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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Kirtling and the hamlet of Upend occupy 1,265 ha. (3,126 a.) on the Suffolk border 8 km. (5 miles) south-east of Newmarket. (fn. 1) By the 16th century at latest, the parish name had developed a variant pronunciation and spelling, Catlidge, which lasted into the 19th century. (fn. 2) Upend was until the 15th century called Upheme (Old English 'the up-dwellers'), (fn. 3) indicating its position further up the valley from Lidgate or Dalham (both Suff.). Although it thus seems to have originated separately from Kirtling, long before 1066 it had been absorbed into Kirtling manorially and ecclesiastically. (fn. 4) The parish boundaries follow those of closes, woods, and open-field furlongs, and a few short stretches of roads and streams. (fn. 5) They enclose a compact shape which may have been the core of a much larger Anglo-Saxon territory before the other parishes in Cheveley hundred and perhaps some in Suffolk were shorn off. (fn. 6)
Kirtling lies on the eastern slope of the ridge whose flat top is within Woodditton, Cheveley, and Ashley. The rim of the parish from the boundary with Ashley in the north round the west side to that with Great Bradley and Cowlinge (Suff.) in the south lies above 100 m. (328 ft.); the land shelves gently down in a semicircular bowl to below 75 m. (246 ft.) at the lowest point on the eastern boundary with Lidgate. Small streams drain down the sides of the bowl from the west and south as headwaters of the river Kennett. Their original names of Dashlake and Crowell ('the crow spring') passed out of use but were preserved in the names of parts of the open fields in the 16th century. (fn. 7) Almost the whole parish is covered with boulder clay overlying Chalk, the latter outcropping to form a patch of lighter soils below 80 m. along the eastern boundary, where there are also bands of alluvium and gravels by the streams. (fn. 8) Flints for building work were available from the Chalk in the Middle Ages, (fn. 9) and continued in use throughout the 19th century for minor buildings, but gravel for road-mending had to be obtained outside the parish in the 1810s. (fn. 10)
Kirtling's open fields originally extended across the east and centre of the parish on both Chalk and clay, with pasture closes mainly in the south and west on the heaviest soils, (fn. 11) but probably in the later Middle Ages much arable near Kirtling Street and Kirtling Green was inclosed informally, leaving only scraps of open field in the western half of the parish in addition to a larger continuous block along the eastern boundary. In all 1,200 a. remained to be inclosed in 1815 under an Act of 1806 which also covered Ashley. (fn. 12)
Clearance of woodland even on the heavy clay had gone far by 1086, when perhaps three quarters of the parish was ploughland. (fn. 13) The manorial woods were relatively small, reckoned to support only 60 pigs in 1086 (fn. 14) and to cover 30-35 a. in the early 14th century, (fn. 15) when several freehold estates also included a few acres of woodland. (fn. 16) Both the surviving Lucy wood and its lost northern neighbour Northey wood had Old English names with the ending haeg (meaning 'enclosure'). (fn. 17) In the Middle Ages the manorial woods were coppiced on a seven-year cycle, (fn. 18) and together with the park produced laths and spars for building work, besides timber. (fn. 19) Up to 10 a. at a time was cleared in Northey wood. (fn. 20) Some of the customary tenants also had small groves of trees, (fn. 21) which were protected from felling by the manor court. (fn. 22)
In the mid 16th century Lucy wood was reckoned to cover 31 a. and Northey wood 21 a., and the manor also included 60 a. of wood and scrub in the old park and 38 a. at Bansteads. Some of the coppices had by then been left growing for 20 years. (fn. 23) Northey wood was cleared in the 1660s, perhaps leaving some timber trees, (fn. 24) and in the 1690s much timber may have been felled, (fn. 25) leaving the Kirtling estate with 65 a. of wood in 1696. (fn. 26) The estate actively exploited its woodland throughout the 18th century, (fn. 27) and in 1814 the parish contained over 160 a. (fn. 28) There was some further clearance after inclosure, but shelter belts and small game coverts were planted in the later 19th century and the early 20th, (fn. 29) and most of them survived in the 1990s.
Kirtling lies well off any main route; minor but direct roads linked it to Newmarket via Saxon Street or Ditton Green (both in Woodditton), but in all other directions there was a tangle of lanes winding towards neighbouring hamlets and villages. Those to Lidgate and Cowlinge were made public roads at inclosure, but not that to Great and Little Bradley, (fn. 30) which ceased to be passable except on foot. In the 20th century the metalled roads formed a confusing continuous circuit in the centre of the parish, from which the through roads radiated to Ditton Green, Saxon Street, Upend (for Cheveley, Ashley, and Lidgate), and Cowlinge (two roads, neither direct).
With 53 tenants in 1086 Kirtling was the most heavily and densely populated parish in the neighbourhood, (fn. 31) and it remained so throughout the Middle Ages, having 54 taxpayers in 1327 and 186 taxed adults in 1377, (fn. 32) perhaps over 300 people altogether. (fn. 33) It then fell back relative to nearby places; the long lists of tenants who petitioned for allowances of rent in the 1430s are perhaps evidence for depopulation. (fn. 34) In 1603 there were 180 adult communicants, suggesting a total of c. 240 inhabitants. (fn. 35) The natural increase in the earlier 17th century averaged almost four more baptisms than burials a year, but, although that rate was resumed in the years 1667-78, epidemics struck in 1679-81 and by 1686 all the surplus births since 1660 had been cancelled out by deaths. (fn. 36) Nevertheless, since there were only 80 households in 1674 (apart from that of Lord North at Kirtling Hall), (fn. 37) representing a population of perhaps 360, there must have been heavy migration out of the parish throughout the 17th century. From the later 1680s births were again much outnumbering deaths, despite epidemics in 1708-12 and 1727-9, producing on average two more baptisms than burials a year 1701-50 and four more a year 1751-1800. By 1801, however, the population had grown only to 458, (fn. 38) showing that many people had left the parish in the 18th century. It then doubled to 909 by 1851 even though people were still leaving after 1820. The population thus peaked in Kirtling fifty years earlier than in the other parishes of Cheveley hundred nearer Newmarket. Apart from the 1860s and 1890s it then fell inexorably, dropping below 800 in the 1880s, below 600 in the 1910s, below 500 in the 1930s, and to 300 in 1971, after which it levelled off to c. 330 in the 1980s and 1990s. (fn. 39)
The earliest settlements in Kirtling are likely to have been near the lighter soils in the valley. Upend and the main village street, long called Kirtling Street, were two such locations, and two more may be referred to in 'Erneley' and 'Leighton', the former names of a close east of Parsonage Farm and one of the open fields. (fn. 40) In 1587-8 Kirtling Street was called Ratton Row, (fn. 41) perhaps incorporating another Anglo-Saxon settlement name. (fn. 42)
The growth of population in the central Middle Ages led to the expansion of settlement. Moated sites were created at the castle, (fn. 43) Moat Farm just east of Upend, Oak Farm on the Woodditton boundary, (fn. 44) and Bansteads in the south-east, (fn. 45) the last obliterated by 1815. (fn. 46) More significantly, houses were built in tofts fronting a chain of small greens linked by lanes winding for at least 3 km. across the hillside in the south of the parish. By 1359 the whole settlement was called Kirtling Green to distinguish it from Kirtling Street, (fn. 47) but separate stretches also had their own names, such as Pratt's green, from a family resident in the parish by 1327. (fn. 48) Individual peasant houses and their associated pasture closes were commonly named from their owners, examples including Priggs and Rands on the lane leading north from Kirtling Green to the windmill, and Darbys (or Bachelors Hall), which belonged in the later 15th century to one Thomas Darby. The tofts did not have standard sizes or regular layouts. (fn. 49)
Population decline after the Black Death caused the abandonment of some tofts, though not immediately of their names, so that by 1587-8 there were at least eight empty closes where it was remembered that houses had once stood, (fn. 50) besides many more with names suggesting the same. One of those abandoned was Wigmores, named from a family prominent in the parish in the generation before the Black Death, (fn. 51) which had stood amid woods also called Wigmores (later corrupted to Widemouth) towards the Woodditton boundary north-west of Lucy wood. (fn. 52)
In 1587-8 there were 75 houses and cottages, including the enormous Kirtling Hall. (fn. 53) The only ones near the hall and church were two farms north of the castle moat, one of which survives as the core of Hall Farm, which may include a medieval hall and cross wing. Close by and associated with the great house were the conduit house west of the Saxon Street road and a lodge in the park. Across the valley to the south of Kirtling Hall, Kirtling Street ran up the slope from Dam bridge, with 19 houses and cottages, scattered thickly along the west side of the street and thinly on the east, and Parsonage Farm set back from the road on that side. At the junction of the Street with Kirtling Green 1½ km. to the south was Bachelors Hall and a cluster of cottages. To the west, more dwellings were scattered along the south side of the green, three or four at Horn Lane branching off to the north, and three at the later Oak Farm. East of Bachelors Hall were a couple of houses on the north side of the green, then a group on the south. Further east again were two clusters of five or six houses each at Pratt's Green and Mill End, with three isolated dwellings to their south-east, including Bansteads. The largest concentration in the parish was at Upend, where 16 or more houses lined the road through the hamlet, besides Moat Farm and a cottage at Williams Green (later Upend Green) to the north-west.
Not many more houses existed in 1666 than in 1587-8, though new building may then have been under way, as the total taxed went up by six to 81 in 1674, (fn. 54) and in 1685 the Kirtling estate built Hill Farm in the old park. (fn. 55) Perhaps at about that period the two farms at Hall Farm and the three at Oak Farm were consolidated into the single farm which stood at each of those sites by 1777 and 1815 respectively. The abandonment of Kirtling Hall as a great aristocratic residence in the mid 18th century also led to the loss of the conduit house and the park lodge. The hall itself was demolished in 1801. (fn. 56)
Although in 1800 there were still about as many dwellings as during the previous 250 years, their character had changed markedly, probably mainly in the 18th century. (fn. 57) Between 1587-8 and 1815 many of the houses occupying the tofts along Kirtling Street and Kirtling Green were abandoned, and in their place labourers' cottages were built encroaching on the roadside waste or the edges of the already small greens. Some of the last to be erected before inclosure were licensed by the manor court in 1792 and 1806, (fn. 58) and in all by 1815 there were eight such cottages at Kirtling Green, three at Horn Lane, three at Upend Green, and two at Sharpe's Green. At Upend hamlet, in contrast, there was little abandonment of older house sites, and no room for encroachment on the road during the same period. (fn. 59)
Inclosure in 1815, effected at a time of rapid population growth, triggered great changes in the settlement pattern. Only one new farmstead was built in the fields, at Vicarage Farm on the Cowlinge road, and it had no farmhouse, only cottages for labourers or a bailiff. (fn. 60) The Kirtling estate already had suitable farmhouses distributed across the parish, while the smaller rentier owners of 80-120 a. had farmhouses at Upend or Kirtling Green. (fn. 61) There was, however, a great need for new cottage accommodation, and it was mainly the provision of that which more than doubled the parish's housing stock between 1801 and 1851. (fn. 62) Already by 1815 the estate owned 6 cottages and the rentiers 18, as against 25 belonging to tradespeople, smallholders, and cottagers. (fn. 63) The estate may have been building throughout the 19th century, and certainly from the 1850s the agent was active in replacing dilapidated cottages, (fn. 64) while the manor court tried to compel copyholders to improve theirs. (fn. 65) By the 1870s the estate owned over 50 cottages, two fifths or more of the total, while the smaller absentee landowners, tenant farmers, and shopkeepers had also been building cottage property. (fn. 66) Estate work included two rows of four high-quality brick-built cottages in Kirtling Street, built in the 1840s and 1861, both of which survived in 2001. (fn. 67)
The effect was to intensify settlement in the Street (where the estate had 20 cottages in 1910), while also scattering it more widely. For instance six cottages were built by the road north of Upend after 1885. (fn. 68) After Kirtling Tower was occupied as a shooting lodge in the early 1830s successive owners created an estate hamlet around its gates: a vicarage house, six almshouses, and a pair of cottages north of Hall Farm by 1843, (fn. 69) a foreman's house (Tileyard or Toilyard Cottage) at the bend in the road to the south apparently in the 1850s, (fn. 70) and a Roman Catholic church and presbytery right by the entrance to the Tower and Place Farm in the 1870s. (fn. 71)
Elsewhere in the parish, cottages were being demolished as the population shrank rapidly after 1851, until the total number of houses, 180 in 1851, stabilized at c. 130 after 1918. (fn. 72) The Street, with thirty houses, and Upend, with forty, were least altered, but Kirtling Green shrank steadily from over seventy in 1851 to under forty in 1910. By then Upend, Kirtling Street, and Kirtling Green were self-contained hamlets, each with its own nonconformist chapel, public house, and shop, besides farms and cottages. (fn. 73)
In the 20th century Newmarket rural district council and its successor East Cambridgeshire district council built 25 council houses and bungalows, in two groups in Kirtling Street, of which only 16 remained in the local authority's ownership in 1991. (fn. 74) Planning policies after 1945 restricted private development almost entirely to the infilling of vacant sites and the conversion, modernization, and extension of existing buildings. (fn. 75) In the 1950s and 1960s, most of the small amount of new private building was of bungalows. Between c. 1975 and 2000, however, several very expensive, often architect-designed, individual houses went up, while the school, the vicarage, the Beehive and Queen's Head public houses, and several barns were lavishly converted into private houses, and most of the farmhouses ceased to be working farms. Wealthy retired people and commuters (some to places as far away as Milton Keynes and London) formed a large proportion of the population by 2001.
In 2001 Upend, shrunken to barely twenty houses by demolition and the knocking together of pairs of cottages, consisted very largely of 16th- and 17th-century houses listed for their architectural or historic interest and picturesquely preserved as a conservation area. (fn. 76) Kirtling Street, by the 1950s sufficently built up with almost sixty houses to have the feel of a village street, also had eight listed buildings of similar date. Kirtling Green had been stretched to a thin scatter of twenty houses and barn conversions, eight of them also listed. Outside the four hamlets were isolated dwellings at Peartree, Bansteads, and Hill Farms, the old windmill, and cottages on the Bradley road.
Under the first four Lords North from the 1530s to 1677 Kirtling Hall was one of the homes of the wealthy household of a family prominent in public affairs. Until 1625 it was occupied only spasmodically because Edward North (d. 1564) was in government office until 1558, while Roger (d. 1600) and until 1625 Dudley (d. 1666) were courtiers and soldiers. All three often lived elsewhere, though Roger in particular spent much time at Kirtling, where he was an efficient lord lieutenant of Cambridgeshire and an active magistrate of puritan inclinations. (fn. 77) When in residence he was accompanied by a very large household which included a secretary, a physician, several dozen gentlemen and yeomen retainers, a cook, footmen, a fool, a groom porter, and many menials. (fn. 78) When they were away from Kirtling, the house and estate were in the custody of a senior gentleman servant: in 1574 Hugh Wood, the lessee of the rectory manor, (fn. 79) and in 1600 the wealthy William Ball. (fn. 80)
In 1625 Dudley, 3rd Lord North, retired from court and from then until his son's death in 1677 the house was occupied almost constantly. In the 1650s the household rather conservatively still included gentlemen ushers, a resident steward, and a clerk of the kitchen, besides two French servants (a valet de chambre and a gentleman waiter). (fn. 81) The dowager Lady North (d. 1677) had her own usher, footman, gentlewoman, and chambermaid. (fn. 82) The 3rd and 4th Lords were notable patrons of music at Kirtling Hall, (fn. 83) went shooting and coursing over the estate, kept up a large and well-stocked deer park, (fn. 84) pursued literary interests, and played an active part in local and county administration. (fn. 85)
Between 1677 and the demolition of Kirtling Hall in 1801, however, the house was little used by its owners and had only a small permanent staff. (fn. 86) The 5th and 6th Lords North (1677- 1734) were preoccupied with business elsewhere, Lord and Lady Elibank (1734-62) visited only occasionally, and the earls of Guilford (from 1762) lived at Wroxton Abbey (Oxon.), in London, or abroad. (fn. 87) In their absence the estate was managed by non-resident agents, (fn. 88) from 1762 efficiently by Thomas Pennystone for the 1st earl of Guilford, who initially visited at least occasionally and took a close interest in his tenants, the labourers, and the church as well as the house and estate. (fn. 89) The North family vault in the church was last used (before 1841) for Katherine, widow of the 6th Lord North, who died in Barbados in 1695 but was brought to Kirtling in 1708. (fn. 90) In the 18th and early 19th century various members of the Wroxton Norths were commemorated by hatchments. (fn. 91)
The sisters who owned the estate from 1827, Maria, marchioness of Bute (d. 1841), and Susan, Lady North (d. 1884), showed a much warmer attachment to Kirtling. Maria and her husband both chose to be buried there, the marquess despite his considerable concerns in London, Cardiff, Scotland, and elsewhere. (fn. 92) Susan or her eldest son evidently visited for at least a fortnight each autumn for the shooting, and probably regularly at other times of the year, and took an interest in both the tenant farmers and the labourers. (fn. 93) The 11th Lord North also visited for the shooting while living mainly at Wroxton, (fn. 94) but his son moved permanently to Kirtling Tower after retiring from the army c. 1929. (fn. 95)
The 11th Lord North and his wife had converted to Catholicism before he inherited the estate and introduced a number of Catholic tenants and domestic staff, besides, briefly, a Catholic orphanage. (fn. 96) His objection in 1905 to the new vicar's use of the family chapel for services caused a furious row between the two which almost led to litigation and ended with the vicar's resignation. (fn. 97)
Kirtling's longest-established public house until its closure in 1999 was the Queen's Head at the north end of Kirtling Street. Associated by local tradition-probably spurious-with the visit of Elizabeth I to Kirtling Hall in 1578, (fn. 98) it incorporates a 16th-century wing of two storeys and three bays, (fn. 99) and occupies a freehold encroachment on the road at the foot of an impressive approach to the hall, (fn. 100) but seems not to have been built before 1587-8. (fn. 101) It was probably the establishment which could stable six horses and had three beds for guests in 1686 and had the name Queen's Head by 1764. (fn. 102) It belonged to the North estate until it was sold to a brewery c. 1900. (fn. 103) A smaller alehouse at Upend also provided for travellers in 1686 (fn. 104) but there was no licensed house in the hamlet in 1764 and it is uncertain whether the 1686 house was the same as the North Arms beerhouse which stood on the east side of the street just north of the Lidgate road by 1858 and closed before 1972. (fn. 105) The Chequers on the south side of Kirtling Green near Whybrows Farm was licensed by 1764, was leased to a family of brewers at Bury St. Edmunds by 1813, and had probably closed by 1847. (fn. 106) It was succeeded by two beerhouses, the Lion or Red Lion at the corner of Kirtling Green and Kirtling Street and the Beehive at the corner of Kirtling Street and Redlands Lane. (fn. 107) The Beehive closed in 1992 (fn. 108) and the Queen's Head in 1999. (fn. 109) In the 19th century a limited range of organized social activities revolved mainly around the churches and savings clubs. (fn. 110) A horticultural society was set up perhaps in 1900, (fn. 111) and continued to hold an annual show in the 1990s. (fn. 112) A village hall was opened in 1919. (fn. 113)
From the 1960s Kirtling was increasingly divided between a few long-established local families and many more newcomers. Some of the new arrivals became interested in the local heritage, founding a short-lived local history society, and commissioning, through the parish council, a village sign to mark the silver jubilee of Elizabeth II in 1977 (unveiled 1981, destroyed by 2000) and a parish history for the millennium. (fn. 114) Other community projects were prompted by the tragic death of two children in 1991. (fn. 115)
Kirtling was in Norwich diocese and Sudbury archdeaconry until 1837, (fn. 116) and looked to Newmarket as its market town. (fn. 117) Bury St. Edmunds exerted a stronger influence than Cambridge even when the Lords North were active in Cambridgeshire and Cambridge borough politics in the 16th and 17th centuries; in 1664-5, for example, the Norths' servants were sent on household business three times to Bury but only once to Cambridge, (fn. 118) while in 1661-2 the steward bought luxury groceries and commonplace domestic goods such as coal, paper, and ink at Bury, and livestock for the home farm from the fairs at Cowlinge and Woolpit (both Suff.). (fn. 119) The parish's economy and topography allied it with a region which stretched along the fringes of Cambridgeshire, Suffolk, and Essex, and before 1900 its people rarely looked much beyond Newmarket, Bury, Clare, and Haverhill. Men's and women's horizons may have differed. Four fifths of the women who married in Kirtling church between 1660 and 1837 married Kirtling men, and of the other hundred half had husbands from Cambridgeshire and half from Suffolk, nearly all from within 10 miles. (fn. 120) By contrast, in the fifty years or so before 1851 probably more than three times as many men came to live in Kirtling from Suffolk as from Cambridgeshire, and from a greater distance and a wider social range. (fn. 121) Tenant farmers in particular came from deeper into Suffolk than the handful of Cambridgeshire parishes represented, though almost none of them put down roots locally. (fn. 122) It was the farmers of Suffolk (not Cambridgeshire) who congratulated John Clover of Place Farm on his successes as a cattle breeder in 1857. (fn. 123) Paupers who fell under the scrutiny of the settlement laws between 1730 and 1830 rarely moved beyond Kirtling's vicinity as defined above but had a stronger association with Suffolk than with Cambridgeshire, though in the 1730s and 1740s three poor Kirtling boys were apprenticed further afield in Isleham, Burwell, and Braintree (Essex), all in non-agricultural trades. (fn. 124)