The first half of the 19th century marked the end of the medieval village of Great Shelford. For the previous 1000 or 1300 years, though there had been many changes in the village, most of these had been slow and almost imperceptible. But just before 1850 two events were to change the outlook and appearance of the village and totally alter its character within a lifetime. These events were the enclosure of the medieval fields in 1835 and the coming of the railway in 1845. We will discuss these in more detail later but it must be noted that even before 1835 the village was changing at an increased rate mainly in response to the ever increasing numbers of people living there. In Great Shelford the population rose from 570 in 1801 to 812 in 1831. To cope with this increasing number of people new houses were built, often as cheaply as possible. Many of these have now disappeared having become totally unsuitable for modern standards of living. Those that remain are probably amongst the better ones. An example of these is the row of cottages on the west side of Tunwell's Lane built of blocks of chalk with low-pitched slate roofs and erected about 1820-30.
More important was the continued splitting up of the older houses in the village into tenements which we have already noted. Almost all the 17th and early 18th century farmhouses in the village, originally erected for occupation by a single family, were divided into two or three separate dwellings usually of two rooms, one up and one down. Extra doorways were cut through the walls and new fireplaces and external brick chimney stacks were added on the end gables. There are many examples of this still to be seen in the village. The three cottages opposite the church, 15-19 Church Street, are the result of dividing a large 17th century farmhouse into three, probably in the early 19th century while No. 68 High Street, built around 1700 as a small farmhouse, was divided into two tenements.
An even more curious example of the demand for more houses in the early 19th century is the small square cottage with an odd looking roof north of Granham's Farm. This was built in the 17th or early 18th century as a pigeon house to provide fresh meat for the owners of Granham's Farm. Its interior walls were then lined with hundreds of pigeon holes and the stepped roof had holes in to allow the pigeons to fly in and out. But in the early 19th century it was converted into a cottage and a chimney stack inserted into it.
Another kind of building development which started in the early 19th century, and which was to become very important later on was the erection of buildings on High Green. This ancient meadow and common land had remained empty of buildings throughout the medieval period and later but with the continued demand for more houses buildings now started being erected on the Green. A group of five or six cottages was built on the open High Green, roughly where Shelford's Timber Yard now stands, though they have long since been demolished. Another was where Webb's Workshop now stands on the edge of the Green opposite the Post Office. This was built as a blacksmith's shop.
These years also saw the beginning of another new aspect of Great Shelford's history. That is its development as an upper middle class commuter and residential centre. At this time there was very little of this type of housing because Shelford was still too far away from Cambridge, in terms of travelling time, to be a satisfactory commuter district. But a few new houses appeared. One was The Grove on the south side of High Street, built about 1820-30. It is not a particularly fine house but it is a good example of a small middle class villa of the period.
Amongst other major changes in the village at this time was the rebuilding of King's Mill and its adjacent offices. Up to 1800 the Mill, the property of Caius College, had remained a fairly small building. Soon after the turn of the century the College turned the Mill into an up-to-date industrial concern. The very picturesque appearance of the Mill and its surrounding buildings today is mainly the result of this work. The old timber mill building, used for milling flour, was retained and still stands, but a much larger mill of brick was added on the south side which has since been replaced. This was used for the production of oil probably from locally grown coleseed. Beyond the mill to the south again stables, carpenters millwrights and coopers shops and a barrel shed were erected and west of the mill a group of timber framed and thatched cottages were built for the labourers who worked there. The cottages, now amongst the prettiest of all buildings in the village, still exist. However the stables, beer house, timber store and coach house, which formerly stood on the north side of them, have gone though their foundations are clearly visible. Finally a new and very up-to-date house for the miller was built just north of the Mill. This is the present Mill House, a very pretty early 19th century structure of local brick with a central doorway protected by an open porch. The exact date of all this building is not known but the house must be about 1820-30 and a plan of the whole industrial complex dated 1828 still exists. It seems likely that the rebuilding took place some time in the early 19th century.
By 1835 the development of modern Great Shelford was at hand, but the village still remained small and the two parts of the early medieval village were still clearly visible. Church Street was lined with houses and cottages as it always had been and a few other cottages stood at the S.E. end of High Street and the south side of Wool lard's Lane. But there was still a small open space, Ashen Green, at the junction of Church Street, High Street and Woollard's Lane. The N. E. end of High Street was largely devoid of buildings and, most important, High Green itself still lay open and untouched by any dwellings apart from one or two isolated cottages. On either side of it well back from the road farms and cottages still lined the edges. To the north High Green ran on without a break to the great strip of meadow and pasture land extending to Trumpington. Apart from a few cottages along the south side of Tunwell's Lane and some at the corner of Woollard's Lane and the London Road, this was Great Shelford.
Page last updated October 29th 2009