The city of Cambridge: Manor houses

A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 3, the City and University of Cambridge. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1959.

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'The city of Cambridge: Manor houses', A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 3, the City and University of Cambridge, (London, 1959), pp. 122-123. British History Online [accessed 24 June 2024].

. "The city of Cambridge: Manor houses", in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 3, the City and University of Cambridge, (London, 1959) 122-123. British History Online, accessed June 24, 2024,

. "The city of Cambridge: Manor houses", A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 3, the City and University of Cambridge, (London, 1959). 122-123. British History Online. Web. 24 June 2024,

In this section


School of Pythagoras.

The oldest secular building in Cambridge is the one described in 1279 as 'the stone house of the scholars of Merton'. (fn. 55) Of other stone houses, such as the stone house called the Lamb in St. Michael's parish, (fn. 56) the stone houses opposite the Church of the Holy Sepulchre given to the Barnwell canons by Master Robert of Fulbourne, (fn. 57) the stone house of John of Cambridge, (fn. 58) the stone house of Adam Elyot, (fn. 59) or the large stone house of John le Rus outside Trumpington gate, (fn. 60) where the Fitzwilliam Museum now stands, no trace survives. The house, however, that stands today behind the yard of the 'Merton Arms', between Northampton Street and the Cam, appears to go back to the later 12th century. (fn. 61) Since the 13th century it has been owned by Merton College, Oxford. Antiquarians from the days of Elizabeth I have miscalled it the School of Pythagoras, or, less frequently, the houses of Anaxagoras. (fn. 62)

The oldest part, running north-east to south-west, looked originally toward the river, an ancient arm of which, believed to date from the days when 'East Angle and Mercian glared at one another across Magdalene Bridge', (fn. 63) was then 500 ft. nearer to the house and could serve both as moat and channel for waterborne supplies. (fn. 64) Documentary evidence (fn. 65) shows that the estate of which it was the principal messuage was held by the Dunning family and that when Harvey Fitz Eustace, Dunning's grandson, was Mayor, he lived in this house, as his father Eustace had done. How his descendants lost their wealth, and had finally to sell the house and property to Merton College in 1270–1 has been sketched by Maitland and told in detail by Milner Gray. (fn. 66) Early in the 13th century the owner had added a smaller wing, containing a solar, to the original 12thcentury building, possibly on a recently purchased piece of land. (fn. 67) In spite of considerable mauling in the 18th and 19th centuries, the building is today a weather-proof structure, as interesting architecturally as it is historically; (fn. 68) the strong and simple manor-house of the first Mayor of Cambridge, once the headquarters of his estate and the site of its manorial court. (fn. 69)

As the property of Merton College, the house was leased to various tenants, one of them, Eudo of Helpringham, Mayor six times in the 14th century. The house and farm were acquired for King's College in the 15th century, presumably as a source of food, but returned to Merton after about sixteen years. (fn. 70) From the 15th to the 19th century the lessees were farmers. They made substantial additions, as time went on, to the original buildings, which came to be used as a granary. (fn. 71) It was in virtue of its manor of Merton Hall that in 1801 Merton College was one of the five claimants to the lordship of the waste in the western fields of Cambridge, then about to be inclosed. (fn. 72) Seven years later the farmhouse had become a school house— Merton Hall Academy, a boys' boarding school, which came to an end in three years. Since then Merton Hall has been a private residence, though from 1872 to 1874 it housed the society which was afterwards to be known as Newnham College. (fn. 73)

Harleston's Inn.

Some details are extant concerning the house of another medieval Mayor of Cambridge, which was also the capital messuage of a manor, though it is no longer standing. Maitland called attention to the acquisition in the early 14th century of many strips in the town fields by a seeming newcomer, Roger of Harleston. (fn. 74) Roger also acquired lands in the county, where he acted with county squires, such as Hugh le Zouch and Warin of Bassingbourn, in both private and public transactions. (fn. 75) He also transacted business in the Borough with Cambridge burgesses. (fn. 76) In 1359 he was granted, with three other townsmen, a grange on the river bank at Cambridge, with a dovehouse and other accessories, together with a messuage at Waterbeach. (fn. 77) Harleston also owned houses at Denny, Milton, Cottenham and Haslingfield, which were looted by the rebels in 1381, as, in the same week, were his house and dovehouse in Cambridge. (fn. 78) All this property, both in the county and the Borough, came into the hands of Ivo of Harleston, possibly his nephew.

Ivo, the son of John of Harleston and Margaret of Walton, was born at Cambridge on Palm Sunday 1378 (fn. 79) and died in 1403, leaving, besides lands in Bedfordshire and Essex inherited from his mother, (fn. 80) a manor in the town of Cambridge in St. Clement's parish, extending to the townships of Enhale, (fn. 81) Newnham, Coton, Chesterton, Waterbeach, and Fordham in the county of Cambridge. (fn. 82) Of his son John, a minor in 1403, we hear no more after the death of Ivo's relict Eleanor in 1416. (fn. 83) The treasurers' roll for 1424–5 records a payment from 'the heirs of Roger of Harleston'; (fn. 84) the family seems to have left Cambridge. The house was known to Caius in 1574 as Harleston's Inn, a hostel for jurists; (fn. 85) it had been licensed by the Bishop of Ely in 1466 for the celebration of divine service. (fn. 86) The house with its appurtenant lands was purchased by St. John's College in 1534 from Sir John Mordaunt. (fn. 87) The house can be identified on Hamond's map. (fn. 88) Its disappearance is signalized by the change of name when Harleston's became Thompson's Lane, (fn. 89) but the dovehouse, acquired with 'Harleston's lands' by St. John's College (fn. 90) is traceable on the map beyond the King's Ditch until the ditch itself was built over and the Dovehouse Close became Sussum's market gardens. (fn. 91)


  • 55. J. M. Gray, The School of Pythagoras (C.A.S. Quarto Publ. 1932), 61–62.
  • 56. H. P. Stokes, Medieval Hostels of Cambridge (C.A.S. Publ. 1924), 99.
  • 57. Liber Mem. de Bernewelle, 97, 182, 223.
  • 58. Willis and Clark, Archit. Hist. i. 158.
  • 59. Stokes, Medieval Hostels of Camb. 99.
  • 60. Stokes, Outside Trumpington Gates (C.A.S. Publ. 1908), 40.
  • 61. J. M. Gray, School of Pythagoras, 29.
  • 62. Ibid. 37–38. Caius assigned it to Anaxagoras, but Lyne's map of 1574 calls it Domus Pythagorae. 18th cent. scholars made it the dwelling-house of Walter of Merton or the infirmary of St. John's Hospital: ibid. There is no evidence that it has ever had any closer connexion with the University than to be used as a storeroom for the costumes and properties of the Camb. Univ. Musical Soc.
  • 63. Collingwood and Myres, Roman Britain and the English Settlements, 393.
  • 64. J. M. Gray, School of Pythagoras, 36–37; See map between pp. 22–23 in A. Gray, Dual Origin of Town of Cambridge (C.A.S. Quarto Publ. n.s. i, 1908).
  • 65. For calendar of deeds at Merton Coll., Oxford, see J. M. Gray, School of Pythagoras, 44–61.
  • 66. Maitland, Township and Borough, 164–7; J. M. Gray, op. cit. 5–8.
  • 67. J. M. Gray, op. cit. 34.
  • 68. For an illustration see plate opposite.
  • 69. J. M. Gray, op. cit. 15, 26. The farmlands comprised 180 acres, distributed between Grantchester, Cambridge, and Chesterton.
  • 70. J. M. Gray, School of Pythagoras, 39–40.
  • 71. Ibid. 30, 40.
  • 72. Maitland, Township and Borough, 1.
  • 73. J. M. Gray, op. cit. 40.
  • 74. Maitland, Township and Borough, 63, 73, 126, 128–9.
  • 75. Cal. Pat. 1348–80, passim; Cal. Close, 1368–88, passim.
  • 76. A. Gray, Priory of St. Radegund (C.A.S. Publ. 1898), 132, 138, 143.
  • 77. Ibid. 143.
  • 78. See above, p. 10.
  • 79. C 137/1 Hen. IV, pt. 1, no. 75, file 153.
  • 80. P. Morant, Hist. of Essex, ii. 348–9; Cal. Pat. 1401–5, 332; V.C.H. Beds. ii. 219.
  • 81. Yen Hall in West Wickham. See Lysons, Magna Britannia, ii. 281; P.N. Cambs. (E.P.N.S.), 113.
  • 82. Calendarium Inquisitionum p.m. (Rec. Com. 1821), iii. 297.
  • 83. Cal. Pat. 1416–22, 44.
  • 84. Palmer, Camb. Boro. Docs. p. lxix. In 1501 the payment was made by John Harleston: ibid. 42.
  • 85. Clark and Gray, Old Plans of Cambridge, pt. i. 5, 105; Stokes, Medieval Hostels, 81.
  • 86. Willis and Clark, Archit. Hist. i, p. xxvii.
  • 87. Lysons, Magna Britannia, ii. 144.
  • 88. Clark and Gray, Old Plans of Cambridge, pt. ii, map 3 (4). See also the sketch-map by Essex in Stokes, Medieval Hostels, 58.
  • 89. Clark and Gray, Old Plans of Cambridge, pt. i. 105; Palmer, Camb. Boro. Docs. 137.
  • 90. Baker, Hist. of St. John's Coll. i. 352, 385, 427, 461.
  • 91. Clark and Gray, Old Plans of Cambridge, pt. i. 105; pt. ii, map 6; J. H. Bullock in Camb. Public Libr. Record, 1939, 115.