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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Athelstan Mannesson (d. 986) included Elsworth among the estates that he gave, subject to the life interest of his widow, possibly named Leofgifu, to the newly founded Ramsey abbey. The widow, persuaded by her kinsmen, required the monks in 987 to leave Elsworth entirely to her, releasing in return her claims to the other lands. (fn. 1) Nevertheless Aelfwaru (d. 1007), probably Athelstan's daughter, gave the abbey the eastern part of Elsworth with the church. (fn. 2) About 1020 King Cnut confiscated the western half and gave it to Thorkell, a Danish commander. After his second wife had murdered his young son, probably at Elsworth, Thorkell was obliged, having sworn to her innocence, to surrender that half to Aethelric, bishop of Dorchester 1016-34, who assigned it to Ramsey abbey. (fn. 3) The abbey possessed 9¼ of the 10 hides in the vill in 1066 and 1086. (fn. 4)
Ramsey abbey retained ELSWORTH as a demesne manor until the Dissolution. (fn. 5) From the early 12th century Elsworth was required to render to the convent a two-week food farm, perhaps four times a year. (fn. 6) That farm, mostly commuted for £17 in cash from the early 13th century, (fn. 7) was, after the manor was then taken in hand, paid to the abbey cellarer by the reeve until after 1350. (fn. 8)
In the 13th century some land had been subinfeudated by the abbey, partly for knight service. By exchange with Gilbert of Eu, son of Guy, Abbot Reynold had by 1129 recovered 3 yardlands probably so granted. (fn. 9) Abbot Walter (1133-60) gave 5 yardlands to his kinsmen and clients. (fn. 10) In the 13th century the abbey bought much freehold land. About 1230 it acquired 2 yardlands from William of Elsworth, whose family removed to Conington, (fn. 11) and in 1249 another 20 a. from John of Elsworth. (fn. 12) In the 1270s it purchased c. 1 yardland held by or under the Coningtons. (fn. 13)
The manor was surrendered to the Crown in 1539. (fn. 14) In 1550 it was sold to the king's physician, Dr. Thomas Wendy (fn. 15) (d. 1560), and descended with his Haslingfield manor (fn. 16) successively to his widow Margaret (fn. 17) (d. 1570), his brother John (d. probably 1589), John's son Thomas (fn. 18) (d. 1612), and that Thomas's son Sir William Wendy (fn. 19) (d. s.p. 1623). Sir William's nephew and heir Thomas Wendy, of age in 1635, (fn. 20) sold Elsworth in 1655 to trustees for Samuel Desborough, (fn. 21) brother of one of Cromwell's generals and a prominent official in Scotland in the 1650s. (fn. 22)
Samuel and his son James both probably died in 1690, and Samuel's widow Rose, who retained Elsworth manor house and a substantial jointure there, in 1699 aged 83. The heir was James's daughter Elizabeth, (fn. 23) married in 1697 to Matthew Holworthy (d. 1728) of a London merchant family. (fn. 24) She died in 1749. They had settled the manor upon Samuel Smith, illegitimate son of their daughter Susannah (d. 1721) by her elder sister's husband, on condition that the youth took the name and arms of Holworthy. (fn. 25) Samuel did so in 1750, (fn. 26) and successfully rebutted in 1751 a claim by the Desboroughs' heir at law. (fn. 27) When he died in 1765, (fn. 28) Elsworth descended to his son Matthew, of age in 1776, (fn. 29) who took orders c. 1790 and died in 1826. (fn. 30)
In 1824 Matthew Holworthy agreed to sell his heavily mortgaged Elsworth estate, 1,035 a. since inclosure in 1803, to Thomas Pochin, lord by 1826, who in 1827 sold it to Philip Thomas Gardner of Conington Hall (d. 1838). Gardner's son and namesake (fn. 31) sold Elsworth in 1863 to Col. Octavius Duncombe of Waresley Park (Hunts.). (fn. 32) In 1865 Duncombe acquired the 142 a. in the north-west allotted in 1803 to the Mordens of Papworth Everard. (fn. 33) He died in 1879. His son, Capt. Walter Henry Octavius Duncombe (d. s.p. 1917), (fn. 34) c. 1900 sold the southern part of Elsworth, c. 550 a. including Common farm (395 a.) and Elsworth wood, to E. T. Hooley, whose Papworth Hall estate comprised until its sale in 1911 the whole southwestern quadrant of the parish, almost 1,150 a. (fn. 35) The northern part of Duncombe's estate, c. 705 a. including Lordship farm and the manor house, was offered for sale in 1911. (fn. 36) By 1916 the manorial rights belonged to a firm of Cambridge solicitors, (fn. 37) while the land was bought c. 1918 by Pamplin Brothers, brewers of Cherry Hinton, who gradually sold it. In 1935 their mortgagees sold Lordship and Pitt Dean farms, 393 a., to F. W. Davison, the tenant since the 1920s. (fn. 38) By the 1940s he also owned Common farm and four others, comprising most of the western part of the parish, (fn. 39) his grandson, Mr. M. J. Davison, having c. 1,750 a. in the 1980s. (fn. 40)
Ramsey abbey's manor house probably stood among 12 a. of closes (fn. 41) north of Brook Street, inside a rectangular moated site, c. 40 m. long. (fn. 42) In the 14th century, the buildings included a hall, parlour, and kitchen, (fn. 43) and a chapel, glazed by 1395, (fn. 44) licensed by the bishop in 1254. (fn. 45) Samuel Desborough built a new house a little to the south-east. Its south front has a hipped roof, a five-bay centre, and two-bay wings slightly projecting at the front and stretching back to gabled ends to form a shallow courtyard behind the house. (fn. 46) In 1699 the ornately furnished principal rooms included the hall, the dining room and parlour chamber, both tapestried, and three other chambers, one with gilt leather hangings. (fn. 47) Several ground-floor rooms, including the old entrance hall on the south, retain 18th-century panelling, plasterwork, and fireplaces. Matthew Holworthy (d. 1826) moved the entrance to the west side and heightened the main first-floor room on the south for a drawing room. (fn. 48) From the 1820s the house was mostly used as a farmhouse, (fn. 49) and after 1900 was divided into several tenements until c. 1980, when it was sold by the Davisons for conversion into flats. (fn. 50)
Freeholds of 4 and 2 yardlands granted by Ramsey abbey before 1200 for doing suit on its behalf to counties and hundreds (fn. 51) were held in the 13th and early 14th century by the Beeston and Grave families. (fn. 52) The former was owned as 1 carucate in the 1380s by Sir William Castleacre, lord of Lolworth, (fn. 53) the latter c. 1380 by Sir John Knyvett (d. 1381) (fn. 54) and in the 15th century by the Danseys of Conington, (fn. 55) once resident at Elsworth. (fn. 56) Both estates had undertenants in 1279, (fn. 57) and were styled manors when acquired shortly before 1500 by Thomas Hutton, clerk (d. 1506), (fn. 58) whose nephew Thomas Hutton sold Danseys (65 a.) in 1547. (fn. 59)
The rectory estate, which had 10 customary tenants in 1279, (fn. 60) was styled a manor until the 19th century. (fn. 61) Holdings of ½ hide and ¼ hide occupied in 1086 by sokemen under Gilbert of Ghent and Hardwin de Scalers (fn. 62) depended in 1279 upon the manors of Fen Stanton (Hunts.) and Boxworth respectively. (fn. 63)