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.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
(fn. 1)Until the 20th century the arable land was confined to the low ridge between Rampton Drift and the church. The cultivated area had reached the Westwick boundary by 1315, (fn. 2) though in 1273 not yet the Histon boundary, which ran through common pasture (fn. 3) later ploughed up on the Cottenham side. By the early 13th century there were three open fields: Aldeburgh east and south of the village, Lowe south-west, and Foxholes between them. (fn. 4) In the mid 16th century they were reorganized into six: Church field occupied the northern part and Dunstall field the southern part of Aldeburgh, while the other two medieval fields were divided less regularly into four: Ferne, Foxholes, Lowe Mill, and Banhill or Lisles Lane. In the late 17th or early 18th century those four were rearranged as three, Further field on the Westwick boundary, and Farm and Two Mill fields nearer the village. (fn. 5) The five open fields covered over 1,500 a. in 1842. (fn. 6)
Below the slopes of the ridge and throughout the northern two thirds of the parish there were extensive commons in the Middle Ages and later. In 1086 there was ample meadow and pasture. (fn. 7) Frith fen was being mown in the 1260s and the villeins of Crowlands and Lisles had shares of it in 1339. (fn. 8) In the early 14th century Fowle fen, further east, was apportioned yearly between the lords of Crowlands, Lisles, and Harlestones manors and the freeholders, and there was other mowable meadow in Aldeburgh and Holme along the Histon and Rampton boundaries and in the Punt at the north-west extremity of the parish. (fn. 9) Tappingmore (later Top Moor) on the eastern boundary was disputed in 1304 between the lady of Burdeleys manor and the inhabitants, who had used it for cutting hay and grazing draught animals. (fn. 10)
In 1344 elaborate regulations were made for the fens. Smithey fen, used for hay, was to be fenced from Candlemas onwards and divided into measured furlongs or 'casts' in each of which all the commoners had an allotment. (fn. 11) The lower-lying parts were not always mowable: in 1364 it was said that 36 a. of alleged meadow were actually deep fen which had a value only one year in six. (fn. 12) The other fens named in 1344, Setchel, Chear, Top Moor, and Grekenhill, were evidently rough grazing. (fn. 13) Little North fen, west of the village, was recorded from 1330. (fn. 14) In the early 15th century Smithey and Fowle fens were largely used for hay, landowners having blocks of c. 2 a. allotted each year in the different casts. The 1344 agreement was still in force in 1482, (fn. 15) and the medieval divisions of the fens evidently survived until the 16th century. (fn. 16)
In 1086 each of the three manors had a home farm employing one ploughteam with the capacity for a second, while there were 13 peasant teams. (fn. 17) The demesnes of Crowlands and Lisles manors each covered a notional 240 a. in 1279; three other manors had home farms of 45-80 a., but Pelhams had almost no demesne. In all there were 600-700 a. of demesne arable, roughly equal to the amount tilled by villeins, with freeholders farming another 250-300 a. Only on Pelhams manor did freeholders predominate. (fn. 18)
In the early 11th century food rents from Crowlands manor were sent to the abbey. (fn. 19) Some of the cash payments made by its tenants in the 13th century and later arose from their commutation. (fn. 20) The home farm was managed in the mid 13th century by a reeve who employed a staff of a dozen or more and used villein works for harvest and threshing. The staff remained large in the early 14th century, when it included two ploughmen and two drivers, a carter, a shepherd, a dairyman, a cowman, a swineherd, and a gardener. Customary works were still used then, though some had evidently been commuted. (fn. 21) Parts of the arable were occasionally leased in the early 14th century and regularly from the late 14th. (fn. 22) In 1430 the remainder of the demesne farm was let to a villein and none was later taken back in hand. (fn. 23)
The parish in 1279 included 18 non-seigneurial freeholders, of whom the most prominent had over 50 a., and 116 villeins. Two fifths of the villeins held 10 a., the standard tenement on Crowlands, Lisles, and Burdeleys manors. Another two fifths had 5 a. or 3 a., and only a fifth had 1 a. or less, of whom the largest concentration was on the rectory manor, where the standard holding was 5 a. (fn. 24) Probably all the villein holdings included meadowland and pasture rights. (fn. 25) In 1344 villeins holding full, half, and quarter tenements (presumably yardlands), croftmen, and cottagers holding by lease were allowed to cut peat. About 1336 the standard half yardlands on Crowlands manor had apparently been increased from 10 a. to 15 a. (fn. 26) The Crowlands half yardlanders owed 51 works each year, while those holding 5 a. or 3 a. owed 35. (fn. 27) An early 14th-century villein of Harlestones manor, with 12 a. of arable, owed seasonal works for carting, sowing, building, and manuring as well as weekwork. (fn. 28) The rector was still claiming mowing service from his tenants in the 1490s. (fn. 29)
Villein custom on Crowlands manor (fn. 30) allowed a widow to keep her husband's holding while she remained chaste and unmarried. Descent was by borough English. By 1323 the inheriting youngest son customarily allowed each unmarried sibling ½ a. in each arable field. Rising population and land shortage was also reflected in the price of land in the early 14th century and particularly in the sums paid to the abbot for licence to marry widows yet retain their holding, the single commonest form of succession to land. Land prices fell sharply in 1349 and remained low. The opportunities for peasants to buy land led to larger holdings: in the 15th and 16th centuries many consisted of full yardlands (fn. 31) and one of 60 a. of arable and 40 a. of meadow was recorded in the late 15th century. (fn. 32) Ultimately the most prominent of several prosperous peasant families were the Pepyses, established in the village by the 1320s, (fn. 33) who acquired the lease of the Crowlands demesne c. 1520. (fn. 34) A Pepys was worth £50 in Cottenham in 1522, when another resident was worth £100. (fn. 35) By the 1540s William Pepys styled himself gentleman, and he and his son John Pepys were active in the land market, (fn. 36) John buying a manor in Impington in 1579 (fn. 37) and at his death in 1589 endowing each of his five sons handsomely. (fn. 38)
In the late 13th and early 14th century the Crowlands home farm grew corn mainly for the abbey's consumption. (fn. 39) In 1321-2 almost three quarters of the 171 a. sown were devoted to maslin, dredge, and oats in roughly equal proportions. The rest was wheat, legumes, and barley, the last being the least important. Then, as after the Black Death, the rotation of three courses was flexible. Vegetables, apples, garlic, and leeks were grown in a 2-a. garden from 1279; pigs were fed on barley and dredge; hemp was sown in the 1320s; and there was a dovecot and, in the 1250s, a vineyard. (fn. 40) The goods of a peasant killed in 1322, possibly with less than half a yardland, comprised 22 bu. of dredge, 4 bu. of peas and beans, a mare, and a pig. (fn. 41) After the Black Death the use of fallows increased: a lessee in 1430 was to leave 67 a. fallow at the end of his lease, 67 a. sown with barley, dredge, and oats, and 11 a. with wheat and maslin. (fn. 42)
Pasturage by lords and freeholders gave rise by 1286 to complaints about overgrazing. The commons could allegedly support for each arable hide, nominally 120 a., a ploughteam of 6 oxen and 2 horses, with 6 cows, 80 sheep, and 15 geese, a total for the vill of 108 milk cattle and 1,440 sheep. One holder of only 24 a. of arable, however, kept 60 cattle and 400 sheep. (fn. 43)
The Crowlands home farm had a few cows and sheep in the 1250s, undertook sheep rearing on a large scale from the 1290s to 1322 and more briefly in the 1390s, and in 1430 had a flock of 200. (fn. 44) Peasants were keeping sheep by the mid 14th century: in 1345 six men illegally turned 79 animals into the fens. (fn. 45) In 1381 the lord Roger Harleston was dealing in wool. (fn. 46) By the 1390s and into the 15th century some men were alleged to have flocks up to 400 strong. (fn. 47) In the early 15th century bylaws denied the pastures to butchers, especially from Cambridge. (fn. 48)
Sheep remained important in the 16th century. (fn. 49) Sir Francis Hinde bought Crowlands manor in 1563 and Lisles in 1576, as well as other freehold land, in part for the extensive sheepwalks in the fens. (fn. 50) He agisted cattle in Smithey fen from c. 1573 (fn. 51) and began to inclose the drier parts of the commons for his own use. Although a dispute with Christ's College over two new closes was settled amicably in 1580, (fn. 52) Hinde's inclosures were forcibly resisted and an agreement of 1583 was allegedly imposed on the unwilling inhabitants. (fn. 53) Hinde and John Pepys were said to have inclosed 400 a. of commons by 1588 and 500 a. more by 1595. (fn. 54)
A detailed agreement of 1596, (fn. 55) ratified in Chancery, (fn. 56) settled the disputes and established the basis on which the commons were managed until the 1840s, being confirmed in 1669 (fn. 57) and 1727. (fn. 58) Most of the inclosures made by the Hindes, Christ's College, and other lords and freeholders, largely in the meadows south-east of the village, were allowed to remain, but Hinde's great inclosure in the fen was thrown open. (fn. 59) The lords' sheep were restricted to the new closes, while the Holme and Little North fen were set aside for the village flock, which intercommoned there with Westwick. (fn. 60) The fens east of Church field and north of the new closes were freed from sheep, except for two months in midwinter, and became the Cow pasture. Mitchell Hill and adjoining grounds were for draught oxen and for sheep in midwinter. The Lots on the parish boundary east of Mitchell Hill, part of Grekenhill fen, were to be a lot meadow. (fn. 61) Smithey fen evidently ceased being staked out afresh each year from that time. Common rights were restricted, with minor exceptions, to residents of the village. (fn. 62)
Bylaws adjusted the dates for keeping cattle and sheep from different parts of the fens. The stint for each common right, set at 9 milk cows in the Cow pasture in 1640, or 12 for commoners keeping a bull, (fn. 63) was frequently varied but not significantly reduced, standing in 1815 at 10 cows or horses and 10 sheep. (fn. 64) Smithey fen covered 400 a. in 1642, when it was mown each year, producing both hay and coarser fodder. (fn. 65) In the 17th century it and other areas in permanent ownership but thrown open after haymaking were distinguished as 'half severals' from the lot commons, where the mowing was redistributed each year. (fn. 66)
In 1596 the parties to the agreement numbered 12 gentlemen and clergy and 109 others. (fn. 67) In 1603 there were 134 customary tenants. (fn. 68) The extensive common rights enabled small farms to survive throughout the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries: 82 farmers paid tithes in 1691, only one on more than 100 a. of corn and another three on more than 50 a. (fn. 69) A farmer paying tithes on 33 a. in 1706 died 40 years later with alleged savings of £10,000. (fn. 70) There was an active market between the 1770s and the 1810s for commonable holdings of all sizes. (fn. 71) The largest farm before the mid 19th century was that of the Ivatt family, two members of which shared 91 a. in 1706. (fn. 72) By the 1780s the Ivatts were acting almost as squires, (fn. 73) and on the eve of inclosure James Ivatt had c. 260 a. of land and 10 common rights, while five other Ivatts held 201 a. and 12¾ rights between them. Most other farms were still small. The common rights, numbering 167, were divided among 127 owners and the largest holdings apart from Ivatt's were of c. 210 a., only two fifths of it arable, and 131 a., entirely pasture closes. (fn. 74)
The pattern of land ownership was not immediately affected by inclosure of the open fields and commons, carried out in 1847 under an Act of 1842. (fn. 75) The largest owners after the award were James Ivatt (475 a.) (fn. 76) and two with c. 210 a., more than 100 others each holding over 20 a. (fn. 77) Consolidation reduced the number of farmers only slowly. (fn. 78) In 1851 there were over 80 full-time and 60 part-time farmers; half the farms were of 30 a. or less and only a quarter more than 50 a. (fn. 79) Later in the century farms increased slowly in size, (fn. 80) though they remained extremely numerous and nearly all lay scattered in 1910, when the two largest consolidated farms, both owner-occupied, were North Fen farm in the south-west (348 a.) and Smithey Fen farm in the north-east (215 a.). (fn. 81) In the late 19th and early 20th century some middling farms were divided for sale as smallholdings to market gardeners and fruit growers, (fn. 82) so that the number of farms over 100 a. was falling in the 1920s and 1930s, when there were none over 300 a. (fn. 83) A Small Farmers' and Labourers' Land Co. bought land for letting as smallholdings in 1886, its 57 a. in Cottenham being put up for sale in 1899 subject to existing tenancies. (fn. 84) Part of Christ's College's land was rented by the parish council and let out as smallholdings from 1915, (fn. 85) and the county council bought land for a similar purpose from 1909, owning 187 a. by 1914 and buying a further 141 a. in 1920 and 51 a. after 1945. (fn. 86) Consolidation took place after 1945, but in 1980 there were still only 5 farms above 100 ha. (c. 250 a.) and another 12 above 50 ha. Smallholdings became much larger in the 20th century but there were still 43 under 10 ha. in 1980. Arable or mixed farms in the fens were commonly of 75-100 a. until well after 1945. (fn. 87)
In the early 19th century a quarter of the adult male population were occupiers of agricultural land, and landless labourers formed only 44 per cent of adult men in 1831. (fn. 88) In 1833 many unemployed men were paid piece rates for spreading manure on the commons. (fn. 89) Almost 100 of 250 farm workers employed in the parish lived in with the farmers in 1851, (fn. 90) the number declining to only 2 by 1881. (fn. 91) More than 200 farm workers were employed in the parish until the Second World War, falling rapidly afterwards to c. 30 in the 1970s. (fn. 92) Unrest between the 1830s and 1850s took the form of animal maiming (fn. 93) and arson. (fn. 94) In the 1860s the labourers were thought to be well off and many allotments had been made available for their use. (fn. 95) The letting of church and charity allotments was politically contentious in the 1870s. (fn. 96)
A regular five-course rotation was followed in the 1690s (fn. 97) and c. 1800, one of the five fields being sown with wheat, two with barley, one with peas and beans, and one fallow. Oats were sown in the Undertakers c. 1780 but roots and green crops were not much cultivated. (fn. 98) In 1842 not much over 1,500 a. was open-field arable, and under 1,000 a. closes, including the pastures of 1596. The rest was all common, over 1,500 a. mowable meadow and nearly 3,000 a. grazing commons. (fn. 99)
As the quality of grazing improved with better drainage, dairying became the most important economic activity. Cheese and butter had been made on Crowlands home farm in the late 13th century. Cattle keeping was the main object of the 1596 agreement, and by the mid 17th century it was widespread among the commoners. (fn. 100) An outbreak of cattle plague in 1747 was serious enough for subscriptions to be raised in London to alleviate it. (fn. 101) By 1763 the herd had recovered to 1,400. (fn. 102) Although in the late 18th century calves were fattened over the winter for the London market, the parish was by then specializing in cheese, which was known throughout England. (fn. 103) Two varieties were made, a hard cheese like Stilton and in the autumn 'single Cottenham', said to resemble Camembert. (fn. 104) The quality and quantity of the cheese were attributed to the nature of the fen pastures. (fn. 105) Cheese making declined rapidly after inclosure, (fn. 106) though it lingered into the 1930s. (fn. 107) Fattening remained important (fn. 108) until the cattle plague of 1865-6. (fn. 109)
Much grass land was ploughed up after inclosure, (fn. 110) and c. 1870 arable covered three times the area of pasture, but the trend was shortly reversed and until 1914 arable gave way to grass and to market gardens and orchards. (fn. 111) The process was resumed after the war, so that by 1935 arable and grass covered almost equal areas. All cereals declined, beans, peas, and wheat particularly. Turnips, mangolds, vetches, and other feed crops usually covered 500 a. or more until c. 1900 but were less important in the early 20th century. As many as 2,500 sheep were kept in the 1790s, (fn. 112) and in the mid 19th century 2,000, the number declining sharply after c. 1890. After 1945 the parish conformed to the regional pattern of a greatly increased acreage of wheat and barley.
Domestic orchards were recorded from the late 16th century. (fn. 113) One in the 1620s produced mainly apples but also pears, damsons, and plums. (fn. 114) Commercial market gardening began in the early 19th century with a dozen or more growers recorded in 1851. (fn. 115) Potatoes covered 200 a. by 1875. (fn. 116) Commercial fruit growing was introduced at about the same time and quickly expanded as the smaller farmers looked for alternative crops during the agricultural depression. The area under orchards and fruit bushes rose from a little over 200 a. in 1885 to well over 1,000 a. by 1914 and a peak of c. 1,500 a. in the 1930s. By then they covered much of the ridge and the land south of it. Asparagus, apples, plums, strawberries, and gooseberries were the most important crops. (fn. 117) Few growers had more than 20 a. and c. 1900 it was thought that a holding of 6 a. could be made to pay. (fn. 118) The largest business was probably the Crown Trading Co., which in 1906 was growing sage, greengages, and currants besides the more common kinds of fruit on 50 a. of rented land. (fn. 119) The number of market gardeners not growing fruit remained between 10 and 20 in the early 20th century, though more fruit growers set up in the 1920s, 56 being recorded in 1929. (fn. 120) A Cottenham Small Holders' Society sold feed and horticultural equipment in the 1920s. (fn. 121) In the 1930s flowers were grown commercially. (fn. 122) Poultry and pig keeping increased along with orchards between the First and Second World Wars. (fn. 123) The parish remained largely given over to smallholdings in 1941, but the peak had been passed; (fn. 124) by the 1950s orchards were being grubbed up, (fn. 125) though acreages of strawberries and flowers increased (fn. 126) and soft fruit growing remained important in the 1980s. In 1981 one overgrown orchard was put to use for rabbit breeding. (fn. 127)
In 1086 the abbot of Crowland received 500 eels annually and Picot the sheriff's tenant Roger 150 eels from their manors, (fn. 128) and in 1279 the lords of Crowlands, Lisles, Burdeleys, and Pelhams all had rights of fishery in the fens, the first two being considerably more valuable. (fn. 129) In the 14th century the abbot of Crowland's fishery in meres and watercourses was normally leased. Pickerel were among the fish caught. (fn. 130) In 1491 the fisheries were in the Ouse and the lodes. (fn. 131) Fowling was occasionally recorded, and there was a duck decoy in 1514. (fn. 132) In 1596 the commoners' right to fish in Chear lode and elsewhere was confirmed, (fn. 133) and it survived until inclosure. (fn. 134) Peat digging in the fens was recorded from the early 14th century, (fn. 135) and was regulated in 1344, allowing all tenants, including cottagers, to dig for their own use. (fn. 136) Great quantities of turves were dug in the 17th century, (fn. 137) and farmhouses still had turfhouses for storing peat in the early 19th. (fn. 138) Among other fen products in the Middle Ages were willows, osiers, sallows, and teasels. (fn. 139)
Four windmills had been built by 1279, two of which belonged to the abbot of Crowland and one each to Burdeleys and Lisles manors, the last held by Simon Walsh. (fn. 140) In the 17th century, one mill stood in Church field, (fn. 141) one in Dunstall, and two in Two Mill field. (fn. 142) There were four windmills in the mid 19th century, two of which had steam engines added by 1880. Two mills, both of smock construction, were taken down in the 1890s, and one in 1912, the fourth, a tower mill off Rampton Road, being converted into a water tower in 1903. (fn. 143)
Cottenham had craftsmen from an early date. In 1279 men bore the surnames of carpenter, carter, smith, potter, and roper; (fn. 144) in 1319 the manorial carpenter and smith were a father and son. (fn. 145) Tailors were recorded in 1339 and the 1520s. (fn. 146) In the 17th century trades practiced, normally by men with common rights, included those of wheelwright, (fn. 147) butcher, (fn. 148) glover, (fn. 149) weaver, (fn. 150) shoemaker, (fn. 151) musician, (fn. 152) thatcher, basket maker, joiner, and fuller. (fn. 153) Weaving continued in the village throughout the 18th century. (fn. 154) A great variety of trades was represented in the mid 19th century, many of which survived until the Second World War or later. (fn. 155) Those which ceased were bricklayer after 1888, cooper after 1896, and wheelwright and specialist farrier both after 1900, though there remained three or four blacksmiths between the 1870s and 1914 and one until the 1930s. Saddlers and harness makers declined from two to one during the First World War. There were four or more breweries and a malting in the mid 19th century but the malting closed c. 1890 and the last of the breweries a decade later. The malthouse survived in 1987, having briefly been occupied in 1974- 5 by a runaway circus. (fn. 156) Builders, carpenters, and plumbers numbered a dozen or more in all in the late 19th century and two or three each in the 1930s. Basket making also survived into the 20th century. Shoemakers and tailors were numerous between the 1840s and c. 1875, with six or more of each, but were reduced steadily until one man was practicing each trade in the 1930s. A family of watchmakers was active by 1847 and until the First World War, another watchmaker from the 1880s to c. 1930.
There were metalworkers and engineers in the late 19th century and afterwards: (fn. 157) two whitesmiths in 1847, a brass and iron foundry from the 1860s to the 1950s, (fn. 158) and a few engineers and machinists from the 1870s. Prominent among the last were Charles Lack and Sons, from c. 1875, who made pumps and boilers and dug artesian wells, and George Lack and Sons, established in 1914. (fn. 159) Both firms remained in business in 1960, the first as well borers and the second as boat builders. (fn. 160) Charles Lack's works had closed by 1978. (fn. 161) Manufacturers of cycles and mineral water operated in the decade before the First World War. Westrope Bros. had a printing business from c. 1906 to 1956, (fn. 162) publishing a local directory for a few years around 1910. (fn. 163)
Numerous small firms operated in Cottenham after the Second World War, attracted partly by the large premises available in former farmsteads in High Street. (fn. 164) By 1960 they included an eggpacking plant, a builders' merchant, and a glassblower specializing in neon signs. (fn. 165) In 1967 only about a third of the working population of Cottenham lived and worked in the parish; (fn. 166) to attract new employers a light industrial estate was opened off Broad Lane in 1972 (fn. 167) and a small business estate north of the village on Twenty Pence Road in 1985. (fn. 168) Together they drew a number of firms from Cambridge and elsewhere. (fn. 169) The largest employers in the 1970s and 1980s were an insulation contractor and a builder, each with more than 50 workers at Cottenham. (fn. 170) Other firms made components for the Cambridge electronics industry. (fn. 171)
Cottenham had regular carrying services to Cambridge by the mid 19th century and a peak of 10 or more services a week c. 1908. A bus service was introduced in 1910, daily from c. 1920, and there were motor engineers and haulage contractors in the village from 1922. (fn. 172)
Clay and gravel were dug by commoners in the fens from the 17th century or earlier. (fn. 173) Bricks made at a works in Ivatt Street from c. 1840 to c. 1905 (fn. 174) were used extensively in the parish. (fn. 175) A commercial gravel pit was working in 1910 (fn. 176) and another near the north end of Twenty Pence Road from the early 1930s, (fn. 177) by 1937 covering 23 a. and including a light railway. (fn. 178) That site and later gravel and sand pits, covering 48 a. in Top Moor and worked from Landbeach, were worked out by 1980. (fn. 179)
An annual fair and weekly Monday market were granted to the rector in 1265. (fn. 180) In the early 20th century the oldest inhabitants were said to remember a weekly market in the village, (fn. 181) but no other record of it has been found.
Cottenham had some shops in the 17th century (fn. 182) and a chandler in 1727. (fn. 183) In the mid 19th century there were c. 20 shops, mainly butchers, grocers, and drapers, but also a bakery and a chemist. (fn. 184) Numbers increased to c. 30 in the 1880s, and included a newsagent by 1879 and a greengrocer by 1883, but were reduced from the late 1880s to c. 20 by 1900, remaining at about that number until the Second World War. The Cambridge Co-operative Society opened a branch in Cottenham shortly before 1908. (fn. 185) There were two sub-branches of banks by 1908. By 1967 there were 34 shops and both then and in the 1980s a great variety of goods and services could be bought in the village. (fn. 186) Most shops were concentrated in the central part of High Street between the Chequers and Lamb's Lane corner.