Meldreth Village - Part One

written in 1972

By Sarah Butler

Sarah was born in 1890, the eleventh of thirteen children born to Samuel and Fanny Pepper of 'Whitecroft', Whitecroft Road, Meldreth. She lived there for most of her life until she and her husband Arthur moved into one of the new almshouses in the High Street when they were built in 1954. Sarah was widowed in the 1960's but continued to live in the Almshouses until her death in 1980 shortly before her 90th birthday.

Sarah's book was written in two parts, the first in 1972 with her memories from the beginning of the century and the second written in 1975 with her memories of village life from the 1920's. However, as the books were written several years' apart, some of the information is found in both parts.

Sarah was very involved with fundraising for Meldreth Manor School and donated all the money from the sale of her books to the school fund. 

Photo:Sarah Butler outside the almshouses c.1975

Sarah Butler outside the almshouses c.1975

Photo supplied by Gloria Willers

 

Introduction by the Principal of Meldreth Manor School

Photo:Copy of original cover of Part One of Sarah Butler's book

Copy of original cover of Part One of Sarah Butler's book

Supplied by Ann Handscombe

In my first year in the village, Mrs Sarah Butler, an ardent supporter of our residential school for multiple handicapped children, approached me with her handwritten notes about Meldreth. I was delighted to read such a straightforward account of the memories and facts that she had gleaned from many sources, and Meldreth Manor School was pleased to eventually produce in limited edition the first part of this book. Parents and friends of the school purchased the book from us and the many copies sold helped to improve the facilities for our pupils as it was Mrs Butler’s wish that all profit should go to the school funds.

When Mrs Butler added to her notes with her “Memories of Meldreth in the Twenties” we considered it time for publication proper. She did ask me to check through her writings but I felt that they should be published as written, thus retaining the character of Mrs Butler’s excellent story telling.

Meldreth Manor School will be ever thankful for Sarah Butler’s book and we are confident that it will stand as a unique record of Cambridgeshire village life.

Trevor Jeavons
Deputy Head Teacher (1978) 

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 MELDRETH VILLAGE

By Sarah Butler

Part One

(Written in 1972)

Meldreth as I knew it at the beginning of the Century and with information gleaned from Old Directories of 1880.

Photo:Flambard's Mill early1900's

Flambard's Mill early1900's

MELDRETH is listed as “a long, straggling village on a branch of the River Rhea”. Actually, the River Mel runs through the village and finally joins the River Rhea. The Mel has its origin from springs at Melbourn Bury. From thence it winds its way through fields and orchards. At one time it was the source of power for four water mills[1]; none of these are working today.  The only two in existence in this century were the Sheene Mill, just over the border into Melbourn and Topcliffe’s Mill, Meldreth. These were carrying on their business until well into the early days of the century, in fact, through the First World War. Flambards Mill was in ruins long before my time.

Photo:Chiswick End's "running ditch", 1931

Chiswick End's "running ditch", 1931

Cambridge Antiquarian Society

Photo:1965 Newspaper Report on discovery of pump in North End

1965 Newspaper Report on discovery of pump in North End

There are more springs at Chiswick End. Water runs in a brook – called in my time “A Running Ditch” (pictured) - by the roadside at Chiswick End, until it crosses under the road and out again at the back of the cottages on the corner. From thence it was open again for a short stretch until it crossed the road again, and from then on was an open ditch, flowing along until it reached an orchard where it changed course and continued its winding way along the back of the orchards. It crossed Fenny Lane, where, I am told, there was a ford, quite deep in the winter time.  This running ditch was, in some cases, the only source of water supply to the cottages on its route. This was not so very dreadful, because usually the water was running so facts that it was sparklingly clear. Cottages dug out steps in the bank, and also dug out a little well in the bed of the stream deep enough to dip a pail full of water.  They called these “Dipping Holes”. Cottagers in the High Street were more fortunate as there were two fountains. These were some distance apart, so cottagers used either water carts or yokes which fitted across the shoulders to take the weight of the two pails of water they carried. When the council houses were built at Kneesworth Road, now called West Way, an Artesian well was bored. This was a splendid fountain until the Atlas Asbestos Co. bored right down to the Green Sand for their ever expanding works and took the water from this and all the other fountains in the village. Proof of this – residents of West Way have found to their cost – when the works closed down for holidays and ceased pumping. The West Way fountain rose again and flooded all the gardens round about. There is an understanding now, however, that if it is found the water level is rising, pumping will immediately be rescued to prevent this flooding happening again. There were also, of course, wells and pumps in the village. Some of these wells were really only what was called surface wells, and often the chalk from the sides would fall in, making the water unpleasant until it had settled down again. One old Parish Pump is still in existence and can be seen just past the stocks, by the side of Mill Cottage.

The area of Meldreth in the early days was 2,415 acres. There have been small boundary changes since to straighten up the map. The river is the boundary between Meldreth and Melbourn, although I remember a Boundary Stone being the other side of the river. Part of Cambridge Road beyond the Cold Store, was in Meldreth Parish, but is now conceded to Melbourn. The cottages at Melbourn Bury are in Meldreth Parish. Guilton Brook at North End is the dividing line between Meldreth and Shepreth and the brook which crosses the Whaddon Road beyond the Atlas Works is the dividing line to Whaddon. Meldreth Parish boundary to Kneesworth is some little distance over Mettle Hill.

Photo:Guilton Arch

Guilton Arch

Photo supplied by Brian Clarke

At the top of Mettle Hill was the very deep “clunch” pit. Clunch was dug up for the making of farm roads up to the First World Wars.  Later it was used by the R.D.C. for a refuse pit and is now completely filled in. It was in this pit that the oldest piece of man’s handiwork in the village was found – namely – a Roman British Coffin said to be of the date A.D. 300-400. This stone coffin can be seen at Meldreth Church.

Photo:Cottages known as Donkey Hall at Kneeworth Road and Whitecroft Road Corner, 1920s

Cottages known as Donkey Hall at Kneeworth Road and Whitecroft Road Corner, 1920s

Postcard supplied by Brian Clarke

 

Many of the picturesque old cottages in the village at the early part of the century were built with the local clay, which was made into “Batts” as they were called. Cottages built of this were warm in winter and cold in summer. All were thatched with straw, also local. Most of the village men could do a bit of patching up when it was necessary, which was quite often as sparrows played such havoc, the thatch being a favourite nesting place. Another disadvantage of claybat cottages was that if the walls got really soaked with rain, the whole side of the house would fall out. There were many examples of this over the years. So many cottages would have disappeared so perhaps we can recall the position of some – at Kneesworth Road Corner – on the Whitecroft Road where there are now council house – quite a few at Chiswick End – four cottages near the Station, now one very pretty residence. There were cottages on the Station Road, near Sheene Manor – several cottages between the school and the stores, also between the Stocks and the Old Town House, once the village blacksmith’s. There were several more just before Stone Lane and two cottages at the bottom of the lane. Population at this time was around the 600-700 mark; today it is between 1200-1300 and the village is built up almost beyond recognition. It is learned, however, that no further large development is envisaged for at least ten years, although there is bound to be some small building.

Some of the old cottages were accidentally destroyed by fire, but the row of cottages which were in Whitecroft Road were set on fire deliberately.  There were three of them standing end way to the road. The further one was occupied by “Ike” Waldock and his wife. He was the village barber and cut men’s hair for 2d and boys’ for 1d  in his spare time. The middle house was occupied by another elderly couple by name Pateman and the one nearest the road by Joe Stallybrass and wife. It happened when I was about four years’ old. I watched it burning and all the excitement. I remember quite well the story of how it happened. “Joe” usually came home quite drunk and his wife got so fed up with this that one night she locked the door and shouted he could stay out all night until he was sober.  After he was tired of banging and shouting to be let in he said “Oh, alright old gal, if I can’t come in I’ll soon have you out” and with that he set fire to the thatch. There was no fire engine, so all that could be done was to salvage a few things and then let it burn out. I remember fire hooks were used to pull off the burning thatch. These hooks were kept in the church as a necessity in a village with thatched roofs. I well remember some haystacks getting alight and men were kept continually pulling them apart for days with the fire hooks.

Photo:Fred Waldock on engine possibly at Elbourn's Farm 1930-1940

Fred Waldock on engine possibly at Elbourn's Farm 1930-1940

Photo supplied by Angela Mead

The village of 2,415 acres was made up of cornfields and many orchards.  Meldreth was noted as a fruit growing village rather than corn, although farming employed many men who were very poorly paid, 10/- a week being the average wage of work, six days a week from 6.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. It was very hard work with the kind of implements then available. Corn was cut with scythe and sickle until the advent of the “Binder”. At harvest time men worked from daylight till dark, women would go and help bind up the sheaves and stack them up. When they were all ready they would be carted to a convenient place and put into sacks. Boys would lead the horse and wagon from stack to stack. One man would pass a sheaf up on a fork to the man on top who would be responsible for loading. When all the corn was carted there would come the “Sheening” out. This was done by hiring the machinery necessary from a farmer in the village who had three sets of tackle to be hired. These consisted of the huge traction engine, drum, elevator and chaff cutting machine; a lot of chaff was used in those days for the horses’ food. Usually three men came with the tackle, the farmer having to supply the rest. The huge engine needed tons of coal for a few days’ work to get enough steam to drive all the machinery, which were connected together by a huge belt around wheels on the side of each one.

Photo:Mark Harrup on outing with fruit pickers 1925-1930

Mark Harrup on outing with fruit pickers 1925-1930

Photo supplied by Angela Mead

There was a variety of fruit grown and the season commenced with gooseberry picking. Just before the fruit was ready the farmer would go out to engage his gang of women, most of these were his regular gang and would be the same people for many years. The pay was usually 3/6d per day, working from 8.00 am to 5 pm. The gooseberries were put in half bushel baskets for the London Markets. After gooseberries came blackcurrants. The only containers used in those days were the half bushel baskets and bushel baskets; when full they were fastened down with paper and spits cut out of the hedge. It’s not surprising that sometimes they reached Covent Garden just a basket of juice.

There were many cherry orchards in the village, also very many more birds than we see today. It meant they played havoc with the fruit. The cherry pickers would have a powder and shot gun handy and would fire off every little while. They also had tins tied to the trees and children would go out of school hours pulling the strings and using the clappers; pieces of wood loosely tied with string.

Then there were the greengage orchards. Meldreth was noted for the flavour of its greengages, this was attributed to the lay soil. Most of the orchards were known by names. These are still in existence but no longer called by the old names. There is a “Burton’s” on Whaddon Road, a “Hornsey Wood” just past the Atlas Works; the dividing line between Meldreth and Whaddon is “Pink’s Corner”. The Atlas car park is “Peat Moor” and a public footpath runs from there, across the fields and orchard down to the “Manting” to come out behind The Old Town House. The orchard in Fenny Lane is “Honours”. Then we have “Scruby’s” at Kneesworth Road also “Huncret” over the hill. The public footpath from Mettle Hill to Chiswick End is “30 acres”. Coming to Whitecroft Road we have “Medlocks"  Orchard and in Chiswick End we have “Clemency’s” and “Normans”. The road now named as Whitecroft Road was “Wicket  Road” from Kneesworth Road corner to Chiswick End; from there to the Station it was “Broadway” and here we have “Oak’nt” Orchard and Farm.

Meldreth and Melbourn Railway Station was a very busy place, especially in the fruit season when the trolleys were collecting fruit from the orchards from early morning until sometimes 10 o’clock at night. The goods train with the fruit wagons would be waiting. The station staff would be the Station Master, Clerk, Porter, Signalman, who also had to be porter, Shunter who also looked after the four huge horses which were in daily use for shunting and trolley work for which there was another man. In the season there would be four trolleys working full out in collecting goods.  The fruit grower had to send a completed consignment note with each load, stating the number of baskets, which farm and market they were going to and who paid the carriage. An extra Clerk also had to be employed to deal with all this extra work. All kinds of traffic were dealt with. There is a special ramp for the cattle which were driven on the road to the Station on Monday mornings for the Cambridge Market. Cattle bought at the market returned in the evening. There were always cattle of one sort or another on the roads, which at that time had chiefly farm carts on them. In Spring and Summer dairy cows were also taken out by boys to feed on the roadside grass.

Photo:Bert Winter with his son Ken on Tom the shunt horse in 1936

Bert Winter with his son Ken on Tom the shunt horse in 1936

Photo supplied by Ken Winter

There were two coal merchants at the Station. Many poor people just fetched their coal in a barrow. It was only 1/6d. a cwt. Farmers and others would fetch it by the ton with horse and cart. There was a weigh-bridge outside the Merchant’s office. The farm cart would be weighed empty and then again when full to get the correct weight. There was always the shunting of trucks going on. Sometimes a passenger train would have to wait for a wagon to be hitched on the back.

As there was no other transport, everyone went by train and I have seen the platform packed with people, especially in the Summer, for one of the many excursion trains for a day at the seaside. Local Sunday School children were usually taken for their annual treat on one of these excursions. The large building in the station yard I am told, was one used for grinding the coprolite from the workings in the vicinity. There was a single railway track going across the road at the bottom of Station Hill, across the fields, and down to the Atlas Works. The locally named Puffing Billy engine used to ply between the Station and the Works where the trucks were carefully loaded with the asbestos products. The line passes over the road at Chiswick End and again at Kneesworth Road. It was at Chiswick End that a child was killed whilst playing with others on the line.  The line is no longer used as all the products are loaded on to lorries for direct transport. The railway lines have been removed from the road crossings but there are still some laid down through the fields.

There was an accident in the early 1900’s when a goods engine jumped the rails just before it passed under the bridge and smashed up the gangers’ hut which stood in the corner. Unfortunately, the men were having their “beaver” in the hut at the time. I cannot remember about the casualties, but I do remember the man harnessing up the horse to the station wagon and galloping off to Melbourn to fetch the doctor. Of course, there were no telephones at the time. More recently, the coal office was smashed up by a truck being shunted rather too fast and knocked down the barriers outside the hut; luckily, this time, no one was inside.

Just outside the station was the Railway Tavern, open all day and in the wall is still the old Victorian post box. Letters were collected each evening at 8.00 p.m. by horse-drawn mail cart. Men did not make the excuse of “taking the dog for a run” to go and get their pint, the excuse then was “letters to post”.

Photo:The Railway Tavern 1920

The Railway Tavern 1920

Bells Postcard

The Railway Tavern was one of six pubs in the village, the others were – The Dumb Flea at Chiswick End, The Bell and The British Queen in the High Street and the Brewery Pub and the Sailors Return at North End. Only the British Queen still functions as a pub, the other five were converted to private residences.

The Post Office ceased to function at the Old Blacksmith’s Shop and was moved to a room in the house opposite where it now is. After being there for some years the Post Office was built by the late Mr Fred Handscombe.[2]

Photo:Meldreth Post Office 1924

Meldreth Post Office 1924

Bells Postcard

Before The Gables was enlarged by the late Mrs Dyne Elin, when she was Miss Chamberlain (incidentally she was a niece of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain) a family lived there who had domestic trouble. This so played on the mind of a teenage son seeing his mother suffer because of drunkenness that he obtained a gun from somewhere and shot her dead.  This caused a great sensation. The lad was detained “During His Majesty’s Pleasure”.

Photo:The Gables, High Street, home of Mrs Dyne Elin, photographed in 1926

The Gables, High Street, home of Mrs Dyne Elin, photographed in 1926

Photograph supplied by Teddy Handscombe

Photo:Addlestone Cottages, Chiswick End

Addlestone Cottages, Chiswick End

Bells Postcard

Mrs Dyne Elin really acted the fairy godmother of the village, especially to children and old people. Coal and groceries were distributed at Christmas and in her will she left £10,000 to build almshouses. After many years trying to get a suitable site, the Trustees were able to buy some plots of the Mortlock Estate when it was split up, and the three almshouses were built and maintained by the Trustees who are local people. Mrs Dyne Elin also left a sum of money to provide coal at Christmas to needy village people. As the price of coal increased, the Trustees decided to give a gift of £1 in lieu. Recipients are chosen at the discretion of the Trustees. There is another small charity in Meldreth – Addlestone’s Charity. This enables those eligible to receive 10/- twice in every three years. According to a lecture given by the late Dr Palmer in 1926, the origin of this was as follows:

In 1662 a man named John Addlestone lived at Chiswick End Green. It was a cottage with a brick chimney in the middle, a living room on one side, a storeroom on the other and two bedrooms above. He brought up a family of six children. John also had other property, houses, lands and fields. He provided half-acre strips for his daughter; hence the footpath leading from Whitecroft Road to the High Street was in “Polly’s Acre”. Villagers soon called the path “pollydacre” and so it is called today. His son James seemed to be a ne’er-do-well and never had any money. Although it was thought that James Addlestone willed a cottage to the village, it was not so, it became a parish possession in a different way.  James and his wife were receiving parish relief when the house fell down. Earlier the overseers had received “a writing” from James, surrendering the house to them on his death, so now they set to work to rebuild it. The whole cost of this was £29.18s.11½d.  It was not a good speculation for the parish, for the rent was only £8.5s.0d a year and was mostly swallowed up in repairs. However, some few years ago the cottages were finally demolished and the ground sold. The money was invested and the interest, together with small allotment rents, brings in sufficient money to pay 10/- every other year to those eligible to receive it.

Another item of interest in Dr Palmer’s books was the story of the Lark Silver Tax or Fee Farm of 10/- annually demanded by officers of the Crown. It appears that for more than 100 years, villagers had from time to time questioned the right of this tax but had always been made to pay. In 1858, however, after exhaustive researches, the original of this tax was discovered. This common fine of 10/- was paid for the privilege the villagers had of settling their disputes in the local court of the Honour of Clare, instead of taking them to Cambridge, a day’s journey in those days.  The privilege, of course, lapsed but the payment was still in force. The lark silver of 3/- was money paid instead of a present of 100 larks for the Earl of Clare’s Christmas dinner which, as it had once been agreed on, ought not to be refused unless for a 20 years’ purchase. There is indisputable proof that these fines have been paid regularly since the year 1249.

As a footnote to this, I can state that some few years’ ago the then Parish Council were asked if they wished to redeem this tax but they decided it ought to be continued as a curious medieval survival and so the Parish still pays this Lark Silver Tax annually to the Commissioners of the Crown. It can also be stated that right to the beginning of 1900, larks were considered a great delicacy and fetched good money in the London markets. Countrymen could catch the larks when they were nesting on the ground at night by trailing large nets across the fields.

The largest estate was that owned by the late Mr John George Mortlock. This is The Court built in 1772, with servants’ living quarters added by Mr Mortlock. This was a very large estate, employing nine gardeners, a coachman, a footman and several maids in the house. Mr Mortlock was a very important person in the village. He had a chain of china shops in London and used to travel up by the 8.00 a.m. train each morning. His carriage and coachman in a cocked hat and footman behind was a familiar sight twice each day. Nowadays people wait for trains, but the train waited at Meldreth Station for Mr Mortlock!

Photo:Royal Doulton fountain at The Court in 1980

Royal Doulton fountain at The Court in 1980

He was very fond of children and could often be seen on a Sunday afternoon conducting a party of children around his magnificent garden where the fountain would be turned on for their benefit. Just at the side of the house were four hot houses, one of which was filled with exotic plants, flowers and shrubs. Chief concern of the children, however, I am afraid to say was not to look at the gardens but to participate in the scramble for pennies which usually took place at the end of the walk.

The whole village were invited on a few memorable occasions when there would be lots to eat, races for the children and the whole of the gardens and fountain lit up by coloured fairy lamps, no mean task when it is remembered that it was a “candle” in each to be lighted.

The Court was once owned by the parents of the poet Andrew Marvell. It is said many of his poems were written in the Oak Room overlooking the lawn. The Oak Room is still the same today.

Meldreth Stocks stand on Marvell’s Green, but the only original part left is the Whipping Post, the rest has been renewed and was last used in 1860. The large stone on the green is thought to be the base of the cross and was dug up in a garden in the High Street about forty years’ ago. 

Photo:Meldreth Stocks and Whipping Post 2011

Meldreth Stocks and Whipping Post 2011

Photograph by Kathryn Betts

Meldreth’s one Blacksmith and Wheelwright, situated at The Old Town House, was very flourishing in the early part of the century before the advent of farm machinery and motor cars. One could usually see several horses waiting their turn to be shod and usually some children watching the sparks flying off the anvil.

Photo:The Brewery, North End c.1920

The Brewery, North End c.1920

Bells Postcard

Close by was the Brewery where on two days a week there was a strong smell of hops pervading the village. The brewer’s dray with its two huge horses was a familiar sight. On brewing days children could be seen going into the brewery with cans to obtain yeast for bread making. Most cottagers made their own dough and afterwards, took it to the Bakers to be baked.

Photo:Holy Trinity Church

Holy Trinity Church

Photo by Peter Draper

Photo:John Gipson with new bells 1950-1960

John Gipson with new bells 1950-1960

Photo supplied by John Gipson

Photo:Youngest and oldest bell ringers John Hinton aged 8 and John Gipson aged 87 in 2011

Youngest and oldest bell ringers John Hinton aged 8 and John Gipson aged 87 in 2011

Photo supplied by Andrew Downs

A church at Meldreth has been on the same site for nearly 1,000 years and Holy Trinity as it is today, quite 500 years. Dr Palmer described the church in one of his books. He wrote:

The south aisle was built during the 15th Century, of local clunch and flint.  This was covered in Victorian times with Roman Plaster. The Chancel was built in Norman times and is of stone.  The Tower was extensively repaired a few years’ ago. The 15th Century Norman Chancel Arch was enlarged to its present lofty arch.

The Barrel Organ was purchased in 1866 for £100. There are two barrels each with twelve tunes. Although the organ is now powered by electricity, the barrels can still be replaced and played on especial occasions. In the description of Meldreth in the Doomsday Book, drawn up about 1077, Meldreth is mentioned in connection with Flambards Manor, which is now a large housing estate. 

There is now a peal of eight bells but in earlier years there were six. Two of the earliest were cast in 1617 and in 1662. Two others, before the addition of the recent ones, were cast in 1877 for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee and one a War Memorial dedicated in 1950 and on December 12 of that year the first peal of six bells was rung. Mr J Gipson, who has been a keen bell ringer since a very early age, donated the recent bell. On the wall of the Church hangs a fragment of Medieval Painting 1275-1350. The figures are St Christopher and in the other paintings are believed to be St Margaret of Antcock and St Thomas of Canterbury. The Nave was restored in 1845. The only ancient stained glass remaining is in the westernmost window and represents a monk in attitude of adoration of Agnus Dei. The Font is 16th Century.  The Candelabra is dated 1725. The Altar Table was a gift in the middle of the 19th Century, but is much older than this. There is a monument to George Pike who died in 1658 in the Church and beneath it is the vault of the Mortlock family. There is a memorial window in memory of the vicar’s wife and another was presented by John George Mortlock in 1875.

Dr Palmer gives the names of Rectors and Vicars from the year 1066. The first Vicar in 1279 was named Roger de Walton and the last one named in his book was Percy Harvey and the present Vicar, Reverend Patrick McNeice. There were other vicars not listed in the book but whom natives of Meldreth will remember especially the Reverend Jukes who was the preceding vicar.

At North End we have a small Methodist Chapel and in the High Street the dilapidated building opposite the British Queen was once a flourishing Congregational Chapel. It was build originally by Congregationalists and Baptists jointly. The material used was the local clunch and when some years' later one side of the building collapsed, the Congregationalists bore all the expense of rebuilding and therefore felt that they had sole right. Services were held there each Sunday evening and there was a Sunday School in the afternoon for about 100 scholars. Many treats took place in this building, the most memorable being the Good Friday Tea, followed by a special service. Tea cost 6d. and for this there was bread and butter, real hot-cross buns, plum cake and as many cups of tea as one wished. During the Second World War it was used as a billet for the soldiers stationed in the village. After this, the pulpit etc. having been removed, it was used as a social centre for the village activities until it became unfit for use. Not sufficient money was taken for upkeep. (Note: The building has recently been completely renovated and is used as a private residence.)

Photo:Wesleyan Methodist Church, North End c.1930

Wesleyan Methodist Church, North End c.1930

Bells Postcard supplied by Ann Handscombe

Photo:Congregational Chapel c. 1960 when used as a village hall prior to the building of the current village hall in 1972.

Congregational Chapel c. 1960 when used as a village hall prior to the building of the current village hall in 1972.

Photo supplied by Chris Duguid

Village trades in the early 1900’s were: Millers, Tailors, Farmers, Shopkeepers, Beer Retailers, Machinists, Wheelwright and Blacksmith, Bakers, Coal Merchants, Hay and Straw dealers, Wine and Spirit Retailers ad a Cow Leech, whatever that was.  Prominent names were: Adcock, Course, Chamberlain, East, Elbourn, Hale, Howard, Palmer, Pepper, Russell, Stockbridge, Warren, Wedd, Wood and Worland.

Viewing the rapid rise in development in the village, it is hard to believe that in the 1930’s Meldreth was definitely so truly rural that when the R.D.C. proposed that it should have a piped water supply, residents strongly opposed it and at a meeting in July 1939 the spokesman for the village, Mr H. O. S. Ellis described the scheme as a shame and a disgrace that people who had already a plentiful supply should be made to pay. The meeting was in respect of the R.D.C’s application to borrow £29,500 in connection with the water scheme. Mr Ellis added it would be cheaper for the Parish Council to install pumps and pipes. He said “It’s not going to end here, it will be a ‘Sewage Farm’ next and we shall have the devil to pay.”  Speaking of Meldreth having a full water supply, Mr Ellis must have had a short memory because I can remember a very hot and dry season where it became necessary for water carts to come round.

However, the village was piped but it was months before the water ran clear owing to the pipes lying about for so long before they were put in. In July 1941 complaints about the quality of the water were made to the R.D.C. that the water was unfit to drink. This, said the Council, was due to the contractors not cleaning out the pipes. After this, regular flushing of the pipes was made and eventually all was well. Standpipes were put in various places until people could get the water connected to their own premises.

The Lighting Act was adopted in 1949 and street lamps eventually switched on in 1952.

Negotiations for the Playing Field were taking place in 1950 and a Sub-Committee was formed by 1952. The deeds were in the hands of the Council and the ground was prepared for seeding and an application for a loan of £400 was filled in to complete the work, and in 1953 permission was given to the Meldreth Football Club to use the ground. Later on, the Children’s Corner and Tennis Courts were added, the general rate being increased to 6d to cover the cost.

The ground for the new Village Hall was purchased for £300. It is understood that plans are at least moving with the news that Cambs. And Isle of Ely have endorsed an application from Meldreth Village Hall Committee for financial aid for building and equipping.[3]

After the death of Mr Herbert Hales in 1947, came the end of one of the village’s oldest crafts. The Blacksmiths and Wheelwrights business was founded in 1836 by one Benjamin Hale. His three sons followed in what was a very thriving business. One could frequently see several farm horses waiting their turn to be shod and the farm wagons waiting for new iron rims to the wheels. The smell of horses’ shoes being fitted when beer was being brewed in the brewery close by was unbelievable. Mr Herbert Hale, the last of the brothers had an unbroken record of 50 years as Church Clerk. Many were the tales he told of the various instruments played before the old barrel organ was installed. A nephew lived in the house for a short period; this was modernised and the Old Smithy demolished. They then gave it the name of “Old Town House” and it was put on the market for sale.

Photo:The Old Town House (formerly the village blacksmith's) 1970's

The Old Town House (formerly the village blacksmith's) 1970's

Photo supplied by Alison Chalkley

Photo:Fred Handscombe with Vic the dog delivering post in the High Street in 1933

Fred Handscombe with Vic the dog delivering post in the High Street in 1933

Photo supplied by Ann Handscombe

Another interesting thing about the house and the Hale family was in relation to the old postal business, which was carried on in the room next to the Smithy by Miss H Hale and her mother. It was the time of the Morse code for telegrams, and letters being brought by horse-drawn mail carts from Cambridge. One of the Hale brothers was the postman. Some years later a room in the High Street became the Post Office. The Postmaster was Mr Fred Handscombe and he also delivered letters. He eventually built the Post Office as it is today. He was the proprietor for many years. His widow carried on until a few years’ ago.

The Bowls Club in the village is very flourishing. It was in abeyance for eight years during the War period but started up again in 1947. During the lifetime of the late Mrs Dyne Elin of The Gables, the club played on the green maintained by Mrs Elin in her grounds. After her death and the sale of the property, the present Green was presented to the Club by her niece, the late Miss Maud Bowen, who was also instrumental in later adding the Pavilion. Meldreth has won the cup presented by Mrs Elin, for competition in the Cambridge League, nine times and have also finished head of the Second Division of the Cambridge and District Bowls League on one occasion.

In 1947, also, a Parish Meeting took place to discuss a suitable memorial to the men who had lost their lives in the War. It was suggested that names of these should be inscribed on the memorial, that a new Treble Bell be brought to increase the Church bells to six, and that the pulpit in the Church should be placed in a new position. These things duly took place.  A further bell has since been presented to the Church by Mr John Gipson.

Meldreth adopted the Street Lighting Act in 1949 and after many meetings and transactions had taken place, the Big Switch On took place the last week in October 1952.

The method of electric lighting in the Church was thought to be unique in the diocese as a series of 18th Century candle fittings formerly screwed into the backs of the pews, have been adapted and hung as electric pendants from the lofty roof. The two large candelabra in the Nave were cleaned and replaced in position with candles, 26 in all, in every socket. The earlier of two candelabra is dated 1725. 

It was announced in August 1951 that the purchase price for a Recreation Ground had been agreed by the R.D.C. at £300. The vesting date was to be September 14th 1951.

Photo:Aftermath of fire at row of cottages in High Street on 22 May 1908

Aftermath of fire at row of cottages in High Street on 22 May 1908

Postcard supplied by Ann Handscombe

Photo:Warrens Bakery High Street c.1900

Warrens Bakery High Street c.1900

Photograph supplied by John Gipson

Photo:High Street c.1925.  The horse and cart is outside the Old Bakery

High Street c.1925. The horse and cart is outside the Old Bakery

Postcard supplied by Kathryn Betts

Meldreth village presents a very different picture in 1972 to that of the late 1890’s when the High Street, in particular, had rows of small thatched cottages. Most of these had just four small rooms, two up and two down; nevertheless, some large families were reared in them. Many of Meldreth’s thatched cottages were destroyed by fire over the years. This happened to a whole row of cottages and other buildings in the High Street some 75 years’ ago. Seven cottages were destroyed; a butcher’s a bakery shop with the residence of one Amos Warrren, and the house and bakery of a Mrs Adcock, a widow who carried on the bakery and confectionery business after the death of her husband. In another cottage, which had recently been nicely furnished, lived David Jacklin and his young bridge and the next one was occupied by Jane Thriplow, a well-known Meldreth character and of whom this story came to be told. It was the anniversary of her 65th birthday and in the morning she had mentioned this to neighbours and remarked “I’m going to have a blaze up”. Little did she think what was going to happen.  It appears she went to bed about 9.30 p.m. and set her candle on a box near the window, something she had undoubtedly done many times, but on this occasion the curtains caught fire and flames shot up through a crack in the ceiling and ignited the thatch from the inside. A man from a house opposite, by name “Issen” East ran across and burst open the door. He rushed upstairs and found the old lady sitting on her bed, fully dressed and stupefied by smoke her efforts to put out the fire. She refused to budge and Mr East was obliged to pick her up and carry her from the house. No mean effort when I recall she was one of the tubbiest ladies in the village. The spread of the flames was so rapid that people escaped with only the clothes they stood up in. It was said that people standing on Royston Railway Bridge could see the flames. The Melbourn Fire Brigade arrived just after 10 p.m. Flambard’s Mill was not far away from the garden at the back of the cottages and the sluice gates were quickly opened and a good volume of water from the river was turned into a ditch a few yards from the back of the cottages. The hose was quickly got into the water, but owing to so many willing helpers in assisting, two lengths were twisted and burst, much valuable time being lost. As there seemed every likelihood of the fire spreading, the late Mr Percy Elbourn rode with all speed to give the alarm to the Royston Brigade. The late Dr C W Windsor’s car was at the ready so he brought Captain Course and another fireman down to Meldreth. When the Brigade arrived they commenced pumping on adjoining cottages and the fire was arrested here.  Some of Mrs Adcock’s furniture was saved. Mrs Warren’s residence and bakery were at the end of the property involved and between the sheds, stables and a small farmyard. The pony was got safely out but carts and other utensils were destroyed with about six tons of coal which lay smouldering for days. Everything in the house and shop was destroyed and amongst the ruins were seen charred joints of meat. A number of fowls were also burnt alive. Some of these were eaten on the spot by some tougher people. On sifting through some of the debris next day £6 in gold was found and some loose silver.

Dr. Clark, who lived opposite at Meldreth House, worked heroically during the blaze and kindly offered shelter to the homeless. As two bakehouses had been destroyed, temporary help was given by bakers in adjoining villages so that customers could be supplied. It was a remarkable coincidence that a fire occurred in Meldreth on the same day of the month some three years previously when in the afternoon four cottages opposite the Sheen Mill were destroyed.

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As will be seen, these notes were written some few years ago and as a footnote to the proposed new Village Hall, it actually came into being and was officially opened in June 1973 by Mrs D K Dainty, an old and much loved resident, known all over the county for her Red Cross work.

Part Two of Sarah's book is also available.


[1] The Domesday Book lists 8½ mills in Meldreth, although there were only three in recent memory: Sheene, Flambards and Topcliffe Mills.

[2]The Post Office is now situated within the Village Shop opposite and the old Post Office has since been converted to a private residence.

[3] Meldreth Village Hall was rebuilt in the early 1990's and is still an important village facility.

This page was added by Gloria Willers on 18/02/2015.

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