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 1299 the prior of Fordham, already in 1279 entitled to his tenants' fines for breaking the assizes of bread and of ale, (fn. 1) successfully claimed under a charter of Henry III, presumably one covering the whole order of Sempringham, to have view of frankpledge, infangthief, and felons' goods, with freedom from sheriff's aid and similar dues. (fn. 2) At that time the two manors derived from the royal demesne were also entitled to view of frankpledge and those two assizes: Robert le Norreys, also claiming infangthief, had recently hanged a sheep-stealer taken red-handed. (fn. 3) The tenants of Bassingbourns manor, however, owed suit to their lord's court at Wicken. (fn. 4) In 1334 the lord of Hengraves manor held two leets a year at Michaelmas and Easter. (fn. 5) From the 14th century to the 19th the Duchy of Lancaster manor at Soham also exercised leet jurisdiction over its tenants of land in Fordham, at courts for which records survive for 1373, 1394-9, 1404-8, 1421-2, 1435, (fn. 6) 1465, (fn. 7) and 1577-9. (fn. 8) From the late 17th century its Fordham business, mostly land transfers, was registered in its Soham court books. (fn. 9) Its 'liberty' was still considered in 1656 to comprise all the north-west of Fordham, not merely fields and commons, but most of Carter and Market Streets, and the village crofts to their south and east as far as Paddock Street and the Dam. (fn. 10) By the late 17th century, however, all the intercommonable fens formerly under its control were treated as part of Fordham for such civil purposes as taxation. (fn. 11) From the 14th century the Duchy court had selected for Fordham a distinct group of six or more chief pledges. It also named aletasters for Fordham and often enforced the assize of ale there. It still supervised c. 1405 membership of tithings in Fordham, occasionally dealt with breaches of public order there as late as the 1570s, also by the 1460s enacting agrarian bylaws for it.
In early modern times all four manors in Fordham had courts baron. Court rolls survive for Feltons for 1493-6 (fn. 12) and 1529-43, (fn. 13) followed by a court book for 1623-98. (fn. 14) Its court still sometimes c. 1540 handled leet business, including the assizes of bread and ale, also then naming aletasters. About 1530 it passed bylaws on field management 'by the assent of the tenants', by 1540 also with 'the lord's advice'. (fn. 15) About 1610 it was still the main instrument for regulating agrarian matters. (fn. 16) By the mid 17th century, though it still occasionally reissued the village's standard code of farming bylaws, (fn. 17) it was mainly concerned with transfers of copyholdings. Copyhold title had already in the 15th century been the principal business of Bassingbourns court, for which rolls survive, with gaps, for 1423-61, 1534-41, 1559-1602, and 1609-55, (fn. 18) followed by minute books, also covering other college manors, between 1656 and 1820, (fn. 19) which overlap court books solely for the college's Fordham manor, for 1741-1930. (fn. 20) For Coggeshalls manor, which had still heard lawsuits in the 1430s, but was by 1550 similarly devoted to tenurial business, rolls survive for 1435-40 and 1510, and at intervals between 1544 and 1624, followed by court books for 1631-86 and 1735-42. (fn. 21)
The Abbey estate's predominant position in Fordham from the late 17th century is reflected by the registration, in the first of Biggen manor's surviving court books, which extend from 1694 to the 1930s (fn. 22) and are otherwise almost entirely concerned with tenurial matters, of Fordham's agrarian bylaws in 1698, 1731, and 1739, and as late as 1805; fenreeves and pinders were appointed at that court's main half-yearly meetings (fn. 23) and occasionally at other times, until inclosure. (fn. 24) The Soham Duchy court also continued until c. 1770 to issue at nominally separate sessions for Fordham bylaws on commoning and turf-digging for what remained of the former intercommon, naming its own pairs of fenreeves and pinders to enforce them. (fn. 25) The parish pound, still in use in 1820, was repaired in 1875. (fn. 26)
In 1535 one court forbade villagers to put up vagabond beggars for more than one day. (fn. 27) From the 1560s bequests were made to the parish poor box, and money left for the parish officers to distribute among the poor. (fn. 28) By the 1660s ten villagers out of c. 100 were taking 'collection' from the parish, while eight other householders were too poor to be rated. (fn. 29) In 1805 the parish restricted the right to dig turf for firing to paupers legally settled in Fordham. (fn. 30) By 1803 the cost of poor relief had trebled since 1776 to £466, which was used to support 22 people on permanent outside relief, and 26 others occasionally assisted, half needy through age or sickness. (fn. 31) In 1813-14 over £1,000 a year was spent on c. 30 paupers permanently on the rates, and up to 35 less regularly helped. (fn. 32) In the 1810s the overseers usually paid through the 'weekly bill', often costing c. £30-5 a month, for 40 or more permanent poor, almost half widows, while payments through the 'by bill' went more to men, presumably labourers, numbering 40-50 by the end of winter, when its cost sometimes doubled. (fn. 33) The annual expense of poor relief, after rising again to £1,225-425 in the late 1810s, declined by over a third, to £800-900, into the late 1820s, and by 1832-3 had been driven below £800. (fn. 34) The parish was still c. 1830 assisting large families, and in winter paying 30-40 unemployed labourers to work on its roads. The overseers then spent £40, with £12 from the fuel allotment, on buying 140,000 turfs, besides clothing, for the poor. (fn. 35)
Tension between Fordham's authorities and its labouring class, increasingly dissenters, broke out in 1828, when, following a demand that the poor rate be announced in chapel as well as church, a decision against the vestry at Quarter Sessions was greeted by many villagers with bell-ringing, flag-flying from the church tower, and insulting parish officers who intervened. (fn. 36) Although from 1835 Fordham was included in the Newmarket poor-law union, (fn. 37) the vestry was still in the 1850s gathering subscriptions among its members to distribute coal, flannel, and calico by ticket to 100-300 of the village poor. (fn. 38) From 1894 Fordham belonged to Newmarket rural district, from 1974 to East Cambridgeshire. (fn. 39)
An association for prosecuting felons around Fordham, founded in 1833, which drew 16 of its 24 members from that parish and Soham, was still active in 1843. (fn. 40) The parish constables were still enforcing public order in the 1810s. (fn. 41) The village lock-up, rebuilt after being almost destroyed in 1830 by poachers rescuing a comrade, (fn. 42) was still in use in the 1870s. By the mid 1850s Fordham had a resident policeman, housed in 1887 in the old vicarage, but not initially universally supported: in 1855 240 villagers combined to pay fines imposed on boys arrested for damaging the village cage, which later housed the fire engine. (fn. 43) Fordham still had its own policeman in the 1980s. (fn. 44)
Fordham, which apparently had no fire engine c. 1830, (fn. 45) had by 1844 procured one, thenceforth often used to combat fires. (fn. 46) In 1889 the vestry acquired a new engine for the newly organized village fire brigade, to which it gave the site of the village pound to build its engine house. (fn. 47) Fordham retained its own fire engine and brigade until the 1940s. The fire station was later sold for storage. (fn. 48) In 1852 the parish acquired from William Dunn Gardner a site off Market Street for a parish pump, still kept in repair in 1980. (fn. 49) Of the four gravel pits, in all 4 a., allotted to the parish at inclosure, one south of the village was sold for railway building in 1892, others, along with a parish landing stage in West fen, (fn. 50) remained parish property in the late 20th century, when some were used for waste disposal. (fn. 51)
In the 1850s Fordham's parish government was troubled by squirearchy, William Dunn Gardner (II) clashing with other vestrymen, while the curate tried to mediate. Dunn Gardner steadily refused to reimburse the parish when a local villain, assisted to emigrate at Dunn Gardner's instance in 1853, reappeared shortly afterwards, (fn. 52) or when a bankrupt tenant of his, whom he imposed in 1854 as salaried highway surveyor, again failed in 1860. The vestrymen, several of whom were the squire's tenants, dared not sue on his bond, while his authority as J.P. overawed villagers who demonstrated outside the Abbey. (fn. 53)
The parish council established in 1894 (fn. 54) shortly began to procure allotments. (fn. 55) It was letting 12 a. by 1901, and from the 1910s used 8 a. more, including the Church land, (fn. 56) and still provided allotments in the 1990s. (fn. 57) By then some earlier ones had been built over, although others east of the village were left. (fn. 58) By the 1960s the streets were lighted with gas, whose complex replacement with electricity the parish council was arranging throughout the 1970s. (fn. 59) Many wells still remained in use, or were deepened, in the early 20th century, even though concern over pollution encouraged in the mid 1920s a piped link to the Soham water supply for some houses. (fn. 60) By the 1970s Fordham had mains drainage, and shared a sewerage system, recently extended, with Soham and Wicken, though its pumping station was almost overloaded. (fn. 61) In the late 20th century the parish council was long led, often as chairmen, by two generations of the Palmer family, substantial Fordham farmers. (fn. 62)