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 c. 16½ ploughlands at Isleham were well supplied with ploughteams. All but the four on the four manorial demesnes, were possessed by the 31 villani then recorded with 13 bordars. Only one demesne had any servi. (fn. 1)
In 1279, of c. 60 freeholders, only c. 12, with c. 265 a. in all, possessed 10 a. or more. Another 48, with under 75 a. between them, few with more than a messuage and 1-2 a. each, presumably supported themselves partly on the resources of the extensive common fens. The larger freeholdings included, besides one of 60 a., five of 15 a., possibly enfranchised half yardlands; another eleven half yardlands still held in villeinage remained on Great Isleham manor and three on Ely priory's (later Uphall), the only two manors with much customary land. Those customary tenants' labour services were relatively light: the Ely villeins owed 30 weekworks each year, those of Great Isleham 40, besides harvest works, when each was required to reap 18 a. Altogether customary land accounted for only 222 a. out of the arable then reported, and freeholds for c. 360 a., over half of which was held of Great Isleham manor.
By 1279 two of the original manorial demesnes had been substantially reduced by grants to ecclesiastical bodies, that of Great Isleham manor probably by c. 200 a. to 180 a., that of the former Richmond fee, later Little Isleham, by 120 a. to 106 a. By the 1320s, however, the Walkefares had increased their Beckhall demesne arable from the 42 a. held of the Rochester fee in 1279 to 120 a., (fn. 2) probably by acquiring smaller freeholds. By c. 1400 most of the independent freehold land had probably been absorbed into the Bernard family estate. Upon its descent to the Peytons in the 1460s, (fn. 3) it comprised 378 a. of arable, (fn. 4) besides 34 messuages in the settled areas, half of them by then no longer occupied by dwellings, which had once been possessed by over 25 villagers. There had also been some concentration of ownership on the remaining non-manorial freehold: in the 1460s c. 55 villagers, only half of whom had any open-field land, held freely, through c. 90 separate lines of descent, another 65 of the houses then still standing; those houses had seldom recently passed in the same male line for more than two generations. (fn. 5) Those freeholders apparently had only a sixth of the open fields, of which over two thirds probably belonged to the six large manorial estates. (fn. 6)
By 1345 six customary tenants of Great Isleham manor paid 3 3s. 4d. instead of their works, although as late as the 1460s some customary land of that manor was held in bondage, some at the lord's will. (fn. 7) By the 1480s at latest, all bond land on that manor was yielding only rents, while its demesne arable, 227 a., was then on lease to several of its tenants. (fn. 8) About 1600, when freeholders owed two years' rent as a relief, the copyholders' right to entail their land was questioned. In the mid 17th century the Maynards, having recently bought the manors, investigated those holdings' obligations, even including the obsolete liability to suit of mill. (fn. 9)
In the 18th century fines for admission on the main manorial estate were apparently at the lord's will, (fn. 10) as were those on King's College's Shrewsburys manor. (fn. 11) At inclosure only c. 210 a. was in 1854 allotted as copyhold in the former open fields, two thirds for that held of Great Isleham manor. Later 58 a., including fen allotments, were held as Shrewsburys copyhold, representing 47 a. previously so held. (fn. 12) The main manors' copyholds, including others held since the 17th century in the fen, were gradually enfranchised from the 1860s onwards. (fn. 13)
In the 15th century (fn. 14) Isleham's arable was divided into four fields, possibly rearranged in the 13th century from an earlier three-field pattern, comprising East, South, and West fields. (fn. 15) The East field, recorded from the 13th century, (fn. 16) lay south-east of Great Isleham village, the West field, also recorded from that period, (fn. 17) to the south-west, extending as far as Little Isleham closes. The south field (fn. 18) between them, once perhaps the largest, was divided before 1300 into two parts: one to the east, presumably then the smaller, was named by the 1270s the Little South field. (fn. 19) In the 1460s, when it was cultivated in the same shift as the West field, though including only twelve furlongs, it apparently reached in to the southern extremity of the parish, as far as a sandpit, perhaps the site of a gravel pit there assigned to the parish at inclosure. About 1465 one of that field's furlongs adjoined Herringsmere pasture off the south-eastern boundary. (fn. 20) The remainder of the southern field to the west, called by 1333 the Great South field, comprised 32 furlongs in the 1460s. (fn. 21) Possibly in the early 18th century the arable in the two South fields may again have been rearranged to make them more even in size. (fn. 22)
From c. 1600 the West and East fields were often, though not invariably, called respectively Dunstall and Inholms or Inhams fields, (fn. 23) the former from Tunstall or Dunstall, common land lying by its western end, north of Little Isleham closes; (fn. 24) those closes still c. 1840 covered 76 a., held in severalty. (fn. 25) Inholms field was named after 'inhams', meadows beyond its eastern edge taken into severalty; some were recorded c. 1465. (fn. 26) In the 1840s c. 1,350 a. of open field were reported. (fn. 27)
About 1160 William fitz Alan assured to Shrewsbury abbey a share in any purprestures made and to be made in Isleham's fens. (fn. 28) Such intakes from the fen presumably helped create a line of inclosed meadows along its southern edge, each side of Great Isleham village. They numbered c. 45 by the 1460s, when they mostly belonged to manorial estates; the Peytons then had a quarter of them. The intakes east of the village, which included hedged meadows c. 1465, curved around the northern edge of the East field, (fn. 29) those to the west lay north of a way leading to Little Isleham. (fn. 30)
North of those meadows lay the village's common fens: those immediately to its north were distinguished c. 1465 as West fen, beyond the west part of Newnham street, (fn. 31) and East fen, north of East field, (fn. 32) with Dam fen between them. (fn. 33) In the 1630s Isleham's fens were reckoned to cover c. 3,125 a., of which East fen accounted for c. 210 a. and West fen extending northwards along the Soham border for 1,045 a. The fen between them reaching north-east to the Lark or 'Mildenhall river' covered another 912 a. Two other fens in the far north contained together 960 a. (fn. 34) Following the partition of the fens soon after into several holdings, the more southerly part, c. 1,600 a., was reckoned to include 385 a. in an enlarged East fen. Another 440 a. in the remainder of West fen, stretching northward beside the 'Soham Bank', apparently included part of an 'old turf fen">Dam fen, then totalling c. 775 a., was sometimes called after 1700 the Hives. The southern part of the former 'fother fen' beyond them was still so named c. 1800. (fn. 35)
In the 1340s the open-field arable was subject to a rotation, (fn. 36) probably triennial, as was that in use in the 1790s and 1830s, of wheat, barley, and fallow. (fn. 37) By the 16th century both villagers and lords were probably growing mainly of barley. (fn. 38) One landowner in 1504 left 100 combs of barley, compared with 20 of rye and only 5 of wheat. (fn. 39) In 1584 the lord, Robert Peyton (d. 1590), had 252 qr. of barley for sale. (fn. 40) Rye was still being grown in the 17th century. (fn. 41)
In that century and the 18th the fallow still served as common pasture, initially for larger cattle. The wheat stubble was barred to sheep for up to two weeks, the barley stubble for up to four. About 1730 the fields were sown mainly with wheat, barley, and peas. (fn. 42) In 1785 the 220 a. titheable to the former priory was expected to include 140 a. under barley and 80 a. under wheat. (fn. 43) Other crops came from inclosed land; two messuages had been converted to hempyards by the 1460s. (fn. 44) One was still let with a hempground in 1615. (fn. 45) In the early 19th century one close south-west of Isleham Hall was still called Saffron close. (fn. 46) About 1830 some potatoes and turnips were grown. (fn. 47)
The fens were used as common by the 13th century: in the 1240s the bishop of Rochester, Ely priory, and Parnel de Dunstanville, as lords of three large manors, agreed to share equally the profits from impounding excess cattle and horses taken there during the regular drifts conducted by their bailiffs. (fn. 48) Part may have been at one time intercommonable with Soham: in 1346 a lord and villagers of Isleham arrested there and impounded 80 cattle and 1,000 sheep of Queen Philippa, then lessor of the main Soham manor's demesne. (fn. 49) In 1293 the Templars, when letting some Isleham land to the Bernards, reserved pasture for all livestock and rights of digging turf and cutting rushes in the fen. (fn. 50)
Until the mid 17th century Isleham's sheepflocks grazed on the fens each year before Christmas. (fn. 51) The fens probably also supported the 'milch bullocks' owned in the 16th century both by several villagers (fn. 52) and by the Peytons, then lords. (fn. 53) Farmers still kept dairy cattle in the early 19th century. (fn. 54) In early modern times villagers also kept sheep, (fn. 55) but the largest flocks were probably on the manorial farms. They had extensive rights of sheepwalk, reckoned apparently in long hundreds (120s), (fn. 56) Newhall manor for '400' and Beckhall manor for '500' in 1530, (fn. 57) Shrewsburys for '300', (fn. 58) and Uphall probably for '300', the number kept by its lessees in the early 16th century; (fn. 59) Pembroke College still had sheepwalk for 360 sheep c. 1840. (fn. 60) In 1567 one villager had 200 sheep, out of some 500 which he was pasturing, impounded as beyond his entitlement. (fn. 61)
In 1518 Sir Robert Peyton kept a flock of 400 at Isleham. (fn. 62) As late as 1678 the lords of the Isleham estate were still keeping there almost 400 grown sheep, yielding 203 lambs, and cattle including 23 milch cows. (fn. 63) About 1795 c. 800 Norfolk sheep were fed in the whole parish. (fn. 64) In the 1840s the sheepmasters still asserted exclusive rights of sheepwalk over the open fields. (fn. 65)
In 1469 almost all Thomas Peyton's arable was let to thirteen farmers. Nine of them, including six occupying 30 a. each and another with 80 a., paid standard rents of 16d. an acre, although another 80-a. holding rendered only 10d. per acre. (fn. 66) During much of the 16th century the Peytons apparently worked a home farm at their Isleham manor house. Christopher Peyton (d. 1507) bequeathed wheat, barley, and at least 60 sheep, (fn. 67) and his nephew Sir Robert's widow Elizabeth (d. 1545-6), who owned cattle and horses, employed servants in husbandry, including a shepherd. (fn. 68) Soon after 1600, however, the Peyton estate was again mostly on lease, Newhall manor by 1609, Bernards by 1612. (fn. 69)
Possession of the larger leaseholds probably helped in the 16th and 17th centuries to make wealthier certain Isleham families, including the Lukyns. They were lessees of Uphall for 60 years from 1536 (fn. 70) and of Newhall manor in 1609 and into the 1650s. (fn. 71) Between the 1640s and the 1660s, styling themselves gentry, they had the King's and Pembroke College leases at Isleham. (fn. 72) From the mid 17th century the Casborne family similarly had the rectory lease under the see of Rochester, (fn. 73) besides copyholds, and c. 1638-75 a lease of 'sheepleys"> (fn. 74) By 1680, having succeeded the Lukyns in occupation of Bernards manor farm, (fn. 75) they owned 60 a. of copyhold. (fn. 76) Those two families were among the larger non-manorial landowners in the mid 17th century, along with the Sharpes, (fn. 77) who still owned 150 a. c. 1800. (fn. 78) Two of them had in 1686 occupied 135 a. and 35 a. out of the 435 a. of arable then let, with 150 a. of several fen, to c. 25 people from the main manorial estate. (fn. 79) Such prosperous farmers were a small minority; in the 1660s only c. 25 out of almost 160 dwellings had more than two hearths, while in 1664 nearly half of almost 80 houses with only one hearth each had occupants too poor to be taxed. (fn. 80)
The manorial estate was considerably enlarged when Isleham fen was divided from the 1630s. About 1620 Sir Edward Peyton, like his father Sir John, had strongly opposed schemes for draining and inclosing the Cambridgeshire fens. He later alleged that the Attorney-General Sir Robert Heath, his neighbour at Soham, had plotted to 'frame' him for allegedly supporting violent resistance to those schemes, and then to buy his forfeited estates. (fn. 81) Sir John Maynard, Peyton's successor as lord, followed him too in opposing the Bedford Level drainage in the late 1640s, being aware of the interdependence, particularly in feeding cattle for milk and beef, between the fen pastures and their neighbouring uplands. (fn. 82) In 1652-3 the inhabitants of Isleham petitioned, unsuccessfully despite Maynard's support, against the drainers taking half their fens. According to the allotment approved in the late 1630s, (fn. 83) 920 a. of those fens were assigned to the Adventurers, including all 308 a. on the north-west of the parish by Soham's Metlam fens, two thirds, 422 a., of Isleham's 'mow fen' beside the Lark, and 190 a. at the north end of West Fen. (fn. 84)
Those 920 a. were still held in severalty as Adventurers' land in the 1820s, when almost two thirds belonged to just three men, one owning 355 a. (fn. 85) From that holding was formed the compact Lark House, later Lark Hall, farm established by 1815 and covering 314 a. in 1827 (fn. 86) and 325 a. in 1877. It was usually held on lease from estates outside the parish, including those of the Dobedes of Soham c. 1847-77, (fn. 87) and of the Cole Ambroses of Stuntney in the early 20th century. (fn. 88)
After 1660 Sir John Maynard's daughter-inlaw Dame Katherine took advantage of the Bedford Level Act of 1663 to have Isleham's remaining fens inclosed. Under awards effected in 1666-7 she received c. 950 a., including 134 a. of East, 473 a. of Dam, and 333 a. of West fens. Another 100 a. went to two owners of sheepwalk, for '300' beasts each. Of the remainder 100 a. were assigned for the poor, 50 a. going to the Peyton almshouses; another 50 a. by the Lark were left open for continued commoning and turf cutting. Some 266 a., mostly in West and Dam fens, was divided into lots of 15 a. for each common right among the owners of eleven free and six copyhold commonable messuages. (fn. 89)
By 1760 the higher fenland near the village had been ploughed up. The rest, up to 2,000 a., still often flooded, was used as feeding grounds, both by sheepmasters and for greater cattle. The better drainage effected from the 1760s enabled corn and coleseed to be sown on part of the land. (fn. 90) About 1795 c. 200 a. of former fen near the village provided good pasture. Another 300 a. of 'skirtland' was rentable, but a further 1,500 a. was too poorly drained to be used for anything but the deleterious cutting of turf. (fn. 91) By 1847, when there was said to be altogether 2,635 a. of fenland, presumably uncultivated, all but 130 a. of it being held in severalty, (fn. 92) 56 a. of the 192 a. in East fen was arable. (fn. 93)
After the 1660s the standardized bylaws on commoning frequently reissued into the early 18th century applied only to the use of the open fields. (fn. 94) Repeated proposals, made annually before each harvest between 1813 and 1818, to apply for an inclosure Act came to nothing. (fn. 95) Isleham's open fields were not inclosed until the late 1840s, being among the last to be so dealt with in Cambridgeshire. Besides 100 a. in the inhabited closes around the village, Isleham's 'high land' then included 454 a. of inclosed arable and 446 a. of inclosed pasture, apparently with c. 240 a. of 'rough, waste' land. (fn. 96) The fields were divided under the General Inclosure Act of 1845, just before the tithes were commuted in 1847, although the award was not issued until 1854. It did not affect the old inclosures, save for a few exchanges, (fn. 97) nor the fenland divided in the 1660s. Accordingly the drainage ditches laid out there still follow external or internal boundaries of those earlier allotments. Another 76 a., called the Washes, of floodable land by a bend in the river, remained as commonable land, being still grazed in the early 20th century by up to 100 cattle. (fn. 98) In the late 20th century the parish council was still managing and letting out grazing rights there. (fn. 99)
Barely 100 out of over 235 landowners in the parish claimed open-field land in 1847. Of the land then allotted, 348 a. went to manorial and corporate estates, including only 145 a. to the Knights for Hall farm. Another 473 a. was allotted to five holdings of 70-130 a. and 107 a. for five of 20-35 a., while c. 90 other owners with 10 a. or less had 352 a. in all. Most of those smallholders received areas nearly equivalent to their previous open-field holdings, largely set out just south of the village, especially off the Chippenham road. The larger allotments were spread fanwise around the southern edges of the parish. (fn. 100)
Most of the land in Isleham belonged in the late 1840s to holdings worked from the village, which largely comprised farmland on the higher land in the south, though extending into the fen: ten holdings of over 100 a. each, totalling 1,545 a. on that higher ground, also included 560 a. of the fen. Likewise another eleven people, who owned 50-100 a. each, had c. 875 a. on the upland and 400 a. in the fen, and fifteen others with 20-50 a. each owned altogether 495 a. and 285 a. in those two areas. In the fen there were only three holdings, totalling 710 a., of over 100 a., not including any land further south. Nine others with 20-100 a. in the fen comprised 360 a., and 65 smallholders, some owner-occupiers, with under 20 a. each, possessed 345 a. there. Almost half the parish, 2,400 a., was worked in 1847 by eight farmers occupying farms of 250 a. or more; only one of them, Lark Hill farm, was in the fen, while only c. 685 a. there was farmed by lesser men with 20-100 a. each. (fn. 101)
The contrast (fn. 102) between the south of the parish, mostly occupied by large farms, and the fenland, with its isolated smallholders and labourers, persisted in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. (fn. 103) The fen labourers, who comprised 58 adults altogether in 1851 and 66, only 12 of them certainly farm workers, in 1871, often sought work in neighbouring parishes. They supplemented any wages by cutting turf, catching fish, eels, and moles, while their wives made butter from the family cow. The men also netted wildfowl and even songbirds for the London market, to which went also cut flowers: by 1900 their growing on fen smallholdings was being encouraged by the Quinns, who traded there as florists c. 1910-40. In 1950 flowers were produced on over 50 a. in Isleham, in 1970 on 29 a. (fn. 104) Few of the fen smallholders, usually numbering 10-15 in the 19th century, and seldom occupying over 30 a., used much non-family labour. Much of the fen was converted to arable in the late 19th century, including by 1877 all but 15 a. of Lark Hill farm's 325 a. (fn. 105)
Further south there were c. 40 farmers around the village in 1841, among them probably many smallholders: of c. 30 reported in the 1850s half occupied under 25 a. each. Most of the land worked from there, c. 2,840 a., in 1861, was occupied by 5-7 farmers working over 200 a. each, no others having over 100 a. From the 1850s the largest holdings were those of the Robins family, also by then Isleham's leading traders. George Fletcher Robins, already working 362 a. in 1847, having succeeded his father Richard in the King's College lease, (fn. 106) was farming 630 a. by 1851 and 1,300 a. in 1861, when he employed 48 men and 18 boys. (fn. 107) By 1881 his eldest son Richard Thomas, already farming 317 a. in 1871, was working 572 a. from the purchased Hall farm. (fn. 108) Subsequent leases, including those of Field, later Chalk, farm to its south and of another farm on the south-eastern boundary, (fn. 109) led to the Robins holdings extending by 1900 across most of the former open fields south of the village. In 1910 R. T. Robins occupied 552 a., and his brother George Frederick c. 1,100 a. Their holdings thus comprised over three fifths of the 2,650 a. comprised in farms of over 100 a., only one other farmer occupying over 175 a. Eight others, four in the fen, had 50-80 a. each, altogether 490 a., but c. 60 smallholders, 36 in the fen, occupied 1,180 a., including 715 a. of fenland, largely rented. (fn. 110) One farm was using a tractor by 1899. (fn. 111) R. T. Robins and the younger G. F. Robins's sons were still farming on a large scale into the 1920s: 130 men were entertained at the horkeys held for their labourers after harvest at village inns. (fn. 112)
The county council's purchase, just after 1910, of Chalk farm for division among smallholders (fn. 113) probably increased their number. Among them were presumably the market gardeners, mostly selling their produce at Newmarket, whose numbers rose from 2-3 before the 1890s to 6 in 1900 and 15-18 in the 1910s. There were still 12, some in the fen, in the late 1930s, and extensive market gardens survived in the 1970s. (fn. 114) In 1950 c. 110 of those farming in Isleham still worked less than 50 a. each, including 82 who had under 20 a. In 1970 similar holdings of 20 a. or less were occupied by 53 out of 77 farmers, half part-time. Only three at either date, probably including from the 1930s to the 1990s the Clarkes of Hall and Field farms, farmed over 150 a. (fn. 115)
About 1835, and in the early 1850s, many labourers could obtain farmwork only in summer. Some cottage owners, denied parish relief, were even worse housed and furnished than the propertyless: (fn. 116) some fires in the 1830s and 1840s were ascribed to arson. (fn. 117) In the mid 19th century the larger farmers with over 200 a. each employed five sixths of the 120-125 men needed to work the village farms, besides up to 50 boys. The excess of adult labourers available there probably fell from c. 180 in 1851 to c. 130 by 1861; in 1871 only c. 75 were styled farm labourers. Gleaning by poor women, regulated by gleaning bells, continued into the 1910s. (fn. 118) Between 1930 and 1950 the number of adult men employed full-time on the farms in the whole parish fell from 152 to 48, besides c. 60 part-time workers, and to 20 by 1970, when much work fell to the farmers' families. (fn. 119)
The total land (fn. 120) reported under corn, c. 2,200 in 1870, fell below 1,400 a. by 1930, and was still only 1,900 a. in 1970. The area under wheat, about half the cornland in 1870, gradually declined, especially after 1910, in relation to barley, but perhaps recovered from the 1970s. (fn. 121) The permanent grassland meanwhile increased from c. 630 a. in 1870 to 1,365 a. by 1910, only declining substantially, to below 400 a., by the 1950s. By then sheepflocks, until 1910 including over 2,100 grown sheep, were no longer maintained, although some milking cattle, numbering before 1930 150-170, (fn. 122) were probably still kept. One fen farmer in the 1980s practised organic farming, keeping beef cattle and goats. (fn. 123)
In 1930 orchards, mostly of apples, covered 53 a., and in 1970 almost 300 a. were used for horticulture. Other later 20th-century commercial crops included potatoes, rising to 287 a. in 1970, and celery, 236 a. in 1950, besides much asparagus. From the late 1920s the main such crop was probably sugar beet, covering c. 600 a. in 1930 and c. 850 a. after 1950. Its despatch to a sugar factory opened at Ely in 1925 had been eased by the making up in 1939 of the fen road to Ely through Prickwillow. (fn. 124)
In 1086 three of the six mills, presumably water mills, then reported belonged to the royal manor. (fn. 125) Little Isleham manor possibly included a water mill, presumably on the stream along the western border, in 1554. (fn. 126) Two freeholders had mills, one sold, one forfeited, before 1310. (fn. 127) One of two mills released to Sir Robert Walkefare in 1331 was perhaps the windmill which belonged to his son's manor in the 1340s. (fn. 128) It was probably the 'Borleys' mill' erected on a mill hill in the east of East field, so named c. 1460-1550. (fn. 129) Another windmill, which presumably occupied c. 1033-1465 'West mill hill' in the north of West field, possibly survived in 1676. (fn. 130) The manorial estate included a windmill in 1681. (fn. 131)
A windmill, which stood by 1800 on the Fordham road and had by 1835 given its name to Mill Street, was probably the postmill in Isleham field sold in 1804 and again, perhaps after rebuilding, in 1835. (fn. 132) Supposedly 300 years old, it was owned by outsiders from Soham and Chippenham when its sails were damaged in 1850 and, by fire, in 1860. (fn. 133) It had been removed by 1886, when another windmill, newly built in 1849, stood off the road west from the village. (fn. 134) Probably worked by the Sheldricks, also small farmers, c. 1850-90, (fn. 135) it ceased working by 1903. The shell of that tower mill, used as a dwelling by 1930, was removed by 1950. (fn. 136) The Fuller family ran a millwright's business in the village c. 1840, and c. 1870-1900; (fn. 137) they probably also maintained some of the drainage windmills operated in the fen from the late 18th century until after 1900, which numbered twelve by the 1880s. Among them was the large New Mill put up by the river bank south of Lark Hill Farm by c. 1810, and removed, 1940 × 1980. (fn. 138)
Craftsmen such as blacksmiths, (fn. 139) carpenters, (fn. 140) tailors, (fn. 141) cordwainers, and ploughwrights, (fn. 142) were occasionally recorded in the Middle Ages. In 1469 there was a smith's forge on Church Street. (fn. 143) In the 19th century the village was well supplied with such workers. (fn. 144) In 1831, when crafts and trades supported 252 households, the 106 craftsmen included smiths, carpenters, shoemakers, wheelwrights, thatchers, also c. 1827 a glazier. There were 196 other nonagricultural labourers, compared with only 134 engaged soley in farming. (fn. 145)
Those non-farm labourers probably mostly lived in the Pits and at East End: in the 1870s most adult workers, 25-30 in each of those areas, were styled general labourers. In the mid 19th century there were usually two master blacksmiths, one at East End, though after 1910 only one. The last forge, off West Street, survived, though disused, in the 1980s. (fn. 146) Besides up to 12 carpenters, there were two harness makers until the 1860s, also two wheelwrights, as there had been since the 1770s. (fn. 147) One wheelwright, T. Ellwood (d. 1899), had started by the 1880s the St. Bernard's Waggon Works east of Mill Street, in business until c. 1950. (fn. 148) Besides shoemakers, still numbering two or three in the 1930s, and tailors, two before 1880, the numerous shops, one grocer's opened before 1800, (fn. 149) included up to four butchers, and from the 1860s a chemist. About 1915 the Newmarket Co-operative Society opened a shop on the site of a former public house at the north end of Mill Street. Rebuilt in 1963 and enlarged in 1983, that shop was still open in 1995. (fn. 150) A few other shops were then open, mostly near the junction of Church and Mill Streets, besides a garage whose operations overran the priory green.
Besides a plumber and glazier c. 1840-1900, Isleham had before 1900 had up to four builders. The largest builder's business was that run from c. 1850 at the Manor House by Thomas Wybrow Brown (d. 1896), also a substantial farmer, who employed 10 people in 1861. (fn. 151) The building business was taken over by E. W. Diver, whose family continued it until their bankruptcy in 1976. (fn. 152) From the 1850s until c. 1890 the Gunstons made horsehair rope off West Street. (fn. 153) Candles were still manufactured off Church Lane in the early 20th century, when a malting dried roots and seeds of flowers, gathered by local children, for medical purposes. (fn. 154)
Isleham's main non-agricultural output in the 19th century, as probably earlier, derived from its soil and rock. Much turf was dug for sale elsewhere: in 1841 c. 35 men in the village, two thirds from the Pits, 15 more from East End, and another 25 living in the fen were described as turfmen. In 1861 the parish contained 55 turfmen and turf cutters, half in the fen. (fn. 155) There were still two turf merchants c. 1900. (fn. 156) Otherwise there was then little non-agricultural employment in the fen, although the Finches built boats at Waterside from the mid 19th century. (fn. 157)
Further south the chalk beneath the village was quarried from the Middle Ages for clunch for building work and to burn into lime: in the 1460s five crofts east of the south end of Up, later Mill, Street, where the largest former chalkpits are visible, already contained stonepits at their street ends, and there was a limekiln croft south of Blatherweyk, later West, Street. (fn. 158) A limeburner was recorded in 1742, (fn. 159) another, bankrupt, in 1806. (fn. 160) There were 4-5 others, probably employed by the Robinses, (fn. 161) in the late 19th century. A surviving limekiln, constructed c. 1860 within a chalkpit east of Mill Street, has four kilns made of brick with chimneys within a mound up which the clunch was carried to be tipped into them. After the surrounding clunchpit had ceased to be dug in the late 1930s, the kiln, disused from c. 1938, was preserved c. 1975 as an industrial antiquity. (fn. 162) Other, wider, chalkpits are visible between Sun Street and East End.
The surviving kiln was probably worked into the 1930s by the Robins family, who did much to expand Isleham's trade, including the output of clunch products, over the previous century. (fn. 163) About 1827 one Isleham waterman owned eight lighters. (fn. 164) Richard Robins, styled a merchant in 1813, and his brother Thomas (d. 1834), a timber dealer, organized the Isleham Navigation Co., which cut from the river to East End an artificial channel, which was completed in 1828 and deepened in 1847. At its west end were constructed a wharf with offices, storage sheds linked to the water by rails, and even a public house for the bargemen. Through it came coal, as in 1829, timber, bricks, and other building materials, brought up river from King's Lynn (Norf.) and Wisbech. In return the barges took out, to Wisbech, Peterborough, and Ipswich (Suff.), quarried clunch and lime from the local kilns. (fn. 165) In the 1840s up to 25 bargemen and watermen dwelt in the parish, mostly in East End and the fen. There were still ten, two living at the coalyard, in 1881, and two in business c. 1885. (fn. 166)
After Richard Robins died in 1844, his son George Fletcher Robins (d. 1894) long continued the trade in coal, timber, and lime, also selling corn. (fn. 167) When he retired in 1889, his son George Frederick in turn took that business over, carrying it on until c. 1920, (fn. 168) when commercial navigation along the Lark, declining since the 1890s, ceased. (fn. 169) From 1886 the coal trade was transferred to the new railway station. The East End coalyard was leased in 1896 and sold in 1906 to E. W. Diver, who finally closed and sold it c. 1937. The buildings were demolished c. 1950 and the dried-out cut was filled up in 1966. (fn. 170)
As numbers involved in farming declined in the 20th century, the village gradually came largely to house people driving to work elsewhere, many to Soham, some to Cambridge. By 1991 311 out of 727 households had two cars each. (fn. 171) Local employers included in 1973 an agricultural engineer at East End. A workshop then making racing boats on Station Road was producing paper bags by the late 1980s, (fn. 172) when small businesses scattered through the village included, besides two agricultural engineers off West Street and a tyre merchant, two involved with photography and two with electronic recording and computing. (fn. 173)