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.
In 1086 a quarter of the available ploughland in Histon was on the two home farms, each of which had 2 ploughteams, and the rest was farmed by 29 villani and 42 lesser peasants with 11 teams between them. (fn. 1) The proportion of demesne and peasant farming was much the same in 1279, despite great changes in the manorial structure: 22 per cent of the arable land was farmed directly by three lords, 70 per cent by their villeins, and 7 per cent by free tenants. None of the manors was using labour services, which had been commuted at different rates, 1s. 9½d. for the standard villein holdings on the Eynsham manor and 1s. 7d. on Colville's, suggesting that the services once exacted had also differed. Most of Eynsham's men held 12 a. of land at a rent of 12s., and most of Colville's 10 a. for 12s. 4d.; on each manor there were also smaller, more irregular holdings. Only four men, one a miller and another a smith, held land in both manors, though a few of the freeholders were also tenants in Impington. In all there were 16 free tenants, none with more than 12 a., 101 villeins with standard holdings or irregular ones of more than 6 a., and 72 villeins with smaller holdings, mostly of 1 a. or only crofts or cottages. (fn. 2) The recent division of a yardland on the Eynsham manor among members of a peasant family was implied c. 1180. (fn. 3)The villeins' rents and commuted labour services were worth c. £49 in 1279, (fn. 4) and the great tithes £36 in the 1350s. (fn. 5) In 1442 a lessee paid £32 for the demesne and £16 for the rectory, and the rents were worth c. £18; (fn. 6)some of the demesne was perhaps afterwards let to the villagers, since by 1539 their total rent had risen to c. £31 while the rent for the manor and tithes was down to £22. (fn. 7)
Both manors in Histon enjoyed an ancient right of turning their animals into the commons of Impington, which after long-running disputes in the late 15th, 16th, and early 17th centuries were gradually whittled away. (fn. 8) In the mid 16th century sheep belonging to the inhabitants of Histon and Impington were folded indiscriminately in the fields of both, (fn. 9) probably because farms commonly extended into both townships. Land was being concentrated in the hands of some families by the 16th century. Two Histon farmers, Thomas Styward and Roger Muncey, were assessed in 1522 at £80 and £120 respectively, the latter one of the highest figures in the county. (fn. 10) Both families were settled at Histon by 1279. (fn. 11) Their later wealth and position may have derived from leases of the manorial demesne, as was that of William Bromsted, who married the widow of a lessee of Denny abbey's manor, (fn. 12)and at the Dissolution held leases of Impington and of both Histon manors. (fn. 13)Thomas Barnard (d. 1570) had 95 a. and five houses and cottages. (fn. 14) In the 1620s his namesake was among the leading copyholders of Histon St. Etheldred manor who resisted paying heriots, fines, and rents. (fn. 15) Unlike similar episodes at nearby Over and Willingham, that in Histon did not end with the lords selling out. In 1638 Histon St. Etheldred comprised 180 a. of demesne and 420 a. of copyholds, (fn. 16) and in 1659 half the annual value of the united manors came from the demesne and the sheepwalk and half from copyhold rents and court profits. (fn. 17)
The arrangement of the open fields c. 1637 (fn. 18) was almost identical to that on the eve of inclosure in 1801. (fn. 19) The village closes, which adjoined those of Impington, were ringed by open fields in an arc from north-east to south-west of the village. Reading anti-clockwise, their names at inclosure were Great Barrow, Little Barrow, Church, Home, Yonbrook, and Park fields. The last was called Mill field in the 17th century, when it was somewhat smaller and Home field larger. (fn. 20)The six fields appear to have been cultivated on a three-course rotation in the early 18th century, when bylaws refer to the wheat, barley, and fallow fields. (fn. 21) In 1749 Guy Sindrey of Histon Manor had 50 a. of wheat, rye, and maslin in Yonbrook and Great Barrow fields and 48 a. of barley and 7 a. of oats evidently in Home field. (fn. 22)In 1801 there were estimated to be 500 a. of wheat, 400 a. of barley, 260 a. of peas and beans, 100 a. of oats, and 50 a. of rye, with 80 a. of turnips and 5 a. of potatoes. (fn. 23) Saffron was grown in the Middle Ages. (fn. 24)
The common meadowland in the 17th century and until inclosure lay in two thin slivers beside the brooks west of the village. (fn. 25)One farmer frequently bought hay from Cottenham in the 1640s, (fn. 26) presumably because little could be made in Histon. At the north end of the parish Little Moor and Great Moor occupied the lowest-lying part of Histon. Both moors were rough grazing in the Middle Ages, (fn. 27) and the commoners retained grazing rights there until inclosure. Because the commons were so small, bylaws in the late 17th century and the early 18th forbade overstocking. (fn. 28) Scarcity of permanent pasture also probably made sheep more important than cattle in the village's economy. A flock of nearly 350 was kept in 1755 by the tenant of Abbey farm, who was sowing clover as feed, (fn. 29) and feed crops on the same farm in 1810 included turnips and coleseed. (fn. 30)
The inclosure of Histon and Impington was necessarily undertaken by a single Act of Parliament: the boundary was uncertain and many owners, both large and small, had land scattered across both parishes. Moves to inclose were begun in 1800, apparently by Thomas Sumpter of Histon Manor. At first the numerous opponents included the lords of both Impington manors, and there were middling farmers ranged on both sides. (fn. 31) Some of the Impington proprietors petitioned parliament against the bill, and the owners of some 28 per cent of the acreage to be inclosed refused to consent. The difficulty appears to have been overcome by recalculating the extent of opposition on the basis of land-tax assessments, which put the bill's opponents at only 19 per cent, just below the usual limit which might have prevented inclosure. (fn. 32)The Act was passed in 1801 (fn. 33)and the award was completed in 1806. (fn. 34) It included a great many exchanges of small plots of land, evidently with the object of consolidating farms within one or the other parish. The three principal allottees in Histon were Thomas Sumpter, whose land stretched south from Histon Manor towards Girton, Thomas Panton, whose estate covered the west part of the parish between Abbey Farm and the Oakington boundary, and the vicar.
Inclosure was followed shortly by changes in land ownership, since Sumpter's and Panton's estates were broken up by sale between 1806 and 1809. (fn. 35)The reduced Abbey farm at the west end of the parish was let to tenant farmers for a time in the mid 19th century, but was taken in hand by the Rowley family in the early 1860s and remained so in 1986. Throughout the period it covered almost 400 a. (fn. 36) In 1834 there was only one other farm of comparable size, in 1851 two others, and in 1861 just one again. (fn. 37) Ownership remained fragmented until the late 19th century and agriculture was dominated by small farmers, the larger ones having 50-200 a., usually rented. There were 10 farmers employing labourers in 1831 and 9 in 1861. (fn. 38) About a third of the labourers were without work in 1834. (fn. 39)
The proximity of Cambridge encouraged the development of market gardening in the early 19th century. Garden ground was advertised for sale in 1806, and Richard Sumpter of Histon Manor was selling his orchard produce commercially the following year. (fn. 40) There were several gardeners in the 1820s and 1830s, (fn. 41)and by 1851 ten, six of whom had no other occupation. (fn. 42) Among them were John and William Chivers, brothers whose family came to dominate farming in Histon. (fn. 43)
John Chivers's sons Philip, Stephen, and Thomas all began as market gardeners and the eldest remained so, (fn. 44) while Stephen and Thomas expanded rapidly as farmers. Stephen had 170 a. in 1861, 300 a. in 1871, and 700 a. in 1881; Thomas 130 a., 270 a., and 640 a., though most of it was probably rented and he did not have sons to take over from him. (fn. 45) Stephen Chivers (d. 1907), however, continued to extend his farming activities after founding the family jammaking business in 1873. He, his son John (d. 1929), and John's children always treated the factory and the farms as a single enterprise, even when they were managed by different members of the family. Stephen started growing fruit on a large scale in the 1860s, (fn. 46)and later, as the demands of the factory increased and as its profitability allowed him to buy more land, he extended his orchards and soft fruit considerably. Over much of his land c. 1900 corn and roots were grown only as break crops every four or five years. (fn. 47) He owned most of the 310 a. of fruit trees and bushes in the parish at that time. (fn. 48) The establishment of the factory and the stimulus which it gave to fruit growing were said in 1894 to be an important reason for the prosperity of a wide region around Histon despite the agricultural depression. (fn. 49)
By the 1930s Chivers and Sons Ltd. owned 1,500 a. in Histon and adjoining parishes, and another 4,500 a. elsewhere in Cambridgeshire, all run from a central estate office at Histon. When John Chivers's son Stanley took over the management of the farms after the First World War, they were reorganized as a highly integrated operation for supplying the needs of the factory. (fn. 50) Large acreages of soft fruit and plums were grown for canning and making jam; cows and pigs were kept for their dung; corn was grown and the straw used to make manure; silage and hay were made as winter feed for the animals; poultry were raised, fed on home-grown wheat, and housed in the orchards to keep the land clean and manure it, the eggs going to the factory for lemon curd. Pedigree herds of milk cattle and pigs were established and Percheron horses were introduced, though there were also many tractors at an early date. In the 1920s, when corn became uneconomic, much land was put down to grass to prepare it for later use as orchards, and large flocks of sheep were built up. Chivers's farming business, later based at Impington Hall, (fn. 51)passed with the factory into the ownership of Schweppes Ltd. in 1959, but was bought back by the family in 1962, (fn. 52)and remained a family firm, though much reduced in size, (fn. 53) in 1986.
In the parish as a whole, corn accounted for some three fifths of the acreage recorded in the decade or so before the onset of the agricultural depression in 1879, but then declined to a quarter between the 1900s and the 1930s. Some of the land was turned to grass, though sheep remained much more important than cattle in the late 19th and early 20th century, and orchards and market gardens were the main feature of Histon's agricultural economy by 1900, when there were 21 such businesses besides Chivers, but only 5 farmers. The first nurseries were established in the 1930s. (fn. 54)Arable crops returned to their former prominence after 1945 and especially in the 1980s, when fruit growing and dairying both declined greatly. (fn. 55)
The fruit grown by Stephen Chivers in the 1860s was mostly sent by rail for sale outside Cambridgeshire, but a successful experiment in making jam in a barn in Impington in 1873 encouraged him to buy a plot of land next to Histon station in 1874 and build a small factory, called the Victoria Works. (fn. 56)Chivers claimed that his was the first jam factory in England run by a fruit grower, (fn. 57) and the firm's success has been attributed to the quality of its products and to successful marketing. (fn. 58)Fruit jellies, custard powder, and orange marmalade were made at Histon from the 1880s and fruit canning began in 1893, one of its earliest applications in Britain. (fn. 59) Further land by the railway station bought between 1874 and 1884 (fn. 60) provided ample room for expansion: from the late 1880s to 1901 new building was almost continuous and by the 1930s the factory covered much of its 46-a. site. (fn. 61)An imposing office building was opened on Station Road in 1897. (fn. 62) The factory had extensive buildings for preparing fruit and for making, packing, and storing jam, jellies, and other products, (fn. 63) and also included workshops which produced most of the materials required by the firm. Employees were engaged in can-making, silverplating, box-making, printing, and making and repairing vehicles from the 1890s to the 1950s. (fn. 64) A dozen people had been involved in the enterprise in 1873; c. 1885 there were 150 employees (fn. 65) and by 1901 the work force was over 1,000. (fn. 66) At that time workers came from 12 surrounding villages as well as Histon; (fn. 67)they included 250 Histon girls c. 1900, though the firm did not employ married women in the factory before 1914. (fn. 68)
Chivers consolidated its position as a nationally known firm in the early 20th century and began exporting in 1901. (fn. 69) Laboratories were built after 1898 and a full-time works chemist was appointed in 1905 to maintain quality and extend the range of products. (fn. 70) Charles Lack, works engineer from 1896, made important technical and labour-saving innovations, including automatic filling machinery (1901) and vacuum caps (1924), which helped to keep Chivers ahead of its commercial rivals. (fn. 71) Chivers and Sons became a limited liability company in 1901 (fn. 72) and the works was renamed the Orchard Factory c. 1910. (fn. 73) By the late 1920s the factory employed nearly 2,000 at peak periods and over 1,600 throughout the year. Women filled two thirds of the permanent jobs and did most of the seasonal labour. Clerical work and management jobs employed another 250 in 1929 and 300 by 1939. (fn. 74) Expansion in the 1920s and 1930s was mainly in new factories elsewhere, (fn. 75)but the number of employees at Histon rose to 2,200 in the early years of the Second World War, (fn. 76)when an important product was blackcurrant purée, the outcome of research on vitamin C carried out in the firm's microbiological laboratory by Mamie Olliver in the 1930s. (fn. 77)
Business declined after 1945 as Chivers lost the leading market position which it had held before the war and failed to install modern equipment. (fn. 78)By 1959, when the company was taken over by Schweppes Ltd., (fn. 79)there were fewer than 1,500 employees at Histon, and the closure of several departments by Schweppes brought it down to 1,200 permanent staff by 1961. Female employment was worse affected than male. (fn. 80)The factory was part of the Cadbury Schweppes group from 1969, and although the manufacture of other brand-name preserves was moved to Histon (fn. 81) the closure of virtually all the clerical departments, continuing mechanization, and the decline of the national market for jam reduced the permanent work force to 700 by 1980. (fn. 82)Most workers came from the immediate neighbourhood though from the 1930s special buses brought others from villages in the Fens. (fn. 83)In the 1980s new offices, plant, and cold stores were built on the west part of the factory site away from Station Road, the older buildings to the east were demolished, and that part of the site was sold. (fn. 84)The foods and beverages division of Cadbury Schweppes, including the ChiversHartley trading company based at Histon, was bought by its managers in 1986. (fn. 85)
The Chivers family were paternalist employers. A profit-sharing scheme, one of theearliest in the country, was introduced in 1891 and had nearly 400 'co-partners' by 1928; con- tributory pensions followed in 1933 and were extended to female workers in 1938. Consul- tation with the work force took place after 1918 through a system of advisory committees, and there was little or no trade union activity until Schweppes took over, and no major industrial dispute. Welfare provisions included a fact- ory nurse, surgery, and canteens, all intro- duced before 1914, and evening and day release classes. (fn. 86)
Histon had other large employers in the 20th century. Reed Corrugated Cases Ltd., a division of Reed International, began making corrugated fibreboard boxes in a factory south of the Orchard Factory in 1929, with 50 workers, and employed 300 by 1960 and 200 in 1986. (fn. 87) Torvac Ltd. was established in the 1950s and moved into a new factory in 1970, making electron beam welding equipment, vacuum furnaces, and metallizers, and employing up to 70 people. (fn. 88) The firm of W. J. Unwin Ltd., one of the biggest horticultural seed merchants in the country, was founded in Histon c. 1904. By the 1960s nearly all the seeds were grown under contract in different parts of the world, but the company's headquarters and trial grounds remained in Imp- ington Lane, where 200 people were employed in 1981. (fn. 89)
Other firms with bases or depots in Histon in 1986 included Quenby Price Ltd., an agricultural merchandise subsidiary of Unilever. (fn. 90)
was a windmill on the Eynsham manor in the mid 13th century, (fn. 91) and by 1279 there was a second mill on Colville's manor. (fn. 92) Only one of them appears to have survived in the mid 17th century. It stood in Park (formerly Mill) field close to the edge of Great Meadow. (fn. 93) A post mill on that site was dismantled in 1806. (fn. 94)
was a weaver in Histon in the mid 17th century but the only other reference found to the trade is a 20th-century tradition of weaving shops facing the green and on Glebe Way. (fn. 95) In the 17th and 18th centuries tailors, shoemakers, a blacksmith, and a carpenter were recorded. (fn. 96) From the mid 19th century the village supported a wide and growing range of tradesmen, shops, and services. There were two blacksmiths until the 1850s and one to c. 1953, a carpenter until the First World War and a wheelwright until the Second, a bricklayer to the 1880s, and a thatcher for a decade or more after 1900. Several craftsmen set themselves up as builders and contractors from the 1860s; there were three such firms in 1937. A tailor and a shoemaker were usually in business between 1847 and 1937. (fn. 97) Nine coprolite diggers lived at Histon in 1871, (fn. 98)though there do not appear to have been any workings in the parish. (fn. 99)
Histon had five or six shops for most of the period 1850–1900 and the number thereafter increased greatly, especially in the 1920s. (fn. 100) The first shops on Cambridge Road in Impington parish opened in the 1890s and by 1929 there were 24 in Histon and Impington together. About half the shops in the 1930s were in and around Histon High Street, the rest in Cambridge and Station Roads. The Cambridge and District Co-operative Society opened a branch in Histon in 1903, one of the first two outside Cambridge. There was a taxi service in the early 1920s and a filling station a decade later, and three banks opened sub-branches in the 1930s. Building societies and estate agents followed later. In the 1970s and 1980s there were over 20 shops, including a printing and copying service and a video library, besides a large range of tradesmen and professional services. (fn. 101) New offices were being built for the Anglian Water Authority and other occupiers in 1987 on the site of the former Chivers factory.