A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 6. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1978.
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The parish of Balsham (fn. 1) lying 9 miles south-east of Cambridge and 3 miles north-east of Linton, covers 4,550a. (fn. 2) The boundaries have long remained unchanged, following on the north-east, north-west, and south-west respectively the Fleam Dyke, an earthwork probably dating from the 7th century, (fn. 3) the Icknield Way, and Wool Street. The southeastern boundary, between Balsham and West Wickham, is very irregular, and it has been suggested that the two parishes may have been joined at one time, and that Balsham, like West Wickham, was settled from across the Suffolk border. (fn. 4)
The ground rises gradually from 125 ft. at the north-western end of the parish to over 300 ft., before falling to 200 ft. to form what was once known as the Twenty Acre Valley, at the centre of the parish. It then rises to a height of 375 ft. at the eastern edge. (fn. 5) Chalk underlies the whole parish, but in the east, especially above the 300 ft. line, it is covered by boulder clay. (fn. 6) There are no streams, but on the impervious clay are many ponds; in 1974 fourteen were said to have disappeared in recent years. Wells have been sunk through the clay to the bottom of the chalk, at considerable expense. In 1908 Balsham had three such wells for public use. (fn. 7)
The chalk heathland at the north-western end of the parish once provided grazing for many sheep. Most land in the parish remained uninclosed until 1806. (fn. 8) Balsham wood (c. 200 a.) near the south-east end of the parish represents the remains of once extensive woodland. Charterhouse plantation, a belt of trees enclosing over 600 a. around Dotterel Hall farm in the north-west, was planted before 1885. (fn. 9) In 1951 the Fleam Dyke was designated of special interest because of its bird and plant life. (fn. 10) In 1909 there were large chalk quarries at Balsham; (fn. 11) the workings were clearly visible in 1975 c. 1 mile west of the village along the Fulbourn road.
Balsham village is the only centre of settlement in the parish. Reference to a church in the early 11th century points to the existence of a Saxon church, (fn. 12) probably on the site of the present church. The church, the site of the manor-house, and a small village green lie close together near the centre of a linear village, on the higher ground at the south- eastern end of the parish. (fn. 13) A larger open space adjacent to the small green may well be part of an originally larger green. The nucleus of the village is rectangular, with the church, manor-house, and green at the north-western corner. The high street runs along the southern and western edges and then westwards at right angles to the western edge. It stretches from the West Wickham road at the eastern end of the parish to the junction of the Fulbourn, Hildersham, and Linton roads. Most dwellings were originally along that length of road. A few others were along Fox Lane, probably the old Linton– Newmarket road which crossed the western end of the high street, or along Old House Lane, leading to Plumian or Old House Farm, which still marks the north-eastern extent of the dwellings.
In the late 19th century there was still much open ground within the village. In 1852 much of the Quadrangle, the land behind the manor-house site, bounded on two sides by the high street, was a playground for the school. At the western end of the high street there were a few houses with long closes running northwards, and next to them a meadow adjoining the grounds of Balsham Place. The southern side of the street was open, and the land opposite Balsham Place was still empty in 1886. In 1975 that part of the village still had relatively few houses, each having a large plot of land. The filling in of space within the village began between the wars. In 1926 the district council built six new houses on the Cambridge road. In 1948 it built another small estate on the West Wickham road, in an area which had been called Rose Green. In 1960 another council estate was built on the opposite side of the road, slightly nearer the centre of the village. Other infilling has been private building in small closes opening from both sides of the main street wherever there was space. By 1971 such building was said to have totalled 130 houses. In the 1960s and 1970s several estate houses were built by the Vesteys.
There are c. 10 surviving farm-houses of the 17th century, all with the usual three-room plan, internal chimney stack, and timber-framed and plastered walls. Most have later extensions. Most of the other older houses are smaller and of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Balsham Manor is a small early-17th-century house greatly enlarged in the later 18th and early 19th centuries. Plumian and Lower farms were the only ones to have houses within the village in 1975. Of the outlying farms only Dungate, on the northern edge of the parish, dates from before the inclosure of 1806. It is a small 18th-century house, considerably enlarged and remodelled in the early 19th century. In 1933 Worsted Lodge, at the western corner of the parish, was described as a hamlet. (fn. 14) In 1975 besides Worsted Lodge Farm there were some 5 dwellings and a petrol station there.
In 1086 there were 12 villani, 12 bordars, and 2 servi in Balsham. (fn. 15) An increase in population brought the number of tenants to 93 in 1251, but by 1327 there were only 53 taxpayers and by 1356 the number of tenants had fallen to 50. (fn. 16) In 1377 there were 255 adults. (fn. 17) In 1563 there were 80 households, and in 1666 and 1674 101 houses were recorded. (fn. 18) In 1728 the parish contained some 670 people. (fn. 19) In the 19th century numbers rose steadily from 759 in 1811 to 1,352 in 1851, thereafter falling gradually, with a slight rally in 1911, to 650 in 1931. Afterwards the population increased, slowly at first but growing from 712 in 1961 to 1,204 in 1971. (fn. 20)
The main London–Newmarket road runs along the north-western boundary of the parish; it was turnpiked in 1724. (fn. 21) The old Newmarket–Linton road bypassed Balsham village on the west, but the road through the village and other villages to the north-east gradually became the main route. Other roads connect the village with Fulbourn, Hildersham, West Wickham, and West Wratting. From 1848 to 1851 there was a railway station 3 miles from Balsham village, on the Chesterford–Newmarket line, but after the line was closed in 1851 the nearest stations were at Six Mile Bottom and Fulbourn, 5 miles from the village. (fn. 22) In 1975 the station house at Balsham road was still standing.
In 1686 Balsham had only two guest beds and stabling for four horses. (fn. 23) The Black Bull, near the centre of the village, is said to have been a 17thcentury coaching inn, and the plastered and thatched timber-framed building is of that date. It was a public house until c. 1940; in 1969 it was a country club, but in 1973 reverted to its former use. (fn. 24) In 1806 two public houses were noted, the Bell and the Fox and Hounds. (fn. 25) The latter, in Fox Lane, dated from the mid 17th century and was formerly called the Crown. It was a private house by 1935. (fn. 26) The Bell near the east end of the high street occurs from 1790. (fn. 27) In 1962 it was said that there had recently been eight inns in Balsham. (fn. 28) In 1975 the Queen's Head, the Bell, and the Black Bull remained.
Hugh of Balsham, bishop of Ely 1258–86 and founder of Peterhouse, was most probably born on the episcopal manor of Balsham. (fn. 29) Other clerks from the manor found places in the household of Bishop Arundel in the 14th century. (fn. 30) In the 19th century the agriculturalist Philip Howard Frere lived for some time on his father's estate, Dungate farm, the house and some of the land of which lay in Balsham. His father, William Frere, was master of Downing College and spent part of each year at Balsham. (fn. 31) The author Frederick William Rolfe ('Baron Corvo', d. 1913) was an assistant master at a private school in Balsham in the 1880s. (fn. 32)
Plough-boys used to go around the village to collect money on Plough Monday early in January, a custom which lasted in Balsham into the 20th century. It was revived in 1972 as an annual event to raise money for local causes. (fn. 33)
Manors and Other Estates.
Leofflaed, wife of Oswi and daughter of Beorhtnoth, by will dated 1017 X 1035 granted Balsham to Ely abbey. Balsham was included in Edward the Confessor's confirmation of the abbey's Cambridgeshire estates. (fn. 34) In 1086 the manor of BALSHAM, consisting of 9 hides, was said always to have belonged to the church of Ely. (fn. 35) On the creation of the see of Ely in 1109 the manor passed with the abbey's lands to the bishop, (fn. 36) with whom it remained when the lands were divided between bishop and monks, (fn. 37) and for the next four centuries.
In 1575 Thomas Wyborne sold his lease of the manor to Thomas Sutton. (fn. 38) In 1600 Balsham was one of the manors alienated by Bishop Heton to the Crown which a year later granted it in fee to Sutton. (fn. 39) In 1611 the manor was included in the endowment of Sutton's new foundation, the Charterhouse, which has owned it ever since. (fn. 40) A fee-farm rent in Balsham, granted by the Crown in 1601 to Sir Christopher Hatton, a cousin of the Lord Chancellor, and Francis Needham, and disputed in 1619 between Needham and Hatton's widow Alice, (fn. 41) apparently passed to Sutton, and so to his foundation. (fn. 42) In 1919 the Charterhouse sold over 1,200 a. in two lots, as Wood Hall and Dotterel farms. (fn. 43)
A manor-house in Balsham, sometimes called Balsham Hall, (fn. 44) was recorded in 1356, when its buildings were said to be ruinous. In 1357 it had a main chamber with others adjoining, chapel, room for the steward, various offices, gatehouse, stables, granary, and other farm buildings, almost all in need of repair. (fn. 45) In the 14th century Bishop Arundel visited Balsham less frequently than some other manors; his presence there is recorded only three times, (fn. 46) but it was a target for the rebels of 1381 who broke in, burned muniments, and damaged the buildings. (fn. 47) In the late 16th century Thomas Sutton lived in Balsham, and his wife died there in 1602. (fn. 48) The present Nine Chimneys house is the south wing of a large timber-framed house of the later 16th century which may have been Sutton's home. There is a tradition that it was built on the site of an older manor-house. (fn. 49) In 1617, however, the hall or manorhouse was near the centre of the village, between the church and the high street, (fn. 50) on the site occupied in 1975 by the old school. In 1863 the Charterhouse gave the old manor-house for use by the National school. (fn. 51)
In 1086 Hardwin de Scalers held in Balsham from the abbot of Ely 80 a. previously occupied by three sokemen of the abbot. (fn. 52) In 1212 his descendant William de Scalers (fn. 53) held of the bishop of Ely 1½ fee in Shelford, Wratting, and Balsham. (fn. 54) The estate depended upon Caxton manor (fn. 55) with which it descended. (fn. 56) References to its land in Balsham have not been found after the early 16th century.
In 1568 William Blodwell granted Richard Killingworth an estate in Balsham, (fn. 57) which in 1590 belonged to John Killingworth, and was called PLACE manor, (fn. 58) later Place farm. In 1617 John Killingworth held a house on the site of what in 1975 was called Balsham Place, together with freehold and copyhold lands, an enclosure in Balsham wood, and heathland in the west part of the parish. (fn. 59) That estate may have derived from the Scalers fee. By 1618 John was dead and his son Giles held the manor of the Charterhouse. (fn. 60) A Mr. Killingworth held the estate in 1715 when it amounted to 261 a., (fn. 61) and in 1756 it was for sale. (fn. 62) By 1790 it had descended from Henry Lagden the younger to his son, the Revd. H. A. Lagden, (fn. 63) who in 1800 shared Place farm with James Haylock. In 1806 it was divided between them and Frances Cole; (fn. 64) Haylock's son John bought Cole's share of the farm in 1819, and the rest of the estate after Lagden's death in 1833. (fn. 65) In 1884 Place farm was owned by Mrs. Annie Haylock, and in 1886 by her executors. (fn. 66) In 1904 it belonged to Hanslip Long and by 1912 to his son, also Hanslip Long. (fn. 67) On the son's death it passed to his wife Mrs. Mildred Long whose heirs offered it for sale in 1969, when it covered 490 a. (fn. 68) It was purchased by Mr. R. A. Vestey, who in 1975 was the largest landowner in the parish. (fn. 69) Balsham Place house, then separated from the land, is a plain grey brick house of c. 1825 standing at the western end of the village, on the north side of the high street.
In 1269 Richard de Freville, heir to half the Scalers barony, held 1½ fee in Carlton, Balsham, and Babraham, which William de Criketot, who died in that year, held of him. (fn. 70) About 1285 Criketot's heirs were said to hold in chief a tenement in Balsham which had been John James's, (fn. 71) but in 1372 Richard de Freville's great-grandson John Freville held JAMES'S (later called JACOB'S) land in Balsham in chief together with West Wratting manor. (fn. 72) In 1302 Roger Barbedor held James's land in demesne together with ½ fee in Little Carlton of the Criketots, as did Joan Brown in 1346. Joan's heirs were holding it in 1428, (fn. 73) and John Caldbeck in 1478, but no certain reference to it has been found later. (fn. 74)
Thomas Plume (d. 1704), archdeacon of Rochester, left nearly £2,000 to build an observatory in Cambridge and found a chair of astronomy. Soon after his death the money was used to buy 235 a. in Balsham, partly copyhold but mostly freehold. (fn. 75) In 1804 34 a. were sold to meet the expenses of inclosure, (fn. 76) and in 1832 a further 14½ a. were bought. After the deaths of the original trustees the estate, known as PLUMIAN or OLD HOUSE farm, was held by successive professors of astronomy by title of their office until 1869 when it was conveyed to the university. (fn. 77)
An extensive but short-lived estate was built up in the 18th century by the Lagden family. The lands held by Henry Lagden the elder and his sister Mary Lagden passed to Henry's grandson the Revd. Henry Allen Lagden in 1786. H. A. Lagden was one of the major landholders at inclosure, but he soon moved from Balsham and the estate was being sold off before his death. (fn. 78) Besides Place farm he owned over 400 a. in the western corner of the parish, which he sold to William Bryant in 1825. (fn. 79) In 1867 George Matthews sold the estate, called WORSTED LODGE, to St. Bartholomew's Hospital, London, which sold it in 1920. (fn. 80)
From 1834 to 1914 21 a. in Balsham belonged to the Corporation of the Sons of the Clergy as part of its estate in West Wratting. (fn. 81)
The 40 a. in Balsham which in 1086 Almar held of Count Alan of Brittany (fn. 82) seem to have been part of Oxcroft manor in West Wratting. It may be identified with the knight's fee in Balsham held by 1355 by the earls of Oxford. By the 19th century the Oxcroft land in Balsham amounted to just over 20 a., part of Dungate farm. In 1877 that land was purchased by St. John's College, Cambridge, which sold it in 1946 to H. E. Eastwood. In 1952 it was bought by Jesus College. (fn. 83)
There were 10 hides in Balsham in 1086. Five hides were on the demesne of the abbot of Ely, where there were 2 servi and 5 plough-teams, with land for 2 more teams. There were 12 villani with 12 teams, and 12 bordars, each of whom had 10 a. The 80 a. of Hardwin de Scalers and the 40 a. of Almar each had one plough-team. The 80 a. were valued at 13s. 4d. and there were 80 sheep there. The abbot's 9 hides were worth £17, an increase of £5 on the value T.R.E. His estate included woodland for 200 pigs, 12 a. of meadow, pasture worth 32d., and 391 sheep. (fn. 84)
In the 13th century there were five groups or classes of tenants. In 1222 7 free tenants held from 3½ to 140 a. for rents in money and kind and for ploughing and carrying services. Thirty-four yardlanders owed 3 days' work a week, at ploughing, carting, threshing, mowing, ditching, and hurdlemaking, found men for haymaking and reaping, and paid witepund, a customary payment on the bishop of Ely's estates, and winesilver, a commutation of service in the vineyard at Ely. Thirteen halfyardlanders owed the same services except that between Michaelmas and Lammas they owed only 2 days' work a week. Eighteen customary tenants of holdings of varying sizes paid rent and witepund and owed services of ploughing, carrying, haymaking, and boon-works. Eighteen cottars owed 1 day's work a week between Michaelmas and Lammas, 3 for the rest of the year, and carrying services on foot. All except the free tenants had to reap an 'ale half-acre'. The manorial waste to a total of 111 a. had been divided between the tenants, 2½ a. for a yardlander, 1¼ a. for a half-yardlander, ½ a. for a cottar.
By 1251 there had been little change in the number of tenants or the services that they owed, but gersum, tallage, heriot, suit of mill, and payments for pannage were also recorded, sick-leave was regulated, and works were valued for commutation at ½d. each in winter and summer, 1d. in autumn. One yardlander gave 5s. 10d. instead of all his works. The lord could make any half-yardlander his ploughman, shepherd, overseer of the harvest, or keeper of the wood. In 1222 one customary tenant had kept the lord's wood and pigs, receiving payment in kind; in 1251 another was the village smith. The demesne arable in 1251 covered 1,028 a. and could be worked by 4 ploughs, along with the customary services. There were 7 a. of demesne meadow, 52 a. of pasture which was common from August to January, another 52 a. of permanent common pasture on the heath, and 34 a. of woodland. The demesne could support 7 cows and a bull, 42 sows and a boar, and 1,000 sheep. (fn. 85) By 1356 the number of tenants had fallen considerably. The yardlanders were represented by 27 villeins each holding 20 a., and there were 10 half-yardlanders and 9½ cotlands, owing services as in the 13th century, and 4 customary tenants called 'molmen'. Some land that appears to have been assarted before 1222 had gone out of cultivation.
Demesne farming continued in 1356. The lord had plough-horses and oxen; his ploughshares were provided by the smith in return for certain land. Of the 818 a. of demesne arable, 67 a. were leased out, along with a few acres of meadow and pasture. (fn. 86) By the mid 15th century all the demesne was leased. (fn. 87) In 1617 it comprised 25 a. of pasture and enclosed meadow, 61 a. of Lammas ground, 247 a. of arable in the open fields, 2 sheep-walks for 1,000 sheep, and 143 a. of woodland. (fn. 88) A century later the demesne contained 567 a. of arable, besides pasture, heath, and Balsham wood. The largest pasture was the Yole, to the west of the wood, already inclosed in 1617. (fn. 89) By 1830 the demesne lands were divided into several farms. (fn. 90)
There is evidence of a three-course rotation in the 13th century, but the field pattern was irregular. In 1251 there were 22 fields of widely varying sizes, many of the names suggesting land recently cleared. Long ownership by the church may explain the lack of change in the pattern; many of the 13th- and 14th-century field-names survived at inclosure in the early 19th century. (fn. 91) The 13th-century crop rotation was designed to provide adequate grazing for the large number of sheep, the fields being divided into fairly compact areas of fallow and stubble. (fn. 92) The lord had the right to fold all his tenants' sheep, and in 1312 six other men had the right to fold 100 sheep in Balsham. They included the rector, Hugh Jacob, and Hugh le Despenser, earl of Winchester. (fn. 93) In 1617 seven separate heaths lay at the west end of the parish. One was common, two belonged to the demesne, two to John Killingworth, one to the rectory, and one to a William Linsdale. (fn. 94) In 1830 the owner of Oxcroft claimed sheepfold and right of sheep-walk over 67 a. of heath in Balsham for an unlimited number of sheep. The claim was based on an allotment made at inclosure acknowledging the right which had descended with the Oxcroft lands from Hugh le Despenser. (fn. 95)
In the 13th century wheat, rye, barley, oats, beans, and peas were produced on the manor. In 1356 the demesne grew wheat, barley, oats, and some peas and vetch. (fn. 96) In the 16th century there was a saffron ground in the parish. (fn. 97) In the early 17th century it was thought that large profits could be made from the sale of wood. (fn. 98) In 1794 the open fields were set with barley, oats, rye, trefoil, cinquefoil, clover, and turnips, all except the first two being sown for the extensive flock of Norfolk sheep, which grazed the 1,200 a. of heathland. No artificial manures were used, and the yield per acre was 18 bu. of wheat or barley, 14 bu. of oats or rye. The open fields covered c. 1,500 a. and were let at 7s. 6d. an acre; inclosures covered only c. 100 a. and were worth 21s. an acre. There were also c. 50 a. of meadow. Improvement of the land was thought to be possible only through inclosure. (fn. 99) Seventy years earlier Charterhouse officials had estimated that inclosure of the arable could double the value of the estate. (fn. 100) The areas inclosed before 1806 were much the same as those already in severalty in 1617: the village closes, the Yole, Balsham wood, the heath grounds, and some meadow. (fn. 101)
Of the 3,084 a. allotted at inclosure in 1806, 993 a. went to the rector, and 879 a. as demesne to the Charterhouse. In addition c. 650 a. of freehold were divided among 11 freeholders, in lots ranging from 10 perches to 180 a. The 900 a. of copyhold were divided among 64 people, including all the freeholders. Apart from the Charterhouse and the rector only four landowners received more than 100 a.: John Haylock 184 a., the Revd. H. A. Lagden 479 a., Thomas Symonds 106 a., and the Plumian professor 178 a. Four other estates received between 70 a. and 100 a. (fn. 102) Copyhold tenure survived in Balsham until its statutory abolition in 1925. (fn. 103)
Few farms in Balsham can be traced back to preinclosure times. Plumian farm, however, was leased to members of the Purkis family from 1755 until at least 1912. (fn. 104) Another exception was the 60 a. of copyhold land known as Nine Chimneys or Thomas's farm and associated with Nine Chimneys House. In the 18th and early 19th centuries it was held successively by the Burrows and Symonds families. In 1817 the ownership of the house and land were separated, and the land formed in 1975 part of Yole farm, then owned, along with Lower farm, by Kiddy and Samworth. (fn. 105) Dotterel Hall and Wood Hall farms were formed from the demesne land c. 1830, although there was a house at Dotterel by 1824. (fn. 106) They were at first leased separately, and were sold in 1919. Both were owned in 1975 by Mr. R. A. Vestey; Dotterel Hall farm was let, and Wood Hall was farmed along with Rectory and Place farms as one unit. (fn. 107)
After inclosure Balsham lands were farmed on an improved four-course system. (fn. 108) In 1905 there were 3,850 a. of arable. (fn. 109) In 1975 there were nine farms, together covering 4,000 a. They were divided into large arable fields farmed with a high level of mechanization. (fn. 110)
In 1811 118 families were occupied in agriculture, and 29 in trade or manufacture. In 1831 men employed by the parish received 9s. or 10s. a week; cottages cost 40s. to 60s. a year, and coal 11s. a bushel. (fn. 111) During the Captain Swing riots in 1830 c. 200 labourers assembled at Balsham to demand increased wages. (fn. 112) In 1877 the population was almost entirely poor. (fn. 113) Numbers had begun to decline as early as 1861, which was attributed to emigration. (fn. 114) When they rose again after the Second World War Balsham became primarily a commuter settlement for those working in industry or research stations outside the parish. In 1971 those employed within the parish included 24 in agriculture, 14 in the building trade, and 16 garage or agricultural engineers. (fn. 115)
In 1086 Balsham had a mill worth 4s., presumably a water-mill outside the parish. In 1356 a windmill in Balsham was valued at 22s. 8d. a year. (fn. 116) In 1687 there were two windmills, one in Ashley south-west of the village, and one in Button field, in the eastern part of the parish. (fn. 117) In 1753 a copyhold tenant was licensed to take down a windmill as he had two on his land and one was never used. (fn. 118) A windmill which could also be driven by steam was built in 1831 and was derelict by 1925. (fn. 119) In 1852 a mill stood behind the Black Bull near the centre of the village. In 1929 there was a steam-mill in the parish. By 1975 the mill south-west of the village had been demolished. (fn. 120)
In 1245 the bishop of Ely was granted a market on Mondays at Balsham and a fair there for three days at Holy Trinity. In 1318 the market-day was changed from Monday to Wednesday. (fn. 121) The market had been discontinued by the mid 18th century, but the fair survived in the early 19th century as a statute fair for hiring labourers. By 1851 both market and fair were said to have been long since discontinued. (fn. 122)
At Balsham as in his other manors the bishop of Ely enjoyed view of frankpledge, vee de naam, and other franchises, including cases of felony, theft, and bloodshed. (fn. 123) Court rolls and books survive from 1310 until 1935. (fn. 124) In the 14th century courts seem to have been held only three or four times a year; in the 16th and 17th centuries they were held once or twice a year; from the 18th century only once, apart from special sessions to deal with particular transactions. The court met at the manor-house; the meeting was usually called a court leet and court baron. As late as 1554 a fine for chevage is recorded. From about 1770 the presentments of the homage ceased to be concerned with leet jurisdiction and the regulation of agriculture, and became occupied solely with tenurial matters, except that the court continued to appoint a pinder and two constables, and in 1854 received a presentment of waste.
In 1825 one churchwarden was chosen by the rector and one by the parish. (fn. 125) There were usually two overseers, but in 1787 there seem to have been five, two of whom were the wives of previous overseers. (fn. 126) A parish clerk was recorded from 1665. (fn. 127) In the 18th century the overseers received rent from the town land to supplement the poor-rate, and at least once there was also a general subscription to supply the poor with coal and blankets. (fn. 128) Balsham's expenditure on the poor was consistently one of the two highest in the hundred, increasing from £141 in 1776 to £628 in 1803. The highest expenditure was £1,181 in 1825. In 1803 39 adults received permanent outside relief, and by 1814 the number had risen to 66. In 1831 there were 15 men employed by the parish and paid for from the poor-rate. There was also an allowance for large families. In 1832 £230 was spent in wages for paupers. Fuel and clothing were also distributed, but there was no land let to labourers, and few cottages had gardens. (fn. 129) Balsham became part of the Linton poor-law union in 1835, was transferred in 1934 with the rest of Linton R.D. to the South Cambridgeshire R.D., (fn. 130) and in 1974 was included in South Cambridgeshire.
There was a church at Balsham by 1010. (fn. 131) A rector was mentioned between 1220 and 1225. (fn. 132) The advowson of the rectory belonged in the Middle Ages to the bishop of Ely, and the church to the bishop's peculiar jurisdiction. (fn. 133) The advowson descended with the manor, the lessees of which held it in the later 16th century. Since 1611 the Charterhouse has been patron. (fn. 134)
In 1254 the rectory was valued at 40 marks, the most valuable in Wilbraham deanery. (fn. 135) In 1291 it was in Camps deanery and, taxed at £44, was by far the wealthiest benefice there. (fn. 136) In 1535, when valued at £39 6s. 8d., it was still the wealthiest rectory in Camps deanery. (fn. 137) In 1744 Mr. Lagden of Balsham was said to have offered £316 a year for a lease of the rectory. (fn. 138) In 1835 the net value was £1,104, and in 1883 the gross value was £1,600. (fn. 139)
In 1311 the rector had the right to fold 100 sheep. (fn. 140) In the 17th century the rectory had 153 a. of arable, 8 a. of meadow, and a heath with a sheep-pen. Most tithes were paid in kind, and the rector also received tithes from lands in West Wratting and West Wickham, and a quarter of the wool-tithes of the Wickham flock. (fn. 141) At inclosure in 1806 the rector was allotted over 740 a. for tithes and over 250 a. for glebe, of which 180 a. was heathland. He was also later allotted 26½ a. in West Wratting and 16½ a. in West Wickham. (fn. 142) By 1926 the glebe had been reduced to 500 a., (fn. 143) which in 1975, still as glebe, formed Parsonage or Rat Hall farm. The farm-house had been demolished by then.
The rectory house, mentioned in 1377, was rebuilt in the 17th century. (fn. 144) In the early 1840s a large new rectory was built of brick in a simple Gothic style. (fn. 145) Another new house was built in the 1960s; in 1975 the 19th-century building, known as Sutton Hall, was occupied as a private house by Sir Frederick Catherwood. (fn. 146)
There were two guilds in Balsham in the 15th century, dedicated to the Trinity and to St. Nicholas. (fn. 147) The dates of foundation are unknown, but there were three chaplains in Balsham in 1406. (fn. 148) The chapels are said to have stood at the east end of the two aisles. (fn. 149) At least one still existed in 1521, but there was no trace of them in 1547. (fn. 150) In 1510 a chantry was founded by Geoffrey Blodwell who endowed it with an estate called Hunts, which in 1557 consisted of a messuage and 150 a. (fn. 151) In 1558 the lands were granted to Thomas Reeve and Christopher Bullit. (fn. 152) In 1553 the late incumbent of the chantry received a pension of £5. (fn. 153)
The charity of Dr. Andrew Perne (d. 1588) provided for a yearly sermon at Balsham by a fellow of Peterhouse and for catechizing the children. In 1758 10s. was spent on the sermon, and in 1759 3s. 4d. was distributed among the children. (fn. 154) In 1837 the money was used for the intended purposes, but by 1864 was distributed with Perne's other bequests in fuel. (fn. 155) In 1883 a Scheme devoted the money to the promotion of religious knowledge in Balsham school. (fn. 156)
Up to the 16th century the valuable rectory attracted pluralists and high officials of the church, and was used to reward service to the see of Ely or the Crown. John of Osmele (fl. 1291) was archdeacon of Ely, as was Richard Bale (fl. 1462) who also acted as the bishop's official. (fn. 157) John Blodwell (d. 1462) was administrator of the Ely temporalities; Henry Myn (fl. 1519) was steward to bishop West; William May (fl. 1540) had been the bishop's chancellor, and Andrew Perne (d. 1588) was dean of Ely. (fn. 158) Three rectors, John of Droxford, later bishop of Bath and Wells (d. 1329), Henry Snaith (fl. 1361), and John Sleaford (d. 1401), earned their preferment in the king's service. Both Sleaford and Droxford held many other benefices. (fn. 159) There are references to curates and chaplains in Balsham from the 14th century onwards. (fn. 160)
In 1550 it was found that the site of the altar had not been destroyed; otherwise there is little trace of the 16th-century religious changes. (fn. 161) William May, later archbishop-elect of York, had to resign as rector in 1554, but Andrew Perne who took the living c. 1556 continued to hold it under Elizabeth. He was not often resident but kept a curate in Balsham. (fn. 162) In 1644 the church was visited by William Dowsing, who broke pictures and crosses, and echoed the order of 1550 to level the chancel. (fn. 163) In 1650 the rector, Dr. Thomas Warner, was found to be a worthy, painful, and godly preacher, but in 1654 was listed as a scandalous minister. (fn. 164) From the later 17th century most rectors died in office. (fn. 165) For more than a century after 1751 they were all connected with the Charterhouse; several were ushers or readers there, and William Ramsden, 1780–1804, was master. Both he and his curate were almost strangers to the parish, and Ramsden died at the Charterhouse; (fn. 166) otherwise few complaints were recorded about the incumbents.
In 1728 there were two services on Sunday and the sacrament was administered four times a year to 20–30 communicants. In 1783 the rector regularly catechized and lectured the children. (fn. 167) In 1807 there was a sermon at evening service, and the quarterly sacraments were well attended. (fn. 168) In 1825 there were c. 100 communicants at Easter. By 1836 there were sermons at both Sunday services. (fn. 169) In 1851 250 attended service in the morning and 500 in the afternoon. (fn. 170) By 1877 weekly communions had been introduced but were poorly attended. (fn. 171) In 1897 there were a Mothers' Union branch, a bible class, and a boys' and young men's reading room. (fn. 172) In 1913 a church institute was built by public subscription. (fn. 173)
The church of the HOLY TRINITY, so called in 1518, (fn. 174) is built of field stones and brick with dressings of freestone and has a clerestoried chancel with north vestry, an aisled and clerestoried nave with south porch, and a west tower. There was a tower c. 1150, (fn. 175) but the surviving bell tower is of the mid to late 13th century and is the oldest part of the fabric. The chancel is of the earlier 14th century, implying a nave of considerable length by that date. The nave, with its arcades, aisles, and porch, was rebuilt in the later 14th century by John Sleaford (d. 1401). His monumental brass, and that of another rector, John Blodwell (d. 1462), both with effigies, are in the chancel. Sleaford also provided the fine set of 26 stalls in the chancel and the chancel screen. The rood loft is a later addition, probably of the late 15th century. It once housed the organ, and in 1840 the village band. (fn. 176) The chancel clerestory was perhaps added at about the same time as the loft. The appearance of the tower was altered in 1589 when heavy buttresses were added to the north and west sides and an octagonal brick vice to the south. The initials of Thomas Sutton are on a buttress, (fn. 177) and his arms on panelling reset in the north aisle but perhaps once forming part of a private pew. Repairs were undertaken in the earlier 19th century and included extensive renewal of the roofs and repairs to the clerestories, that of the nave being refaced with brick. (fn. 178) A vestry was completed on the north side of the chancel in 1867. (fn. 179) There was a general restoration in 1875 under the direction of William Butterfield. (fn. 180) By 1922 a chapel had been formed on the site of the old altar of the guild of St. Nicholas in the north aisle. It contains the Elizabethan altar-table and panelling from the old rectory. (fn. 181) The tower was again strengthened in 1973–4. (fn. 182) The ancient stone font has a sixteen-sided bowl and a carved wooden cover. An early coffin-lid with interlace ornament stands in the south aisle.
There were four bells and a clock bell in 1562. One of the five bells that survive is 16th-century. In 1609 two bells were recast as four, of which three survive; the treble was damaged one May Morning and was recast in 1774 by Pack and Chapman of London. In 1969 the bells could not be rung because the tower was unsafe and in 1975 remained unhung. (fn. 183)
In 1278 the church had two chalices and by 1390 there were also a silver chalice, a gilt chalice and cross, and gold ornaments. (fn. 184) In 1552 there were three silver chalices and patens. (fn. 185) By c. 1960 the plate included a silver cup and offering plate of 1777, and a cup and paten cover of 1838. (fn. 186) The registers start in 1559 and are virtually complete. (fn. 187)
About 1560 Christopher Vitels, a disciple of the Family of Love, established at Balsham a congregation which by 1574 had aroused suspicion. Six members were questioned but returned orthodox answers. They had at least five other sympathizers; there was another investigation in 1580, and some members were imprisoned. (fn. 188) In 1609 Edmund Rule and John Taylor the elder, two of the original group, were again reported to belong to the Family. (fn. 189) In 1686 John and Oliver Taylor of Balsham were named as recusants, perhaps suggesting a continuing tradition of dissent in the Taylor family. (fn. 190)
In 1669 there was a small group of Quakers in Balsham. By 1672 they had joined the meeting at Linton, but John Webb, whose name appears from the 1650s, held regular meetings at his house in Balsham. (fn. 191) In 1679 there were four Quakers in Balsham, but by 1682 some had been won back to the church by the rector, Dr. John Templar. (fn. 192)
In 1654 there were a few Baptists in Balsham, as in 1669. (fn. 193) In 1728 there were few dissenters in the parish, and in 1807 there were said to be no dissenters, chapels, or meeting-houses. (fn. 194) By 1824, however, a barn was registered for protestant worship, and a house in 1825. (fn. 195) In the same year a few Presbyterians and Methodists from Balsham were said to worship at Linton or West Wratting. (fn. 196) Meeting places in Balsham were registered in 1836 and 1840; in 1847, 1848, and 1852 Primitive Methodists were meeting in Balsham. (fn. 197) A Primitive Methodist chapel in Balsham was registered from 1859 until 1896. (fn. 198)
In 1833 a Congregational chapel was built to seat 300. (fn. 199) It may have been the chapel which was used by Baptists and Independents, and was probably also the Balsham Home Missionary chapel, a station of the Cambridgeshire County Union and Home Missionary Society, a Congregational body. That was the only nonconformist place of worship in Balsham recorded in 1851 when it was said to seat only 200, and to have been built in 1838–9. (fn. 200) In 1877 100 parishoners were chapel-goers, while another 100 attended both church and chapel. In 1897 50 out of 183 Balsham families were dissenters. (fn. 201) In 1860 the Balsham chapel had an out-station at West Wratting, and from 1905 to 1945 the two were combined. Numbers increased until 1916, but then declined. In 1954 there were only four members in Balsham, and the chapel was not mentioned after that. (fn. 202) By 1975 it had been demolished; the former manse in the high street was a private house.
In 1894 a Salvation Army barracks in Balsham already in use was registered. The registration was cancelled in 1896. (fn. 203)
A schoolmaster was recorded in 1625. (fn. 204) David Appleyard, by will dated 1669, gave 1 a. in Linton to pay for teaching three poor children of Balsham. The income was devoted to educa- tional purposes by a Scheme of 1881. (fn. 205) The parish had three dame schools in 1728 and four in 1807. (fn. 206) In 1818 a lean-to schoolroom was built on the chancel of the parish church, where a National school opened with 110 children. The school was held on Sunday and Wednesday, and there was also a working school for 30 girls every weekday except Saturday. (fn. 207) An infant department with 20 boys and 40 girls was started in 1833 when 82 children attended the day-school at their parents' expense and 120 the Sunday school. (fn. 208) In 1836 both the infant and Sunday schools were taught by the curate, and supported by voluntary contributions. (fn. 209) In 1847 Balsham had two dame schools with 33 children, a village day-school with 30 boys, and the National school with an average attendance of 61 on weekdays and 168 on Sundays. The National school had only one schoolroom and no teacher's house. It was supported by a grant, school pence, and subscriptions. (fn. 210) In 1863 the Charterhouse gave the Old Hall to the National school, which in 1864 moved to new buildings there, including two schoolrooms, a classroom, and a teacher's house. The school received a state grant from 1864. (fn. 211) By 1868 evening classes were also held. (fn. 212)
The vestry levied a rate in 1877 to meet school expenses, for which in 1878 the rector agreed to be responsible, receiving c. £54 a year from the rates. (fn. 213) In 1884 average attendance was 148, and in 1908 142. (fn. 214) In 1930 the school became a council school, and new buildings, for 96 children, were opened on the same site in 1931. Average attendance was 103. (fn. 215) The school was reorganized between 1936 and 1938 when the seniors were transferred to Linton village college, and in 1938 average attendance was 60. (fn. 216) By 1970 building had begun on the north side of the high street for a new primary school which in 1972 served Balsham, West Wratting, Weston Colville, and West Wickham. In 1975 the old buildings remained in use, pending the erection of further classrooms on the new site. (fn. 217)
Charities for the Poor.
The house in Balsham given before 1575 by John Woolward for the use of two poor widows named by the manorial court was presumably the alms-house recorded in 1593. (fn. 218) In 1720 and 1790 the trustees of the poor held a cottage in Balsham, probably the same building, described as an unendowed alms-house in 1728. In 1807 there were two old alms-houses, which were then vested in the parish officers and inhabited by paupers. In 1831 the double cottage for the poor was altered and improved by the Charterhouse. (fn. 219) In 1882 the vestry resolved to try to identify two cottages which had been held by trustees at inclosure; they are not mentioned thereafter. (fn. 220)
A Scheme of 1883 amalgamated and regulated the Balsham parochial charities, including Perne's, Appleyard's, Symonds's, and Wollaston's. (fn. 221) Dr. Andrew Perne, by will dated 1588, gave a rent-charge of £1 16s. 8d. of which £1 3s. 4d. was to be distributed among the poor, the residue being for sermons and catechizing. (fn. 222) In the 18th century it was said that the poor's share should be spent on white herrings in Lent. (fn. 223) In 1864 all the money was distributed in fuel, and in 1881 the poor's share was spent on calico and flannel for large families. David Appleyard, by will dated 1669, gave 14 a. in Linton for doles to the poor at Easter, a rent-charge of 15s. for doles on Christmas Eve, and one of 6s. for bread in Rogation week. Robert Symonds, by will dated 1832, gave £100 for coal for widows and orphans on Christmas Eve. In 1881 2 cwt. of coal were given to each of 50 poor widows. (fn. 224) Edward Wollaston (d. 1838), rector of Balsham, gave £200, the income to be half for the National school, and half for coal and clothing for widows and widowers. (fn. 225)
The 1883 Scheme also dealt with the income from other poor lands. In 1696 the trustees bought 4 a. with money given by various donors since 1599. (fn. 226) In 1783 the town lands yielded £5 a year, which had not been distributed or accounted for for 7 years. (fn. 227) At inclosure the trustees were allotted 5½ a. in Balsham and in 1837 distributed the rent in doles of 9d. per head. (fn. 228) In 1881 6d. was given to each of 838 poor of the parish. Distribution was then stopped, causing great ill feeling, while the Charity Commissioners considered a Scheme, by which money devoted to educational purposes continued to be so used, the distribution of coal and clothing under Symonds's and Wollaston's wills continued, and all other income was pooled. Despite the labourers' demands for the continuance of headmoney two-thirds of the income was to go to poor labourers living alone, or with two children at school, to widows, and to the infirm. The other third was used to provide relief in cases of sickness, loss, or destitution. In the first year £60 was distributed. In 1974 the income of between £25 and £50 was distributed for the general benefit of the poor. (fn. 229)
By will proved 1931 Anne E. Prince left £300 for a nurse or nursing and medicaments for the poor of Balsham. In 1974 the Prince Nursing Fund had an income of £53, spent on comforts for the chronically sick, or help in sudden illness. (fn. 230)