Whittlesford hundred

Pages 199-200

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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The small hundred of Whittlesford, almost due south of Cambridge, extends for about 6 miles from the river Granta in the north to the Essex boundary in the south. It consists of the same five parishes or townships in the upper valley of the Cam or Granta as in 1066, when Ickleton, Hinxton, and Duxford in the southern half each accounted for twenty of its eighty hides, while Whittlesford contributed twelve and Sawston eight. (fn. 1) In the late 10th century a moot of the county notables had met at Whittlesford (fn. 2) and the hundred court was presumably held there. It may have met near a place called by the 14th century Mutlowe moor, apparently in the northern part of that parish. (fn. 3) The hundred remained in the king's hands throughout the Middle Ages. (fn. 4) In the late 13th century it shared a bailiff with Chilford hundred, and yielded him between 2 marks and £2 of the 6 marks for which the two were farmed in the 1270s. (fn. 5) One manor in each parish and two at Duxford had view of frankpledge and the assize of bread and of ale. In addition the lords of Hinxton and Whittlesford, the prioress of Ickleton, the Earl Marshal as overlord of D'Abernons manor in Duxford, and the Templars under their general charter claimed more extensive privileges. At Ickleton suit to hundred and county was withdrawn in the mid 13th century in right of the honor of Boulogne, and other suits were withdrawn, as at Whittlesford, during the turbulent 1260s. Fees at Duxford held of the honor of Richmond did suit to that honor's court held at Babraham. (fn. 6) In the 17th century Whittlesford hundred was commonly administered with Chilford and Radfield hundreds. (fn. 7)

Whittlesford, Duxford, and Ickleton are divided from Sawston and Hinxton to the east by the Cam or Granta. Two branches of the Icknield Way run north-eastwards through the hundred. The northern branch, more used from medieval times, was turnpiked in 1769–70; a small hamlet had grown up where it crossed the river at Whittlesford. The principal village settlements all lie off that road. There was little settlement away from the main village sites until after parliamentary inclosure. Sawston has been greatly enlarged by the building of cheap cottages for its growing industrial population in the late 19th century and of new housing estates in the 20th. In the other parishes new building continued to be mostly close to the original village sites.

The hundred lies mainly upon the Lower and Middle Chalk, (fn. 8) and the ground rises steadily from the north, where parts of Sawston consist of peaty fen, to downland at over 300 ft. by the Essex border. There was extensive ancient woodland in historical times, but only modern plantations remain. Strip lynchets surviving in Ickleton may indicate that agriculture had already been introduced in the Bronze Age. From the Middle Ages the land has been devoted mainly to arable farming, and a three-course rotation was normal in open fields that persisted into the 19th century. The main corn crop was barley, much of it sold outside the neighbourhood for malting. Sheep have been widely kept, and rights of foldage and sheep-walk were important to the manorial economy. By the 13th century there were many freeholders in the villages, mostly with small properties, but agriculture was dominated by the manorial demesnes, which except at Whittlesford accounted for at least half the arable in each parish. Saffron was widely grown from the late 15th to the 18th century. The two southern parishes have remained mainly agricultural. Their population declined from the mid 19th century, and was virtually stationary in the 20th. In the northern parishes, especially Sawston, industries developed, based originally on the river whose water-power had in the Middle Ages turned more than ten mills. The mills have been used for fulling, papermaking, oil-pressing, and bone-grinding. Other industries have included tanning, parchment-making, the processing of fertilizers and animal feeds, and the manufacture of agricultural equipment and aircraft materials. The increase in the population of the northern part of the hundred has also been encouraged, particularly since the 1950s, by the growth of commuting to Cambridge.

Whittlesford hundred, 1845


  • 1. V.C.H. Cambs. i. 410–12.
  • 2. Liber Elien. (Camd. 3rd ser. xcii), p. 109.
  • 3. C.R.O., Huddleston MSS., deed 39 Edw. III; P.N. Cambs. (E.P.N.S.), 92.
  • 4. e.g. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 570; Feud. Aids, i. 155.
  • 5. Assizes at Camb. 1260, 10, 36, 38; S.C. 5/Cambs. Chap. ho. ser. no. 1 m. 1.
  • 6. Liber de Bernewelle, 256; Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), i. 55; ii. 570; Plac. de Quo Warr. (Rec. Com.), 102, 107.
  • 7. e.g. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1634–5, p. 442; 1637–8, p. 133.
  • 8. Geol. Surv. Map 1", drift, sheet 205 (1932 edn.).