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 Meldreth, (fn. 1) 16 km. south-west of Cambridge, is irregular in shape, stretching from the river Rhee in the north to Ashwell Street in the south. It covered c. 2,500 a. until 1882 when part of Melbourn was transferred to Meldreth under the Divided Parishes Act. In 1891 it covered 2,513 a., and, after the transfer of land to Whaddon in 1955, 2,489 a. (1,007 ha.). (fn. 2) The boundary in the north and east follows watercourses, and in the south Ashwell Street. Land in the north-west was once intercommonable with Whaddon, and in the south-east with Melbourn.
Meldreth lies on the Middle Chalk. It is mostly level and low-lying, rising from c. 15 metres in the northern half of the parish near the Rhee to c. 25 metres south and east of the village, and c. 30 metres at the south-western boundary. The Mill stream, rising at Melbourn Bury, and three other watercourses run northwards through or along the edge of the parish to join the river Rhee.
In 1086 c. 50 tenants were recorded at Meldreth. (fn. 3) In 1327 59 paid the subsidy there, and there were 253 adults in 1377. (fn. 4) In 1563 the parish contained 47 households; there were c. 113 men there in 1660 and c. 70 houses in the 1670s. (fn. 5) In 1728 there were still only 71 families, rising to c. 80 in 1789, (fn. 6) and 103, c. 444 people, in 1801. Numbers increased to 643 in 1831 and 776 in 1851, fell slightly in 1861, but rose again to 757 in 1871 owing to the coprolite digging. They then fell to 572 by 1921, rising again, slowly until 1951, and more rapidly thereafter, to 1,502 by 1971. (fn. 7)
The arable land of the parish, cultivated in common fields until inclosure in 1820 under an Act of 1813, (fn. 8) has always been farmed from homesteads within the village. In the north of the parish land near the Rhee and liable to flooding was long used as pasture. From the mid 19th century extensive plum and apple orchards have been a feature of the parish. In the late 19th century cement works were established east and west of the village, and that to the west was still a major employer in 1978.
From the village street, the Melbourn-Shepreth road, other roads lead to Orwell, Whaddon, and Kneesworth, all old routes left unaltered at inclosure. The Kneesworth road climbs Mettle Hill, originally Motlowehyll, so called in the 14th century, (fn. 9) probably the meeting place of Armingford hundred. In the south of the parish Bury Lane runs from Ashwell Street, west of Melbourn Bury, to join Meldreth High Street west of Sheene manor. In 1851 there were many railway workers in Meldreth. (fn. 10) In that year the Royston-Cambridge line was opened (fn. 11) running south and east of the village, with a station near the junction of High Street and Whitecroft Road.
The village stretches for over 3 km. from the boundary with Shepreth in the north-east to Melbourn in the south. In the early 19th century it was composed of five separate groups of dwellings. (fn. 12) Nearest to Shepreth was North End where the street widened to a green around its junction with the Orwell road, known at least since the early 15th century as Ball's Lane. (fn. 13) Earthworks visible in a meadow at the western edge of that group suggest that it may once have been joined to the next group, gathered around the church, the vicarage and rectory houses, and two manor sites. The third group of dwellings stretched along the high street running southwards, parallel with the mill stream, from Fenny Lane to Whitecroft Road, with a manor site at either end. At the northern end was the small Marvells Green at the junction of High Street and Fenny Lane, where the stocks and whipping post stood in 1978. The fourth group lay off Whitecroft Road at Chiswick or Cheeswick End, so named from the 13th century. (fn. 14) The fifth group of dwellings was close to the Melbourn boundary, grouped around Sheene manor. The intervening gaps were filled only slowly, and in the 1970s there was still a clear division between the Chiswick End and Sheene groups, then further separated by the railway.
In the early 16th century Christ's College moved temporarily to its Meldreth estate to escape the plague in Cambridge. (fn. 15) The village apparently grew substantially between the mid 16th century when there were 47 households, and the mid 17th when there were c. 70 houses. (fn. 16) Despite the growing population there were still only 73 houses by 1801. (fn. 17) Later development has filled in gaps within the village rather than extending it. By 1871 there were 170 houses and the number remained fairly constant until after the Second World War. By the 1940s some council houses had been built east of the church, and outside the village on the Kneesworth road. Post-war expansion was more rapid and by 1971 there were 455 houses in Meldreth, of which over 160 belonged to the district council. (fn. 18) In the 1880s a parish hall was built by public subscription on a site east of the church given by Christ's College. It was ruinous by 1942 and in 1973 a new hall was opened on Elin Way, south-west of High Street, adjoining the recreation ground which had been opened in 1953. (fn. 19) In 1966 the Spastics Society opened a boarding school centred on Meldreth Manor for the care and training of severely subnormal children. In the 1970s that school was the largest employer in the village, and in 1978 its 120 pupils and c. 130 full-time staff accounted for part of the most recent population increase. (fn. 20)
The Mortlocks were a prominent family in the 19th century. William Mortlock (fl. 1820) was followed by John, presumably his son, (fn. 21) who had a china and glass warehouse in London. (fn. 22) John was succeeded by John George Mortlock who lived at Meldreth Court from 1880 until his death in 1920 (fn. 23) and whose daughter retained the house until 1953. (fn. 24)
Although the Bell or Blue Bell inn stood near the southern end of the village street from 1724 until the 1880s (fn. 25) and the Chequer at Meldreth existed in 1785 (fn. 26) the parish was said to have no alehouse in the early 19th century. (fn. 27) Between 1808 and at least the 1870s the Green Man stood next to the brewery at North End. It was a private house in 1942. (fn. 28) The British Queen, opened on the east side of High Street before 1847, (fn. 29) was the village's only inn in 1978. From the 1850s until at least 1948 the Railway Tavern stood near the station; it was a shop in 1978. An inn at Chiswick End in the 1930s and 1940s was known as the Dumfries, or, locally, the Dumb Flea. The Queen Adelaide in the north-west of the parish at Whaddon Green since the early 20th century was later transferred to Whaddon. (fn. 30)
The many watercourses in Meldreth led to difficulties over upkeep of bridges, including Boy Bridge on the Kneesworth road, Gilden Arch on the Shepreth road, and Meldreth Holm Bridge on the Melbourn road. The latter needed constant repairs, and in 1852 a new iron bridge was built there, jointly financed and maintained by Melbourn and Meldreth. (fn. 31) From the 1860s to 1914 Meldreth was supplied with gas and later with water by the Meldreth and Melbourn District Gas and Water Company. From c. 1909 the gas works were in Meldreth, near to the railway station, on Whitecroft Road. (fn. 32)
Manors and other Estates.
Two hides in Meldreth and c. ½ hide in Melbourn which in 1066 had been held by Goda, under earl Alfgar, passed at the Conquest to Roger, earl of Shrewsbury. Roger's successors retained the overlordship, which descended with the honors of Gloucester and Clare, passing to the Crown in the 15th century. (fn. 33)
By 1086 Earl Roger had granted his land in Meldreth and Melbourn to the abbey of St. Evroul (Orne). (fn. 34) In the early 12th century William Mansell gave the abbey further lands in Meldreth, probably the 1½ hides which Thomas Mansell confirmed to it in 1226. (fn. 35) St. Evroul's land was administered through its cell, Ware priory (Herts.). (fn. 36) By the late 13th century the lands had been divided into the manors later called SHEENE and TOPCLIFFES.
In 1324 Ware held the former half, c. 170 a. (fn. 37) It was given with the rest of Ware's lands in 1415 to Sheen priory (Surr.) (fn. 38) which retained it until its dissolution in 1539. Meldreth was already leased to Robert Chester, who in 1550 acquired the manor through an exchange with the Crown. (fn. 39) In 1554 he sold Sheene manor to George Gill, (fn. 40) who had been succeeded by John Gill, presumably his son, by 1569. (fn. 41) In 1576 John sold the manor to Thomas Sterne (fn. 42) and it descended with the lease of Melbourn Bury in Melbourn to Sterne's daughter Anne and her husband Sir William Ayloffe, their son James, and James's son William. (fn. 43) In 1648 William Ayloffe sold Sheene to George Pyke of Baythorne (Essex) (fn. 44) who was succeeded in 1658 by his son, another George, keeper of the king's game in 1662. (fn. 45) George's daughter and heir Elizabeth married John Crouch, whose descendants took the name of Pyke. (fn. 46) Up to 1689 Elizabeth occupied the manor as guardian of her second son, John Pyke. (fn. 47)
In 1710 John married Sarah Bendyshe and Sheene was settled on her for life. John died without issue in 1738. (fn. 48) Under his will Sheene passed on Sarah's death to Bromsall, son of John's brother Thomas Crouch, then successively to John and Thomas, sons of another brother Pyke Crouch, and on Thomas's death in 1773 to John Tweed, grandson of John Pyke's cousin Elizabeth. All took the name Pyke on succeeding to the estate. In 1776 the last John married Ann Massingberd and settled Sheene on her, dying by 1795. Ann later married William Gordon, but settled Sheene on the three daughters of her first marriage, Caroline who married William Burleigh, Mary Anne who married William Hutton, and Emily who married Morden Carthew. In 1810 those six sold Sheene to Joshua Fitch, its lessee since 1781, who in 1820 was allotted c. 230 a. in Meldreth at inclosure. (fn. 49) In 1842 Sheene was held by his widow Ann Fitch, (fn. 50) who by will dated 1844 left it to her grandniece, Mrs. Ann Ellis, a widow who later married A. C. Wright, Independent minister at Melbourn. (fn. 51) Mrs. Wright was lady of the manor in 1869, when Sheene was settled on the marriage of her daughter Agnes Ann Ellis to Edward Thomas Egg (d. 1905), a Congregationalist minister in Essex. (fn. 52) Mrs. Egg was recorded as lady of the manor until 1916. (fn. 53) The manor, which included over 320 a. in 1902, had been leased to George Palmer since 1893 and he purchased it from the Egg trustees in 1922. (fn. 54) He was succeeded in 1934 by his son, also George, who in 1978 farmed 266 a. there. (fn. 55)
Three adjacent moated areas have been identified as the sites of successive manor houses. That furthest north of the present Sheene Manor, between the road and the river in Coulsouter's Orchard, was probably the earliest, used before St. Evroul's estate was divided. (fn. 56) The abbey had a chapel there for its own use. (fn. 57) There is a much smaller moated enclosure north-west of the house, where a dovecot stood until the early 20th century. The present house also has a slight form of water defence. (fn. 58) The main building incorporates what was probably the service wing and part of the central range of a 17thcentury house, partly perhaps built by Thomas Sterne, and partly by George Pyke who erected the chimney stacks in 1656. (fn. 59) One window contains the arms of Crouch impaling Pyke. In the mid 17th century the house had 11 or 12 hearths. (fn. 60) The southern end of that house had been demolished by the early 18th century when a new drawing room was added to the west. Most of the roofs and windows were renewed in the 19th century when a small extension was built to the north. A range of outbuildings to the north-west probably dates from the 17th or early 18th century.
The other part of Ware priory's lands became Topcliffes manor. Ware's and then Sheen's overlordship was recorded until 1494. (fn. 61) In 1205 Miriette of Bassingbourn was involved in a suit over 3 yardlands in Meldreth. (fn. 62) In the 1220s Warin of Bassingbourn (d. 1229) held lands there, which by 1253 had descended with lands in Bassingbourn to his son Warin (d. 1269). His Meldreth land was held by his wife Isabel in dower, and then for life by her second husband William or Walter of Brompton, with reversion to Warin's son Edmund. (fn. 63) In 1299 Walter of Brompton claimed view of frankpledge in Meldreth. (fn. 64) In 1304 Edmund's son Warin of Bassingbourn was involved in a dispute over land in Meldreth with William Frend, (fn. 65) possibly a relative of John Halton, bishop of Carlisle. In 1309 the bishop took possession of a manor in Meldreth, later called Topcliffes or Bromptons. Halton was at Meldreth in 1315, and was recorded as lord in 1319. (fn. 66) He had perhaps acquired the manor from Walter of Brompton, and later granted it in fee to John of Brompton and his wife Mabel. (fn. 67) John of Brompton was recorded in Meldreth in 1327 and as lord from 1331. (fn. 68) He died in 1340 holding over 200 a. there of Ware priory and was succeeded by his son George, a minor whose guardian was Sir Walter Manny. (fn. 69)
Despite efforts by the Bassingbourn family to recover the manor (fn. 70) George held it until his death in 1361 when he was succeeded by his sister Alice. (fn. 71) She and her husband John Topcliffe held the manor in 1363. (fn. 72) In 1391 it passed through feoffees to Sir Edmund de la Pole (d. 1419), apparently being settled on his son Walter, named as lord from 1403. (fn. 73) Sir Walter (d. 1434) (fn. 74) was succeeded by his daughter Margaret who had married Thomas Ingoldisthorpe (d. 1423), and then by their son Sir Edmund. (fn. 75) Edmund died in 1456 leaving his Meldreth lands to his wife Joan (d. 1493) with reversion to their daughter Isabel, who married John Neville, Marquess of Montagu. (fn. 76) The manor seems to have descended to John Stonor, son of Isabel's daughter Anne who had married Sir William Stonor (d. 1494). (fn. 77) John, a minor, died without issue in 1498 and was succeeded by his sister Anne. She married Sir Adrian Fortescue, who in 1513 sold Topcliffes to feoffees, (fn. 78) presumably for the Savoy Hospital which owned it from 1531. (fn. 79)
In 1553 the manor was granted with other Savoy property to St. Thomas's Hospital, London, (fn. 80) which continued to hold it until the 20th century. Although in the early 19th century there were nearly 200 a. copyhold of Topcliffes in Meldreth and Melbourn, (fn. 81) from the mid 18th century St. Thomas's owned only the site of the manor and Topcliffe's mill with c. 9 a of closes. (fn. 82) In 1948 the mill and land were sold to Miss M. A. Bowen. (fn. 83)
The site of Topcliffes manor house was a moated area south of the church and west of the Mill stream, close to the mill. (fn. 84) A manor house was recorded from the 1290s. (fn. 85) In 1340 the messuage was worth nothing. (fn. 86) In 1380 there was a thatched house and a gatehouse there. In 1404 the house, then under repair, included a chamber, hall, kitchen, and bakehouse. (fn. 87) In 1617 and 1631 the mill and manor close, presumably along with the house, were leased to Robert Halfhead, and it was perhaps the house with three hearths held by Frances and then Ann Halfhead in the mid 17th century. (fn. 88) In 1774 a small house was attached to the mill. (fn. 89) The present millhouse dates from the 17th or early 18th century, with 19th-century additions.
In 1086 Guy de Reimbercourt held over 4 hides in Meldreth, much of which was later held as copyhold of Argentines and Trayles in Melbourn. (fn. 90) The rest of the land was eventually divided between the manors of STREET, VESEYS, and FLAMBARDS, all dependent upon Argentines.
In 1223 Sibyl, widow of Robert de Banks, claimed dower in certain lands in Meldreth. (fn. 91) Alexander de Banks held land there c. 1235; in 1302 Robert Banks (or Baunz) held ⅓ fee in Meldreth, presumably of Argentines. (fn. 92) The Banks fee passed to William of Hemel Hempstead, who in 1318 held ½ knight's fee in Meldreth of John de Argentine and died after 1327. (fn. 93) In 1448 Baunz land was held by John Street and, along with other lands acquired by his family, formed the reputed manor of Streets. (fn. 94) The manor was occasionally styled Legats, perhaps because it included land which in 1339 had passed from Thomas Legat to Roger Legat and Roger's son Edmund. (fn. 95) John Street was apparently succeeded by Henry Street whose daughter Joan married John Ansty, and by their daughter, also Joan, wife of William Alington, perhaps the younger son of Sir William (d. 1440). When Joan died without issue in 1494 her heir was her sister Elizabeth, wife of William Taylard. (fn. 96) In 1558 Sir Laurence Taylard, perhaps their son, and Laurence's son Geoffrey sold the manor, then including land held of Topcliffes, to George Gill. (fn. 97) It thenceforth descended with Sheene manor. (fn. 98)
Meldreth Manor, at the corner of High Street and Fenny Lane, has been identified as the site of Streets manor house, (fn. 99) although the present twostorey, H-plan, brick house dates from c. 1700, after Streets was united with Sheene. By the mid 19th century it was in bad repair and was used as three tenements, but it was restored by J. G. Mortlock in the late 19th or early 20th century, perhaps at the same time as Meldreth Court. It later changed hands many times (fn. 100) until it was sold to the Spastics Society in 1964. (fn. 101) The Society has erected many new buildings in the grounds.
Osbert 'Bishop' (l'Evesque) held a manor at Meldreth before 1200 and died between 1201 (fn. 102) and 1203 when his widow Mabel of Trumpington claimed dower from his son Henry l'Evesque (fl. 1223). (fn. 103) In 1207, after a lawsuit, Henry acknowledged that his ½ fee was held of the bishop and monks of Ely; in return they gave him 35 a. of the 80 a. in dispute to hold freely by rent. (fn. 104) In 1260 Sylvester l'Enveyse, son of Henry, was recorded at Meldreth. (fn. 105) In 1302 and 1316 Walter l'Enveyse held ⅓ fee there, (fn. 106) identified in 1318 as part of a manor in Meldreth, then and later held of Argentines. (fn. 107) In 1344 Walter's son William l'Enveyse and his wife Joan granted their Meldreth manor, later known as Veseys, for life to William de la March (d. after 1347). (fn. 108)
Thomas Cavell (d. by 1399) acquired 2 carucates and part of a mill in Meldreth in 1382, and further lands there in 1390, and c. 1395 held Veseys manor. (fn. 109) In 1404 Nicholas Caldecote (d. 1443) and his wife Joan seem to have mortgaged Veseys. (fn. 110) In 1467 it passed from John Caldecote to his son James, a minor, (fn. 111) (d. 1502) who was succeeded by his son Thomas, aged 19. (fn. 112) Thomas Caldecote married Grace Haselden whose eldest brother Francis occupied Veseys in 1513 and at Thomas's death in 1522. Francis left it to his brother Anthony who died in 1527 leaving Veseys for life to his widow Jane subject to various rent charges including one to his nephew William Caldecote. Anthony's son William Haselden (d. s.p. 1537) left his sisters Elizabeth, wife of Richard Bury, and Beatrice, wife of Robert Freville, as his heirs. (fn. 113) They each held a moiety in 1547 when Francis Haselden's daughter Frances and her husband Sir Robert Peyton released to them their rights in Veseys. (fn. 114)
By 1563 Elizabeth Bury had married James Hutton, and Robert and Beatrice Freville granted them the manor and house, but retained their share of the land, c. 76 a. (fn. 115) which they sold to Christ's College along with part of Veseys' liberty of fold. (fn. 116) Elizabeth and James Hutton had c. 83 a., which retained the name Veseys. (fn. 117) In 1573 Elizabeth's son Haselden Bury bought out the Frevilles' residual interest in Veseys, and on his mother's death in 1576 took possession of the manor. (fn. 118) In 1624 he was succeeded by his son, also Haselden, who had three daughters, one of whom possibly married Robert Clark, to whom Veseys passed in 1639. (fn. 119) By will dated 1649 Clark left Veseys to his wife Lucy, but it was already mortgaged to his brother-in-law John Harvey. (fn. 120) William Sedgwick was lord in 1685 and possibly already in 1660. (fn. 121) In 1728 James Bennett sold it to Sir John and Dame Mary Hatton. It descended from their daughter Elizabeth to her brother Sir Thomas Hatton (d. 1787), whose widow Harriet transferred it in 1788 to Frances Hatton. (fn. 122) William Holder had bought it by 1808; he sold it c. 1811 to Christopher Pemberton. (fn. 123) By 1820 Veseys had been bought by William Mortlock, who at inclosure was allotted c. 50 a. for land bought of Pemberton. (fn. 124) Sir Charles Nightingale had also bought land from Pemberton for which he was allotted c. 164 a. at inclosure, c. 70 a. of it freehold. (fn. 125) In 1842 George Hawkins Wallis was lord of Veseys, and by 1851 William Linton. (fn. 126) Linton occurs in 1858, and Veseys may later have passed through J. G. Mortlock to George Jebb who held it in the 1920s. (fn. 127)
Veseys manor house stood within a moat south of the church and east of the stream. (fn. 128) Henry l'Evesque had a house in Meldreth in the early 13th century when he was licensed to build a chapel there. (fn. 129) In 1467 the manorial site was worthless, but in 1503 there was a two-storeyed house with a hall, kitchen, chapel, and several chambers arranged around a courtyard, presumably the house recorded in 1563. (fn. 130) A house stood within the moat in 1820, (fn. 131) and in the 20th century Bury Farm occupied the site. (fn. 132) Meldreth Manor has sometimes been mistakenly identified as Veseys manor house. (fn. 133)
In 1086 Hugh Pedevolt held of Hardwin de Scalers 1½ hide in Meldreth which had belonged to Ely abbey. (fn. 134) Most of that probably descended with the Pedevolt land in Shepreth, (fn. 135) and with other lands in Meldreth formed the manor of Flambards. The lands of Nicholas le Vavasour (fl. c. 1235), including estates in Malton, Meldreth, and Melbourn, were divided in 1265 between his daughters, Agnes wife of Roger Thornton and Amfelice wife of Philip St. Clowe. (fn. 136) In 1266 Amfelice and Philip granted to Agnes and Roger their half of the manors of Malton and Meldreth, in return for other lands in Melbourn and Meldreth. (fn. 137) Agnes's heir Eleanor, daughter of Bartholomew Thornton, was tenant in 1299 and in 1302. (fn. 138) By 1312 she had married Ralph, son of William FitzRalph of Shepreth, who already held the Pedevolt land. (fn. 139) In 1323 he held a manor in Meldreth of Argentines as one knight's fee. (fn. 140) At his death in 1332 Ralph held c. 40 a. there of Argentines, and 22 a. of Ely priory. (fn. 141) The land descended with his Shepreth and Malton manors to his son Richard and Richard's son John. John died a minor in 1348. William de la March, who held the Meldreth fee in 1346, was probably his guardian. John's uncle Thomas held the estates for life, but c. 1350 they were divided between John's three sisters, the Meldreth portion going to Elizabeth, wife of Edmund Flambard. (fn. 142)
Elizabeth Flambard was succeeded in 1394 by her daughter Eleanor, wife of Walter Tyrell. (fn. 143) By 1428 Flambards was presumably held with Shepreth and Malton by their younger son Edward, and with them was devised to his nephew Thomas Tyrell. Thomas held the three manors in 1447 when, as later, they were said to be held of the honor of Richmond. (fn. 144) After Sir Thomas Tyrell's death in 1477 the estate passed successively to his grandson Sir Thomas Tyrell (fn. 145) (d. 1510), his son Sir Thomas (fn. 146) (d. 1540), and the latter's son John (d. s.p.m. 1540). His widow Anne then held the manor in dower, marrying in 1542 as her second husband the politician Sir William Petre (d. 1572) of Ingatestone (Essex). In 1574 John Tyrell's uncle Sir Henry Tyrell released Flambards and the Shepreth manor to her. (fn. 147) After her death in 1582 it passed to her son John, later Lord Petre (fn. 148) (d. 1613), to his son William (d. 1637), (fn. 149) and to William's younger son John, whose widow Elizabeth was lady of the manor in 1691. John's nephew Edward held it by 1695 (fn. 150) By 1706 Flambards had passed to Edward's daughter Elizabeth and her husband Roger Dickinson, who in 1712 conveyed it to Samuel Coxall and John Browne. (fn. 151) By his death in 1782 Edward Nightingale was lord of Flambards, which descended with his estate in Kneesworth to Biscoe Hill Wortham (d. 1895). It included c. 170 a. in Meldreth in the 1830s (fn. 152) and c. 65 a. in Meldreth and 71 a. in Melbourn when offered for sale in 1897. (fn. 153) Henry Cooke and Arthur Dove were lords in 1906, and Herbert Edgar later. (fn. 154)
Flambards manor house stood within an oval moat at the south-east end of the village, just west of the point where the railway now crosses the mill stream. Excavations there in 1933–4 showed occupation in late Saxon and Norman times, and again during Henry III's reign. (fn. 155) A manor house was recorded in 1798. By 1820 Sir C. E. Nightingale had sold the site to W. M. Underwood. (fn. 156) By 1975 a housing estate had been built there. (fn. 157)
After Flambards was reunited in 1266 the St. Clowe family still held lands in Meldreth which they added to throughout the 14th and 15th centuries. (fn. 158) In 1299 Nicholas St. Clowe claimed view of frankpledge there. In 1323 he held a fraction of a manor in Meldreth of Argentines, as did John St. Clowe in 1346. (fn. 159) It descended with the St. Clowe lands in Malton and Kneesworth, and with them was granted in 1443 by Edmund St. Clowe to William Horn, husband of his daughter Elizabeth. (fn. 160) In 1470 it was held by Horn's son, Thomas Horn or Littlebury, and known as ST. LOWES manor. (fn. 161) It presumably passed with Malton and Kneesworth to Thomas Oxenbridge in 1485 and through William Cheyne and his widow Elizabeth to her second husband Ralph Chamberlain in 1501. (fn. 162) In 1503 it was conveyed to William Smith, bishop of Lincoln, acting for Margaret, countess of Richmond, and in 1507 she was licensed to grant Meldreth and other manors to Christ's College, Cambridge. (fn. 163)
In 1510 Christ's College also acquired c. 10 a. in Meldreth from Nicholas Harvey. (fn. 164) In 1552 it held c. 65 a. in Meldreth, and a house on the site at North End still known as College Farm. (fn. 165) In 1563 it acquired c. 70 a. more from Robert and Beatrice Freville. (fn. 166) In 1607 the college's land was leased to Richard Harvey of Lyme Regis (Dorset) (fn. 167) and he or a namesake held c. 104 a. of college land there in 1650. (fn. 168) By will dated 1663 Richard Harvey of Exeter left lands in Cambridgeshire and elsewhere to found a hospital for the poor in Chard (Som.). Chard farm consisted of the lands leased from Christ's College, c. 40 a. copyhold of several manors, and c. 46 a. freehold. (fn. 169) In the early 19th century the estate included c. 200 a., (fn. 170) but after inclosure only c. 135 a. adjoining the homestead, of which c. 75 a. were allotted to the college and leased by the charity, and c. 60 a. were allotted to the charity, as free- and copyhold, (fn. 171) besides c. 15 a. of old inclosures leased from the college. (fn. 172) The charity ceased to hold land in Meldreth in 1856, but Christ's College retained an estate there in 1978. (fn. 173)
Shortly after Meldreth's inclosure was completed Christ's College agreed with Sir Charles Nightingale to acquire c. 101 a. at the western edge of Meldreth, which in the 1830s was leased to the Nightingales and formed most of the land attached to Flambards manor. The lease descended with that manor to Biscoe Hill Wortham (fn. 174) who held it in 1873. (fn. 175) In 1920 the college sold the land to the county council, which still owned it in 1977 when it was occupied by three tenants. (fn. 176)
A yardland in Meldreth held in 1086 by Hardwin de Scalers descended in the Scalers family with land in Whaddon. (fn. 177) By the mid 14th century the Scalers held c. 45 a. of Ely priory for a yearly corn rent. (fn. 178)
Of nearly 5½ hides belonging to Ely abbey in Meldreth in 1066, Hugh Pedevolt occupied 1½ hide and the church by 1086, when the abbey still had 2¾ hides; later it possibly recovered some of the other land as it did the church. (fn. 179) Some of its land passed with the manor of Melbourn cum Meldreth, (fn. 180) which by the early 19th century had over 120 a. in Meldreth, besides c. 165 a. of copyholds. (fn. 181) The remaining Ely land became the endowment of Meldreth church, which Bishop Eustace appropriated to the monks of Ely in 1203. (fn. 182) In 1352 there were 21 a. of rectorial glebe and the great tithes were worth £26 5s. (fn. 183) In 1541 Meldreth rectory passed from the priory to the dean and chapter of Ely. (fn. 184) In the later 16th century the rectorial tithes, glebe, and a sheep walk were leased for rent in money and in kind. (fn. 185) By the later 18th century the rectorial glebe covered c. 43 a. (fn. 186) At inclosure in 1820 the dean and chapter and their lessee Joseph Stockbridge were allotted c. 33 a. for glebe and nearly 300 a. for tithes. (fn. 187) In 1848 the lessee paid the same rent as in 1583. (fn. 188) From that year the rectory was leased to William Linton who still held it in 1865. (fn. 189) In 1871 the Ecclesiastical Commissioners sold their reversionary interest in the estate to John Linton. (fn. 190)
In 1650 the rectory house was a two-storey building with a hall, parlour, kitchen, and other offices downstairs, and chambers above. (fn. 191) It had 8 hearths and stood on the site of the later vicarage house, east of the church. (fn. 192) It was thought too small in 1820 and was rebuilt in the 1840s. (fn. 193)
Peterhouse, Cambridge, acquired land in Meldreth in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. In 1515 the college received c. 46 a. there and before the 1530s had another 13½ a. there given for an obit by William Martyn, a fellow. (fn. 194) By 1592 it held c. 50 a. in the parish. (fn. 195) The 1820 inclosure allotted the college c. 27 a. south of Whaddon Road and in 1845 and in the early 20th century it had 32 a. in Meldreth. (fn. 196) The college sold the land in portions between 1961 and 1964. (fn. 197)
In the 1510s St. John's College, Cambridge, acquired land in Meldreth which in the 18th century amounted to c. 36 a., farmed with the college's land in Melbourn (fn. 198) from a homestead on a moated site at the junction of Station Road and Bury Lane, (fn. 199) where a 17th century farmhouse remained in 1978. St. John's was allotted c. 32 a. in Meldreth at inclosure in 1820. (fn. 200) It sold some land between 1954 and 1969, and in 1959 the homestead and c. 8 a. were bought by J. Stockbridge whose family had leased it since the mid 19th century. In 1978 St. John's still owned 22 a. on Mettle Hill. (fn. 201)
Land in Meldreth paid rent to the preceptory of Shingay at its dissolution, and to Lord Sandys in right of the manor of Shingay in the later 18th century. (fn. 202) In 1543 a grant of Odsey manor, late the possession of Warden abbey, included appurtenances in Meldreth. (fn. 203) In 1251 Tilty abbey held land in Meldreth which has not been traced later. (fn. 204)
In 1389 Thomas Cavell (d. by 1399) and two others bought c. 75 a. in Meldreth and Melbourn. Cavell later granted it to feoffees to endow a priest to pray for his soul, thus probably founding the chantry, (fn. 205) whose lands in the 16th century included 17 a. of arable, 3 a. of meadow, and 1½ a. of closes in Meldreth, and land in Shepreth and Litlington. (fn. 206) They were granted in 1547 to Thomas Reeve and others who sold them to Robert Chester in 1556. (fn. 207) Chester sold them in 1557 for £20 to George Gill, lord of Sheene with which they merged after 1567. (fn. 208)
A yardland in Meldreth which Colswein held in 1086 of Count Alan was probably attached to Colswein's land in Whaddon. (fn. 209)
Meldreth was assessed at 10 hides T.R.E. and at 8 hides in 1086. In 1086 Ely abbey had 1½ hide in demesne, St. Evroul just under one hide, and Guy de Reimbercourt only ½ hide. Five villani, 28 bordars, 11 cottars, and 7 servi cultivated the rest of the land with 15 ploughteams. Each estate had enough pasture and meadow. The estates had all fallen in value since 1066, but St. Evroul's and Colswein's were rising again. (fn. 210)
In the 1270s Ware priory had 212 a. of demesne in Meldreth. (fn. 211) In the 1290s Topcliffes demesne was sown with 40 qr. of winter and 50 qr. of spring corn, and small amounts of beans, pease, and vetches were sown on the fallow. In 1322 c. 62 a. were sown with wheat, 80 a. with dredge, and 18 a. with beans, pease, and vetches, and in 1355 19 a., 45 a., and 20 a. were similarly sown. (fn. 212) On Sheene manor in 1325 c. 46 a. were sown with 24 qr. of wheat; 10 qr. of wheat and rye, 8 qr. of peas and beans, and 28 qr. of spring corn were also sown. In 1324 the demesne there included 160 a. of arable and 4 a. each of meadow and pasture, (fn. 213) and in 1340 Topcliffes demesne covered c. 200 a. (fn. 214) From the 1320s parcels of Topcliffes demesne were leased out, (fn. 215) and in the mid 15th century the St. Lowe demesne was leased, as was Flambards c. 1443. (fn. 216) In the 14th century a three-course rotation seems to have been followed throughout the parish. (fn. 217) Late 13th- and early 14thcentury field names suggest the clearing of land and the formation of many crofts and small fields upon which the crop rotation was imposed. (fn. 218) By the mid 14th century some land appears to have gone out of cultivation. (fn. 219) In the mid 15th century Topcliffes 190 a. of demesne lay in c. 170 parcels in 13 named fields or crofts, (fn. 220) and in 1563 Veseys 160 a. lay in at least 10 fields. (fn. 221)
There were 236 sheep recorded in Meldreth in 1086, (fn. 222) and they remained important. In the 1290s Topcliffes had over 100, and employed a shepherd. (fn. 223) In 1347 the parish contributed c. 93 stone to the wool levy, representing a flock of c. 900 sheep, (fn. 224) and regulations about pasturing suggest that in the 14th and 15th centuries many tenants had sizeable flocks. (fn. 225) Much pasture and meadow was in the north of the parish, near the river Rhee. (fn. 226) In the 14th century pasture and herbage were often sold or leased out, and in 1355 there was some newly sown grassland. (fn. 227) In the 1290s c. 30 cattle were kept on Topcliffes demesne, and butter and cheese were sold. (fn. 228)
About 1270 there were 6 free tenants, 17 villeins, and 6 cottars, on the Ware estate, with holdings varying from a yardland to 2 a. Yardlanders and half-yardlanders owed 3 boon works in harvest, had to mow and cart hay, and owed merchet, chevage, and heriot. The villeins were tallaged every second year. (fn. 229) On Topcliffes manor customary works varied during the late 13th and 14th centuries. By the 1290s some were commuted, and some threshing, mowing, harvesting, and carting was done by wage labour. Two ploughmen, two drovers, a carter, a shepherd, and a swineherd were also employed on the demesne. (fn. 230) In 1293 nine and from 1297 fourteen customary tenants owed 25 works each from Easter to Lammas and Lammas to Michaelmas. In 1300 they owed in all 691½ works from Easter to Lammas, and 637½ from Lammas to Michaelmas, and in 1321 1,173 works from Michaelmas to Lammas, 3 a week in harvest and two at other times. In that year 582½ works were commuted at ½d. each. In 1355 harvest works were worth 1d. each and others ½d.; almost half were commuted. (fn. 231) The customary services due on the Ely land are treated under Melbourn. (fn. 232) In the early 14th century Ely had in Meldreth one yardlander and 9 half-yardlanders, one of whom was a smith. (fn. 233) Much of the Ely molland appears to have been in Meldreth. (fn. 234) Holdings were perhaps subdivided from the mid 14th century: from 1370 Topcliffes had c. 50 tenants, over 30 of whom were copyholders. (fn. 235) By the 1520s Ely had 24 tenants in Meldreth, some holding one or more customary half-yardlands and others between 3 r. and 30 a. of copyhold land; at least four also held free land. (fn. 236) In the late 15th and early 16th centuries Sheene had c. 15 tenants, (fn. 237) and St. Lowes had two or three free and seven customary tenants. (fn. 238)
In 1524 c. 50 people were assessed to the subsidy in Meldreth; 5 on over £10, 10 on between £5 and £10, 26 on between £1 and £5, and c. 10 on under £1. Amongst the more important yeoman families were the Marvells, recorded from the mid 14th century, three of whom were taxed in 1524. (fn. 239) In 1522 two Ely half-yardlands had been held by William and Margaret Marvell, (fn. 240) and in 1557 Anna Marvell died holding c. 105 a. of Topcliffes which descended to her son George (d. 1568), his son Andrew and Andrew's son Edward. (fn. 241) They also held land of Argentines, including Meldreth Court, once known as Marvells, where Andrew Marvell the divine, probably Edward's brother, and father of the poet was born c. 1586. (fn. 242) By 1621 Edward Marvell had acquired a number of separate holdings and in that year Andrew Marvell collected the rents for Topcliffes; in 1618 he had held c. 48 a. of Topcliffes. (fn. 243) In 1647 Andrew, the poet, sold the later Meldreth Court and adjoining land. (fn. 244)
In the 16th century barley was still an important crop, and some tenants apparently kept cattle. (fn. 245) In the early 17th century Thomas Sterne of Sheene kept a dairy herd and employed two shepherds. (fn. 246) His manor included c. 50 a. of inclosed meadow and pasture; he had foldage for 400 sheep and could pasture his cattle with the Meldreth herd at pleasure. (fn. 247) In the 1560s Christ's College had sheepfold for 180 sheep in Meldreth (fn. 248) and its estate included c. 19 a. pasture and 6 a. meadow with 77 a. arable.
Sheene had c. 11 tenants in the 1560s (fn. 249) and 12 by 1713. In 1578 they agreed with the lord to commute for 3½d. the bedrip or boonworks which they still owed in the early 18th century along with rents in money and poultry. (fn. 250) In the early 17th century Topcliffes had 17 free- and 31 copyholders who held c. 200 a. in Meldreth and c. 180 a. in Melbourn. (fn. 251) Ely's Meldreth manor had 23 copyholders in the 1620s (fn. 252) and Argentines and Trayles had 9 freeholders and 15 copyholders there in 1782. (fn. 253) In 1650 the Ely demesne included 75 a. of several land in Bull field, Meldreth, and another 107 a. in the southeast of the parish. (fn. 254) Ely's rectory estate, c. 43 a. in 1704, was leased in the 17th century to the Haggars of Bourn, who later sublet it. (fn. 255) Topcliffes demesne was leased out from the early 17th century. (fn. 256)
In 1640 13 paid the subsidy in Meldreth, Henry Blaney, the rectory farmer, being taxed on goods worth £12. (fn. 257) In 1643 he contributed to the Scottish loan almost as much as all the others in the parish. Richard Harvey, who paid most in 1645, (fn. 258) was in 1660 taxed on £60 worth of land in Meldreth. (fn. 259)
Sheep remained important; throughout the 16th century regulations about pasturing were repeated. (fn. 260) Shepherds occur in the 18th and 19th centuries and there was a fellmonger in Meldreth in 1691. (fn. 261) In 1664 Sheene had foldcourse for 400 sheep and the customary privilege of putting sheep on the Red Moor corn. (fn. 262) A farm of c. 215 a. sold in 1786 included 30 a. of inclosed pasture, and an unlimited right of keeping sheep in the town flock, a third of the fold of that flock, and right of common for cattle on all the commons of Meldreth. (fn. 263) In 1801 St. John's 46 a. had a sheepwalk for 40 sheep. (fn. 264) In 1812 Joseph Stockbridge, the Ely lessee, claimed an unlimited sheepwalk in Meldreth, and John Trigg claimed sheepwalk for 360 sheep. Both claims were later reduced. (fn. 265) At inclosure c. 78 a. on Melbourn Moor were allotted to Melbourn landholders with right of common and sheepwalk in Meldreth, and c. 112 a. in the north-west of the parish for those in Whaddon. (fn. 266)
By the early 19th century (fn. 267) there were 437 a. of old inclosures, all, except for meadow in the north of the parish, clustered around the village. The 1,973 a. of open field land lay in 14 fields closely reflecting the medieval pattern. (fn. 268) The inclosure of the parish, under an Act of 1813, was completed by 1820. Of the 75 allottees 22 had only copyhold land, and 20 only freehold. Just over 1,000 a. allotted were freehold; 165 a. were copyhold of the Ely manor, 108 a. of Topcliffes, 99 a. of Sheene, 84 a. of Argentines and Trayles, 53 a. of Flambards, and 14 a. of Veseys. The largest allotment went to the dean and chapter of Ely who received c. 458 a., of which c. 124 a. near the Melbourn boundary was for their manorial estate, and c. 330 a. in the north of Meldreth was for the rectorial estate; both were let. Joshua Fitch, lord of Sheene, received c. 230 a. in the southern corner of the parish. The Nightingale trustees received c. 164 a., and William Clear, who had bought up c. 6 previously distinct holdings, 166 a. William Whitechurch and Harvey's Charity both received c. 135 a., and the vicar 122 a. There was only one estate of between 50 a. and 100 a., but 15 between 10 a. and 50 a., 9 of 5 a. to 10 a., and 42 of less than 5 a.
In 1831 there were seven occupiers in Meldreth employing 94 agricultural labourers, and two with no employees. (fn. 269) The rectory farm was leased until at least 1835 by Joseph Stockbridge, and he was followed by William Parsons in 1845 and William Linton in 1855. (fn. 270) In 1871 a farm of almost 500 a. in the north of the parish including the rectory land and that held at inclosure by William Whitechurch was sold. (fn. 271) Part of it, c. 120 a. again including Ely land, was sold by George Honour in 1876. (fn. 272) It probably formed part of Fenny Lane farm, 150 a. offered for sale in 1910 and 1915, when it seems to have belonged to John George Mortlock. (fn. 273) By 1851 William Clear farmed only 92 a. in Meldreth, but Henry Clear, perhaps his nephew, farmed 250 a. there. In 1871 Ann Clear farmed 210 a. at North End. (fn. 274) Bury farm, the site of Veseys manor, belonged by the 1880s to Elizabeth Clear with c. 90 a. attached to it. (fn. 275) In the 1920s it was let to George Medlock who had one of the largest farms in the parish. (fn. 276) In 1892 there were still c. 13 farmers in Meldreth. (fn. 277) In 1905 the parish had c. 1,330 a. of arable and 367 a. of grass. (fn. 278) In 1929 there were only three farms there over 150 a. (fn. 279) There was a dairyman in 1896, and there were poultry farms in 1896, 1937, (fn. 280) and 1978. Numbers of sheep and cattle declined steadily from the 1880s. Barley, wheat, and oats remained the main arable crops. (fn. 281)
Fruit was grown in the parish as early as the late 13th century when Topcliffes demesne sold surplus apples and cherries. (fn. 282) In the 1850s there was a substantial increase in the acreage of fruit planted and greengages were widely grown. (fn. 283) By 1886 the village was surrounded by orchards and their area increased from c. 100 a. in 1885 to over 200 a. in 1905. By 1901 there were orchards south of Mettle Hill, and by 1948 they had spread in that area, and west of Bury Lane. (fn. 284) By 1908 fruit was one of Meldreth's chief crops. (fn. 285) In 1952 Melbourn Bury Fruit Farm had c. 80 a. in Meldreth off Bury Lane planted with apples, pears, plums, and greengages. (fn. 286) At least during the Second World War soft fruits such as gooseberries and blackcurrants were also grown, and distributed by rail. (fn. 287) There were several fruit growers in the parish in 1978.
There were eight mills in Meldreth in 1086. The manors of St. Evroul, Count Alan, and Guy de Reimbercourt had two each, and those of the abbot of Ely and Hardwin de Scalers one each. (fn. 288) In 1332 Ralph FitzWilliam held of the prior of Ely a quarter of a water mill in Meldreth, (fn. 289) presumably the Church mill recorded from the late 14th century until 1438. It was apparently in the north of the parish, on the stream east of the church. (fn. 290) In 1203 Mabel of Trumpington claimed a mill as dower, (fn. 291) and c. 1220 her son Henry l'Evesque gave the church of Meldreth the tithes of his mill there. (fn. 292) The mill descended with Veseys manor (fn. 293) and passed on the manor's partition to Robert and Beatrice Freville. It was granted to Christ's College in 1566, but has not been traced thereafter. (fn. 294) In 1720 there were three mills in Meldreth. (fn. 295) Flambards mill, near the site of Flambards manor in 1820, was presumably the water and steam corn mill sold in 1879. It had ceased working by c. 1900. (fn. 296) The two mills on St. Evroul's estate in 1086 descended with the manors of Sheene and Topcliffes, both of which had mills in the late 13th or early 14th century. (fn. 297) Sheene mill, south-east of the manor house, on the border with Melbourn, was recorded continuously until the 20th century. (fn. 298) In 1920 it was still a waterdriven corn and grist mill, (fn. 299) but by c. 1975 was used as a restaurant. Topcliffes mill, c. 450 m. south of the church, was also recorded until the 20th century. (fn. 300) By the early 17th century its lessee also held the manor close. (fn. 301) The mill and millhouse were probably rebuilt in the 1780s and thoroughly repaired in the 1870s. (fn. 302) They remained in use until after the First World War (fn. 303) but were ruinous in 1942. In 1948 they were sold to Miss M. A. Bowen, (fn. 304) and in 1978 the millhouse and late 19th-century weather-boarded mill were occupied as a private house. Three other mills which were recorded in Meldreth in the 13th and 14th centuries have not been traced later. (fn. 305)
In the later 19th century there was a coprolite mill at Meldreth station. (fn. 306) In 1851 John Clear was licensed by the lady of Sheene to dig for coprolites in North field. (fn. 307) In the 1870s there was a coprolite merchant in the parish, and a number of coprolite diggers lived there in 1871. (fn. 308) In 1897 the lands of the Meldreth Portland Cement and Brick Co. included a bed of coprolites. (fn. 309) Before coprolite digging began, most of Meldreth's population had been engaged in agriculture: in 1831 farm workers had comprised over two thirds of the employed male adult population. (fn. 310)
There were maltsters in Meldreth throughout the 19th century and by the 1880s Jarman's brewery had been built west of the church. (fn. 311) By 1916 it had been taken over by Barclay, Perkins and Co. of Cambridge, and had ceased to be used for brewing by 1924. (fn. 312) It was occupied as a private house in 1977.
By 1896 the Cam Portland Cement Co. had opened works by the railway at the north-eastern edge of the parish. In the 1930s, as the Cam Blue Lias Lime and Cement Co., it was still burning lime and making cement. The works went out of use between 1948 and 1953. (fn. 313) A second company, the Meldreth Portland Cement and Brick Co., was started in 1897 with works west of the village on Whaddon Road. By 1901 a tramway had been built connecting the works with the railway station. In 1911 the premises were offered for sale as the Meldreth Lime and Cement works, capable of producing 350 tons of lime and cement a week. They may have closed for a short time in the late 1920s before being taken over and expanded by the Atlas Stone Company which manufactured asbestos cement there. In 1977, when it was part of the Eternit Group, it was the largest employer in the parish, with c. 360 staff. (fn. 314) In the 1930s Ritagen Ltd. manufactured disinfectants at Meldreth, (fn. 315) perhaps using the byproducts of the lime works there.
The honor of Clare had a leet in Meldreth, recorded from 1262 until the 16th century, (fn. 316) perhaps derived from Earl Roger's holding there. (fn. 317) Courts are recorded throughout the 14th century, (fn. 318) and court rolls survive at intervals from the 14th to 16th centuries. (fn. 319) In the 14th century the courts heard cases of assault, and in the 15th century issued orders about water courses in Meldreth and appointed aletasters. In the 16th century they were concerned with the regulation of agriculture, mending of roads, and the assize of bread and ale, as well as tenurial matters. (fn. 320) In 1573 a hayward was recorded. (fn. 321) Meldreth owed 3s. lark silver to the honor, and a common fine of 10s., still paid in the 18th and 19th centuries despite occasional protests. In 1955 the parish council declined to redeem the payment, but agreed to do so in 1960 whereupon it was extinguished. (fn. 322)
Both the manors formed from Earl Roger's lands also held courts. The three-weekly court which the prior of Ware held in 1260 was presumably a court baron, (fn. 323) as were the courts held for Sheene manor (fn. 324) in the 16th and 17th centuries, but by 1691 they were also styled views of frankpledge. Court rolls and books for Sheene survive from 1512 to 1907 with few gaps. Courts were held once or twice a year in the 16th century and every two or three years by the 18th. In the 16th century they dealt with tenurial matters and the regulation of agriculture, and supervised the maintenance of houses and watercourses. Affeerors were recorded in 1579. By the 17th century, apart from occasional orders about roadways, the court was concerned entirely with tenurial matters. In 1878 it was held in the manor house. Courts held for Topcliffes manor seem always to have included courts leet and baron: Walter of Brompton claimed view of frankpledge and the assize of bread and ale in Meldreth in 1299. (fn. 325) Court rolls and books survive from 1316 to the 1930s, with gaps from 1342–54, 1421–32, 1461– 1513, 1515–24, and 1531–50. (fn. 326) In the 14th century its business included breaches of the peace and pleas of debt and trespass. A hayward occurs in 1312, a reeve was elected in 1319, and constables in 1339 and in the 16th century. Aletasters were recorded in 1398. In 1342 the court was said to be held every three weeks, but in fact met c. 6 times a year. In the mid 15th century there were c. 3 a year, and 1 or 2 by the mid 16th century. By the mid 17th, when the courts were wholly concerned with tenurial business, they met between one and three times a year, but from c. 1700 about every five years.
In the late 12th century Osbert 'Bishop' had a court (fn. 327) in which land suits might be tried by combat; it has not been traced later. In 1299 the Vavasour coheirs claimed view of frankpledge in Meldreth. (fn. 328) A court was recorded for Christ's College's manor, formerly St. Lowes, in 1512, (fn. 329) but there is no further record of Flambards court until 1782. Court books survive from then to 1788, 1798 to 1892, and 1904 to 1922. (fn. 330) The court was then concerned solely with tenurial matters. It was held at Flambards's manor house once a year in the 18th century but only every three or four years by the early 19th.
In 1298 the prior of Ely claimed view of frankpledge and other rights in Meldreth. (fn. 331) Ely's jurisdiction and courts are treated under Melbourn, as is the court of Argentines manor which also had lands and tenants in both parishes. (fn. 332)
In the early 18th century a town herdsman and a hayward were appointed by the parish. (fn. 333) In the late 16th century the collectors for the poor in Meldreth claimed that the parish could not support all its paupers. (fn. 334) In the early 17th century there were spinning wheels for the poor to work on in the town- or almshouse which was often repaired, was rebuilt in 1717, and survived in 1785. (fn. 335) In 1719 turf was sold at a reduced price to the poor, and in 1717 Meldreth set a man to work gathering stones and made up his wages. (fn. 336) As well as doles to individuals payments for clothing and medical care are recorded. (fn. 337) By the late 18th century annual expenditure on poor relief was c. £100. In 1803 when 37 received permanent help c. £180 was spent on outside relief. (fn. 338) By 1813 £400 was spent on the poor, but this fell to c. £290 in 1815, although c. 30 were permanently relieved in both years. (fn. 339) In 1816 Meldreth spent c. £540, the highest figure in the hundred, but thereafter the amount fluctuated between c. £200 and £350, reaching £358 in 1821 and £325 in 1832, but only c. £170 in 1834. (fn. 340)
In 1835 Meldreth became part of the Royston poor law union, later joining the Melbourn R.D., and then the South Cambridgeshire R.D. (fn. 341) It became part of the South Cambridgeshire district in 1974.
In 1066 a church or monasterium at Meldreth belonged to Ely abbey. The five priests there, who were sokemen of Ely, probably served that small minster. By 1086 the church was held by Hugh Pedevolt of Hardwin de Scalers. (fn. 342) It was later restored to Ely and was granted to the priory after the foundation of the bishopric. In 1203 bishop Eustace appropriated it to the monks of Ely and ordained a vicarage there. (fn. 343) In the 1220s bishop John of Fountains confirmed the grant and reserved a payment of £5 for a resident chaplain. (fn. 344) The advowson of the vicarage remained with Ely priory and was transferred to the new dean and chapter in 1541. (fn. 345) In 1880 the benefice was reserved for one of the minor canons of Ely. (fn. 346) In 1932 Meldreth was united with the vicarage of Whaddon. Ely shared the patronage of the united benefices until they were separated again in 1952, and retained the advowson of Meldreth in 1978. (fn. 347)
Probably before 1352 Ely priory made an agreement with St. Evroul by which that abbey's lands in Meldreth were tithe-free, Ely choosing instead 3 a. of its crop. (fn. 348) There were later disputes with tenants of Sheene, and in 1496 the bishop of Ely ordered tenants of that manor to pay personal tithes to the vicar as other parishioners did. (fn. 349) In the 17th and 19th centuries c. 150 a. of Sheene's land was still tithe-free, in return for a small composition in kind. (fn. 350) In 1812 Joshua Fitch, James Faircloth, and Sir Charles Nightingale all claimed some tithe-free land, presumably deriving from Sheene. (fn. 351)
The vicarage was valued at 25 marks in 1217, and 30 marks in 1254 and 1291. (fn. 352) By 1435 it was worth less than 20 marks, and less than 12 marks in 1465 and 1487. (fn. 353) In 1535 it was worth only £4 15s. 9d. (fn. 354) and in the 1560s was sequestrated presumably because of its low value. (fn. 355) In 1650 it was valued at £20; the vicar received £16 a year, and the minister who officiated had an augmentation and received £35. (fn. 356) In 1685 the vicarage, worth between £15 and £20, had again been sequestrated. (fn. 357) In 1690 William Ayloffe gave two thirds of Gargrave rectory (Yorks.) to trustees who were to pay £25 a year to the vicar of Meldreth so long as he was resident. The value of that rectory gradually fell and the vicar of Meldreth received only £12 5s. 2½d. in 1833 from the endowment, (fn. 358) and c. £7 10s. in 1924, but c. £20 by 1978. (fn. 359) In 1728 the vicarage was worth £40 excluding Ayloffe's gift, and c. £230 by 1828. (fn. 360) Its value rose to £260 in all by 1873 and, after a grant by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, to £300 by 1885. (fn. 361) In 1848 the rectorial lessee paid a pension of £10 to the vicar, still due in 1924 from the owner of the former rectory lands. (fn. 362)
In the 14th century the vicar farmed c. 20 a. of rectorial glebe, (fn. 363) but there was no vicarial glebe, save for ½ a. on which the vicarage house stood in the 17th century. (fn. 364) At inclosure in 1820 c. 120 a. were allotted for the small tithes, mostly in the northwest of the parish. (fn. 365) In 1887 there were 122 a. of glebe. (fn. 366) The land was sold in 1921 for c. £2,400. (fn. 367) In 1924 c. 4 a. of garden and pasture were attached to the vicarage house; by 1978 the vicar retained only 2 a., the old Vicarage Meadow. (fn. 368) In 1586 and the early 17th century the vicarage house had a parlour, hall, chamber, and kitchen, (fn. 369) but in 1685 it was described as poor and pitiful, and repairs were ordered. (fn. 370) Richard Willowes, presented in 1692, built a new house north-east of the church behind the later vicarage. (fn. 371) In 1783 it was in good condition, but by 1807 was in poor repair. (fn. 372) It was repaired c. 1830, but in 1836 was described as an old, small, lath and plaster building, only suitable for a small family. (fn. 373) After its demolition in 1878 the early 19th-century house east of the church on the site of the former rectory house was used as the vicarage. (fn. 374) In 1886 it was improved by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. (fn. 375) After the union of Meldreth and Whaddon the vicarage house was used as a parish room and Sunday school. It was taken into military occupation during the Second World War, and was sold by the vicar in 1945. (fn. 376) Later vicars have lived at Melbourn.
The chantry founded in Meldreth in the 1390s by Thomas Cavell (fn. 377) was presumably the chapel of Our Lady which stood in the churchyard in 1503. (fn. 378) In 1504 a former vicar bequeathed £40 to the guild of the Virgin Mary to provide a priest. (fn. 379) The guild appointed a priest for the chantry in the churchyard in 1523, (fn. 380) and in 1535 it was worth £5, more than the vicarage. (fn. 381) A chaplain occurs in 1543, but the chantry was suppressed by 1550. (fn. 382)
After the priests mentioned in 1066 no rector is recorded until the late 12th century. (fn. 383) Chaplains occur in Meldreth throughout the 14th and 15th centuries. (fn. 384) Some 15th-century vicars were pluralists (fn. 385) including Christopher Cape who resigned with a 40s. pension in 1499 in favour of a kinsman. (fn. 386) In 1561 the site of the altar had not been levelled. (fn. 387) In the mid 1560s the cure was vacant. (fn. 388) In 1579 parishioners were presented for absence from church, failure to receive communion, and railing against the vicar; non-attendance was again noted in the 1590s and 1619. (fn. 389) In 1618 the churchwardens were charged with letting a minister from Royston officiate. (fn. 390) Thomas Elton, presented in 1624, was described by his parishioners as a very honest man who deserved a better living. (fn. 391) By 1650 he was too old to serve the cure, but continued to receive the income whilst others, including Joseph Oddy, ministered there. (fn. 392) Elton had died by 1665 when there was no vicar; Meldreth seems to have been served only by curates until the 1680s. (fn. 393)
In 1685 the sacrament was administered twice a year. (fn. 394) William Backhouse, vicar 1764–7, was later archdeacon of Canterbury, (fn. 395) and Adam Wall, vicar 1767–74, was a fellow of Christ's College and a Greek and Hebrew scholar. (fn. 396) His successor Robert Harrington, another fellow of Christ's, who also held Croxton, was drowned by falling in a ditch in 1775. (fn. 397) The next minister lived for two or three days a week at Meldreth in 1775, otherwise at Christ's College. There was one Sunday service and thrice yearly sacraments. (fn. 398) In 1783 he still spent much time in Cambridge, but lived at Meldreth during the summer. (fn. 399) William Totton, vicar 1794– 1850, also held Debden (Essex) from 1796. He lived there in 1807, being licensed for non-residence, and employing at Meldreth (fn. 400) a curate who also served at Melbourn. Meldreth therefore had only one Sunday service. There were quarterly communions, but only four or five communicants. (fn. 401) By 1825 the resident curate held two Sunday services with sermons, and c. 18 or 20 attended the quarterly sacraments. (fn. 402) In 1836 there were few members of the established church (fn. 403) and in 1851 only c. 65 adults and 25 Sunday school pupils attended services. (fn. 404) E. W. Cory, vicar 1864–94, lived at Meldreth where his son W. H. Cory assisted him in the 1890s. (fn. 405) In 1873 E. W. Cory also occasionally officiated at Newton. Meldreth by then had monthly communions attended by half of the c. 30 communicants. (fn. 406) P. Harvey, vicar 1894–1931, held twice-monthly communions and two or three Sunday services in 1897. There was then a choir with 25 members. (fn. 407) Meldreth was united with Whaddon, where the next three vicars lived, (fn. 408) from 1932 to 1952 when H. A. L. Jukes, vicar of Melbourn, became curate in charge of Meldreth. In 1954 he was licensed to hold those two cures in plurality, (fn. 409) and they have since been held together, the vicars living at Melbourn.
The church of the HOLY TRINITY, so called since 1443, (fn. 410) is built of clunch rubble and consists of a chancel, an aisled nave with south porch, and a west tower containing five bells. The unusually long chancel dates from the 12th century and perhaps echoes the size of an earlier minster. The two lower stages of the tower, with flat buttresses at the angles, are late-12th-century and the north wall of the nave early-13th-century. The top stage of the tower was added in the late 13th century; elaborately traceried new windows were put in the north aisle in the early 14th century when a vestry was built, and the chancel east window was replaced. (fn. 411) In the 15th century the nave arcades and south aisle were rebuilt and the south porch was added, new windows were put in the south chancel wall, and the nave was heightened with a clerestory and new roof. There were bequests in the 15th century for work then in progress. A new north aisle was also planned but never built. (fn. 412) The rood screen dates from c. 1500.
From the 16th century the church fabric was often neglected, and it needed repairing in 1564. (fn. 413) In 1650 the chancel was in good repair except for the windows. (fn. 414) In the mid 17th century the Pykes built a chapel at the east end of the south aisle, and in 1658 George Pyke left £120 for a monument to be erected there. (fn. 415) By 1685 the whole church was in a bad condition. One window had been stopped by Pyke's monument and others were unglazed, perhaps since William Dowsing destroyed 62 pictures there in 1644. Holes in the steeple and the chancel ceiling allowed pigeons to foul the seats and floor; seats and the reading desk were broken, and some graves were uncovered. The vestry had been pulled down, weakening the north chancel wall. (fn. 416) Despite orders to reopen the south aisle east window and to remove part of the Pyke chapel, the latter was still there in 1743, but the church was then in better condition. (fn. 417) By the later 18th century the fabric was in good repair, but the interior was in a bad state and the Pyke chapel had been disused for many years. (fn. 418) By 1836 the roof needed repairing but there was difficulty in raising a rate, and in getting the lessee of the rectory to repair the chancel. (fn. 419) Restoration was finally undertaken c. 1846 despite continued opposition to the rate. High pews were removed from the nave and a gallery from the west end, and the east window was, according to a later vicar, 'loaded with stucco'. (fn. 420) Most of the exterior had been cemented c. 1800. (fn. 421) In c. 1870 the east window was replaced by a triple Norman-style one. (fn. 422) In 1889 the nave roof and north aisle wall were in a dangerous state; repairs were completed by 1898. The 14thcentury arched and panelled nave roof was renewed in the same style, stonework was repaired, and part of the north wall rebuilt. Windows were repaired or renewed, the inside walls replastered, the seating rearranged, and the Pyke chapel was finally demolished. (fn. 423)
The chancel stalls date from the late 15th century. In the early 17th century some windows depicted the arms of Caldecote, Scalers, de la Pole, and Gempting. (fn. 424) In the north aisle is a late 15th- or early 16th-century wooden chest. There is also an early 18th-century brass chandelier, brought from St. Benet's, Cambridge, c. 1870. (fn. 425) The plate includes a silver chalice of c. 1570 given to the town of Meldreth, and a late 19th-century paten and waferbox. (fn. 426) The organ, originally a barrel-organ probably of the mid 18th century, was brought from Bassingbourn in 1866. (fn. 427) In the 1930s the five bells included one of 1617, with a later inscription, one of 1665, and two of 1855. They were partly renewed between 1950 and 1968 to provide a peal of eight. (fn. 428) The registers start in 1688. (fn. 429)
Two Quakers were imprisoned in 1655 for attending a meeting on the first day of the week. (fn. 430)
Joseph Oddy, a disciple of Francis Holcroft, helped to serve Meldreth church in the 1650s and probably introduced dissent to the parish. By 1669 a conventicle of c. 100 met there every fortnight. The link with Holcroft's Independent Bassingbourn congregation remained strong. (fn. 431) A Congregational meeting was licensed at Meldreth in 1672 and there were 12 nonconformist families in 1676. (fn. 432) In 1685 there were many dissenters, but c. 1694 the centre of Congregational worship moved to Melbourn. (fn. 433) In 1728 34 dissenters were reported in Meldreth, and houses or barns were licensed for Protestant worship in 1747 and throughout the early 19th century. (fn. 434) In 1783 c. 22 dissenting families attended the Melbourn meeting. (fn. 435) In 1836 most of the parishioners had long been Independents or Baptists, and in the early 1840s there was strong dissenting opposition to the church rate. (fn. 436) An Independent meeting house was licensed in 1848, (fn. 437) and in 1851 evening services there were attended by c. 70. Later that year a new meeting house was built, on the west side of the main street, jointly by the Independents and Baptists, and was used by both in 1873. The Congregational meeting there was an outstation of the Melbourn meeting. (fn. 438) The chapel and schoolroom, which had been used in 1883 for Sunday and evening classes, (fn. 439) were requisitioned by the army during the Second World War, and later used as a village hall. The building was for sale in 1968 and disused in 1977. From c. 1940 Meldreth Congregationalists and Baptists worshipped at Melbourn. (fn. 440)
John Wesley preached to c. 4,000 people in Meldreth in 1759. (fn. 441) A Wesleyan Methodist chapel was built in 1849 with c. 300 seats. In 1851 c. 150 people attended in the morning, c. 280 in the afternoon, and c. 25 in the evening. (fn. 442) The meeting and chapel survived in 1940, (fn. 443) and were closed by 1970. In 1978 the chapel still stood at North End, close to the site of the first Meldreth Methodist meetings. (fn. 444)
There may have been a schoolmaster in Meldreth in the mid 15th century, (fn. 445) and a master was licensed to teach there in 1579. (fn. 446) From then no regular day school was recorded before 1900. Children attended Melbourn schools at least from the late 18th century, (fn. 447) or dame schools in Meldreth as in 1818 and 1833 when two such taught 34 children. A free Sunday school had 11 pupils in 1818, c. 60 in 1833, (fn. 448) and c. 120 in 1846. (fn. 449) In 1910 a school for 120 children, including 40 infants, was built on the east side of the main street; in 1914 c. 80 children attended. (fn. 450) Numbers remained between 60 and 70 until the school was reorganized between 1936 and 1938. In 1938 there were c. 30 juniors and infants there. (fn. 451) The seniors were transferred to Melbourn then, to Bassingbourn village college in 1954, and to Melbourn village college in 1959. (fn. 452)
Charities for the Poor. (fn. 453)
Meldreth was amongst the parishes to benefit from Lettice Martin's charity established in 1562. The income, 6s. 8d. in 1783, increased to £2 6s. 8d. by 1863, was distributed to the poor in coal. (fn. 454) By will dated 1658 Robert Halfhead left land, 2¾ a. in 1680, for the poor. With the parish clerk's one rood, it was let to the poor in small parcels; the rent, £1 2s. in 1783 and 1816, was long carried to the rates, but in 1863 the income, £4 12s. 6d., was distributed in fuel. In the 1960s the land was let as 6 allotments, and in 1971 was sold for £2,000. In 1723 James Addlestone settled his cottage at Chiswick End in trust for the poor. Its rent was occasionally distributed, in 1863 in fuel and in the 20th century in cash payments. (fn. 455) The house was sold in 1959. In the 1960s Martin's, Halfhead's, and Addlestone's charities were united as the Meldreth Parish Charities for the general benefit of the poor. In the 1960s 50–60 people over 70 received at intervals 10s. each. Later the income was distributed every two years.
A cottage left to the parish by Jane Gillett by will dated 1749 was in 1816 inhabited rent-free by paupers, but in 1837 was ruinous. It has not been traced after the 1860s.
John Burr, by will proved 1869, left the yield of £35 to be distributed to the poor in money or goods. In the 1920s the income, c. 18s., was applied as specified. (fn. 456)
By will proved 1938 Emily Agnes Elin left £500 for a coal fund in Meldreth, and £10,000 for almshouses there, to be paid on her husband's death. When the houses were built the surplus was to be invested for their upkeep and stipends for the inmates, poor over 60 who had lived in Meldreth for at least 10 years. Land was bought on Marvell's Green in 1955 and three almshouses were opened in 1956. In 1973 the income from the coal fund was £333, and from the almshouse foundation £135.