Madingley: Introduction

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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'Madingley: Introduction', in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 9, Chesterton, Northstowe, and Papworth Hundreds, ed. A P M Wright, C P Lewis( London, 1989), British History Online [accessed 13 July 2024].

'Madingley: Introduction', in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 9, Chesterton, Northstowe, and Papworth Hundreds. Edited by A P M Wright, C P Lewis( London, 1989), British History Online, accessed July 13, 2024,

"Madingley: Introduction". A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 9, Chesterton, Northstowe, and Papworth Hundreds. Ed. A P M Wright, C P Lewis(London, 1989), , British History Online. Web. 13 July 2024.


Madingley (fn. 1) formerly covered 716 ha. (1,768 a.) (fn. 2) in a roughly triangular shape. (fn. 3) It lies 5 km. (2 miles) west of Cambridge, north of the road from Cambridge to St. Neots, a turnpike between 1772 and 1876. (fn. 4) In 1985 its northeastern boundary towards Girton was altered to follow the recently built motorway bypassing Cambridge, giving in that area a net gain to Madingley of 107 a.; 195 a. south of the former turnpike were transferred to Madingley from Barton, and 7 a. north of that road, previously in Comberton, were also moved to Madingley, which thereafter comprised c. 890 ha. (2,078 a.). (fn. 5) The ground falls to the north-east, steeply at first, from 65 m. (200 ft.) near that road to c. 15 m. (50 ft.) by the northern boundary. In the south-west the Lower Chalk and in the northeast gault are largely overlaid with boulder clay. Watercourses run downward from the high ground. The heavy clay once probably supported extensive woodland, within which a clearing may have given the village its name. (fn. 6) Wood for hedging was reported in 1086 (fn. 7) and one manor had c. 1340 a grove which was regularly felled. (fn. 8) The combined manors were reckoned c. 1550 to have 10-20 a. of wood, (fn. 9) presumably represented by the surviving Madingley wood, which covered 38 a. in 1810 and c. 40 a. in 1842. Its eastern half, 21 a., was in the 19th century often clear felled and converted to temporary pasture. Scattered plantations established elsewhere among the open fields by 1800 were gradually enlarged thereafter, while the park around the 16thcentury Madingley Hall, extended in the 18th century, was then surrounded by belts of trees, which with thicker groves close to the Hall comprised c. 50 a. The parish contained 70 a. of timber in 1810, 91 a. in 1842, (fn. 10) and 73 a. in 1895, (fn. 11) including 20 a. of new growth, probably in the east part of the wood. The parish was mostly arable, being cultivated in three open fields until inclosed informally c. 1810. (fn. 12)

The number of landholders in Madingley increased from the 28 peasants, besides 3 servi, of 1086 (fn. 13) to c. 90 by 1279. (fn. 14) There were 49 people who paid the fifteenth in 1327 (fn. 15) and 123 the poll tax in 1377. (fn. 16) After a decline there were only 32 taxpayers in 1524 (fn. 17) and 27 households in 1563. (fn. 18) The population probably remained stable at the same level in the late 17th and 18th century: under Charles II there were 28-33 dwellings in the parish, only 5 with more than 2 hearths, (fn. 19) and in 1728, as in 1794, there were 28 families, c. 150 people. (fn. 20) In the early 19th century, however, numbers grew steadily from 190 in 1801 to c. 280 in the 1840s and 1860s. From 267 in 1871 they fell to 183 by 1901 before again stabilizing at 200-225 in the early 20th century. (fn. 21) By 1981 the permanent population, excluding 40-60 students at the Hall, had fallen to 160. (fn. 22)

The medieval village stood where the land levelled out at the foot of the hill. The existing street, part of a north-south road linking the two main roads from Cambridge, was formerly crossed by another which left the southern road near Moor Barns Farm. Madingley church stands just east of the former junction. The way west, from a green a little to the north, was stopped up when the Hall was begun in 1546. (fn. 23) Its course further west, along which houses still stood in the early 18th century, was closed c. 1728 when the park was enlarged. (fn. 24) The level of the central part of the north-south street was lowered at that time to permit a vista eastward from the Hall, leaving the village divided into two groups of houses, the smaller by the church to the south and another around the green, while two large farmsteads stood by the road to Moor Barns. In 1807 there were 4 farmhouses and 34 cottages. (fn. 25) The village, all in one ownership, was not allowed to extend in the 19th century, but the number of dwellings in the parish increased from 47 in 1821 to 65 by 1841. It was usually thereafter kept at 55-60 until the 1930s, ten being uninhabited in 1901. (fn. 26) Save for Moor Barns Farm with two cottages and the Park farmstead put up by 1842 south-west of the park, settlement remained confined to the old village, where in 1910 there were 7 houses and 45 cottages. (fn. 27) Very few buildings survive in the village from before 1800, and of the 19th century there are only two or three farmhouses and a few cottages. (fn. 28) The late 20th century saw some infilling, mostly at the northern end of the street, and a council estate was built off Church Lane to the south. (fn. 29) Some new houses by the green were built in traditional style and thatched. About 1980 disused 18th- and early 19th-century farm buildings at Home Farm south of the Moor Barns road were partly converted for residential use. (fn. 30)

Madingley's only public house, the Three Horseshoes east of the green, recorded by 1765, (fn. 31) was still open in 1985. Rebuilt after a fire in 1975, the thatched and partly pargetted inn was also a restaurant. (fn. 32) In the 18th century a cold bath near Moor Barns Farm was frequented by people from Cambridge. (fn. 33) The traditional Feast held until c. 1950 in the week from the third Sunday after Whitsun (fn. 34) was replaced from the 1960s by a fête held early in June or July. (fn. 35) A horticultural society was started in 1883, (fn. 36) and there was a cricket club by 1898. (fn. 37) A parish room opened in 1893 (fn. 38) was succeeded by a village hall, picturesquely thatched, built by Col. Harding of the Hall in 1910. (fn. 39)

About 1943 Harding's granddaughter Rosamund gave 30 a. in the south-east for an American military cemetery. Formally established in 1948, it was completed in 1956. Eventually 3,811 American servicemen were buried and many others commemorated in a landscaped garden stretching downhill from a 'mall' bordered by a memorial wall 472 ft. long, leading to an allegorically decorated chapel. (fn. 40) The Cambridge northern bypass, built between 1977 and 1979, (fn. 41) swept south-east of the village through a deep cutting under the older roads.

After 1950 Madingley was dominated (fn. 42) by Cambridge university, which owned the Hall and the surrounding farmland from 1948, (fn. 43) had an experimental farm around Moor Barns from the 1920s, (fn. 44) and built extensive laboratories for its Animal Behaviour Department east of the village green.


  • 1. This account was completed in 1985.
  • 2. Census, 1891, 1971.
  • 3. For the parish, O.S. Maps 6", Cambs. XXXIX. SE.; XL. NW. (1886 and later edns.); 1/25,000, TL 35, 36, 45, 46 (1955 and later edns.); above, Girton, intro., map.
  • 4. Below, Elsworth, intro.
  • 5. S. Cambs. Par. Order (1984).
  • 6. P.N. Cambs. (E.P.N.S.), 185.
  • 7. V.C.H. Cambs. i. 395.
  • 8. P.R.O., C 135/84, no. 12.
  • 9. Ibid. E 150/98, no. 3.
  • 10. C.U.L., MS. Plan 558; ibid. E.D.R., G, tithe award 1842; C.R.O., 588/E 49A.
  • 11. P.R.O., MAF 68/1543.
  • 12. Below, econ. hist.
  • 13. V.C.H. Cambs. i. 395, 399.
  • 14. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 446-8, 465-6.
  • 15. Cambs. Lay Subsidy, 1327, 63-4.
  • 16. East Anglian, n.s. xii. 255.
  • 17. P.R.O., E 179/81/163, m. 14d.
  • 18. B.L. Harl. MS. 594, f. 199v.
  • 19. Below, Analysis of Hearth Tax Assessments.
  • 20. C.U.L., E.D.R., B 8/1, f. 27v.; Vancouver, Agric. in Cambs. 105.
  • 21. Census, 1801-1931.
  • 22. Ibid. 1951-81; cf. Camb. Evening News, 16 Jan. 1973.
  • 23. P.R.O., C 142/792, no. 5.
  • 24. C.R.O., 588/E 23; cf. below, manors.
  • 25. C.U.L., MS. Plan 558.
  • 26. Census, 1821-1931.
  • 27. C.R.O., 294/0 76.
  • 28. Cf. C.U.L., E.D.R., G, tithe award map.
  • 29. Cf. Camb. Ind. Press, 28 July 1961.
  • 30. e.g. ibid. 24 July 1980; Camb. Evening News, 19 Oct. 1981.
  • 31. C.R.O., Q/RLv 2, p. 23 (from card index).
  • 32. Cf. Kelly's Dir. Cambs. (1864-1937); Camb. Ind. Press, 12 June 1960.
  • 33. Camb. Evening News, 28 Oct. 1975; 5 Apr. 1976.
  • 34. Camb. Ind. Press, 12 June 1960. For alleged Plough Monday dancing, Porter, Cambs. Customs, 98-9, 102.
  • 35. e.g. Camb. Ind. Press, 9 June 1967; Camb. Evening News, 3 June 1974.
  • 36. Camb. Chron. 28 July 1883.
  • 37. Ibid. 21 Oct. 1898.
  • 38. Ibid. 10 Mar. 1893.
  • 39. Inscr. on bldg.; Camb. Ind. Press, 12 June 1960, says 1937.
  • 40. Leaflet issued by cemetery; Cambs. Colln., press cuttings: villages: Madingley, n.d.; cf. Camb. Evening News, 23 Nov. 1979.
  • 41. Camb. Evening News, 18 July 1977; 8 Jan. 1979, suppl.
  • 42. Cf. Camb. Evening News, 28 June 1972; Camb. Ind. Press, 25 Sept. 1980.
  • 43. Below, manors.
  • 44. Inf. from bursar, Trin. Coll., Camb.; cf. Jnl. Royal Agric. Soc. xcvii. 95-116.