A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 10, Cheveley, Flendish, Staine and Staploe Hundreds (North-Eastern Cambridgeshire). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2002.
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Great wilbraham (fn. 1) lies 10 km. (6 miles) east of Cambridge. Its 1,882 ha. (2,921 a.) (fn. 2) form an approximate rectangle. It is partly bounded to the south-west by the Fleam Dyke, (fn. 3) and further north separated from Fulbourn and Little Wilbraham by two brooks meeting at its north-west corner. On the south-east its boundary crosses the line of the Icknield way, (fn. 4) while to the north-east it follows field boundaries. In the 13th century the vill, once partly ancient royal demesne, was occasionally distinguished as King's Wilbraham, (fn. 5) but from the 1260s was usually known as Great Wilbraham. (fn. 6)
The parish lies on the Middle and Lower Chalk, overlaid in places with river gravels. (fn. 7) Save in the south-east where it meets the last outliers of the south-east Cambridgeshire downland at over 30 m. (100 ft.), the land is virtually level at 15-25 m. (50-75 ft.). Until the 19th century the north-west was fen and marsh, part reverting to scrub in the late 20th century. (fn. 8) No ancient woodland was recorded, and there is little modern timber outside the grounds of Wilbraham Temple. Until inclosure in 1801 the parish was largely devoted to arable farming under a triennial rotation. (fn. 9)
A Neolithic 'causewayed camp' in the west of the parish was excavated in 1976. Just within the southern corner of the parish a Bronze Age barrow, where up to eight burials were discovered in 1852, stands by a gap in the Fleam Dyke on Mutlow Hill, probably later a hundred court meeting place. There was a possible Roman dwelling, near which fragments of a lead vat, possibly baptismal, were found in woodland in the 1970s. (fn. 10) The population, which comprised 33 inhabitants in 1086, (fn. 11) possibly more than doubled by 1279, when there were c. 85 tenants. (fn. 12) Taxes were paid by 44 people in 1327 (fn. 13) and by c. 35 in 1524, (fn. 14) and there were 50 households in 1563. (fn. 15) In the early 17th century numbers may have reached c. 250 before declining to c. 200 in the early 18th. (fn. 16) In 1660 c. 120 people, among them at least 24 married couples, paid a poll tax; (fn. 17) under Charles II there were 50-5 dwellings, (fn. 18) and 183 adults in 1676. (fn. 19) In 1728 42 families included 163 'souls'. (fn. 20) Rising from the 1750s, (fn. 21) the population had reached 354 by 1801, and then increased steadily to over 500 by the 1830s and more gradually to a peak of 644 in 1851. It then declined slowly to c. 600 in the 1860s and thereafter by c. 50 a decade, before stabilizing at c. 450 between the 1910s and the 1960s. New building raised the population from 432 in 1971 to 613 in 1981, a level at which it remained in the 1980s. (fn. 22)
Except for three large farms built on the former open fields after 1800, two by 1810, (fn. 23) there was probably, until after 1850, no settlement away from the village, which stands near a brook in the northern angle of the parish. From a main street, running south-westwards from the Temple, whose eastern and western sections were called in the mid 19th century Temple End (fn. 24) and High Street, (fn. 25) Frog End, where an isolated group of dwellings survives, runs northwest towards the fen. Angle End (fn. 26) and Church Street lead north from the middle of the main street to meet near the church before bending towards Little Wilbraham.
The village retained in the 1980s numerous timber-framed houses and cottages, several single-storeyed, and some still thatched with dormers. (fn. 27) Several still had their original 16thor 17th-century red or gault brick chimney stacks, some with diagonally set shafts. The largest concentration is along Temple End and the adjoining parts of Angle End and High Street, where habitation was thickest in 1800. (fn. 28) At least 25 dated from before 1700, including three bearing the dates 1633, 1647, and 1685. One cottage on Church Street had two bays of an aisled hall of c. 1300, the third rebuilt with two floors after 1500. Another at Angle End had a two-bayed hall of c. 1500, with the original parlour cross wing. The jettied late 16th-century Kennels Farm off Mill Road had hall and parlour in a single four-bayed range. The former Temple End Farm, of c. 1600, had a 17thcentury dovecot, (fn. 29) while the pargetted Branch Farm has its original three-bayed hall of c. 1600 with a mid 17th-century cross wing, extended c. 1720 to a brick gable end. One redbrick house at Angle End is dated 1741. The horse painter J. R. Herring lived in the village in 1851. (fn. 30)
In the mid 19th century there were c. 10 dwellings on Temple End and almost 20 along the High Street, while Frog End had 25-30, mostly cottages, and Angle End and Church End 25-35 each, the latter mostly at the north end. (fn. 31) The number of dwellings in the parish, which had reached 130 in the 1860s, fell to c. 115 by 1910, when the 30 houses and 70 cottages in the village were similarly arranged. The number of houses in the parish grew to almost 150 by the 1960s. Further new building in the early 1970s, mostly in the western part of High Street and along the parallel Toft Lane to its north, raised that number to 223 in 1981. Almost three fifths were then owner-occupied. Council houses, then a quarter of the total, (fn. 32) were first built after 1926, (fn. 33) some of the earliest on Frog End. Church Close, a council estate of 43 dwellings, north-west of High Street, was built from 1974. (fn. 34) Growth elsewhere was restrained, the picturesque village being a conservation area by 1974, and villagers opposed infilling and expansion. (fn. 35)
The village's principal communications have always been by road. The road through Newmarket to Bury St. Edmunds (Suff.), a turnpike between 1724 and 1871, ran along the parish's southern boundary following the line of the Icknield way. Further north the parallel Street Way, which ran north-east from Fulbourn, crossed field ways such as Balsham, Broad and Wood ways, which led south-east from the village towards the Newmarket road. (fn. 36) At inclosure those ways were replaced by straight new roads. (fn. 37) A section of the Great Eastern railway line between Great Chesterford and Six Mile Bottom, opened across the south end of the parish in 1848, was closed in 1851 after a line running east from Cambridge had been laid out, and was formally abandoned in 1859. Its earthworks were still visible in the 1980s. (fn. 38)
The older village inns (fn. 39) included the Carpenters' Arms or Compasses, in a 17thcentury cottage, open by 1767 and surviving in the 1980s; and the (Sedan) Chair, recorded from 1765. At the King's Head the bell ringers and a benefit club dined c. 1860, (fn. 40) while the White Swan's clubroom later accommodated a local branch of the Ancient Shepherds, founded c. 1875 and with 200 members by 1892, (fn. 41) and a Conservative Club started in 1887. (fn. 42) Both those last two inns closed in the late 1960s.
The village feast, traditionally held on 1 May and surviving in the 1860s, (fn. 43) was succeeded by a flower show, started by the vicar in 1878, which continued to be held in the 1960s. (fn. 44) A cricket club mentioned in 1866, (fn. 45) like the football club recorded in 1926, later played on Church close, just south of the church. Lent as a recreation ground by the squire, R. S. Hicks, in 1919, it was bought for the parish in 1948-9. (fn. 46) Hicks also helped establish a war memorial village hall in 1919-20, which was inadequate by the mid 1970s. (fn. 47) A new one was built in 1976-7, serving several village societies. (fn. 48)