Chilford hundred

Pages 1-2

A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 6. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1978.

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Chilford hundred occupies the south-east corner of Cambridgeshire, stretching 12 miles along the valley of the Bourne, between the Suffolk border and the river Cam or Granta. All its constituent parts except West Wickham lie south of Wool Street. That road marks a prehistoric trackway between Haverhill (Suff.) and Cambridge, of which the part west of Horseheath was overlaid by a Roman road. (fn. 1) It was known locally in the 13th century as Wulves Street and to 19th-century antiquaries as the Via Devana. (fn. 2) In 1066 the area, assessed at 54½ hides, was divided among eleven vills, Little Abington, Hildersham, Barham, Camps, Horseheath, and West Wickham each being assessed at 5 hides, Pampisford at 5¼, Great Abington at 6, Great and Little Linton together at 6¼, and Babraham at seven. (fn. 3) The vills underwent some rearrangement to form the modern parishes. While Great and Little Abington, separated by the river Bourne and each with its own church, remained distinct and Hildersham, despite an agrarian and manorial division along the river, remained a single parish, the vills or manors of Great Linton, Little Linton, and Barham, having after 1300 only one place of worship, were gradually combined to make Linton parish, although Barham remained partially distinct until the 18th century. Further east the area called in 1086 Camps was from the 12th century divided between Great and Little, later Castle and Shudy, Camps. Olmstead, at the south-eastern tip of Castle Camps, although lying until after 1835 ecclesiastically in Helions Bumpstead (Essex), remained attached to Castle Camps for tenurial and civil purposes. Bartlow, however, at the north-western corner of Castle Camps, was from the 12th century a distinct though small parish. Its field-land south of the river, called Bartlow End, was reckoned to belong to Essex. Nosterfield hamlet, connected by tenure and jurisdiction with Castle Camps, was after the 13th century incorporated into Shudy Camps parish. The hamlet of Streetly and the ancient manor of Enhale were included in West Wickham.

The hundred court probably met originally at the centrally placed 'Cildeford', just downstream from Linton village. By 1279 it had given its name to a neighbouring field. (fn. 4) Chilford hundred remained throughout the Middle Ages in the king's hands. (fn. 5) In the late 13th century it was being farmed and administered with Whittlesford hundred by a single bailiff. (fn. 6) The lords of at least one manor in each vill, and of three at Babraham, claimed to hold view of frankpledge, usually with the assize of bread and of ale. Barham had a separate view, and the bishop of Ely had the view at Streetly. The men of Nosterfield and Olmstead owed suit to courts attached to Castle Camps manor, whose lord also had the view at Bartlow. (fn. 7) The fees held of the honor of Richmond still sent suitors in the early 14th century to a general tourn for the honor's dependencies throughout the hundred. (fn. 8) In the 17th century Chilford hundred was linked administratively with Radfield and Whittlesford hundreds. (fn. 9)

Chilford hundred, 1845

The hundred lies mainly upon the chalk, overlaid on the higher ground by glacial clays, (fn. 10) once heavily wooded. In the western part, along the Bourne valley, men have lived since the Middle Ages in nucleated villages close to the river, with village streets often leading across it. In the eastern part settlement is more scattered, with small village streets, outlying hamlets, and isolated farmsteads. The two parts of the hundred also differed agriculturally. In the Bourne valley open fields covered most of the area outside the village closes. On the eastern uplands only the western parts lay in open fields, while to the east lay extensive ancient inclosures, probably produced by assarting, mostly held in demesne, and sometimes formed into parks; the larger settlements, with the churches, lay near where the fields and closes met. Most of the settlements in the hundred, and particularly the eastern ones, had rather more than three fields, grouped by the 18th century, and probably earlier, for cultivation in a triennial rotation which was also usual on the inclosed arable. Large demesne sheep-flocks were kept; smaller owners, especially in the east, preferred to keep cattle. Saffron was grown in the area from the late 15th century to the mid 17th, and in the 17th century root crops were introduced at Linton and water-meadows were established at Babraham. The open fields were inclosed by parliamentary awards, mostly between 1799 and 1863. Babraham and Horseheath, each being virtually in a single ownership by 1800, were inclosed without awards. The inclosure of Hildersham in 1889 was the latest in the whole county. Thereafter the land was mostly devoted to mixed farming.

Linton, a market-town with two fairs from the 13th century to the 19th, had the only notable industrial activity in the hundred, but there as elsewhere population declined from a peak in the mid 19th century. In the west part of the hundred, nearer to Cambridge, it recovered after the 1940s, while in the east the shrunken settlements were barely more populous in 1970 than in 1800.


  • 1. Proc. C.A.S. lvi–lvii. 42–60.
  • 2. P.N. Cambs. (E.P.N.S.), 30–2.
  • 3. V.C.H. Cambs. i. 408–10.
  • 4. P.N. Cambs. (E.P.N.S.), 99, 110; cf. W. M. Palmer, Antiquities of Linton (1913), 2.
  • 5. e.g. Feud. Aids, i. 154.
  • 6. e.g. J.I. 1/83 rot. 37; J.I. 1/86 rot. 56.
  • 7. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), i. 52; ii. 413–30, 568; Plac. de Quo Warr. (Rec. Com.), 99, 104–7.
  • 8. S.C. 2/155/71 mm. 1–2.
  • 9. e.g. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1634–5, p. 442.
  • 10. Geol. Surv. Map 1", drift, sheet 205 (1932 edn.).