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 lords' demesnes included 2¾ hides, over half the assessment on the vill, and had 5 ploughteams, half the number for which there was land, with 4 servi; on the other land 8 villani and 5 bordars had 7 teams. (fn. 1)
In the Middle Ages the demesnes probably covered almost half the farmland in the parish. The former Talmasche fee covered 80-100 a. c. 1275; (fn. 2) the Hospitallers had 124 a. by 1338. (fn. 3) The Anglesey manor demesne, 85 a. by 1279, (fn. 4) was c. 80 a. in 1540, (fn. 5) as in 1797. (fn. 6) The Chamberlain manor fieldland came to 248 a. in 1667. (fn. 7) Of c. 300 a. of freehold arable recorded in 1279, c. 220 a. belonged to the 9 out of c. 30 freeholders who owned 10-35 a. each, while 17 with under 5 a. had only 33 a. between them. The 150 a. of customary land, equally divided between the Chamberlain and Talmasche fees, comprised eight 15-a. half yardlands and four quarter yardlands. The uniform labour services due from half yardlanders included on average 1½ days' weekwork throughout the year, besides ploughing weekly between Michaelmas and Lammas, and reaping four times a week in harvest. The quarterlanders owed half as much, as did a few cottagers, though they were excused ploughing. (fn. 8) Alice Talmasche leased her manorial farmstead, including a chapel, with a mill and 53 a. of arable, to Anglesey priory, perhaps c. 1261, when she let her 'Halk' with 10 a. for 30 years. (fn. 9) In 1368 the priory leased its 'Halkhouse' and 63 a. of arable with its fold to a village family for three lives. (fn. 10) In the late 15th and early 16th century the priory's manorial farm was usually let to one or more villagers, in 1534 for 40 years. (fn. 11) The Rycotes demesne was also on lease by 1495; (fn. 12) three men were renting it in 1550. (fn. 13)
By the early 15th century the customary land on both manors had been granted at uniform rents (fn. 14) of 1s. an arable acre. (fn. 15) About 1412 Anglesey granted such land for terms of up to 60 years. (fn. 16) In the 1470s such grants were still to men and their assigns, (fn. 17) but by the 1480s most grants of copyholds were formally hereditary. (fn. 18) By custom no heriots were due on Anglesey manor, (fn. 19) whose copyholders' entry fines came c. 1410, as still in 1516, to only c. 7s. for half yardlands. By 1592 fines on Rycotes stood at £5 for 18 a. (fn. 20) Such fines were still due in the 19th century; on Rycotes they were set at 1½ years' value on alienation, 2 years' on death. (fn. 21) At inclosure the fieldland allotted comprised c. 50 a. copyhold for Rycotes, 55 a. for Anglesey, and c. 30 a. dependent on Great Wilbraham Temple manor. (fn. 22) The Rycotes copyhold was mostly enfranchised in the late 19th century. (fn. 23)
In the 1790s, as probably in the Middle Ages, the open fields, nominally c. 900 a., covered barely half the land in the parish. (fn. 24) West of the village lay c. 470 a. of fen, used as common pasture, and in the extreme south-east 140-300 a. of heath, partly intercommonable. By the early 13th century the arable was divided into four or five fields. West field (up to 130 a.) lay south of the village closes, adjoining the stream and meadows. Three other long, narrow fields, separated by fieldways, stretched south-east to the heath. They comprised from south to north Combes field, Middle field, and Deadchurl (by 1350 Dewcher) field close to the Bottisham border; its western part was probably called Windmill field, 1220-50. Most of the arable lay in strips of 1 a. or less, although Rycotes demesne included in 1667 blocks of 6-8 a. and one of 30 a. near the heath. That demesne also included 23 a. of inclosed meadow attached to Combes and West fields. In 1794 the whole parish supposedly contained only 70 a. of good grassland.
The open fields were cultivated by 1500 on a triennial rotation, with fallow regularly used as common. (fn. 25) After inclosure Corpus Christi College still in 1819 required of its lessee a triennial fallow according to the custom of the country'. (fn. 26) In the early 16th century, when maslin was still grown, the main crop was probably barley. (fn. 27) As late as the 1790s only 170 a. of wheat was sown. (fn. 28) In the 1520s and 1590s saffron was grown in enclosed 'gardens' of up to 1 a. per owner, both in the open fields and on pasture land. (fn. 29)
From the Middle Ages Little Wilbraham fen partly fed sheep. (fn. 30) In 1086 there was a demesne flock of 214. (fn. 31) In early modern times the lord of Rycotes could keep one of 480, (fn. 32) and those of Temple and Anglesey, the latter already in 1360, flocks of 240 each. (fn. 33) In the 1790s four flocks were kept, one of 400, three of 100. (fn. 34) In the late 16th century the sheepflocks were excluded from the 'common moor', presumably the fen, between 25 March and sheep dipping time and must leave the Lammas meadow by 14 September and the stubble field by 1 November. (fn. 35) In 1702, pasture for cattle being scarce, the sheepwalk owners, farmers, and smallholders agreed to sow 22 a. of Dewcher field with sainfoin for 21 years, (fn. 36) as was still done c. 1787. (fn. 37)
The fen was also regularly cut for straw and sedge. (fn. 38) In the 16th century each villager could only mow sedge for one day between early summer and Michaelmas, and had to remove it by 1 November. They were not allowed to sell it outside the parish. (fn. 39) In 18th century the common fen was said to yield only sedge and rushes, being very poor pasture. (fn. 40)
In the late 15th and early 16th century there were still, besides smallholders with 5 a. or less, several copyholds of 18-20 a., probably surviving half yardlands, which descended in local families. The few larger ones, of up to 30 a., were liable to be broken up among several children, (fn. 41) or upon sale. (fn. 42) More prosperous villagers included the Beamonts, who leased part of a Lordship farm c. 1520, (fn. 43) and occupied 40-50 a. from the late 16th century to the late 17th. (fn. 44) Some larger holdings were passing to outsiders from 1500: 68 a., once held freely by the Sewales who had earlier been lessees of Anglesey demesne, (fn. 45) belonged 1500-50 to the Talbots, lords of Scalers in West Wratting. (fn. 46) About 1600 the Ventrises of Cambridge acquired 32 a. of freehold. (fn. 47) In the 18th century Cambridge tradesmen obtained several 20-a. copyholds. (fn. 48) In the 1660s five of the 25-30 inhabitants with only one or two hearths were too poor to be taxed, while only c. 8 inhabitants occupied houses with three or more hearths. (fn. 49) In 1667 there were only five substantial landowners outside the manorial estates, although in 1784 8-10 smallholders still survived. (fn. 50)
Inclosure, proposed in 1796 to be undertaken jointly with Great Wilbraham, was effected, nominally separately, but under virtually identical Acts of 1797 and by the same commissioners. The land was allotted after the 1797 harvest, but the award was delayed until 1801. (fn. 51) The land involved covered c. 1,915 a., including 125 a. of old inclosures. The owners of the manorial lands emerged with 747 a., and 431 a. were allotted to the rector and to charity. Five other large landowners received between 95 and 175 a. each, the remaining 140 a. going to smallholders with 25 a. or less. (fn. 52) Under the Act 30 a. at the north-western end of the fen was assigned for continued pasturage by poor occupants of commonable cottages under the same rules as at Great Wilbraham. (fn. 53) In 1800 few cottagers owned cows. (fn. 54) By the 1940s cottage dwellers had long ceased to common that land. Thereafter its grazing was let for the benefit of common right owners, numbering 8 c. 1942, 13 c. 1990. (fn. 55)
From 1800 to the 1930s the parish was mostly divided among seven or eight large farms. (fn. 56) North-east of the village were two of c. 115 a. each, one owner-occupied by the Dennis and Paul family of Bottisham into the 1840s. (fn. 57) Most of Rectory farm's 312 a. lay south-east of the village. In 1851 the rector returned some rent to his tenant; (fn. 58) after another tenant quit the farm in 1885 the rent fell sharply. (fn. 59) Following inclosure new farmsteads out in the fields had been erected both for that farm and for the 235-a. Corpus Christi farm beyond it, (fn. 60) which the college let from 1818 to Henry King (d. 1888). (fn. 61) Also occupying, c. 1830-75, Coventry farm (130 a.) to the north, (fn. 62) King was therefore working up to 600 a. c. 1860. A branch of the Kents had farmed Six Mile Bottom, later Station, farm, at the south-east end, (fn. 63) for a century before 1850. (fn. 64) Its 200 a., still mainly arable, remained on lease until after 1912, (fn. 65) but Sir Ernest Cassel and his heirs later kept it in hand. After 1900 the Francises let their consolidated property in the former fenland, much divided after inclosure, as Fen farm (125 a.) and Frog End farm (138 a.) to the Fisons. (fn. 66)
There was no unemployment among the 40 adult farm labourers in 1830. (fn. 67) In the mid 19th century there were usually 30-40 adult labourers, and as many as 60 in 1851, in the village; by the 1860s there were also 8-10 at Six Mile Bottom. The farmers had work for c. 60 labourers in 1851. (fn. 68) By 1900 one farmer had revived the traditional horkeys or harvest suppers. (fn. 69) In the 20th century, when there were usually 5-7 farmers with over 50 a., the number of labourers employed fell from c. 60 before 1950 to 24 in 1970. (fn. 70)
It had been reported, following inclosure, that the area under wheat had almost doubled, while the number of sheep, fed partly on turnips, was initially maintained at 1,000: (fn. 71) the rector kept c. 200 sheep in 1806, while a farmer near Six Mile Bottom had 800 in 1812. (fn. 72) On c. 1,700 a. later cultivated in the parish, the areas under wheat and barley were nearly equal from the 1870s to the 1930s, but barley predominated from the 1950s when much sugar beet was grown. The area of grassland doubled after the 1870s to over 500 a. between the 1890s and 1950s, reaching 620 a. in 1910, but fell sharply after 1950 as sheep, previously numbering 1,100-1,200, were no longer kept. (fn. 73) In the 1970s the farmland of the former college farm was divided by hedges into small paddocks for the Cedar Tree Stud. (fn. 74)
The manor included a mill in 1086, probably that attached by 1220 to the part of the manor held by the Talmasches' half of it: (fn. 75) William Talmasche's daughter Joan had a water mill in 1279, when that fee also included a windmill, (fn. 76) probably located by the 1220s in the north-west of Windmill or Deadchurl field. It was not mentioned after 1290, (fn. 77) although one plot of land was still called Windmill piece in 1784. (fn. 78) The water mill, named Hawk Mill by 1279 from its position in an angle of the parish, (fn. 79) was independently owned in 1397, (fn. 80) but belonged by the 1530s to Rycotes manor. (fn. 81) With Mill close (8 a.), it was regularly leased with Rycotes demesne thereafter. (fn. 82) From 1817 it was leased separately to the Colletts, who worked it c. 1782-1845, (fn. 83) then after 1864 to the Moores. When they bought it with 66 a. in 1919, (fn. 84) it was perhaps already disused. The millhouse, rebuilt in brick c. 1835, (fn. 85) later became a farmhouse. (fn. 86) In the 1930s the Moores still ground their own corn at a three-storeyed brick tower mill built by 1820 beside Mill way leading to Hawk Mill. (fn. 87) Its machinery was still in place c. 1975, but the sails had gone. (fn. 88) About 1990 its owners, the Francises, converted it into a dwelling. (fn. 89)
A furlong's being named Brick Clamps in 1787 perhaps indicates that brick making once took place there. (fn. 90) In 1801 agriculture employed 71 people, crafts only four, (fn. 91) and the proportion was 50 to 5 in 1831. (fn. 92) The only craftsmen left 1855-85 were a carpenter and a shoemaker. A grocery shop was in business from the 1850s to the 1980s. (fn. 93)