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 1086, when of 7½ ploughlands recorded 5 belonged to Great Childerley, that manor also had one of the 2 demesne and 4 of the 5 peasant ploughteams, and 5 of the 6 villani, 6 of the 11 bordars, and 3 of the 4 cottars recorded in the two vills. Little Childerley had 3 of the 4 servi. The yield of the two manors had halved from £13 between 1066 and 1086, Great Childerley in both years producing over two thirds of their combined value. (fn. 1)
In 1279 the Great Childerley demesne supposedly included only 3½ yardlands out of 4 hides included in the manors, that of Little Childerley 1 of its 2½ hides. Of the former's eight free tenants one had 2 yardlands, nominally of 36 a. each, four, including the rector, one each, and three had half yardlands. Their rents ranged from 4d. to 2s. a half yardland. On Little Childerley manor four free tenants had 40 a. between them, two others 5 a., mostly at virtually nominal rents. Slightly less land was held in villeinage than freely: on Great Childerley there were only four villein half yardlands, 5 holdings of 10 a., and 4 of 5 a. each, owing a few unspecified works. Henry of Childerley had formerly had 12 villein holdings of 10 a. each, whose tenants worked only if fed by the lord, but paid rents of 1s. 6d. and 2s. yearly. He had lately transferred four of them to Philip de Colville, lord of Lolworth. Another 6 villani had smallholdings of 1½ a. each. In all Great Childerley probably comprised at least 120 a. of demesne, 250 a. of freehold, and c. 130 a. of customary land, while Little Childerley included 45 a. of freehold compared to its 132 a. of villein land. (fn. 2)
The area of demesne was probably somewhat underestimated in 1279. The Seyton half of Great Childerley supposedly included 2 yardlands besides 99 a. of arable in 1299, (fn. 3) the Lyons half 60 a. in 1310. (fn. 4) Only 44 a. of arable, mostly near the village, were formally partitioned among the Ragenhill coheirs in 1411, (fn. 5) but a quarter of their half manor comprised 60 a. in 1421, (fn. 6) and a third of it 40 a. in 1437. (fn. 7) The reunited Lyons moiety comprised c. 120 a. after 1450, besides 60 a. of pasture. (fn. 8) Little Childerley demesne was a carucate c. 1383, (fn. 9) and the alienated fractions of that manor contained 118 a. of arable and 8 a. of meadow c. 1420. (fn. 10) Thus there was probably over 480 a. of demesne arable in the two manors in all. John Hore had one neif in 1395, apparently resident elsewhere, (fn. 11) and one neif family remained on the Lyons manor in 1411, but its other tenants were then all paying rents, mostly of 4s. or less. (fn. 12)
Childerley was until then predominantly arable. About 1250 fields towards Boxworth and Dry Drayton were recorded, (fn. 13) while c. 1300 Little Childerley had its own Long Mead. (fn. 14) By 1510, however, grassland may have covered half or more of the manors. (fn. 15) Sir John Cutts probably completed their conversion to pasturage. In 1517 he had lately inclosed 250 a. for that purpose, (fn. 16) and his lessee in 1524 employed only two men, perhaps shepherds. (fn. 17) In 1600 there was apparently no arable at all. (fn. 18) Sheep were feeding in the park c. 1630. (fn. 19)
By the 1680s a little land had been brought back under the plough. (fn. 20) From the 1740s to the 1840s there were usually two farmers, both working from the Hall. (fn. 21) One farm of 692 a. in 1717 contained 442 a. of pasture and only 220 a. of arable. (fn. 22) In the 1730s, out of c. 1,058 a. belonging to the Calverts' estate there were only between 165 and 205 a. of arable, mostly in the far north-west, whereas at least 640 a., and probably 785 a., including the park, had recently been pasture. (fn. 23) In 1717 a new rector claimed that the farmers, besides keeping herds of milking cattle, and taking in 'dry' cattle by agistment, had flocks of several hundred sheep. (fn. 24) In the late 18th century, however, perhaps because the herbage on land long trodden down by numerous cattle had deteriorated, much of the pasture was ploughed up. The change was probably effected by Wright Squire, owner of Knapwell, who had the lease of the Childerley estate between 1765 and his death in 1790: in 1778 he had fallowed some land and sown coleseed elsewhere. (fn. 25) In 1794 there were some 700 a. of arable and only 300 a. of grass, the high ridges of the old open fields were steadily being ploughed down, and c. 600 a. of the arable were to be hollow-drained. The tenant then observed a three-course rotation of barley with clover, then wheat, then a fallow, but sometimes sowed coleseed to feed his 600 Berkshire sheep. He also kept Leicestershire and Derbyshire cows. (fn. 26) About 1800 the principal tenant was trying out on the arable two thirds of his 600-a. farm various 4- and 5-year rotations, also including oats, rye, and winter barley. (fn. 27) The whole estate, probably in the owner's hands in 1818, (fn. 28) then comprised 788 a. of arable and only 250 a. of pasture, mostly in the block of former parkland around the hall. (fn. 29) By 1849 another 90 a. had been converted to arable. (fn. 30) In 1842, of c. 440 a. sown with corn, 170 a. was under wheat, the rest being almost equally divided between barley and oats, and another 400 a. of arable was, save for 41 a. of turnips, under tares and grass seeds. (fn. 31)
About 1830 there were 21 adult labourers, some perhaps living in Boxworth, besides 17 boys, none unemployed, and given allotments on request. (fn. 32) After 1851 the number of resident labourers gradually fell from 16 to 11 in 1861, and 7 in 1871. In the 1840s 8 or 9 of the younger men had been lodged in the Hall's outbuildings, the rest inhabiting cottages nearby. There was ample work: in 1851 Gen. Calvert's farm bailiff employed 59 men on 1,056 a., while Sewell Dawson, tenant from 1856 to the 1870s, was served in 1861 by 23 men and 15 boys. (fn. 33)
From the 1870s arable farming fell into difficulties: the area under corn crops, usually half wheat, fell to 350 a. by 1885 and only 100 a. in 1895, while that of permanent grass increased from c. 150 a. before 1871 to 377 a. by 1885 and 620 a. in 1895. The pasture had supported 70- 80 cows, half for milk, and a flock of grown sheep which was reduced from 600 before 1870 to 350-400 by the 1890s. (fn. 34) Shortly after 1880 the estate was thrown upon its owner's hands, to be run at a loss by an agent, and it had three tenants between 1885 and 1896, while its rent fell from £850 in 1880 to £550 in 1890 and £250 by 1900. (fn. 35)
Thereafter prosperity briefly returned: (fn. 36) the Brookes, who had found the farm a wilderness on their arrival, occupied it for 65 years. (fn. 37) The area under corn rose again by the 1920s to over 350 a., that of grassland falling to 190 a. The Brookes at first brought in much new machinery, but discouraged by losses during the farming depression of the 1920s allowed much land to become derelict in the 1930s, and were still relying on horse power when they sold the farm in 1955. About 1920 some 25 a. of parkland south of the hall were planted as orchards, (fn. 38) mainly with apples and plums. The farm still employed 33 labourers in 1925 and 15 in 1955. In the 1980s it was devoted mainly to growing corn.
Childerley had a mill by 1260. (fn. 39) In 1279 each manor had its own windmill, not recorded after 1300. (fn. 40) The village had carpenters in 1279 and 1320, and a smith in 1327. (fn. 41) The manor farm regularly employed a blacksmith, also its gamekeeper, in the 1770s and 1780s, (fn. 42) and again from the 1860s to the 1880s. In 1841 there was also a wheelwright, and in the 1840s a butcher traded from a cottage on the turnpike road. (fn. 43)