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 parish, (fn. 1) called in the early 13th century South Morden, (fn. 2) lies 22 km. south-west of Cambridge and covers 1,556 ha. (3,846 a.). (fn. 3) It is long and narrow. It stretches 9 km. from the river Cam or Rhee, its northern boundary, to the Icknield Way in the south and is barely 650 metres wide at its narrowest point and less than 3 km. at its broadest. An approximately rectangular area, in the north part of which the village stands, is extended northwards by a long tongue. The boundary with Guilden Morden to the west follows the West brook, so named by the mid 13th century, (fn. 4) which flows northward into the Cam. The boundary with Abington Pigotts runs along lesser watercourses, one probably once called the North brook. Further south the eastern and western boundaries follow ancient furlong divisions and fieldways.
The parish lies upon the Gault at its northern end, further south upon chalk. At the northern edge the ground is virtually flat at 25 metres. In the Middle Ages that area bore the name of Glitton from the stickiness of its soil. (fn. 5) The land then rises southward to 55 metres along the ancient Ashwell Street, which divides the southern part of the parish into two nearly equal sections. The Cheney Water, rising like the West brook near that street, runs north down to a narrow valley past the east side of the village. South of Ashwell Street the ground rises sharply to 85 metres on a ridge of former heathland covered by a 19th-century plantation, (fn. 6) before dipping to the Icknield Way. There were 105 a. of woodland in 1905. (fn. 7) Steeple Morden has long been mainly devoted to arable farming, with fruit growing from the late 19th century. The arable remained mostly under a triennial rotation until inclosure in 1808.
In the later Middle Ages the village was usually more populous than its neighbour Guilden Morden, but thereafter, until the 20th century, slightly smaller. In 1066 c. 42 peasants were enumerated, besides 12 servi. (fn. 8) In 1279 the manors had over 95 tenants. (fn. 9) In 1327 there were 41 taxpayers, (fn. 10) and 89 were taxed on wool in 1347. (fn. 11) In 1377 there were 249 adults paying poll tax, (fn. 12) and 68 people were assessed for the subsidy in 1524. (fn. 13) There were 44 households in 1563. (fn. 14) Numbers probably grew rapidly to a peak in the early 17th century, declining after 1680. (fn. 15) In 1660 there had been c. 195 adults (fn. 16) and 206 in 1676, (fn. 17) while c. 60 houses were occupied under Charles II. (fn. 18) In 1728 there were 70 families. (fn. 19) From the late 1770s the population began to grow again, rising from 430 in 1801 to 645 in 1831 and 913 in 1861. From a peak of 1,018 in 1871 it declined, (fn. 20) and in 1897 more than two thirds of recently confirmed young people were said to have left the parish in five years. (fn. 21) Numbers briefly stabilized at c. 700 in the early 20th century, but fell to an average of 640 from 1931 to 1961. By 1971 new building had added over 200. (fn. 22)
Until the later 19th century (fn. 23) most houses stood beside a street running north and south past the church. It was called Hay Street from the 13th century to the 19th, (fn. 24) when there were c. 30 houses north of the church, while others, almost 40 by the 1860s, were spreading southwards along land formerly unbuilt on. Up to 10 more houses stood at the western end of the road, called by 1800 Cheyneys street, leading east from the church towards the rectory and Cheyneys manor house. At Brook End, north of the rectory, so named by 1442, (fn. 25) there were 12 houses in the 19th century, including at Brook End Farm a medieval hall and cross wing; at Morden Green, south of Cheyneys manor house, there were 12 dwellings in 1841, 18 in 1861.
Two other small settlements lay further afield. At Gatwell End, its name corrupted in the 18th century to Gatley, (fn. 26) 2 km. south of the village, where rose the Cheney (once Gatwell) (fn. 27) Water, messuages and crofts adjoined Ashwell Street in the 13th century. (fn. 28) One plot there was empty in 1504, (fn. 29) but cottages were still being built on the waste there in the 18th century. (fn. 30) Its 14 dwellings of 1841 had shrunk to 5 by 1871, and in the 20th century only Upper and Lower Gatley Farms, the latter a 17th-century house, survived. North Brook End, called Glitton before 1200 (fn. 31) and Northbrook from the 13th century, (fn. 32) lay 1 km. north of the main village, strung out along a lane where cottages were interspersed with moated farmsteads such as that once owned by Jesus College, Cambridge. (fn. 33) In the mid 19th century it still had c. 20 dwellings. North Brook End Farm, besides a moat, has a medieval hall with part of a cross wing, and 17th-century extensions to the west.
In the main village a few larger 17th- and 18thcentury houses survive, but most of the older buildings are 19th-century cottages, rather poorly built. In 1839 many of the 80 houses were in multiple occupation to accommodate the growing population, (fn. 34) the number of dwellings doubling to over 200 by 1871. (fn. 35) The village shrank towards 1900 and then began to grow again slowly. By 1950 there were over 220 houses. More than 60 houses were built in the parish in the 1960s, mostly by infilling in the village. (fn. 36) Besides a few council houses they included numerous larger houses for people of the managerial class, but that growth stopped suddenly in the early 1970s. (fn. 37)
Most of the roads from the village were straightened at inclosure, including that to Guilden Morden, (fn. 38) which crosses the West brook at the Trap, so named by 1593, where there was a bridge by 1800. (fn. 39) On Flecks Lane, which links Guilden Morden and Shingay, some late 19th-century cottages built for the Wimpole estate stand near the Shingay boundary. Of the older ways leading south towards the Icknield Way, a turnpike between 1769 and 1874, (fn. 40) Berden way on the east was closed at inclosure when Woodway on the west, afterwards Odsey way and later Station Road, was retained. (fn. 41) Following inclosure High Farm was built where Odsey way crossed Ashwell Street, and Cheyney Lodge, with a substantial red brick farmhouse, further south along Odsey way. A small settlement grew up near the southern boundary at Ashwell and Morden station, on the Hitchin-Royston railway, opened late in 1850. (fn. 42) By 1861 there were 10 houses there, housing many railway workers. (fn. 43) The station was still open in 1978, as was the neighbouring Railway inn, renamed the Jester. By 1975 the former engine shed was occupied by a firm hiring out cranes. (fn. 44) The Horse and Groom, standing beside the turnpike road at the south-east corner of the parish in 1839, (fn. 45) was still open in 1978.
The village had five public houses in 1839. They included the Bell, recorded from 1737, (fn. 46) with a clubroom, and the Green Man, established by 1810 at the north end of Hay Street, (fn. 47) at which alternately the village feast was formerly held in May. (fn. 48) In the 1860s the Diggings was put up for the coprolite diggers, where North Brook End meets Flecks Lane. (fn. 49) From the 1850s to the 1930s there were also usually up to ten small beerhouses. (fn. 50) Of eight public houses surviving in the village in the 1950s four, including the Bell, were closed in 1956–7, (fn. 51) and only the Waggon and Horses opposite the church survived in 1978.
A friendly society had 90 members in 1807 and c. 1814. (fn. 52) The Steeple Morden Benefit Society bought 58 a. west of the village in 1892, (fn. 53) and built workmen's cottages by Station Road and Morden Green. The land was sold and the society dissolved in 1947. The village co-operative society formed by 1921 was wound up in 1954. (fn. 54) In 1902 the parish council acquired 4 a. for a recreation ground, on which it also built a reading room. (fn. 55) A Nissen hut, given as a village hall in 1952, (fn. 56) was replaced by a specially built hall in 1973. (fn. 57)
In 1938 the R.A.F. opened, on the level land east of the Cheney Water, an airfield, covering over 175 a. and extending into Litlington, which was a satellite of that at Bassingbourn. It was closed in 1946, but some runways still remained in 1978. (fn. 58)
In 1015 King Ethelred's eldest son Athelstan left a manor at Morden to Winchester cathedral. (fn. 59) The bishop of Winchester owned 8 hides at Steeple Morden in 1066 and 1086 (fn. 60) and probably c. 1130. (fn. 61) In 1136 Bishop Henry of Blois gave the manor by exchange to his brother King Stephen, who granted it to Waleran, count of Meulan. (fn. 62) Later it belonged to Stephen's honor of Boulogne, in the king's hands by 1166. (fn. 63) Half the manor had by then probably been granted to Ildebert de Carency, (fn. 64) perhaps as a custodian. (fn. 65) Ildebert's successors, however, held the manor, by 1400 called CHEYNEYS, (fn. 66) from c. 1212 to the 16th century as ½ knight's fee of the honor of Boulogne. (fn. 67)
Ildebert probably died c. 1202. (fn. 68) By 1204 his land in Morden was held by his daughter Isabel, wife of William de Caieux, (fn. 69) a knight from Flanders. (fn. 70) William was deprived of it c. 1207 and again between 1213 and 1217 (fn. 71) but held it at his death (fn. 72) in 1223. His son William (fn. 73) forfeited it in 1224 for adhering to the French, and the king granted it during pleasure to Fulk de Montgomery, (fn. 74) who held it until the younger William was restored in 1236. (fn. 75) William finally lost it, through his French allegiance, between 1242 (fn. 76) and 1248 when the king gave it in fee to William de Cheyney, (fn. 77) a knight from the Channel Islands, (fn. 78) who was granted free warren at Steeple Morden in 1258. (fn. 79) He died in 1269 (fn. 80) and was succeeded by his young son Nicholas, of age c. 1285. (fn. 81) Nicholas died in 1326, having in 1325 settled the manor on his son William. (fn. 82) William died in 1345 and was succeeded by his son Edmund, aged 20, knighted in 1347. (fn. 83) Sir Edmund, governor of the Channel Islands 1358–67, (fn. 84) died without issue in 1376. (fn. 85) His brother and heir Sir Ralph was succeeded in 1400 by his son Sir William (fn. 86) (d. 1420). William's son Edmund, of age by 1424, (fn. 87) died in 1430, leaving as coheirs three daughters, including Anne, then aged three. (fn. 88) By 1445 she had married Sir John Willoughby and had Cheyneys included in her purparty. (fn. 89)
Sir John died in 1477. (fn. 90) His son and heir, Sir Robert, created Lord Willoughby de Broke c. 1490, died in 1502 and was succeeded by his son, another Robert. The latter, after his eldest son Edward died in 1517 leaving only three daughters, (fn. 91) sought to entail all his lands on the issue of his second marriage. (fn. 92) Long disputes followed his death in 1521. Under an agreement of 1536 Cheyneys manor was assigned to Edward's eldest daughter Elizabeth (d. 1562), wife of Sir Fulk Greville (d. 1559). (fn. 93) In 1544 the Grevilles sold it to John Sewster, owner of Brewis manor, (fn. 94) but under the 1536 entail their son Sir Fulk Greville recovered it in 1565 from Sewster's son William, (fn. 95) who possessed it on lease until his death. (fn. 96) Sir Fulk died in 1606. On the death of his son and namesake, the poet and courtier, created Lord Brooke in 1622, the title to Cheyneys passed to the latter's sister and heir Margaret (d. 1631), widow of Sir Richard Verney. It then descended to the Verneys, de jure lords Willoughby de Broke and recognized as such from 1696. (fn. 97) Before the 1660s the manor was let on beneficial leases to cadets of the Greville and Verney families. Thus Sir Fulk (d. 1606) assured it in 1586 to his brother Edward, (fn. 98) and Greville Verney (d. 1648) gave it for life to his brother George. (fn. 99) From 1668 to 1701 it was held by Diana, Lady Alington, widow of Sir Greville Verney (d. 1668), as part of her jointure. (fn. 100)
The 440 a. belonging to the Willoughby estate after inclosure (fn. 101) was sold in 1829 by Henry PeytoVerney, the 16th lord, to Joshua Lilley of Bassingbourn (d. 1848), whose son and legatee George Lewis Lilley sold it in 1859. (fn. 102) Cheyney Lodge farm of 275 a. was added to the Fordhams' Odsey estate. Cheney Water farm of 143 a., acquired by 1866 by the Wilkersons, (fn. 103) was in 1909 bought, for division into smallholdings, by the Cambridgeshire county council, which between 1919 and 1933 bought 153 a. more. (fn. 104) That portion included the 17th-century farmhouse at the south-east corner of the village, which by 1676 had replaced the Cheyneys' manor house. (fn. 105) The manor house, mentioned between 1325 and 1422, (fn. 106) had been demolished by 1626. (fn. 107)
The other half of the former Winchester manor, by 1584 called BREWIS, (fn. 108) was probably subinfeudated before 1166, (fn. 109) being later held of the honor of Boulogne as ¼ (afterwards 1/8) knight's fee. (fn. 110) Between 1279 and 1386 the lords Fitzwalter were said to be its mesne lords. (fn. 111) Its tenure was unknown in the 15th century. (fn. 112) In 1606 it was said to be held of the Crown by knight service, but in 1645 in free socage of Greenwich manor. (fn. 113) Richard de Brescy, who owned land at Morden by 1205, held that fee by 1217, (fn. 114) perhaps by inheritance from William and Guy Mansel (fl. c. 1195), (fn. 115) and was dead by 1220. (fn. 116) From his heir Guy de Brescy, tenant 1232–42, (fn. 117) the fee passed to Guy's son Richard (fl. 1257) (fn. 118) and to Robert de Brescy (fl. 1274–5), (fn. 119) perhaps Richard's brother and apparently dead by 1279. Robert's son John, (fn. 120) of age by 1299, held it in 1302 and 1308, (fn. 121) and died possibly c. 1335. (fn. 122) In 1344 another John de Brescy settled the manor, retaining a life interest, upon the marriage of his son and namesake. (fn. 123) Father or son was in possession early in 1349, (fn. 124) but neither was recorded after the Black Death. In 1369 William Caperoun released to Thomas Haselden the lands in Steeple Morden which he had inherited from John de Brescy. (fn. 125)
The manor descended with the estates that Haselden acquired in Guilden Morden, (fn. 126) until in 1433 William Haselden probably granted it by exchange to his kinsman Hugh Haselden. (fn. 127) Hugh seems to have died in 1435. John Dunstable probably held Brewis manor from 1435, (fn. 128) and was succeeded, probably in 1459, (fn. 129) by Margaret, perhaps his daughter. She had married Richard Hatfield (fn. 130) (d. 1468). (fn. 131) Her second husband, William Hyde, was in possession in 1470, (fn. 132) Margaret having died in 1469. Her son and heir Edward Hatfield died under age (fn. 133) in 1472, and his brother and heir Thomas, of age by 1481, (fn. 134) sold the manor in 1484 to Thomas Oxenbridge, (fn. 135) later a serjeant-at-law (d. 1496). (fn. 136)
Brewis manor next passed to the Fortescues of Punsbourn (Herts.). Sir John Fortescue (d. 1500) had land at Steeple Morden in 1494, (fn. 137) and his son John held the manor when he died in 1517. John's widow Philippa (fn. 138) and her second husband, Sir Francis Bryan, a prominent courtier, held it until after 1542. (fn. 139) In 1545 John's son Henry sold it to John Sewster, (fn. 140) attorney of the Court of Wards, (fn. 141) who died in 1546. During the minority of his son William it was occupied by John's widow Elizabeth, (fn. 142) who married secondly Philip Lynne of Bassingbourn (d. 1557). (fn. 143) William Sewster (d. 1568) left a son Giles, of age in 1583, (fn. 144) when he settled Brewis upon his marriage, with a remainder during his life, if he should alienate it, to his patron, Lord Thomas Howard, later earl of Suffolk. In 1586 Giles sold his Morden lands to two men who resold them in 1590 to Thomas Hanchett, whose interest Howard bought out in 1595. When Giles died in 1605 he left a minor son and heir Samuel, who having unsuccessfully contested the rights of the earl of Suffolk released the estate to the earl in 1618. (fn. 145) Suffolk in 1621 sold it to Joyce Norton of London, widow. (fn. 146)
Joyce died in 1642, having in 1635 settled the manor upon the marriage of her son Thomas Duckett. (fn. 147) He died in 1676, (fn. 148) having in 1658 transferred his Steeple Morden lands to his son Thomas. (fn. 149) The son lost his title to it in 1682 to his kinsman William Mildmay, whose estate he had embezzled and whose heirs in 1690 ceded their interest to mortgagees. (fn. 150) Duckett apparently remained in occupation in 1690, (fn. 151) and the mortgagees forced a sale in 1698. The purchaser, Charles Shales, a London goldsmith, (fn. 152) died in 1734. In 1737 his son John Shales Barrington sold the Steeple Morden estate to Peter Leheup, (fn. 153) who settled it in 1746 upon the marriage of his son Peter. The son sold it in 1754 to Philip Yorke, first earl of Hardwicke, (fn. 154) to whose successors it descended with the Wimpole estate until the 1890s. (fn. 155) After inclosure the Hardwickes owned almost half the parish (fn. 156) and in 1839 2,058 a. of it. (fn. 157) Lord Clifden, who acquired the Wimpole estate in 1891, sold most of the Steeple Morden property to farmers in and after 1892, John Inns buying the 900 a. of Morden Heath farm c. 1898, and John Jarman two farms, 535 a. The remaining 368 a. at the north end of the parish were sold in 1911, when the manorial rights were acquired by a firm of solicitors. (fn. 158)
Brewis manor house probably stood north-east of the church, just behind the school, and was probably that recorded in 1470 and 1546. (fn. 159) In 1662 Thomas Duckett occupied a house with 20 hearths. (fn. 160) About 1750 Peter Leheup began to rebuild it, but it was unfinished in 1754 (fn. 161) and was pulled down in 1765. (fn. 162)
A reputed manor, partly held of the two main manors and after 1500 called OLDFIELDS, was perhaps derived from land of the Eldefeld family, named from a place in the parish and recorded from c. 1220 to 1390. (fn. 163) Thomas Gery of Royston (d. 1519) devised c. 250 a. at Steeple Morden and Abington to his second son William (d. 1543), whose heir was his nephew William. (fn. 164) The nephew sold 270 a. at Steeple Morden in 1548 and 1549. (fn. 165) At inclosure Oldfields manor (38 a.) belonged to Nicholas Wescomb, (fn. 166) beneficial lessee of Jesus College's land in the parish. (fn. 167)
In 1086 Hardwin de Scalers held 3¾ yardlands, previously owned by seven sokemen. (fn. 168) The over- lordship descended with the Scalers half barony of Whaddon. (fn. 169) In 1166 Luke of Morden held ⅓ fee of Hugh de Scalers, (fn. 170) and in 1242 Anglesey priory and Sir Philip of Abington held ¼ fee of Hugh's descendant Geoffrey. (fn. 171) Philip's share, c. 80 a., descended thereafter with his Abington manor, (fn. 172) whose owners, the Pigotts, had at inclosure c. 36 a. by the Abington border, besides 30 a. of copyhold held of them. (fn. 173)
The 1 1/16 hide held by a man of Earl Alfgar in 1066 and by Earl Roger in 1086 (fn. 174) was partly represented by 11/8 hide of demesne belonging in 1232 to Warden abbey (Beds.), by gift of Roger's daughter Sibyl de Rames. Other land had been given by Geoffrey de Brescy (fn. 175) and Ildebert de Carency. (fn. 176) With the abbey's Odsey grange that land probably merged in the Sewster estate, except for 34 a. which passed with the grange after 1676. (fn. 177) Sibyl gave another part of her father's land at Morden to the Knights Hospitallers with Shingay manor. In 1279 the preceptor of Shingay held 1 hide in Steeple Morden, (fn. 178) which was probably represented by the 78 a. there belonging to the Shingay estate in 1696 (fn. 179) and at inclosure, when another 182 a. were copyhold of Shingay manor. (fn. 180) The land, 76 a. after inclosure, passed c. 1845 with Shingay Gate farm to the Wimpole estate. (fn. 181)
Anglesey priory held in 1279 c. 2 yardlands, part of it bought by 1240 and confirmed by William de Caieux, (fn. 182) which presumably passed with its land at Guilden Morden. Wymondley priory (Herts.), founded c. 1220, (fn. 183) held c. 5 yardlands, mostly of the Brescys, in 1279. (fn. 184) Mainly given in the early 13th century, and including 1/10 fee held c. 1217 by Alfred de Quincy of the honor of Boulogne, (fn. 185) part of the estate had been granted out at fee farm by 1279. (fn. 186) The remaining 120 a. was in 1544 sold by James Needham, the purchaser in 1538, to William Goodman, lessee since 1535. (fn. 187) In 1547 Goodman sold it to Elizabeth Sewster, (fn. 188) who in 1573 settled it on her two daughters, through whom half of it passed to Thomas Drayner and the Morgan family. (fn. 189)
Much land also belonged to various colleges. New College, Oxford, had in 1383 appropriated the rectory, (fn. 190) reckoned as a manor, of which c. 20 a. were held as copyhold from the 14th century to the 19th. (fn. 191) By the 1520s the rectory manor was leased to John Sewster's father William. (fn. 192) In 1555 the college leased it, excluding the courts and tenants' rents, to Dr. Thomas Martin (fn. 193) on what became a beneficial lease. Martin retained the rectory, tithes, and demesne, formerly the glebe, until his death in 1593, when they passed to his son Henry. (fn. 194) Henry (d. 1619) was succeeded by his son Thomas, (fn. 195) dead by 1648 when the leases passed to his widow Frances and son Thomas (d. 1663), who left them to his son Thomas, (fn. 196) lessee until 1688. The next lessee, the latter's brother Henry, (fn. 197) died in 1708. (fn. 198) Thereafter the lease was held by apparently unrelated beneficial lessees until the 1780s, (fn. 199) when the rectory began to be used to endow the vicarage. (fn. 200) The 97 a. by North Brook End which were not so used were sold in 1871; they were bought in 1878 by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, who sold them in 1920 to F. W. P. Hunt. (fn. 201)
Between 1517 and 1527 St. John's College, Cambridge, bought, mostly from Robert Elington, c. 195 a. (fn. 202) once belonging to yeomen. (fn. 203) The estate was 205 a. in the 1730s (fn. 204) and 209 a. after inclosure. (fn. 205) The college sold it in 1956. (fn. 206) In 1539 John Whitacres, a chantry priest at Great St. Mary's, Cambridge, gave to Gonville Hall c. 105 a. for a fellow to serve his chantry. (fn. 207) Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, sold that land and 62 a. more bought in 1563 and 1736, (fn. 208) in all c. 182 a., to Lord Hardwicke in 1801. (fn. 209) In 1549 John Andrew left to Jesus College, Cambridge, land at North Brook End recently bought from William Gery, (fn. 210) amounting in 1665 to 165 a. (fn. 211) From 1613 to the early 18th century it was leased to the Gatwards (fn. 212) and from c. 1780 to c. 1860 to the Wescombs as beneficial lessees. After inclosure Jesus College owned c. 188 a., (fn. 213) which it sold in 1920 to its tenant, F. W. P. Hunt, (fn. 214) who following other purchases owned until 1935 a 525-a. farm stretching across the north of Steeple and Guilden Morden. (fn. 215)
Of the 8 hides of the Winchester manor in 1086 half were in demesne, as was most of Earl Roger's 1/116 hide, on which he had 1 ploughteam. The Scalers land was still occupied, as in 1066, by seven sokemen, who in 1086 had only 2 teams between them, while the earl's six bordars could muster only 1 team. Bishop Walkelin's land was better equipped. On his demesne he had 5 teams and 11 servi, and 15 villani could bring another 11 teams to work for him. He had also 15 bordars. The yield of his estate, after falling by £6 c. 1070, had at £20 risen a quarter higher than in 1066, but the other two fees were still worth less than at the Conquest. (fn. 216)
Following the division of the former Winchester manor, Cheyneys demesne was said in 1346 to include 80 a. of arable, (fn. 217) but in 1422, more probably, 260 a. (fn. 218) In 1279 (fn. 219) the Brescys probably had c. 12 yardlands, c. 240 a., the Abingtons, besides their Scalers fee of c. 65 a. in 1274, (fn. 220) 2½ yardlands held of other fees, and the Hospitallers of Shingay 1 hide. The remainder of the vill was mainly occupied by freeholders, including four religious houses, which owned altogether 8 yardlands. Over 12 yardlands were held freely of Cheyneys, and 15, with 100 a. more, of Brewis manor, while 8 more yardlands were under other or unknown lordship. Besides Sir Baldwin St. George of Hatley, who had 44 a., one freeholder had 100 a., and three more 2–3 yardlands each. John le Breton, a prosperous peasant with over 2½ yardlands at Glitton in 1279, and owning 90 a. by 1288, had lost crops worth over 30 marks, including 10 qr. of wheat, besides 8 horses, to plunderers in 1264, and seen his hall, grange, and sheep house demolished. (fn. 221) In 1279 there were 9 men freely holding full, and c. 20 with half, yardlands. Much of their land, at least 275 a., had been subinfeudated to be held at rents of 1d. to 3d. an acre, some holdings being entirely alienated in that way.
The only customary land in the vill in 1279 was that held by four villein half-yardlanders of Cheyneys; William de Cheyney (d. 1269) had acquired two bondmen, including a smith, from one freeholder. (fn. 222) In 1279 the villeins owed 2 works a week between Michaelmas and Lammas, mostly for ploughing, and 3 during harvest, for reaping and gathering straw. One had instead to carry crops to the lord's grange, or to Cambridge and other markets. In 1346 four bondmen held 48 a. on Cheyneys. (fn. 223) The lords could still sometimes sell wardships of their free tenants, as on Brewis manor c. 1306. (fn. 224) Neifs holding of Cheyneys owed horses and cattle as heriots in 1334, and entry fines of 33s. 4d. for a half yardland in 1366, but freemen holding bond land were excused from paying heriots. (fn. 225) One bondman was charged merchet in 1401. (fn. 226) By 1386, when Cheyneys free tenants, c. 56 by 1401, were paying £8 19s. a year, the three bondmen also held for rents in cash, hens, and eggs. (fn. 227) By 1422 all tenants there held by assized rents, reduced to £7 4s. 4d. (fn. 228) Little copyhold was recorded later, except on the Shingay manor, where its freedom from tithe encouraged its preservation. At inclosure only c. 20 a. of copyhold of Cheyneys and 50 a. of the former Brewis manor remained. (fn. 229)
In 1364 Sir Edmund Cheyney leased all his demesne arable and grassland then in hand, probably amounting to 215 a., to a prominent villager. (fn. 230) By 1461 the demesne and tenants' rents were being leased on 21-year terms. (fn. 231) On the recently appropriated rectory estate New College began in 1383 to lease the tithes and extensive glebe, previously managed by a serjeant. The college provided some stock, including 4–6 ploughhorses, and cattle, sheep, pigs, and poultry, but no oxen, and handed over 65–70 a. of fallow. At first, because the rent set proved too high, the lessees often gave up after a few years. Between 1383 and 1396 the rent was cut from £70 to £60 and was further reduced by c. 1435 to £40 and from 1461 to £34. That level proved bearable for the tenant, and from 1450 to 1500 the lease remained with a single line of farmers, the Bushes. (fn. 232)
By the late Middle Ages the field land in the parish fell into five sections. (fn. 233) Furthest north was that of the hamlet of Glitton, divided from c. 1225 (fn. 234) to after 1484 into East and West Glitton, (fn. 235) and still called Gletton field in 1541, (fn. 236) but North Brook End field by the 1570s. In 1795 it covered 306 a. It had had its own rotation, independent of the land further south. Some owners, including the lords of Shingay, had no land except in that field. (fn. 237) In 1735 a farm of 232 a. had no open-field land further south. (fn. 238) The field was divided into three rows of furlongs parallel with the river. South-east of the road to Shingay a strip of ancient inclosures in 1795 included 55 a. of arable and 56 a. of meadow and pasture. About 1491 Thomas Gery, owner of Oldfields, had inclosed 40 a. of arable, probably there, for conversion to pasture. (fn. 239) South of those closes was a field between two streams, by 1444 called Between the Towns. (fn. 240) In 1795, when it covered 108 a., the soil being rich could be continuously cultivated without fallowing. (fn. 241) Also cropped yearly were 32 a. called the Crofts or Lammas arable, almost entirely surrounded by ancient closes of the village, which covered c. 75 a. North-west of the village 16 a. (fn. 242) of Lammas meadow lay by the West brook.
Where the parish widened south of the village lay its main open fields, covering 1,703 a. in 1795, and retaining in the 18th century many dole and furlong names recorded in the 13th. By c. 1225 that area was divided, probably along the Gatwell brook, into an east and a west field. (fn. 243) From the 13th century to the mid 15th a south field lay beyond Ashwell Street. (fn. 244) The large fields were sometimes subdivided, perhaps for crop rotation, into smaller ones, such as Mill field c. 1444 east of the village, (fn. 245) and Church field, by 1494 comprising several furlongs south of the church. (fn. 246) In the mid 17th century the arable was divided along Ashwell Street into four, the Instreet and Outstreet east and west fields. (fn. 247) In the early 18th century a formal division into three fields was established, from east to west the field next Litlington, Middle field each side of Gatwell brook, and Church field. (fn. 248) To the south along the Icknield Way lay the heath, 505 a. in 1795. Abutting on the heath the larger estates had big blocks of arable, (fn. 249) perhaps created by assarting. Parts of the heath in the late 18th century were cropped only once every 15 or 18 years, and 170 a. were sold in 1809 as never broken up by ploughing. In the 1790s parts of it were styled ley grounds. (fn. 250)
In 1251 a holding comprising 19 a. of wheat, 14 a. of barley, 7 a. of maslin, 11½ a. of dredge, 15 a. of oats, 7 a. of peas and 23 a. ploughed for sowing, while 57 a. lay fallow and unploughed, could imply either a biennial or a triennial rotation. (fn. 251) Probably by 1364 (fn. 252) and certainly by 1400, when a third of the 230-a. rectory arable was fallowed yearly, (fn. 253) a triennial one was in force. In 1428 the rectory farmer received 77 a. of fallow, 62 a. of barley and dredge, and 25 a. of peas. (fn. 254) Rye was also grown in the 15th century. (fn. 255) By the 18th century both the southern fields and North Brook End field were cultivated on a triennial system, comprising the tilth field for wheat and winter barley, the breach field for oats, beans, peas, and spring barley, and the fallow field. (fn. 256) Saffron was also grown by 1541, partly in the open fields. (fn. 257)
Many sheep were kept. In 1086 the largest manor had 250 sheep. (fn. 258) In 1232 Warden abbey had pasture rights for 160 sheep and a team of 8 oxen, (fn. 259) but in 1312 the abbey's pasturing 180 sheep from Guilden Morden was opposed. The men of Cheyneys manor said that the two vills did not intercommon. (fn. 260) Of 96 stone of wool, perhaps representing over 800 sheep, levied in 1347 only 11 stone came from the manorial and Wymondley flocks, while 9 substantial peasants each yielded 2 stone or more, 27 stone in all, and 52 small owners produced on average 7 lb. each. (fn. 261) Later the larger estates came to dominate the flock. Richard Beeston (d. 1473), lessee of Cheyneys demesne by 1461 (fn. 262) and himself owning 220 a., (fn. 263) had up to 260 sheep in the 1460s. (fn. 264) A St. John's College lessee bequeathed at least 460 sheep in 1561. (fn. 265) In 1795 there were 1,460 sheep, including some West Country sheep. (fn. 266) At inclosure five landowners, only one with rights at North Brook End, claimed 720 rights of sheep walk, (fn. 267) while the rest of the 1,120 sheep gates then divided among 9 farmers belonged to Lord Hardwicke. Two farmers each then kept 185–195 sheep, three c. 160, and three 90–100. (fn. 268) The commoners were then stinted at 2 cows to a cottage, except at North Brook End where 3 were allowed. (fn. 269)
Until the 15th century much of the land outside the demesnes was probably occupied by moderately large freeholders, such as the Peverels who acquired 2 yardlands in 1199 and held c. 40 a. from c. 1250 to after 1420, (fn. 270) and the Christmases, regular purchasers of land from the 1350s, with 55 a. (fn. 271) Those men prospered most who added to their own holdings the leases of larger estates. In 1522 the four richest villagers included William Sewster, the rectory lessee, and John Shotbolt, lessee under Lord Willoughby and St. John's College; (fn. 272) 15 others were taxed in 1524 on £5 or more, while 17 men paid only on £1 each and 28 merely on their wages. (fn. 273) From the early 16th century several former yeoman estates, such as the 44 a. of the Arneboroughs, recorded from c. 1420 to 1480 (fn. 274) and the 25 a. owned by the Malverns by 1460, (fn. 275) passed into the hands of colleges. Between them New College with 219 a. of arable, (fn. 276) St. John's (205 a.), Jesus (c. 165 a.), and Caius (135 a.) had almost a quarter of the parish. (fn. 277)
Cheyneys demesne, though not much enlarged, in 1675 comprised 38 a. of closes, of which 24 a. were arable, and 140 a. of arable in the west and 273 a. in the east open field. (fn. 278) By the 1620s it had been divided into two farms, one of 218 a. leased to John Gatward, whose family in 1660 also had 120 a. of freehold (fn. 279) and 60 a. of copyhold of Shingay manor. (fn. 280) As beneficial lessees of Jesus College (fn. 281) and Caius College (fn. 282) the Gatwards long occupied c. 700 a. of the parish. (fn. 283)
By c. 1675 only two other medium-sized estates survived, (fn. 284) and the Duckett, formerly the Fortescue and Sewster, estate was coming to dominate the parish. In 1545 it was already large, (fn. 285) and William Sewster (d. 1568) acquired more land. (fn. 286) He probably leased out the old Brewis demesne to a single lessee, (fn. 287) as his son Giles did in 1579. (fn. 288) From the 1590s it was broken up into smaller leaseholds. Between 1597 and 1605 Lord Howard let six farms ranging in size from 14 a. to one of 94 a. at North Brook End occupied in the 1620s by John Gatward. (fn. 289) The largest farm had 318 a. in 1622, (fn. 290) and, when in hand in 1635, 360 a. of arable and 80 a. of pasture, while two others had 140 a. and 124 a. (fn. 291) In the 1650s ten of the Ducketts' tenants occupied c. 940 a. By 1681 907 a. of arable and 103 a. of grass were mainly divided among six large farms, while Thomas Duckett had 100 a., mostly pasture, in hand. (fn. 292) Seven wealthy farmers, probably his tenants, had been taxed on almost £1,000 worth of stock in 1660. (fn. 293) In 1681 the largest farms, of 220, 190, and 160 a., were occupied by three sons of John Nightingale (d. 1667) who had occupied almost 500 a. in 1658. (fn. 294) By 1735 the Brewis estate included 227 a. of closes and 1,085 a. of open-field arable, of which 180 a. lay at North Brook End, and c. 300 a. in each of the southern fields. Apart from 77 a. kept in hand there were still six farms, of 260, 236, 232, 208, 204, and 100 a., with approximately equal shares of the openfield land. (fn. 295) Between 1735 and 1754 the Leheups purchased another 90 a. (fn. 296) About 1800 Lord Hardwicke owned 1,478 a., and by 1805, having bought the Caius College land and two other estates of 240 a., he owned altogether 345 a. of inclosures and c. 1,480 a. of open-field land, over half the parish. Cheyneys then had 40 a. of closes and 345 a. of arable, the Shingay estate 75 a. at North Brook End, and three colleges c. 128 a. of closes and 478 a. of arable. Samuel Flitton, a farmer, had 118 a., and a Royston brewer 77 a., but none of c. 30 other owners had over 50 a., and only six over 15 a. (fn. 297)
Some innovations in farming had been made in the late 18th century. By the 1790s trefoil was being sown in the breach field, and turnips were sometimes grown on the fallow. (fn. 298) Oilcake was sometimes used as fertilizer, grass seeds for the sheep were cultivated on parts of the ley land, and Lord Hardwicke's principal tenant was hollow-draining his arable. (fn. 299) A proposal to inclose the parish was dropped in 1801 because of the impropriator's excessive demands for land in place of tithes, (fn. 300) but in 1806 the landowners agreed to proceed without commuting. (fn. 301) An Act was obtained in 1807, (fn. 302) and the fields were divided in 1808, (fn. 303) but the execution of the award was delayed by claims made on behalf of the Shingay estate until 1816. (fn. 304) The total area involved comprised 627 a. of old inclosures, of which 43 a. were exchanged, and 3,128 a. of open fields and commons, of which c. 2,500 a. had been regularly cultivated, while c. 450 a. were leys or heath. (fn. 305) Lord Hardwicke emerged with 2,161 a. and Cheyneys with 440 a., including respectively 367 a. and 36 a. of old closes. Three colleges had 562 a. and 110 a. passed to the Shingay and Odsey estates; Flitton had 140 a., the brewer 85½ a., the vicar and town land 27 a. The 30 smaller landholders shared 168 a., including 21 a. allotted to 8 men for common rights: only 2 of them had over 15 a. (fn. 306)
The Hardwicke estate, (fn. 307) which continued to dominate the parish, comprised 2,067 a. in 1839 and 2,163 a. in 1891, when its dispersal by sale began. It included much woodland, 120 a. in 1839 and over 65 a. in 1891, mostly new plantations on former heathland or along the turnpike road. (fn. 308) Apart from North Brook End farm, 262 a., divided from 1882 to 1921 between three farmers, most of the estate's farmland lay south of the village, occupying over two thirds of the land there: Morden Heath farm covered over 700 a. and three others c. 250 a. each. After the sales of the 1890s those farms were mostly owned by working farmers. (fn. 309) The Cheyneys manor lands were farmed as one unit until their division after the sale of 1859. (fn. 310) High farm, 140 a. astride Ashwell Street and owned by the Flittons until the 1890s, (fn. 311) was acquired c. 1905 by Hertfordshire county council for smallholdings. From 1840 to c. 1870 the lands of St. John's, Jesus, and New Colleges were let as a single farm of 370 a. (fn. 312) Some ten large farms thus contained most of the cultivated land: in 1861 nine men with 140 a. or more occupied together 2,535 a., but many smallholders survived. Twelve men leasing 20 a. or less in 1839 from Lord Hardwicke had c. 85 a. Fourteen farmers with under 100 a. each in 1871 shared 201 a., and there were 29 smallholders in 1905 and c. 40 in 1925. By 1897 there were only five substantial farmers, three holding two farms each. (fn. 313) In 1925 five men farmed 100–300 a., three over 300 a. each.
After inclosure the farmland was mostly under the plough, although the stiff, wet clay required frequent under-draining. In 1839 there were c. 3,300 a. of arable compared with 66 a. of closes and 252 a. of permanent grass; (fn. 314) the amount of grassland on the Hardwicke estate had fallen to 125 a. by 1891. (fn. 315) Until the 1850s New College still required a triennial fallow before wheat on its property, (fn. 316) but by 1839 most of the arable had come under a standard four-course shift, though without using turnips on the heavy soils. (fn. 317) On the Jesus property, where in the 1880s a fallow with roots or tares was followed successively by barley or oats, seeds or beans, and wheat. (fn. 318) Sheep were kept mainly in the south, Morden Heath farm having a flock of 400 grown Southdowns in 1818. (fn. 319) Numbers of grown sheep rose from 1,335 in 1866 to 1,540 by 1885, and still stood at 820 in 1925, when the number of cattle, a quarter of them for milk, had nearly doubled since 1905 from 150 to c. 270. (fn. 320) The area under grass rose from 160 a. in 1866 to c. 210 a., besides 80 a. of heath, by 1905 and 512 a. by 1925. (fn. 321) Decline in arable farming from the late 19th century was matched by other innovations. On the college farms, on the heavy wet clays to the north, rents were sharply cut; barley was reduced until after the 1920s, in favour of wheat and oats, and swedes and other vegetables were introduced. Between the 1880s and 1920s the area of the parish under cabbages and potatoes increased from c. 35 a. to c. 120 a. and 25 a. to 90 a. respectively. (fn. 322) Market gardening and fruit farming came in. There was one market gardener by 1895, three more by 1905 after which there were often two or three specialist fruit growers. (fn. 323) By 1885 one orchard had 400 apple, pear, and plum trees. (fn. 324) There were 33 a. of orchards by 1905, 50 a. by 1925, when the 8,000 trees included 5,500 apples and 2,300 plums, (fn. 325) and gooseberries, greengages, and blackcurrants were also grown. (fn. 326) In the 1930s there were also two poultry farmers, (fn. 327) and then and later sugar beet, Brussels sprouts, peas, and potatoes were extensively grown. In 1955 some 1,000 a. of vegetables included 225 a. of beet, 475 a. by 1977. (fn. 328) About 1960 one farmer kept pedigree Large Black pigs; (fn. 329) in 1977 two men had almost 5,500 pigs, and over 300 cows were kept. The arable cultivated from farms in the parish was then almost all under wheat and barley. (fn. 330)
Apart from the craftsmen usual in a village, there were a tailor in 1457 (fn. 331) and a weaver in 1659. (fn. 332) About 1830 there were only 21 families supported by crafts or trades as against 106 dependent on farming. (fn. 333) In the mid 19th century the farmers could employ most of the available labour, 107 of 120 men in 1851, 102 of 111 in 1861. (fn. 334) In 1871 only 96 men were working on the farms, while almost 50 villagers engaged in the coprolite digging recently introduced. (fn. 335) The digging continued into the early 1880s at North Brook End, where over 20 a. were dug by William Colchester from Abington Pigotts. (fn. 336) Straw plaiting, flourishing in 1851, when 166 women and girls did it, had declined by 1861 when only 26 were so employed, (fn. 337) and some 40 labouring families were said to be very poor in 1873. (fn. 338) There were still 86 adult farmworkers in 1925. (fn. 339) By the 1890s Lord Hardwicke was letting 8 a., and the vicar 3 a., as allotments. (fn. 340) In the 1930s Cambridgeshire county council let over 300 a., in 10–25 a. lots, and Hertfordshire county council 122 a., as smallholdings. (fn. 341) It was probably work on vegetables and similar produce that occupied most of the 140 farmworkers recorded in 1955. (fn. 342)
About 1850 there were usually 12 carpenters and other woodworkers, and 4 or 5 blacksmiths of the Pepper and Savage families, both still in business in the 1930s but not in the 1950s. A saw mill was still working in the 20th century, and a builder's business was established c. 1925. (fn. 343) The only modern industrial activity was that of the Melbourn Whiting Co. In 1949 it began digging at the ancient parish chalkpit, by 1958 excavating 4,000 tons of chalk a year for conversion to whiting. In the 1970s it produced over 50,000 tons a year of powdered chalk for whiting at its Steeple Morden works. (fn. 344)
Two mills belonged in 1086 to the Winchester manor, and Hardwin de Scalers had two more. (fn. 345) One landowner had a mill c. 1260, and millers were often recorded then and later. (fn. 346) A water mill attached to Cheyneys from 1325 and leased with its demesne in 1386 (fn. 347) was perhaps that acquired c. 1320 by Sir Nicholas de Cheyney, (fn. 348) and possibly the south mill recorded c. 1308, (fn. 349) whose mill pond was apparently by the Gatwell brook. (fn. 350) By 1423 it was decayed, (fn. 351) and no water mill was conveyed with that manor after 1544. (fn. 352) Another water mill perhaps passed from the Winchester manor to the rectory, whose mill recorded c. 1380 (fn. 353) came to New College. Leased with the parsonage farm, it was often reequipped until the 1480s with new wheels and stones, and was reconstructed in 1449 after 4 years of disuse. (fn. 354) From 1506 to the 18th century it was regularly mentioned in leases (fn. 355) and apparently still stood in 1629, (fn. 356) but by 1795 it had long been gone, although its mill dam was still visible. (fn. 357) It had stood just east of the former parsonage house, on the Cheney water. (fn. 358)
Cheyneys and Brewis manors were both said to have windmills in the 1540s, (fn. 359) though not earlier or later. Before 1500 there had been two windmills. One, called by 1307 the old windmill, stood on Windmill hill by Woodway in the west field, slightly south of the church. (fn. 360) The other stood in the 1420s in the east field, a little north of the modern road to Litlington, (fn. 361) where a furlong was still named from it in the 1790s. (fn. 362) The only windmill after 1800 was a brick-based, three-storey smock mill, built c. 1805, which still stood in 1978, without sails, just north of the Ashwell road. (fn. 363) The Flittons, its owners by 1841, ran it, in partnership with the Sandersons from the 1860s, until the 1920s, when it broke down. Steam machinery installed in the 1890s continued in use, and the Sandersons were still in business, using electric power, in 1960. (fn. 364)
In the 1270s the lords of Cheyneys and Brewis manors both claimed to exercise the assize of bread and of ale. (fn. 365) Nicholas de Cheyney lost the assize in 1299, because his father had received that manor by royal grant. (fn. 366) John de Brescy then said that the steward of the honor of Boulogne came to hold the view of frankpledge, but John himself took amercements imposed on his men for breaking the assize. He also successfully claimed by prescription infangthief, a tumbrel, and a gallows, perhaps that which stood in the southern fields before 1392. (fn. 367) Rolls for Cheyneys court baron survive for 1280, 1296–8, 1316–17, 1333–6, 1355–7, 1401, 1413, and 1434–7. It elected reeves in 1357 and 1401, and, besides tenurial business, handled trespasses on the lord's property, many lawsuits between tenants, and, after 1401, breaches of agricultural custom. (fn. 368) There are court rolls containing copyhold admissions for Brewis manor for 1694– 1758, (fn. 369) and for the rectory manor, at long intervals from 1558, followed by court books for 1778–1918. (fn. 370)
The cost of poor relief rose from £100 in 1776 to £242 in 1803, when 29 adults, including 10 old people, received regular outside relief. (fn. 371) There were c. 30 persons regularly supported from the rates c. 1814, but the number otherwise assisted fell by almost half between 1813 and 1815, and the cost of poor relief from £403 to £221. (fn. 372) It rose again to £400 or more before 1820 and after a decline was usually again c. £400 by 1830, (fn. 373) when 4 or 5 men were employed on road work, and other labourers were apportioned among the farmers according to the size of their farms. (fn. 374) The parish, part of the Royston poor law union from 1835, (fn. 375) was incorporated with the Melbourn R.D. in the South Cambridgeshire R.D. in 1934 (fn. 376) and from 1974 lay in the South Cambridgeshire district.
The church, attached to the bishop of Winchester's manor, was retained by the bishops when the manor was alienated. The rectors, moreover, still retained in the 14th century a right to tithes from estates in Abington Pigotts and Clopton dependent on the manor. Tenants on those lands had their funeral masses held at Steeple Morden as their mother church, and the rector appointed a chaplain at Abington. (fn. 377)
In 1185 Bishop Richard of Ilchester agreed to grant the church to the Knights Hospitaller in exchange for their claim to St. Cross hospital, Winchester, (fn. 378) but the deal fell through, and when he died in 1188 the advowson was in his hands. (fn. 379) It remained with the bishops until c. 1380, but not without challenge, for the living was a wealthy one, taxed at 40 marks in 1217 and 100 marks in the late 13th century. (fn. 380) The Crown frequently presented during vacancies, (fn. 381) and the bishops and their nominees often procured royal recognition of their rights. (fn. 382) In 1304 the king presented Peter of Abington, a clerk of the prince of Wales. About 1306 Bishop Woodlock apparently sought to remove Peter as an unpriested and undispensed pluralist, (fn. 383) and in 1308 John de Brescy briefly attempted to present his chaplain. (fn. 384) Peter opposed the clerks presented by the bishop, claiming c. 1312 that the advowson belonged absolutely to the Crown, and in 1313 royal agents sequestered the rectory on behalf of a succeeding royal nominee. (fn. 385) Meanwhile members and dependants of the Colonna family speculatively claimed the church under papal provisions: one provisor was possibly in possession in 1315. (fn. 386) The royal claim had been dropped by 1325, (fn. 387) and the living was left to clerks in the bishops' service, some pluralists, and often, as in 1352 and 1366, absentees. (fn. 388) The church was probably served by chaplains, of whom there were two in 1378. (fn. 389) From an income c. 1380 of £64 6s. 8d. the rector allowed a parish chaplain £6 a year from the small tithes to serve the parish and supply the altar. (fn. 390)
Bishop William of Wykeham, under a bull of 1378 and a royal licence of 1379, gave the church to his new college at Oxford, to which it was appropriated in 1381. A vicarage was ordained, (fn. 391) of which New College held the advowson until the 1970s. (fn. 392) The vicarage was endowed with ½ yardland of glebe, amounting in 1615 to 23 a. and after inclosure to 21½ a., with the tithe of wool and other small tithes, each worth £6, with all offerings, and with rectorial tithes from Abington and Clopton, valued c. 1380 at £10 a year. (fn. 393) The tithes from Abington and Clopton had probably ceased to be paid by the 16th century: in 1535 the vicarage was worth only £6 18s. 6d. and in 1650 £20 a year. (fn. 394) An augmentation of £30 made in 1657 (fn. 395) ceased after 1660, and when the next vicar, John Ingham, prayed New College for an addition out of the rectory's £382 a year to his £37 a year, the college retorted that he had begged hard for the living, knowing its poverty. (fn. 396) In 1728 it was still worth only £26, (fn. 397) but by 1719 £400 had been given for an augmentation through Queen Anne's Bounty, with £230 of which 10 a. at Ashwell (Herts.) were bought in 1737. (fn. 398) By the 1790s the income had risen to c. £50, about half from tithes. (fn. 399) Even so the net income was so low that in 1782 no fellow was willing to take the living, and the college agreed to lease the rectory to the vicar at the old corn rents and £73 more instead of renewal fines, leaving him with an extra £130 a year. (fn. 400) The next vicar, Richard King, could therefore in 1800 give £200, matched by Queen Anne's Bounty, with which another 21 a. in Ashwell were bought. (fn. 401) By 1830 the vicarage was worth £200 a year. (fn. 402)
In 1839 the tithes on the 3,646 a. of tithable land, the former Hospitaller land being tithe free, were commuted for rent charges of £749 for the rectory and £246 for the vicarage. (fn. 403) In 1865 New College terminated its beneficial lease to the vicars, and instead in 1866 gave 109 a. from the rectorial glebe, with tithe rent charges worth £123, so increasing the income from £317 to £609 net. (fn. 404) The vicar's gross income was c. £500 in the mid 1880s. (fn. 405) Except for the Ashwell land, 24 a. after inclosure there and sold in 1918, (fn. 406) the vicars retained their glebe and rent charges into the 1950s. (fn. 407)
In 1381 the vicar received the house belonging to the half-yardland given him. (fn. 408) It probably stood east of Hay Street, slightly north of the church. (fn. 409) It had 11 rooms on two floors in 1639, (fn. 410) but only 4 hearths in 1674; it was remodelled c. 1677. (fn. 411) About 1790 it was described as a thatched, claywalled cottage, left for curates to live in. (fn. 412) When the vicars came to reside from the 1820s, they occupied the former rectory manor house, a large, ancient, lath-and-plaster building, standing in a 3-a. close at the south-east angle of the village. It was rebuilt c. 1830 as a substantial brick, slated house, and was conveyed to the vicarage in 1866. (fn. 413) In 1974 it was decided to sell it, after building a new vicarage in its garden. (fn. 414)
Vicars changed frequently in the 1380s and 1390s. (fn. 415) The vicar had one priest to assist him in 1406. (fn. 416) Fellows of New College began to be presented between 1431 and 1500. (fn. 417) John Clay, vicar 1500–42, who apparently resided, bequeathed numerous books on grammar and canon law. (fn. 418) A guild of St. Catherine was recorded between 1472 and 1522. (fn. 419) In 1500 John Bush, the rectory lessee, left 24 a. to the churchwardens, recorded as church reeves in 1416, for a yearly dirige and alms, and gave lands to endow a chantry. (fn. 420) Those lands were perhaps included in the 43 a., given for anniversaries, which the Crown sold in 1550 and 1553. (fn. 421)
Walter Atkins, vicar from 1560, who had served the parish from Litlington in 1551, (fn. 422) also held Guilden Morden until 1577. (fn. 423) In 1560 he was resident, but not thought competent to preach. (fn. 424) The unlearned John Steynton, vicar from 1585, failed to provide monthly sermons in his own parish, while earning ridicule by attempts at preaching elsewhere. In 1590 he was accused of scolding in church, gambling, and frequenting alehouses on holy days, (fn. 425) and had been deprived by 1593. Succeeding presentations until the 1630s were again of New College men. (fn. 426) In 1638 Bishop Wren found that the communion service was being read from a desk in the middle aisle. (fn. 427) Thomas Kitchener, vicar from 1637, was sequestered in 1644. (fn. 428) His successor in 1650 was described as a diligent preacher but a company keeper. (fn. 429) Jasper Symonds, the next minister, was still serving the cure, despite his disqualification, in 1663, no successor being installed until 1665. (fn. 430)
Fellows of New College were again presented from 1718, but each soon resigned, and between 1733 and 1782 the vicarage was held by two fellows of Exeter College, Oxford, apparently presented under an agreement with that college for a temporary exchange of patronage. (fn. 431) Like their predecessors they were probably non-resident. In 1728 and 1741 the vicar of Litlington was serving the parish. (fn. 432) In 1775 the curate, paid half the vicarial income, held services twice each Sunday and communion thrice a year, practices continued into the 1830s. (fn. 433) Richard King, though receiving an increased income as vicar, did not reside; (fn. 434) his curate, Solomon Grisdale, served from 1784 to his death in 1814, catechizing the children weekly and claiming 26 communicants in 1807. (fn. 435) The next vicar, resident by 1825, had only 10 communicants at Easter and could not persuade his parishioners to send their children for catechizing. (fn. 436) Thomas Brereton, 1830– 65, at first employed a curate. He had c. 30 communicants in 1836, (fn. 437) and an average attendance of 80 at the single Sunday service in 1851. (fn. 438) The energetic William Martin, 1865–75, restored the church and started a church school, (fn. 439) but in 1873 his curate could report only 200 people as churchgoers and only 20 communicants, despite monthly communions and three sermons a week. (fn. 440) In 1885 out of c. 980 inhabitants 180 neglected all Christian worship entirely. (fn. 441) In 1897, when 50 people attended the fortnightly communion and a choir and parish library had been established, about half the population nominally adhered to the church. (fn. 442) From 1902 to 1945 New College men were vicars. (fn. 443) From 1960 the parish was held with Guilden Morden, and after 1975, when presentation was suspended, was served by a vicar, belonging to the Shinga group team, who lived in the village. (fn. 444)
The church of ST. PETER AND ST. PAUL, so named by 1390 and probably by 1310, (fn. 445) has comprised since the 1860s an aisled nave with steepled south porch, and a short chancel, and is built mainly of field stones with ashlar dressings. After rebuilding in the early 13th century, which by 1242 had given the village the name Steeple Morden, (fn. 446) it had probably an aisled nave, a central tower 20 ft. square, and a chancel, perhaps aisled, 28 ft. wide and 42 ft. long, (fn. 447) the village street curving round its east end. The responds of the nave's eastern arch, visible c. 1850, were said to be Early English. (fn. 448) The surviving nave arcades, of four bays on quatrefoil piers, are probably late 13th-century, the taller south arcade being perhaps the later. A clerestory, probably of quatrefoil windows, was blocked when the aisle roofs were raised, perhaps in the late 14th century. The aisles then received new three-light windows (fn. 449) and a substantial stone porch was added. The renewed nave west window is Decorated, and the font 15th-century.
The steeple, already in a dangerous state in 1600, (fn. 450) eventually fell c. 1625, damaging the nave and ruining the chancel. The nave was soon repaired, although the eastern bay of the south aisle was not rebuilt, but there were long disputes over paying for rebuilding the chancel. While New College and its lessee, Thomas Martin, blamed the parishioners for sparing their purses when the tower could have been made safe, the parishioners retorted that Martin had done more damage than the falling steeple, by taking the timber, lead, and tiles from the chancel for his own use. Although it was agreed in 1634 not to rebuild the chancel, using the surviving walls and thus leaving a gap where the tower had stood, but instead to construct a shorter chancel adjoining the nave, (fn. 451) nothing had been done by 1638, (fn. 452) and the Civil War supervened; William Dowsing in 1644 destroyed nine superstitious pic- tures and mutilated many brasses. (fn. 453) The matrices of two brasses of a knight and a lady (fn. 454) survive in the nave. Eventually, probably in the 1670s, the eastern arch of the nave was filled in, a straightheaded mullioned window being inserted, while a new belfry, timber framed, tile hung, and surmounted by a tall shingled spire, was erected over the south porch. The remaining chancel walling was removed in the 1720s. (fn. 455) Two of the three bells in the belfry, being damaged, were sold after 1742 to pay for repairs, and the survivor was recast in 1773. (fn. 456)
In 1850 the remaining Jacobean woodwork included a parclose and a pew incorporating medieval screenwork; (fn. 457) the communion table (fn. 458) alone survives. A restoration, to which even the dissenters contributed voluntarily, was designed by T. C. Hine of Nottingham and carried out from 1866 to 1869. The belfry was reconstructed, and the south aisle restored to its former length and refaced in ashlar. A new, shorter chancel in Decorated style was built, but plans to rebuild the tower were abandoned. Further interior remodelling followed c. 1903. (fn. 459) Thereafter there were 320 sittings. (fn. 460) An organ had been given by 1888. (fn. 461) The plate includes a cup and paten acquired c. 1569, the paten incorporating an earlier head of Christ. (fn. 462) The surviving registers begin only in 1675. (fn. 463)
No organized dissent was recorded before 1779, when a barn was registered for dissenting services. Two small farmers registered a building for similar purposes in 1800, but the number of dissenters was not increasing in 1807. (fn. 464) By 1823 a barn behind a public house was in use, (fn. 465) probably by the Methodists who had a Sunday school by 1818. Their numbers were growing c. 1825 when they had fresh preachers weekly. (fn. 466) In 1835 a Wesleyan chapel was built on Cheyney Street. It had 400 sittings, and in 1851 claimed an average attendance of 200 adults (300 in the afternoons), besides 100 Sunday-school pupils. (fn. 467) From the 1860s the Methodists were active among the coprolite diggers, and c. 1875 had enlarged the chapel to provide a school, library, and vestry. (fn. 468) They were said to have 400 adherents, almost half the population, in 1873 and 500 in 1885, although there was no resident minister in the 1890s. (fn. 469) The chapel still ran its own Sunday school in the 1950s, when several of the men most active in parish affairs were chapel members. (fn. 470) It was open and regularly used in the 1970s.
A schoolmaster recorded in 1582 (fn. 471) had gone by 1590, (fn. 472) but there were others between 1599 and 1603, (fn. 473) and from 1610 to 1618 the vicar himself kept a school. (fn. 474) A schoolmaster lived in the parish in 1740. (fn. 475) A church Sunday school, supported by subscriptions in 1807, (fn. 476) had lapsed by 1818, when the only one was the Methodists', perhaps that with 75 pupils recorded in 1833. Other families sent their children to Ashwell (Herts.). (fn. 477) An attempt in 1839 to start a church school failed, although a church Sunday school had 60 pupils in 1846. (fn. 478) A carpenter's wife was keeping a dame school, which also taught straw plaiting, in 1851 and 1861 when over 100 children were receiving some teaching. (fn. 479)
A church day school was opened in 1867 on a site just north of the church, the vicar having obtained a government grant and help from New College and Lord Hardwicke. The controlling committee of subscribers included several leading farmers. The income came almost equally from subscriptions and schoolpence: (fn. 480) voluntary rates, refused by 'political Dissenters', were still being raised in the 1890s. (fn. 481) A classroom was added in 1872 and by 1880 average attendance was between 95 and 120. (fn. 482) In the 1890s evening classes, in subjects including drawing, history, and commercial arithmetic, were held but attendance fell from 41 in 1894 to 16 in 1898. (fn. 483) The day school's attendance fell from 85 in 1914 to 63 in 1922 and 30 in 1938. (fn. 484) A council school at Odsey, built north of the railway station and opened in 1911 (fn. 485) for 80 children, likewise declined in attendance from 61 in 1914 to c. 30 after 1925. (fn. 486) From 1954 the older children from both schools went to Bassingbourn village college. (fn. 487) The Odsey school was closed in 1972, when the village school, with over 90 pupils, needed additional buildings. (fn. 488)
Charities for the Poor.
In the 18th century there were a bread dole of 16s. 8d. from New College and three of 5s. each, including one bequeathed by William Kimpton in 1656, and one charged on Pennyloaf Hill south of the village. (fn. 489) Still duly applied c. 1807, they were lost after inclosure, when 7½ a. were allotted for the town lands, of which 4½ a. or more were by the 1830s let as allotments to the poor. The rents were carried into the poor rate, though part may have been given in coal c. 1830. (fn. 490) When the new parish council took control in 1895, it decided to apply the yield, then £13 16s., to provide fuel, food, and clothing for the elderly, including those on poor relief. Thereafter the income was long given mainly in coal, occasionally in small money doles. From the 1950s the rent, £22 by 1960 and £66 by 1976, was usually distributed at Christmas to 20 or 25 old people. (fn. 491)