Childerley: 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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'Childerley: Introduction', in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 9, Chesterton, Northstowe, and Papworth Hundreds, (London, 1989) pp. 39-41. British History Online [accessed 11 April 2024]


CHILDERLEY parish, (fn. 1) covering 433 ha. (1,069 a.), (fn. 2) in an approximately rectangular shape stretches for over 3 km. northwards from the road between Cambridge and St. Neots, once a turnpike, (fn. 3) some 9 km. (5 miles) west of Cambridge. Its soil lies upon boulder clay overlying chalk. From the southern road the ground falls gradually and steadily northwards, tilting slightly north-east, from almost 70 m. (150 ft.) to 45 m. (225 ft.) near the northern boundary. A watercourse which rises near the south-western corner of the parish follows a shallow valley through its eastern half. Woodland was recorded in 1086, (fn. 4) and woods ranging from c. 6 a. to 12 a. belonged to Great Childerley manor between 1300 and 1500. (fn. 5) Little Childerley manorial wood, beside which assarts had created crofts, one called the Stocking, was recorded in 1393. (fn. 6) The Childerley estate included 15 a. of wood in 1817, 23 a. of woods and plantations, mostly north-west of the modern Childerley Hall, by the 1840s, (fn. 7) and 39 a. by 1900, (fn. 8) while the former park around the hall had been well timbered since the 16th century. (fn. 9) The parish was depopulated, and the land converted from arable to pasture, in the early 16th century, but it was mostly returned to arable farming c. 1800.

Despite its small size Childerley contained in the Middle Ages two settlements, each with its own manor and church. They had probably been created around clearings in woodland made by young men (cildre) from Lolworth, the territory of which previously, like those of its neighbours to east and west, extended from the Huntingdon to the St. Neots road. The settlements, perhaps already distinct in 1086, had separate parishes and were distinguished as Great and Little Childerley from the early 13th century to c. 1500, (fn. 10) when the two parishes were combined by the bishop. (fn. 11) Great Childerley lay probably a little south-east of the Hall, bounded on the south-east by the stream. The platforms of its former tofts lie along hollow ways south of a street c. 240 m. (260 yd.) running NNE. Little Childerley, whose earthworks were ploughed out in the late 1950s, may have stretched along a street 270 m. (300 yd.) long, running east and west, to the west of the Hall. (fn. 12) A track, probably following old field ways, led in the early 19th century from the area between the settlements south to the turnpike and north towards the Broadway in Lolworth. It was crossed near the Hall by another between the southern part of Boxworth and Dry Drayton. (fn. 13)

Figure 3:

Childerley in the mid 18th century

In 1086 Great Childerley was occupied by 14 and Little Childerley by 7 peasants, besides 4 servi. Two hides, probably lying in Childerley, were assessed under Lolworth to whose lord they belonged; the 4 sokemen who held them in 1086 also probably belonged to Lolworth. (fn. 14) By 1279 Great Childerley had 25 tenants, Little Childerley 20. (fn. 15) The two vills, thereafter usually assessed together, had 22 inhabitants paying the fifteenth in 1327, (fn. 16) 76 paying the poll tax in 1377. (fn. 17) A moiety of Great Childerley still had more than 15 tenants in 1411. (fn. 18) The villages were presumably finally depopulated under the purchaser of the manors Sir John Cutts (d. 1521). By 1524 the only residents were a gentleman probably renting his farm there and two hired labourers. (fn. 19) In 1563 there were only three households. (fn. 20) In 1639 and into the 1670s the Hall was apparently the only inhabited house in the parish. (fn. 21) In 1728, as later c. 1800, it was shared by two farmers' families, in 1728 numbering 23 souls. (fn. 22) From 1801 to the 1820s four to six dwellings occupied by seven or more households usually accommodated c. 50 inhabitants. (fn. 23) From the 1840s to 1881 the population was fairly stable at c. 45-55, occupying 8-10 houses. Four houses were empty by 1891, when there were 15 people, and only one house, not the Hall, was inhabited in 1897. (fn. 24) Thereafter the population recovered to c. 37 by 1931, but fell again to c. 20 from the 1930s to after 1951, and 13 in 1961, while the number of houses occupied declined from ten to four. From the 1970s there were c. 30 inhabitants. (fn. 25)


  • 1. This account was completed in 1984. For the parish, see O.S. Maps 6", XXXIX. NW., SW. (1891 and later edns.); 1/25,000, TL 35-36 (1950 and later edns.).
  • 2. Census, 1891, 1901.
  • 3. Cf. below, Elsworth, intro.
  • 4. V.C.H. Cambs. i. 363, 399.
  • 5. e.g. P.R.O., CP 25(1)/26/47, no. 14: 7 a. in 1299; ibid. C 139/80, no. 19: 5½ a. in 1437.
  • 6. Cal. Close, 1396-9, 78.
  • 7. C.U.L., MS. Plan 313; ibid. Maps PSQ 18/97; cf. ibid. E.D.R., G, tithe award and map 1849.
  • 8. P.R.O., MAF 68/1543, 2113.
  • 9. Palmer, John Layer, 101; cf. C.U.L., MS. Plan 552.
  • 10. P.N. Cambs. (E.P.N.S.), 148; cf. Val. of Norwich, ed. Lunt, 537.
  • 11. Below, church.
  • 12. For details, R.C.H.M. Cambs. i. 46-7.
  • 13. C.U.L., E.D.R., G, tithe map 1849.
  • 14. V.C.H. Cambs. i. 363, 396, 399.
  • 15. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 408.
  • 16. Cambs. Lay Subsidy, 1327, 73.
  • 17. East Anglian, N.S. xii. 239.
  • 18. P.R.O., C 137/85, no. 3.
  • 19. Ibid. E 179/81/163, m. 5d.
  • 20. B.L. Harl. MS. 594, f. 198v.
  • 21. Works of Wm. Laud(1853), v. 364-5; P.R.O., E 179/84/437, rot. 55d.; E 179/244/23, rot. 49d.
  • 22. C.U.L., E.D.R., B 8/1, f. 6; cf. Lysons, Cambs. 165.
  • 23. Census, 1801-31. An apparent increase to 96 in 1831 probably derives from counting under Childerley c. 45 people inhabiting cottages built on the Childerley estate in a corner of Boxworth, under which parish they were correctly returned in 1841: Census, 1841.
  • 24. Census, 1841-91; cf. C.U.L., E.D.R., C 3/37.
  • 25. Census, 1901-81; cf. C.R.O., 470/O 16.