Rampton: 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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'Rampton: Introduction', in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 9, Chesterton, Northstowe, and Papworth Hundreds, (London, 1989) pp. 210-212. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/cambs/vol9/pp210-212 [accessed 1 March 2024]


Figure 13:

Rampton 1754

THE small fen-edge parish of Rampton, c. 9.5 km. (6 miles) north of Cambridge, covered 1,336 a. until 1884, when a detached part of Willingham covering 351/2 a. was added, giving an area in 1981 of 555 ha. (1,3711/2 a.). (fn. 1) In 1985 the boundary with Long Stanton was altered to follow the railway, Rampton losing c. 1 ha. (21/2 a.) net. (fn. 2) The parish has a roughly rectangular southern part comprising the former open fields and meadows, which lie just above the highest flood line and rise to only 9 m. (30 ft.) in the west, and a narrow northward extension tapering to a point in the fens. Its greatest length from south-west to north-east is 5 km. (3 miles) and it is nowhere wider than 2 km. The Cottenham boundary was fixed before 1315 along a rivulet, called Westwick brook in 1605, which drains north-east into the river Ouse. (fn. 3) At the north end Hempsals fen, c. 80 a. of which lay in Rampton, was common pasture for Rampton and Willingham in 1279 (fn. 4) and remained so until after 1635. (fn. 5) Irams fen to its south covered 280 a. in 1622; 351/2; a. were placed in Willingham c. 1663 and restored to Rampton in 1884. (fn. 6) Most of the southern and western boundaries run along tracks called mere ways dividing Rampton from Willingham and Long Stanton but a small part follows the boundaries of arable furlongs between Rampton and Willingham. (fn. 7) The sharing of fen pastures with Willingham and the preConquest ownership of both vills by Ely abbey suggest that Rampton may have once been dependent on Willingham, perhaps as a specialized sheep-rearing settlement, (fn. 8) but it was fully separate in 1066. Until the mid 19th century the arable was farmed in four open fields, with common meadow and pasture in the north of the parish. The soil is heavy and mostly underlain by Ampthill clay with Kimmeridge clay along the brook and in the north, (fn. 9) but the fens provided excellent grazing. (fn. 10) There was no ancient woodland by the 11th century. In the early 17th century Edward Alcocke burned coal in the manor house to spare what little wood he had, (fn. 11) though in the 19th century and earlier there were small holts and spinneys. (fn. 12) Big Spinney survives on the eastern boundary. An Inclosure Act was passed in 1839 and the open fields were divided in 1842 but the award was not executed until 1852. (fn. 13) Under an Act of 1842 the northern part of the parish and a strip of land alongside the brook south of the village, covering 400 a. in all, were placed in the Cottenham, Rampton, and Willingham drainage district. (fn. 14) As in neighbouring parishes, the fens were not ploughed until the First World War, but arable predominated throughout the parish in 1985.

In the Middle Ages the main road from Cambridge to Ely via Histon and Aldreth causeway, called the Portway, passed through the parish, (fn. 15) crossing the Cottenham-Willingham road west of the village and meeting a road from Long Stanton further south. The Long Stanton road follows Reynold's ditch, and that to Cottenham crosses Westwick brook by Rampton bridge. The Cambridge-Rampton-Ely road declined in importance from the 17th century with the opening of a shorter route elsewhere, though the causeway was still used by local traffic into the Isle in the early 19th century. (fn. 16) By c. 1840 the Cottenham-Willingham road, passing through the village as High Street, was the only through route in the parish. The Histon and Long Stanton roads were not adopted as public at inclosure, when Portway north of High Street was stopped up entirely. (fn. 17) An old drove road from the village into the fens remained open after inclosure as Cow Lane and in 1985 joined another concreted drove road from Willingham near its northern end.

Rampton has long been one of the smallest of the fen-edge villages north-west of Cambridge. In 1086 there were 19 tenants (fn. 18) and 23 people paid tax in 1327. (fn. 19) There were 31 families in 1563 and 39 households in 1664. (fn. 20) 35 families were counted in 1728 (fn. 21) and again in 1801, when they comprised 162 individuals. The population rose to nearly 220 by 1821 and, after a drop in the 1820s, to over 250 by 1871, thereafter falling to fewer than 180 in 1901. Growth was slow until 1951, when there were 221 residents, but afterwards was as rapid as in larger neighbouring villages and there were 355 inhabitants in 1981. (fn. 22)

The fen edge was densely settled in Roman times, (fn. 23) but no evidence for post-Roman occupation has been found and the settlement was probably located on its present site early in the Anglo-Saxon period. The earliest focus was presumably the church, which stands a short distance north of High Street at the east end of the village. To the east are earthworks that may represent the sites of houses removed when an earthen castle was built in the 1140s. (fn. 24) Afterwards the village formed a Y, extending west from the church and rectory to a small triangular green and along two streets leading on from the green, the northern arm of the Y being the CottenhamWillingham road. In 1754 houses and cottages at the front of long tofts stood on the north side of the northern arm, High Street, and the south side of the southern, later King Street. The south side of High Street was also built up, perhaps as a secondary element in the plan after a reduction in size of a formerly larger green. The green and the regular tofts associated with it may have been deliberately planned c. 1270 as the site for Robert de Lisle's market and fair; (fn. 25) in 1985 the base of a cross stood on the green. A few houses in High Street and on the green are of late 17th-century date. Until the 1840s there were fewer than 25 houses, centred on the green, with others in High Street, King Street, and Church End. The 25 or so new dwellings built in the 1840s did not extend the settlement and the village hardly grew at all until after the First World War and not significantly until the Second. (fn. 26) From 1951 to 1981 each decade saw 20-25 new houses, pushing west along King Street and north up Cow Lane and comprising mainly council houses and private bungalows. The only farmhouse built outside the village immediately after inclosure was that in Farther Irams. At first it housed a labourer's family, though in 1871 and 1881 it was occupied by the owner's bailiff. (fn. 27) In the 20th century Topsfield, New, and Ashley Farms were built in Cow Lane. (fn. 28)

The Chequers public house was open by 1765 and closed in 1917; the Black Horse, in business by 1851, remained open in 1985. (fn. 29) The Fox and Hounds beerhouse stood by the Willingham road close to the parish boundary in 1879 but was evidently closed by c. 1890. (fn. 30) Rampton Feast was traditionally and still in the early 19th century held on the Sunday before 15 July, (fn. 31) but a century later had been moved to the first Sunday after Trinity and succeeding days. (fn. 32)

After dwindling during the 20th century to a church service and a visit by the Cottenham Salvation Army band, the Feast was revived in 1977. (fn. 33) Social events in the late 19th century took the form of evening entertainments of music and readings in the schoolroom. (fn. 34) A village hall was opened in 1955 in a prefabricated hut in Church End, which was replaced by a permanent building in 1959. (fn. 35) A sports field south of King Street was opened in 1973. (fn. 36)

The earthwork called Giant's Hill, standing between the village and Rampton bridge, comprises a low rectangular flat-topped mound surrounded by a deep ditch. Its location near the fen edge and some constructional features are similar to those of Burwell castle, which was begun by King Stephen in 1143 when besieging the Isle of Ely and abandoned unfinished the following year. (fn. 37) Giant's Hill was later very probably the site of Lisles manor house. (fn. 38) A 45a. park adjoins it on the north.

C. H. Evelyn-White, rector 1894-1928 (d. 1938), was a prominent local historian of Cambridgeshire and Suffolk. He established the monthly antiquarian magazine the East Anglian in 1885 and edited it until its termination in 1910. He also helped to found the Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire Archaeological Society in 1900, resigning in 1906. (fn. 39)


  • 1. Census, 1891, 1981; Local Govt. Bd. Order 15898. This account was written in 1985. Maps used include O.S. Maps 6", Cambs. XXXIII. SE.; XXXIV. NW., SW. (1886 and later edns.); 6", TL 46 NW. (1958 edn.); 1/10,000, TL 46 NW. (1981 edn.); 1/25,000, TL 46 (1955 edn. with revisions to 1970).
  • 2. S. Cambs. Par. Order (1984).
  • 3. B.L. Add. MS. 5845, f. 75; ibid. Harl. MS. 5011, pt. 1, f. 41.
  • 4. Ibid. Add. MS. 33466, f. 189; Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 451.
  • 5. B.L. Harl. MS. 5011, pt. 1, f. 41; below, Willingham, intro.
  • 6. C.R.O., R 59/14/5/9C-E; R 59/14/28/2; B.L. Add. MS. 33466, f. 189.
  • 7. Cf. C.U.L., MS. Plan 177 (map of 1754).
  • 8. P.N. Cambs. (E.P.N.S.), 183; cf. Ravensdale, Liable to Floods, 15.
  • 9. Geol. Surv. Map 1/50,000, solid and drift, sheet 188 (1974 edn.).
  • 10. B.L. Add. MS. 5849, f. 65; Village Memories (1976), ed. F. J. Garrett, 1 (copy in Cambs. Colln.).
  • 11. P.R.O., REQ 2/391/10, bill.
  • 12. C.U.L., Add. MS. 6971, ff. 1-8; ibid. MS. Plan 177.
  • 13. Rampton Incl. Act, 2 & 3 Vic. c. 15 (Local and Personal); C.U.L., Add. MSS. 6955-6; C.R.O., Q/RDc 71.
  • 14. Cottenham, Rampton, and Willingham Drainage Act, 5 Vic., Sess. 2, c. 23 (Local and Personal).
  • 15. V.C.H. Cambs. iv. 141; Fox, Arch. Camb. Region, 155; for the name Portway: P.R.O., CP 25(1)/24/24, no. 35; Cambs. Village Doc. 93.
  • 16. e.g. Trans. C.H.A.S. i. 5; R. G. Baker, Map of Cambs. (1821).
  • 17. C.R.O., Q/RDc 71; C.U.L., Add. MS. 6956, f. 22v.
  • 18. V.C.H. Cambs. i. 394.
  • 19. Cambs. Lay Subsidy, 1327, 65.
  • 20. B.L. Harl. MS. 594, f. 199v.; P.R.O., E 179/84/437, rot. 66d.
  • 21. C.U.L., E.D.R., B 8/1, f. 26.
  • 22. Census, 1801-1981.
  • 23. V.C.H. Cambs. vii. 29-36.
  • 24. Proc. C.A.S. lxvii. 97-9; below.
  • 25. Below, econ. hist.
  • 26. Census, 1801-1981.
  • 27. P.R.O., HO 107/1759, f. 20IV.; ibid. RG 9/1019, f. 72; RG 10/1580, ff. 31-6; RG 11/1659, ff. 28-32v.
  • 28. Cf. Camb. Ind. Press, 26 Aug. 1971.
  • 29. Kelly's Dir. Cambs. (1847 and later edns.); Gardner's Dir. Cambs. (1851), 373; Cambs. Local Hist. Counc. Bull. xxxv. 20; C.R.O., card index to Q/RLv 2-4.
  • 30. Kelly's Dir. Cambs. (1875-92); cf. O.S. Map 1/1,250, Cambs. XXXIV. 5 (1888, 1902 edns.).
  • 31. Carter, Hist. Cambs. (1819), 245.
  • 32. Cambs. Local Hist. Counc. Bull. xxxv. 20.
  • 33. Camb. Evening News, 30 May 1978; Camb. Ind. Press, 1 June 1978; Rampton Roundabout, June 1984; local inf.
  • 34. e.g. Camb. Chron. 1 Apr. 1876, p. 4; 16 Dec. 1876, p. 5; 3 Feb. 1888, p. 4.
  • 35. Rampton Roundabout, Nov. 1983.
  • 36. Camb. Evening News, 30 July 1973.
  • 37. V.C.H. Cambs. ii. 37; Proc. C.A.S. lxvii. 97-9; Antiquity, xxxiii. 106-7.
  • 38. Below, manor.
  • 39. Crockford (1935); East Anglian, N.S. xiii. 369-71; Antiq. Jnl. xviii. 333; Trans. C.H.A.S. vi. 55-6.