Histon: 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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'Histon: Introduction', in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 9, Chesterton, Northstowe, and Papworth Hundreds, (London, 1989) pp. 90-94. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/cambs/vol9/pp90-94 [accessed 11 April 2024]


THE large village of Histon lies north of Cambridge, its built-up area in 1986 being separated from that of the city only by a narrow belt of farm land and the Cambridge northern bypass. (fn. 1) The parish was mainly agricultural until the mid 19th century, when fruit growing and market gardening developed, further stimulated by the establishment of the Chivers jam factory in 1874. The firm's later growth made Histon a centre of employment for a wide area. Development after 1950 was mostly residential and middle-class, and from the 1960s Histon was regarded by some as a suburb of Cambridge. (fn. 2) Over half the working population had jobs in the city in 1974. (fn. 3) The factory site and the houses built near it in the late 19th and early 20th century were partly in Impington parish, and by 1980 that area and the two old villages had fused into a single continuous settlement, still divided between the two parishes. Much of what follows about the growth of the settlement from the late 19th century therefore covers both Histon and Impington. (fn. 4)

In the Middle Ages there were two parishes in Histon, St. Etheldreda's being merged into St. Andrew's during the 17th century. (fn. 5) They had previously lain interspersed piecemeal throughout the open fields and in the village. In the early 17th century St. Etheldreda's was reckoned to have 607 a. of open-field arable and St. Andrew's 562 a., with 30 a. unascribed or paying tithes to Girton. (fn. 6) Histon was also involved with Impington at an early date. In 1492 there was a house 'in Histon in the parish of Impington' (fn. 7) and the area covered by their village closes was contiguous. (fn. 8) Much land in Impington township was held of the Histon manors from the 13th century (fn. 9) and came to pay tithes to Histon. Although the parish boundary was complex and thus eventually forgotten, (fn. 10) the fields of Histon and Impington were distinct, divided north of the villages by Mill Lane and south by a curving field boundary. (fn. 11)

The parishes were inclosed together under an Act of 1801 and award of 1806, when 379 a. in Impington fields were declared rated to Histon and therefore in Histon parish. (fn. 12) The parish boundary set out by the commissioners followed a tortuous course in the fields north-east of the village and both there and to the south put land formerly in Impington's fields into Histon. It also left embedded within Impington parish a number of small detached parts of Histon, which were amalgamated with Impington in 1883 and 1886. Histon thus covered 2,162 a. in 1891. (fn. 13) An area of 58 a. near the south end of the parish, which included the north part of Girton village, was transferred to Girton in 1934, and in 1954 more land at the west end of the parish was lost, 57 a. to Girton and 158 a. to Oakington, leaving Histon at 1,889 a. in 1961. (fn. 14) In 1985 a further 11½ a. (4.5 ha.) were transferred to Oakington, and the boundary with Impington, which since the mid 19th century had run confusingly through the built-up area, was straightened to follow Mill Lane, Water Lane, Cambridge Road, the railway line, and the brook. Histon thereby gained 11&frac1/2; a. (4.5 ha.) and lost 69 a. (28 ha.), its area in 1986 being 737 ha. (1,820 a.). (fn. 15)

Histon's original boundary with Girton, Oakington, and Westwick mostly followed straight trackways and furlong boundaries; that on the north mainly drainage ditches, one of which was determined as the boundary with Cottenham in 1273. (fn. 16) The north part of the parish is in the upper end of the Beach Ditch hollow and lies below 8 m. The ground slopes gently up to reach 15 m. in the south. Most of it lies on terraces of river gravels, parts of which, especially in the north, are overlaid by gault. (fn. 17) In the 19th century the soil was thought very fruitful and suited to a wide range of crops. (fn. 18) Two small brooks flow north and west through the parish. Beck brook formed the boundary with Oakington after 1954. The unnamed eastern brook flows north to the green by Water Lane, then turns west across the green and alongside Park Lane and a footpath to the parish boundary. Much of its course has been culverted but in the middle of the green it forms a large ornamental pond overhung by trees.

The twisting village street, which in the 19th century earned the name 'crooked Histon', (fn. 19) was the main medieval route from Cambridge into the Isle of Ely. The road from Cambridge forks 400 m. south of the green, with Water Lane following the brook to the south-east corner of the green and the more direct Broad Lane (later called Station Road) skirting the green on the west. North of the village Gun's Lane represents the medieval road. At inclosure it was downgraded to a bridle path. (fn. 20) The route from Cambridge to Cottenham followed Water Lane and continued north past the green along Pig's Lane, renamed Glebe Way in the 20th century. Cottenham Road links the north end of the village street with Glebe Way 750 m. north of the green. The roads to Cambridge and Cottenham and the Oakington-Girton road, which crossed the south-west corner of the ancient parish, were left in their former routes at inclosure, and a new straight road linking Park Lane and the Oakington-Girton road replaced the old roads to Oakington, which followed the brook, and to Girton, which led across the open fields south of Park Lane. In the 19th century the lane from the green to Impington village was often called Dog Kennel Lane, evidently from kennels belonging to Guy Sindrey of Histon Manor (d. 1761). (fn. 21)

The railway line from Cambridge to St. Ives was opened in 1847 across the parish, with a station next to the Impington boundary where the line crossed the Cambridge road. (fn. 22) The station closed in 1970 but a single-track freight line remained in 1986. (fn. 23)

In the early Middle Ages Histon was one of the biggest villages in the county. Already populous in 1086, when 75 tenants were recorded, (fn. 24) it grew considerably before the 14th century to have 189 landholders in 1279 (fn. 25) and 103 taxpayers in 1327. (fn. 26) Numbers were evidently much reduced by the Black Death and remained at a low level until the late 18th century: there were only 54 families in 1563 (fn. 27) and 60 in 1728. (fn. 28) Those figures probably conceal a rise in the 17th century, when the village had 80-90 houses. (fn. 29) The population grew again to over 500 by 1801, and nearly doubled to 1,000 by 1851. It stayed at about that level for the rest of the century, avoiding the decline experienced by most rural parishes in the county mainly because of the Chivers factory. The factory contributed to a steady growth in population in the early 20th century, there being 1,700 inhabitants in 1931; after 1945, when much housing was built for people who worked in Cambridge, numbers increased rapidly, and had reached 6,400 in Histon and Impington together by 1981. (fn. 30)

The street plan suggests that the village grew from two early focuses, both of which had probably been laid out by the 11th century in view of the large population in 1086. One was a large oval green, of which only the eastern third remains, defined on the north by the brook and on the south by the present High Street. Elongated tofts stretching back from both long sides of the green survived in 1806. (fn. 31) The other focus, later called Church End, lay immediately north-west and included both churches; Church Street formed its spine, ending in the west at St. Etheldreda's church and its associated manor house and winding round St. Andrew's churchyard, perhaps an encroachment on the street, with St. Andrew's manor house to the south. Back lanes roughly parallel with Church Street are represented by Clay Street on the north and part of Park Lane on the south; on the east the present Windmill Lane links Church End with the green.

The position of the churches and manor houses blocked any extension to the west, and settlement was very gradually drawn towards the green, the west part of which may have been colonized at an early date. The disuse and partial demolition of St. Etheldreda's church in the late 16th century both reflected and hastened the change. The east end of Church Street nevertheless remained built up and there was early development with regular tofts on the north side of Clay Street, where a 14th-century hall house survives at the core of Stone Corner Cottage. (fn. 32) The most densely built-up part of the village nevertheless became High Street and the green, where the more substantial 16th- and 17thcentury houses were located. The Olde House immediately south of the green on Station Road is a large L-shaped timber-framed house cased in red brick, built in the early 16th and the 17th century but with later additions. (fn. 33) Another 16thcentury timber-framed house, of lobby-entry plan, stands in Bell Hill south of Church Street The boundary between Histon and Impington is that between the field systems and there are several 17th-century farmhouses facing the green and in High Street. By the 1630s Histon had 84 houses and cottages, 9 of them newly built. (fn. 34) In 1674 there were 88, of which 67 had one or two hearths, 14 had three, and 5 had four or five, besides the two larger manor houses. (fn. 35) New building was probably extending the village, especially south of the green along Water Lane and Broad Lane: by 1517 there was at least one house at Little Green, (fn. 36) evidently where the two roads converge. (fn. 37) There were also dwellings north of the green in the lanes behind its infilled western part. In the mid 18th century eight houses in that area were taken down. (fn. 38) The total number of houses was slightly reduced between the 17th century and 1801, when there were 76, (fn. 39) tightly packed around the green and on the south side of High Street, slightly less so in Church Street and adjoining lanes, and scattered thinly along Broad Lane, Water Lane, Clay Street, and the lanes between the village and Cottenham Road. (fn. 40) New building had raised the number to over 200 by 1851 but the village was still very scattered. (fn. 41) Most new building was south of the village. Water Lane and Broad Lane already had 23 houses and Chequer Lane in Impington probably over 20 in 1841 and more were built after the railway station was opened in 1847 and especially after the Chivers factory was established next to it in 1874. (fn. 42) Building land was for sale just north of Little Green in 1867 (fn. 43) and in Cambridge Road in 1887. (fn. 44) The built-up area was greatly extended between 1901 and 1939. Saffron close west of Station Road was sold for building in the 1890s, (fn. 45) land in Narrow Lane and Mill Lane north of the village in the 1900s, (fn. 46) and Home close south of High Street in 1916, (fn. 47) among others. By 1939 houses had gone up in all those areas, as well as in a small estate partly in Impington south of the station and in the former park of Histon Manor south of Park Lane. Much of the east side of Cambridge Road between Little Green and the station, in Impington parish, was also built over before 1939. (fn. 48) The number of dwellings in Histon and Impington doubled between 1901 and 1931, (fn. 49) and the pace of growth increased after the Second World War, especially after 1957, when Histon and Impington were one of the six settlements ringing Cambridge chosen to take the major part of the city's projected growth. (fn. 50) The number of houses in both parishes together doubled again from 1,200 in 1951 to almost 2,400 in 1981. (fn. 51) By 1986 almost the entire area between Cottenham Road, the railway, and Impington Park was built over, with ribbon development extending further north, south, and east on the roads to Cottenham, Cambridge, and Milton.

Figure 6:

Histon and Impington 1801

The boundary between Histon and Impington is that between the feild system

Most of the new houses built after 1918 were on private estates, there being only 250 council houses in Histon and 200 in Impington in 1981. (fn. 52) Chivers put up a small number of model houses shortly after 1900, (fn. 53) and John Chivers sponsored the Histon Co-operative Homes Society, which built the estate south of the railway in the 1920s and 1930s and enabled many of Chivers' employees to buy houses there. (fn. 54)

Increased road traffic after the Second World War made the level crossing at Histon station a bottleneck, and a bypass road bridging the railway to the east was opened in 1963. (fn. 55) The new road, entirely in Impington parish, together with the Cambridge northern bypass opened in 1978 (fn. 56) drew all but local traffic away from the older parts of Histon. In the 1980s Station Road had a 19th-century appearance, dominated by the Chivers factory until its demolition in 1986, by the large Baptist chapel built by John Chivers, and by Victorian houses and cottages, many turned into shops. In contrast the area around the church kept the atmosphere of a small village, with crooked lanes and timber-framed buildings, closed off on the west by the park-like grounds of Histon Manor and Abbey Farm.

From the 13th century or earlier until 1934 houses at the north end of Girton village, including Manor Farm, lay in Histon parish. (fn. 57) The Girton-Oakington road, which lay in the area removed from Histon in 1954, had some houses and farms in the 20th century. An isolation hospital was built in 1905 south of the road at Midfield by Chesterton R.D.C. and was bought by the county council in 1941. (fn. 58) After 1945 it had a variety of uses, and in 1986 housed up to 32 children in care, with much extended premises and c. 30 staff. (fn. 59)

One or more inns in the village had 3 guest beds and stabling for 9 horses in 1686. (fn. 60) The earliest recorded by name were the Bell, called the Bell and Anchor in 1728, (fn. 61) and the Boot, so called by 1765. They were joined in the 1770s by the Barley Mow, (fn. 62) and after 1830 by half a dozen more public houses and beershops. Among the survivors in the late 19th century were the Rose and Crown and the Green hill, both on the green, and in High Street the Red Lion, the Boot, and the Barley Mow. The Bell closed after 1916. The Railway Vue facing the station was open by 1853. (fn. 63) There were eight pubs in Histon and Impington in 1984. (fn. 64)

The village Feast in late June or early July had turned by the late 19th century into a church parade which collected funds for Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge. It lapsed after the Second World War but was revived in the early 1970s as a festival spread over several days. (fn. 65) Camping close, just south of Park Lane, was evidently where traditional village football, or camp ball, was played. (fn. 66) Early friendly societies included a clothing club in 1836 (fn. 67) and the Ancient Order of Foresters in the 1860s. (fn. 68) An annual ploughing match was held from the 1850s and a horticultural show by 1862, and there was a cricket club by 1861. (fn. 69) A village social club called the Philo Union Society was in existence by 1869. (fn. 70) John Chivers helped to found the Histon Institute in 1903. Its building, the former Baptist chapel on the green, housed a reading room and sports clubs. In the 1890s and 1900s Histon and Impington boasted a large number of other social, sports, and political clubs. The village's mixed character was evident in the variety of activities from agricultural and horticultural societies to clubs for pigeon racing, amateur dramatics, and bicycling. (fn. 71) Voluntary associations of all kinds continued in the 20th century. After 1939 Impington village college was the base for most sports and recreational clubs.

By 1864 the Baptists and Methodists shared a cemetery in the parish, (fn. 72) probably that at the corner of Mill Lane and Pig's Lane on land owned by Chivers until 1929. (fn. 73) Piped water was laid on to most houses in Histon in 1883 by the Cambridge University and Town Waterworks Co. (fn. 74)


  • 1. This account was written in 1986 and revised in 1987. Maps used include O.S. Maps 6", Cambs. XXXIV. SW.; XL. NW. (1886-9 and later edns.); 1/10,000, TL 46 SW. (1983 edn.); 1/25,000, TL 46 (1955 edn. with revisions to 1970); 1/50,000, sheet 154 (1980 edn.).
  • 2. e.g. Camb. Ind. Press, 8 Apr. 1960; 1 Apr. 1971; Camb. Evening News, 4 Apr. 1972.
  • 3. Histon and Impington Draft Local Plan (1975), 7 (copy in Cambs. Colln.).
  • 4. Cf. below, Impington, intro.
  • 5. Below, churches.
  • 6. C.U.L., Add. MS. 6092, ff. 5-37; cf. Cambs. Village Doc. 66.
  • 7. P.R.O., PROB 11/9, f. 57 and v.
  • 8. C.R.O., Q/RDc 8.
  • 9. Below, Impington, manors.
  • 10. B.L. Add. MS. 9412, f. 34 and v.
  • 11. C.U.L., MS. Plan R.a.4.
  • 12. Histon and Impington Incl. Act, 41 Geo. 111, c. 112 (Private, not printed); C.R.O., Q/RDz 6, pp. 330-481, esp. 474-7; cf. Christ's Coll. Mun., Impington, additional (a), nos. 3, 8.
  • 13. Census, 1891; Camb. Chron. 24 Apr. 1885, p. 8.
  • 14. Census, 1931, 1951, 1961.
  • 15. S. Cambs. Par. Order (1984).
  • 16. P.R.O., CP 25(1)/25/36, no. 2.
  • 17. Geol. Surv. Map 1/50,000, solid and drift, sheet 188 (1974 edn.).
  • 18. e.g. Kelly's Dir. Cambs. (1858).
  • 19. J. S. Chivers, Histon Baptist Ch. 1858-1958, 9 (copy in Cambs. Colln.).
  • 20. C.R.O., Q/RDz 6, p. 334.
  • 21. K. Oates, A Ramble Round the Heart of Histon, 8 (copy in Cambs. Colln.).
  • 22. V.C.H. Cambs. ii. 132-3.
  • 23. C. R. Clinker, Reg. of Closed Stations (1978), 63.
  • 24. V.C.H. Cambs. i. 363.
  • 25. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 411-13.
  • 26. Cambs. Lay Subsidy, 1327, 72-3.
  • 27. B.L. Harl. MS. 594, f. 199v.
  • 28. C.U.L., E.D.R., B 8/1, f. 18v.
  • 29. Ibid. Add. MS. 6092, ff. 2-4v.; below, Analysis of Hearth Tax Assessments.
  • 30. Census, 1801-1981.
  • 31. C.R.O., Q/RDc 8.
  • 32. D.o.E. list.
  • 33. Ibid.
  • 34. C.U.L., Add. MS. 6092, ff. 2-4v.
  • 35. Below, Analysis of Hearth Tax Assessments.
  • 36. B.L. Add. MS. 5861, f. 62v.
  • 37. C.R.O., L 4/44.
  • 38. Ibid. 305, fine bk. 1782-1805, ff. 9-10, 14-15v. (uncat.).
  • 39. Census, 1801.
  • 40. C.R.O., Q/RDc 8.
  • 41. Census, 1801-1901; Gardner's Dir. Cambs. (1851), 344.
  • 42. P.R.O., HO 107/64/11-12; HO 107/69/2, ff. 1-8v.; HO 107/1759, ff. 38-83; ibid. RG 9/1018, ff. 1-37v.; RG 10/1578, ff. 1-41; RG 11/1657, ff. 1-39.
  • 43. C.R.O., L 4/44.
  • 44. C.U.L., Maps PSQ 18/364.
  • 45. Ibid. Maps PSQ 18/415; Maps PSQ × 18/95; Camb. Ind. Press, 29 Sept. 1899.
  • 46. C.R.O., R 57/5/4B; C.U.L., Maps PSQ 19/131.
  • 47. C.U.L., Maps PSQ 19/34.
  • 48. O.S. Maps 6", Cambs. XL. NW. (1903, 1927, and 1952 edns., surveyed 1901, 1925, and 1938 respectively).
  • 49. Census, 1901-31.
  • 50. Histon and Impington Draft Local Plan (1975), 1.
  • 51. Census, 1951-81; cf. Cambs. Colln., press cuttings: villages: Histon.
  • 52. Census, 1981.
  • 53. Commerce, 17 July 1901, p. 109; Grocery, June 1902, pp. 414-15 (copies of both in Cambs. Colln.); Oates, Ramble Round Histon, 10; C.U.L., MS. Plans 382F, 385.
  • 54. Dict. Business Biog. s.v. Chivers; Contact (mag. of Chivers-Hartley Pensioners' Assoc., copy in Cambs. Colln.), no. 14, p. 38; S. Burian, 'Benevolent capitalists? A study of paternalist authority in an industrial firm' (Camb. Univ. Ph. D. thesis, 1983), 82, 213-14.
  • 55. Camb. Daily News, 28 Aug. 1962; Camb. News, 6 May 1963; Municipal Jnl. 31 Jan. 1964, pp. 337-9 (copy in Cambs. Colln.).
  • 56. Camb. Evening News, 8 Jan. 1979, supplement.
  • 57. Eynsham Cart. i. (Oxf. Hist. Soc. xlix), pp. 242-3; cf. below, Girton, intro.
  • 58. Inf. from County Archivist.
  • 59. Camb. News, 3 Aug. 1964; Camb. Evening News, 23 Dec. 1970; 6 Nov. 1972; inf. from Mr. D. Crane, Midfield.
  • 60. P.R.O., WO 30/48.
  • 61. Proc. C.A.S. xxxv. 62.
  • 62. C.R.O., card index to Q/RLv 2-6.
  • 63. Kelly's Dir. Cambs. (1847-1937); C.R.O., 132/T 348.
  • 64. Town Crier, 8 Sept. 1984 (Cambs. Colln., press cuttings: villages: Histon).
  • 65. Camb. Evening News, 5 July 1976; 28 June 1983.
  • 66. P.N. Cambs. (E.P.N.S.), 153-4.
  • 67. C.U.L., E.D.R., C 3/21.
  • 68. Camb. Chron. 9 May 1874, p. 8 (from card index at Cambs. Colln.).
  • 69. Ibid. 14 Dec. 1850, p. 2; 21 Dec. 1861, p. 8; 27 Sept. 1862, p. 8 (Cambs. Colln. index).
  • 70. Ibid. 16 Oct. 1869, p. 5 (Cambs. Colln. index).
  • 71. Index to H. Peck, 'Histon and Impington Village Life' (TS. extracts from Camb. Ind. Press, 1875-1922, copy in Cambs. Colln.); Contact, no. 14, p. 37.
  • 72. Cassey's Dir. Cambs.
  • 73. C.R.O., P 93/6/11.
  • 74. Camb. Ind. Press, 25 Aug. 1883; Return of Water Authorities, H.C. 395, p. 383 (1914), lxxix.