copyholdings of 60–70 a., including fenland held in severalty. Sometimes, however, they were dispersed by will among several sons. (fn. 121) Eventually the largest holding was that of the Drages, recorded from the 17th century, (fn. 122) who later moved to Soham. About 1790 their estate's copyhold portion, altogether 182 a. including c. 70 a. of arable and 72 a. of dolvers, passed by marriage to the Merests. (fn. 123) The last of that line, the Revd. John William Drage Merest (d. s.p. 1872), (fn. 124) owned in the 1840s, following inclosure, c. 400 a. in Wicken, including c. 100 a. then allotted, 105 a. of dolvers, and 88 a. of Adventurers' land in the far north. (fn. 125) His lands were dispersed by sale soon after. (fn. 126)
An inclosure Act was obtained in 1840. (fn. 127) The open fields and fodder fen, altogether 834 a., mostly on the west side of the parish, were probably allotted later that year, certainly by 1842, although the award was not executed until 1849. The remainder of the 3,906 a. which the parish was thought to contain, including 296 a. in Sedge and Edmunds fens, was not affected, save for a few exchanges of ancient closes. (fn. 128)
Out of the whole parish c. 1,690 a., including 356 a. of newly allotted land (fn. 129) subsequently formed part of the various holdings into which the manorial estates had been divided. A further 750 a., including 238 a. then allotted, belonged to three other holdings of 100 a. or more. Besides the Merest estate, the Fosters, Cambridge bankers, had 100 a., mostly inclosed land near Upware. (fn. 130) The Asplands, who emerged with 240 a., had been landowners at Wicken by the 1720s and shopkeepers there since the 1740s. (fn. 131) Having gradually acquired from the 1760s land totalling over 130 a. by 1809, (fn. 132) they also became substantial farmers by the mid 19th century; they were probably working over 220 a. c. 1840, over 300 a. by the 1850s, and 450 a. by the 1870s, (fn. 133) when, possessing 437 a., they were the largest resident landowners. (fn. 134) Of others entitled to allotments at inclosure, fourteen, among them several large farmers who later owned 20–75 a. each, had altogether 585 a., including c. 155 a. of the allotted land. About 75 a. went to another fourteen with under 20 a. each. Nine other substantial owners, mostly outsiders, whose property lay solely within the several former fenland, possessed 475 a. in all. Another sixty villagers who owned no fieldland or dolvers, but merely the minute old inclosures attached to their 62 dwellings, including c. 50 cottages, had barely 25 a. between them.
In the 19th century (fn. 135) the formerly manorial properties, each mostly divided into two unequal farms, still comprised almost half the cultivated land. The Hall estate contained in 1837 two farms of 72 a. and 275 a., the latter worked from Wicken Hall. J. A. Johnson, who had moved there from Spinney Abbey in 1837, was by the 1860s Wicken's leading farmer, working 400 a. in 1861 and 800 a. by 1881. (fn. 136) Miss Hatch's estate included High Fen farm, 472 a., and Upware farm 149 a. (fn. 137) Spinney Abbey farm, 374 a., later intermittently worked directly by its owners the Goldings, and Thornhall farm, 167 a., in the centre of the parish, whose tenant later worked 350 a. or more, (fn. 138) were also still distinct. In 1910 six landholdings, four derived from those estates and only two not held on lease, still covered, with 1,750 a., almost half the parish. (fn. 139)
The rest of Wicken was c. 1840 mostly divided into relatively small farms; owner-occupied land then slightly exceeded that held on lease. About 1842 c. 1,400 a. was divided among 22 lesser farms covering 20 a. or more. The three largest of them, with 75 a. or more, together covered 463 a. About 730 a. was owner-occupied, only 665 a., over half on the Merest estate, leased. (fn. 140) From the 1850s to the 1880s only 850–1,150 a. were worked from farms in the village, including a few large ones such as the Asplands' and the 190-a. Breeds farm, (fn. 141) and also 8–9 smallholdings, few of over 30 a. Most of the parish, c. 2,380 a. in 1851 and 2,250 a. in 1871, was then cultivated from farms, including 6–7 of over 150 a. and 9–12 smallholdings of 60 a. or less, scattered through the former fens to the north and west: some were worked by branches of local families such as the Slacks, who had three farmsteads close together near Fenside. (fn. 142) Almost all farmers, both large and small, were then natives of the parish.
By the late 19th century more land was rented, about two thirds in 1890 and three quarters in 1910, when only 5 farmers out of 47 reported were substantial owner-occupiers. (fn. 143) Wicken then contained fourteen farms of 100 a. or more, among them four of over 200 a., together 2,735 a.; another seven with over 50 a. occupied 490 a. (fn. 144) Following the acquisition of Wicken Hall farm by the county council for smallholdings in 1910, (fn. 145) there were 20 or more smallholders with under 20 a. each, out of 47 2013;8 occupiers reported, in 1930 and 1950. There were still 17 smallholders, out of 35 occupiers, in 1970, when only eight farmers worked over 100 a.; a third of the land was still tenanted. (fn. 146)
About 1830 the parish contained 143 labourers aged over 20, and 59 younger ones. (fn. 147) Tensions between labourers and their employers sometimes broke out into arson: in 1833 J. A. Johnson was threatened by letter with fire, after Wicken farmers had taken the lead locally in cutting wages by a tenth. (fn. 148) Fires, suspected of being deliberately started, largely destroyed four farms, two at Upware, in 1844, including one where earlier victims had received refuge. (fn. 149) In 1851 Wicken village could produce c. 120 adult labourers and the fen cottages c. 40 more, a number almost halved, presumably by emigration, by 1881 when the village housed barely 70 labourers. In the 1850s the larger farmers in the whole parish had work for c. 150 adult labourers, a third in the fen, besides 66 boys. Their demand was reduced to 106 men and 50 boys by 1861, and c. 80 and 30 by the 1870s. In 1871 over 70 of Wicken's younger men were employed in coprolite digging, which had begun, initially along the edges of Wicken's fens, in 1867. One farmer alone in 1871 hired 14 men to dig and 11 women, out of c. 60 so employed, to pick those fossils. (fn. 150) The diggings had almost ceased by 1881. (fn. 151) There were still almost 100 full-time male farmworkers in 1930, and as many as 143 in 1950, but only 21 by 1970, assisted by c. 40 part-timers, half female. (fn. 152)
From the mid 19th century even the former fens were mostly used as arable, which accounted for two thirds of High Fen farm from the 1850s to the early 20th century. (fn. 153) Large proportions of other fen farms were also arable, even in the far north of the parish, as was much of the neighbouring dolvers and the inclosed land near Upware. About 1920 three quarters of the 406 a. of the Spinney closes was arable. (fn. 154) Much of the former Fodder fen, however, remained pasture. (fn. 155)
The acreage under corn (fn. 156) apparently ranged between 1,600 a. and 1,750 a. from the 1870s to the 1950s. Wheat crops exceeded those of barley not only in the late 19th century, but as late as 1970, when they covered 1,057 a. out of 1,824 a. reported. Other crops then included potatoes, earlier planted on less than 40 a., but covering over 400 a. from 1950, and from the 1920s sugar beet, which increased from 338 a. in 1930 to over 650 a. in 1950 and 1970. The permanent grassland, c. 750 a. in 1870, rose, however, to c. 1,390 a. by 1890 and a peak of 1,370 a. in 1910. Thereafter it probably stood at 1,100–250 a. until after 1950, falling to c. 470 a. by 1970. Sheep, full-grown ones numbering c. 500 in 1890 and 620 in 1910, were not kept after the 1930s. (fn. 157) Over 400 cattle, half as many as earlier, were still kept in 1970. The cows had mainly been used for milking until after 1930. Wicken's farmland remained devoted to such mixed farming in the 1990s.
Wicken manor included three mills in 1086. (fn. 158) Its demesne windmill was ruinous in 1366. (fn. 159) By 1399 Spinney priory apparently had a mill, worked by a waged miller, at which c. 1432 its baker ground its own corn. (fn. 160) The site of one windmill may be indicated by the Mill way running in 1723 through Mill field. (fn. 161) Water mills were reported at Upware in the 1760s. (fn. 162) Wicken's surviving corn windmill, which stands a little south of the village green, is a threestoreyed smock mill, timber-framed and weatherboarded, and from 1973 aluminium-clad, upon a two-storeyed, tarred brick base. (fn. 163) Built in 1813, (fn. 164) it was worked throughout the 19th century. (fn. 165) Repaired in the 1890s, it remained in use until the 1930s, latterly grinding meal for cattle feed. It lost its sails in 1938, though much of the machinery survived inside. In 1987 local enthusiasts acquired the mill for restoration, effected 1989–1994. The then reinstated cap and sails allowed it to be worked occasionally. (fn. 166)
A weekly market on Mondays and a three-day fair at St. Lawrence's feast (presumably 10 August) granted to Humphrey Bassingbourn in 1331 (fn. 167) have not otherwise been recorded.
Craftsmen, such as a smith c. 1285, (fn. 168) were occasionally recorded from the 13th century. There were few in the early 19th: only 20–25 households made a living in the 1820s by practising crafts and trades, compared to over 140 engaged in farming. (fn. 169) Wicken had by the 1810s (fn. 170) the basic craftsmen needed in a village, including carpenters, shoemakers, (fn. 171) also a smith, wheelwright, tailor, and butcher, besides thatchers, a watchmaker c. 1817–18, and by 1830 a plumber. Until the 1920s (fn. 172) at least one person, indeed 2–3 shoemakers, was engaged in most of those trades, few working outside the village; there was also c. 1860–90 a gingerbeer maker. The village smithy, by the 1830s at a 17thcentury cottage south of North Street, (fn. 173) was worked from the 1810s until 1982; it still mended farm machinery after 1900. It was reopened in 1984 by an incoming craftsman, mainly for ornamental ironwork. (fn. 174) Though so close to Soham, Wicken usually had 5–6 shops in the late 19th century, including the Asplands' grocery close to their farmhouse. (fn. 175) There were still four shops in the 1930s, and a Co-operative shop c. 1965. (fn. 176) The last village store closed briefly in 1983–4, and again suddenly, for lack of support, in 1994, leaving only a farm shop. (fn. 177)
About 1850 there was a boat builder at Upware. A few local men also worked on the river as bargemen and watermen. (fn. 178) By 1770 the field east of Wicken Hall was called Brickkiln close. (fn. 179) From the mid 19th century the village had a small builder's business, taken over in the 1870s by the Owers family from Soham, who also traded as wheelwrights, 1900–20. From 1866 they had made bricks at brickpits west of Wicken village, on the former Little Breeds fen. Sold in 1894 and disused by 1900, those pits were later water-filled and overgrown. (fn. 180) Another brickmaker had gone bankrupt in 1893 after his brickyard flooded. (fn. 181) A Suffolk firm, which by 1965 had limepits with an adjoining works where the Stretham road crossed Fodder fen drove, was refused permission in 1968, following local objections, to make another 10-a. pit nearby. (fn. 182) Barns at High Fen farm were being prepared in 1989 as workshops for light industry. (fn. 183) Such businesses included in 1994 one recently opened making biochemicals. (fn. 184)