A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 9, Chesterton, Northstowe, and Papworth Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1989.
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The church, which has always remained a rectory, although at first some incumbents were styled vicars, (fn. 1) belonged from the 12th century to Ramsey abbey, (fn. 2) with which its advowson remained until the Dissolution. (fn. 3) The abbey granted turns to present in 1466 to Sir John Cheyney of Long Stanton, and c. 1530 to Henry Wright of 'Barkstead', who exercised them respectively in the 1490s and in 1558. (fn. 4) In 1543 the Crown conveyed the advowson to John Hinde with the Ramsey manor, (fn. 5) and it descended with the manorial estate to the Hindes and Cottons until the early 19th century. (fn. 6) In 1800 Thomas Fisher, patron for a turn, chose his son and namesake. When Alexander Cotton, presented in 1807 by his elder brother Sir Charles, died in 1846, (fn. 7) the patron Sir St. Vincent having repeatedly offered the advowson for sale since the 1820s, (fn. 8) Alexander's daughter Anna Maria Cotton apparently arranged for its purchase first by Thomas Coombe, who presented himself in 1846 and a successor in 1848, (fn. 9) and then by G. B. F. Potticary, who presented himself in 1850. (fn. 10) He sold it in 1863 to another clergyman, Alfred Peach, who ceded it the same year in an exchange to the bishop of Ely, (fn. 11) from whom it passed in a further exchange in 1877 to the Lord Chancellor, (fn. 12) still patron in the 1980s. (fn. 13)
Before 1100 Picot the sheriff had given two thirds of his vassals' demesne tithes to his Austin priory, soon established at Barnwell, (fn. 14) from whom they passed before 1208 by exchange to St. Albans abbey. (fn. 15) The abbey regularly received a tithe portion of 33s. 4d., recovering arrears from the rector c. 1407. (fn. 16) Barnwell priory's former land in the parish was still reckoned tithe free in the 19th century. (fn. 17) Otherwise the rector received all tithes. In 1644 an unpopular rector was accused of extorting tithes in kind from poor men. (fn. 18) About 1830 some small tithes were still being taken in kind, but the great tithes were partly covered by a composition then amounting to £250 a year. (fn. 19) The tithes were commuted in 1841 for a rent charge of £452. (fn. 20)
The glebe derived from a 20-a. yardland and croft with which Ramsey abbey had endowed the church after 1135. (fn. 21) The rector had 28 a. in 1279. (fn. 22) From the 17th century the glebe arable comprised c. 23 a., (fn. 23) for which 19 1/2; a., partly old closes, were allotted at inclosure in 1813. (fn. 24) Part of the land was sold by 1910, the remaining 9 a. in 1956. (fn. 25) Having the whole income of the benefice, the incumbent was tolerably prosperous. He was taxed on 20 marks c. 1217 and 27 1/2; marks in 1254. (fn. 26) A doubling of the assessment to 55 marks in 1291 (fn. 27) was ascribed in 1340 to a dispute between a former parson and a papal notary. (fn. 28) In 1535 Girton was worth £18 4s. 4d., (fn. 29) by 1650 £100, (fn. 30) and in 1728 £120. (fn. 31) The rector's income, £420 c. 1830, (fn. 32) thereafter rose steadily to £535 gross (£435 net) in 1863, (fn. 33) and £530 in 1877. (fn. 34) It was still over £400 in the early 1880s, but fell by a third c. 1890. (fn. 35)
The rectory house, standing in a 2 1/2;-a. close west of the junction of the high street with Church Lane, (fn. 36) had 6 hearths c. 1670. (fn. 37) Edmund Halfhead, rector 1723-40, rebuilt it as an 'elegant' new brick structure of five bays, facing east. (fn. 38) His building provided the core of the later Old Rectory, (fn. 39) much enlarged by Alexander Cotton, who lived there regularly, and in the late 1820s (fn. 40) heightened it and added the threestoreyed south wing. In the 1950s the house retained some 18th-century panelling and doors, and a staircase of Cotton's time. A pillared porch was probably added c. 1900. By 1909, having 13 bedrooms, it was thought too spacious, and was sold. (fn. 41) A new red-brick rectory house, built in 1910 halfway along Church Lane, (fn. 42) was still inhabited by the rector in the 1980s.
Rectors were recorded from the late 13th century. (fn. 43) William Sawtry, a king's clerk, was rector by 1324, (fn. 44) resident in 1354, (fn. 45) and served until 1378. In his last years, being feeble, sick, and blind, he was assisted by a kinsman as coadjutor. (fn. 46) The next two incumbents both soon obtained, in 1378 and 1382, licences to lease the church while absent to study. (fn. 47) The pluralist William Lascelles, rector 1399-1403, was not in major orders and was absent throughout his tenure. (fn. 48) In the 15th century Ramsey abbey usually chose as rectors graduates in canon law, some later eminent, such as John Booth, rector 1454-5, later king's secretary and a bishop. (fn. 49) Under them the church was served by the parish chaplains occasionally recorded, as in 1374, (fn. 50) 1379, (fn. 51) and 1463. (fn. 52) William Maltster, rector from 1455 (fn. 53) and apparently of a local family, (fn. 54) was also a pluralist, (fn. 55) but left £2 to buy organs for the church at his death in 1492. (fn. 56) His successor William Stevens, 1493-7, bequeathed to the parishioners baudekin from his private oratory for an altar frontal and other ornaments. His books were mostly of canon and civil law. (fn. 57) Thomas Hinde, rector by 1518, (fn. 58) who probably employed curates by 1520 as in the 1540s, (fn. 59) retained the living until his death in 1558. (fn. 60)
By 1279 there was a chapel in Howes hamlet, by the main road. Named for St. James, probably by 1386, (fn. 61) certainly by 1463, (fn. 62) it had perhaps been founded by the Trumpingtons, to whose manor its patronage belonged in 1539. (fn. 63) It was subordinate to the rector of Girton, whose right to offerings given on St. James's day was upheld in 1386. (fn. 64) Its chaplains, occasionally recorded from the 14th century, (fn. 65) had £2 a year in 1535 from its endowments, (fn. 66) said at its sale in 1558 to comprise 53 a., all but 4 a. in Girton, (fn. 67) but later only 27 1/2; a. (fn. 68) The nominal and last incumbent in 1543, Francis Hinde, (fn. 69) was perhaps the son of Sir John Hinde; the land had passed to the Hindes by 1597. (fn. 70) No evidence survives of its site or fabric.
By 1300 the parish church contained an altar of St. Mary, which then had five service books, and was given vestments and two chalices, partly by chaplains. (fn. 71) By c. 1515 Girton had five guilds, of the Trinity, Corpus Christi, St. Mary, St. Nicholas, and All Saints, which frequently received legacies, often in barley, until c. 1530. (fn. 72) Wealthy villagers were still making bequests for masses and obits in the early 1540s. (fn. 73) In 1540 the Girton miller was objecting to the involuntary baptism of infants, and was made to recant. (fn. 74)
The site of the demolished altar in the parish church had not been cleared up by 1561, (fn. 75) and the chancel was boarded off for a school until 1576. (fn. 76) Many were not coming to church or to the thrice-yearly sacrament in 1564, (fn. 77) and the rector, who could not preach and lived at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, (fn. 78) served through curates. (fn. 79) He was apparently deprived in 1573. (fn. 80) His successor Robert Soame, a moderate puritan, eventually master of Peterhouse, Cambridge, who retained Girton until his death in 1609, (fn. 81) also sometimes employed curates there, as did John Cropley, 1609-29, (fn. 82) who held it with benefices in the Isle of Ely. (fn. 83) William Lynge, presented in 1629, (fn. 84) was a zealous Laudian and one of the first Cambridgeshire parsons to oblige his parish to install steps and rails before the altar. (fn. 85) In the 1640s he compounded his reading the Book of Sports, bowing at the name of Jesus, and persisting in saying the services from the chancel, by preaching in his surplice against parliament and visiting the royalist garrison at Belvoir Castle (Leics.). In 1643, when parliamentary soldiers broke the church windows, Lynge removed the communion table back into the chancel and drove off by threats workmen sent to demolish the steps. Ejected in 1644, (fn. 86) he attempted in 1647 to recover possession of the church from the parliamentary nominee as minister, denying his right to the tithes, and again reading the Book of Common Prayer. (fn. 87)
By 1656 Girton was held by Samuel Pettit, (fn. 88) formally instituted in 1662, (fn. 89) who remained there, apparently resident, until he died in 1683. (fn. 90) His successor William Hooke likewise died in office in 1723. (fn. 91) Edmund Halfhead, who held Coton in plurality throughout his tenure of Girton, (fn. 92) employed a colleague from Catharine Hall, Cambridge, as curate at Girton. In 1728 they held two services each Sunday and the sacrament, attended by six or seven people, thrice a year. (fn. 93) Jeremy Pemberton, rector from 1758, although living from 1762 on his inherited manor at Trumpington, (fn. 94) served Girton in person, although he had a curate in 1776. (fn. 95) In 1780 he advertised prizes for those village girls not already pregnant at their marriages. (fn. 96) Alexander Cotton his curate c. 1790, (fn. 97) though holding one other living at a time, (fn. 98) lived at Girton for three quarters of the year. Like the previous rector he held after 1807 two Sunday services and quarterly sacraments, attendance at which he claimed to have doubled to 18-20 by 1825. By 1836 he had a Cambridge fellow to assist him as curate. (fn. 99)
In 1851, when the church could hold 250, G. B. F. Potticary claimed an afternoon congregation of 180. (fn. 100) Though later employing a curate, (fn. 101) he regularly resided at Girton, (fn. 102) and by 1877 had monthly 40 communicants. (fn. 103) The next rector in 1885, when there was a choir of 36, claimed to have raised that number to 63 at weekly communions, but only 200 out of c. 350 supposed churchpeople came to church regularly. (fn. 104) In 1897, although the rector and his mission workers carefully visited the cottages, some of the 300 churchgoers came only infrequently, and 160 people neglected all worship. The men in particular evaded all attempts to bring them religious instruction. (fn. 105) The then rector, T. J. Lawrence, was an expert on international law. (fn. 106) Between 1902 and 1937 few incumbents served for more than seven or eight years, but there were only two rectors between 1937 and 1984, the populous parish retaining a resident incumbent of its own in the 1980s. (fn. 107)
The church of ST. ANDREW, so named by 1240, (fn. 108) is built of field stones dressed with Barnack ashlar, and comprises a three-bay chancel, clerestoried nave with aisles embracing the west tower, and two-storeyed south porch. (fn. 109) The lower west wall of the tower contains herringbone masonry, probably surviving from a 12th-century building. In the 13th century aisles extending to the tower's west face were added to the nave. The south aisle retains in its west wall a lancet and at its east end a 13thcentury piscina. The north aisle west window has simple tracery of c. 1300. The lower portion of the south porch, whose outer doorway's head resembles the outer arch of the tower west window, is probably 14th-century. Apart from the west wall and the tower and nave east walls, which retain the outlines of an older, steeper roof, which perhaps also covered the aisles, the whole church was substantially reconstructed in the 15th and early 16th century to a single design throughout the nave and chancel. Except for the five-light chancel east window, all the new windows of chancel, aisles, and clerestory are of three lights, untraceried but with cinquefoiled heads. The chancel arch, the piers of the fourbay nave arcade, the north and south arches of the tower, probably cut through earlier side walls, and the wide arch spanning the nave under the tower's east face all have applied round pilasters on the transverse side and hollowmoulded chamfers. Only the chancel was buttressed, but the whole church is embattled. The south porch was heightened and given an upper room.
The late medieval roofs of the chancel and nave have been much renewed. Of the rood screen, which was being painted and gilded in the 1520s, (fn. 110) and was probably still complete in 1743, (fn. 111) only the base of four panels, their heads floriated, survived by 1884. (fn. 112) Eight painted figures of saints were still visible on them in 1743, only their faces being scratched out. Six brasses of prominent villagers laid down between 1505 and 1541, besides those of two rectors of c. 1500, survived c. 1700, (fn. 113) but some had gone by 1743, (fn. 114) and only one remained by 1900. A few fragments of medieval glass survive in the north aisle windows. The plain octagonal font received in the early 17th century a cover with curving arches. The royal arms over the chancel arch were repainted in 1631 under William Lynge (fn. 115) and again between 1801 and 1816.
The chancel was repaired c. 1725. (fn. 116) At some time two of its north windows were blocked. In the early 18th century the rent of part of the Town lands, 10 a. in Girton, 10 a. in Oakington, and 1 3/4; a. in Madingley, were appropriated to church repairs. They yielded £6-9 before 1800, (fn. 117) and £15 c. 1835. (fn. 118) That income was used to repay loans from the rector for a thorough repair in 1853, (fn. 119) and little more work was apparently needed in the late 19th century. The gallery under the tower, in which the village band played until the 1860s, was removed c. 1870, when an organ was acquired from Little St. Mary's, Cambridge. (fn. 120)
Although half the income previously devoted to church maintenance was diverted in 1910, (fn. 121) a legacy of £2,000 from Fanny Coombe (d. 1925), daughter of the former rector, enabled substantial repairs to be undertaken in the late 1920s. The organ was also reconstructed and oak seating was installed. (fn. 122) Further work between 1959 and 1964 included renewing the roofs and floors and rebuilding the tower parapets. (fn. 123) Endowments for the upkeep of graves given by Fanny Coombe and others in the 20th century were partly devoted to maintaining the churchyard, (fn. 124) which was enlarged in 1899 (fn. 125) and again in 1936. (fn. 126)
A cup, possibly early 16th-century, still at Girton, lacked c. 1670 a sufficiently large paten, obtained only in 1764. G. B. F. Potticary gave another cup of 1562. (fn. 127) There were three bells in 1552, including a 'great bell' repaired c. 1546, (fn. 128) perhaps that recast in 1617. Of the other three bells recorded by 1726 and still extant in 1984, one had been recast c. 1619, one c. 1670, and one in 1699. (fn. 129) The parish registers are complete from 1630. (fn. 130)
At inclosure in 1813 the parish clerk was allotted 1/2; a. near the church for his traditional claim to the grass of four baulks and four swathes of meadow. (fn. 131) The last clerk was dismissed for misconduct in 1865, and the rent was thereafter applied for church purposes until the land was sold in 1910. (fn. 132)