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Village History

The following passage is taken from the book 'The Life and Times of Hinxton' and reproduced by kind permission of Virginia Walker and Min Dinning.

What are the origins of Hinxton?  An article in the Parish Magazine of 1893, retells William Cole the antiquarian’s theory that the name of Hinxton could, in fact, be Stonehenge backwards (‘Henge-stone’), thus attributing to it ‘Druidical’ connections.  Cole then went on to speculate as to whether the ‘Hanging Stones’ in question were removed by the Romans and taken to Chesterford.  This delightful scholarly red herring is an inventive alternative to the more plausible and more widely accepted theory which says that Hinxton means ‘Hengest’s Farm’ in Anglo Saxon.

Cole may have been joking, but there was an element of truth in the notion that there had been human activity in the area at the time when Stonehenge was built.  In fact, long before the construction of Stonehenge five thousand years ago, people were passing along a route running from the south to Cambridge.  Evidence of flintworking as early as Neolithic times has been found on two local sites.  More than four thousand years ago people were making flint artefacts near the present village.  One site is to the north west of the village, to the east of what is now the railway line.  Arrowheads and tools were made there and finds in different parts of the site suggest that Bronze Age people worked there too.  The Bronze Age inhabitants created a burial mound which contained two secondary cremations in pits and evidence of their flintworking activities was found around these mounds.  The other site is in the grounds of Hinxton Hall, where Neolithic people left behind a 2-metre deep shaft in the chalk.  Some centuries later, possibly around 1500BC, Bronze Age people used the shaft as a ritual site to deposit decorated beaker fragments.  Unfinished arrow-heads, waste flints and rubbish were also found there.

To the north of the village, not far from the Neolithic and Bronze Age finds, a late Iron Age Cemetery of about 50-10BC was discovered.  There would once have been low mounds marking the sites of the eight cremations found there.  Funerary customs dictated that the departed should be supplied with useful items for their onward journey: some graves contained urns, cups and bowls.  One even contained a joint of meat and a manicure set, while another contained an iron brooch.

There was a well-documented Roman presence in the area, including the sites mentioned above.  Although Hinxton has revealed no evidence of major Roman occupation, it is on the Icknield Way and there were Roman villas at Ickleton and Duxford and the town of Great Chesterford was only a short distance away.  The Romans undoubtedly farmed the land in the village during the first and second centuries AD.  They may also have worshipped at a shrine near Great Abington, discovered during roadworks on the A11, where a bronze chain, coins and metal artefacts were found in the remnants of a building with a tiled roof and stone foundations.  Two Roman skeletons, together with pottery vessels, were unearthed in 1891 by Richard Moule’s workers, but it is not clear exactly where this was.

Roman rule ended in the early fifth century, and the Roman way of life was gradually replaced by the culture of new settlers, the Anglo-Saxons, although they were only a minority in the established Romano-Celtic population.  In the north of the parish an Anglo-Saxon brooch was found where there had been a sunken-floored hut and during excavations in the grounds of Hinxton Hall from 1993 to 1995, extensive remains of Anglo-Saxon occupation were unearthed.  This could well have been Hengest’s Farm.  Since the area had never previously been disturbed by deep ploughing, plenty of evidence remained: post holes showed the outlines of four sunken-floored huts, thought to have been work places and two 12-metre long timber halls which were used as family living quarters and social areas.  These were probably built in the sixth or seventh century.  Because some huts had suspended floors, small objects fell through and give us a fascinating picture of the lives of the inhabitants – linen and wool weavers mislaid their needles for us to find thirteen centuries later.  Archaeologists discovered loom weights that had been stored beneath the floor of a sunken-floored hut and large quantities of burnt flax seed, suggesting that linen was an important textile at the time.

By the mid to late ninth century a farmstead existed.  Over the next three hundred years various buildings were, inevitably, rebuilt several times, as being made of wood, with wattle and daub walls and thatched roofs, they did not last.  Structures such as wells, cess pits, ovens and fire pits were some of the features created by this self-sustaining small community.  A V-shaped ditch to provide security and drainage was dug around the settlement.  It would also have helped to keep animals in the right places – there is evidence from bones that the villagers kept cows, sheep, pigs and geese.  They also grew several kinds of crops, not only flax for their weaving but food crops for themselves and their animals, such as wheat, rye, oats, barley, peas and beans.

We also know that the ninth century inhabitants of Hestitona, as it was then called, enjoyed board games and music.  They played a game similar to backgammon and enjoyed tunes on an instrument similar to the bagpipes, called a ‘drone’.  Bits of these were found amongst rubbish in pits and wells.  A remarkable walrus-ivory sword handle, possibly of Scandinavian origin, was also found – it had no doubt been someone’s treasured family heirloom.  A rare Ipswich ware pitcher, possibly of a slightly earlier period, also came to light, suggesting that Hengest’s Farm had been in contact with quite distant settlements who used the latest technology.

No burial ground has yet been found for the Hinxton Hall settlement, though.  Only one Anglo-Saxon skeleton, that of a woman with a knife, has been discovered so far.  She had been buried, for some reason, outside the enclosure on her own.

Change came after the Norman Conquest of 1066.  The villagers became subjects of a foreign power and outsiders took over local institutions and ownership.  By the eleventh century the Anglo-Saxon settlement of the village was well established but the sites occupied were gradually moving towards the north, leaving the Hinxton Hall enclosure abandoned by the thirteenth century.  People travelling on pilgrimages may have passed through the village or nearby, since it is thought that a cross once existed at Stump Cross, the name being derived from a ‘stump’ still visible in living memory.  The site may also have had a chapel on it as the name ‘Sunkin Church’ has also been applied to it.  In the eleventh century, the village of Hinxton was still, effectively in two halves, however, linked by the route that was to become the High Street.  The southern half was the community that had migrated a short distance from the Hinxton Hall site and the northern half was around Duxford Road and Lordship Farm.

Shortly after the Conquest, two manors existed in Haustitona (another variation on Hinxton).  These, comprising 15 ½ ‘hides’, were awarded to Picot the Sheriff of Cambridge.  The larger estate was located around Lordship Farm: ‘Seven hides and three yardlands were in his demesne, which was large enough for 4 plough teams.’  A hide was a variable unit of land sufficient for one household.  The land had previously been held by twenty ‘sokemen’, tenants who owed service to a lord.  Picot does not appear to have been very popular with his new tenants: he demanded the right to borrow ploughs at inconvenient times and was resented for removing houses and ‘redeveloping’ pasture land in order to build three mills.  One of these was on the site of the Mill that still exists at Lordship Farm.  Another was in an area to the north of the church where another Manor House once existed, but its precise location is uncertain.

The Domesday Survey of 1086 notes that the Bishop of Lincoln also held two ‘hides’ of land (about 240 acres) in the village and that he had two feudal tenants (‘villeins’) and two ‘bordars’.  The taxable population of Hinxton was at that time around 38.  Farming and weaving were the main activities: 268 sheep and sixty-nine swine are on record, but no cows or oxen.  One horse, a ‘rouncey’ or riding horse, was in the village, possibly the property of someone important.  By 1092, there was a church, owned originally by Picot, at what was to become the centre of the village.  A large rectangular green was in front of it, though this was mostly built over long ago.  Picot subsequently gave the church to Barnwell Priory.

Picot’s Manor, having been originally one ‘knight’s fee’, reverted to being two manors again in the twelfth century, when a descendant, Asceline de Waterville of the Peverel family gave half each to her daughters.  One half was split up again in the thirteenth century when Asceline’s three great granddaughters inherited their shares, but by the early fifteenth century, these and the third Manor in Hynkston known as ‘Barbedors’, were joined to make one large Manor owned by Thomas Skelton, whose brass is in the church.  By this time the manors had had between them around sixty owners since the Conquest, including the de Camoys family, John Lovetot, the Stourtons, the de Mucegros family, Walter of Glemsford and Ralph de Dive in the thirteenth century and the Talmaches in the fourteenth century.

Until recent times most of the inhabitants of Hinxton were agricultural tenants and their families who owned very little.  A typical rent in the thirteenth century was around a halfpenny an acre and the tenants were expected to work for the Lord of the Manor: among other things, they had to ‘plough the land, mow and carry the lord’s hay, reap and gather stubble for five days.’  They had little personal freedom and had to work hard.

During medieval times various changes were taking place: courts were already being held in the village in the thirteenth century.  Though there is little evidence about the early government of Hinxton, the Manors undoubtedly had an important place in the power structure.  A Court House was built in around 1400 in what was to become the central area of the village by 1500 and Earls Colne Priory and the de Veres held courts in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.  Edward Hinde, the lessee of the Manor from John Machell also held courts in its courtyard.  Courts were still being held there in 1804, but this building subsequently became The Old Manor House at 29 High Street.  An old flint wall running along the back gardens of houses in Red Lion Square is thought to be the original garden wall of the Court House. 

During the fourteenth century the centre of the village was around a moated Manor house and a manorial mill, which had originally belonged to Picot, to the north of the church.  These have now disappeared. The Court House was a central feature of the village, along with the church, on the main road of the village and the centre of the village remains around the church.

During the fifteenth century the de Veres, the Earls of Oxford were granted the manor of Hinxton by Thomas Skelton and it remained in their ownership on and off until the latter part of the sixteenth century when it was sold to John Machell of Hackney to pay off the 17th Earl’s debts.  In the 1470s, following the Wars of the Roses, Hinxton had belonged, briefly, however, to Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later to be Richard III) and then from 1483 to 1485 to John Howard, Duke of Norfolk because the Earls of Oxford had been obliged to forfeit their estates.  In 1494, the Earls of Oxford had given the estate to Earl’s Colne Priory, but it had reverted to them at the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536.

At the end of the sixteenth century, the Deane family acquired the Manor from the Machell family and it passed to their descendants, then, via the Chamberlynes, to the Dods, the Flackes and the Hollicks.  In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Manor was owned by the Dayrell family, and in the nineteenth century by Sir Fitzwilliam Barrington who passed it on to the Hollicks.  While William Hollick was Lord of the Manor he opposed the inclosure of the parish but on his death in 1817 an Act was applied for and obtained in 1820.  In 1817 Ann Hollick married Wedd William Nash,  who subsequently consolidated his ownership of most of Hinxton by exchanging pieces of land with various people, who, like himself, had benefited from the Inclosure Act when it was eventually implemented in 1833.  Wedd William Nash had been allotted around two thirds of the parish (982 acres), while Edward Green of Hinxton Hall got 124 acres and the remainder went to the vicar, Trinity College and various farmers, some getting only 4 acres.  At this time Nash acquired parts of the rectorial lands that he had previously leased from the Rectory estate of 80 acres.  The Dayrell family had for several generations held the rectory estate, though they lived at Castle Camps and Shudy Camps from around 1600, but not selling the rectorial lease until 1811 to William Hollick.  Michaelhouse College also owned 75 acres in Hinxton in the early sixteenth century, but it was surrendered to the Crown in 1546 and later given to Trinity College, who were allotted 14 acres under the Inclosure Act.  The land was eventually sold to R.B. Wilkinson, the owner of Hinxton Hall, in 1902.

As early as the seventeenth century Hinxton was left on a ‘loop’ when a new road was built to the east, later to become the A130, then the A1301.  This road was turnpiked in 1724 and disturnpiked in 1870.  In 1816 the local roads were described as ‘remarkably good’ and Hinxton’s ‘public carriage-roads’ were named in the Inclosure Act of 1820.  After 1833 the southern end of the High Street was curtailed when the owners of Hinxton Hall extended their park.  The High Street used to continue further north than it does now as it served as a route to the area of earliest settlement in the village.  It has not always been known as High Street, though: on old maps and in Census documents it has been called The Street, Main Street and, confusingly, Ickleton Road.  North End Road, (once known as ‘Moore’s Lane’) gave access on to the new main road, diminishing the importance of the northern extremity of the High Street.

Hinxton Hall had been bought in the early eighteenth century by Joseph Richardson of Horseheath and he built a modest house there.  By 1756 the first substantial house was built on the site.  In 1884, Major E.H. Greene de Freville of Hinxton Hall bought all of the Nash family’s land, which included Hinxton Grange, New Farm, Lordship Farm and several farm cottages.  He also bought part of Ickleton to add to his estate in 1886, expanding the size of the village 1564 acres.  P.L. Hudson bought the Lordship and lands from the de Frevilles in 1899 and in the twentieth century, R.B. Wilkinson bought the estate and later sold it to C.L.P. Robinson who was known as the ‘Squire of Hinxton.’  Much of the property in the village is now privately owned by individuals, but the agricultural land of the Hinxton Hall Estate has recently become the property of the Wellcome Trust, owners of the Genome Campus.

Hinxton has never been very big.  Its area before 1886 was only 1503 acres.  An additional 61 acres were transferred from Ickleton when Major E.H. Greene de Freville added to his estate, thereby moving the parish boundary further south.  The other parish boundaries have in general been long-established.  The River Granta forms most of the western boundary while the eastern boundary follows the old Icknield Way, now the A11.  The northern boundary runs along the A505 until the roundabout, then continues eastwards slightly south of the A505.

Neither has the population of the village ever been large.  The taxable population in 1086 was 38 and the largest the village has ever been was in 1851 when there were 465 people named on the census.  By 1377 there were 115 taxable adults and three hundred years later the figure was almost the same.  In the sixteenth century there were around forty-five taxable households in the village.  By the end of the eighteenth century, however, the population had more than doubled, but there were still only around 270 inhabitants.  The early nineteenth century was a time of great rural hardship and twelve inhabitants of Hinxton lived on ‘permanent relief’ in 1815.  The poor were ‘farmed’ to agents in Essex, who profited from their labour, causing resentment and bitterness.  The 1833 Inclosure, while allowing better organisation of farming, denied the villagers rights they had previously enjoyed, making life even harder.  In 1841, the first census to give details of names and occupations, there was a population of 382, of whom only around eleven percent were not born in Cambridgeshire.  Some of them may have been from Essex a mile away!  The oldest residents were Susan Barton and Elizabeth Andrews, both aged 80.  There were 124 children under 14, though many probably received very little schooling.  Only eight people were over 70 and nobody appears to have ‘retired’, though a few had ‘Independent Means’.  Families tended to be large, with five or six children being normal.  There was one pair of twins: Eliza and Emma Carlton, aged 15.  By the late 1840s agriculture was so depressed that many could not afford to pay their rents.  In spite of poverty, the population rose steadily during the first half of the nineteenth century, reaching a peak in 1851.  By the following decade, however, a decline had started following emigration to the colony of Victoria in Australia.  Most emigrants were under 35 and were either agricultural labourers or domestic servants.  They had to be ‘free from any mental or bodily defect likely to impair their usefulness as settlers’ and have had smallpox or a vaccination.  Literacy was desirable and a moral character was essential.

By 1901 the population had reverted to 266, the size it was in the eighteenth century.  Although more individual houses now exist in the village, the population has never regained the numbers of the mid nineteenth century and today it is around 340.  No doubt this is because people no longer live in such crowded conditions.  This figure is, however, considerably higher than the 1981 figure of 250.  A recent voluntary informal census carried out in the village, to which there was a 40% response rate, revealed some interesting facts: in our sample the average household now has around 2.5 occupants, the majority of residents are in the 40 – 60 age bracket and only 13% are under 14.  80% of residents were born outside the village and half of these were born outside Cambridgeshire.  Several people came originally from Scotland, Wales and Ireland, but the most astonishing statistic is that 13% of current residents were born overseas.  We have representatives of almost every part of the globe: Europe, Africa, the Middle East, America and New Zealand.

Although during the twentieth century, many new houses were built in the village, there is local resistance to expansion of the village as it would inevitably alter its character.  The prominence of Hinxton Hall in the community, however, is likely to affect its future development, together with the immense pressure to provide new housing in the region.  As the Rev. Leslie Dunkin wrote in the Church Magazine in January 1973: ‘ . . small things tend to lose their identity when they are swallowed up by the bigger.  But we can’t stay in the past – otherwise we become just a museum-piece.’

Further reading about the history and archaeology of Hinxton and the surrounding area can be found in the following books and websites.


'The Life and Times of Hinxton' published by Virginia Walker (and with contributions from many local people).

'Archaeology of Cambridgeshire, Vol 1, South West Cambridgeshire' by Alison Taylor

'Archaeology of Cambridgeshire, Vol 2, South East Cambridgeshire and the Fen Edge' by Alison Taylor



If you have any other sources of information you would like to submit for consideration for inclusion in the 'Village History' pages, please email: [email protected]