A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 9, Chesterton, Northstowe, and Papworth Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1989.
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The two parish which existed in Histon until the early 17th century were evidently founded on the demesne and the tenanted parts of the episcopal manor. They were distinguished by their dedications to St. Etheldreda and St. Andrew respectively in the early 13th century. (fn. 1) The lands tithable to each church in the Middle Ages lay interspersed in every furlong in the township, (fn. 2) though, unlike similar cases in East Anglia, (fn. 3) the two did not share a single churchyard.
In the late 12th century a clerical family controlled one or both : Peter the dean of Histon, first referred to c. 1160, (fn. 4) witnessed a document dated 1177 × 1189 in the company of his brothers Brice, parson of the church of Histon, and Simon the priest of Histon. (fn. 5) By 1202, and possibly by c. 1193, Brice had succeeded Peter as dean. (fn. 6) No trace of a collegiate character has been found for either church, and it is likely either that Peter and Brice were rural deans or that the senior incumbent of the two was called dean. (fn. 7)
The advowson of the rectory of St. Etheldreda's belonged to Eynsham abbey until the church was appropriated in 1268, (fn. 8) the abbot thereafter being patron of the vicarage. He presented regularly in the 14th and 15th centuries, (fn. 9) though the bishop of Ely once appointed by lapse, probably in 1454. (fn. 10) The Crown presented in 1539 (fn. 11) and the presentation afterwards descended with the impropriate rectory and manor of Histon Eynsham. (fn. 12) Sir James Dyer was said to be patron in 1561 and 1569 after he had probably ceased to hold the manor, but the lord of the manor, Sir Francis Hinde, presented in 1570. (fn. 13) The patronage remained with the Hinde family as long as they held the manor, though the Crown presented after an incumbent was deprived in 1579 and the bishop of Ely collated by lapse in 1607. (fn. 14) By then St. Etheldreda's church had been demolished and the two livings effectively united; the advowsons were in the same ownership by 1626. (fn. 15)
The advowson of the rectory of St. Andrew's church belonged to the lords of the manor later called Histon St. Andrew, the first recorded presentation being by Henry de Colville in 1344. (fn. 16) Although he was not then lord of the manor, the advowson had presumably come to him from his brother Philip (d. c. 1311) and his mother Emma, like the manor of Colvilles in Long Stanton. (fn. 17) Feoffees for the Colville family presented in 1352 and for the Thorpe family between 1377 and 1399, (fn. 18) the last time after the sale of the advowson with the manor in 1391 to Denny abbey. (fn. 19) Denny appropriated the rectory in 1416 (fn. 20) and afterwards presented vicars. (fn. 21) After the Dissolution the patronage remained with the lords of the manor, (fn. 22) coming eventually to William Bowyer, who held the advowsons of both vicarages by 1626, (fn. 23) when he conveyed them with the impropriate rectories to George Coke. (fn. 24) The latter soon afterwards gave them to his son Thomas, (fn. 25) who sold the estate in 1655. Sir Thomas Willys, Bt., who acquired it in 1658, (fn. 26) presented in 1695, (fn. 27) and the advowson evidently passed on his death in 1701 to his grandson John Willys (d. 1729), (fn. 28) who was patron in 1728. (fn. 29) John's cousin and devisee, Sir William Willys, Bt., separated the advowson from the landed estate, devising it by will proved 1732 to his nephew Thomas Michell. (fn. 30) Robert Michell was patron by 1775 (fn. 31) and remained so until 1807 or later, though he apparently sold a turn, exercised in 1785, to J. R. Sproule the elder. Mrs. E. Michell and others were patrons in 1821, when they conveyed the advowson to the newly appointed vicar, the Revd. T. P. Michell, who retained it to 1865. (fn. 32) The Revd. C. W. Underwood, who bought it in that year, sold it in 1894 to William Peed of Histon Manor. In 1897 it was bought by the Revd. W. C. Chapman. He sold it in 1910 to E. H. Darlington, whose widow Mrs. E. Darlington conveyed it in 1916 to the Church of England Trust Society, which merged with the Martyrs' Memorial Patronage Trust in 1922 and retained the patronage in 1986. (fn. 33)
The abbot of Eynsham was granted the right c. 1190 to take an annual pension of 4 marks, confirmed in 1250 and 1262, from his church of St. Etheldreda. (fn. 34) In 1251 the abbot obtained the tithes of hay in an exchange with the rector, (fn. 35) and in 1268 the church was appropriated to the abbey and a vicarage was established. The vicar was to have the altar gifts, the lands of the church, all the tithes apart from those on corn, and a pension of 2 marks a year from the abbey. (fn. 36) The arrangement later lapsed, since in 1454 the vicar's portion was said to be insufficient and the abbot was ordered to augment it. In the following year it was agreed that the vicar should retain 24 a. of glebe and receive an annual stipend of £8 and the tithes of hay. All other tithes remained with the abbot. (fn. 37) The stipend was still being paid by Eynsham in 1539, (fn. 38) and remained a charge on the lay rector in 1986. (fn. 39)
Before appropriation St. Etheldreda's church, assessed at 20 marks in the early 13th century, was more valuable than St. Andrew's, which at 10 marks was then the second lowest in the deanery. (fn. 40) The poverty of St. Andrew's was largely due to the fact that Barnwell priory had been given two thirds of the demesne tithes of St. Andrew's manor by Picot the sheriff c. 1092. (fn. 41) A protracted attempt by the rector, Ralph of Cropredy, to recover all the tithes apparently ended in failure, (fn. 42) but by 1254 the prior of Barnwell enjoyed only a pension of 2 marks. By then, despite a second pension of 2 marks held by the alien priory of Hough (Lincs.), which was not recorded later, St. Andrew's had risen proportionately in value, being worth 16 marks to St. Etheldreda's 20 marks. In 1291 the assessments were 26 marks and 30 marks respectively. (fn. 43) Barnwell's pension remained payable from the rectory until the Dissolution. (fn. 44) The vicarages that were established were much less valuable, St. Etheldreda's being worth £4 6s. 8d. in 1291. (fn. 45) In the 15th century neither exceeded £8 (fn. 46) and in 1535 St. Etheldreda's was valued at £7 16s. 2d. and St. Andrew's at £6 7s. 4d. (fn. 47)
The combined vicarage was worth £55 a year in 1650, (fn. 48) and £70 in 1728. (fn. 49) It was augmented with an endowment of £200 from Queen Anne's Bounty in 1767. (fn. 50) The glebe included land in both Histon and Impington. In the early 17th century 48 a., including the churchyard and closes in the village, was attached to the vicarage of St. Andrew's, and 17 1/2; a. of open-field land to that of St. Etheldreda's. (fn. 51) The vicar received most of the small tithes of Histon, except for a small part of those in St. Etheldreda's parish which went to the impropriator, and in addition had part of the small tithes of Impington intercommon furlong and all the hay tithes and part of the small tithes of the land in Impington which was held of the Histon manors. (fn. 52) At inclosure in 1806 the vicarage was allotted 109 a. for tithes and 101 a. for glebe, in the north part of Histon parish. (fn. 53) The gross income from letting the land was £400 in 1851, rising to £580 in 1873 and falling during the agricultural depression to £250 in 1897. (fn. 54) The land was sold in 1921-2. (fn. 55)
Under the terms of the appropriation in 1268, the rectory house of St. Etheldreda's was assigned to the monks of Eynsham, who were to build a vicarage house in oak on the east side of the churchyard, comprising a hall at least 26 ft. by 22 ft. with a pantry at one end and a chamber and garderobe at the other, and a kitchen, bread oven, and malthouse under a separate roof. (fn. 56) In 1455 the abbot was ordered to build a new vicarage house. (fn. 57) Nothing is known of it later.
St. Andrew's vicarage house was mentioned in 1392, when the incumbent was extending it. (fn. 58) In 1580 it was in great decay, (fn. 59) but it was presumably that house, by St. Andrew's church, which was occupied by the vicars of the united living in the 17th century and later. In 1662 it had four hearths. (fn. 60) It was in good repair in the late 18th century and the early 19th, and in 1836, though too small for the vicar's family, was being used by the curate. (fn. 61) A new vicarage house was put up c. 1865 and sold in 1983. (fn. 62)
Between 1272 and 1284 Philip de Colville endowed a chantry at the altar of St. Mary in St. Andrew's church with a house and 34 a. of land, mostly in Histon. (fn. 63) The patronage was attached to the manor and passed to Denny abbey in 1392. In 1395 Sir William Thorpe's feoffees added 26 a. and rents in Pinchbeck and Spalding (Lincs.). (fn. 64) By c. 1443, however, the income was so diminished that no chaplain was willing to serve, and in 1453, by papal licence, Denny appropriated the revenues and arranged that all but 10 masses a year should be said in the abbey church. (fn. 65) Chantry priests appointed by the lords of Histon St. Andrew continued to serve (fn. 66) until the chantry was suppressed in 1552. (fn. 67) Its endowments then amounted to 30 a. A further 11 a. given to support other services in the church were also sold in that year. (fn. 68)
In the 1520s there were three guilds in the village, dedicated to the Purification, All Saints, and St. Catherine. The last attracted bequests from parishioners of both. (fn. 69)
The vicarages of St. Andrew's and St. Etheldreda's were united in 1588 after the inhabitants petitioned the archbishop of Canterbury during a vacancy in the see of Ely. (fn. 70) When the last vicar of St. Etheldreda's died or resigned in 1607, (fn. 71) the vicar of St. Andrew's was appointed. (fn. 72) The legality of the union was doubtful under the Union of Act, 1545, (fn. 73) and it was called a pretended union in 1638. (fn. 74) It endured, however, if only because St. Etheldreda's was partly demolished c. 1599 and not replaced. (fn. 75) The two parishes, which at first remained separate, with their own churchwardens, (fn. 76) were recommended for union in 1650, (fn. 77) but St. Etheldreda's still had its own churchwardens and sidesmen in 1664. (fn. 78) By 1675 one churchwarden was appointed for each parish, (fn. 79) and although in 1695 separate presentations were formally made of the same man to the two livings, by 1728 the de facto union of the parishes and benefices was recognized. (fn. 80)
In the mid 13th century both livings were wealthy enough to attract graduates, including Ralph of Cropredy, of St. Andrew's, who was for a time absent in Rome as chaplain to a cardinal. (fn. 81) In contrast, the vicarage of St. Etheldreda's after appropriation in 1268 provided only a small income. Four successive vicars between 1390 and 1410 exchanged the benefice within five years of being presented. (fn. 82) Rectors of St. Andrew's in the 1380s and 1390s left as quickly despite the greater value of the living, (fn. 83) and as many as 13 vicars are known between 1416 and the Reformation. (fn. 84) In the same period only five vicars of St. Etheldreda's have been identified, (fn. 85) though only William Vale, who probably resided for 32 years until his death and burial in the chancel in 1492, is known to have been long serving. (fn. 86) The attractions of the two livings as permanent positions remained slight after the Reformation, St. Etheldreda's having seven vicars from 1539 to 1583. (fn. 87) Denny's last nominee at St. Andrew's, a prominent university man, (fn. 88) was succeeded by a non-graduate not licensed to preach, who remained vicar until 1561 or later. (fn. 89) The vicar of St. Etheldreda's from 1583 was a puritan from St. John's College who consistently refused to conform to the Elizabethan settlement. (fn. 90) His obduracy may have been a reason for allowing the union of the vicarages and the demolition of St. Etheldreda's church.
The united living was badly served by its second vicar, John Slegg, who absented himself after killing a man at Chesterton and failed to provide a curate; the vicarage was evidently sequestered in 1638. (fn. 91) In contrast, Slegg's successor John Ashley was devoted to Histon and survived the Interregnum by attending the Presbyterian classis in Cambridge in the 1650s. He died as vicar in 1694. (fn. 92) Thomas Scaife (d. 1725) and his son John (d. 1775) held the living for 80 years between them and both probably served in person. (fn. 93) Histon's low value nevertheless remained a problem: the younger Scaife also held two Berkshire livings and the curacy of Cottenham, (fn. 94) and sequestrators were recorded in 1782 and 1801. (fn. 95) A curate was licensed for Histon and Impington together in 1815, (fn. 96) and others served during much of the incumbencies of T. P. Michell, 1821-56, and his son T. H. Michell, 1856-65. (fn. 97) Vicars usually resided from the time of C. W. Underwood, 1865-99. (fn. 98)
The two Sunday services and one sermon a week recorded in 1728 evidently remained the norm for over a century. Communion was given three, later four, times a year in the 18th century and the early 19th, and there were usually said to be c. 30 communicants, a higher proportion than in neighbouring fen-edge villages. (fn. 99) It was probably only under Underwood that services became more frequent. In 1873 he held monthly communions and two full services on Sundays, and also preached on weekdays in Advent and Lent; and in 1895 he was experimenting with fortnightly communion at 8 a.m. The increased provision at first met a need in the growing village: Underwood had c. 60 communicants in the parish in 1873, and he reported his congregations as sometimes overflowing the church. He estimated that two thirds of the population of c. 1,000 were church people and claimed that many dissenters also attended. Already by 1873, however, there had been a decline in the number of communicants, and attendance fell away as the village's social and occupational character changed. In 1885 Underwood thought that only one third of his parishioners came to church, with as many or more neglecting all worship, (fn. 100) and by 1897 the fortnightly communion had been dropped. (fn. 101)
It was perhaps to counter the irreligion reported in 1885 that vicars and nonconformist ministers in Histon began to co-operate. The joint prayer meetings held c. 1907 were then described as part of a long local tradition, (fn. 102) and continued at intervals until c. 1920. (fn. 103)
The church of ST. ANDREW, so dedicated by 1217, (fn. 104) comprises chancel, north and south transepts, central tower, and aisled and clerestoried nave with south porch, and is built mostly of field stones with ashlar dressings. The cruciform plan probably derives from a smaller 12thcentury church in scale with the existing tower; 12th-century fragments survive in the north transept and the west wall, most of them placed there during 19th-century restorations. The transepts were extensively remodelled in the mid or late 13th century, with lavish ornamentation, though the tall blank arcading of the upper parts of the internal walls probably remained incomplete. The chancel was presumably remodelled at the same time, but little or no evidence survived later alterations. Much of the 13th-century work, particularly the double piscina in each transept and the stepped sedilia in the chancel, resembled that at St. Radegund's priory, Cambridge (afterwards the chapel of Jesus College). (fn. 105)
The lower part of the tower was rebuilt c. 1300 and its upper parts in the early 14th century. The north aisle was evidently added when the chancel was remodelled in the 13th century, the date of the arch between that aisle and the north transept; the south aisle existed by the 14th century, when the porch was built. Both arcades, however, were rebuilt in the late 14th century, with the addition of the clerestory, and new windows were inserted in the aisle walls in the 15th. Also in the 15th century the eastern lancets of the north transept were replaced with new tracery under the existing internal arches, and completely new windows were inserted in the north and south walls of both transepts.
The chancel was said to be in decay in 1564 and in great decay in 1579; (fn. 106) its eastern bay was taken down probably shortly afterwards and replaced by a brick east wall with a wooden window. The new wall cut off the existing chancel north door, and a south door was made instead. (fn. 107) The rebuilt chancel remained in a poor condition in the 17th and 18th centuries, its east wall the object of frequent complaint. (fn. 108)
The north transept, used as a school in 1836, had been partitioned off as a vestry by 1843, (fn. 109) while the south transept was used for burials of the Archer and Sumpter families, (fn. 110) lords of Histon manor. The whole church was said in 1843 to be pervaded by 'an air of dank, neglected decay'. (fn. 111) The nave and aisles were restored between 1858 and 1861 by F. W. Bodley, who replaced the clerestory windows in a 13th-century style and inserted geometrical tracery in the west window. Restoration of the transepts, crossing, and chancel was undertaken from 1871 to 1875 by Sir G. G. Scott. (fn. 112) Scott treated the transepts gently but the chancel was heavily restored. He rebuilt the east bay in its original position, (fn. 113) incorporating stonework recovered from Madingley Hall in 1874, which was presumed to have been taken there from the demolished St. Etheldreda's. (fn. 114) A small vestry had been added by 1919. (fn. 115)
The medieval rood screen survived intact to 1745, (fn. 116) but its decayed remains were removed in 1875. (fn. 117) A west gallery, recorded in 1745, had perhaps been built in 1728. (fn. 118) It remained until the restoration of the nave. In the 1890s the vicar, C. W. Underwood, gave a new pulpit, prayer desk, font, and glass for the chancel windows, all but the font made to his own designs. (fn. 119) There were three steeple bells and a sanctus in 1552, (fn. 120) one of which survived in 1745, when the peal was of five. They were recast in 1866 and a sixth was added in 1873; (fn. 121) the six were recast and two more added in 1966. (fn. 122)
The churchwardens held land for the repair of the church by 1708. After inclosure it amounted to 11 a. in Histon and 19 a. in Chesterton. The annual income rose steadily from £12 in 1728 to £43 in 1851. The land was sold in 1919. (fn. 123)
The registers of baptisms cover 1658-61 and 1665-74, (fn. 124) and are complete from 1684; those of burials and marriages are complete from 1653. (fn. 125) Bishop's transcripts survive from 1599 with several gaps. (fn. 126)
The church of ST. ETHELDREDA, which had that dedication by 1217, (fn. 127) stood 200 m. WNW. of St. Andrew's, where earthworks surviving in 1986 marked its site. (fn. 128) It had a nave, chancel, and tower. A chapel of St. Nicholas in the church was mentioned in 1549. The church was said in 1588 to have been dilapidated for many years and to be almost in ruins. (fn. 129) At least the nave was demolished shortly before 1599, allegedly by Sir Francis Hinde (d. 1596), (fn. 130) and in 1638 inquiries were made about the cost of building a new church. (fn. 131) In 1728, however, the chancel was implied to be still standing, though in poor repair, (fn. 132) and in 1745 the church was said to have stood within living memory, though by then it had been completely removed. (fn. 133) Materials from the church, including lead, timber, and the bells, were said to have been sold by Sir Francis Hinde or used by him in building at Madingley Hall. (fn. 134) The churchyard of St. Etheldreda's survived c. 1757, (fn. 135) and was afterwards taken into Abbey farm.