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 value of the manor was reduced from £12 in 1066 to £7 by 1086, when the demesne had only half the ploughteams needed for its cultivation. Nevertheless it comprised 4 out of the 7 ploughlands, and had 5 servi to work it, besides 21 smallholders. The 10 villani had probably only 3 teams between them. (fn. 1)
In the late 13th and early 14th century the whole vill belonged to the manor, save for c. 50 a. of freehold attached to estates in Landbeach and Waterbeach and the glebe. The demesne c. 1300 comprised c. 310 a. of arable, with over 20 a. of meadow. In 1279 there were 5 substantial freeholders, occupying in all 73 a., while another 10 had only their own messuages and 2½ a. of arable between them. Their rents, totalling £1, with those of the 9 crofters or coterells, owing relatively few works, produced under £2 of the £25 of assized rent due in 1311. The rest came from the villeins, who included in 1279 and later two with 20-a. holdings, probably yardlands, for £1 rent each, and 26 others holding half yardlands, for 1-mark rents. The regular labour services, numbering 67 in 1279, were c. 1310 due only between Midsummer and Michaelmas, two a week until Lammas, four thereafter. In 1311 the lord claimed four each week, excluding only Thursdays, throughout that part of the year. (fn. 2)
By the 1520s the customary tenements had all been converted to copyholds paying rents of 12s. for a half yardland, only 18s. for a full 16-a. yardland. (fn. 3) Whereas the villeins had paid £19 13s. 4d. rent in 1311, (fn. 4) in 1640 the copyhold rents totalled £21 6s. 8d. yearly, (fn. 5) although by the 1850s they had fallen to £9 14s. (fn. 6) In the late 16th century the copyholders claimed that by ancient custom entry fines on succession or alienation were certain, at a year's rent. About 1580, however, the lord, Henry Cook, began to demand slightly increased fines, hoping to set a precedent for higher ones at his will. In 1585 the copyholders brought two test cases against him in Chancery over a sale and an inheritance. (fn. 7) In 1591 Cook and his tenants reached an agreement, like that recently made at Chesterton, fixing the fines at a year's rent, and empowering the copyholders to fell timber at pleasure on their holdings. In return Cook retained in severalty, quit of common rights, various pasture inclosures made by his family since the 1540s, including Leverdole and Bush leys (24 a.) by the Landbeach border. (fn. 8) The agreement was later forgotten, or voided through lack of final execution. By the 1660s entry fines were reckoned to be at the lord's will, though they were to be reasonable. (fn. 9) Heriots also were still nominally due for each formerly distinct holding in 1800 and as late as 1884. (fn. 10) In 1795 one tenant allegedly tried to cheat the lord of his heriot. (fn. 11) About 1600 there were c. 350 a. of copyhold, while the freehold comprised 177 a. or 230 a. apart from the demesne and glebe. (fn. 12) At inclosure in 1802, however, allotments totalling 136 a. were made for only 192 a. of copyhold; 72 a. were immediately enfranchised under the inclosure Act, (fn. 13) the remainder from the 1860s onwards. (fn. 14)
By the late 16th century, (fn. 15) and probably by 1300, the parish was mostly divided between arable open fields occupying its western four fifths, covering together c. 1,120 a., and the fen pastures. (fn. 16) The three principal fields from south to north were South field beside the Chesterton border, probably bounded on the north by the modern Butt Lane, and covering c. 340 a. (328 a. in 1791); (fn. 17) Middle field, north-west of the village, so named by 1329, (fn. 18) of c. 240 a.; and the field towards Landbeach, also mentioned in 1329, (fn. 19) and later called Mill field, of c. 410 a. East of the Waterbeach road lay the smaller Iland, later Island, field, perhaps named from 'inland', of 120 a. north of the village. Most of the arable was divided into selions in separate ownership, averaging 2/3; a. to ¾ a., although in Island field ½ a. The manorial demesne lay, however, in larger blocks. Of 507 a. of it recorded c. 1600, (fn. 20) some 175 a. lay in lots, many of 5-7 a., and including a whole 29-a. furlong in Middle field and several other blocks of 10-12 a. each. By 1640 they were often distinguished as 'pieces', some of which, including Pound piece, 22 a., and a 30-acre piece in Mill field, (fn. 21) were divided from the surrounding fields by 1791 at latest. All, however, were treated as allottable at inclosure, only three closes, of 31 a., made before 1591 being reckoned fully several. (fn. 22)
East of the fields lay the marsh of Milton, mentioned in 1286, (fn. 23) and used as permanent common pasture. It was divided by 1600 into Land fen, so named by 1637, c. 70 a. east of Island field, (fn. 24) Lug fen, at least 35 a. east of the village, and Basbitt fen, so named by 1424 but later Baitsbite, (fn. 25) c. 55 a. The adjoining 55 a. in the east of South field were called Baitsbite field in 1800 and probably by 1656. (fn. 26) The agreement of 1591 proposed the division of the fens by fences and ditches among the commoners, (fn. 27) but all three fens continued as common pasture until 1800. In 1794 there were supposedly 300 a. of common there. (fn. 28) From the mid 17th century fen reeves were occasionally appointed to enforce bylaws on commoning. (fn. 29)
In the 16th century crops on the arable included wheat, rye, and barley, especially the last, (fn. 30) probably sown on a triennial rotation: unsown arable in the break and tilth lands was mentioned in 1643. (fn. 31) One testator in 1521 provided for a ploughteam of 4 oxen and 4 horses. (fn. 32) A 10-a. furlong just south-east of the village had apparently been saffron ground in the 16th century. (fn. 33) By the mid 18th century there were some leys in the fields, (fn. 34) while turnips and potatoes were also being grown; (fn. 35) one large copyholder sold seed potatoes in 1789. (fn. 36) In the 1790s the triennial rotation, including a fallow before the winter crops, was still in force; one farm in 1799 included 34 a. under wheat and 29 a. under barley. (fn. 37) Some fruit was probably grown in gardens and closes, especially at the manor house: in 1635 the vicar claimed tithe of gooseberries, cherries, damsons, grapes, peaches, pears, apricots, and walnuts, besides roses. (fn. 38)
By the late 17th century the stint for feeding cattle on the fields and other common pastures had been set at 10 for a standard 16-a. holding, (fn. 39) and 2-3 for each of the commonable cottages, (fn. 40) numbering 13 in 1800. (fn. 41) Each copyholder was also entitled to a complement of coarse hay called 'luggs and fenstuff'. (fn. 42) In the 1760s the manorial farm included common for 200 cattle. (fn. 43) In 1780 the commoners agreed to reduce their stints of cattle by a fifth. (fn. 44) In 1718 and 1769 each cattle owner was to furnish a bull for every 20 cows that he kept. Agisting outsiders' cattle was prohibited in 1667 and 1696. From the 1650s the fen was closed to cattle until the end of April, no byherds being allowed until it was 'broken'. By 1718 Lug and Baitsbite fens were likewise closed to great cattle until Lammas, while in 1696 neither cattle nor sheep were permitted on the cropped common fields until the parson cried Horkey, and in 1769 great cattle were barred from the corn field until Old May Day, and sheep from the 'broke' field after 6 April. (fn. 45)
No stint for sheep has been recorded: the right of sheepwalk probably belonged primarily to the lord. (fn. 46) Substantial flocks were kept on the manor, 224 sheep being mentioned in 1086. (fn. 47) Alice Barne had just bought 192 wethers in 1562, when she left all her sheep and some wool to her son Thomas. (fn. 48) About 1635 Margaret Harris allegedly kept a flock of 300, mostly ewes, besides 30 milking cows yielding 1,000 gallons of milk a year. (fn. 49) In the 18th century the right of sheepwalk was divided equally among the three manorial farms. (fn. 50) One farmer had 130 sheep in 1778, another farmer 120 in 1806. (fn. 51)
The demesne was at farm in 1548, (fn. 52) as probably in the 1520s, when a man taxed on £10 was probably its lessee. No other occupier in 1524 paid tax on more than £4. (fn. 53) The Cooks had arable in hand in the 1550s and 1560s, when they employed servants in husbandry and bequeathed ploughs, cattle, and crops sown on the lordship lands. (fn. 54) From the 1570s, however, much of their demesne, which c. 1600 totalled 507 a., (fn. 55) was let to local men in lots of 30 a. or less for terms of over 50 years at low rents; (fn. 56) 215 a. of the 469 a. of demesne had been thus disposed of by 1617. (fn. 57) Similarly the land retained by the Cooks after 1620 was by 1650 divided into two farms of 50 a. and 28 a. (fn. 58) Only under the Pembertons, by the 1730s at latest, (fn. 59) was the manorial estate concentrated into larger units. In 1766 it comprised the Lordship farm of 138 a. with 56 a. of closes, and two others of 130 a. with c. 25 a. of pasture closes each. (fn. 60) Samuel Knight repeatedly changed his farming tenants, forcing up the rents by a third between 1767 and 1772. He also tried to shut up common ways and annex pieces of common, and in 1768 to revive the lord's right to penalties from copyholders whose buildings were dilapidated. (fn. 61)
Few other holdings were large. In 1599 the 177 a. of freehold included only two of c. 60 a., one being that of the Richards family, which also had 94 a. of copyhold. The rest of the copyhold, 255 a., was shared among two men with c. 35 a. each, six with c. 16 a., probably the old standard yardlands, and three with 11 a., while eight more tenants with 8 a. or less occupied only 38 a. altogether. (fn. 62) Some local families still possessed 12-16 a. each in the late 17th and 18th century, although from the 1760s such holdings began to be acquired by outsiders, (fn. 63) including several Waterbeach landowners. (fn. 64)
In 1800 Samuel Knight and the rector obtained without opposition an inclosure Act. (fn. 65) The allotments were set out that year, (fn. 66) the award being executed in 1802. (fn. 67) It dealt with 1,110 a., besides 217 a. of ancient closes not involved in exchanges, of which 74 a. lay in a block around the Hall. Knight emerged with 487 a., the rector and vicar with 260 a., and two Cambridge colleges with c. 90 a. between them. The remainder included one 104-a. freehold, while five owners with 30-60 a. each shared 210 a., and seven others with 10-20 a. c. 120 a. Eleven smallholders had in all c. 34 a. Allotments totalling c. 115 a. were set out by the northern border for Waterbeach landowners. Otherwise Knight's allotments occupied the northern half of Milton, 300 a. in the east and 85 a. in the west, later New Close farm, being separated by the 200-a. Rectory farm. South field was mostly divided into ten smaller allotments. (fn. 68) Following inclosure the area sown with wheat fell from 300 a. to 100 a., but the rent per acre almost trebled. (fn. 69) About 1820 the farmland was mostly divided among ten farmers, few occupying over 100 a. (fn. 70)
The Knights' estate, enlarged by purchases (fn. 71) to cover 568 a. by the 1850s, included, besides the park, 345 a. of arable and c. 150 a. of grass. By 1836, when it was being cultivated on a fivecourse rotation, it was mainly divided between Manor farm of 215 a., including 180 a. of arable north-east of the village, and one of c. 145 a., worked from a farmstead at Fen End. Two smaller farms covered 47 a. (fn. 72) Reorganization after 1846 (fn. 73) left Manor farm by 1859 with 207 a. and the other with 200 a. (fn. 74) In 1861 Thomas Gunnell, renting both Manor and Rectory farms, occupied c. 570 a. of the parish, (fn. 75) and later made a reputation for breeding long-woolled Lincoln sheep. He held annual sales at Rectory farm of his prize-winning pedigree stock until the 1880s. (fn. 76) He also bred turkeys, bulls, and heifers. (fn. 77) Milton's other prominent farmer was Alfred Marshall Robinson, who from Benet Farm south of the village (fn. 78) farmed 400 a. by 1876. (fn. 79) He specialized from the early 1880s in fatstock, short-woolled Hampshire Down sheep. (fn. 80)
In the mid 19th century (fn. 81) the three largest farms, covering together 940 a. in 1861, dominated the parish. The other land was occupied by two farms of 135 a. and 70 a., and 5 or 6 smallholders with 10-40 a. each. One farmer was using a threshing machine by 1813. (fn. 82) From the 1860s to the 1910s the Coulson family were in business as machinists and engine drivers, regularly hiring out machines: (fn. 83) in 1861 they employed 14 men and 7 boys. (fn. 84) In 1830 the village had contained 48 adult labourers and 24 youths, only 8 being unemployed. (fn. 85) In the 1840s and 1850s, when there were usually 45-55 adult labourers available, the farmers normally employed only c. 40 men and 5-15 boys. About 1870 many were working instead at coprolite digging, earning more than on the farms. (fn. 86) By 1890 the rector was letting to them as allotments 12 a. off Butt Lane, (fn. 87) still so let in 1910, when two thirds of the farmland was still included in two large farms of 355 a. and 300 a. (fn. 88) The county council, having acquired over 430 a. between 1908 and 1912, (fn. 89) divided it into smallholdings. In the enlarged parish there were by 1915 49 occupiers with 5 a. or less, and in 1925 some 36 with under 20 a., while in the 1920s and 1930s c. 15 men farmed less than 100 a., and only 3-5 more than that. (fn. 90) The number of labourers, which had usually ranged between 85 and 100 until the 1950s, fell to c. 10 by 1980, when 12 working farmers occupied the remaining farmland, c. 455 ha. (1,125 a.) north of the village. (fn. 91)
In the late 19th century (fn. 92) the parish was still mostly devoted to arable farming, producing principally wheat and barley on the land, c. 1,000 a., included in its arable rotations. Much sugar beet was also grown after 1920, 200 a. by the 1980s, besides up to 95 a. of potatoes. Sheep numbered 600 in 1885 and still over 520 in 1905, but fewer than 200 by 1915; sheep farming ceased after the 1930s. The area under permanent grass nevertheless rose from 200-250 a. before the 1880s to 375 a. in 1895 and c. 595 a. in 1905, and still stood at c. 500 a. in the early 20th century. It was then largely used for dairy farming, the number of milking cattle increasing from 45-60 before 1900 to 135-150 from the 1910s. By the 1940s there were 14 small dairy farmers with 40 cows or more each, mostly supplying the local market. (fn. 93) Dairying declined later: the Easys sold their large herd of Friesians c. 1980 after the bypass overran their farm. (fn. 94)
Many smallholders engaged in market gardening from the mid 19th century, the area of land so used rising from 5 a. in 1875 to 21 a. by 1895. (fn. 95) In the mid 19th century there were commonly 4 or 5 such gardeners, and branches of the Coulsons and Easys were in business as market gardeners and florists until the 1930s. (fn. 96) In the 1920s there were also 10 a. of soft fruit, mostly strawberries and gooseberries, besides 20 a. of orchards, largely apples and plums. (fn. 97) The Milton and District Co-operative Society, founded in 1912, which provided its smallholding members with seed and tools, had 30 local members in 1942. It closed in 1962. (fn. 98) From the 1880s tomatoes, cucumbers, early lettuces, and cut flowers were produced, mostly in extensive greenhouses south-west of the village, including the Vinery, later Alexandra, Nurseries by the Cambridge road, open from the 1890s to 1961, Milton Nurseries to the south, with 6 a. under glass, established by 1900 and closed c. 1978, and Enterprise Nurseries, started c. 1912. (fn. 99)
A windmill belonged to the manor by 1310. (fn. 100) It was still standing in 1626, (fn. 101) and perhaps in 1666. (fn. 102) It probably stood in the northern part of Mill field where Mill furlong was recorded c. 1635, (fn. 103) and the path from New Close to the site of the mill in 1683. (fn. 104) Another Millhill furlong and way were in the west part of South field c. 1635. (fn. 105) No corn mill was recorded at Milton after 1800.
The manorial estate included a smithy in 1666, (fn. 106) 1760, (fn. 107) and 1859. (fn. 108) Blacksmiths were working in the village throughout the 19th century; (fn. 109) one working as late as 1960 made wrought iron gates. (fn. 110) A tailor was recorded in 1515, (fn. 111) one wheelwright in 1731, (fn. 112) and two in the 1770s. (fn. 113) About 1830 trades and crafts maintained 18 households, compared to 56 dependent on farming. (fn. 114) From the 1840s Milton had one or two carpenters, some also working as wheelwrights, and four or five shoemakers in 1841, later two or three until after 1880. The Neeches, saddlers and harness makers from the 1880s, were also cycle agents in the 1910s and 1920s. There were also one or two butchers until c. 1880, and two bakers, also dealing in groceries from the 1870s, besides at least one general shop. The Unwins ran a small builders' business in the 1850s and 1860s, probably employing five bricklayers in 1851.
A laundry opened c. 1930 and was staffed in 1942 by 21 women. (fn. 115) It was still open in 1960, as was the Cambridge Concrete Co., established c. 1936, which made roof tiles, obtaining its materials from pits dug south-east of the village. (fn. 116) It made bricks as the Cambridge Precast Co. in 1965, (fn. 117) and apparently closed c. 1967. Despite plans to make the derelict pits into a country park for water sports, the local businessman L. Stokes, who had bought part in 1968, established a small industrial estate and car scrapyard there. (fn. 118) The ensuing dispute was still in progress in the early 1980s. (fn. 119) Two other industrial estates had been laid out east of the Cambridge road by the late 1960s. One firm established at Milton from 1955 made tinsel for Christmas decorations. (fn. 120) In the 1970s others were engaged in upholstery, electronics, and 'bonded assemblies'. (fn. 121) About 1985 the two estates housed 15 firms, whose businesses ranged from building, scaffolding, and joinery, through printing and engineering, to making scientific instruments. A third estate was then under construction behind them. Even so, by 1980 over half of Milton's employed population worked outside the parish, mostly in Cambridge, and barely 7 per cent actually in the village. (fn. 122)