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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The village of Comberton (fn. 1) is 4 miles south-west of Cambridge. The long, narrow parish, covering 1,954 a., (fn. 2) stretches for 3 miles, widening towards the south, between the road from Cambridge to St. Neots and the Bourn brook. Its eastern and western boundaries mostly follow ancient mereways dividing its fields from its neighbours'. The eastern boundary was partially altered at the inclosure of the parish in 1839. Comberton yielded to Barton certain land at its south-east corner, across the Tit brook and the turnpike road, receiving instead land across the mereway in the centre of its eastern side, once included in Barton's fields. (fn. 3) Comberton includes an irregular, narrow strip along the north side of the St. Neots road, which was once intercommonable with Madingley. At inclosure it was assigned to Sir St. Vincent Cotton, owner of the Madingley Hall estate. (fn. 4)
The southern part of Comberton is nearly flat. It lies on the gault, fringed along the brook with gravel and alluvium. A narrow ridge of boulder clay reaches eastwards from Toft parish between the Bourn brook and the shallow Tit brook, which, after following an irregular course across the southern part of the parish, enters the Bourn brook near Lord's Bridge at the south-east corner. To the north the land, on gault and chalk mostly overlaid by boulder clay, rises steadily towards a down c. 200 ft. high, and after dipping to a valley along which a stream, there called the North brook, runs down from Hardwick into Whitwell in Barton parish, rises sharply to 200 ft. along the St. Neots road, to form part of Madingley Hill. A belt of trees, called Comberton Plantation, has been established along the road since the 19th century. (fn. 5) Until the inclosure Comberton was cultivated in four open fields, on a three-course rotation. (fn. 6)
The village stands on a slight gravel rise north of the Tit brook near the western edge of the parish, where a road from Harlton, going north from Fox's Bridge, crosses one from Toft to Barton, dividing the village closes into four blocks. An ancient stone cross formerly stood at the cross-roads, (fn. 7) where the village pond remained in 1971. The village streets were rather wider before the inclosure, when strips of the roads were allotted to the owners of adjacent crofts. The street leading north was the widest, forming a green running into the pasture north of the village. (fn. 8) By the 16th century it was divided in two by a long narrow inclosure, leaving to the east a lane called Small Street, (fn. 9) later Hines Lane, to the west a narrower green which was further reduced at inclosure. Its former western edge is visible as a dip in some adjoining gardens. The old crofts lay north and south abutting on the Toft-Barton road, except in the north-east quarter where they ran east and west. Round the south-east quarter ran a back lane called Swayne's or Swine Street or Lane, (fn. 10) from which other closes reached south to the Tit brook. The manorial farmsteads were established in larger inclosures away from the cross-roads, that of Greens manor to the north, giving the area the name Green End, that of Burdeleys manor to the south. A road called the church causeway leads past Burdeleys to Church End, where the church and the adjacent Rectory Farm and vicarage stand on the ridge south of the Tit brook, between two ancient ways across the fields. It is not clear why the church is thus separated from the village. Its siting may have been affected by the position of the manor-house of Burdeleys, since before 1100 the church belonged briefly to the lord of that manor. The pre-inclosure layout of fields and crofts does not suggest that there was ever any substantial settlement near the church, although a few houses stood in a close south-west of it by 1800. (fn. 11)
The village was certainly upon its present site by the 13th century, when encroachments upon the commons were being made for building. In 1279 it was said that several crofts, including the chief messuage of Heveds fee, had been made by such encroachment in King John's time. (fn. 12) Until the 19th century most of the houses lay along West Street, between the cross-roads and Toft. A smaller group of houses stood along the middle part of Swayne's Lane. (fn. 13) In 1841 27 out of 102 dwellings were in West Street and 21 in Swayne's Lane. (fn. 14) Several 17th- and 18th-century cottages, timber-framed and plastered, and some still thatched in 1970, remained in those areas. One partly two-storey house on the north side of West Street has its timbering exposed. Another, further west, once part of a larger house, retains a plaster fire-place surround with vine-scrolls, perhaps Elizabethan. A mid-17th-century house, formerly the furthest west on the south side, contains upstairs a contemporary fire-place with arched overmantel and panelled surround. By the 18th century the larger farmhouses were disposed along the other three streets, mostly close to the cross-roads. Several retain 17thor 18th-century structures, as at Hawks Farm, where in the 17th century a two-storey wing, with a gable and attached chimney in brick, was added to a medieval cottage. The Rosary in Green End Road has a 17th-century farm-house, partly refaced in brick, concealed behind 19th-century additions. Cambridge Lane Farm, built c. 1800, was nevertheless timber-framed. (fn. 15) The closes further out from the cross-roads to the east and north contained no houses in 1800. Only after inclosure were farmhouses built out in the fields, as at Jaggards Farm, newly erected in 1853. (fn. 16)
The village may have grown a little in the later 16th century. In 1601 leave was given to build two cottages on the waste. (fn. 17) There were 52 houses in 1666, (fn. 18) and in 1715 51 messuages traditionally enjoyed common rights. (fn. 19) The 53 houses recorded in 1831 had doubled by 1841 to 102 dwellings. The number again grew from 119 in 1921 to 164 in 1931, (fn. 20) several council houses being built along the Barton road. (fn. 21) After the Second World War the county council decided to make Comberton a centre for growth in the surrounding district. That policy was complemented by the establishment of the Comberton village college, opened in 1960, (fn. 22) which stands just across the boundary in Toft. Almost 100 houses were built between 1951 and 1961, (fn. 23) and the village was greatly enlarged in the 1960s. Apart from infill along the village streets, a council estate of 44 houses was built south of the east end of Swayne's Lane. Almost 40 houses were erected at the western edge of the village near the college. The largest estate, about 300 houses, well supplied with garages, was put up by private developers on 38 a. in the angle between Barton Road and Long Road. Plans for further building were under consideration in 1970. (fn. 24)
In 1086 Comberton had contained 43 peasants (fn. 25) and in 1279 some 50 tenants. (fn. 26) In 1327 57 inhabitants were assessed for tax, (fn. 27) and in 1377 152 people for the poll tax. (fn. 28) The village contained 30 families in 1563 (fn. 29) and 50 c. 1625. (fn. 30) In 1676 there were 127 adults. (fn. 31) One hundred and ten people paid a poll tax in 1692. (fn. 32) In 1728 44 households contained 200 people. (fn. 33) A population of 295 in 1801 occupied 45 houses. It rose sharply between 1811 and 1821 to 383, and then more gradually to 548 in 1851 when there was almost double the number of households recorded in 1801, 117 compared with 62. From a peak of 619 in 1871 inhabiting 125 dwellings, the population fell by a third to 419 in 1901, occupying only 97 houses, then grew again slowly to 514 in 1931. After the Second World War it again rose swiftly from 597 in 1951 to 812 in 1961, (fn. 34) and doubled again through the new building to almost 1,650 by 1970. (fn. 35)
Comberton was linked with the highways from St. Neots and from Arrington Bridge to Cambridge, both turnpiked in the 18th century, (fn. 36) by field-ways, (fn. 37) mostly stopped at inclosure. One ran northward from the street called North or Green End Street, over a wide common called the Offield, and curved gradually east to pass into Whitwell beside the North brook. From it Ducks or Dux way led to the St. Neots road. (fn. 38) Another track, Great Offield or Offal way, ran south-east from a gate, leading into Hardwick field, across the road to Whitwell, to enter further south into Barton, where it was called Hardwick way. The road through the village east of the cross-roads, called formerly the Portway, later Cambridge lane or way (fn. 39) and in 1970 Barton Road, entered Barton a little north of the modern road. Southwards ran a road crossing the Bourn brook at Fox's Bridge. Two ways ran across from Toft to Barton south of the village. One, called Millhill way west of that road, and Great and Little Hodge way further east, met Priory way in Barton. From the other, called from west to east Broad, New Close, and Hensnest way, there forked Stallow way, which meandered south-east towards the turnpike road near Lord's Bridge. (fn. 40) Its final section is still marked by a field-path. At inclosure the existing Long Road, south from the St. Neots road to the Barton road and continued almost to the Bourn brook by a bridle-way, was laid out, and other roads straightened. (fn. 41)
In 1851 the village had four public houses: by the cross-roads the Red Lion; in West Street the Plough, still open in 1880, and the White Horse, closed between 1912 and 1922, and the Tailor's Arms, surviving in 1937. (fn. 42) The Three Horse Shoes in South Street, opened by 1861, survived in 1970, as did the Red Lion, then renamed the Oasis. (fn. 43)
At inclosure in 1839 4½ a. were allotted for a recreation ground, (fn. 44) but their site was far from the village and by 1898 was let, the income being used to rent a playing field nearer the village. (fn. 45) The land was sold in 1927, (fn. 46) and the proceeds, together with those from the sale, in 1926, of disused parish gravel-pits, (fn. 47) were used to buy a close in the village off Hines Lane, (fn. 48) on which a sports pavilion was built in 1940. (fn. 49) During the Second World War an R.A.F. unit was billeted in the village, and flat ground near the brook was used in 1940 as an aircraft training ground. (fn. 50)
In 1842 the remains of a Roman building, occupied in the 2nd century A.D., were discovered in a field a little east of Fox's Bridge. (fn. 51) The village green formerly included by 1800 a maze by the cross-roads. It was circular, and some 50 ft. across, sinking towards the centre. Its windings were separated by trenches and marked out with pebbles which the villagers in the early 19th century renewed every three years. At the inclosure it was allotted to the Sons of the Clergy, and soon after was included in the playground of the National school built in 1846, and though the school's trust deed required its preservation it was gradually trampled down. (fn. 52) In 1908 it was restored according to an old plan, under the auspices of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society, possibly on a new site, and fenced round. Its foundations were visible in 1925 (fn. 53) but it had again been obliterated by 1960 (fn. 54) and was mostly covered by asphalt.
Manors and Other Estates.
In 1086 the king had 2½ hides in Comberton which had long been part of the royal demesne. (fn. 55) Subsequently the estate became the manor of MERKS, later called GREENS. It was included in the farm of the county (fn. 56) until 1177 when Henry II granted it to Esveillard de Seissun, who held it until 1195. (fn. 57) Nicholas Mucenbote occupied it from 1196 to 1200. (fn. 58) In 1200 King John granted the manor to John Merk, (fn. 59) who long served as a royal falconer (fn. 60) and was to hold it by the same serjeanty as that by which he already held White Roding (Essex), given him by Henry II. (fn. 61) He had to keep two lanner falcons and one retriever, trained to catch herons, from Michaelmas to Candlemas, at the king's costs. (fn. 62) The Exchequer occasionally alleged that Merk and his heirs held their fee in Comberton by knightservice of the honor of Boulogne and so charged them with scutages, (fn. 63) from which Henry III ordered their discharge in 1246. (fn. 64)
John Merk died between 1212 and 1214, and his son and heir William Merk (fn. 65) in 1217, when he was succeeded by his brother Walter (fn. 66) (d. 1248). (fn. 67) Walter, for his services to the Crown, secured his discharge from tallage, (fn. 68) which had been levied on the manor until 1207, (fn. 69) and from suit to the county court. (fn. 70) William Merk frequently served King John as falconer, (fn. 71) and Walter was still performing his serjeanty in the 1240s, sometimes receiving gifts of wine when the falcons that he kept were returned at Candlemas. (fn. 72) His son and heir William died in 1254, (fn. 73) leaving as son and heir John who was still under age in 1266. (fn. 74) John occasionally kept the king's falcons. (fn. 75) In 1302 he was granted free warren at Comberton. (fn. 76) Being childless, in 1297 he settled his serjeanty lands, after his own and his wife Mary's death, upon his sister Cecily, who had married Humphrey Hastang. (fn. 77) John died in 1304. (fn. 78) His widow Mary, who married Stephen Hovel in 1305 and survived until 1329, (fn. 79) granted Comberton c. 1307 for a rent to Cecily's son, Philip Hastang, to whom Cecily had conveyed her own interest in 1307. (fn. 80) Philip settled Comberton on himself and his wife Alice in 1310. (fn. 81) Both died in 1317, leaving three daughters as heirs. (fn. 82) The wardship of Beatrice, the eldest, was purchased after 1318 by John Longueville of Little Billing (Northants.), who married her to his younger son Thomas. She and Thomas entered upon Comberton when she came of age in 1330. (fn. 83) In 1336 the manor was settled upon them jointly, (fn. 84) and after Thomas had died in 1346, leaving as his heir a son John under age, (fn. 85) Beatrice brought it to her second husband Sir William Quenton. She and John probably died in 1349, but Quenton retained her lands. By 1353 he had bought out the rights of her kinsmen and heirs, Roger Greenmantle and John Wichebaud, and settled Merks on himself and his second wife Joan (d. by 1362). (fn. 86)
In 1364 Quenton resettled the manor upon himself and his third wife Isabel for their lives, and sold the remainder to Sir Henry Green, Chief Justice of the King's Bench 1361–5 (d. 1370), for the benefit of the judge's younger son Henry, upon whom it was then entailed. (fn. 87) Quenton died in 1374, when Comberton was said to be held by the serjeanty of carrying a goshawk at the king's coronation, (fn. 88) and Isabel in 1388, whereupon Henry Green succeeded to Comberton. The manor was then and subsequently said to be held by knight-service. (fn. 89) Green was beheaded in 1399 as one of Richard II's evil counsellors. His lands were temporarily forfeited, (fn. 90) but in 1400 Henry IV restored his entailed property, including Comberton, to his eldest son Ralph Green. (fn. 91) In 1414 Ralph settled Comberton and other manors jointly on himself and his wife Catherine, (fn. 92) who had livery after his death in 1417. (fn. 93) She later married Sir Simon Felbrigge (d. 1443), and survived until 1460. (fn. 94) Under Ralph's will, his brother John claimed those lands, but may not have recovered them before his death in 1433. (fn. 95) John's son and heir Henry had livery in 1435, (fn. 96) and died in 1468, (fn. 97) when his heir was his daughter Constance. She had married c. 1458 the third son of Humphrey, duke of Buckingham, John Stafford, who entered upon most of Henry Green's estates, (fn. 98) but Green's widow Margaret retained Comberton until her death in 1476. (fn. 99) John Stafford, created earl of Wiltshire in 1470, died in 1473 and Constance in 1475, leaving as heir to the Green lands their son Edward, (fn. 100) who came of age in 1484 and died in 1499, (fn. 101) having devised Comberton to his wife Margaret for life. (fn. 102)
The countess was soon ousted, however, by the heirs to the Green lands, five girls descended from Margery and Isabel, sisters of Henry Green (d. 1468). Two of the five shortly died, and the lands were divided in 1505 between the three surviving daughters and coheirs of Isabel's son, Sir Henry Vere (d. 1493). Their wardships had in 1499 been purchased by Sir John Mordaunt, (fn. 103) of Turvey (Beds.), a councillor of Henry VII and Speaker in 1487 (d. 1504). (fn. 104) He married Elizabeth, the eldest daughter, to his son John in 1499. Elizabeth's sisters, Amy and Audrey, were c. 1505 married respectively to Humphrey, the brother, and John, the eldest son, of Sir John Mordaunt's brother-inlaw, Sir Wistan Browne. (fn. 105) Comberton, like other Green manors, was divided among them into three parts. (fn. 106)
Elizabeth's husband John was created Lord Mordaunt in 1532 and died in 1562. Their son John, Lord Mordaunt, was succeeded in 1571 by his son Lewis, Lord Mordaunt, (fn. 107) who sold his third share of the manor the same year to Dr. John Hatcher of Cambridge. (fn. 108) Hatcher in 1585 bought the moiety of another third of the manor, (fn. 109) and his son Thomas (d. 1583) acquired a third part of the remaining third in 1572. (fn. 110) Dr. Hatcher died in 1587 leaving his various shares of the manor — a third, a sixth, and a ninth — to his grandson John Hatcher (d. 1640) (fn. 111) who in 1612 sold them to Thomas Pattenson of Shelford. (fn. 112) Before he died in 1639 Pattenson had also acquired two-thirds of one-third of the manor, (fn. 113) later known as Pattenson's part, which descended as indicated below, but had presumably alienated the shares bought from Hatcher to Thomas Baron, who was said c. 1625 to own the largest share of Greens together with the court leet. (fn. 114) Thomas Baron and William Brittan jointly owned the main part of Greens, amounting to about two-thirds, in 1652, (fn. 115) and William Brittan and Baron Brittan were joint lords between 1657 and 1661. (fn. 116) Baron Brittan was sole owner from 1665 to 1705, (fn. 117) and in 1707 he and John Brittan conveyed their share to Edmund Anderson, (fn. 118) lord from 1709 to 1732, (fn. 119) after whom the estate was known as ANDERSON'S PART. Anderson died probably in 1740 and his infant heir Edmund Anderson was then owner until 1746. (fn. 120) By 1756 Anderson's part belonged to the Revd. William Jefferies and his wife Judith, (fn. 121) who together conveyed it in 1759 to Hale Wortham the younger (fn. 122) who having, as described below, succeeded to the other shares of the manor, reunited its various parts. Amy's third share passed under the will of her husband Sir Humphrey Browne, a Justice of the Common Pleas who died in 1562 and whose son George died a month later in 1563, to Humphrey's three daughters by his third wife, Mary, Christian, and Catherine, (fn. 123) among whom his Comberton estate was divided into thirds of thirds. Mary entered on her purparty in 1564 (fn. 124) and married Thomas Wilford. In 1572 they conveyed it to Thomas Hatcher, (fn. 125) and as mentioned above it thereafter descended with what was later called Anderson's part. Christian and Catherine Browne and Christian's husband John Tufton in 1576 sold their two shares to Robert Angier of Comberton (fn. 126) (d. c. 1610), (fn. 127) who in 1597 transferred his Comberton lands to his son Michael. (fn. 128) Michael died in 1608, leaving as heir his son Robert, a minor, who had livery in 1620. (fn. 129) Those two-thirds of a third of Greens manor were later acquired by Thomas Pattenson (d. 1639) and passed to his posthumous son John, (fn. 130) becoming known as PATTENSON'S PART. John was alive in 1664 but apparently dead by 1668. (fn. 131) His share possibly escheated, being held in 1678 under grant from the Crown by Thomas Gerrard, still owner in 1680. (fn. 132) It was later acquired by Thomas Holder, (fn. 133) who already owned Turner's part, mentioned below; he was succeeded c. 1706 by his widow Mary (d. after 1714). (fn. 134) Thomas Holder, probably their son, held Pattenson's and Turner's parts in 1723 and 1730 (fn. 135) but had become bankrupt by 1735, (fn. 136) and Pattenson's part passed in or before 1733 to Elizabeth Young. Elizabeth was styled lady of the manor from 1736 to 1741 and her husband Hale Wortham of Royston was styled lord from 1743. (fn. 137) Wortham subsequently acquired Turner's part, and died in 1755. His son and heir Hale Wortham (fn. 138) reunited Greens manor by acquiring Anderson's part also, as mentioned above.
Audrey's third share was held in 1540 by her husband John Browne, (fn. 139) who died c. 1550 and whose son and heir George died c. 1558. (fn. 140) It may then already have passed to Edward Slegge of Cambridge, farmer of the rectory since 1536, (fn. 141) whose son Edward was said at his death in 1572 to own a third and half of a third of a third of Greens manor. The younger Edward's minor son Edward was dead by 1578, leaving as his heirs his sisters Elizabeth and Margaret. (fn. 142) Elizabeth had married by 1582 John Flowerdew of Hethersett (Norf.), (fn. 143) who sold his half share of a third to Dr. Hatcher in 1585, (fn. 144) so that it was subsequently merged in his estate, later called Anderson's part. Margaret Slegge had by 1585 married Robert Turner, (fn. 145) and married secondly John Baker, with whom she held her share between 1617 and 1632. (fn. 146) She died in 1637, leaving as heir a son Robert Turner (fn. 147) whose sixth of the manor came to be known as TURNER'S PART. (fn. 148) It had been acquired by 1654 by Robert Holder, of a local family, who owned it until after 1659 (fn. 149) and was succeeded c. 1676 by Thomas Holder (fn. 150) who later acquired Pattenson's part. On the bankruptcy of another Thomas Holder, mentioned above, Turner's part was apparently separated from Pattenson's, being owned in 1743 by John Day of Eversden, but by 1748 was reunited with Pattenson's in the ownership of Hale Wortham, (fn. 151) whose son Hale Wortham came to own the whole of Greens manor as mentioned above.
The younger Hale Wortham died in 1778 (fn. 152) and his son and heir Hale Wortham in 1828, leaving the manor estate of c. 400 a. to his brother James, (fn. 153) who died in 1844. James's son Biscoe Hill Wortham (fn. 154) sold it in 1849 to Ebenezer Foster, a Cambridge banker (d. c. 1851). (fn. 155) Foster's son George Ebenezer died between 1868 and 1870, leaving his property to his three sons, E. B., G. E., and C. F. Foster, and a son-in-law, (fn. 156) who were jointly lords until 1876 when the Comberton estate was settled on E. B. Foster. (fn. 157) He added to it c. 1887 Kent's farm of c. 180 a. by the St. Neots road and died c. 1907. His heir P. G. Foster sold the estate in 1911, when it was broken up. (fn. 158) The lordship of the manor belonged by 1907 to Mary F. Raynes, wife of a Cambridge solicitor, who held it until 1935. (fn. 159) In 1937 W. L. and E. G. Raynes of Cambridge and S. W. Pain were lords. (fn. 160)
The manor-house of Merks manor probably stood originally within a moat beside the road 65 yd. north of the modern farm-house. Its eastern ditch is still filled with water. A larger ditched enclosure west of it was probably its farmyard. (fn. 161) In 1664 Robert Holder occupied a house with 8 hearths, perhaps the then manor-house. (fn. 162) It was replaced by an L-shaped red-brick farm-house with gabled and dormered roofs and a tall chimney at the south end of its east wing. It was probably built in 1687 by Thomas Holder, whose initials with his wife Mary's appear with that date in a panel in the north wall. Holder also probably built part of the range of red-brick cottages south of the farm-house, inscribed TH 1706, and his widow reconstructed the cottages opposite, labelled 1711 MH, once called Old Farm. (fn. 163)
The other substantial manor, BURDELEYS, the name being later corrupted to BIRDLINES, was derived from 2 hides, expropriated from four sokemen, which two men held of Picot the sheriff in 1086, and which probably depended, then as later, on his manor of Madingley. (fn. 164) The overlordship had passed with Picot's honor of Bourn by 1110 to Pain Peverel of Dover, who died after 1130. (fn. 165) Upon his successor William's death c. 1147, (fn. 166) the honor was divided among four sisters and coheirs, Comberton being included in the part assigned to the eldest sister, Maud, wife of Hugh of Dover, (fn. 167) of whom Eustace Picot probably held it in 1166. (fn. 168) Hugh died c. 1174 (fn. 169) and Maud in 1185. (fn. 170) When her purparty was shared among her sisters, the overlordship of Comberton was apparently assigned to Asceline, who had married Geoffrey de Waterville (d. c. 1162). (fn. 171) Their son Ralph having died in 1175, (fn. 172) it was inherited by their eldest daughter, Maud, who married William de Dive (d. c. 1181) (fn. 173) and survived her son by him, Hugh (d. c. 1206). (fn. 174) When she died in 1228 her coheirs were Hugh's three daughters. The overlordship of Comberton was assigned to Maud, one of them who had by 1224 married Saher of St. Andrew (fn. 175) (d. after 1253), (fn. 176) and probably remained with their descendants, (fn. 177) although occasionally ascribed after 1250 to the Pecches, (fn. 178) barons of Bourn who represented the Peverels' senior coheirs. (fn. 179) The Burdeleys family, mesne tenants of Comberton, held of the Pecches, moreover, at Madingley and Rampton. (fn. 180) Maud St. Andrew died in 1273 (fn. 181) and her son Robert in 1274. (fn. 182) His heir was his son Roger St. Andrew (fn. 183) (d. 1327) whose son Richard (fn. 184) died in 1330. Richard's son John (fn. 185) (d. 1360) left as heir a son John, (fn. 186) who dying in 1368 was succeeded by his brother Edmund. (fn. 187) The family continued at East Haddon (Northants.) until the late 16th century, (fn. 188) but no record of its overlordship of Comberton has been found later than the 14th century.
The Comberton estate was held under those lords by tenants probably descended from Michael Picot, who held of William Peverel at Madingley. (fn. 189) Eustace Picot (fl. 1166) (fn. 190) left a daughter Lauretta, who married Hugh Burdeleys (d. by 1181). (fn. 191) Their son William died between 1214 and 1219, (fn. 192) and when Lauretta died in 1224, her heir was her grandson William (d. 1233). He was succeeded in turn by his brothers Hugh (fn. 193) (d. 1251) and Geoffrey (fn. 194) (d. 1264), whose son John died in 1283. (fn. 195) By the early 13th century their manor at Comberton was subinfeudated, being occupied successively by Walter of Cottenham (fl. 1200–15), (fn. 196) John of Cottenham (fl. 1235–60), (fn. 197) and Gilbert of Cottenham (fl. c. 1272). (fn. 198) In 1279 it was said to be held by Gilbert's heirs, (fn. 199) presumably meaning his widow Alice (fl. 1282–1304). (fn. 200) By 1300 the manor was held in demesne by John Burdeleys's son Geoffrey (fn. 201) (d. 1324). (fn. 202) Geoffrey's son and heir John granted it for their lives to Thomas Pateshull (d. by 1335) and John Francis (d. 1337), (fn. 203) and died in 1329. Comberton reverted to his son John, a minor, upon Francis's death. (fn. 204) John died in 1347, still under age, (fn. 205) and his lands were thereupon divided between his sisters, Elizabeth, wife of Thomas Marshal, and Joan, wife of Gilbert Chamber of Epping (Essex). (fn. 206) They were reunited when Elizabeth died without issue in 1361. (fn. 207) After Gilbert's death in 1360 (fn. 208) Joan married John FitzJohn or Middleton. Because he would not fulfil undertakings to perform Gilbert's will and maintain his children, she left him and apparently occupied Comberton until her death in 1375, whereupon her son Edmund Chamber entered upon it. (fn. 209) Fitzjohn, however, claimed to hold her lands by the curtesy, and may have occupied those in Cambridgeshire as well as those in Norfolk until his death in 1394. (fn. 210) Edmund Chamber died in 1400, leaving a son John, (fn. 211) who came of age in 1411. (fn. 212) His mother Margaret, however, retained the manor, perhaps as dower, and married Ralph Gernon of Boston. In 1419, as his widow, she conveyed it to feoffees including William Baker of Clare (Suff.), (fn. 213) who may have been the William Baker returned as lord in 1428. (fn. 214) The lordship is uncertain for some years: John Chamber had released it to his mother's feoffees in 1419 and no longer held it at his death in 1448. (fn. 215)
A later lord, perhaps William Baker, conveyed it to Thomas Pouncy, whose will devised it to John Denston of Denston (Suff.), (fn. 216) who occupied the manor in 1457. (fn. 217) He died in 1462, (fn. 218) leaving it to his wife Catherine for life, with remainder to his daughter Anne. (fn. 219) She married John Broughton of Denston (d. 1479), (fn. 220) and died in 1481. Burdeleys manor was then and later said to be held of the honor of Clare in Suffolk. (fn. 221) Anne's eldest son John died under age in 1483. (fn. 222) His brother and heir Robert came of age in 1487 and died in 1506, leaving a son John, (fn. 223) of age in 1510, who died in 1518. (fn. 224) In 1514 he sold Burdeleys manor to the bishop of Winchester and others, (fn. 225) who included it in the endowment of the hospital which they were founding, as executors of Henry VII's will, in the Savoy palace. (fn. 226) The Savoy hospital, established in 1517, (fn. 227) was temporarily dissolved in 1553, (fn. 228) when certain of its lands, including those at Comberton, were granted to the mayor and corporation of London to found a new hospital. (fn. 229) They assigned Comberton to St. Thomas's Hospital, as whose governors they remained titular lords of the manor in 1970. (fn. 230)
The farm-house of Birdlines is a brick building of the 18th century, of two storeys with hipped roofs. A moat in an enclosure to the south, once called Moat close, probably indicated the site of an earlier manor-house, (fn. 231) said to be ruinous in the 14th century. (fn. 232) The southern ditch, the last remaining, was filled in 1960. (fn. 233)
The third manor in Comberton was also linked with a serjeanty. In 1086 Erchenger the king's baker held 5/6 hide there, once held by 3 sokemen, and also 1 hide in Toft, (fn. 234) later called HEVEDS FEE. The service by which his successors held it was that of rendering to the king, from corn that he provided, one hot simnel loaf daily for his morning meal. (fn. 235) Under Richard I the serjeanty land was held by Arnold, son of Robert son of Guy, who recovered it under John, after Simon, chamberlain to Archbishop Hubert Walter, had briefly occupied it c. 1198. (fn. 236) Later it was held by Robert Head (Heved) of Hardwick (d. 1250). (fn. 237) Most of its demesne, c. 121 a., had been alienated to Barnwell Priory which in 1250 had the bakery service arrented at 6s. 8d. a year. (fn. 238) Other fragments, amounting to 17 a., had also been alienated before 1279, to the Hospitallers of Shingay, the nuns of Swaffham Bulbeck Priory, St. John's Hospital, Cambridge, to which Arnold son of Robert had granted 3 a. c. 1210, and Stourbridge leper hospital, which by 1200 owned land in Comberton later confirmed to it by King John. (fn. 239) Robert's son, Alexander Head, nevertheless retained in 1279 and 1284 a small holding and lordship over tenants of 46 a., (fn. 240) to which John son of William Head succeeded on coming of age in 1312. (fn. 241) In 1319 John Head sold 13 a. and certain rents to John Burdeleys (d. 1329). (fn. 242) The land then remained joined to Burdeleys manor until on Joan Chamber's death in 1375 it was claimed by the Crown, with other lands alienated from the serjeanty without licence. (fn. 243) It was subsequently occupied by a series of keepers (fn. 244) until its sale in 1553. (fn. 245)
The serjeanty lands acquired by Barnwell Priory were united with the glebe of the appropriated rectory to form the RECTORY manor, which the priory retained until its dissolution in 1538. (fn. 246) The Crown held Rectory manor until 1562, when in an enforced exchange it was granted to the bishop of Ely. (fn. 247) Successive bishops were lords until the transfer of the estate in 1864 to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. (fn. 248) Under the bishops the manor and parsonage were occupied by lessees, usually for terms of three lives, at a rent of £19, which was unchanged from the late 15th to the 19th century. (fn. 249) The lease included the court with its profits, and the courts were held in the lessees' names. (fn. 250) In 1536 Edward Slegge had obtained from Barnwell Priory a lease (fn. 251) in reversion, probably for 70 years. It was held successively by his son Edward (d. 1572); from 1581 by Edward's daughter's husband, John Flowerdew (d. 1588); from 1588 to c. 1601 by Edward Lucas of Thriplow, Flowerdew's uncle and executor; (fn. 252) and from 1602 by Flowerdew's younger son William. (fn. 253)
In 1604 Bishop Heton leased the rectory to Sir Thomas Smith, clerk to the Privy Council, and in 1606 to Smith's servant, Robert Finney. (fn. 254) By 1617 the lease had passed to Thomas Motham of Drinkstone (Suff.), who transferred it in 1634 to his son Isaac (d. 1657). (fn. 255) In 1650 John Motham conveyed it to Thomas Muriell of Cambridge. (fn. 256) Robert Muriell was styled lord in 1668. (fn. 257) By 1670 the rectory lease was possessed by Edward Neville of Grove (Notts.) (cr. Bt. 1675, d. 1686). (fn. 258) His widow Elizabeth had sold it by 1691 to Henry Dry. Henry Dry, a lawyer of Lincoln's Inn, renewed the lease in 1724 and 1735 and died in 1740, leaving it to his son Henry who again renewed it in 1743. (fn. 259) In 1749 his trustees held the lease. (fn. 260) In 1772 the estate was conveyed to George Milner of Poole (Dors.), (fn. 261) who had married Sarah, sister of Henry Dry the younger. (fn. 262) Milner died in 1795, and his son George just before his death in 1825 (fn. 263) transferred the lease to his cousin James Stephen (fn. 264) (d. 1832), a distinguished lawyer and opponent of slavery. Stephen's son, Sir James Stephen (d. 1859), Under-Secretary for the Colonies, was succeeded by his widow Jane (d. 1875). His sons James Fitzjames Stephen, the Indian judge and controversialist, and Leslie Stephen the essayist, first editor of the D.N.B., were styled lords down to 1886. (fn. 265) In 1876, however, they surrendered the remainder of an unexpired lease of 1825 to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, (fn. 266) who thenceforward owned the rectory farm directly. In 1964 they sold 103 a. out of 159 a. of it to John Baker of Church Farm. (fn. 267)
Rectory Farm, standing north of the parish church, probably represents the parson's former dwelling, used by Barnwell Priory as its farmstead after the appropriation. In 1339 the prior had a hall and grange there. (fn. 268) In 1638 there was a parsonage house with two barns. (fn. 269) The present red-brick house was built in the early 18th century. (fn. 270)
The Milners or their predecessors as lessees had acquired other property for which at inclosure in 1839 44 a. were allotted to George Milner's widow Elizabeth Mary (fn. 271) (d. 1844). (fn. 272) That land belonged c. 1860 to Sir James Stephen's brother, H. S. Stephen (d. 1864), serjeant-at-law, and part of it descended to his daughter Sarah, who owned it until c. 1883. (fn. 273)
In 1086 William de Keynes held 1½ virgate in Comberton given him by Odo, bishop of Bayeux, with his manor in Barton, with which it presumably descended. (fn. 274) St. John's College succeeded St. John's Hospital, Cambridge, as owner of land at Comberton for which 4½ a. were allotted at inclosure in 1839. (fn. 275) In 1506 Thomas Hutton, clerk, died holding of Barnwell Priory 60 a. which he had purchased at Comberton, and which he devised to his nephew, Thomas Hutton of Dry Drayton, (fn. 276) who in 1536 conveyed 87 a. there to several members of the Baron family. (fn. 277)
Before the Norman Conquest Comberton, apart from the royal manor, was occupied by nine sokemen who had 3½ hides between them and could freely dispose of their land. By 1086 they had been succeeded by 19 villani who with 24 bordars occupied about half the vill. Of twelve plough-lands seven belonged to the demesne and only five to the peasantry. The yield of the manors had then, at £10, been restored almost to the level of 1066. (fn. 278)
Most of the peasants held in villeinage in 1279, when 11 free tenants occupied only c. 90 a., while 34 men held 385 a. by villein services, which, if exacted, were not light. On Merks manor halfyardlanders did three week-works and even cottagers two, both also rendering three harvest-boons. On Burdeleys manor tenants of 9 a. owed 140 works, those of 5 a. c. 100 works. A tenant of 9 a. of Barnwell Priory also did three week-works. The demesnes almost equalled the tenants' land in area. Barnwell Priory had probably 160 a. in demesne in 1279, when the demesne of Merks was reckoned at two carucates. (fn. 279) In 1346 the latter was said to contain 140 a., but in 1374 360 a. of arable. (fn. 280) In the mid 14th century Burdeleys manor had 120 a. to 140 a. of demesne. In 1337 and 1347 the customary works on that manor were valued as rent-yielding. (fn. 281) On Merks manor too they had been put to rent by 1346. (fn. 282) The priory's land was perhaps in hand in 1339. (fn. 283) In 1341 much of the parish was said to be lying waste because the tenants were not sufficient to cultivate it. (fn. 284)
By 1347 the land was being farmed on a threecourse rotation, (fn. 285) although by the 16th century there were four fields. South of the village West field lay between the boundary of Toft and the road to Fox's Bridge, east of which was Stallan or Stallow field. North of the Barton road Harborough field extended as far as the North brook. North field lay between that brook and the St. Neots road, but included on the west some furlongs south of the brook. (fn. 286) In 1715 Comberton was supposed to include 1,446 a. of arable. (fn. 287) It also had extensive pastures. It was estimated c. 1830 that the commons, including 126 a. of Midsummer and Lammas lands, covered 325 a., compared with 1,400 a. of open-field arable. The floodable land along the Bourn brook was used as meadow. In Stallow field wide strips of pasture lay along the Tit brook, and further north on both sides of the Barton road. A wide common, called the Aldefeld, and later the Offield or Offal, lay west of Harborough field and north of the village, continuing the green northward. Curving north-east it divided Harborough field from a southern extension, c. 38 a., of North field, and joined a wide belt of pasture running beside the North brook. (fn. 288)
The formal structure of Merks manor survived well into modern times. In 1562 as in 1279 it contained, besides 6 cottagers, 20 customary holdings of 15 a., which paid yearly rents of 10s. each. In 1279 their works had been valued at 9s. (fn. 289) By the 17th century even the entry fines had long been fixed at double the annual rent. (fn. 290) On the other manors such fines remained arbitrary. (fn. 291) There had, however, been much engrossing of holdings by 1562, when two men each had three half-yardlands of Greens manor, and two others each had two. (fn. 292) On Burdeleys manor 80 a. of copyhold remained in 1567, of which Nicholas Angier held 45 a. and Robert Angier 21 a. (fn. 293) At inclosure Greens manor included 277½ a., by local measure, of customary land, compared with c. 315 a. in 1279, and Burdeleys 65½ a. compared with 87 a. Of 50 a. copyhold of the Rectory manor, however, the Worthams, lords of Greens manor, held 30 a. from the 18th century. (fn. 294) The demesnes continued as in 1086 to include about half the village's arable. The farmer of Greens manor was said to occupy 240 a. in 1562. (fn. 295) In 1578 its demesne arable was reckoned as 400 a., (fn. 296) and in 1839 as 357 a., besides 48 a. of pasture, mostly inclosed. (fn. 297) The Burdeleys estate contained in 1567 175 a. of arable and 16 a. of pasture, and in the 18th century 191 a. altogether. (fn. 298) In 1638 the rectory demesne covered 173 a. (fn. 299)
The villagers who obtained leases of those demesnes grew to surpass their neighbours in wealth. When in 1524 13 men paid the subsidy on goods worth in all £132 and 12 others only on their wages, Thomas Baron, farmer of the Barnwell land since 1498, was assessed at £56, and John Baron, who succeeded him, and another kinsman at £27 6s. 8d. Richard Angier and three relatives paid tax on c. £30. (fn. 300) Richard and Nicholas Angier had farmed the Burdeleys demesne in the early 16th century. (fn. 301) In 1538 John Angier leased it for 50 years, (fn. 302) and was followed by Nicholas Angier, his son, in or before 1567, (fn. 303) and by Thomas Angier, who received a new lease in 1587. (fn. 304) From c. 1604 to 1640 it was occupied by Thomas Motham, also lessee of the rectory. (fn. 305) In 1692 Birdlines farm came again on lease into the hands of a local man, Thomas Holder, (fn. 306) whose family had acquired parts of Greens manor and who probably succeeded his father Robert in farming all of that estate. (fn. 307) His kinsman Charles Holder occupied Birdlines farm in 1781. (fn. 308) The farm had formerly been let for 21-year terms at a rent raised from £9 6s. 8d. in 1538 to £20 between 1606 and 1721, the fine for renewal being increased from £120 in 1587 to £280 from 1677. (fn. 309) After 1735 the beneficial lease was replaced by one at a rack-rent of £66. (fn. 310) In 1774 the farm was worth £90 a year. (fn. 311) On the rectory farm beneficial leases continued until the 19th century; (fn. 312) the farm was sublet for £40 in 1591, (fn. 313) and was worth £170 in 1650, including £117 from the tithes. (fn. 314) In 1838 it was worth £435. The last fine charged had been £2,500. (fn. 315)
There was enough land outside the demesnes to support several yeoman families owning substantial farms. In 1715 there were five such farmers, each with over 75 a. (fn. 316) One farm of c. 80 a., including land acquired from the Baron family in 1625, descended through the Barretts and from 1741 through the Dodsons of Swavesey to Elizabeth Dodson (fn. 317) who c. 1780 married Joshua Mann, (fn. 318) and with her son John owned c. 152 a. in 1839. (fn. 319) Another farm, owned by a branch of the Angier family in the 17th century, had passed by marriage by 1716 to the Chapmans of Longstowe, whose heiress in 1813 married Thomas Hawkes. In 1839 he sold the property, c. 95 a., to the Corporation of the Sons of the Clergy. (fn. 320)
In the 16th and early 17th centuries the villagers showed resentment against the lessees of the rectory and their subtenants for their attempts to inclose part of the common near the rectory farmstead. The lessees' servants were sometimes attacked, and their banks and hedges demolished. (fn. 321) The villagers were careful to conserve their commons. About 1650 the court leet made strict orders against ploughing up the sward. (fn. 322) The farmers in 1827 inspected the fallow field to check damage from ploughing. (fn. 323) It was found in 1672 that the commons were being overburdened through the traditional stint of 3 cattle for each commonable messuage, and 3 more and 15 sheep for each half-yardland. Rules were made against setting up by-herds, or letting cow- and sheep-gates to outsiders unless no villager would take them. By 1715 the stint had been reduced to 1 cow and 10 sheep for each 15 a. Cottagers might keep no sheep, unless they owned no cow. There were then rights of pasture for 275 cattle and 1,004 sheep. (fn. 324) The tenants of Greens and Birdlines manor farms were still keeping up manorial folds in the late 18th century, and no byflocks might be kept outside them, although farmers and copyholders could send their sheep to whichever fold they preferred, irrespective of whose tenants they were. George Milner revived an allegedly disused rectory fold c. 1775, and in 1801 a substantial farmer with 262 a. proposed to set up a private fold for his own sheep. (fn. 325) The traditional rotation and cropping was then still largely in force. In 1801 218 a. each of wheat, barley, and peas were sown, and 255 a. of oats. (fn. 326)
Comberton was inclosed under an Act obtained, like that for its neighbour Barton, in 1839. (fn. 327) The allotment of lands was effected that year, and the award legally executed in 1840. (fn. 328) James Wortham, lord of Greens manor, was allotted 376 a., besides his 32 a. of old inclosures. St. Thomas's Hospital emerged with 189½ a., and the bishop of Ely's lessee with 158 a. The Sons of the Clergy obtained 134 a., adjoining their estate in Whitwell, and Jeremiah Kent 178 a., also in the north part of the parish. Of locally resident farmers, Robert Whittet had 161 a., Elizabeth and John Mann 166 a., James Wootten, Wortham's tenant, 49 a. in his own right, and Thomas Hallack 50 a. Two outsiders, Mary Burbidge and Elizabeth M. Milner, received 60 a. and 45 a. Nine others, mostly local inhabitants, had allotments of 10 a. to 30 a., amounting to 161 a., and another fourteen with smaller properties shared 55½ a. Twenty-two acres were allotted to seven persons with rights of common only. (fn. 329)
Several smaller properties were let to the tenants of the larger farms. Just before inclosure James Wootten occupied four farms covering c. 530 a. After it he was farming 358 a., owned by 5 persons, from Wortham's Lordship Farm. William Bonnett, lessee of Rectory farm, occupied 238 a. in 1839. (fn. 330) Comberton continued to include also a good number of farms. In 1841 there were 13 farmers, in 1851 14, of whom only three occupied over 200 a., while another four had between 100 a. and 200 a. James Wootten and three relatives then occupied altogether c. 1,030 a., (fn. 331) but that predominance ceased on his death in 1853. (fn. 332) In 1861 there were 17 farmers, of whom four had over 200 a. and two others had over 100 a., not including the land of the Sons of the Clergy farmed from Whitwell. (fn. 333) The property of John Mann (d. 1870) lying beside the boundary with Barton was mostly acquired c. 1887 by R. R. Holben of Barton, whose family owned it until c. 1918. (fn. 334) In 1888 there were seven substantial farms, in 1908 eight. (fn. 335) Following the sale of the Sons of the Clergy's estate in 1911, (fn. 336) and the breaking up of the Greens manor estate the same year, (fn. 337) most of the land in Comberton was by 1936 owned by the men farming it. (fn. 338) In 1922 there were ten farms, in 1937 twelve. (fn. 339)
Comberton long remained almost entirely dependent on agriculture, providing work in 1801 for 78 men, compared with only 12 in crafts. In 1831 13 farmers employed 69 labourers, while only 12 families were supported by trade or crafts. (fn. 340) In 1841 there were 82 farm-workers, but only 28 craftsmen, including 5 wheelwrights, 4 collar-makers, and 3 blacksmiths and carpenters. (fn. 341) In 1861 14 men were working in the coprolite diggings. (fn. 342) In the 1920s almost three-quarters of the population were still farm-labourers. (fn. 343) From 1908 the village contained a cycle-maker's, which developed in the 1930s into a garage, and a small building firm. (fn. 344) With the increasing population after the Second World War there were more opportunities for local employment, even though many inhabitants commuted to Cambridge. In 1960 there were in Comberton a works making glass-houses, and a branch of a children's clothes factory. (fn. 345)
In the mid 14th century Merks and Burdeleys manors both possessed windmills. (fn. 346) The Burdeleys mill was ruinous in 1347. (fn. 347) Its site may be indicated by the name of Millhill way which led westwards from Burdeleys manor-house. A windmill was still in use in the parish in the 19th century, being owned after 1861 by Robert and William Beldam in succession. It had been converted to steam by 1900, and was closed between 1912 and 1922. (fn. 348)
In 1279 John Merk enjoyed on his manor view of frankpledge with the assize of bread and ale, and a pillory and gallows used by the view of the king's bailiff. (fn. 349) In 1299 he claimed to hold them by prescription, explaining that, though not entitled to infangthief, he might have convicted thieves brought back to his estate and hanged there. (fn. 350) That manor's court remained the only court leet in the parish, (fn. 351) and may be the 'court of Highall' to which a verdict in Burdeleys manor court was postponed in 1523. (fn. 352) From the later 17th century, however, courts for the subdivisions of Greens manor were usually styled courts baron. Court books, virtually registers of copyhold title, survive for Anderson's part from c. 1652 to 1848, for Turner's part from 1617 to 1850, and for Pattenson's part from 1708 to 1855. Court books for the reunited manor run from the 1850s to 1937. (fn. 353) For Burdeleys manor there are court rolls for 14861505, 1521–31, and 1550–1741, and court books for 1645–1936; (fn. 354) for the rectory manor there are court books for 1668–1937. (fn. 355) Both courts were only courts baron held irregularly. The Burdeleys manor court was electing a 'messor' in 1493, (fn. 356) and making minor regulations concerning commoning in the 16th century. (fn. 357) In the 17th and 18th centuries regulations made by the agreement of the farmers to prevent encroachment on common pasture land, or fix stints, were usually recorded in the court books of Greens manor. Field-reeves were being appointed in 1762, (fn. 358) and in the 1830s when they jointly owned a close. (fn. 359) In 1793 new rules on stocking were made by a general vestry. (fn. 360)
In the early 19th century parish affairs were managed by a vestry open to all ratepayers. (fn. 361) The poor-rate rose from £50 in 1785 to £268 in 1803, when 25 persons were permanently and 11 occasionally relieved. (fn. 362) By 1813 the cost of relief had increased to £417, but had fallen to £296 by 1816, although the number on permanent relief remained constant around 14. The cost rose steadily again to £472 in 1820, and, though reduced to £302 in 1823, increased again from 1824 (fn. 363) to reach £425 in 1830. Seven or eight men were maintained as roundsmen, the overseer paying their wages, and some 30 others were on relief, of whom six or seven worked on the parish roads. (fn. 364) About 1834 the poorrate was absorbing half the yearly value of the farms. The vicar had thwarted plans to let allotments rentfree to some paupers by demanding tithes from them; and the tithe-occupier obstructed a scheme for apportioning the labourers among the farmers. (fn. 365) In 1836 the parish was included in the Chesterton poor law union, (fn. 366) and remained in the Chesterton R.D. in 1970.
A church existed at Comberton before 1100. Picot the sheriff granted it to his foundation of Austin canons, later transferred to Barnwell Priory, and the gift was confirmed by Remigius, bishop of Lincoln, (d. 1092), and by Henry I. (fn. 367) In 1247 John of Cottenham, tenant of Burdeleys manor, released the advowson of the church to the priory. (fn. 368) In the mid 12th century Robert son of Guy granted twothirds of the tithes of his bakery serjeanty lands to St. Albans Abbey. Before 1208 the abbey had granted them to Barnwell Priory in exchange for tithes in Girton and Great Eversden. (fn. 369) The church, taxed at 12 marks in 1217 and 1254 and at 30 marks in 1276 and 1291, (fn. 370) had been appropriated to the priory by c. 1275 and a vicarage had been ordained. (fn. 371) The priory took the great tithes, (fn. 372) the parsonage house, and most of the glebe, which were all incorporated in its rectory manor. (fn. 373) The vicar probably obtained the small tithes, with a glebe reckoned at c. 7 a. in 1615, (fn. 374) and a pension of 2 marks charged on the rectory. (fn. 375) The priory retained the advowson of the vicarage until its dissolution, (fn. 376) and in 1554 John and Nicholas Knight presented under a grant of the next turn made by the priory in 1532. (fn. 377) The advowson subsequently belonged to the rectory manor, held by the bishops of Ely from 1562. (fn. 378) In 1557 Bishop Thirlby induced the queen to give the advowson to Jesus College, (fn. 379) but her grant did not take effect for many years. Under Elizabeth vicars were presented by Edward Slegge, John Flowerdew, and Edward Lucas, successively farmers of the rectory, whose lease probably included the advowson, and once, in 1590, by the Crown, probably through the wardship of Flowerdew's eldest son. (fn. 380) In leases from 1604 onwards the patronage of the vicarage was regularly excluded. (fn. 381) At the next vacancy, in 1619, Jesus College presented one of its fellows, and remained patron thenceforth. (fn. 382)
The vicarage was worth £4 3s. 4d. in 1291, (fn. 383) £6 18s. 10d. in 1535, (fn. 384) and £18 in 1650. (fn. 385) Bishop Gunning (1675–84) substituted for the former pension of 2 marks £10 a year, payable by the lessees of the rectory in addition to their rent. (fn. 386) In 1721 the benefice was valued at £38 9s. 6d. (fn. 387) and c. 1830 at £153. (fn. 388) In 1839, simultaneously with the inclosure, the tithes were commuted into rentcharges, the bishop as impropriator or his lessee receiving £328 15s. a year, the vicar £104 of which £7 10s. was exchanged (fn. 389) for an allotment of 2½ a. The vicar was also allotted 4 a. for his glebe. (fn. 390) The vicar's income in 1873 was £160. (fn. 391) In 1878 and 1882 the vicarage received further endowments, (fn. 392) raising the income to £294 in 1894. (fn. 393) The vicar still owned a glebe of 5½ a. in 1970. (fn. 394)
In 1373 the vicar was given a half-acre toft held of Barnwell Priory on which to build a new house: (fn. 395) the Old Vicarage, south of the church, preserves the timber-framed structure of a medieval hall and cross-wing. (fn. 396) Although in fair repair in the 18th and 19th centuries, it was looked on as a mere labourer's cottage. (fn. 397) The vicar was usually non-resident (fn. 398) and even the curates lodged elsewhere. (fn. 399) From 1872 to 1874 the Ecclesiastical Commissioners gave £850 to build a new vicarage house. (fn. 400) The old house was then sold, and a new vicarage built in grey brick nearer the main road, where the vicar lived in 1884. (fn. 401)
In 1489 there were two guilds of Our Lady in Comberton. (fn. 402) In 1571 a guildhall was discovered and sold by the Crown. (fn. 403)
Vicars are occasionally recorded from the early 14th century. (fn. 404) Only one before 1500 may have had a university degree. (fn. 405) In 1379 the vicar had two chaplains and two clerks working with him. (fn. 406) Three incumbents spanned the period 1458–1554. (fn. 407) The king's commissioners in 1552 found little plate or vestments at Comberton. (fn. 408) In 1554 the churchwardens said that waste had lately been made in the church. Edward Slegge, who occupied the rectory, had appropriated the best censers, claiming that the churchwardens had sold them to him, which they denied. He also refused to admit that he was a parishioner, and to pay the parish clerk's wages as his customary duty. (fn. 409)
Edward Robinson, vicar in 1560, was considered incapable of preaching and had no university degree. (fn. 410) His successors had mostly studied at Cambridge, and from 1619 normally were or had been fellows of Jesus College. (fn. 411) Curates were occasionally employed between 1579 and 1625. (fn. 412) In 1638 Bishop Wren directed that the reading desk be removed from the centre aisle, the seats made to face east, and the chancel arch reopened. (fn. 413) John Masters, presented in 1641, retained his living throughout the Civil War and Commonwealth, although in 1650 he was thought to be of unsound mind. (fn. 414) In 1658 he was attending meetings of the Cambridge Presbyterian Classis. (fn. 415) He resigned in 1659. (fn. 416) In 1721 and 1724 the vicar was non-resident, probably living in college, and employed a fellow of Jesus to serve the cure. In 1728 there were two Sunday services and communion thrice yearly, when only five partook. The children were catechized only in the summer. (fn. 417)
Richard Warren, vicar 1709–18, held Comberton in plurality with Hinxton, another Jesus living, and Richard Oakley held it with Harlton from 1756 to 1775. (fn. 418) In 1783 the vicar was again resident at Jesus and was still absent in 1807; (fn. 419) then, as from 1775, there was a curate, who held two Sunday services, preaching at one. Many of the Methodists in the parish also attended the church. (fn. 420) James Fendall, vicar from 1833, was in 1836 holding services and preaching in person. From 1839 he was also rector of Harlton, where he lived, employing a curate at Comberton. (fn. 421) The church contained 300 sittings in 1851, when 60 people attended the morning and 200 the afternoon service, besides 80 Sunday-school children. (fn. 422) When Essays and Reviews appeared in 1860, Fendall wrote against it and in 1862 promoted a suit in the Court of Arches against H. B. Wilson, one of its authors. (fn. 423) By 1873 Fendall's successor was celebrating communion monthly, instead of four times a year as in 1836, and had up to 20 communicants. In 1896 there were 43 communicants and c. 285 church-goers, double the number of dissenters. The vicar, Peake Banton, was then saddled with a pension to his predecessor, who had retired to two livings in the Scottish Episcopal Church. (fn. 424) Banton later became insane. From 1906 to 1915 the living was served by curates-in-charge, who found difficulty in meeting church expenses because the Lunacy Commissioners controlling the vicar's income would pay only those legally obli- gatory on him. (fn. 425) Between 1952 and 1960 the vicar of Comberton was also priest-in-charge at Harlton. (fn. 426)
The church of ST. MARY, which until the Reformation was dedicated in honour of THE ASSUMPTION, (fn. 427) is mostly of field stones and freestone, and has a chancel, aisled and clerestoried nave with south porch, and west tower. Nothing survives from before the 13th century, when the chancel, nave, and south aisle were built. The south wall of the chancel was rebuilt in the early 14th century, possibly by Geoffrey Burdeleys (d. 1324) whose name and arms once appeared in one of the windows there, (fn. 428) the tower was added about the same time, and probably also the south porch. In the 15th century the windows in the south aisle were replaced, and early in the next century the east window, the north aisle, and the clerestory were added. A bequest to glaze one of the clerestory windows was made in 1520. (fn. 429) Other windows once contained requests for prayers for those who had had them made, including Thomas Baron (d. 1525), John Angier, and others who flourished between 1500 and 1550. (fn. 430) The nave roof and that of the clerestory are contemporary. The similar roof in the north aisle had along its embattled cornice carved angels, later defaced so that only their wings or wing-tips remain. They were perhaps victims of William Dowsing, who in 1643 ordered the removal of six cherubim, besides destroying 69 superstitious pictures, (fn. 431) presumably in the windows. A broken figure of St. Barbara survived him and was extant in 1748, as was a painting of St. Christopher by the north door. Other windows then contained representations of a tree growing through a tun, and a ladder, perhaps rebuses. (fn. 432) The roodstair is of the early 16th century although the screen might, on stylistic grounds, be earlier. There are several early-16th-century pews and stalls with carved figures, some defaced, including a seated man, a lion, an eagle, and two men fighting or dancing, and the initials TB suggest that they were the gift of Thomas Baron (d. 1525).
In 1554, through the default of Edward Slegge, the glazing of the chancel was in decay, and two graves dug there for his family were left unpaved. (fn. 433) In 1561 the chancel was in disrepair. (fn. 434) In 1665 the town plough was kept in the church, (fn. 435) which was filled in 1685 with stones, lime, and rubbish. In 1728 and 1783 church and chancel were in tolerable repair. (fn. 436) About 1820 the tower was in decay and had to be partially rebuilt. (fn. 437) A grant from a church building society enabled the church to be repaired c. 1850. Open seating replaced the pews and a new pulpit was installed. (fn. 438) Restoration, said to be needed for the exterior in 1873, was carried out by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1874–9, and again in 1884–5. (fn. 439) The south porch was almost entirely rebuilt. In the 1890s the vicar raised £700 for further repairs. (fn. 440) A new chancel roof had been built by 1898. (fn. 441) There were fresh repairs in 1902–3, and the tower was again restored in 1921 (fn. 442) and 1967. (fn. 443)
The church plate includes a chalice by Thomas Buttell of c. 1570 and a paten of 1701. (fn. 444) The tower contained three bells in 1552. (fn. 445) The churchwardens sent them to be recast at St. Ives c. 1630, but after the parishioners demanded that they be remade into four bells, the bellfounders would not return them for some time. (fn. 446) There were four bells in 1900 and in 1968, in an ancient bell-frame: (i) 1633, Miles Gray; (ii) 1655, Christopher Gray; (iii) 1711; (iv) modern. (fn. 447) The registers begin in 1560 and are complete. (fn. 448)
In the 18th century the rent of 12 a. of arable and two closes was by tradition devoted to repairing the church and a causeway leading to it. In 1813 the land yielded £14 a year. (fn. 449) In 1839 8 a. were allotted to the churchwardens for it at inclosure; (fn. 450) 2 a. were sold in 1957 and 1965 for a pumping station. (fn. 451)
Fifteen Independents were recorded in 1728 (fn. 452) and two dissenting families in 1783. (fn. 453) By 1807 there were many Methodists, who, however, also frequented the parish church. (fn. 454) A house was registered for dissenting protestant worship in 1818, and two barns in 1823, (fn. 455) one of which may have been the 17th- or 18th-century barn, formerly a nonconformist chapel, in Barton Road, demolished between 1960 (fn. 456) and 1970. A meeting-house was registered in 1830, and another in 1843 and 1845, apparently for Independents. (fn. 457)
In 1851 there was a small Baptist meeting in a converted stable, seating 50, where 'occasional ministers' held evening services. It had a congregation of 30. (fn. 458) C. F. Foster, lord of Greens manor, (fn. 459) in 1868 gave a site by Green End Road near the manor-house for a chapel. (fn. 460) It was built in 1869 (fn. 461) and used during the 1870s by Baptists and Paedobaptists, but was a 'subordinate station' with no settled minister. (fn. 462) By 1895 it was called the Union Chapel. (fn. 463) In 1897, when the parish contained 140 dissenters, (fn. 464) the chapel was owned by the Village Preachers Association. (fn. 465) In 1898 it served as a mission station of the Cambridge Mill Road Baptist Church, (fn. 466) and in 1930 formed part of the West Group of the Cambridge Village Preachers Association. (fn. 467) From the early 20th century it was in membership with the Baptist Union, (fn. 468) usually sharing a minister with Barton, Coton, and Grantchester. Membership was 20 in 1898, 25 in 1921, 36 in 1940, and 18 in 1969; (fn. 469) in 1964 an extension to the chapel was built. (fn. 470)
In 1842 Great Eversden Congregational church established a mission station in Comberton. (fn. 471) There were 200 sitings in 1894; it is not mentioned after 1903. (fn. 472) A Primitive Methodist chapel is recorded in 1873, (fn. 473) but not subsequently. The Cambridge Primitive Methodists had a preaching station there in 1828. (fn. 474)
There was a schoolmaster in 1601, (fn. 475) 1610, (fn. 476) and 1616. In 1787 there were two private schools and a newly started Sunday school, (fn. 477) which 23 children attended in 1807. (fn. 478) Nearly 60 children attended two or three 'common village schools' in 1818, when there were two Sunday schools with 19 and 20 children respectively. All the children were said to go to school. (fn. 479) Some small schools were kept without a licence in 1825. (fn. 480) A day-school started in 1830 had 23 pupils in 1833, taught at their parents' expense. (fn. 481) There were two private schools in 1836, one for boys and one for girls. (fn. 482) A Sunday school was started in 1831; (fn. 483) it was supported principally by the vicar in 1836. (fn. 484) Attendance was 70 in 1833 (fn. 485) and 1845, when the school was held in the church. (fn. 486)
A National school with a teacher's house, built with the aid of grants from the government and the National Society, was opened in 1846. (fn. 487) The site, north-east of the main cross-roads, was given in 1845 by St. Thomas's Hospital and their copyholders, the Corporation of the Sons of the Clergy. (fn. 488) The school received about £15 from school pence in 1847–8. (fn. 489) An unofficial school board, or parish committee to manage the school, was formed in 1875 to build a classroom and obtain a certificated teacher, (fn. 490) both of which were done in 1876. (fn. 491) School pence produced about 8s. in 1893, but had ceased by 1899. (fn. 492) Attendance at an evening school recorded from 1882 to 1902 fluctuated between 10 and 20. (fn. 493)
The school site was extended northwards in 1902. (fn. 494) In 1928 the bishop of Ely dedicated a new school building with three classrooms for 80 junior and 40 senior children. The senior school was intended for the children of Comberton, Barton, Toft, and Hardwick, and it was 'the first Church of England senior school to be opened under the new grouping system in this county and one of the first in East Anglia.' (fn. 495) The cost was met by local subscriptions, the Ely Diocesan Board of Education, and the National Society. By 1930 the old building had been converted into a room for teaching woodwork and domestic economy, and there were 17 children aged over 11. Although the original plan for the new senior school was apparently modified, in 1944 the senior classes took children from the Church of England schools at Barton, Toft, and Caldecote. (fn. 496) Average attendance was 56 in 1849, (fn. 497) 92 in 1879, (fn. 498) 74 in 1908–9, and 81 in 1937–8. (fn. 499)
Comberton village college (fn. 500) was opened just inside Toft parish in 1960. In 1968 the Meridian County Primary School replaced the Church of England school, which was then closed, and in 1970 had 360 children including those from Little Eversden, Toft, and Hardwick. (fn. 501)
By his will proved in 1847 Thomas Baker gave £100 to the trustees of the National school. (fn. 502) By 1850 that sum together with further donations had been invested in £200 stock, and the interest was applied to support the school. (fn. 503) Income was about £6 in 1962. (fn. 504)
Charities for the Poor.
Shortly before 1521 John Newman gave for the use of the township certain land, copyhold of Burdeleys manor, which the churchwardens held in 1550. (fn. 505) Being charged with an obit it was confiscated by the Crown in 1553. (fn. 506) The churchwardens and constables had recovered it by the 1590s, (fn. 507) but again lost it c. 1617, the lord resuming it because they claimed it as freehold. (fn. 508)
The township owned land called Herring land in 1567. (fn. 509) In 1783 8 a. bearing that name were let for £5 4s. which was given to the poor on Easter day. (fn. 510) In 1837 the tradition was that the land had been given for purchasing herrings for the poor in Lent. The £9 rent was in that year distributed on Good Friday among the settled poor, whether resident or not, in proportion to the size of their families. At inclosure in 1839 the vicar and churchwarden successfully claimed to have the land vested in them as trustees for the poor; (fn. 511) 6 a. were then allotted for the Herring land, (fn. 512) which were intended for letting as allotments to labourers, (fn. 513) and were so used between 1900 and 1940. (fn. 514) In 1864 the rent of £15 15s. was distributed to the poor. (fn. 515) In 1929 the Herring land was combined with the Town land charity, mentioned next below.
In 1788 fuel for the poor was provided with £1 rent from land (fn. 516) called the Town land in 1837, when the rent was paid to the overseers, who spent £2 or £3 a year, partly raised from the rates, on coal for poor widows. At inclosure ½ a. was allotted for the Town land, (fn. 517) which also included two town houses by the cross-roads. (fn. 518) In 1850 the rent was distributed in the same way as that of the Herring land. (fn. 519) In 1864 £8 10s. was distributed. (fn. 520) The Herring land and Town land were combined under a Scheme of 1929. Rent had declined to c. £2 10s. by 1938, when almost all the land was unoccupied. In 1964 £8 14s. of the gross rent of £10 was available for distribution.
Edward Baron by will dated 1603 gave a £1 rentcharge for distribution to 10 of the poorest householders of the parish on May-day. (fn. 521) In 1788 the money went to 10 poor widows not receiving alms, (fn. 522) and it was called May Money in 1837, when the constable, after giving each poor widow 1s. of it, distributed the rest indiscriminately. The land charged with the payment could not then be identified. The last distribution was made in 1891 and after the land that was thought to be charged had been sold in 1894 the charity was lost.