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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In 1086 the vill contained 17 ploughlands almost equally divided between the two manors. There were only 3 demesne ploughteams compared with the 12 belonging to the peasantry, who included 13 villani, 5 on the king's land, and 12 bordars. The whole vill was worth c. £36. The king's manor paid a farm of almost £24, including over £13 in place of corn, malt, and honey formerly rendered. (fn. 1) From the 1160s to the early 1200s the king regularly tallaged his manor. (fn. 2)
In 1279 (fn. 3) almost half the arable, which totalled c. 2,000 a., was included in the four main manorial demesnes, another 540 a. being held by customary tenants and c. 600 a. freely. Of Temple manor's demesne, 730 a. in 1338, (fn. 4) 350- 400 a. had been cultivated annually c. 1308. (fn. 5) The former Picot demesne included in 1279 only 80 a., but Lisles demesne then comprised 160- 200 a., (fn. 6) and the Lovetots had 90-120 a. (fn. 7) The ten customary tenants on Temple manor had in 1279 15 a. each, but the three on the Picot manor 20 a. each, as did the ten on Lisles and the three on Lovetots, in 1337 still reckoned ancient demesne sokemen. (fn. 8) On Temple manor there were also 9 crofters with 1 a. each. Of the freeholds, including 95 a. held of minor mesne lords, 140 a. belonged to the Ruses of Little Wilbraham, another 45 a. to lords of manors there and in Stow cum Quy. Three freeholds of 30-40 a. and eight of 15-22 a. totalled c. 245 a., while 36 smallholders with 13 a. or less, 22 with under 5 a., had altogether only 150 a.
Customary services reported in 1279 were relatively light: on the ancient demesne manors the half yardlanders need only plough ¼ a. weekly and reap ¼ a. in harvest, besides three day's haymaking. On the Richmond fees, besides similar ploughing services and threshing twice a week during harvest, they reaped 1 a. weekly and sent 3 men to three boonworks. About 1300, however, the Templars' customary tenants supposedly owed c. 1,850 works yearly, a quarter being then commuted. In 1312 81 men reaped 27 a. in one day's boonwork. (fn. 9)
In 1185 the Pictos' demesne had a flock of 100 sheep and one plough. (fn. 10) The later Temple demesne was also probably in hand in the 1190s: the sheriff stocked it with a plough, 6 oxen, and 120 sheep, and sold corn from it c. 1195 (fn. 11) and in 1226. (fn. 12) About 1318 the Templars' demesne yielded corn and wool: 42 qr. of wheat were sold in 1308, 111 qr. in 1309, besides 116 qr. of barley and dredge, partly from tithe. That demesne's staff included 2 carters and 4 pairs of ploughmen; 3 shepherds tended a flock of c. 535 sheep, half of which were ewes, yielding over 100 lambs yearly; a cowman and dairymaid made cheese for sale from 12 cows; the swineherd saw to 20 pigs. In harvest, when a 'reapreeve' and 4 stackers were engaged, reaping and threshing was mostly done by hired labour. (fn. 13)
The Hospitallers probably still had the Temple demesne in hand in 1338, (fn. 14) but were leasing it by 1401. In 1425 the lessee was found to have grossly neglected the manor house and farm buildings, and the fencing of the closes. (fn. 15) Lisles demesne was probably in hand c. 1355. (fn. 16) In the early 16th century the Temple demesne farm was let for 30-year terms to John Smith ('Old Smith of the Temple'), the wealthiest villager in 1522. He was accused in 1494 and posthumously in the late 1530s of abusing his position to appropriate orphans' holdings, one of which was substantial. (fn. 17) Dying in 1535, he left to his sons his lease, over 250 a. of his own land, and almost 1,300 sheep, 300 to stock the Temple manor sheepwalk. (fn. 18)
During the peasants revolt of 1381 rioters, possibly assisting in a family feud, pulled down houses and drove off sheep. (fn. 19) Customary tenants were apparently rendering works on the Hospital and Loveday manors in 1338, (fn. 20) but probably largely paid rent on Lisles manor in the 1350s and on the Lovedays' one by the 1370s. (fn. 21) Their holdings had been converted to copyhold by the 16th century. (fn. 22) On Temple manor entry fines were said in 1786 to be fixed at two years' quitrent, but on Lisles c. 1800 they were arbitrary. (fn. 23) Allotments made at inclosure in 1801 for copyhold comprised 134 a. for Lisles, only 80 a. for Temple manor, and 33 a. for Hinton Upperhall manor. (fn. 24) Part was at once enfranchised, (fn. 25) much of the rest from the 1890s. (fn. 26)
Until inclosure the arable occupied the centre of the parish. To the north-west lay Great Wilbraham marsh or fen, mentioned from the late 13th century, to the south-east along the Icknield way heathland, (fn. 27) which covered at least 235 a. in 1797. (fn. 28) The open fields, of which 60 a. were not being cultivated in 1340, (fn. 29) numbered four in the 14th century. (fn. 30) Mutlow field, probably the smallest, and perhaps called Little field by 1787, lay in the extreme south-east, adjoining Camden, later Caning, field, which amounted to c. 600 a., (fn. 31) to the north-east. Camden field abutted the heath in the 14th century, as did Middle field in the 17th. About 1660 Mutlow field was cultivated in one season' with Whetehill field, perhaps to its north. Meadow lay along the streams in the north: (fn. 32) in 1279 the Templars were accused of inclosing meadow from former common land. (fn. 33)
The open fields were probably cultivated on a triennial rotation from the 14th century. On Temple manor, where half the arable may have been fallowed c. 1308-9, the winter crops then included c. 100 a. of wheat and 35-75 a. of rye, while c. 200 a. sown in spring included 118- 147 a. of barley and 56-80 a. of dredge. Few legumes were grown. (fn. 34) Although barley predominated in the early 16th century, (fn. 35) rye and maslin were possibly still grown, being listed among the 18 qr. of winter corn then entrusted to the Temple demesne lessee with 40 qr. of barley. (fn. 36) From the mid 16th century to the late 17th saffron was grown, at first on inclosed plots in the open fields, later sometimes in tofts. (fn. 37) Before 1717 sainfoin had been introduced on closes of Temple manor. (fn. 38) A triennial rotation was still in use in the 1790s. (fn. 39)
About 1250 the Templars' demesne sheepflock was unstinted, (fn. 40) but by 1648 Temple manor had sheepwalk for only 300 beasts. (fn. 41) In 1360 one tenant of 15 a. could pasture 100 sheep. (fn. 42) By 1425 that manor had three permanent sheepfolds, one on the heath. (fn. 43) In the 1790s, when the heath was used as sheepwalk, Norfolk sheep being preferred, the farms on the Temple estate shared sheepwalk for 820 sheep. The fen common then fed c. 300 cows. (fn. 44)
Some 'yardland'-sized copyholds of 16-20 a. survived as independent units between the late 16th century (fn. 45) and the late 18th, when outsiders, partly from Cambridge, were buying them. (fn. 46) One family, the Dennises, retained a 35-a. copyhold until inclosure. (fn. 47) From the mid 17th century the farmland was increasingly incorporated into a few farms, mostly leased from the manorial estates. About 1650 Temple manor was divided into one farm of 240 a. and one of 205 a. (fn. 48) In 1717 that enlarged estate's 564 a. of arable and 70 a. of grass were let to six men. (fn. 49) By 1786 its 885 a. of arable and 60 a. of grass were divided among four farmers, each working 180-280 a. Four other farms of 140-210 a. and three of 60-105 a. then covered most of the other land. (fn. 50)
Inclosure, proposed in 1796, (fn. 51) was effected in 1797, simultaneously with that of Little Wilbraham, by the same commissioners, though under a separate Act of 1797. The award was delayed until 1801 by disputes over the commissioners' expenses. (fn. 52) It covered 2,501 a., (fn. 53) including c. 208 a. of old inclosures. Of the total area involved, the three estates derived from Temple and Lisles manors emerged, following complex exchanges, with c. 1,570 a. between them. The vicar, Jesus College, and parochial institutions received 326 a., while seven other landowners shared another 425 a., and some 90 a. more was allotted in lots of 2-3 a. for common rights, (fn. 54) claimed for 15 messuages and 36 cottages. (fn. 55)
The Act required that land be assigned for continued use as common pasture by the actual occupiers of commonable cottages. (fn. 56) So 56 a. in the fen was allotted on which resident cottagers occupying under 20 a. might each feed a cow or two calves, except in spring. (fn. 57) Although 30-5 residents still claimed such rights after 1900, few then owned any cattle. From c. 1965 the grazing rights were managed for a commoners' association. (fn. 58)
Following inclosure, although little more wheat was initially grown, rents doubled as the fen was brought under the plough. (fn. 59) Thenceforth the southern two thirds of the parish were mostly occupied by three large farms. (fn. 60) To the south-west was Hall farm, 645 a., with which an adjoining 195 a. to its north was often worked. Its tenant, John Aves, bred Southdown sheep, probably building on a flock of 450 owned by his predecessor. From 1812 to his death in 1847 he held annual sales, at which he sold 700-900 sheep yearly in the late 1810s, up to 1,500 in the 1830s. (fn. 61) To the north-east of Hall farm lay Upper Heath farm, 550-700 a., worked by the Tollers c. 1810-60. Beyond it the Hickses let 450-525 a. as Lower Heath farm. Their estate, on which a four-course rotation was required from 1810, included smaller farms nearer the village, one let into the 1840s to James Hicks's long serving agent William Tilbrook. (fn. 62) Lesser farms clustered round the village to south and east; only the Dennises' remained owneroccupied in the 1820s, In 1851 the three largest farms covered 2,215 a. In 1871 four comprised 2,130 a., another two containing 200 a. each, and two 100 a. each.
None of the 75 adult labourers reported c. 1830 were unemployed. (fn. 63) In the mid 19th century the farmers, requiring 100-120 men and c. 30 boys, could employ all the resident labourers, usually numbering 60-75 adults, though 100 in 1851. Arson was nevertheless occasionally reported, Tilbrook's farm being fired in 1845. (fn. 64) In 1871 14 men were engaged in coprolite digging. In 1845 Edward Hicks had begun to let allotments to c. 20 labourers, though forbidding Sunday work on them; 37 men had allotments in 1890. (fn. 65)
Although few of the larger farms changed hands in the 1880s, the vicar could not let his glebe farm by 1887; by 1896 a quarter of it was out of cultivation. (fn. 66) By 1910 R. S. Hicks had c. 1,045 a. of his estate in hand, only 210 a. being on lease. (fn. 67) In the early 20th century there were still usually four or five farms of over 150 a., two in 1950 exceeding 500 a. There were c. 80 farm labourers in 1930, still over 40 in 1950, but by 1970 most of the land was cultivated by the working farmers' families. (fn. 68)
Great Wilbraham remained largely devoted to arable farming in the 20th century. Of c. 1,200 a. under corn from the 1870s, the areas under wheat and barley were almost equal until after 1910, but barley later greatly predominated until c. 1970. Up to 250 a. of sugar beet, and some mustard, was grown from the 1930s. The area under grass increased from c. 450 a. in 1870 to 720 a., but had declined to its former level by 1970. Sheep, which had numbered c. 1,000 c. 1910, were no longer kept in 1976. (fn. 69) In 1955 the Hicks estate in the parish, then divided into eight farms, ranging from 88 to 440 a., had 1,400 a. of arable compared with 230 a. of pasture. (fn. 70) When Hall farm, still 642 a., was for sale in 1988, two thirds of it was apparently continuously cultivated with wheat, only a sixth each with winter barley and beet. (fn. 71)
The king's and the Richmond manor each had a mill in 1086. (fn. 72) Between 1275 and 1340 Temple manor had two water mills, besides a windmill, which with one water mill was being worked directly for the lord c. 1308, but was let by 1312. (fn. 73) By 1425 both water mills, the Wheteholm mill, probably on the Fulbourn boundary, and the 'Hom' mill, were in decay. (fn. 74) From the 1840s to the 1880s the Livermores worked a windmill built probably c. 1805 beside the road running south from the village. It was closed in the late 1890s and demolished in the early 20th century. (fn. 75)
A Thursday market and a six-day fair from 8 September, granted to John Lovetot in 1281, were not recorded later. (fn. 76) A copyhold smithy was recorded from the late 18th century to the early 20th. (fn. 77) In the 19th century the village supported several craftsmen, about a fifth of c. 60 households depending on trades in 1821. (fn. 78) There were a tailor c. 1858-80, a wheelwright to c. 1930, and a blacksmith, carpenters, and shoemakers into the 1930s. In the 19th and early 20th century there were usually 3 or 4 shops, including grocers. (fn. 79) Two shops remained in 1973. (fn. 80)