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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A church at Waterbeach had been founded by c. 1160, when priests were recorded there. (fn. 1) It probably belonged originally to the Richmond, later Denny, manor. Tithes from that manor, granted by Count Alan, (fn. 2) were represented by the 1260s by a tithe portion of 33s. 4d. paid, despite occasional denials, to Swavesey priory (fn. 3) and its successor, the Coventry Charterhouse, until the Dissolution. (fn. 4) Possession of Waterbeach church was disputed between the ecclesiastical beneficiaries of the lords of Denny. Barnwell priory, which from the 1090s enjoyed two thirds of the demesne tithes of Waterbeach manor under grants from Picot the sheriff and his successor Pain Peverel, (fn. 5) believed in 1279 that the land which it then owned in the parish, and which was partly rectorial, had been given by Robert the Chamberlain and his son George. (fn. 6) Probably c. 1195 the bishop approved the appropriation, proposed before 1189, of Waterbeach church, as one unlawfully alienated, to Barnwell, subject to the endowment of a vicarage. When the then rector, a pluralist, who had until then owed Barnwell a pension, resigned in 1198, the priory obtained possession. (fn. 7) In 1278 the priory vindicated its rights against the Templars' challenge made on the grounds that their English masters had presented after 1170 and in the 1190s. (fn. 8) The priory retained the appropriated rectory with the advowson of the vicarage until the Dissolution, (fn. 9) granting a turn in 1536. (fn. 10) About 1350 (fn. 11) and almost invariably from 1460 to 1516 it presented canons of the house as vicars, although its last nominee was a secular priest. (fn. 12)
The advowson passed with the rectory to the Crown, which presented in 1554 and 1560. (fn. 13) 4 Both were included among those transferred to the see of Ely in the exchange of property forced upon Bishop Cox in 1562. (fn. 14) 5 The next presentation in 1564 was made, however, by James Bolton of Chesterton, to whom his master, Justice William Cook, had in 1553 left the occupation of the parsonage. (fn. 15) 6 In 1560 Bolton acquired a 70-year lease of the rectory in reversion from 1564 granted by the priory in 1536. The lease of the rectory passed to various outsiders, but from the 1610s to the 1810s was combined with the Waterbeach manorial rights in the hands of the Robsons, Bacons, and Standleys. (fn. 16) 7 The beneficial leases of it made by the bishops of Ely always reserved the advowson to the bishops, (fn. 17) who regularly collated to the vicarage from the 1610s. (fn. 18) The bishop retained the advowson (fn. 19) even after the Ecclesiastical Commissioners had in 1868 enfranchised the rectorial land to Edward Mason. He and his successors were charged with the rectorial duty of repairing the chancel. (fn. 20) Presentation was suspended for five years in 1974, and from 1979 Waterbeach was held with Landbeach, the bishop presenting alternately. (fn. 21)
Besides the great tithes, Barnwell priory held in 1279 as glebe 32 a. of arable and 3 1/2; a. of meadow, with lordship over seven tenants. (fn. 22) The church was assessed at 10 marks c. 1217, at 15 in 1254, and at 25 in 1276, (fn. 23) the rectory alone at 20 marks in 1291 and later. (fn. 24) The rent was set at 20 marks by the 1540s, (fn. 25) the amount paid by successive lessees until modern times. (fn. 26) In the 17th century the rectorial glebe included 35- 40 a. of arable and 8 a. of fen, (fn. 27) in 1814 30 a. of arable and 12 a. of fen. (fn. 28) The bishop and his lessee were then allotted 55 a. for the glebe and 275 a. for most of the great tithes. (fn. 29) All the land, mostly south of the village, passed to Edward Mason in 1868. (fn. 30) Not all the great tithes were commuted in 1814: following the cession of Challis Frith to the bishop, Causeway End farm was claimed as tithe free in 1813, (fn. 31) and its tithes were left to be taken in kind, as were those of the Adventurers' Fen, paid to the vicar, until they were commuted in the 1830s for tithe rent charges of £9 and £77 respectively. (fn. 32)
The right of Barnwell priory and its successors in the rectory to all great tithes was occasionally challenged by the religious houses established in the parish. The Templars at Denny were in principle exempt from tithes on their demesne. (fn. 33) In the 1290s the nuns of Waterbeach abbey claimed a similar exemption under their papal privileges. After Barnwell had forcibly seized tithes from them in 1298, an appeal was made to the pope c. 1301, and in 1304 the abbey was ordered by arbiters to pay the disputed tithes in future, receiving 100 marks compensation. (fn. 34) A similar dispute over the small tithes was concluded in 1295 by an award made for the bishop, which assigned to the vicar 22s. a year as a composition for all his tithes from the abbey's demesne. Only its lay servants living within its precincts and not native to the parish, and no outside farm workers, were excused from their normal ecclesiastical duties and payments. (fn. 35) After the Dissolution the 22s. pension was paid to the vicar until inclosure. Being after 1540 paid by the Denny demesne lessee, it was by the 18th century reckoned to arise from the lands which he occupied rather than from Waterbeach manor farm. (fn. 36) About 1630 the former Denny land was in practice tithe free, the rest of the manor paying small tithes in kind. (fn. 37)
The vicarage was not well endowed, having in the Middle Ages only the small tithes of the peasantry and little land. In 1364 the vicar was licensed to accept a messuage on the Barnwell fee for a dwelling place, (fn. 38) presumably the 1 1/2;-a. close where the vicarage house later stood, which was the only land attached to the benefice in 1635 and until inclosure. (fn. 39) The vicarial income was valued at £4 13s. 4d. in 1291, (fn. 40) at under £8 a year in the late 15th century, (fn. 41) at £5 15s. 8d. in 1535, (fn. 42) and at £30 in 1650. (fn. 43) A grant of c. £16 then made out of the episcopal lands (fn. 44) ceased in 1660. To augment the living, Bishop Wren in 1661 directed the rectory lessee to let the vicar take the great tithes of the Adventurers' Fen and a third of those of the ancient Denny demesne. Later bishops followed his example. William Whitmore, on taking possession of Denny in 1668, refused to pay those tithes to the vicar. Although he was voluntarily nonsuited in 1672, the vicars gained permanently only the Adventurers' Fen tithes, worth 5 guineas in 1760. After 1700, the Denny and rectory leases being in the same hands, the Denny farmer paid all his tithes to the rectory undertenant, while the vicars received and claimed only the 22s. In 1760 Robert Masters sued Peter Standley for the Denny tithes. Standley unsuccessfully pleaded that the royal grants of 1614 and 1628 had conveyed the demesne lands tithe free, relying implicitly on the old monastic exemption. Judgement was given for Masters in 1763. The Denny closes' tithes, of which alone he got immediate possession, were c. 1763 worth £40, raising the vicar's income, then £39, (fn. 45) to £140 by 1790, when they were being let for 50 guineas a year. (fn. 46) In 1782 Masters bought for the living a 1/2;-a. plot by the vicarage close. (fn. 47)
About 1760 the tithe of beasts fed on the fen commons had long been converted into a modus of so much an animal. (fn. 48) At inclosure in 1818 the vicar was allotted 17 a. for his glebe common rights and 271 a., of which 240 a. lay in Chittering Fen, for his tithes, great and small, except those of Adventurers' Fen. (fn. 49) His income rose to c£500 gross c. 1830 and in 1851, (fn. 50) and £700 gross (£620 net) by 1873, of which £560 came from rent. (fn. 51) Following the agricultural depression the rent fell by 1891 to barely £160. The benefice was sequestrated between 1896 and 1904 and in the 1930s again became hard to fill, the endowment income, after paying for repairs and a servant, being virtually negative. The 240a. fen farm was finally sold in 1938. (fn. 52) Of the land then retained 30 a. were taken c. 1940 for the airfield, leaving 17 a. adjoining the old vicarage close in 1986. (fn. 53)
That close, at the north-west corner of the village, was occupied by 1663 by a vicarage house with four hearths. (fn. 54) Between 1823 and 1826 Henry Fardell, vicar 1821-54, rebuilt it on a large scale. (fn. 55) The new house had 26 rooms, half of them bedrooms, and was further enlarged c. 1890 by adding offices on an adjacent plot. In the 20th century it proved expensive and 'unwieldy'. It was repeatedly offered for sale from 1927 (fn. 56) and sold in 1953. A new glebe house on the Cambridge road was in its turn replaced in 1972 with one on Chapel Street. (fn. 57) The 19thcentury house, after serving as a donkeys' home c. 1970, (fn. 58) was demolished in 1977, Vicarage Close being built upon its site. (fn. 59)
There was a resident chaplain c. 1260. (fn. 60) Vicars were recorded from the 1280s, one of whom gave c. 1325 a set of vestments to add to the three sets recorded in the 1270s. (fn. 61) Although vicars after 1350 were often canons of Barnwell, (fn. 62) no evidence survives of non-residence, but there were five vicars between 1460 and 1488. (fn. 63) A parish chaplain was mentioned in 1406. (fn. 64) 6 The last canon appointed, in 1516, was at once admonished not to molest his parishioners, three of whom had complained against him. (fn. 65) His successor was resident in the 1520s and later. (fn. 66) A guild of Jesus, recorded in the 1510s, presumably maintained the Jesus mass mentioned in 1513, and with guilds of All Saints and Our Lady survived in 1533. The last was perhaps responsible for the image of 'Our Lady in the Tabernacle' mentioned in 1522, in addition to that on the roodloft, and for the anthem of Our Lady regularly sung c. 1525. One guild had two aldermen in 1514. (fn. 67) About 1520 a croft and 4 1/2; a. were styled the holy land of St. Mary Magdalen, (fn. 68) of which the Crown sold 2 a. of meadow in 1552. (fn. 69) 1
John Marcelys, presented in 1537 by outsiders, including two Cambridge men, (fn. 70) regularly resided in the 1540s, (fn. 71) but was deprived in 1554. (fn. 72) There were three vicars between 1554 and 1564. (fn. 73) In 1561 John Mayre, though an able preacher, usually lived in Jesus College, where he was a fellow. His parishioners often neglected to come to church, even on Sundays. (fn. 74) Under Thomas Payne, who served from 1564 to his death in 1611, (fn. 75) parishioners were presented for sleeping, eating, and drunkenness in church, (fn. 76) and young people drank in alehouses in service time, while others reaped, mowed, and carted on Sunday. (fn. 77) A London girdler, who was rectory lessee until his death in 1582, provided in his will for a sermon at Waterbeach church every other Sunday, which lapsed after his devisees sold the lease in 1592. (fn. 78) Payne's last years, when he was assisted by successive curates, (fn. 79) were still troubled. Alleging that his wife beat him, the villagers according to local custom insulted him in 1604 with a skimmington ride. (fn. 80) By 1609 he was neglecting all weekday and saints' day services, failed to perform burials, and at last left his parish clerk to read the Sunday services from the minister's seat. (fn. 81)
The nine vicars between 1611 and 1634, graduates and mostly fellows of Cambridge colleges, were usually pluralists and absentees. Of three successive vicars in 1618, (fn. 82) one hired a curate. (fn. 83) John Johnson, 1625-33, lived at Pembroke College, where he was fellow. In 1630 the rectory lessee John Robson left him 1s. a week for horse hire from Cambridge to Waterbeach, where he 'continually preached God's word' each 'Sabbath day'. (fn. 84) William Sayer, presented in 1634, held the living undisturbed through Civil War and Interregnum to his death in 1678. (fn. 85) He reverted to the Anglican service in 1661, when he was thought orthodox. (fn. 86) His two immediate successors both proved non-jurors, one accordingly losing Waterbeach in 1689. (fn. 87) The Crown in 1690 presented the headmaster of Ely school, (fn. 88) who was succeeded in 1699 by a refugee Huguenot pastor, who served until 1721. (fn. 89)
The next vicar, John Cory, though not resident in 1724, had settled at Waterbeach by 1728, when he usually held two Sunday services, catechized in the summer, and claimed 20 communicants and over 300 churchgoers. (fn. 90) The three vicars between 1745 and 1759, being pluralists, probably never resided. (fn. 91) Robert Masters, who from 1759 to 1784 held Waterbeach with Landbeach, where he usually lived, (fn. 92) and wrote a history of the parish, (fn. 93) did much to improve the value of the benefice. Between 1767 and 1769 he employed as curate his fellow antiquary, William Cole, in whom the dampness of the old vicarage house and Masters's condescension aroused a lasting antipathy. (fn. 94) By 1776 Masters mostly served Waterbeach in person, preaching twice every Sunday, (fn. 95) but in 1784 he resigned in favour of his son William (d. v.p. 1794), his curate in 1783. (fn. 96) The next vicar, holding only Waterbeach, was resident in 1807. He preached at one of the two Sunday services, catechized in Lent, and had 20-30 people attending the 3 or 4 sacraments held yearly as was the practice from the 1720s to the 1830s. (fn. 97) The pluralist vicar in 1818 employed a curate. (fn. 98) Henry Fardell, presented in 1821, having married his patron Bishop Sparke's daughter, began in 1825, although holding an Ely prebend, to serve Waterbeach himself. After receiving Wisbech vicarage in 1831 he mostly left Waterbeach to curates, who were paid three quarters of its gross income. The number of communicants allegedly rose from 24 in 1825 to over 50 by 1836. (fn. 99) In 1851 the curate claimed an afternoon attendance of 157 adults, 60 more than in the morning. (fn. 100) William Keatinge Clay, vicar 1854- 67, an authority on the Prayer Book, published histories of Waterbeach and three neighbouring parishes between 1859 and 1864. (fn. 101) Like his successors he regularly resided. (fn. 102)
By the mid 19th century dissenters dominated the parish, despite the efforts of successive vicars, one of whom in 1873 preached three sermons every Sunday and held other services on holy days and in Lent and Advent. Hardly more than a third of the inhabitants were churchgoers, and barely 30 attended the fortnightly communions in 1873. (fn. 103) H. C. D. Chandler, vicar 1873- 86, whose mother-in-law, Mrs. Horne, was a considerable benefactor to the parish, held matins and evensong both with sermons and started weekly communions. By 1885 he had raised the number of churchgoers so that they filled all the 450 sittings in the church, increased from 350, half free, in 1851, and were only 100 fewer than the dissenters. Of 104 communicants, however, only 40 attended regularly. (fn. 104) To serve the families living in the fen, previously left entirely to the dissenters, (fn. 105) Chandler built, at Mrs. Horne's expense, a mission church c. 4 km. north-east of the village. Opened in 1883 and dedicated to St. Andrew, it seated 60 people and was probably served by a curate. (fn. 106) It was brick-built, in Gothic style, and had a chancel, nave, and small porch. (fn. 107) Chandler also battled against intemperance: c. 1880 he rebuilt the Duke of Wellington public house as a coffee tavern with coffee, billiard, and reading rooms. A Conservative club was started there in 1886. (fn. 108) It was still a coffee house in 1896, (fn. 109) and the building, Wellington House, survived in 1987 on the west side of the green.
Chandler retired worn-out in 1886. (fn. 110) His successors were less effective. The next vicar quitted the parish by 1896, leaving it to a curate-incharge, who restored weekly communions in 1897 for c. 48 communicants. The number of regular churchgoers had fallen to 200-250. A mission in 1896 produced 'no known good', and premarital pregnancy was equally common among both church people and dissenters. At the Fen church, where one Sunday service and quarterly communions had been held, (fn. 111) a new curate barely retained his congregation. (fn. 112) About 1901 the curate-in-charge converted a cottage adjoining the vicarage as a church room, which remained in use until 1974, but was soon after demolished. (fn. 113) After Thomas Warrington, 1904- 28, 'a good business man, but a Temperance fanatic', (fn. 114) financial difficulties made it hard for ten years to keep vicars. (fn. 115) The Fen church was closed in 1954 and demolished in 1964. (fn. 116) Owing to its growing population Waterbeach retained its own incumbent until 1974 and had a resident one in the 1980s. (fn. 117) A new church room was put up south of the parish church in 1976. (fn. 118)
The church of ST. JOHN THE EVANGELIST, so named by 1299, (fn. 119) is built of field stones dressed with ashlar, and consists, after extensive 19th-century alterations, of a chancel with transeptal organ chamber, aisled and clerestoried nave with a shallow north porch, and west tower. (fn. 120) The medieval chancel with triple lancets to the east and paired lancets north and south was probably 13th-century. The later chancel arch, which alone survived the restoration, is chamfered on octagonal responds. The earliest surviving part of the church is probably the two eastern bays of the nave, which have poorly set out and plainly chamfered arches on piers of clunch, mostly octagonal, without bases, one with a carved late 12th-century capital. The arches to the south are perhaps slightly older than those to the north. They were all possibly cut through the thick walls of an earlier church. Beyond a short space of plain walling the third, western bay has double-chamfered arches on more carefully carved responds, presumably late 13th-century. The lower part of the west tower with its western lancet was of the same period. The contemporary north aisle had a doorway with dogtooth mouldings and a lancet to the west. (fn. 121) It received new windows east of the doorway in the 15th century, when a chapel with two similar three-light windows was built north of the chancel. (fn. 122) They probably resembled the four surviving windows with Perpendicular tracery in the late 15th-century south aisle of four bays, which overlap the tower. That aisle retains a late medieval lean-to roof and was probably glazed c. 1500: until the 1860s its windows included the arms of Burgoyne and Cutts. (fn. 123) The clerestory was probably also put up in the late 15th century. To the north it has battlements renewed in 1615. (fn. 124) The church roof was being erected in 1509, and the rood loft probably between 1513 and 1522. (fn. 125) A plain octagonal font, probably 13th-century, in place until 1880, was probably then taken to the Fen church, where portions of the old square wooden pulpit, whose carved panels were described c. 1870 as Decorated, were re-used in a reading desk. Both were brought back to the village after 1964. (fn. 126)
At the Reformation the medieval altar slab of Purbeck marble was broken and buried under the chancel. It was rediscovered in 1875 and restored to use by 1883. (fn. 127) From the late 1540s to the 1570s the chancel was repeatedly presented as about to collapse. Neither the rectory lessee nor the bishop, who had formally relieved him of responsibility for it by 1577, provided any funds to maintain it. (fn. 128) In 1665 the whole church was out of repair. In 1685 the chancel still had seating around its east end. (fn. 129) The communion rails presumably removed in the 1640s had not been replaced by 1745. (fn. 130) Perhaps in the late 17th century the wide chancel arch was blocked with a supporting wall pierced with three roundheaded arches. (fn. 131) A flat ceiling of c. 1790 (fn. 132) concealed the tops of the eastern lancets until the 1840s, but the wall was apparently removed in 1814, certainly by 1835. (fn. 133) The upper part of the tower, damaged when the spire was blown down in 1719, was rebuilt c. 1720. In the 18th century the nave received new seating, including several high pews, and a gallery filled its west bay, blocking the tower arch. (fn. 134) The old north chapel, out of repair in 1783, (fn. 135) was taken down c. 1790, when an altar tomb in the chancel, traditionally ascribed to John Yaxley, was removed. (fn. 136)
Restoration began with the complete rebuilding of the dilapidated chancel to a greater height in 1848 by the rectory lessee, Edward Mason, later commemorated by a floor slab in its centre. The triple lancets to the east, adorned with much Purbeck marble shafting, are of that date, but the similar side windows are of 1878. (fn. 137) A fresh campaign of 1870-1, with W. M. Fawcett as architect, largely renewed the nave and south aisle walling, removing a brick south porch. (fn. 138) The north aisle was rebuilt in 1878 by John Ladds of London. It was buttressed and embattled and given new windows copying the clerestory, its former central brick porch being replaced with a western porch within the line of the aisle. South of the chancel a new transeptal chapel was added in Perpendicular style, to house the organ that had in 1870 replaced a barrel organ, (fn. 139) and was in turn replaced in 1897. (fn. 140) The elaborate decoration of the chancel included alabaster panelling in the sanctuary, incorporating sedilia and piscina, and inlaid behind the altar with figures of saints in mosaic. Similar mosaic panels by Powell of Whitefriars adorned the square alabaster pulpit, inaugurated in 1883 with a new font on marble shafts. (fn. 141) Repairs to the tower were undertaken in 1965, (fn. 142) and further substantial work began with the aisles in 1979. (fn. 143)
The church had one silver gilt chalice in 1552. (fn. 144) About 1620 Margery, wife of Thomas Banks, gave a silver gilt cup, made in 1557 and described in 1745 as 'finely carved and embossed', (fn. 145) which resembled in shape a tazza of Venetian glass. It was sold in 1929 for £1,800, which formed a Cup Fund for church purposes, initially used to subsidize the vicars. (fn. 146) The parish retained a paten of 1683, and a cup, paten, and flagon of 1882, given by Mrs. Horne. (fn. 147) There were three great bells in 1552, (fn. 148) four in 1745, (fn. 149) recast as five in 1791. (fn. 150) A clock installed in the tower in 1746 was replaced in 1865. (fn. 151)
The churchyard of 11/2; roods was small for so populous a parish: in the 1780s corpses were often uncovered too early. (fn. 152) It was closed in 1855, and 1/2; a. to the east was consecrated to replace it in 1854. (fn. 153) That in turn was closed c. 1968. (fn. 154) In 1879 the vicar sold 1 a. of glebe northwest of the village to a burial board, which at once brought it into use, although it was unconsecrated in 1885. (fn. 155) Enlarged by 1 a. by 1920, (fn. 156) it was still in use in the 1980s, (fn. 157) when there was a small chapel there. The parish registers, which begin only in 1653 and until 1655 were kept by the parliamentary registrar, (fn. 158) are complete thereafter. (fn. 159)
Under a Chancery order of 1729 the church was entitled to the surplus income of the parish charities to pay for repairs. The money was not paid in the 19th century until under a Scheme of 1865 £20 a year was assigned for that purpose. Usually received thereafter, it was made a separate ecclesiastical charity in 1904-5. (fn. 160)