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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Of c. 14½ ploughlands recorded in 1086, 8, of which 4 were in demesne, belonged to Crowland abbey's manor, which, besides employing 3 servi, had 14 out of 32 villani, besides all the 8 bordars and 12 out of 17 cottars recorded. The smaller manors may have been mostly in demesne. The arable, with only 12 ploughteams, was probably underexploited, and the overall yield of the estates in Oakington had fallen from £23 in 1066 to £13 10s. by the early 1070s, and remained low. (fn. 1) By the late 13th century the arable was traditionally reckoned to comprise 12 hides of 120 a. each, (fn. 2) virtually equivalent to the 1,435 a. of arable tithable c. 1778, when there were c. 200 a. of grass. (fn. 3)
In 1279 (fn. 4) the 1,400 a. of arable recorded were divided almost equally between demesne, freehold, and customary land. Crowland abbey had 196 a. of demesne in the 14th century, (fn. 5) the Lays' manor supposedly 80 a. in 1279, although only 50 a. in the early 14th century, (fn. 6) and the Grantchesters only 30 a. in 1279. All the 1½ hides of demesne on the Olifard manor were in 1279, as perhaps still c. 1415, (fn. 7) held in fee farm by 12 villagers, but by 1434 a demesne of 70 a. had been re-established upon it. (fn. 8) The freehold land, in all c. 425 a. in 1279, was then much divided: most freeholders had only fragments of land held of several chief and mesne lords. Thus about 1348 the Picot fee of 245 a. was shared among 42 men, of whom two had respectively 59 a. and 31 a., and eight others with 5-25 a. each another 90 a. (fn. 9) Most freeholders had little land: although in 1279 five holding 25 a. or more, one with 75 a., possessed in all c. 200 a. and five others had 15-a. half yardlands, eleven with 5-10 a. occupied 82 a. and 30 smallholders only 53 a. The villein land was mostly on the Crowland manor; its only two free yardlands had been constituted as heritable by 12th- and early 13thcentury charters. (fn. 10) On the other manors the Lisles of Westwick had in 1279 two customary half yardlands, and the Lays one half yardland and two 5-a. holdings. In the early 14th century the Lisles were probably, after Crowland abbey, the most active lords: in the 1330s Sir Robert de Lisle sold manumissions to neifs also holding land of Crowland and took its trouble-making tenants under his protection. (fn. 11) The abbey had by the late 13th century 26 customary half yardlands, perhaps created by dividing in half most of the holdings of its 14 Domesday villani, besides 8 customary tenants with 5 a. each and 5 cottagers. The abbey's customary tenants occupied altogether c. 440 a.
On the Lisles' and Lays' manors the villeins in 1279 owed respectively 92 and 60 works a year. (fn. 12) On the Lays' manor each villein owed over 20 harvest works in 1312, (fn. 13) while on the former Giffard fee customary works throughout the year were still considered due in 1337. (fn. 14) Crowland abbey's villeins were relatively lightly burdened in 1279, owing just one work each week on average through much of the year. (fn. 15) In the 14th century, (fn. 16) when the cottagers owed only harvest works, the other 33 or 34 villeins usually rendered seven works between Michaelmas and Martinmas. They owed no works thereafter until mid June, after which 16 or 17 of them, presumably in alternate years, rendered 19 works each until Lammas, and 25, with one love boon, in harvest. Their rents were reduced in return before c. 1300. They also owed harvest boons, including one great bedrip, (fn. 17) and other daylong boonworks for haymaking, threshing wheat, carting manure, at one period sheep shearing, and also, until the 1260s, four ploughing boons. (fn. 18)
The cash levies from the abbey's tenants were c. 1300 increasingly burdensome: besides assize rents and customary renders of 44-66d. each, (fn. 19) they paid annual aids that rose from £5 6s. 8d. before 1275 to £7-8 by 1300 and at highest £10 in the 1310s, (fn. 20) but were permanently reduced to £2-3 immediately after the Black Death. (fn. 21)
Harvest works numbering 380-400 were almost always exacted in full on the Crowland manor until the eventual commutation after 1400. Of the other works, c. 500, mostly used for tasks such as hoeing, ditching, covering corn stacks, and mending walls, c. 95-125 were usually sold in the late 14th century. Despite occasional recalcitrance, especially over boonworks, (fn. 22) there was seldom concerted disobedience before 1350. In 1331 all the abbey's villeins denied its claim that by custom they must, after harvesting the Oakington demesne, reap 120 selions at Dry Drayton. Their refusal was upheld in 1340. (fn. 23) In 1381, following disturbances (excessus) early in July among the neifs and labourers, the abbey abandoned its usual bedrip and love boon. (fn. 24)
About 1360 refusals to perform works became more frequent on the Crowland manor. (fn. 25) The abbey briefly granted some holdings at rent for terms of years c. 1355, (fn. 26) but conceded no permanent commutation of works in the late 14th century. After 1400 up to half the works due outside harvest were usually sold. One 10a. holding was let for rent in place of all regular works in 1398, (fn. 27) and from c. 1409 all the customary tenants were relieved of weekwork in return for a rent, added to the ancient assize rents, of 10s. a yardland, which was approximately the traditional value of the works. The boonworks were retained (fn. 28) into the 1430s, (fn. 29) and perhaps sometimes performed: in 1440 the tenants complained that the demesne farmer refused them the wheat customarily allowed at haymaking. (fn. 30) The new 10s. rent had been cut to 6s. 8d. by the 1440s. (fn. 31) Similarly on the Willoughby manor a formerly bond half yardland was granted for life in 1391 for 1 mark a year. (fn. 32)
By the early 14th century at latest the arable was divided into three fields. (fn. 33) Moor field, probably covering 310 a., so named by the 1230s, (fn. 34) lay in the southern quarter of the parish, beside Girton, and was separated by the brook from West field, so named by the 1320s, c. 460 a. Mill field, perhaps called 'Bradefeld' c. 1200, (fn. 34) and recorded in 1322, (fn. 35) of c. 425 a., occupied the area north of the village. By the early 17th century and until inclosure West and Moor fields were respectively named New Close and Osmoor fields. (fn. 36) In the 18th century the freehold arable was said to have two lands to the acre, the copyholdings three. (fn. 37)
By the 1280s pasture was in short supply. In 1286 John du Lay alleged a customary stint of one ploughteam (including 2 horses), 6 cows, and 80 sheep for each hide; Warin de Lisle was said to keep 50 cattle and 400 sheep. (fn. 38) In modern times the only permanent grassland was the meadow by Beck brook: Crowland abbey was buying up meadow there in the early 13th century. (fn. 39) By the 1360s it had 21 a. of meadow, (fn. 40) whose grass was occasionally sold to villagers, but mostly reserved for the demesne livestock. (fn. 41) By 1390 there were bylaws against feeding beasts by the brook before the appointed day, or putting beasts on baulks. (fn. 42) Until 1833 the 'great meadow', so called by 1615, covered c. 40 a., and smaller ones east of the village 6 a. Some field land was being inclosed and converted to leys by the 1490s. (fn. 43)
The three fields did not necessarily constitute the units of the triennial rotation, followed by the early 14th century at latest: (fn. 44) of Crowland abbey's demesne c. 105 a., of which c. 75 a. lay in blocks of 5 a. or more, was in Mill field, and little more than c. 40 a. in each of the other two fields. (fn. 45) By spreading its sowing of dredge over two fields, it could cultivate 140-150 a. altogether in two out of every three years, but when Mill field lay fallow its sown land fell to c. 100 a. In 1322 winter crops, wheat, rye, and dredge, were sown in one field, spring ones, oats and peas, in the other. (fn. 46) By the 1360s the standard rotation was of winter crops, wheat, maslin, and probably some dredge, followed by dredge, oats, and peas in the spring, then the fallow. In the 1390s peas were sometimes sown in the fallow field.
The proportion of the various crops sown in the parish gradually changed from the 1250s, (fn. 47) when the main ones had been wheat, of which c. 360 qr., including 87 qr. from the Crowland demesne, were probably harvested, and oats, 160 qr. Later, into the early 14th century, the total arable yielded on average c. 275-350 qr. of wheat, in occasional good years up to 500 qr., Crowlands demesne usually contributing a quarter, 65-85 qr. Fewer oats were sown from the 1270s, except on that demesne, where c. 50 qr. were reaped in most years, partly for fodder. The peasants apparently did not grow oats as a distinct crop after c. 1280, concentrating instead on barley, of which c. 720 qr. were reaped in 1272. After 1290 barley was commonly combined with oats as dredge; the combined yield of barley and dredge usually amounted in average years to 800-850 qr. before the 1290s, that of dredge by itself after 1300 to 950-1,050 qr., of which Crowlands demesne produced barely a tenth. The peasants also grew relatively more rye: c. 1300 c. 125-175 qr., compared to only 20-25 qr. grown on that demesne. Peas were increasingly sown from the 1280s, perhaps to improve fertility, their total yield being sometimes 550-650 qr. On the Lengleys demesne the harvested crops in 1344 included 18 qr. of winter corn (two thirds wheat), 20 qr. each of dredge and peas, and 5 qr. of oats. (fn. 48) The peasants' diet may be represented by the food allowances in 1327 of a cottager's widow, half wheat, a third peas, and a sixth oats, (fn. 49) and in 1335 of a half yardlander, 1 qr. each of wheat and barley and ½ qr. each of rye and peas. (fn. 50)
Crowland abbey's demesne farm was managed by its reeve from the late 13th century onwards substantially in the same way as its larger one at Dry Drayton. The arable, usually worked from the 1260s by two ploughteams and customarily sown by the hayward, (fn. 51) grew mostly wheat and barley, partly replaced from the 1280s and wholly by 1360 with dredge. The bulk of those crops was regularly despatched to Cottenham for transport to the abbey by water, (fn. 52) along with occasional fattened pigs and poultry. The other crops were mainly consumed on the manor, the oats chiefly by the plough beasts, while rye or after 1320 maslin, along with the toll corn from the mill, provided the liveries for the six permanent staff. The abbey's cash profit on farming mostly came from sales of tithe corn, especially peas, after the 1310s sometimes sold unthreshed by the stack. In the 1360s between 110 and 180 qr. of dredge were also sold, though less later, a tenth as much being malted. The plough oxen, with a few dairy cattle, normally fed in summer on the marshes in Cottenham.
Except between c. 1290 and 1322, when the abbey kept 100-120 breeding ewes at Oakington, no demesne sheep flock was permanently stationed there. The Crowlands shepherd, employed until the 1410s, had charge of sheep brought from the abbey's neighbouring manors, (fn. 53) along with beasts contributed as a boon by its tenants. (fn. 54) Until the 1390s the tenants were occasionally amerced for failing, c. 1298 in concert, to do suit to their lord's fold. (fn. 55) Such fines were more frequent c. 1395-1415. (fn. 56) In 1340 the abbey's own flock yielded c. 56 stone of wool, probably from c. 480 sheep. (fn. 57) In 1361 it had 360 sheep in its fold. (fn. 58) In the 1420s it still expected to run 200 wethers on its Oakington demesne. (fn. 59)
Individual tenants might own many sheep: one had 32 outside the parish in 1325, (fn. 60) another 60-80 in the 1390s. (fn. 61) By the 1400s three other flocks, one of 100, had been started, (fn. 62) and in the 1430s there were two large flocks, (fn. 63) one in 1438 kept by William Burgoyne. (fn. 64) By the late 15th century the village commons were often invaded by flocks of 60-100 from neighbouring parishes. (fn. 65) One former demesne farmer, who had in 1453 overcharged the common with 160 sheep, (fn. 66) set up an unauthorized fold in 1463 on behalf of the Histon chantry estate. (fn. 67)
In the late 14th century the Crowland demesne had begun to be less profitable. Annual liveries of corn and cash to the abbey declined; that of wheat was more than halved to 20-35 qr., those of barley or dredge fell from 150-180 qr. after the early 1380s because more dredge was malted. Cash liveries declined from over £25 in the 1360s to below £7 from the early 1380s. Costs meanwhile increased, mainly through wage inflation. Investment in buildings, ploughs, carts, draught beasts, and other equipment remained fairly constant at a low level. The cost of threshing, regularly done by hired labour since the 1270s, usually 35-45s. a year until c. 1320, rose to 90-110s. between the 1360s and the mid 1390s. The wages of the famuli also doubled from the 24s. usual before 1320 to 50s. from the 1360s and after 1400 rose officially to at least 65- 75s. After 1410 the actual pay of the most skilled ploughman, carter, and shepherd, 7-10s. each since the 1360s, was 20-24s.
From the 1390s the demesne was being cultivated at a loss in cash terms: uncollected arrears due from the reeve were running at c. £6 yearly from 1400. Even after the tenants' works had been commuted c. 1409, the abbey continued to work its demesne, relying almost wholly on hired labour. It finally leased it in 1429 for 12 years at a rent of 80 qr. of malt to John Gilbert, son of a former reeve, who was allotted the remaining boonworks. (fn. 68) The demesne was continuously leased thereafter, at first to local men, but by the 1520s to outsiders. (fn. 69)
There were substantial changes in the pattern and possibly a recession in the area of arable cultivation in the late 14th century. The amount of wheat harvested in the parish apparently fell to 140-160 qr. at most, and after 1380 only 100- 120 qr., of which the Crowlands demesne crop, sown on under 25 a., and from the 1370s sometimes barely 10 a., comprised 35-45 qr. The total yield of maslin fluctuated between c. 85 qr. and c. 120 qr. That of dredge, regularly sown on 60-80 a. of Crowlands demesne, increased proportionately, seldom falling below 1,150 qr. yearly, of which the demesne contributed 160- 200 qr. It often reached c. 1,300 qr. and in very good years 1,650 qr. After 1400 peas, exclusive of the demesne crop, apparently fell off from 250-300 qr. to barely 150 qr. When Crowlands demesne was finally leased, it grew 18 a. of wheat and maslin and 76 a. of dredge and barley. (fn. 70)
After 1400, although the peasants may have grown twice as much wheat as rye, there was a sharp falling off in the recorded yield of the tithes, even though the return of individual demesne crops remained at earlier levels. The decline may be ascribed to much more successful evasion of the abbey's tithe collectors or to a temporary fall in corn production: at least twice in the 1400s the crop of peas totally failed.
Although only three out of c. 17 Crowland holdings left vacant in 1349 were not soon taken up by fresh tenants, (fn. 71) the abbey gradually found it harder to obtain new customary tenants. One man took up 10 a. in 1375 under threat of forfeiting his existing tenement, (fn. 72) and from the 1390s the homage was often ordered to choose new tenants for holdings whose heirs declined to enter upon them, some fleeing from the lordship. By 1410 some yardlands had been left uncultivated in the lord's hands. (fn. 73) Entry fines, often in the early 14th century between 30s. and £2 a half yardland, (fn. 74) were reduced to £1 for 10 a. in the 1360s, (fn. 75) and were again cut to 10s. or 6s. 8d., and by 1400 to 3s. 4d. for a yardland. (fn. 76) Following the ending of labour services they were initially set c. 1425 at 10s. a yardland, equivalent to the new rent. (fn. 77)
Tenements were being combined, a practice previously uncommon, (fn. 78) by 1400. A former reeve died holding 45 a. in 1394; (fn. 79) his son and another man who died in 1404 each had 2 yardlands. (fn. 80) Holdings of 1 or 2 yardlands were not uncommon by the mid 15th century. (fn. 81) Under Henry VIII one man occupied 3 yardlands, and another, worth £21 in 1522, 40 a. (fn. 82) By the 1410s customary tenements, reckoned hereditary c. 1300, (fn. 83) were often granted to men for their own and their wives' lives, (fn. 84) or for terms of up to 40 years. (fn. 85) Few holdings were descending within families by the 1430s. By the 1460s land was sometimes granted to men and their assigns, and soon after to men and their heirs. (fn. 86) By the mid 16th century the copyhold tenements were treated as fully heritable. In the 1560s some villagers alleged that the Halfheads, then demesne lessees, sometimes claimed copyholds as forfeit because of failure to maintain buildings on them. (fn. 87) In 1833 the remaining copyholds comprised 485 a. held of Crowlands manor, of which 100 a. were enfranchised under the inclosure Act, and 58 a. held of Westwick manor. (fn. 88)
In the early 16th century most of the land was still probably occupied by moderately prosperous small farmers. Of c. £147 taxed in 1524 £96 belonged to 12 men worth £5-11 each, the rest, save for 40 marks assessed on a widow, to 10 smallholders and 19 wage earners. (fn. 89) The balance had changed by the late 17th century, when a few large farms, including in the 1660s the Elmes and former Hatton estates and one owned by the Greens of Histon, (fn. 90) dominated the village. Under Charles II only 6 or 7 houses probably occupied by the farmers had 3-5 hearths, but there were 45-55 with only 1 or 2, including several poor cottages built on the waste and others whose inhabitants were on parish relief. (fn. 91)
On the Queens' College farm the arable by 1800 included, besides 15 a. in the Creeds east of the village, 46 a. in Osmoor field, 80 a. in New Close field, and 86 a. in Mill field, together with 11 a. of meadow; in New Close and Mill fields much lay in blocks of 3-5 a. or more. (fn. 92) By the 1750s the farm was regularly let by the Sindreys as 180 a. of arable, 90 a. of meadow, and 42 a. of closes, together with their own Home farm of 180 a. and Little farm of 80 a. of arable. (fn. 93)> Hatton's Great farm had meanwhile been enlarged to comprise before inclosure 89 a. of closes, 359 a. of arable, 75 a. of leys in the open fields, and 20 a. of common meadow, all freehold, (fn. 94) while the Free School farm came to 30 a. of grassland and 183 a. of arable. (fn. 95) Thus by 1800 four large farms of 180 a. or more included at least 1,040 a. of the open fields. About 1830 two others with 95-100 a. of arable and six with 40-75 a. covered altogether 520 a.; six, including William Linton of Oakington's 190-a. farm were owner-occupied. Since the 1810s, and probably since the 1780s, 315 a. of farmland had belonged to three branches of the Linton family. Another 21 smallholders with field land possessed barely 110 a. between them. (fn. 96)
The parish continued to be cultivated on the traditional system from the 16th century (fn. 97) to the late 18th, when the triennial rotation was still being observed. (fn. 98) In the early 19th century, as probably by the mid 17th, parts of the open fields, especially near the village closes, were laid down as leys. (fn. 99) The largest, possibly called Osmoor leys, probably lay south-east of the village. (fn. 100) About 1830 one farm had 73 a. of leys out of its 435 a. in the fields. (fn. 101) In 1791 a retiring farmer had 50 a. of wheat, 3 a. of rye and maslin, and c. 17 a. each of barley, peas, and oats, presumably in the two sown fields, and kept c. 120 grown sheep. (fn. 102) In the 18th century sheepwalk for 240 sheep was claimed for Queens' College's Lordship farm, whose folding was occasionally let out by the night. The usual stint was apparently one sheep for every 2 a. The copyholders were said in 1757 to keep almost 300 sheep. Each ancient messuage was moreover entitled to feed 2 cows and 1 weaned calf on the common. (fn. 103)
Proposals for inclosure, first made in 1796, (fn. 104) were revived in 1819, but dropped owing to opposition from the smaller landowners. (fn. 105) An inclosure Act was finally procured, only the smaller copyholders dissenting, in 1833, partly in the hope of reducing the heavy poor rates needed to support the many unemployed labourers. (fn. 106) The land was divided by November 1833 and the award made in 1834. (fn. 107) It covered 1,418 a. of open fields and common meadows and 204 a. of old inclosures, of which 67 a. were exchanged. (fn. 108) Queens' College emerged with 485 a., over half derived from its tithe allotment, in the north-west and south-west, and H. J. Adeane with 301 a., mostly by the eastern border, including respectively 30 a. and 61 a. of closes. The Free School estate had c. 140 a. and the Lintons of Westwick probably 100 a. Of the other larger landowners, whose holdings were mostly reduced by a third to a half because of the allotment for tithes, four, including the vicar, each with 80-95 a., shared 340 a., and three others with 40- 65 a. each, c. 140 a. Forty smallholders, only six with over 10 a., had in all c. 150 a. The middling allotments were not concentrated, but dispersed in several lots over the central part of the parish. (fn. 109)
Part of Oakington was therefore occupied in the 19th century by relatively small farms. (fn. 110) Queens' College's 485 a. were cultivated as a unit by the Coles until the 1860s, (fn. 111) when the southern part, 232 a., was split off to be worked separately from the new Slate Hall Farm. The Adeanes' estate, farmed by the Papworths from the 1780s (fn. 112) to the 1870s and eventually called Meadow farm, was likewise largely kept together, covering c. 295 a. until after 1910, while the Lintons probably retained most of their 160-a. family farm into the 1870s. (fn. 113) In the mid 19th century two substantial farms, of between 250 a. and 370 a., were occupied by the Reynolds family. The remaining land was then divided among 5 or 6 small men with c. 250 a. between them. One farmer was killed by his threshing machine in 1843. (fn. 114)
Although the two largest farms employed 37 men and boys in 1851, there was not sufficient work for all the 90 labourers then recorded until emigration reduced their numbers to c. 65 by 1861. In 1871 c. 10 farmers had work for 59 men and 14 boys, only slightly fewer than the number available. (fn. 115) From 1851 to the mid 1860s an agricultural society held an annual ploughing match each December; the sponsoring farmers and competing labourers, who often numbered up to 30, separated afterwards to dine at two different public houses. (fn. 116) By the 1880s some farmers had revived traditional harvest dinners for their workers. (fn. 117)
About 1910 there were three large farms of c. 250 a., while another eight with 20-120 a. occupied 470 a. (fn. 118) By the 1920s, however, following the county council's division of two of the larger farms into smallholdings, there were 14 holdings of between 20 a. and 300 a., besides 20 smaller ones. In 1951 two farms comprised c. 840 a. and another six c. 310 a. The number of labourers regularly employed shrank from over 50 before 1939 to 30 by the 1950s and only 12 by 1980. Oakington remained mainly devoted to arable farming, wheat and barley still predominating, and usually occupying over 600 a. out of c. 1,200 a. included in the arable rotations in the late 19th century. The area under corn crops fell to c. 525 a. in 1905. That of permanent grass increased from c. 130 a. in the 1880s to c. 350 a. by 1900 and 456 a. in 1915. The number of grown sheep kept had declined to 400-450 by the 1890s and 200 or fewer by the 1910s, while that of milking cattle seldom exceeded 50. The reduction in arable was partly balanced by a rise in fruit growing. There were 23 a. of plum and apple orchards by 1915 and c. 42 a. in the 1920s. Another 25-35 a. were growing small fruit, mostly strawberries and raspberries. There were usually two or three market gardeners from the 1870s, and by the 1930s three specialized flower growers. (fn. 119)
A windmill belonged to the Crowland manor by the late 13th century. (fn. 120) The lord managed it through a waged miller until c. 1297, when it was put at farm for terms of 1-3 years, mostly to local men. About 1334 it was the only mill in the parish. (fn. 121) The toll was not rendered after the mid 1380s, nor were repairs to the mill recorded later. (fn. 122) By the early 19th century a windmill, included in the college estate, stood at the southeast edge of Mill field. (fn. 123) Rebuilt after a fire in 1863, (fn. 124) it passed by the 1870s to the Papworths, who ran it with a bakery in the village. It remained in use, from 1900 with a steam mill, until the 1930s, c. 1930 milling oilseed. (fn. 125) The old tower mill, dismantled in 1929, (fn. 126) was demolished in 1940 to make way for a runway on the airfield. (fn. 127)
A smith was regularly employed on the Crowland manor in the Middle Ages, (fn. 128) the hereditary smith being exempted c. 1300 from paying aid with the other villeins. (fn. 128) From the 1780s, and probably from 1720, until after 1830 the parish owned a blacksmith's shop, (fn. 129) and there were usually two or three blacksmiths from the 1830s to the 1880s. (fn. 130) In the early 19th century the village supported several craftsmen, 14-15 families being maintained by trades compared with 50-60 by the farms until the 1830s. (fn. 131) There were two or three carpenters until the 1870s, and the Mitchell family kept a wheelwright's shop until the 1930s. There was a tailor until after 1870, and at least one shoemaker until the 1920s. Several brickmakers were recorded until the 1870s and one builder into the 1930s. The village shops included a poulterer in the 19th century, usually two or three butchers until the 1910s, also c. 1860-80 a dealer in marine stores. About 1910 Mr. Groce, a local man, designed and built an aircraft, which, however, never flew. (fn. 132) There were still three shops and a garage at Oakington in the 1980s, when disused farmsteads accommodated workshops for several light industries. Until the early 1970s bloodhounds were bred at Manor Farm, (fn. 133) and in the 1980s a pet-breeding establishment stood off the road to Dry Drayton. (fn. 134)