A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 4, City of Ely; Ely, N. and S. Witchford and Wisbech Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2002.
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Wentworth, a very small village, is situated just south of the high road from Ely to Chatteris, 4½ miles west of the city. The parish, which is almost in the centre of the Isle proper, is mainly on the south side of this road, which forms part of the boundary. This boundary, 'however, encloses a 'tongue' of land about a mile long to the north-east, which consists of a section of the fen north of Witchford. Wentworth Sedge Fen (mainly in Witchford parish) shows by its name the purpose of this irregularity. There were formerly two detached parts of Wentworth, owing their origin to the same cause, which were amalgamated with Coveney and Grunty Fen in 1884 and 1886 respectively. The Domesday entry for Wentworth suggests that the village was then a fairly large one. Later, however, it declined in size. In 1428 it. was recorded that there were only 9 resident parishioners. (fn. 1) The returns of 1563 (fn. 2) and 1676 (fn. 3) show only 12 householders and 78 communicants respectively. In 1639-40 Wentworth was assessed for ship-money at only £14. (fn. 4) The depopulation that had been occurring at least from the 15th century may have been partly due to inclosure, which was a feature in Wentworth earlier than in many Isle parishes, and to a long succession of lay tenants of the manor. An area of 177 acres of land and pasture round the manor house seems to have been inclosed by 1649, (fn. 5) and a further 1,004 acres by Act of Parliament in 1830. (fn. 6) By the later inclosure 32 proprietors benefited. The chief of these were Henry Francis (362 acres), the Dean and Chapter of Ely (118 acres in respect of the Rectory and Wold Farms), the Revd. H. J. Sperling (57 acres) and Anne Vipan (64 acres). The costs of the Act were £2,544 9s., of which £1,424 2s. was borne by Francis. (fn. 7) The proportion inclosed (about 70 per cent. of the total area of the parish) was the highest in the Isle. Though so small, Wentworth has two public houses, but there is no post office. Burwell House is a late Georgian building of some merit: it was the rectory until the union of the benefice with Witchford in 1938. (fn. 8)
It is not known when the church of Ely obtained Wentworth. In 1086 the vill was rated at 3½ hides, one of which was in demesne. This demesne had I plough 'and there might be another'. There were 3 sokemen, 2 sharing 1 hide and the other holding a virgate, who neither then nor formerly could sell their land without the abbot's leave. There were 9 villeins with 10 acres each. These sokemen and villeins had 5 ploughs. There were also 17 cottars. There was woodland for 20 pigs. The value was, and had been when received, £10 10s.: in 1066 it was £12. The vill had always formed part of the demesne of the church of Ely. (fn. 9)
Bentham (fn. 10) mentions that after the death (1072) of Thurstan, the last Saxon Abbot of Ely, 'the King's officers took away a considerable sum of Gold and Silver that the monks'had laid up' at Wentworth. This might imply that it was then either a very obscure or a very considerable place. In 1291 Wentworth was assessed at £30 10s (fn. 11)-a sum which corresponds with the average value of the convent's manors. From 1252 the priors had enjoyed free warren. (fn. 12) This right, with the other usual manorial privileges, and the wastes and marshes within the manor as parcel thereof, were confirmed in 1417 when the respective rights of the bishop and prior were more clearly defined. (fn. 13)
In 1381 an unsuccessful attempt was made by the men of Sutton to seize the Sacrist of Ely, who was at Wentworth when the Peasants' Revolt broke out. (fn. 14) He was perhaps supervising the collection of rents, which had long been appropriated to his office. (fn. 15)
Wentworth was let out to farm earlier than the other manors in the Isle belonging to the convent, and so does not appear in the set of account rolls of the mid-15th century. (fn. 16) The tenants were the Scrope family of Bolton (Yorks.), whose connexion with Wentworth is first detected in a family settlement of 1445. (fn. 17) John Lord Scrope of Bolton, who died in 1498, held Wentworth manor of the Prior of Ely by service of 5s. yearly; it was then extended as a capital messuage and 100 acres of land and 20 of meadow, and was valued at £6 with 13s. 4d. in rents. (fn. 18) A good deal was, however, kept in hand by the convent for the benefit of the sacrist, who received from Wentworth £18 12s. in 1522-3 and £19 16s. 2½d. in 1541. (fn. 19) In the latter year the chief lordship of the manor was formally transferred to the newly constituted Dean and Chapter of Ely. (fn. 20) During the reign of Elizabeth the manor appears in the tenancy of a junior branch of the Scrope family, of Hambleden (Bucks.). (fn. 21) The alternative name SCROOPES continued to be attached to Wentworth manor for a century later. (fn. 22)
A survey by the Parliamentary Commissioners in 1649 (fn. 23) showed rents of £13 17s. 1½d. In 1650 the manor was sold to John Smyth of Wentworth for £1,069 11s. 8d. (fn. 24) It was then more fully surveyed. The estate appears divided into two parcels. The first of these consisted of the remnant of the demesne, containing 43½ acres of arable in 14 pieces in the fields, and 2 acres of meadow. With the usual manorial perquisites, it was valued at £21 11s. 8d. yearly. The other parcel consisted of the manor house itself, 133 acres of arable and 44 acres of pasture, and was worth, with foldage for 400 sheep, £97 0s. 8d. The manor house, which was said to have been formerly in the occupation of Michael Barnard of Coveney, had been let in 1621 to Jeremy Daveys of Cambridge for £8 and stock to the value of £2 18s. 8d. yearly. The distinction between demesne and manor-house lands is not drawn in a terrier made in 1663. (fn. 25) This terrier records 5 closes of pasture immediately surrounding the manor house and totalling 22 acres, and other lands totalling 194 acres, together with 14 poles of fen ground in Staple Fen. Briery, Broadwater, Long Hey, Maraway (cf. Mere Way in Witchford), and Staple Fields are mentioned in one or both these surveys. At the beginning of the 18th century Thomas Bacon held the manor under the dean and chapter at a beneficial rent of £8 a year together with a brawn, 4 wethers, and a calf (in kind, value £4 10s.). The fine for the renewal of the lease was £45 in 1709 and £60 in 1718. The estate comprised 172½ acres of arable, 26 of inclosed pasture, 8 of fen, 7 of meadow, a willow holt of 17 acres, and a sheepwalk for 400 sheep. (fn. 26) In Cole's time (1744) the principal tenants in Wentworth were Dr. Conyers Middleton, who is more closely associated with Coveney (q.v.), 'Dr. Goddard's wives sister' and Mr. Thompson of York. Dr. Middleton's farm had 'one of the largest barns I ever saw, except the Bishop's barn at Ely'. (fn. 27) In 1814 the tenant of the manor house under the dean and chapter was John Sanxter. The lease was renewed, still at the mid-17th-century rent of £8, to William Sanxter in 1822. In the same year he assigned his lease (for £1,900) to Mrs. Diana Brown, who reassigned to Henry Francis in 1825. The manorial estate was divided in 1843 when 166 acres were leased to (Sir) Samuel Bignold for £3 9s. 4d. yearly. The lease was renewed to him in 1850 and 1858; he surrendered it in 1863. (fn. 28)
Lands in Wentworth called GRANSDENS can be traced back to 1541, (fn. 29) when they accounted for £1 15s. of the conventual receipts from this manor. In 1649 they had increased in value and were divided into moieties, worth £3 15s. and £2 11s. 1d. respectively. (fn. 30) About 1730 they provided £2 17s. 6d. in rents. (fn. 31) The name presumably derives from the original tenant from Great or Little Gransden on the Huntingdonshire border. It is preserved in a corrupted form in Granny's End Road. (fn. 32)
Part of the Caius College Haddenham Estate extended into Wentworth, amounting to about 7 acres. It was leased to the Earl of Hardwicke until c. 1857, and after that direct to the Earl's sub-tenant at £11 10s. The tenant was responsible for payment of the tithe apportionment of £2 3s. 3d. (fn. 33)
In 1830 the Dean and Chapter of Ely were leasing Rectory Farm to William Sanxter and Wold Farm to Needham's Charity, Ely. (fn. 34)
The church was valued at £10 in 1217. (fn. 35) It was appropriated by Bishop Northwold (1229-54) to the sacrist of the priory. (fn. 36) In 1291, however, it was still being described as an ecclesia and the value was still £10. (fn. 37) This suggests that by that time no vicarage had been ordained. Vicars are, however, mentioned in 1364 (fn. 38) and 1390. (fn. 39) Bentham states, though without authority, that disappropriation took place between 1418 and 1446. (fn. 40) In 1535 the living was a rectory valued at £10. (fn. 41) The patronage has remained continuously with the prior and convent or dean and chapter. Since 1938 the living has been united with Witchford. (fn. 42)
The church of ST. PETER consists of chancel, nave, south porch, and west tower. The material is rubble with ashlar dressings. A drastic 'restoration' in 1868 involved the rebuilding of the nave and porch and a complete reroofing. The existence of a church on the site in the 12th century is proved by the reset north and south doorways. The chancel was rebuilt, probably on an extended scale, in the 13th century, and the tower added a century later. It appears that a chapel was added on the south side of the nave in the 14th century and subsequently destroyed; the blocked arch remained until the 'restoration'.
The chancel has an east window consisting of three plain lancets under a containing arch, all of 19thcentury date. There are angle buttresses with one setoff. In the lateral walls are three 13th-century lancets, and there is a rectangular low-side window at the west end of the south wall. There is a 13th-century doorway in the south wall with a continuous chamfer and a hood-mould terminating in masks. An original internal string-course runs round the north, south, and east walls. The chancel arch is two-centred and of two orders, and springs from large modern corbels clumsily carved. There is a double piscina with a central shaft having a moulded cap and base, and in the north wall is a modern aumbry.
The nave has been rebuilt, and all the fenestration is modern and of 14th-century character. On the north and south are two windows of two cinquefoiled lights with internal and external hood-moulds terminating in heads. At the west end of the north wall is a single light with trefoiled head. The north and south doorways are of 12th-century date, though much restored; they have plain tympana and a roll moulding, and the south has cable angle-shafts and cushion caps. The tower arch is two-centred and of two orders with semioctagonal responds having moulded caps and bases. There are four buttresses on the north and two on the south, all with one set-off and modern. The porch, which is entirely modern, has an outer doorway with continuous mouldings and a hood-mould terminating in heads. There is a two-light window with trefoiled head on the east and west, and small angle-buttresses.
The tower is of three stages with diagonal buttresses having four set-offs. The west window has two cinquefoil-headed lights which have been renewed, and an original hood-mould terminating in heads. In the second stage is a modern single light on the north, south, and west. The belfry windows have two trefoiled lights with a quatrefoil above and a hood-mould; the tracery has been renewed but the hoods are partly original. There is an embattled parapet, and the tower is crowned by a low pyramidal cap which is tiled.
The 13th-century font has a plain octagonal bowl resting on five shafts, and there is leaf foliage under the bowl. The chancel screen is of 14th-century character, the muntins consisting of turned shafts; it has been completely renewed with the exception of the tracery heads and part of the top beam. Attached to the north wall of the sanctuary is part of a stone panel carved in high relief and dating from the first half of the 12th century. It portrays a figure in mass vestments and pall, holding a book in the left hand and what appears to be an asperorium in the right; there is an architectural canopy and a twisted shaft on the left; the right side is missing and it is probable that there were originally more figures; when complete it may have served as a reredos. The surviving portion is in a remarkably good state of preservation.
In 1672 the house of William Birchall was licensed for Presbyterian worship, (fn. 43) but for at least a hundred years there has been no Nonconformist place of worship in the parish.
Wentworth had a small dame-school in 1789. (fn. 44) In 1846-7 it was reported that a Sunday-school, attended by 8 boys and 15 girls, was held in the chancel of the church. The parish clerk taught the pupils, and also held classes on weekday evenings in summer. Shortly afterwards the rector (George Peacock, Dean of Ely) built a school and had it conducted at his own expense. In 1872-3 a new school was built at a cost, with a teacher's house, of about £500, to which the National Society granted £30. (fn. 45) This school held about 50 children. In 1899 the average attendance was only 38 and in 1922 only 16. In the latter year the County Council, in the face of much local protest, closed the school. Children now attend school at Witchford. (fn. 46)
In 1837 Wentworth Town Lands consisted of 8¼ acres, which produced £10 a year. The rents were received and distributed by the poor of the parish themselves, in sums of about 6s. (fn. 47)