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.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
THE parish, (fn. 1) about 14.5 km. (9 miles) northwest of Cambridge and covering 616 ha. (1,522 a.), (fn. 2) is roughly triangular, its southern side curving outwards along old field boundaries. (fn. 3) The north-western boundary was until 1974 the ancient county boundary with Huntingdonshire. The north-eastern one runs straight along the Cambridge-Huntingdon road, a turnpike between 1745 and 1874. (fn. 4) Conington lies upon Ampthill clays overlaid in its northern angle by Kimmeridge clay in the north and by boulder clay in the east, (fn. 5) where high ground, rising to over 30 m. (100 ft.), projects into it from Boxworth. Thence it falls steadily northwestward to level ground at under 15 m. The brook that divides Boxworth from Elsworth flows north across the middle of Conington. No ancient woodland remains, (fn. 6) although small groves of 2 or 3 a. were occasionally recorded from the 16th century. (fn. 7) After 1800 c. 60 a. of former pasture closes around Conington Hall (fn. 8) were gradually planted to form a well timbered park. (fn. 9) The parish was mainly devoted to arable farming both before and after its inclosure in 1800.
The recorded population increased from the 22 peasants and 2 servirecorded in 1086 (fn. 10) to c. 65 landholders, who probably occupied 57 messuages in 1279. (fn. 11) In 1327 taxes were paid by 32 people, (fn. 12) and in 1377 by 109 adults. (fn. 13) Thereafter numbers fell, and remained low. There were only 25 taxpayers in 1524 (fn. 14) and 26 households in 1563, (fn. 15) and still only c. 30 dwellings under Charles II, (fn. 16) accommodating 78 adults in 1676. (fn. 17) In 1728 the 27 families comprised 135 people. (fn. 18) By 1801 (fn. 19) the population had reached 182, and rose to just over 200 between the 1820s and 1840s. From a peak of c. 235 in the 1850s it declined steadily to c. 150 in the 1880s, after many young people had emigrated, (fn. 20) to 120 in 1901, and to c. 105 in the 1920s. It rose again to 132 in 1951 and c. 145 in 1961 and 1981.
The modern village, the only settlement, (fn. 21) stands centrally in the parish around a quadrilateral of roads with the church, rectory, and Hall Farm at the southern angle. Earthworks lying in a field south of the church between two hollow ways, one called Town Street, suggest that habitation once extended further south. (fn. 22) The main street, also called Town Street c. 1800 and the high street by 1841, (fn. 23) turns north-eastward past the Hall grounds, widening at its north-east end into a triangular green. There stands the White Swan public house, established by 1765, (fn. 24) rebuilt in brick c. 1850, (fn. 25) perhaps by its owner, the squire, (fn. 26) and still open in 1983. From that green two roads, substantially following their pre-inclosure routes, run north-east to the turnpike and north-west towards Fen Stanton (Hunts.). Another, called from 1800 the Elsworth road, leads south through Knapwell towards the road from Cambridge to St. Neots. Its northernmost section, called Low Street by 1861, ran past two large farmsteads: one, Marshall's Farm, is basically a 17th-century timber-framed house. (fn. 27) From Sprowle's, later Grange, Farm further south a back road, called by 1861 School Lane, runs westward to the church. There were no dwellings on it c. 1800, when of the village's 10 houses and 26 cottages most stood on the northern part of the high street and only 3 or 4, later 5 or 6, on Low Street. Five new cottages, built on the south side of the high street after 1849, replaced some on its northern side, where earthworks mark the site of ancient tofts, removed to enlarge the park. (fn. 28) Of just over 40 houses in 1861, 16 stood on the high street, 6 near the church, as well as the recently built Hatton Row, of 10 semidetached cottages. The village had 6 uninhabited houses out of c. 37 by 1881, and 14 by 1901 when only 21 were lived in. (fn. 29) Several old cottages were demolished c. 1910, (fn. 30) leaving 9 houses and 15 cottages. (fn. 31) New cottages were built c. 1926, (fn. 32) 12 council houses on School Lane before 1961, (fn. 33) and several modern houses on the high street in the early 1970s, (fn. 34) replacing all but one of the mid 19th-century cottages, so that from the 1950s there were c. 40 dwellings and by 1981 almost 50. (fn. 35)
The village Feast, lasting for a week in mid July, was still held c. 1912. (fn. 36) Conington had a reading room with six members by 1892 (fn. 37) and a parish library in the 1920s. (fn. 38) By the 1930s up to 125 a. south of the village were let to a flying school, the Conington Aero Club. (fn. 39) The village had no mains water supply until 1949, no electricity until 1952. (fn. 40)