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 the late 13th century Ramsey abbey claimed infangthief under its (forged) charter of Edward the Confessor. It enjoyed view of frankpledge and the assize of bread and of ale, confirmed by King John, to be held in the presence of the king's hundred bailiff. Henry III granted or confirmed to the abbey the right to a gallows, perhaps recalled by Gallowhill in Ditch field, mentioned from 1396, with a tumbrel and the amercements charged on its men. (fn. 1) In 1265 the rector of St. Mary's agreed that his tenants attend the abbot's leet, but reserved to himself fines levied on them. (fn. 2) Leet jurisdiction remained formally attached to the Ramsey manor in the 1530s, when the abbey's lessee had to accommodate the steward coming to hold those courts, as still c. 1650. (fn. 3) In the 1270s and 1299 view of frankpledge and those assizes were also held, as granted by Henry III, by Tiptofts manor, for which infangthief and a gallows were claimed in 1299, while the lord of Dullinghams at least held the assizes c. 1275. (fn. 4) Lords of Tiptofts received profits of leet jurisdiction in the early 14th century. (fn. 5)
For Ramseys manor court rolls survive for 1296, 1301, 1308-12, 1321-2, 1326, 1347-50, (fn. 6) 1400, 1411-12, 1419, 1428, 1440, 1452, 1473, 1486-9, and c. 1510. (fn. 7) For its period of Crown lordship, rolls are preserved for 1562-87 and 1609-13, (fn. 8) followed by court books for 1664-1840. (fn. 9) In the 14th and 15th centuries that court probably met only for the two leet sessions, (fn. 10) which enforced the assizes of bread and ale into the early 17th century. (fn. 11) They also handled into the late 15th century minor breaches of public order, including sometimes hamsocn, (fn. 12) also occasionally requiring villagers to be in tithing. (fn. 13) They also heard lawsuits between tenants, mostly pleas of debt and trespass, (fn. 14) into the 1440s. (fn. 15) Members of the presenting jury were sometimes punished for revealing its deliberations. (fn. 16) Bylaws, including those regulating agrarian practices, were sometimes made in the 14th century by the common assent of the community of the township, acting c. 1400 with the lord's steward, (fn. 17) and after 1500 by the chief pledges and the vill. (fn. 18) By 1560 they were consulting the lessees of Ramseys and Tiptofts manors. (fn. 19) In 1412 fines for breaking bylaws were divided, a third each to the lords of Ramseys and Tiptofts manors, a third to the two parish churches. (fn. 20)
Ramseys court appointed aletasters from the late 13th century (fn. 21) to the mid 17th. (fn. 22) From the 1470s it also named both the constables, (fn. 23) recorded since the 1310s, (fn. 24) and the fenreeves, recorded from 1350, (fn. 25) responsible for managing the drainage of the fens. In the 16th century villagers were expected to perform their drainage duties through an annual common day's work. (fn. 26) Although in the 14th century Ramsey abbey had insisted that its freeholders' charters be scrutinized at its court, (fn. 27) between the 1390s and the 1450s it usually registered the admission to land of its customary tenants separately. (fn. 28) From the late 16th century such admissions constituted much of that court's business. Between the 1580s and the 1690s the formal nomination of village officers, (fn. 29) including the haywards, also named in the Ramseys court from the 1580s, (fn. 30) was registered by Tiptofts court. Agrarian bylaws were also during that period usually issued at Tiptofts court, (fn. 31) but from the 1660s, though less frequently, mostly at Ramseys again. (fn. 32) Rolls survive for Tiptofts manor for 1580-5, (fn. 33) 1643-57, (fn. 34) and 1675-93, (fn. 35) and court books for 1680-1726 and 1772-1924. (fn. 36) Those, like the books for Dullinghams manor covering 1681-1929, (fn. 37) for St. Omers manor for 1703-1912, (fn. 38) and those for courts held for the Rectory manor from 1626 until after 1777, (fn. 39) are almost entirely concerned with transfers of title to copyholds.
From the late 16th century the manor courts tried to restrain immigration by potentially burdensome poor. In 1582 new cottages built without the consent of the town were denied rights of common. (fn. 40) About 1613 the jury restricted the right to agist cattle to ratepayers, ordered the removal of lodgers, and forbade villagers to let houses to newcomers not already resident for three years, without finding surety to St. Mary's churchwardens to discharge the parish of any resulting costs. (fn. 41) The vestry named the constables by the 1720s, (fn. 42) besides electing the usual parish officers. (fn. 43) In 1736 it fitted up a town house where paupers might spin. By 1776 that house held 20 inmates. (fn. 44) From the 1770s to the 1820s, with especial frequency between 1805 and 1815, married couples were sought to manage the poor in the workhouse. (fn. 45) It was probably already established in the former medieval guildhall, hired between the mid 1780s and the mid 1830s from the Church Lands trustees as a 'workhouse' to accommodate paupers, including lunatics, not necessarily actually working or confined in it. (fn. 46) In 1797 the parish hired a Newmarket surgeon to attend its poor. (fn. 47)
By 1803, when expenditure on them had almost doubled since the 1780s to £877, the workhouse had 30 occupants, but 50 others were regularly relieved outside it, and as many more helped occasionally. (fn. 48) In the mid 1810s, when c. 900 people, two thirds of the population, might be assisted from the rates, at a cost of £1,500 or more before 1815, only 20 were in the workhouse, while 175 others normally obtained relief outside it. (fn. 49) Since the early 1790s the overseers had assisted able-bodied labourers, (fn. 50) and c. 1830 those with large families still received parish allowances. (fn. 51) About 1835 the 15 males, out of 49 permanent paupers, half over sixty, of whom few were in the workhouse, included nine old men. (fn. 52) Between 1815 and the 1830s expenditure on poor relief seldom fell below £1,400 and was sometimes over £1,700. (fn. 53) From 1835 Burwell was part of Newmarket poor-law union, (fn. 54) and belonged from 1894 to Newmarket rural district, with part of which it was incorporated in 1974 into East Cambridgeshire district. (fn. 55)
A fire engine, bought in 1744 and thereafter maintained for the parish by the Town Lands charity, (fn. 56) was housed until 1860 in the former sacristy at the church. (fn. 57) Later it was kept in the two-celled, early 19th-century village lock-up at the north end of the Causeway. (fn. 58) It remained in regular use in the 19th and early 20th centuries (fn. 59) until its volunteer team disbanded, the engine being obsolete, c. 1920. Thereafter Burwell often relied on private fire engines kept by large local firms, especially after a village fire station had been closed c. 1966. (fn. 60)
Elected parish constables were still expected to keep order c. 1850, (fn. 61) but Burwell also had from 1848 an association for prosecuting felons, still meeting in 1873, (fn. 62) besides a resident policeman from the 1870s (fn. 63) to the 1990s. (fn. 64) Despite police efforts, poachers, sheepstealers, and smugglers still haunted Pout Hall in the far north-west of the fen: (fn. 65) 229 people claimed in 1892 that intimidation by a gang of ruffians prevented witnesses coming forward against them. (fn. 66) By the 1990s the populous village was alarmed by an urban-style crime wave, involving not only hooliganism by youths (fn. 67) and vandalism, (fn. 68) reported since the mid 1970s, but arson at public houses (fn. 69) and frequent burglaries. (fn. 70)
In 1891 the parish sold one of the two exhausted 2-a. gravel pits allotted at inclosure in 1817. (fn. 71) The parish council, dominated by dissenters when first elected in 1894, (fn. 72) usually met at the Jubilee reading room opened in 1889, partly to improve small farmers' technical knowledge. (fn. 73) From 1895 the council maintained there an independent parish lending library of 3,200 volumes, only superseded by the county library service in 1965. (fn. 74) The parish had the streets watered by 1872 (fn. 75) and by 1906 provided street lighting, initially with oil lamps. (fn. 76) It procured by 1895 15 a. of allotments, partly bought c. 1921, (fn. 77) still much in demand in the 1970s. (fn. 78) It also bought in 1897 a 10-a. recreation ground south of Parsonage Lane, (fn. 79) on which a sports pavilion was built in 1899. (fn. 80)