Cottenham: Local government

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.

'Cottenham: Local government', in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 9, Chesterton, Northstowe, and Papworth Hundreds, (London, 1989) pp. 63-64. British History Online [accessed 12 April 2024]


In 1279 the abbot of Crowland and bishop of Ely each held the view of frankpledge and the assize of bread and of ale for his Cottenham tenants, Crowland in addition having a gallows and tumbrel. (fn. 1) The Crowland courts were held at Oakington until the Dissolution; court rolls and books survive from 1290 to 1937, with some gaps. (fn. 2) The bishop of Ely, as overlord of the rest of the vill, continued to hold the view in 1364, (fn. 3) but no records of his courts are known to survive. By the early 15th century at least the rectory manor was holding its own courts. Court rolls or books survive for Lisles from 1601 to 1949, (fn. 4) Sames from 1554 to 1881, (fn. 5) Harlestones (minute books only) from 1778 to 1939, (fn. 6) Pelhams from 1707 to 1933, (fn. 7) and the rectory manor from 1428 to 1940. (fn. 8)

About 1640 Thomas Hobson held courts on the same day for his manors of Crowlands, Lisles, and Sames, (fn. 9) but in the early 18th century they were not necessarily held together or at the same frequency. (fn. 10) Crowlands until the Dissolution conducted the full range of manorial business in its court; (fn. 11) the rectory manor in the 15th and early 16th century ordered the repair of buildings, enforced bylaws, and occasionally heard pleas of trespass and bloodshed. (fn. 12)

The practical difficulties resulting from different jurisdictions in the village were recognized early. (fn. 13) By 1341 the profits from strays found in the parish were shared among the lords of Crowlands, Lisles, and Harlestones manors, (fn. 14) and in 1344 agreement was reached on new regulations for peat digging by a meeting in church of tenants of all the manors. (fn. 15) A fen reeve (custos marisci) acting on behalf of all the lords and tenants was recorded in the early 15th century. (fn. 16) Joint agricultural bylaws were probably being made by the separate manorial courts by 1581. (fn. 17) In 1596 William Hinde agreed with the inhabitants that the manorial courts should do no more than confirm bylaws made by ordermakers comprising the freeholders, the lessees of Crowlands and the rectory, and 20 copyholders, 5 each for Crowlands and Lisles, 3 each for Harlestones and the rectory, 2 for Pelhams, and 1 for each half of Sames. The copyholders were nominated by the lords, and in default of nomination were elected by the manor's copyhold tenants, holding office for life. The ordermakers regulated the fens and open fields and supervised the work of the parish's executive officers: two keepers of the commons and two pinders elected by the commoners, and two field reeves and two town officers appointed by the ordermakers themselves. The officers' wages were paid out of rents for the Lots, a levy on milk cattle in the common herd, half the fines for breaches of bylaws, and the profits of small areas in Smithey fen assigned for the purpose. (fn. 18) The system for managing the fens on behalf of the copyholders remained intact until inclosure in the 1840s. (fn. 19)

After 1596 the manorial courts concerned themselves almost exclusively with tenurial business; in 1850 the leet jury, presumably of Crowlands manor, adjusted the boundaries of properties destroyed by fire. (fn. 20)

A substantial estate for the general purposes of the parish (fn. 21) derived from the wills of Thomas Stewkyn and his cousin William Pepys, proved 1516 and 1519, (fn. 22) each giving £20 to relieve taxes on non-freeholders. Their trustees, apparently the 'seven men of Cottenham' associated with the chantry, (fn. 23) bought 53 a. in Westwick and Over in 1523. One trustee, Simon Green, by deed of 1543 gave c. 44 a. more in Over and extended the objects to include repair of the church, the stone causeway, and Smithey fen causeway. Two elected stewards controlled income and expenditure. (fn. 24) The Church and Causeway estate was evidently augmented with money given by Edward Leeds and John Pepys, each by will proved 1589. (fn. 25) In 1596 the seven men paid part of the costs of the agreement to regulate the commons. (fn. 26) The charity was divided into two branches in 1736. After administrative costs and a modest dinner for the auditors and trustees, two thirds went to repair the church and one third the causeways. The estate comprised 90 a. after the inclosure of the parishes in which it lay: 57 a. in Over (sold 1943 and 1953), 20 a. in Cottenham (retained in 1987), 11 a. in Westwick (sold 1985), and 2 a. in Oakington (sold 1939). (fn. 27) The income increased from £61 in 1790 to £117 in the 1810s and £188 in the 1840s. Separate expenditure charities were created in 1970, after which the Causeway estate's third was made over each year to the parish council for the general benefit of the inhabitants, (fn. 28) being used to maintain the churchyard and the dissenters' cemetery. (fn. 29) The total income in 1986 was £2,700, of which £750 was distributed to the two branches. (fn. 30)

The parish overseers considered setting paupers to work to spin yarn in 1631 (fn. 31) but were fined in 1664 for not providing for the poor. A poorhouse existed in 1667 (fn. 32) and contained nine residents in 1804, when 35 adults and 11 children received regular out-relief and 14 received occasional payments. (fn. 33) In the mid 1810s the number permanently supported was kept at about that level but over 100 persons a year were sometimes helped. Expenditure reached £1 per head of population by 1813 (fn. 34) and did not fall much below it before 1834. (fn. 35) In 1830 nearly two thirds of c. £1,000 spent went on wages for work. (fn. 36) The poorhouse was sold in 1840. (fn. 37) The parish was in Chesterton poor-law union 1836- 94, (fn. 38) Chesterton R.D. 1894-1974, (fn. 39) and South Cambridgeshire district from 1974. (fn. 40)


  • 1. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 409, 411; cf. Plac. de Quo Warr. (Rec. Com.), 103.
  • 2. Below, Oakington, local govt., for ct. rolls 1290-1528; C.R.O., L 1/34-5, 38-45; ibid. R 67/68 (uncat.); ibid. 107/M (uncat.). Extracts from medieval rolls printed in Page, Crowland, 331-448.
  • 3. P.R.O., C 143/352, no. 9, m. 2.
  • 4. C.R.O., L 1/34-5, 47-8; ibid. R 59/14/9/12; R 67/68 (uncat.); ibid. 107/M (uncat.).
  • 5. Ibid. L 1/34-5, 50-5; ibid. R 67/68 (uncat.); ibid. 107/M (uncat.).
  • 6. Ibid. R 59/14/7/2; ibid. 107/M (uncat.).
  • 7. Ibid. R 72/89 (uncat.).
  • 8. Ibid. L 1/57-65; ibid. R 50/9/1-9; ibid. 107/M (uncat.).
  • 9. Ibid. 107/M, ct. roll 1638-41.
  • 10. Ibid. L 1/35.
  • 11. Page, Crowland, 331-448 Passim.
  • 12. C.R.O., 107/M, rectory ct. rolls 1428-82, 1484-1508, 1509-58, 1559-92 passim.
  • 13. e.g. Page, Crowland, 22-3.
  • 14. Ibid. 27, 418.
  • 15. Ibid. 25-6.
  • 16. Ibid. 27, 165.
  • 17. C.R.O., 107/M, rectory ct. roll 1559-92, ct. of 20 Oct. 23 Eliz. I.
  • 18. Camd. Misc. xii, esp. 206-13, 216-18, 220-2.
  • 19. Ravensdale, Liable to Floods, 67-8, 82-3, 152.
  • 20. Camb. Chron. 4 May 1850, p. 2.
  • 21. Para. based on 31st Rep. Com. Char. 87-91.
  • 22. P.R.O., PROB 11/18, ff. 109v.-110; PROB 11/19, f. 103 and v.
  • 23. Cf. below, church.
  • 24. P.R.O., REQ 2/252/29.
  • 25. Ibid. PROB 11/73, ff. 306v.-307; PROB 11/74, f. 276v.
  • 26. Camd. Misc. xii. 224-6.
  • 27. Char. Com. file 203612; inf. from Mr. D. G. Bradley, Cottenham.
  • 28. Char. Com. file 262153.
  • 29. Camb. Ind. Press, 28 May 1970.
  • 30. Inf. from Mr. Bradley.
  • 31. C.R.O., R 50/9/27/11; R 50/9/38/1 (both from cat.).
  • 32. Hampson, Poverty in Cambs. 52-3, 70.
  • 33. Poor Law Abstract, 1804, 34-5.
  • 34. Ibid. 1818, 28-9.
  • 35. Poor Rate Returns, 1816-21, 10; 1822-4, 37; 1825-9, 15; 1830-4, 15.
  • 36. Rep. Com. Poor Laws, iii. 257A.
  • 37. Camb. Chron. 26 Dec. 1840, p. 3.
  • 38. Poor Law Com. 2nd Rep. 512.
  • 39. Census, 1901.
  • 40. Ibid. 1971.