Impington: Economic history

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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'Impington: Economic history', in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 9, Chesterton, Northstowe, and Papworth Hundreds, (London, 1989) pp. 133-135. British History Online [accessed 12 April 2024]


In 1086 the arable was divided two to one between the estates but was not all cultivated. The 6½; hides of Ely's demesne was mainly tilled by peasants, who had 2 of the 2½; ploughteams, and the 3½; hides of sokeland entirely so, with no home farm recorded, only bordars and cottars with 3 teams. There were a flock of 89 sheep, a few cows and pigs, and a mare. (fn. 1) The parish had larger home farms and a much smaller proportion of tenanted land in 1279. The smaller of the two manors, Philip de Colville's, then had 60 a. of arable in hand and 154 a. held by free tenants but none in villeinage; Burgoynes had a 270-a. home farm, 148 a. held by free tenants, and 254 a. by villeins, cottars, and crofters, from whom labour services were exacted. Each holder of the eight 15-a. half yardlands ploughed 12 days a year, harrowed 19, and harvested 31, besides doing lesser works and making two quarters of malt. Five men with 7½; a. apiece did half those works and eight cottagers with 7 a. ploughed 3/4; a. and did 12½; days' harvesting, 3 harvest boons, and lesser works. Some smaller tenants also owed works. In all 37 per cent of the arable was kept in hand by the two lords, 34 per cent let to freeholders, and 29 per cent held in villeinage. The largest free tenant had 82 a., part from each manor. (fn. 2) In 1303 the demesne arable on Burgoynes was estimated as 340 a., a quarter more than in 1279, and the income from free rents was higher by nearly half, indicating the further decline of villein holdings. (fn. 3)

In 1480 over 85 per cent of the 1,625 a. of open-field arable was held by five major landholders and their copyholders. John Burgoyne had 628 a., Denny 341 a., Eynsham 321 a., Barnwell 72 a., and Ely 42 a. There were 44 other freeholders, the largest with c. 30 a. Two fifths of the arable in Impington, that belonging to Denny and Eynsham, was thus attached to Histon manors. (fn. 4)

There were three open fields in 1476, with the same names as in 1801 on the eve of inclosure. East field lay north-east of the village, Burrow field south, and Crosswell field in the south part of the parish. (fn. 5) In the 1560s a regular threecourse rotation was followed. (fn. 6) The only nonarable land apart from pasture closes was Impington Moor between the village and Burrow field. It was perhaps the 100 a. of waterlogged former meadow, out of use in 1340 together with 200 a. of arable. (fn. 7) Bylaws probably of the 1580s reserved the Moor for the milk herd and young cattle between March and August and set a stint of two cows for each commonable house and a bullock for each 16 a. Sheep were excluded. (fn. 8) Part was inclosed for parkland around the Hall in the late 16th century, (fn. 9) and in the late 18th it covered only 40 a. (fn. 10)

Impington was interlocked with some neighbouring parishes through shared grazing rights. In the mid 13th century and 1284 the tenants of the Lisles owed services to the royal manor of Chesterton in return for common pasture there. (fn. 11) The commoners of Impington later had the right to graze the c. 40 a. of Arbury in Chesterton. (fn. 12) In the 1270s sheep belonging to Histon men were commonly pastured in Impington, (fn. 13) and by the 15th century the lords and tenants of both Histon manors had common rights throughout Impington, forcibly interrupted between 1452 and 1480 by Thomas and John Burgoyne. (fn. 14) Histon's rights were again disputed after the Dissolution (fn. 15) and in 1565 the Histon flocks and herds were barred from Impington Moor. (fn. 16) The residual right to graze in the fields was in contention in 1606. (fn. 17) Histon commoners were probably thereafter restricted to Intercommon furlong in the south-west part of Impington. (fn. 18) In the mid 16th century Histon was allegedly permitted up to 500 cattle in Impington, and Impington itself no more than 160. (fn. 19) In 1568 the Impington lords agreed that neither should keep more than 400 sheep in summer or 300 in winter. (fn. 20) One of their lessees had kept up to 300 sheep, besides lambs, in the 1540s. (fn. 21) The need for additional permanent grazing led to some limited inclosure in the 16th century. (fn. 22) The lords agreed in 1568 that each might inclose 20 a.: (fn. 23) 4½; a. in East field were inclosed in 1574-5. (fn. 24) By 1587 Christ's College had 33 a. of inclosed pasture and 133 a. of open-field land. (fn. 25) Most of the land newly inclosed was probably near the village (fn. 26) but there were also new closes at Howes. (fn. 27) It was claimed in 1606 that 100 a. had been inclosed since 1565, (fn. 28) probably including part of the Moor.

When Burgoynes manor was divided in 1574 each part comprised a home farm of almost 150 a. and c. 200 a. of copyholds. (fn. 29) By the late 16th century the copyhold land was becoming concentrated in fewer hands. One copyholder had 70 a. in the 1550s (fn. 30) and in the 1580s there were three with 50-65 a. (fn. 31) There was much competition for land. Robert Raye and a rival contested possession of the rectory lease in the 1560s (fn. 32) and both Raye in the 1560s and John Pepys in the 1570s were alleged to have dispossessed copyholders illegally. (fn. 33) >

Four freeholders were listed in 1753, one of them a Pepys, (fn. 34) but the largest farms in the 18th century were probably those on the two manorial estates. Christ's College's farm comprised 175 a. by customary measure in 1727, three quarters arable. From then the lessees probably farmed the land themselves. (fn. 35) In 1781 the principal let farm on the Hall estate, which had absorbed most of its former copyholds, included 243 a. of arable, 60 a. of pasture, two thirds of a sheep walk, and commons for 31 cows. (fn. 36) Impington was mainly inhabited by labourers, few of whom held any land. Only 3 of Christ's College's 20 tenants in 1727 were from Impington, 8 from Histon, and the rest from elsewhere. (fn. 37)

All the large allotments at inclosure in 1806 (fn. 38) were to big absentee landowners or Histon farmers. (fn. 39) The three largest, to the Hall estate, Christ's College, and the rectory lessee, covered more than half the parish. Over 500 a. of the Hall estate were at first farmed by tenants from buildings adjoining the house (fn. 40) but c. 1870 Home Farm was built on New Road. (fn. 41) It was later disused. (fn. 42) The four largest farms covered c. 1,000 a. in 1851 and gave employment to 45 men, the Hall farm accounting for about half. (fn. 43) After the Hall estate was reduced in size in the 1860s (fn. 44) there were only three big farms, each of 180-280 a. and employing fewer men. (fn. 45) Chivers and Sons Ltd. were farming in Impington by 1910 when they were renting the 375-a. Bedlam farm. John Chivers also owned Cawcutts farm (74 a.). (fn. 46) After the Chivers family bought Impington Hall with Home and Burgoynes farms in 1926, they were much the largest farmers in the parish, and remained so after Chivers Farms Ltd. was separated from the factory in 1962. (fn. 47)

Christ's College had a threshing machine at Burgoynes Farm by 1817. (fn. 48) Farming was mainly based on corn and sheep until well into the late 19th-century depression, the area under cereals being nearly half the total returned in 1895, with less than a fifth under grass, though by 1905 the proportions had reversed to a fifth cereals and nearly half grass. The principal grains were wheat and barley in the late 19th century, wheat and oats in the early 20th. Root crops, seeds, and vegetables covered almost 250 a. by 1866 and remained important in the early 20th century. There were few cattle until the 1890s, but from that time there was some dairying and beef, though fewer sheep. (fn. 49) Orchards and market gardens increased steadily from the 1870s to a peak in the early 20th century of over 300 a. cultivated by 10 or more businesses. (fn. 50) Among the crops were asparagus and rhubarb on a smallholding in Milton Road in 1912 and walnuts at Woodhouse farm in 1925. (fn. 51) >

In the 1880s and 1890s the vicar, unable to let the glebe, struggled to farm it himself. (fn. 52) W. A. Macfarlane-Grieve let his 145-a. Burgoynes farm rent free to the newly established Cambridge University Department of Agriculture from 1900 to 1909, (fn. 53) when it was used for teaching and for experiments on crop varieties and rotations. (fn. 54)

Burgoynes manor had a windmill in 1279. (fn. 55) The smock mill by Cambridge Road recorded in 1806 (fn. 56) probably replaced a post mill of c. 1680. (fn. 57) By 1916 the miller also used a gas engine and in 1929, towards the end of the mill's working life, gas power alone. (fn. 58) The disused windmill was afterwards kept in good repair. (fn. 59)

The Impington Hall estate was advertised in 1872 as containing deposits of gravel, ironstone, and coprolites. (fn. 60) Despite the residence of three coprolite diggers in Impington in 1861, (fn. 61) one in 1871, (fn. 62) and others in Histon, (fn. 63) no coprolites are known to have been worked in the parish. A small brick and tile works operated east of the Hall between the 1870s and the 1890s. (fn. 64) Histon Concrete Products Ltd. was established in Mill Lane by 1973. (fn. 65)

A carpenter was recorded in 1580 (fn. 66) and a Histon shoemaker settled in Impington in 1700, (fn. 67) but no other reference to village craftsmen has been found before 1831, when two men were engaged in retail trades or crafts. (fn. 68) No other shops or businesses are known before c. 1875, when several existed in Cambridge Road. (fn. 69)

In 1301 Peter de Chauvent was granted a weekly market on Thursdays and an annual seven-day fair at Easter. (fn. 70) No other record of either has been found.


  • 1. V.C.H. Cambs. i. 367, 395 and n.
  • 2. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 463-5.
  • 3. P.R.O., C 133/107, no. 24, m. 4.
  • 4. C.U.L., Add. MS. 3957, ff. 41-3.
  • 5. St. John's Coll. Mun., D 27/90 (from cal.); cf. C.U.L., MS. Plan R.a.4; above, Histon, intro. (map); for 13th-cent. field and furlong names: B.L. Eg. MS. 3047, ff. 120v.-121.
  • 6. P.R.O., C 3/151/13, bill.
  • 7. Inq. Non. (Rec. Com.), 204.
  • 8. C.U.L., Add. MS. 3957, f. 11.
  • 9. Above, manors; cf. P.R.O., C 78/25, no. 29.
  • 10. Vancouver, Agric. in Cambs. 133.
  • 11. Liber de Bernewelle, 138-9.
  • 12. Above, Chesterton, econ. hist.
  • 13. B.L. Eg. MS. 3047, f. 121 and v.
  • 14. Cal. Close, 1476-85, 217-18; P.R.O., C 1/40, nos. 30- 2.
  • 15. P.R.O., C 1/1208, no. 25.
  • 16. Ibid. C 78/25, no. 29.
  • 17. Ibid. C 2/Jas: I/H 36/70.
  • 18. C.U.L., MS. Plan R.a.4; Histon and Impington Incl. Act, 41 Geo. 111, c. 112, p. 2.
  • 19. P.R.O., C 3/205/12.
  • 20. C.U.L., Add. MS. 3957, f. 29; cf. ibid. f. 11 and v.
  • 21. Ibid. E.D.R., D 2/3, ff. 59v.-64v.
  • 22. e.g. ibid. Doc. 580; P.R.O., PROB 1½8, f. 121.
  • 23. C.U.L., Add. MS. 3957, f. 29.
  • 24. Ibid. f. 25.
  • 25. Ibid. f. 24 and v.
  • 26. e.g. Christ's Coll. Mun., Impington G.
  • 27. C.U.L., Add. MS. 3957, f. 9.
  • 28. P.R.O., C 2/Jas. I/H 36/70.
  • 29. C.U.L., Add. MS. 3957, ff. 9-10v.
  • 30. P.R.O., REQ 2/21/17.
  • 31. C.U.L., Add. MS. 3957, ff. 9-10v.
  • 32. P.R.O., REQ 2/87/31.
  • 33. Ibid. REQ 2/258/4; REQ 2/261/5.
  • 34. Carter, Hist. Cambs. (1819), 224.
  • 35. Christ's Coll. Mun., Impington U, W, aY, ZZ, and unlisted leases of 1643, 1649, 1667, 1672, 1681, and 1698.
  • 36. Camb. Chron. 24 Mar. 1781, p. 2.
  • 37. Christ's Coll. Mun., Impington U.
  • 38. Cf. above, Histon, econ. hist.
  • 39. C.R.O., Q/RDz 6, pp. 343-481.
  • 40. Camb. Chron. 21 Nov. 1795, p. 3; P.R.O., HO 107/1759, f. 45; ibid. RG 9/1018, f. 31.
  • 41. C.U.L., Maps PSQ 18/184; C.R.O., L 4/46; cf. Kelly's Dir. Cambs. (1847-75).
  • 42. Camb. Evening News, 6 Dec. 1976.
  • 43. P.R.O., HO 107/1759, ff. 41v., 45, 49 and v.
  • 44. Above, manors.
  • 45. P.R.O., RG 10/1578, ff. 33, 35; RG 11/1657, ff. 31, 32v., 33v.
  • 46. C.R.O., 470/0 84.
  • 47. Cf. above, Histon, econ. hist.
  • 48. Christ's Coll. Mun., Impington aY, valuation 1817.
  • 49. P.R.O., MAF 68/7-8, 403, 973, 1543, 2113, 2683, 3232, 3752, 4489.
  • 50. Ibid.; Kelly's Dir. Cambs. (1869-1937).
  • 51. C.R.O., 515/SP 473,778.
  • 52. C.U.L., E.D.R., C 3/38; Church Com. file 86205, corr. 1914.
  • 53. Camb. Univ. Reporter (1899-1900), pp. 1024-5, 1116.
  • 54. Camb. Univ. Dept. of Agric. Guide to Experiments on Burgoyne's Fm. (1904) (copy in Cambs. Colln.).
  • 55. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 463.
  • 56. Camb. Chron. 15 Feb. 1806, p. 3; cf. C.R.O., L 4/43.
  • 57. Camb. Evening News, 10 Apr. 1973.
  • 58. Kelly's Dir. Cambs. (1912-33).
  • 59. e.g. Proc. C.A.S. xxxi. 24, 27.
  • 60. C.R.O., L 4/46.
  • 61. P.R.O., RG 9/1018, ff. 34v.-35, 36v.
  • 62. Ibid. RG 10/1578, f. 36v.
  • 63. Above, Histon, econ. hist.
  • 64. Kelly's Dir. Cambs. (1875-1900).
  • 65. Camb. Evening News, 15 Dec. 1973.
  • 66. P.R.O., REQ 2/258/4, interr. and dep. for pl.
  • 67. C.R.O., P 93/13/37 (from cat.).
  • 68. Census, 1831.
  • 69. Above, Histon, econ. hist.
  • 70. Cal. Chart. R. 1300-26, 1.