Meldreth in 1941-42

The following sketch of Meldreth has been made possible by Miss Grace Palmer’s wonderful store of knowledge and by the kind permission of the late Dr. Palmer to make use of his writings.  The aim of the present writer has been to put on record  interesting facts and local peculiarities before they are entirely lost in this rapidly changing world of today.

(signed)  BEATRICE E. CLAY,      9th March 1942

[Please note that text in square brackets was added in 2012 for clarification purposes.]

Meldreth: General Description

“Happy is the land that has no history”.  If the name is true of a village, then Meldreth is happy, for remarkable events are few in its history.  It cannot even claim, like Melbourn, the doubtful distinction of having thrown the King’s commissioners into the ditch!  Such early historical references as there are have already been recorded in the accompanying account of Meldreth Church.

Meldreth is one of the relatively few places named after a woman.  Writing of it about 591, Layer (M.S.Harleian 696 F.) says “Meldreth in Domesday Book called Melree and seemeth to take its name from yt spring or borne wch we spake of in Melbourn and here increasing into a little streame or Rhee giveth denomination to this village through wch it passeth and driveth to ye inhabitants”.  Experts, however, are not agreed as to the meaning of the name.  According to the late Professor Skeat “Place names of Cambridgeshire”, Meldreth means “Melda’s enclosure, Anglo Sax wraeth, wreath or ring” and he has some scathing things to say of those who as the authors of the Place Name Survey, adopt the explanation that ‘reth’ represents the Ang.Sax ‘rithe’ a stream.  Where the authorities disagree, it is impossible to do more that present their views.

North End

Meldreth, to the north, is divided from Shepreth by a small stream crossed by Guilden Arch and the south, approximately, by a small tributary of the Cam (Rhee).  Following the direction of the main village street from the north southward, two turnings are reached.  That to the right now designated “Orwell by Malton” [Malton Lane] used to be known as Ball’s Lane and Malton itself was shut off by gates.  The other to the left, leads to the Cam Blue Lias Lime and Cement Works, and immediately beyond is the Laurels [now known as Hawkesbury House], the residence of Mr. F.G. Russell.  It occupies the site of a number of cottages burnt down about the year 1875.  The land north of Ball’s Lane was known as Collop Moor.

A little beyond The Laurels is College Farm, occupied by Mr. E. P. Wedd.  The owner of the property is St. John’s College.  Standing some distance from the road on the opposite side is The Warren, the home of Major McGuire (the name is a reminder that at one time there really was a warren there).  A little further on the left is Belmington Close, a modern house, not only the abode of Mr. & Mrs. Dainty, but also at the present time, October 1941, the centre of much ARP and Red Cross activity.  A little further on, stands a row of council houses and then is reached a lamentable ruin, the Parish Room.  This was built by village subscription on land provided at a nominal rent by Christ’s College.  The tiles were specially made for it by the late Mr. J. G. Mortlock.  It is unprofitable to dwell on the differences which conduced to this neglect and decay of what should have been a very useful building.

Separated from the Parish Room by a streamlet stands a large house, the Vicarage proper of Meldreth.  Since the union of the parish with Whaddon, the vicar of Meldreth has resided in Whaddon vicarage  and until the outbreak of war, Meldreth vicarage was used as a Parish Room for the transaction of business, the holding of Sunday School and other meetings and entertainment.  It is now occupied by the military.

Opposite the vicarage is Bury Farm, formerly Vesey’s Manor.  It is tenanted by Mr. Stubbings.  A road past it runs eastward to a mill, Topcliffe’s Mill, since early days the property of St. Thomas’ Hospital and now ruinous.  The vicarage is neighboured by the Church, described elsewhere.  Next to it is the Malting House, now the residence of Mr. Charles Dunn.  A few yards further on is The Rosary [formerly The Green Man], the home of Mr. & Mrs. Breed.  The Blacksmith’s Forge is next reached.  It has for many years been the property of the Hale family but the forge no longer glows for the Blacksmiths’ calling has fallen on evil days.

The Stocks

A row of old cottages, more picturesque than convenient leads down to Rose Cottage and Geneva House where the road forks off in the direction of Kneesworth.  At this junction is a piece of triangular grass, the nearest approach to a village green that Meldreth can offer.  On it a splendid chestnut tree shadows the Stocks and the base of an ancient cross.  In Meldreth, the stocks generally to be found near the Church, have apparently always occupied their present position, probably owing to the fact that the mansion of the Marvell family standing on the site of The Court, had, for some hundreds of years been the principal residence in the village and probably the Marvells exercised some judicial powers.

High Street

The Court is a spacious house standing in extensive grounds,  It was bought by Mr. Mortlock in 1880.  Until that time it was known as Marvell or Marvells, having been the home for many centuries of the Marvell family.  Though not the birthplace of Andrew Marvell, the poet of Commonwealth and Restoration times according to tradition, his father was born there in 1586.  It is still possible to be accosted by a stranger with a request to be directed to ‘Marvells’.  Of the present building, that at right angles to the road is the early part, slightly modified according to modern tastes and convenience.  For instance, a kitchen with a floor space suitable for a college but leaving little head space has had its ceiling raised.  The grounds were in earlier days all orchard and owe their parklike aspect to Mr. Mortlock.  The present owner and occupant is Miss Jacqueline Mortlock (daughter).

The Homestead [now Maycroft Residential Home] owned by Mr. Henry Woods, was built by Mr. Mortlock on the site of Court Farm which was burnt downThe Gables owned by the late Mrs. Elin is on the site of two small farms.  East of the road is Longmead and on the west Meldreth House, the home of Miss Hammond and Miss Crowe.  Oakfield, also known as Melday, and later The Grange, is owned by Mr. H.O.S.Ellis.  A little further on is Temple House, containing some old fireplaces.  It, like Elmcroft opposite, has long been the property of the Palmer family.  It was bought in 1690 by John Palmer and called ‘Blacks’.  The barn, flush with the road, was the collecting place for meat to be conveyed to London during the Plague.

Station Road

Opposite the Railway Station stands the village cross commemorating those of the village who gave their lives in the Great War.  There the road divides.  The main road runs over the Railway Bridge past cottages and, on the right, is St. John’s College Farm.  Next hereto and noticeable for its remarkably long slope roof is a farm owned by Mr. Harrup.  After an interval of fields Sheen Manor is reached.  The house, the last in Meldreth, not unnaturally finds its associations rather with Melbourn than with Meldreth.  It has a long and interesting history recorded in the late Dr. Palmer’s “Melbourn Cambridgeshire – 1925” from which the following facts are taken.

“The Manor, owned by the Englishman Goda, passes into Norman hands at the Conquest and was subsequently divided into two parts.  In the 13th century the Manor House was a residence of the Prior of Ware.  The grounds contain  two water mills which are entered in the Doomsday Book.  Topcliffe’s Mill, now the property of St. Thomas’ Hospital stands on the other half of the original Sheen Manor”.

Whitecroft Road

From the Cross the other road, Whitecroft Lane, runs to Whaddon and thence to the main road between Royston and Huntingdon.  It is bordered for the most part by orchards.  When it leaves the Cross it passes a large and unpicturesque house known as Hope Folly in derision of the projects of its original owner, projects in advance of his time but beginning slowly to be realised.

A little further on, on the opposite side of the road, two ruinous cottages formerly known as Barnes Yard stand at right angles to the road (the first nearest to Elin Way is now known as Bramble Cottage).  This contains wonderfully carved beams in the ceiling of the lower room.  The other cottage is known as Apple Tree Cottage.

Chiswick End

A left hand turning from the road passes Chiswick House and Chiswick Farm, respectively the homes of Mr. Elbourn and Mr. Alwyn Howard.  Close to the latter is a house with conspicuously sloping roof once covered with thatch.  There is a tradition that it housed the man who denounced Bunyan to the authorities.  In the grounds of Chiswick Farm there remains a picturesque dovecot, now adapted to other uses.

Chiswick End is indisputedly the most picturesque part of Meldreth.  Its inhabitants have, it may be remarked, preserved the original pronunciation – ‘Cheesweek’.  The foreigner is apt to use the abbreviation ‘Chisick’ of its better known namesake in Surrey.  The name means “The Cheese Village”.  The cottages stand back from the road and on the left side are still separated from it by a tiny stream crossed by little wooden bridges.  At the far end stands an inn with the startling name of  “The Dumb Flea”.  The explanation locally offered and accepted is that it is a corruption of ‘Dumfries’.  That seems to raise the question why an inn in Cambridgeshire should bear a Scottish name.  An unsightly modern road has usurped the place of the lane along orchards, the latter bordered on the other side by the Kneesworth Road, which a little further on, branches from the main road at a corner now aspiring to the commonplace dignity of “Whaddon Corner” but formerly known as Donkey Hall, for which two explanations are offered; one that the corner dwelling was occupied by a man who kept donkeys, the other and more lurid, that the aforesaid householder was wont to yoke his wife with his donkey to draw the plough!

Kneesworth Road

On the Kneesworth Road a new estate of council houses has recently been developed.

Whaddon Road

The Whaddon road itself passes the important Atlas Works, a large employer of labour in the production of concrete and cement.  Thereafter the boundary between Meldreth and Whaddon is soon reach.  The Queen Adelaide (public house) is the last house in Meldreth.

Fenny Lane

At Whaddon corner, Fenny Lane, formerly known as Veysie’s Lane, runs back into Meldreth.  On the northside it is bordered by farms, on the south it passes the cemetery and joins the Meldreth main street at the Stocks.  The Manor House at the south corner, now occupied by Mr. George Jebb, was formerly known as Veysie’s Manor.  It appears to have had changes of fortune.  When purchased by Mr. Mortlock it was reduced to three cottages.  To him in the main it owes its present dignified form.  In the hall the imposing fireplace of the days of huge log fires has been restored by Mr. Jebb.  In a nearby cottage off the main street there is a door brought from the Manor and still showing the circular opening provided for cats coming and going.

The Grove, also adjacent to the Green, is a comfortable residence standing among magnificent trees.  At present it is occupied by the Miss Ellises.


Meldreth – area 2513 acres
Population (1931) 597


The Stocks

The Stocks occupy an unusual position.  Usually they are found in close proximity to the Church as though to indicate an association between spiritual and temporal authority.  In Meldreth, The Stocks and Whipping Post complete seem always to have been on the small triangular green near to Marvells (now The Court).  Conceivably the Marvells exercised some sort of judicial rights with which The Stocks were associated.  The father of the present Parish Clerk, Mr. Ben Hale, hands down the tradition that the last miscreant exposed in The Stocks was a man who, in 1847, fell asleep in Church and being awakened by The Beadle, swore.

The Cross Base

This is on the Green and was placed there by permission of the late Mr. Mark Palmer.  It was found in the garden behind the village shop about 1888-9 when a drain was being dug.  The late Dr. Palmer took its precise measurements, 46 inches by 36.  He has also recorded the finding of another base in the grounds of a farm opposite the Vicarage garden.  Apparently it had been used, together with not a little 14th century window tracery, removed in the Church renovation of 1870 for building purposes, and later taken for road making.  An ignominious ending from which Dr. Palmer had hoped to save it.  It is not unreasonable to suppose that the cross of which this was the base, was a Churchyard cross.

Place of Worship

The Parish Church, described in a separate script, stands towards the north end of the village.  In former times a church provided sanctuary – did the fugitive do no more that seize the knocker?  Meldreth gave sanctuary on two occasions.  In 1266 one John the Long (or Lanky) escaped out of The Prior of Ware’s prison, sought refuge, made a confession of his crime and swore to leave the country in a prescribed time under penalty of death.  In 1272 two women from Litlington took shelter.  They admitted the murder of their man, Walter the Tailor.  Their goods, value 2 shillings, were confiscated and they swore to leave the realm.  At the present day, near the north end of the village is a Methodist Church.


There are said to have been four Manors in Meldreth – Marvell, Veysey (or Vesie), Flambards and Sheen.  The last names originally made one Manor in conjunction with Topcliffe but was divided at the end of the 13th century.  It is not evident that these Manors, so styled, exercised manorial rights in the strict sense.  Cases for trial were presented in Honour of Clare.


These originally were almost uniformly of the thatched type, straw not reeds, being employed.  Now there are springing up when cottages decay or increased employment calls for more housing, small and generally semi-detached houses roofed with slate or asbestos.  In a few instances efforts have been made to recondition decaying cottages, the outcome being probably more picturesque than convenient.  The cottage garden of the present has less to show in flowers than used to be the case.  The more ambitious village house or bungalow follows no particular mode, being mainly modern and built by their present owners to meet their tastes and requirements.


In the present day Meldreth owns a good school building which used to be sufficient for all pupils of elementary school age.  The war has resulted in a decrease in child population and in 1938 it became necessary to limit the attendance.  Now the school deals only with pupils up to eleven years of age, the older being provided for at Melbourn School.  In the past days, schools were kept by Mrs. Fordham, Mrs. Jepp, Miss Newling, Miss Challinger, Miss Wing and Miss Patty Challis.  A Night School for young men and boys was held in the Congregational Schoolroom from 1870 to 1880 or later by Mr. George Palmer.  Each pupil contributed one penny weekly to defray the cost of books, slates, firing, etc.


Sheen  (undershot)
Quaker (undershot)
Topcliffe’s (overshot)

This last-named mill once belonged to George Wallis and the stream below the mill was made by him.  He lived at what is now The Court and dug out the ornamental water and fishpond in the grounds to hold the water.


These were to be found at Fieldgate (near Bury Lane entrance) and in North End.


The greater number of the ponds enumerated still exist – Sheen, St. John’s College Farm, one opposite The Brewery, at Oakfields [The Grange] where the walled garden now is, Manor House, where the stables now are and one opposite Temple House.


The following were at one time carried on in Meldreth and by the person named:

Leather glove and breeches maker – Caleb Fordham

Bonnet maker and straw plaiting – Mrs. Unwin

Brewing – Burr and Jarman

Dibber – Harradine Sell

Coprolite Grinding.  There was a mill at Meldreth Station for grinding into powder the nodules found at Haslingfield about 1864 and at Malton about 1867.  In the present day the cement works, notably The Atlas are the greatest employers of labour.

Names of Footpaths

Duke’s Lane (near The Warren), Peat Moor, Red Moor, King’s Bridge (back of Hart’s Farm),  The Meads (from the Station to Melbourn), Polly d’Acre (Polly’s Acre – near the Recreation Ground), Overdown, New Path.


Guilden Arch – Boundary between Meldreth & Shepreth.

Browich – ground of trees near Guilden Arch

Ball’s Lane, or Close – road leading to Malton

Northfield – near Malton Lane

Callum’s Close –  on site of the Council Houses by the Church

Meldreth Holme – meadows by River Mel beyond Hart’s Farm

Footpath from behind the Church to Malton Road

Broadway, Oakriff, Spaniels, Greens, Bull Field, Woolpack, Plantation, Whitecroft, Boy Bridge, Wisten Ditch, Long Moor, Short Moor, Pink’s Corner, Whaddon Road, Lord’s Close, Cole’s Bush, Uncred, Hornsea Wood (on the Whaddon Rd.), North End, Chiswick End and Mettle Hill.

N.B. The stone coffin now in the Churchyard was found on Mettle Hill.

The Legendary

Such ghosts as Meldreth can boast is very shadowy.  The haunted spot is Callum’s Corner, this is said to be of a lady, perhaps a Miss Callum, who was buried in woollen in the Church or Church porch.

A flat stone marks the grave of a child stung by a viper when she was gathering flowers in a meadow opposite on a Sunday.

Hadley, or HornseaWood, on the Whaddon Road, was chosen one day by two gypsies for their encampment.  The woman was taken ill and the man went to the village to get help.  While away the woman died and the man buried her there.  He put a stake to mark the spot which grew into a tree (ash or willow).

Quaker’s Mill and cottage is said to derive its name from having once been owned by a Quaker.

Old Games

Meldreth enjoyed the usual games, sometimes with variations of its own.  Thus Hide and Seek was known as “Cook, Cook”.  The person hiding crying “Cook, Cook” when ready.  Skipping and jumping with a pole or stick had their devotees.  Noughts and Crosses were played on a wet road with stones being used as noughts and sticks as crosses.  “Lagging Along” is the not appropriate name for playing marbles on the way home from school, preferably in the gutter!,  “Pitch a Knicker” is more complicated.  A hole is made in the ground, a marble place therein, then the game consists in knocking the marble out by throwing a flat pebble at it.


The following was used in counting sheep :  Eendick, teendick, featherdick, bumpkin, eiriga, diriga, terrabumfer.  The following seems a somewhat illogical rendering of a well-known rhyme:

“Old Mother Niddy Noddy jumped out of bed
Out of the window she popped her white head,
O Grand Daddy, Grand Daddy, the grey goose is dead,
And gone galloping through the wide town oh.

Come, Tom Present, rise out of easy degrees
Put on your forty cracks and come and see
The little white-faced simian has run away with the hot coalmen
Under the little cocker mountain
Without the aid of the resurrection, we shall all be burnt to death.
Come, Tom Present, come and see, rise out of bed
Put on your breeches, come and see
The little cat has run away with the hot coal under the haystack
We shall all be burnt.

O prickly briar, O prickly briar
You vexed my heart so sore
If ever I get out of the prickly briar
I’ll never get in any more.


Cough Mixture – Half a pound Black Treacle, one penny Peppermint, one penny Laudanum, one penny Aniseed, half penny Ipececuanha, one ounce Liquorice.  Method:  Boil Liquorice in one pint water until dissolved, pour over other contents.  When cold bottle and cork.  Dose:  One teaspoon for each child;  one tablespoon for adult.

White Oils – One pint white vinegar, three ounces Spirit of Turpentine, half ounce Oil  of Origanum, three duck’s or hen’s eggs.  Shells to be broken and eggs beaten.  Shake well together.

Zambuck Ointment – Two pence of Oil of Swallow, two pence Oil of Eucalyptus,  knob of Vaseline and Beeswax (size of small walnut). Melt all together.

Chilblain Ointment – Greater Celandine root grated and mixed with fat.


The following are still remembered :  Cutter Waller, Ducksie Jacklin, Dorum King, Bradder Dash, Donkey Cutter, Smarty Waldock, Twinet Course, Tiny Dash, Braizer Mean, Lucky Butler, Bonker Casbon, Twenty Jarman, Slat Thurley, Corky Negus, Jumbo Thurley, Swedy Mead, Huddy Plumb, Bever Handscombe, Garibaldi Waldock.

Local Words

Sludder (dirt); Beavers (morning refreshment for labourers; Dibber (hole-making for seeds); Bor (friend); Twinet (hole for screw);  Twitzel (narrow passage); Stunt (steep hill).


‘Gooding or Thomasing’.  On December 21st, St. Thomas’ Day, the widows, old and young alike, visit the houses of the well-to-do to see what can be obtained.  The granting of pensions does not seem likely to abolish this custom.

‘Mumming’ used to be a picturesque practice.  It must be noted, however, that it was by no means peculiar to Meldreth.  Other occasions observed, as in many places, were the Grotto, Oakapple Day and St. Valentine’s Day.

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