Over: Local government

Pages 349-351

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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Local government

The principal manorial court was that of Ramsey's manor. By the 1270s the abbot had view of frankpledge and the assize of bread and of ale, exercised under a charter of King John; he also had a gallows and tumbrel and claimed infangthief by grant of Edward the Confessor. (fn. 1) Court rolls survive for 21 sessions between c. 1290 and 1365 and one in 1474. (fn. 2)

In the early 14th century courts usually held in early February and November dealt with tenurial matters, common assaults, and breaches of the assize and defended the lord's manorial rights. (fn. 3) About 1400 a leet and one other court were held each year; (fn. 4) later a single court usually sufficed. (fn. 5) Annual courts continued under the Crown in the late 16th century (fn. 6) and its successors afterwards. Court rolls and books survive for 1666-1719 and 1729-1925. (fn. 7) From the late 17th century to the early 19th the court each year elected two constables, a field hayward, a fen hayward, four field reeves, and three fen reeves; three more fen reeves were appointed by the lord of the manor. After inclosure in 1840 the only officers regularly elected were a bailiff, a pinder, and an ale conner, the last until 1909 or later. (fn. 8)

Besides hearing much tenurial business, the court in the late 17th century passed, amended, and enforced agricultural bylaws, particular attention being paid to scouring ditches. In the 18th century agriculture was perhaps more commonly regulated through other public meetings, (fn. 9) though the leet still played a part on the eve of inclosure in the 1830s. (fn. 10) The courts, usually held annually in autumn, presumably always took place in the court house, as in 1729. After inclosure tenurial business was managed by the lords' Cambridge legal practice but the leet was still held.

The bishops of Ely claimed no distinct franchise in Over. From the 1480s or earlier their tenants owed suit to the manor of Willingham, where presentments concerning Over were sometimes recorded separately, as in the 1480s and 1620s, but more often were dealt with by the Willingham jurors. (fn. 11)

In the 13th century the abbess of Chatteris's tenants also owed suit to the bishop's manor of Willingham (fn. 12) but in the early 16th century the abbess held a court at Over, at which a very few transfers of tenure were recorded. Under the Crown similar annual courts elected a reeve. Court rolls survive for 1523-4 and 1539-43. (fn. 13) A court was perhaps still being held c. 1566 (fn. 14) but it was not recorded in 1575 or later.

Simon Pelrim, who held of the honor of Huntingdon, had view of frankpledge at Over in the 1270s. (fn. 15) His successors held courts for Gavelocks manor throughout the 14th century, dealing with tenure and minor breaches of order, though not with agricultural matters. Court rolls survive for 1304-80 with gaps. (fn. 16) In 1707 the St. Catharine's College surveyor recommended that courts be resumed to maintain its rights (fn. 17) but no action seems to have been taken.

Rolls survive for 17 courts on Fynors fee between 1309 and 1445 and 4 between 1552 and 1583. In the early 14th century fines were levied for breaches of the peace and obstructing watercourses but afterwards business was mostly tenurial and rarely heavy. The election of a reeve was occasionally recorded. In 1565 some tenants were presented for breaking hedges and destroying crops. (fn. 18)

Before 1274 Robert Hall held view of frankpledge for his tenants at Over, though by no known warrant; he shortly gave it up and his tenants instead attended the courts of his superior lords, the abbot of Ramsey and the bishop of Ely. (fn. 19)

Merton College apparently held a court at Over in 1591. (fn. 20)

The vestry met in the town hall by 1689 to elect its officers. (fn. 21) About 1700 there were usually 8-12 poor people on permanent relief, receiving 1s. or 1s. 6d. a week each and costing in all usually over £50 but rarely more than £100 before 1760. Expenditure rose sharply from the 1760s. After 1765 it was never again below £100 a year and by the 1780s was usually over £200. Before the 1760s parish government was shared among a large group of leading farmers, the overseers and other officers being replaced each year, but from c. 1764 William Robinson dominated affairs as overseer, churchwarden, and holder of several other offices. Opponents of his conduct as overseer forced his removal from that post in 1778. (fn. 22) Expenditure on the poor rose in the 1770s partly because larger sums were paid to a dozen or so families on permanent relief and partly because more people needed occasional assistance. In the 1780s many more were a permanent charge. New expedients were sought: women were paid to gather stones and men to dig gravel and in 1772-4 barley was bought in for sale to the poor at a discount. There was a workhouse in 1799. (fn. 23) Expenditure soared after 1800. In 1803 there were 66 people on permanent and 45 on occasional relief and nearly £800 was spent. (fn. 24) Expenditure was over £1,000 in 1813, 1818, and 1819, and rarely less than £750 throughout the 1820s. (fn. 25)

In the early 16th century the parish acquired three tenements and the court house and by 1575 owned 18&frac1/2; a., mostly or entirely given to help defray taxes and repair the roads. (fn. 26) By 1675 the parish had nearly 70 a. for those purposes. (fn. 27) A second parochial estate in the fens originated in an agreement between the inhabitants and the abbot of Ramsey and other lords to set aside 4 ft. from every pole of 18 ft. in Ouse fen for the use of the fen reeves in maintaining banks, ditches, and bridges. (fn. 28) In 1676 all the parish property was managed by a single treasurer appointed by the feoffees. In the late 17th century it brought in c. £80 a year gross, drainage taxes taking up to half. Money was spent on repairing the houses owned by the parish, mending gates and hedges, and gravelling roads. Any residue was given to the parish officers. (fn. 29)

In 1693 a division of the estate into the town and fen parts perhaps confirmed an existing informal arrangement. The pasture closes acquired at inclosure in 1628 and the land in Ouse fen were thenceforth to be managed by a fen treasurer, who used the income to pay drainage taxes and for the general benefit of the parish. The net income from the houses and other land was to be divided into thirds for the use of the parish constables, churchwardens, and overseers of the poor. (fn. 30) The two funds were fully separate only from 1729. In the 18th century the fen estate usually brought in c. £80 annually. Between the 1730s and the 1750s the cost of maintaining banks, bridges, and the drainage mill rose considerably; deficits c. 1760 and c. 1800 were met by increasing the rent or by subventions from the town treasurer. The two funds remained separate in the early 19th century but in practice they may increasingly have been managed together. (fn. 31) In the late 1820s the total average annual expenditure was £373, mainly on taxes, the upkeep of banks and ditches, and payments to the churchwardens. (fn. 32) The town fund was still divided into thirds in the 20th century. Under a Scheme of 1970 the constables' and overseers' thirds were amalgamated as the town branch and used for the general benefit of the inhabitants; one third still went to the churchwardens. The total income in 1977 was nearly £2,000. (fn. 33)

The town hall at the west end of High Street, recorded from the 1670s, (fn. 34) was presumably the same building as the court house mentioned earlier in the 17th century. (fn. 35) Large sums were spent on its repair in 1718-19. (fn. 36) It fell down in 1840, killing a woman, (fn. 37) and a brick and slate replacement with four tall arched and shuttered windows facing the street was built in 1849. (fn. 38) It was still in use as a village hall in 1983.

Over became part of St. Ives poor-law union in 1836. (fn. 39) From 1894 it belonged to Swavesey rural district, which merged with Chesterton rural district in 1934, and from 1974 was in South Cambridgeshire district. (fn. 40)


  • 1. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 476; Plac. de Quo Warr.(Rec. Com.), 104.
  • 2. P.R.O., SC 2/227/95; SC 2/179/7, 10-12, 14-18, 21, 25-6, 30, 32-4, 36-7; B.L. Add. Ch. 39597, 39600, 39656.
  • 3. e.g. P.R.O., SC 2/179/10, m. 14; SC 2/179/12, mm. 4d.-5; B.L. Add. Ch. 39597, m. 18.
  • 4. e.g. B.L. Add. Ch. 34608, 34610.
  • 5. Ibid. Add. Ch. 34611-34617.
  • 6. P.R.O., REQ 2/211/23, bill.
  • 7. C.R.O., 258/M 1-21.
  • 8. Porter, Cambs. Customs, 374.
  • 9. e.g. C.R.O., P 129/25/7-9.
  • 10. Ibid. 65/M 88.
  • 11. C.R.O., L 1/180; L 1/183, ff. 29, 43; cf. P.R.O., E 134/17 & 18 Eliz. I Mich./6, rot. 19.
  • 12. B.L. Cott. MS. Claud. C. xi, f. 358v.
  • 13. C.R.O., L 63/18, rott. 1d., 10d., 11d.; Trin. Coll. Mun., Box 27, Foxton ct. roll, rott. 4d., 5, 6, 7d.
  • 14. P.R.O., C 3/16/49.
  • 15. Rot. Hund. ii. 478; P.R.O., SC 5/Cambs. Chap. Ho. ser. no. 2, m. 1.
  • 16. St. Cath.'s Coll. Mun., xviii/2, Over ct. rolls.
  • 17. Ibid. xviii/2, survey 1707.
  • 18. C.C.C. Mun., XXI/R 1-3; XXI/R 12.
  • 19. P.R.O., SC 5/Cambs. Chap. Ho. ser. no. 2, mm. 1-2.
  • 20. Reg. Ann. Coll. Mert. 1567-1603(Oxf. Hist. Soc. N.S. xxiv), p. 275.
  • 21. Para. based on C.R.O., P 129/5/1-3; P 129/12/1; for town hall, below.
  • 22. Trin. Coll. Mun., Box 28, no. 20.
  • 23. Camb. Chron. 4 May 1799, p. 3.
  • 24. Poor Law Abstract, 1804, pp. 36-7.
  • 25. Ibid. 1818, pp. 30-1; Poor Rate Returns, 1816-21, 11;1822-4, 38; 1825-9, 16.
  • 26. P.R.O., E 134/17 & 18 Eliz. I Mich./6, rott. 8, 11-12; cf. ibid. C 3/370/46, bill.
  • 27. C.R.O., P 129/25/1, pp. 1-5.
  • 28. P.R.O., E 134/17 & 18 Eliz. I Mich./6, rot. 6.
  • 29. C.R.O., P 129/25/1.
  • 30. P.R.O., C 93/56/21.
  • 31. Ibid.; C.R.O., P 129/5/1, p. 82; P 129/5/2.
  • 32. 31st Rep. Com. Char. 254-6.
  • 33. Char. Com. files; cf. below, charities.
  • 34. e.g. Trans. C.H.A.S. ii. 121-2.
  • 35. Above.
  • 36. C.R.O., P 129/25/1, p. 97.
  • 37. Bold, 'Hist. Over', 27.
  • 38. Gardner's Dir. Cambs. (1851), 352; date on bldg.
  • 39. Poor Law Com. 2nd Rep. 527.
  • 40. Census, 1911, 1931, 1971.