Armingford hundred

Pages 1-3

A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 8. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1982.

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THE hundred of Armingford, whose name is recorded by 970, lies in the southwest corner of the county astride Ermine Street. The hundred, like the street, derives its name from the Earnings who occupied the region in Anglo-Saxon times. (fn. 1) By 1066 the hundred contained ten vills lying between the Icknield Way on the south and the river Cam or Rhee on the west and north. Melbourn, Meldreth, and Whaddon together were assessed at 30 hides, Bassingbourn with Abington and Litlington at 20, Wendy and Shingay at 5 each, and the two Mordens, later Steeple and Guilden Morden, at 15 hides together. Four more vills north of the river, Croydon, Clopton, Tadlow, and East Hatley, respectively 10, 5, 5, and 5 hides, had been included, probably to make up a round 100 hides. (fn. 2) By the 13th century the area between Melbourn and Bassingbourn, once perhaps a southward extension of Whaddon, had become the separate hamlet of Kneesworth, which although linked with Bassingbourn ecclesiastically after the 15th century was united with it for civil purposes only in 1966. Clopton was merged with Croydon in a single parish in 1561, but, although Shingay church was closely attached to Wendy from the 16th century, the two were not combined civilly until 1967. In 1896–7 land at the southern angles of Bassingbourn, Kneesworth, and Melbourn, covered by the growth of Royston, was transferred from those parishes, and from Cambridgeshire into Hertfordshire, and incorporated into Royston urban district. (fn. 3)

The hundred remained in the king's hands in the 13th and 14th centuries and later. (fn. 4) Its court may originally have met at Mutlow, later Mettle, hill between Meldreth and Kneesworth. (fn. 5) In the 1230s some 16 estates owed suit to the county court. (fn. 6) In the 13th century, when it shared a bailiff with Longstowe hundred to the north, (fn. 7) the farm of the hundred fell from £2 13s. 4d. c. 1250 to £1 in 1275, owing to the withdrawal of extensive areas from its immediate jurisdiction. (fn. 8) Not only did the lords of some eight manors in five vills claim to hold their own views of frankpledge and other lesser liberties, and the prior of Ely have extensive rights in Melbourn and Meldreth, (fn. 9) but the Hospitallers at Shingay exercised their chartered liberties both there and over their tenants in neighbouring townships; (fn. 10) the lords of the honor of Richmond had the view at Bassingbourn, and their tenants in four other vills were still attending tourns held for the honor in the 1330s. (fn. 11) From c. 1250, moreover, a court leet established, perhaps by usurpation, for the earls of Gloucester, exercised almost exclusive jurisdiction over Guilden Morden, Tadlow, Litlington, and Abington Pigotts, and partly at Meldreth, remaining active until the late 16th century. (fn. 12) In the 16th and 17th centuries the hundred was usually grouped administratively with Longstowe, Wetherley, and Thriplow hundreds. (fn. 13)

Within the parishes south of the Cam settlement has largely, since Anglo-Saxon times, been concentrated in nucleated though somewhat straggling villages. Most of them, lying in a band a little north of the prehistoric track called Ashwell Street, are sited close to small streams that flow from the southern chalk downland towards the river. Some, including Bassingbourn and Litlington, possibly succeeded Roman settlements. A few, such as Bassingbourn, Meldreth, and Steeple Morden, have had dependent 'ends' a short way from the main village. North of the river, Tadlow, Clopton, and Croydon lay upon the sharp slope where the chalk down rises from the flat gault-based clay beside the river to the heavy clay of the West Cambridgeshire uplands, once covered with thick woodland, within which the Hatleys grew up. A few outlying medieval hamlets, close to the western county boundary, such as Redreth in Guilden Morden and Pincote in Tadlow, disappeared between 1350 and 1450. Kneesworth, the only settlement in the hundred actually on Ermine Street, was not recorded as an independent settlement before 1200.

Armingford Hundred 1845

By the 13th century the southern parishes from Melbourn to the Mordens lay in open fields which gradually encroached upon the heathland lying along the Icknield Way. (fn. 14) A two-field system, probably implying a biennial rotation, then recorded in at least four of the eleven parishes west of Ermine Street, was superseded by culti- vation on a triennial rotation, probably by the mid 14th century and certainly by the 16th. In several parishes, however, including Melbourn and Meldreth, the arable long continued to be divided into numerous fields and furlongs, regular three-field layouts not being imposed before the 17th century. The principal crop was barley, and large flocks of sheep were kept. The parishes beside and north of the Cam, once farmed in the same way, were from their smaller size more easily gathered into single ownership, and so more liable to early inclosure. Clopton and Shingay were inclosed in the late 15th century, Tadlow, East Hatley, Croydon, and Wendy during the 17th, most of Kneesworth virtually and much of Whaddon around 1800. Abington Pigotts became in 1770 the first Cambridgeshire parish to undergo parliamentary inclosure. In the parishes inclosed before 1600 extensive sheep farming was from c. 1650 succeeded by pasturing cattle, and in the 18th century those beside the Cam from Whaddon to Tadlow were noted for their dairying. Inclosed arable in them was, however, still usually cultivated on the region's traditional triennial rotation, like the open fields further south. The latter were inclosed in two waves, Bassingbourn, the Mordens, and Meldreth between 1800 and 1820, Litlington, Melbourn, and the rest of Whaddon and Kneesworth between 1837 and 1841.

In several of the smaller parishes depopulation followed inclosure. Clopton was already almost deserted by 1560, and in Shingay only a few farms then remained. In Tadlow and East Hatley also the villages nearly disappeared between 1650 and 1750, although they were partly restored by new building in the 19th and 20th centuries. The western part of the hundred continued in that period to be devoted mainly to mixed farming: much former pasture was gradually converted back to arable, and after 1900 Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire county councils acquired much land for smallholdings. Population there increased until the mid 19th century. A subsequent decline, caused partly by emigration, was checked between 1865 and 1880 through the growth in coprolite digging. Later numbers of inhabitants fell almost to the level of 1801 or lower. Some parishes, including Steeple Morden, Bassingbourn, Meldreth, and Melbourn, found a new resource in fruit growing. The larger villages to the east partially escaped the decline through the arrival of industry. In the late 19th century farm machinery and, briefly, motor cars were manufactured at Bassingbourn. At Meldreth and Melbourn industry was based, more permanently, on exploiting the subsoil, producing cement and whiting. Following the arrival in the 1950s of more technologically advanced light industry Melbourn grew to be the most populous village in the hundred.


  • 1. P.N. Cambs. (E.P.N.S.), 50–1; cf. Liber Elien. (Camd. 3rd ser. xcii), pp. 77, 114.
  • 2. V.C.H. Cambs. i. 414–19.
  • 3. Census, 1891. The history of Royston is entirely treated in V.C.H. Herts. iii. 253–65.
  • 4. Cf. Feud. Aids, i. 156.
  • 5. P.N. Cambs. 51, 60.
  • 6. Liber de Bernewelle, 246–9; cf. B.L. Add. MS. 5837, ff. 185–6.
  • 7. P.R.O., JUST 1/83, rot. 37; JUST 1/86, rot. 56.
  • 8. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), i. 50.
  • 9. Plac. de Quo Warr. (Rec. Com.), 99–106.
  • 10. Ibid. 99; Rot. Hund. i. 51.
  • 11. Plac de Quo Warr. 99; P.R.O., SC 6/15/71.
  • 12. Assizes at Camb. 1260, 3; Rot. Hund. i. 51; below, Litlington, local govt.
  • 13. e.g. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1547–80, 6, 430; 1627–8, 385.
  • 14. Below, map on p. 104.