Wetherley hundred

A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 5. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1973.

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Diane K Bolton. G R Duncombe. R W Dunning. Jennifer I Kermode. A M Rowland. W B Stephens. A P M Wright, 'Wetherley hundred', in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 5, (London, 1973) pp. 137-139. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/cambs/vol5/pp137-139 [accessed 21 May 2024].

Diane K Bolton. G R Duncombe. R W Dunning. Jennifer I Kermode. A M Rowland. W B Stephens. A P M Wright. "Wetherley hundred", in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 5, (London, 1973) 137-139. British History Online, accessed May 21, 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/cambs/vol5/pp137-139.

Bolton, Diane K. Duncombe, G R. Dunning, R W. Kermode, Jennifer I. Rowland, A M. Stephens, W B. Wright, A P M. "Wetherley hundred", A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 5, (London, 1973). 137-139. British History Online. Web. 21 May 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/cambs/vol5/pp137-139.


Wetherley hundred lies south-west of Cambridge, extending in an arc south and south-west from the road from Cambridge to St. Neots; on the west the hundred just crosses the Old North Road to include the long and narrow parish of Arrington. To the south and east the hundred is mostly bounded by the river Cam or Rhee, but by 1066 it included the village of Shepreth south of that river. The western part of Wetherley hundred was divided from Longstowe hundred, lying to the north, by the Mare Way, an ancient hill-top track (fn. 1) which further east formed parish boundaries within the hundred.

The hundred of Wetherley, 1845

Before the Norman Conquest Wetherley hundred was assessed at 80 hides, its vills being divided into four groups each assessed at 20 hides. The northernmost comprised Comberton, Barton, and Grantchester; the next only Haslingfield, which contained a large royal manor; another, Harlton, Barrington, and Shepreth; a fourth, Orwell, Wratworth, 'Witewell', Wimpole, and Arrington. (fn. 2) The area included in the hundred remained constant throughout the Middle Ages and into modern times, but its division into townships and parishes underwent much alteration. Wratworth had disappeared by the 13th century, its land probably being absorbed into Wimpole. The 'Witewell' (fn. 3) named in Domesday has usually been identified with a hamlet of a similar name in Barton parish. Its hidation and tenurial condition, however, link it with Wimpole and Arrington, and it was evidently a vill that has vanished in that area. (fn. 4) Within the township of Orwell there had grown by 1200 a settlement called Malton which, though it remained linked with Orwell for civil purposes, was a separate ecclesiastical parish from the 13th to the 17th century. The hamlet of Coton, which developed at the north end of Grantchester parish, also had its own church by the 13th century and, although administratively attached to Grantchester until the 14th century, subsequently achieved the status of an independent civil parish.

The hundred derived its name from a place called Wetherley, where the hundred moot may formerly have met. That place was probably on the summit of the down where the parishes of Orwell, Barrington, Harlton, and Little Eversden meet, probably near Maypole Farm in Harlton. (fn. 5) Wetherley hundred remained in the hands of the Crown during the 13th and 14th centuries. In 1279 it was being farmed with Thriplow hundred, (fn. 6) with which it had shared a bailiff in 1260. (fn. 7) Estates in Wetherley hundred c. 1235 owed 17 suits to the hundred and county courts. (fn. 8) Under Edward I the lords of 18 manors claimed view of frankpledge with minor franchises such as the assizes of bread and ale. Several lords had withdrawn their estates, with the suits owed from them, from the geldable and the sheriff's tourn. The abbess of Chatteris claimed such exemption for her land at Shepreth and Barrington, under colour of the liberty of the see of Ely on which her abbey had once depended. The Hospitallers of Shingay and their tenants enjoyed similar liberties at Shepreth and Arrington by royal charter. The earls of Gloucester had since c. 1250 withdrawn their own and their vassals' lands at Arrington, Orwell, and Harlton, and claimed there 'all things belonging to judgement'. The local bailiff of the honor of Richmond assumed similar exemptions for property at Wimpole, Malton, Shepreth, and Grantchester, which did suit to the honor court instead. Both the Gloucester and the Richmond franchises may have been usurpations since neither was claimed in 1299. (fn. 9) In the 16th and 17th centuries Wetherley hundred was normally linked administratively with Armingford, Longstowe, and Thriplow hundreds. (fn. 10)

Most of the hundred is comparatively flat and low-lying, but two spurs of the west Cambridgeshire chalk upland reach into it: Madingley Hill at its northern edge, Barrington Down across its centre. The villages are mostly nucleated, several centering on ancient greens, and are situated on spring-lines between the chalk ridges and the streams, both of which form parish boundaries, running east and west. The Bourn brook forms such boundaries in the north part of the hundred. The older settlements all lie a little off the main roads of the area. At Barton a Roman road was indeed deflected from the site of the medieval village. Several settlements disappeared during the Middle Ages and later. Wratworth and perhaps 'Witewell' were abandoned or absorbed into other townships probably between 1086 and 1200. Malton had dwindled into a single farm by the 15th century. The hamlet of Whitwell, which existed in Barton by 1200 at least, disappeared during the 16th century, leaving only one farm to mark its site. The adjacent settlement at Coton, an offshoot of Grantchester, probably already established by 1086, flourished sufficiently to achieve and retain its independence. The village of Arrington moved its site: already in the 13th century it partly lay scattered along Ermine Street. The original site of Wimpole, and probably the former site of Wratworth, were included in Wimpole Park when that was laid out in the late 17th century. The name of Wimpole was later attached to a group of houses built beside the road to Cambridge in the mid 19th century.

The economy of Wetherley hundred was almost entirely agricultural until the 19th century. The open fields were usually cultivated in early times on a biennial, or later a triennial, rotation, although some villages had four or more open fields. At Wimpole and Arrington the concentration of ownership in the hands of the Chicheleys by 1600 led to an early division of those parishes into separately inclosed farms cultivated from scattered farmsteads. Elsewhere in the hundred, as in Cambridgeshire generally, wholesale inclosure waited until the earlier 19th century. Five parishes were inclosed during the Napoleonic wars, the remainder in the late 1830s. The ground was in places quarried in the Middle Ages for clunch, from the late 19th century for brick-works and cement-making. A feature of the area was the exploitation between 1855 and 1885 of its gault subsoil by extensive digging for coprolites, which for a time brought relatively high levels of wealth and employment. (fn. 11) The villages, which had shared in the general depopulation of the countryside after 1870 during the agricultural depression, underwent a considerable expansion after 1945. Many new houses, built both by local authorities and by private developers, provided accommodation for an influx of new inhabitants from Cambridge and elsewhere. Growth was most marked in the villages closest to that city.


  • 1. Fox, Arch. Camb. Region, 150–2.
  • 2. V.C.H. Cambs. i. 361, 419–23; cf. Round, Feudal Eng. 47–8.
  • 3. Also named 'Watewell' and 'Wurtewell': V.C.H. Cambs. i. 387, 423.
  • 4. Cf. p. 263. The vill fits neatly into the 20-hide group beginning with Orwell, but not into that including Barton. The arrangement of vills in Wetherley hundred in the Inquisitio Com. Cantab. follows approximately the geographical order from east to west. No estate ascribed to 'Witewell' in 1086 can be subsequently traced, either in demesne or in service, in Whitwell in Barton. The tenurial associations of 'Witewell' are as follows: Fulcui who held ½ hide from Count Alan there held another from him in Arrington; the hide held by Ralph de Banks in 'Witewell' may have been the basis of his family's Wimpole manor, which would otherwise have derived from a single yardland in Wratworth; and Robert 'Calvus', tenant of 2 hides in 'Witewell', also held 9 a. in neighbouring Kingston, which his family apparently retained in the 12th century: cf. Clerkenwell Cart. (Camd. Soc. 3rd ser. lxxi), 82–3.
  • 5. P.N. Cambs. (E.P.N.S.), 69. The name of the place Wetherley is recorded from the 13th century: Trin. Mun., box 35, Ia, undated deeds, no. 61 (c. 1275).
  • 6. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 568; Feud. Aids, i. 153.
  • 7. Assizes at Camb. 1260, 30, 33.
  • 8. Liber de Bernewelle, 251.
  • 9. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), i. 50; ii. 554–68; Plac. de Quo Warr. (Rec. Com.), 99–107.
  • 10. See p. 1.
  • 11. Cf. V.C.H. Cambs. ii. 365, 367–8.