A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 8. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1982.
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THE parish of Abington Pigotts, (fn. 1) once Abington by Shingay, was so named, to distinguish it from the two Abingtons in Chilford hundred, after the family which owned most of the parish from the 15th century to the 19th. Its other old name, Abington in the Clay, reflected the heaviness of its soil. (fn. 2) Rhomboidal in shape, it covers 501 ha. (1,237 a.). (fn. 3) Its boundaries mostly follow ancient watercourses, that to the south-east, the Mill river, flowing down from Steeple Morden. The 4 (once 5) hides of the Domesday vill included, besides the inhabited nucleus, land without recorded inhabitants attached to manors in neighbouring vills. (fn. 4) Although Abington had its own church by 1200, it was still c. 1300 reckoned to depend for some civil purposes on its southern neighbour, Litlington, (fn. 5) of which it was described as a hamlet as late as 1352. (fn. 6)
The soil lies to the south upon the Lower Chalk, to the north upon gault. The parish is fairly level, sloping only gently from over 30 metres at the south-west corner to under 25 metres at the extreme north-east. No woodland was recorded in 1086, but later there were numerous small groves. Some lay by the millstream, some along the village street, others formed a belt of woodland running north from the church and manor house. (fn. 7) In 1677 John Pigott, then lord, owned some 50 woods and groves. (fn. 8) By 1835 over 50 a. of c. 65 a. of woodland had been felled since inclosure, (fn. 9) and much timber, especially elms, was sold from the Foster-Pigott estate in the late 19th century. (fn. 10) About 1630 Abington was described as 'a champion town, . . . wellwooded, well-watered,' and 'very fertile'. (fn. 11) Its open fields were inclosed in the 1770s. Since then, as earlier, its economy has been entirely agricultural.
An Early Iron Age settlement, covering some 20 a. at Belhus Hill ½ mile north-west of the church, was occupied into the Belgic and the Roman periods, (fn. 12) and late Anglo-Saxon pottery was found nearby. The vill had 17 inhabitants in 1086, (fn. 13) and c. 12 taxpayers in 1327. (fn. 14) From the 14th century to the late 18th the population varied only within a small range. There were 32 residents who owned wool in 1347; 78 adults paid the poll tax in 1377 (fn. 15) and c. 30 the subsidy in 1524. (fn. 16) In 1563 the village had 24 households, (fn. 17) and under Charles II 23–24 dwellings. (fn. 18) In 1676 there were 80 adults, (fn. 19) and 136 residents in 1728, divided among 29 families. (fn. 20) By 1801 numbers had reached 177, in 41 households, and rose by 1831 to a peak of 259, in 52 households, stabilizing thereafter at c. 235 until the 1860s. From 197 in 1871 they fell steadily to 153 by 1901 and 127 in 1931, and after 1945 fluctuated around 140. (fn. 21)
From the village street aligned north-eastward, parallel to the Mill river, a lane runs north-west towards the church and Abington Hall. Of the houses many are long, low, timber framed cottages, often still thatched, of the 18th or early 19th century. Similar ones were put up for the Pigott estate, (fn. 22) which in 1835 included 16 cottages, almost all the dwellings except farmhouses then recorded. (fn. 23) Few of them had gardens c. 1830. (fn. 24) Eight cottages were sold from the estate in 1949. (fn. 25) The increase in the number of occupied dwellings from c. 23 in 1801 to 46 by 1841 was achieved through subdivision. Some cottages were pulled down in the 1860s, helping to reduce the potential population. By 1931 there were only 35 houses, but by 1971 infilling had added 10 more, (fn. 26) and continued more slowly afterwards. The most substantial house on the village street is a public house, the Darby and Joan, recorded from 1835 and still open in 1977. It is a squarish three-bay building of the early 18th century, with wide sash windows and a pedimented door case. (fn. 27) Its back may survive from an earlier building, said to have been the Pigott dower house. (fn. 28) A village hall was established in 1926. (fn. 29)
Apart from the 4 yardlands belonging to estates in neighbouring vills, (fn. 30) Abington was divided in 1086 into two manors. The larger one, of 25/8 hides, later ABINGTON manor, belonged as in 1066 to the see of Winchester, which had probably received it c. 1015. In 1086 it was held under the bishop by one Hugh. (fn. 31) Probably about 1136 it passed from Bishop Henry of Blois to his brother King Stephen, (fn. 32) of whose honor of Boulogne it was thereafter held as 1 knight's fee. (fn. 33)
Philip of Abington had been succeeded by 1194 as tenant by his son Ascelin, (fn. 34) who held it until c. 1217. (fn. 35) Ascelin's son Philip was lord from 1218 (fn. 36) until his death in 1247 when it passed to his son William of Abington (fn. 37) (d. 1274). William's heir was his son Edmund, but much land remained with William's widow Maud until after 1286. Edmund's brother and heir, John of Abington, of age by 1286, (fn. 38) died in 1294, leaving a son William, who shortly after coming of age in 1310 (fn. 39) sold his 'little manor' in 1313, for an annuity of £20, twice the manor's value, to Warin of Bassingbourn, lord of Wimpole. (fn. 40)
Warin (d. 1322 or 1323) was succeeded by his son Warin, (fn. 41) knighted by 1335 and Sheriff of Cambridgeshire for seven years between 1338 and his death in 1348, (fn. 42) when his lands passed to his son and namesake. (fn. 43) The third Warin, a knight by 1358, (fn. 44) died without issue in 1369, having in 1368 conveyed his Abington manor to feoffees for sale after his death. They had granted it by 1370 to three courtier knights. (fn. 45) By 1372 it had been acquired by John Pecche, draper and alderman of London, (fn. 46) (d. 1380), whose widow Mary retained it as joint tenant, (fn. 47) later marrying Sir William le Moyne of Great Raveley (Hunts.). (fn. 48) In 1386 Pecche's son and heir Sir William released the reversion upon her death to feoffees, perhaps already in possession, including two other Londoners, the alderman John Shadworth and William Ancroft, apparently the beneficiaries of the use. (fn. 49) Upon Ancroft's death in 1390 his share was sold, (fn. 50) probably to Shadworth, who held the whole manor in 1412. Before his death in 1430 (fn. 51) it had been alienated to John Pigott, a wool merchant from Hitchin (Herts.), (fn. 52) in possession in 1428 and possibly in 1426. (fn. 53) Pigott had bought most of the lesser estates in the parish before he died in 1465.
John's son Thomas, (fn. 54) sheriff 1472–3, (fn. 55) perished with his son Henry in 1485. The Pigott estates descended to Henry's son Thomas, of age in 1503; (fn. 56) during his minority William Cheyne occupied them. (fn. 57) Thomas died in 1532. His son Henry, then aged 19, (fn. 58) survived until 1588 and was succeeded by his son John (fn. 59) (d. 1613). John's son and heir John (fn. 60) died in 1617 leaving a son John, then aged nine. (fn. 61) Having fled to the Royalists before 1645 that John was heavily fined in 1648. His mother Anne held over a third of his lands then and until her death in 1671. (fn. 62) John died in 1679, having devised his Litlington manor and 700 a. of his Abington farmland to his second son Granado, ignoring his eldest son John. (fn. 63) The latter got only the Abington manorial rights, which at his death in 1681 he devised absolutely to his widow Dorothea. (fn. 64) She left them in 1682 to Granado. (fn. 65)
Granado Pigott, a vehement High Tory, and M.P. for Cambridgeshire 1702–5, (fn. 66) was succeeded in 1724 (fn. 67) by his son Granado (d. 1768), (fn. 68) whose son and namesake retired to Bath after his wife's death in 1773, and died there in 1802. Since his only son, another Granado, had fallen in Flanders in 1794, (fn. 69) he left his Abington estate, comprising virtually the whole parish, to his daughter Mary, wife of the Revd. William Foster, D.D., (fn. 70) who took the additional name of Pigott. After Mary died without issue in 1816 and her husband in 1827 their estate passed, under a settlement of 1815, to Mary, daughter of William's elder brother John. (fn. 71) Her husband, Lt.-Col. George Edward Graham, who added her uncle's surnames, died in 1832. When Mary died in 1858 the estate descended to her son, the Revd. George Granado Graham-Foster-Pigott (d. 1879). George's second son and heir William, also in orders, died in 1898 leaving a son Thomas (d. s.p. 1907). The family lands then passed to his sister Elizabeth Mildred (1868–1937), who had married the Revd. Magens De Courcy-Ireland (d. 1955). Their son Montagu George, succeeding in 1937, (fn. 72) still occupied the remaining 700 a. of the Pigott estates in 1977 with his daughter and sonin-law, Mr. and Mrs. Sclater. (fn. 73)
The Abingtons' manor-house, recorded from 1274 (fn. 74) to 1369, when it was said to be valueless, (fn. 75) perhaps stood in the nearly rectangular moat, 150 by 75 metres, at the north-east end of the village street. (fn. 76) In the late 15th century the Pigotts probably built a new house on an old moated site, possibly that of the Feugeres manor, just east of the church. (fn. 77) Henry Pigott remodelled it c. 1543, (fn. 78) and it was enlarged in the 17th century. After Granado Pigott removed to Bassingbourn in the 1680s, (fn. 79) it was used as a farm-house. It is timber-framed in two storeys, with four gables above an overhang facing south-east and a large 17th-century brick chimney. In 1679 it contained a hall, great parlour, and gallery. (fn. 80) The present Abington Hall, a large grey brick house c. 135 metres south of the church, was built by Col. Graham c. 1829 (fn. 81) and used as a rectory until the 1920s. (fn. 82)
The smaller manor in 1086 was the 13/8 hide, occupied in 1066 by 3 sokemen, which Hardwin de Scalers had given to two knights, Ralph and Robert. (fn. 83) Lordship over it descended thereafter with the Scalers half-barony of Whaddon. (fn. 84) One part of that manor, the Feugeres fee, was probably held in 1166 of Hardwin's successor Hugh by Alan de Feugeres. (fn. 85) Another Alan de Feugeres (fl. 1194– 1223) (fn. 86) had land at Abington by 1198, (fn. 87) and was perhaps the Alan who held a hide as ⅓ knight's fee there c. 1235. (fn. 88) Nicholas de Feugeres held that fee in 1242. (fn. 89) Robert de Feugeres, tenant in 1260, died after 1268. (fn. 90) By 1270 his manor had been divided among three coheirs, probably descended from his sisters, including his nephew Andrew of Grendon, (fn. 91) Alan of Berley, and probably Hamon Pichard. Andrew was succeeded after 1294 (fn. 92) by Luke of Grendon, who had much property at Abington in 1327. (fn. 93) He sold 55 a. of his demesne in 1334, (fn. 94) but still held part of the Scalers fee in 1346. (fn. 95) In 1364 his son Luke, just before he died, granted his Abington land to feoffees, who in 1375 conveyed it to Richard Archibald. (fn. 96) Alan of Berley, coheir c. 1274, (fn. 97) was succeeded by William of Berley, tenant in 1294, (fn. 98) fl. to 1321, (fn. 99) whose son Alan had c. 60 a. in demesne in 1324. (fn. 100) He bought 40 a. more in 1325 with his wife Alice, (fn. 101) who herself held his fee in 1346. (fn. 102) Another Alan Berley was recorded at Abington in 1358. (fn. 103) In 1278 Hamon Pichard gave 55 a. at Abington and Guilden Morden to his son Adam. (fn. 104) By 1293 a third of the Feugeres fee had come to William Pichard (fn. 105) (fl. to 1318). (fn. 106) He or a namesake received land at Abington to hold of John Pichard in 1310. (fn. 107) Another William, tenant in 1346, probably died in 1349. (fn. 108) Hamon Pichard, perhaps his son, was under age in 1356. (fn. 109) John Pigott held all three fractions of the Feugeres fee in 1428, (fn. 110) and at his death in 1465 owned 200 a. called Aleyns, perhaps once Alan Berley's, and 1 hide called Feugeres. (fn. 111) They descended thereafter with the Pigott estate, which by 1500 was renamed GRAVESDENS, possibly a corruption of Grendons. (fn. 112) Possibly the ancient moated site by the church where the Pigotts built their manor house had belonged to the Grendon fraction of the Feugeres fee. (fn. 113)
An estate called MOYNES, derived from Hardwin de Scalers's land, and also held of the lords of Whaddon, was perhaps held c. 1200 by Robert 'the monk'. (fn. 114) Alexander le Moyne, son of Peter, held a yardland as ½-fee of the Scalers c. 1240. (fn. 115) His heir Alan le Moyne held that fee between 1264 and 1294. (fn. 116) He or a namesake settled 50 a. there on his son Thomas in 1311 (fn. 117) and was dead by 1314. Thomas sold the reversion of his inheritance to a stranger in 1315. He was much at odds with his neighbours c. 1320, (fn. 118) and was killed before 1334 by a man who had obtained in 1324 a claim to 56 a., probably Thomas's lands, from one John son of Alexander le Moyne. (fn. 119) William, son of John, le Moyne (fl. 1332) (fn. 120) probably held the fee in 1346. (fn. 121) Another William le Moyne sold his last 12 a. to a London mercer, shortly before his forfeiture for his part in the Peasants' Revolt. (fn. 122) In 1465 and later Moynes belonged to John Pigott and his successors. (fn. 123) Its chief messuage probably stood in the rectangular moat, 800 metres north-west of the church, 90 by 60 metres, surrounded by copses, including one called Moynes grove in 1613. (fn. 124)
About 1235 Richard Bibois held ½ knight's fee in Abington under Dovedales manor in Litlington, held of the earls of Gloucester. (fn. 125) It was possibly derived from ½ hide, attached in 1086 to the king's manor in Litlington, with which it may have passed under Henry I to the honor of Gloucester. (fn. 126) Probably c. 1280, when c. 250 a. in Abington were held of the honor of Gloucester, a Richard Bibois held 1 carucate, including 32 a. of demesne, of Dovedales manor. (fn. 127) In 1315 Richard Bibois granted 70 a. to Alan Bibois, probably his son (fl. to 1336). (fn. 128) The family gave its name to Bibles grove south-west of the village.
In 1086 Earl Roger had 1 yardland in Abington attached to his manor of Shingay. (fn. 129) Land in Abington belonging to the Hospitaller lords of Shingay and their successors amounted to 100 a. c. 1700 (fn. 130) and 78 a. after inclosure. (fn. 131) It was sold in 1911 to the lessee. (fn. 132) Roger son of Jerome (fl. 1220) and others gave to Wymondley priory (Herts.) c. 15 a. (fn. 133) which probably passed with the priory's Litlington lands. The 8 a. in Abington acquired by Jesus College, Cambridge, in 1549 with its Steeple Morden estate, were let with it (fn. 134) and sold with it in 1920. (fn. 135)
ECONOMIC HISTORY. In 1086, as in modern times, Abington was dominated by large estates. Of 5 hides recorded 4 belonged to two manors, on the demesnes of which there were 5 ploughteams. The peasantry, 14 bordars with 5 a. each and 3 cottars, could muster only 2 teams. The yield of the various estates, after falling by more than half from the £12 5s. of 1066, had been restored nearly to the old level. (fn. 136)
In the late 13th century the demesnes probably comprised almost half the cultivated land. The Abington demesne included from the 1270s to the 1340s c. 165 a. of arable and 10–12 a. of pasture. (fn. 137) The third shares of the Feugeres fee probably each had c. 60 a. of arable, and the Moyne and Bibois families together c. 120 a. (fn. 138) The small amount of villein land on the Abington manor was heavily burdened. In 1274 William of Abington's five villeins, one holding a full, and four holding half, yardlands, the latter probably of 14 a., each owed 3 works every week and in harvest boon works for reaping and binding the corn. The yardlander had also to cart the corn and serve as reeve. Three cottars owed one work a week and harvest-boons. Two others had been turned into rent-paying molmen. (fn. 139) In 1348 customary works on that manor were still valued separately from the rents, but by 1370 the bondmen, like the free tenants, were paying only assized rents. (fn. 140) Richard Bibois's only villein yardlander was bound in 1279 to plough 4 a., sow 5 a., and reap 1 a., besides carting and bedrips in harvest, and carrying-services to Cambridge. (fn. 141) Copyhold tenure was last recorded at Abington in 1529. (fn. 142)
Most of the land outside the demesnes had probably been freehold before 1300. In 1274 the Abington manor had 17 or more free tenants. (fn. 143) The freeholdings were then heavily fragmented by subinfeudation. On the Bibois fee c. 53 a. was divided among 15 tenants, and the head tenant of one 100-a. holding retained only 18 a. himself, nine others sharing the rest. (fn. 144) There were a few large freeholds. One man probably occupied 60 a. in 1279, (fn. 145) and one freeholder in 1368 had 47 a. of arable, 10 a. of pasture, and 18s. rent from undertenants. (fn. 146) The Abingtons were by 1300 acquiring fractions of freeholds held of other fees. (fn. 147) In 1465 John Pigott owned, besides his accumulated demesnes, c. 135 a. of such land, once held by five men. (fn. 148) Of c. £76 of the assessed wealth in the parish in 1524 Thomas Pigott probably possessed at least £25; only 3 of 18 others had over £3 each, while 8 men or more were taxed only on wages. (fn. 149) The last substantial independent estate, called Rowses, which in 1621 covered c. 160 a. held mostly in socage, (fn. 150) was acquired by 1613 by John Pigott (d. 1617), (fn. 151) who in 1615 owned almost the whole parish. (fn. 152)
By the early 13th century the arable was divided into two large fields, called the east and west fields, (fn. 153) separated by a belt of woods and closes, (fn. 154) and themselves divided into numerous doles and furlongs. (fn. 155) In the 17th century and until after 1728 the two main fields were each divided, perhaps for a triennial rotation, into three sections, from two of which, Millhill field to the west and Wendy moor field to the east, the main fields later took the names which they bore at inclosure. (fn. 156) The village's meadows, called in 1274 East and West mead, (fn. 157) and by the 18th century the Cow common, lay along the stream to the south-east and covered 48 a. The main common pasture, called from 1200 Wendy moor, (fn. 158) was at the north-eastern extremity of the parish. Only 35 a. of it was left just before inclosure, when the eastern and western fields contained respectively c. 375 a. and c. 465 a., and there were c. 300 a. of ancient closes, some of pasture, some arable held in severalty. About 1620 one farm had included 67 a. of arable closes and only 53 a. in the common fields. (fn. 159)
In 1274 the Abington manor demesne was subject to a biennial rotation, (fn. 160) still probably followed c. 1350. (fn. 161) As in neighbouring parishes the main crop was probably barley. In 1381 William le Moyne's forfeited goods included 3 qr. of dredge as against 1 of wheat and 1 of peas. (fn. 162) The sheepflock was also important. In 1347 the vill yielded c. 46 stone of wool, of which the manorial flocks accounted for c. 28 stone, while 22 men rendering under 1 stone each provided just over 12 stone. (fn. 163) The probable total of c. 450 sheep compares with the 500 sheep kept in 1794. (fn. 164)
About 1640 the Pigott estate included two large and two medium-sized farms, besides eight smaller tenancies. (fn. 165) Downhall farm, occupied on long leases by Thomas Goode (d. 1580) and his descendants, had in the 1610s 240 a. of fieldland, besides 67 a. of arable in 17 closes and 26 a. of pasture. Another farm, derived from Grendons, once contained 110 a. (fn. 166) In 1675 c. 690 a. of farmland in Abington devised by John Pigott included one farm of 180 a. and Downhall farm of 240 a. (fn. 167) In 1770 Granado Pigott obtained an inclosure Act, the first for any Cambridgeshire parish, partly to extinguish rights of common: the cottagers lost those which they had enjoyed, apparently without any compensation. The Act itself allotted 107 a. to three other landowners, leaving all the rest of the open fields to Pigott. The commissioners named had only to define the exact boundaries, and no award was apparently executed. (fn. 168) No substantial change in methods of cultivation followed. The old triennial rotation, wheat followed by oats or barley, and barley followed by peas or beans, was still in use after 1800. The area sown with wheat rose slightly from 350 to nearly 400 a., but since the farmers were tenants at will, and their landlord had doubled their rents by 1800, they took little interest in such improvements as hollow draining the clay soil. (fn. 169)
In 1838, when a four-course rotation had finally been introduced, the parish contained 863 a. of arable and 262 a. of grassland, almost all still belonging to the former Pigott estate. Apart from two smallholdings containing 52 a., mostly enclosed pasture, there were three substantial farms, nearly equal in size. Manor farm, 348 a. in the centre, was usually kept in hand from the 1860s. Downhall farm, c. 340 a., lay to the south-west, and Home farm, 345 a., to the north-east. The last was sold to its tenant in 1921. The main crops c. 1850 were still wheat, barley, and beans. (fn. 170) From the 1880s more wheat was usually grown than barley. Potatoes (30–40 a.) and from the 1920s other vegetables (c. 50 a.) were also grown. The area under grass increased from 52 a. in 1866 to 140–150 a. between the 1900s and 1920s. (fn. 171) In the 1870s a flock of c. 140 long-woolled sheep had been kept on Manor farm. (fn. 172) Nearly 400 sheep were still kept in 1885. When sheep farming ceased after 1900, cattle were kept instead. In 1922 the tenant of Downhall farm had 49 cattle including 23 dairy cows on his water meadows and a refrigerated milk float, and 90 were kept in 1955. (fn. 173) Fruit was sold from Home farm in the 1890s, when there were c. 10 a. of orchards. (fn. 174) One smallholder was dealing in poultry between 1912 and 1933. (fn. 175) In the 1970s the two largest farms were arable, growing mainly wheat and barley. (fn. 176)
There was never much non-agricultural employment at Abington, although a skinner worked there in 1357 (fn. 177) and a butcher in 1525. (fn. 178) In 1821 agriculture supported 47 families, trades or crafts only two. (fn. 179) In 1851 the blacksmith and carpenter each had one or two journeymen, and a few women were plaiting straw, but most men worked on the farms. The three principal farmers employed 46 men and 22 boys, although only 29 adult labourers lived in the parish. (fn. 180) By 1871 seven men were engaged in coprolite-digging, which continued into the 1880s. (fn. 181) Between 1925 and 1955 the number of adult farmworkers employed fell from 33 to 15, and by 1977 to seven. (fn. 182) Of the few craftsmen a tailor and a shoemaker recorded from the 1860s ceased working during the 1880s and the smith and the carpenter by 1900. The only village shop, established by 1851, closed c. 1905. (fn. 183)
The Abington manor windmill, recorded in 1274, (fn. 184) probably stood west of the village, giving its name to Millhill field. By 1348 it was out of repair, and was not recorded after 1370. (fn. 185) Later the Pigott estate included a water mill, near Downhall farm, (fn. 186) which had belonged to Downhall manor in 1339. (fn. 187) It closed soon after 1880, (fn. 188) and the building was sold in 1949. (fn. 189)
A weekly market at Abington on Fridays, granted in 1335 to Sir Warin of Bassingbourn, (fn. 190) came to nothing.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT. William of Abington was said in 1275 to have held the assize of ale without warrant. (fn. 191) His widow Maud likewise took felons' chattels before 1285 without title. (fn. 192) The only private franchise later recorded at Abington was that of the liberty of the earls of Gloucester and their successors as lords of the honor of Clare. (fn. 193) Suitors from Abington attended the courts leet held for the liberty at Litlington, and presented cases ranging from transfers of freehold (fn. 194) to breaches of the assize of ale (fn. 195) and sometimes of the peace. (fn. 196) In the 1320s the leet often named Abington's only brewer as its aletaster, making him liable to amercement twice over. (fn. 197) Courts held for the honor in the 16th century at first still handled similar business, but after 1530 presentments ceased to be made and the record became formal and vacuous. Court rolls survive for nearly the same years as those at Litlington. (fn. 198)
Constables were recorded in 1377. (fn. 199) In the 19th century only one churchwarden was chosen, by the parishioners. (fn. 200) Before inclosure in 1770 the parish levied no poor rates, and allegedly paid one poor woman 6d. a week to escape being rated in aid of neighbouring parishes. Thereafter with the extinction of common rights paupers soon multiplied. (fn. 201) Expenditure on the poor rose from £43 in 1776 to £67 by 1803 (fn. 202) and £265 by 1814, when besides 20 people given casual help 11 others received regular payments. (fn. 203) The latter were mostly widows, paid 3s. a week or more from the weekly collection. Men in need, numbering from 4 to 15 at a time, received, in the 1810s especially in summer, similar weekly payments 'by way of help', and were sometimes employed on roadwork. The parish also paid directly for fuel, less often for clothing and medical bills, and twice even for schooling. In 1828–9 the sums spent on regular and casual relief were nearly equal at £90 each. (fn. 204) About 1830 the labourers were being apportioned among the farmers in proportion to the area that they occupied, and a few had their wages made up. (fn. 205)
Abington, included from 1835 in the Royston poor law Union, (fn. 206) was from 1894 part of the Melbourn R.D., with which it passed in 1934 into the South Cambridgeshire R.D. (fn. 207) From 1974 it belonged to the South Cambridgeshire district.
The parish church, recorded by 1217, (fn. 208) was probably founded by the tenants in demesne of the Scalers fee. Its advowson belonged to them, descending from Robert de Feugeres to his coheirs. In 1271 Andrew of Grendon released his right in it to Sir Baldwin of Bassingbourn, lord of Wimpole. (fn. 209) In 1293 William of Berley agreed with William Pichard that Pichard should present for four turns to Berley's one. (fn. 210) William Pichard presented early in 1349, and his overlord Thomas de Scalers later that year, perhaps through a wardship. (fn. 211) In 1368 Sir Warin of Bassingbourn conveyed the advowson with his manor. (fn. 212) In 1374 its purchasers disputed the presentation with three men, perhaps feoffees of the Scalers fee, who won the case. (fn. 213) Joan, widow of Thomas Haselden, presented in 1392. (fn. 214) By 1440 the patronage had come to John Pigott, (fn. 215) and it descended with his estate to the Pigotts and their successors until the 1970s. (fn. 216) The living was united with the vicarage of Litlington in 1925. (fn. 217)
The living, an unappropriated rectory, (fn. 218) moderately prosperous in the Middle Ages, became more valuable from the 17th century. Besides the tithes the rector had a glebe comprising 6 a. of closes and 28 a. of arable, reduced after inclosure to 22 a. (fn. 219) After inclosure the Pigotts for some time paid the rector 90 guineas a year in lieu of all tithes. (fn. 220) In 1838 all the tithes were commuted for a tithe rent charge of £362 a year. Some 20 a. once part of the Hospitallers' estate at Shingay were then as earlier admitted to be tithe free. (fn. 221) In 1254 the rectory was taxed at £5, in 1276 at £8, (fn. 222) and in 1535 at £16. (fn. 223) In 1650 and 1728 it was worth £100 a year, (fn. 224) and by 1830 £300, (fn. 225) but, despite an additional endowment of almost £600 derived from royalties from coprolites between 1869 and 1871, (fn. 226) had declined by the 1890s to £220 net. (fn. 227)
The rectory house, south-west of the church, had four hearths in the 1660s. Rebuilt by Andrew Perne after 1742, (fn. 228) it remained in tolerable condition until after 1800. (fn. 229) About 1829 Col. GrahamFoster-Pigott, husband of the patron, demolished it and built as his family home a new house, (fn. 230) standing nearby partly on glebe closes. For a century it was mainly occupied by the members of his family who served the cure, and styled the Rectory, so that after the living was united with Litlington in 1925 the Ecclesiastical Commissioners claimed it as the parsonage house. They agreed in 1928 as a compromise to sell it to the Pigott estate below the market price. (fn. 231)
A chapel of St. Swithun, recorded in 1289 and 1336, (fn. 232) and probably c. 1278, (fn. 233) served the tenants of Abington manor. It was dependent not on the parish church, but on Steeple Morden church, presumably because their estate had once been part of the bishop of Winchester's estate centred on Steeple Morden. The tenants of 'Boloynesse' (probably from Boulogne) fee paid their great tithes to the rector of Steeple Morden, who admitted, on the presentation of the lords of Abington manor, a chaplain whom he might also dismiss. The chaplain was to say mass at the chapel three days a week, and could perform there all other sacraments, except that burial was reserved for Steeple Morden church. He received the tenants' small tithes, worth 53s. 4d. in 1379, and 4 qr. of wheat from their great tithes, which, when Steeple Morden was appropriated in 1381, were assigned to its vicarage. In 1392 the vicar sued the chaplain of St. Swithun's over tithes of wool, hemp, and flax at Abington. (fn. 234) It was probably that chapel for whose rebuilding William Ancroft left £2 in 1390. (fn. 235) It was not recorded later, but in the 15th century payments were still being made to its chaplain out of the 2½ marks due from Abington to Steeple Morden church. (fn. 236) A chapel croft, owned by Thomas Pigott, was mentioned in 1529. (fn. 237)
A priest was recorded at Abington c. 1220, (fn. 238) and rectors from 1293. (fn. 239) One, presented in 1374, was only in minor orders and was permitted two years' absence to study. (fn. 240) His successor was licensed not to reside for 5 out of the 12 years during which he held the cure. (fn. 241) Mid 15th-century rectors included a titular Scottish suffragan bishop (fn. 242) and one of the patron's kindred. (fn. 243) From the late 15th century incumbents often had degrees in law or theology, and were not always priests, (fn. 244) and the cure was probably served by the parish chaplains recorded from the 1460s. (fn. 245) Leonard Cotton, rector 1517–54, left it to curates, often paid directly by the Pigotts as farmers of the rectory, (fn. 246) and had let the chancel and parsonage fall to ruin by 1550. (fn. 247)
In 1560 the rector, a former curate, although not a graduate, could sometimes preach besides reading the homilies. (fn. 248) Under Elizabeth and later the churchwardens made little effort to enforce churchgoing. (fn. 249) William Cragg, rector 1562–1606, made money through horse-dealing. (fn. 250) His successor, formerly the curate, was accused in 1606 of refusing to use the cross in baptism or wear a surplice. (fn. 251) Edward Lynne, rector from 1633, doubly related by marriage to his patron Anne Pigott, (fn. 252) resigned in 1645, perhaps because of age, dying at Abington aged 86 in 1656. (fn. 253) Isaac King, minister in 1650 described as able and 'painful', joined the Cambridgeshire Presbyterian association. (fn. 254) He was ejected in 1662, when he was said to have refused to have his children baptized. (fn. 255)
From 1740 to 1772 the rectory was held by Andrew Perne, who resided in alternate years there and at his Suffolk living. His son and namesake, rector 1781–1807, another pluralist, usually lived at Little Abington, and William Adams, 1808–50, at his other benefice of Halstead (Essex). (fn. 256) Before 1800 they served Abington through a succession of curates, who c. 1775 provided one service, with a sermon, every Sunday and communion four times a year, (fn. 257) practices continued until c. 1830. Richard Golding, the resident curate from 1792 to his death in 1809, found that few parishioners attended communion or sent their children for catechizing. His successor up to 1825 slowly raised the number of communicants from none to five. (fn. 258) From 1831 George Granado Graham-Foster-Pigott, heir to the manor and advowson, acted as curate until he became rector in 1850, and his second son William did the same from 1863, assuming the incumbency in 1879. (fn. 259) George was holding two services every Sunday by 1836, when he claimed over 40 communicants. (fn. 260) In 1851 afternoon services drew 90 people. (fn. 261) Monthly communions, possibly attracting up to 25 people, were held from the 1870s, when most of the inhabitants were alleged to come to church though not regularly. By 1897 there was a choir of 16. (fn. 262) When C. A. Jones, who had moved from Bassingbourn in 1899, resigned the rectory in 1920 the patron presented her husband Magens De Courcy-Ireland, who held it until he was 80 in 1947. (fn. 263) In 1922 he strongly opposed the proposed union of Abington with Litlington, mainly because of the prospective loss of family patronage. Almost the whole adult population, 90 people, were said to object. They wanted a resident clergyman, and feared that their church might be closed, for only c. 25 attended services there regularly. (fn. 264) The union was nevertheless decreed later that year, and Magens accepted Litlington vicarage when it fell vacant in 1925. From 1968, when presentation to the combined livings was suspended, Abington was served by one of the Shingay team of clergy living at Litlington. (fn. 265)
The church of ST. MICHAEL, so styled by 1270, (fn. 266) perhaps by 1220, (fn. 267) is built of field stones with ashlar dressings, formerly in clunch but renewed, and consists of a chancel, nave with south porch and north vestry, and west tower. From an older church, whose steep roof line is visible inside on the tower's east wall, there survive fragments of Romanesque carving. The two-bay chancel was rebuilt in the early 14th century, from which period date its arch and fragments of a double piscina preserved in the vestry. When the chancel was reconstructed in 1875 its Decorated window tracery was partly re-used, but the five-light Perpendicular east window was replaced with a Decorated one. (fn. 268) The fabric of the nave walls may also be 14th-century. Of that date are its north and south doorways, which retain early doors with thick, overlapping boards. Probably soon after 1400 (fn. 269) the nave received three tall two-light windows on each side, battlements, and a south porch, repaired in 1582. (fn. 270) The embattled three-stage west tower is also 15th-century.
A late medieval doom painted over the chancel arch was largely obliterated by rain when the lead on the nave roof was being replaced with slate in 1865. (fn. 271) The chancel screen is probably 15th-century, as is a block of partly renewed oak benches on the north side of the nave. The main beams of the nave roof are 15th-century, and small figures of angels survive in the glass of the nave windows' upper tracery. The font is a modern copy of the medieval one, now in Royston church, found in a farmyard in Wendy in use as a horse trough. (fn. 272) It has a late 16th-century wooden cover. The threedecker pulpit, which partly conceals the blocked doorway to the rood stair, includes a reading desk and clerk's desk re-using fragments from the rood screen. To the pulpit are attached Jacobean carved panelling and three reliefs in wood, probably from the Netherlands. The desks conceal an ancient carved figure, armed and bearing a flagon and chalice. The mid 15th-century brass of a civilian, once with a wife and 16 children, (fn. 273) is perhaps that of John Pigott (d. 1465). Mural monuments to two 17th-century John Pigotts and their relatives are arranged below the east window, and other tablets to that family and their successors, including one of 1816 by John Bacon the younger, are on the side walls of the chancel.
About 1830 the tower arch was blocked to provide a west gallery, removed 100 years later. (fn. 274) A vestry was built north of the nave in 1884, and an organ acquired in 1908. (fn. 275) The upper part of the tower, repaired in 1896, (fn. 276) was in danger of collapse in 1914, and was taken down and rebuilt after 1924. Between 1930 and 1933 the chancel was reroofed, and its walling renewed, with C. W. Oldrid Scott as architect. (fn. 277)
A silver gilt chalice was given by a rector before 1380, (fn. 278) but in 1552 there was only a silver one. (fn. 279) The existing silver cup was acquired for the parish in 1569. (fn. 280) Two new bells, cast in 1924, were added c. 1926 to the two surviving from the 18th century, when two others were allegedly stolen. (fn. 281) The parish registers begin in 1653 with entries by the lay registrar during the Interregnum. (fn. 282)
There was one Presbyterian family in 1728, (fn. 283) but no meeting house was established, then or later, and the few dissenters who c. 1807 occasionally attended Bassingbourn chapel, also sometimes went to church. (fn. 284) A building registered for dissenting worship in 1840 (fn. 285) was not recorded later.
No school was recorded at Abington before 1800. A small dame-school mentioned in 1807 (fn. 286) was perhaps that kept in 1818 for c. 20 children. By then the curate had started a Sunday school, which until the 1870s had some 40 pupils. (fn. 287) From 1820 Dr. William Foster-Pigott, and his successors, who were both lords of the manor and incumbents, supported also a small day school, at which eight girls were taught in 1833. In 1846 it took children as young as three. (fn. 288) About 1850 a new schoolroom was built by the road to the church by the rector and patron, who continued to own and control it. It was also used for the Sunday school and monthly poor club. (fn. 289) The pupils, c. 40 by 1861, were probably taught by the wives of village craftsmen (fn. 290) until c. 1870. (fn. 291) By the 1870s the cost, £40 a year, was met from a voluntary rate and schoolpence. A night school for adults was fairly well attended, but over a third of the 67 children eligible for the day school did not go to that. (fn. 292) From the late 1880s when it was described as a church school, to 1913 attendance fluctuated around 30, (fn. 293) falling to c. 15 in the 1920s. (fn. 294) In 1926 the older children and from 1933 the younger ones also were sent to Bassingbourn school. Abington school was reopened, on a different site by the village street, in 1939, but was closed again in 1954, after which the juniors went to Litlington school and the senior pupils to Bassingbourn village college. (fn. 295) The schoolroom, timber framed and boarded, had perhaps been moved bodily to its new position.