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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In 1066 one man possessed 1 ¼ hides, while the rest of the 6 hides were probably occupied by 11 sokemen. By 1086 at least 2 of the 5½ ploughlands belonged to the new lords' demesnes, probably with 1 team each, while 3 ½ teams mostly belonged to the 8 sokemen and 1 villanus who shared the other land with 5 bordars and 8 cottars. The yield of the vill had fallen by 5s. from the £3 6s. of 1066. (fn. 1)
By 1279 the Segrave manor included actually 8½ or 9, though nominally 11 yardlands, the Coningtons' fee 6 ½ nominally 8, and the Elsworths had 5. The two last manors had demesnes, including land held of other fees, of c. 165 a. and c. 135 a. Excluding the glebe and Tilty abbey, nine substantial freeholders with whole or half yardlands occupied altogether 8½ yardlands, c. 230 a. The remaining arable was divided among numerous smallholders, partly as undertenants of the yardlanders: eight of them with 5-10 a. each shared c. 50 a., but 45 others had only 24 a. in the fields. No land was held in villeinage. Nicholas de Segrave's eight head tenants, probably successors of the eight sokemen of 1086, paid rents and had to send two beasts to two ploughings a year and two men to one great harvest boon, presumably on his demesne at Fen Stanton. They themselves attended the boon to oversee the work. On the other manors all the tenant land was freehold. The crofters, paying 3s. to 5s. each for holdings of 1/2;-1 a., were proportionately more heavily burdened than the yardlanders, whose rents averaged 2s. 6d. or less a yardland. (fn. 2)
In 1316 the Elsworths owned 12-16 a. of meadow and 300 a. of arable, partly in Fen Drayton. (fn. 3) Dansetts demesne supposedly comprised 106 a. of arable in 1499, (fn. 4) but c. 150 a. by 1550, with 40 a. of grass. (fn. 5) Some large independent freeholds then survived: in 1494 John Smith left 40 a. to one of three sons. (fn. 6) Four Smiths were taxed together in 1524 on £51 of the £108 assessed at Conington, when five other villagers worth £5-12 had £28 and eleven with £2-4 only £26 while six men paid only on their wages. (fn. 7) Freeholds recorded before 1600 ranged from 40 a. (fn. 8) to the 100 a. of arable held by the Lawrences in 1573 (fn. 9) and the 140 a. sold in 1584. (fn. 10) The lords of the manors gradually purchased such land from the 1560s. (fn. 11) By the 1660s, excluding the manor house and rectory, 6 or 7 householders were prosperous enough to have three or more hearths, while 16-20 dwellings, of which 5 were not recorded after 1670, had only one each. (fn. 12)
There were possibly only two open fields in 1199 when a holding was equally divided between a West field and one on or abutting the Down. (fn. 13) 'Sondefield' mentioned in 1465 (fn. 14) was perhaps the Sand field of c. 1800, (fn. 15) a name which survived in 1864 north-east of the park. (fn. 16) Tosty field was mentioned in 1590. (fn. 17) At inclosure Marsh field lay east of the brook, (fn. 18) and much land south of the village was later called Mill field. (fn. 19) The downland referred to in 1199, probably the higher ground in the north-east, was probably Conington's main common pasture, furnishing the 100-120 a. of heath ascribed to the manor in the 17th century (fn. 20) and the 246 a. of sheep common recorded at inclosure, (fn. 21) when 131/2; a. nearby were called Down closes. (fn. 22) In the 1790s there were, besides 104 a. of ancient closes, supposedly 1,115 a. of arable and Lammas ground, later distinguished as c. 980 a. of arable, 41 a. of meadow, and 93 a. of 'lot grass'. (fn. 23) Some meadow lay in the southern angle of the parish between the brook and the Knapwell road. (fn. 24) The arable was later said to have been cultivated in the 1790s on a rotation under which a fallow was followed by wheat on c. 165 a., amounting to half the cropped fields, or barley, and those crops by oats or beans. In 1801 the crops included 200 a. each of barley and oats. (fn. 25) The manor included c. 1650 a fold for 300 sheep. (fn. 26) One farmer kept 120 sheep, half of them ewes, in 1794, while another had 140 Lincoln and Leicester sheep in 1813. (fn. 27) Until inclosure landholders might keep 14-16 sheep and probably 2 cows for each 20 a. of field land occupied, while the owners of 8 houses and 12 cottages enjoyed common rights for 7 additional sheep each. (fn. 28)
By 1800 most of the parish belonged to the manorial estate: at inclosure only 180 a. of arable and grass were claimed by other owners, including the rector, but 927 a. by the Hatton trustee. (fn. 29) An inclosure Act was obtained in 1800, (fn. 30) the land was divided later that year, (fn. 31) and the award was executed in 1804. (fn. 32) The land involved included 1,214 a. of open fields and commons and 237 a. of old inclosures. (fn. 33) The rector was allotted 254 a., mostly south of the village, (fn. 34) while c. 93 a. beside the turnpike were assigned to landowners of Fen Drayton and Fen Stanton, including 57 a. of the down for Fen Stanton's town land, owned by it since 1600, called by 1900 Friesland farm. (fn. 35) The remaining 841 a. went to the Hatton estate, (fn. 36) which, following exchanges, owned all but 27 a. of c. 220 a. of old inclosures around the village. (fn. 37) By 1815 that estate had been divided into three large farms of 264 a., 309 a., and 338 a. (fn. 38) By 1805 the rent of the arable, by then under a six-year rotation including clover and two years of wheat, had risen almost threefold. (fn. 39)
By the mid 19th century (fn. 40) Conington was still mostly divided into three large farms. Its southwestern quadrant was occupied by Rectory farm, c. 260 a., let from c. 1875 to farmers from Elsworth. (fn. 41) The Gardner family's Hall farm, almost 400 a., straddling the middle of the parish and all but 32 a. of it arable in 1864, was occupied from 1840 to c. 1875 by Philip Kirby, who in 1871 shared the Hall with a grazier then hiring the park. (fn. 42) Between c. 1885 and 1900 Hall farm was in the landowner's hands and run by a bailiff. To the east lay 618 a., sold by the Gardners to two purchasers, after whom Marshall's farm, 405 a., and Sprowle's farm, (fn. 43) 210 a., were named. Those farms were managed together by a bailiff for their non-resident lessee between 1865 and 1890. Marshall's farm was later occupied by John Scambler, also by 1909 tenant of Rectory farm, who had purchased both by the 1930s.
About 1830 none of the 28 adult and, 22 younger labourers was unemployed. (fn. 44) In 1851 and 1861 there were c. 24 adult labourers, by 1871 fewer than 20; the farmers could employ 30 men and 15-18 boys. A steam engine driver recorded in 1861 (fn. 45) perhaps worked the steam threshing machine in use on Hall farm by 1870. (fn. 46) The land remained largely devoted to corn growing, wheat usually predominating, but flocks totalling almost 900 grown sheep were kept until the 1870s. Later their number fell to 200-350 until c. 1920 and barely 100 in 1905, even though the amount of permanent grassland had increased from c. 250 a. c. 1880 to 427 a. in 1905 and 530 a. in 1915. (fn. 47) When Scambler's enlarged Rectory farm, 470 a., was sold in 1938, its 440 a. on the poorly drained heavy clays south of the village was all grazing land, including 185 a. converted from arable since 1919. (fn. 48) Dairying increased from the 1930s. By 1955, when two farmers occupying 716 a. and one with 599 a. employed between them 25 labourers, over 200 cows were kept. In 1980 only 600 a. out of c. 1,075 a. then reported were cropped, and two dairy farmers and one livestock owner had 400 cows and 385 grown sheep. (fn. 49)
Dansetts manor had a windmill c. 1560. (fn. 50) In the early 19th century Conington still had, besides the 30-45. families working on the farms, up to 8 maintained by various crafts. (fn. 51) From the 1840s they included a butcher and a baker, 3 or 4 carpenters until the 1870s, one of whom kept a grocer's shop in the 1850s, and until after 1880 one shoemaker. The village smithy closed c. 1895. (fn. 52) In the late 20th century the village had no shop, and most of the inhabitants worked elsewhere. (fn. 53)