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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Before the Conquest 3½ out of 6 hides belonged to Ordnoth's manor, the rest being shared among two priests and nine sokemen. In 1086 the demesnes of four lords probably covered not less than 5 ploughlands but were stocked with only 3 ploughteams, while six villani, four on the Beaumes manor, had 2 or 3 teams. The total yield of the vill had fallen, most sharply on Eustace's fee, from £8 c. 1070 to just over £4 by 1086. (fn. 1) In 1279 (fn. 2) demesnes still comprised over half of c. 600 a. of arable recorded. The Beaumes manor had no demesne and its tenants, mostly holding quarter yardlands, occupied all its land as freehold. John Russell had c. 187 a. of demesne arable, Huntingdon priory 71 a., and the Ely fee, when held by John de Grey c. 1320, 92 a. (fn. 3) Except for the glebe and the Papworths' 22 a., the other 170 a. were mostly held at rent by small freeholders, few of whom had over 7½ a. each. Only 30 a., on Russells manor, were held in villeinage. The villeins owed mainly cash rents of 10-12s. for each quarter yardland, similar to those of the freeholders, but also rendered four boonworks each in harvest.
A few larger freeholds were recorded later: one man settled 52 a. of arable and 10 a. of grass in 1315. (fn. 4) The parish continued to be dominated by demesnes. That of Russells covered 160 a. of arable in 1314, when the last villein works had apparently been converted to rent, (fn. 5) and in 1361 c. 300 a. (fn. 6) By the late 15th century the Malorys probably occupied c. 160 a. of arable, 30 a. of meadow, and c. 125 a. of pasture. (fn. 7) Under Henry VIII Huntingdon priory's arable comprised six 'lots', perhaps of c. 47 a. each, and was divided among three or four farms. The largest was leased with the manor house to John Blackman, the wealthiest peasant villager, said to be worth £20 in 1522. Two smaller farms comprised 47 a. and 37 a. (fn. 8) In 1586 the main former priory farm included 86 a. of arable and 40 a. of pasture. (fn. 9)
In 1323 John de Grey's demesne had lain uncultivated for five years since the recent great famine, on account of its sterility, and no cattle were available to feed on its pastures. (fn. 10) By the later Middle Ages the arable was probably cultivated on a triennial rotation. Tilth and peas fields were mentioned c. 1526 (fn. 11) and fallow c. 1540. (fn. 12) In 1615 the glebe included 21 a. in each of three fields. (fn. 13) At that time (fn. 14) Knill field lay to the south between Knill brook and the Old North Road. North of it was Mill field, including at its southern end Sprousden furlong, recorded before 1250. (fn. 15) On the west there were extensive pasture closes around the village. The Mill closes south of the church covered 30 a. by 1615, 45 a. by 1758. (fn. 16) In 1579 William Malory was about to inclose 10 a. of arable east of them (fn. 17) and by 1615 a wide belt of closes stretched across the centre of the parish. North of them lay meadows along the Graveley-Hilton road, beyond which Debden field occupied the high ground to the north.
From the mid 16th century the Malorys and their successors possessed most of the land, following their purchase of the priory estate: its three farmers had owned £32 of £40 of goods taxed in 1524, when six of eight other villagers paid only on their wages. (fn. 18) The Malorys, who by 1600 had acquired most of the remaining peasant land, still farmed much of their demesne themselves. In 1546 Alice Malory bequeathed cart horses and crops including rye, barley, oats, peas, and beans. William Malory in 1585 owned cart horses and plough oxen and left to his widow 20 a. of barley, 10 a. each of wheat and peas, and 170 sheep. (fn. 19) In 1615 Sir Henry occupied the whole of Debden field himself. The other fields were mostly occupied by four farmers, of whom the two largest were certainly his lessees, not freeholders, while five cottagers had smallholdings. (fn. 20)
After the recovery by 1758 of the 150-a. Papworth farm, (fn. 21) the manorial estate probably included the whole parish except for the glebe. Open-field cultivation was formally ended in 1803, when the rector exchanged his strips of arable for a single block of land. (fn. 22) In 1840 Papworth was said to include 848 a. of arable and 406 a. of grass, over 250 a. of which lay in its northern half. (fn. 23)
Until the late 19th century the Sperling estate was divided between Dumptilow farm in the north, in hand until the 1850s and usually covering between 230 a. and 265 a.; in the centre Manor farm, usually 335-365 a., and Passhouse farm, reduced after the 1850s from 355 a. to under 150 a.; and in the south Hill farm, 310- 365 a. (fn. 24) There were still five farmers c. 1940 (fn. 25) but in 1955 two large farms covered 605 a. and 411 a. (fn. 26) By 1982 all except Hill farm were being cultivated by the Sperlings themselves. (fn. 27)
Wheat and barley remained the main crops until the 20th century. The area under grass increased from under 300 a. before the 1880s to c. 400 a. by 1905, then declined again. In the late 19th century there were 450-550 grown sheep, but few after 1910, although cattle were still kept. (fn. 28) In 1831 c. 25 labourers each had a 1-a. allotment with his cottage. (fn. 29) In the mid 19th century the farmers could employ up to 25 men and 15 boys and there were usually c. 20 adult workers. (fn. 30) In 1910 allotments covering 33 a. were let to labourers. (fn. 31) The number regularly working in the parish fell from c. 20 in the 1920s to 12 by 1955 and 2 in 1980. (fn. 32)
In the late 13th century a windmill belonged to a yardland held at rent from the Beaumes manor and in the 1270s one mill belonged to Huntingdon priory (fn. 33) and another to the Ely fee. (fn. 34) There was still a windmill, perhaps formerly the priory's, in 1626, (fn. 35) and a miller was in Thomas Cater's service in 1657, (fn. 36) but no mill was recorded later. One had presumably stood near the Mill closes. A wheelwright, the only resident craftsman, worked in the village from the 1850s to the 1880s. (fn. 37)