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 the 13th century Ramsey abbey claimed view of frankpledge, the assize of bread and of ale, the use of gallows and tumbrel, and, under a charter of Edward the Confessor, infangthief. The view and the assize, regularly exercised, were allowed in 1299 under a confirmatory charter of 1200, which also ex empted the abbey from suit to counties and hundreds but required that the king's hundred bailiff might attend at the view: (fn. 1) the bailiff and his deputy were regularly rewarded until the late 15th century. (fn. 2) In 1291 Edward I formally granted the abbey the amercements of its men, which it already received by custom. (fn. 3) By 1350 it also took fugitives' goods. (fn. 4) In 1437 one man was amerced for suing other tenants outside the lord's court, another for having a brewer presented at the sheriff's tourn. (fn. 5) In 1493 a villager was heavily fined for suing others in the hundred and the archdeacon's courts, contrary to orders made at the leet. (fn. 6)
The abbey's court, for which rolls survive for just over 100 separate years between 1278 and 1532, (fn. 7) usually met twice a year in the 14th century, the leet being held at the beginning of winter, a court baron, which yielded less profit, during harvest. (fn. 8) The latter was not held in 1381, because of the revolt, (fn. 9) and was frequently omitted in the 15th century. (fn. 10) Besides enforcing agricultural bylaws, (fn. 11) recorded as being made with the assent of the whole community occasionally from the mid 14th century, (fn. 12) and regularly by the mid 15th, (fn. 13) it dealt with pleas of debt and trespass and cases of assault, bloodshed, and slander, frequently in the 14th century, rather less often by the 1450s. (fn. 14) As late as 1527 the court had a plea of trespass put to the arbitration of prominent villagers. (fn. 15) Tithings, from which troublemakers were sometimes expelled, (fn. 16) were still having boys of 12 sworn into them c. 1530. (fn. 17) Aletasters were regularly appointed from the late 13th century. Since the court regularly tried to make alewives sell at very low prices, (fn. 18) the tasters were frequently amerced from c. 1310 for not doing their duty. (fn. 19) Regraters of ale were also fined from c. 1400. (fn. 20) In 1493 the court accused the alehouse keepers of harbouring a gang of dicers, and ordered that a harlot, a scandalmonger (fabulatrix), and a supposed leper quit the parish. (fn. 21) Constables, usually in pairs, were occasionally elected from the mid 14th century. (fn. 22) In the 15th the court often named two or more men, from whom the steward chose a reeve, or later a bedell or rent collector. (fn. 23) By the mid 15th century the leet, usually held annually about Michaelmas, was more concerned with the tenants' interests than with the lord's. Their mostly routine business included breaches of farming bylaws, keeping ditches and watercourses scoured, and the upkeep of highways. In 1532 all those owning carts were ordered to bring two labourers and two loads of stone to mend the roads. (fn. 24) In the mid 17th century courts, held twice yearly in spring and autumn, still supervised agricultural practices, chose constables and aletasters, and occasionally, as in 1630 and 1656, made or renewed ordinances. Court rolls surviving for 1630-56 (fn. 25) are succeeded by court books for 1767-1937, almost entirely concerned with conveyances of copyhold. (fn. 26)
In the early 19th century, (fn. 27) when the parish was controlled by a vestry of 10-12, the overseers acted as its general finance officers, paying constables' and churchwardens' bills, the quarterage or county rate, and extraordinary expenses, and handling £400-450 a year in the 1800s, £600 on average in the 1820s. The amount spent on the poor supposedly doubled between 1776 and c. 1785 to £160, and, having reached c. £400 by 1803, seldom fell below that level, except briefly in the late 1810s, and in the early 1820s sometimes rose to £725. Those supported on the 'weekly pay' numbered c. 30 in the 1800s and c. 50 in the late 1820s. They usually included 10 or 12 widows, but a third to a half before 1815 and probably over half in the 1820s were men, perhaps fathers of large families; such men were assisted from the rates c. 1830, when some unemployed men worked on the parish roads. (fn. 28) In 1810 the parish spent £60 on equipping a house, perhaps the town house recorded c. 1803, as a workhouse. (fn. 29) When opened it had 26 inmates, but by 1812 under 20. After a parish meeting later that year its regular use was abandoned, though it was probably the poorhouse holding some paupers in the 1820s. By 1805 the parish was regularly buying large amounts of coal for distribution to the poor at reduced prices. In the mid 19th century the landowners and farmers still subscribed every winter to supply the poor with 20 or more tons of coal. (fn. 30) From 1835 Elsworth was included in Caxton and Arrington poor-law union, (fn. 31) from 1894 in the rural district of that name, (fn. 32) from 1934 in Chesterton rural district, and from 1974 in South Cambridgeshire district. (fn. 33)
Vestries meeting annually in the mid 19th century, often at the rectory, to choose parish officers, (fn. 34) were frequently marked by clashes between Church and Chapel parties. (fn. 35) The parish council set up in 1894 (fn. 36) was providing street lighting by oil lamps by 1898. (fn. 37) One man, the village wheelwright, served it as clerk from 1919 to 1973. (fn. 38)