The "Respectable" Years (1850 - 1900)

The arrival after the middle of the 19th century of largely upper middle class residents made its impact on the village in three ways. First a number of large houses were erected on the outskirts on land which had only recently been enclosed, secondly there was a certain amount of infilling on vacant plots in the village itself and lastly there was the alteration and improvement of some of the better older houses.

Amongst the new houses on the outskirts was the present Abberley House in Granham's Lane. Its exact date is not known but it was probably built about 1870. It was then known as Grain Fields and it was not until about 1890 that it received its more imposing present name. In 1913 when it was offered for sale it was described as an "old fashioned country residence. " Though perhaps today, in its new roll; as the County Council's Motor Taxation Office, we would not. give it quite that description , it does give a good idea of its original purpose and setting. When it was built it was still very much in the country and its heavy symmetrical proportions are typical of the then fashionable idea of a gentleman's residence.

Other houses also built in these years and now demolished to make way for the desirable residences of a later generation were three large dwellings along the N. E. side of London Road between Station Road and the railway bridge. These were described as "newly built "in 1874 and one was said to be "a Gothic villa". They stood within the same piece of land that Mr. Headley had erected his corn merchant's establishment on and were probably built by him as a speculative building project. Both these, and another house, The Limes, on the corner of Hinton Way and Mingle Lane were probably built there because of easy access to the railway station.

Two other houses are Uplands and Nine Wells House, both situated on the crest of the chalk ridge well to the N.E. of the village with superb views. They were originally erected in the late 19th century by eminent university dons and marked the beginning of the period, still with us, when the teaching staff of the university looked on Great Shelford as a favourable retreat from college life. Uplands was built by Walter Gaskell then University Lecturer in Physiology. It was subsequently rebuilt or altered in a more modern style. Nine Wells House was erected by Sir Michael Poster another eminent medical man who was Professor of Physiology at the University.

Within the village other new houses for the same type of person appeared, on land which up to now had been empty of houses, or where older houses were demolished. Amongst these was The Elms a huge residence which stood on the corner of Tunwell's Lane and High Street, where the police houses now stand. It was built in the 1850s probably by George Twiss a wealthy Solicitor. It has been demolished for many years now, but when it was sold in 1935 it was described as a palatial brick residence with a slate roof and with mahogany panelling throughout. Nothing now remains except one gate pier of its drive entrance in Tunwell's Lane and the name Elms Avenue given to a new housing estate built in the old garden. Less imposing, but still showing the same trend, is Carlton House on High Green, probably built in the 1880s. The Old Vicarage, next to the church, is also a splendid example of High Victorian residential aspiration. The rambling building with a multitude of roof levels and chimneys and with coach-house, complete with clock, adjoining is now a relic of an era long past.

Other houses were enlarged or radically rebuilt by the incoming middle classes. The Red House in Church Street was doubled in size in the late 19th century by the addition of a complete rear block. Porch House in High Street which had been built around 1820 was also enlarged in the same way. The Lawns, on the corner of King's Mill Lane and Church Street,was altered out of all recognition. In fact it is difficult to decide what the date of the original building, now buried under massive late 19th century additions and accretions, really is.

Perhaps the best example of this alteration of earlier buildings is The Grange in Church Street. Here the old 17th century house with its cross-wings still existed largely unaltered until 1890. But with its panelled dining room and library, and its spacious hall "pleasantly and conveniently situated in the best part of the village, close to the church, station and post and telegraph offices" as the sale catalogue described it then, it was obviously a desirable residence ripe for improvement. It was bought by Mr. J. Carter Jonas for ?3,100. and largely rebuilt in a massive, but not unpleasant, "Jacobethan" style.

Other changes in the village during this period also reflect different social attitudes. From the 18th century, the village had been a strong non-conformist centre and a small chapel and Sunday School was erected in 1812 in a field behind The Lawns. The chapel was rebuilt in 1856 on a new site in High Street where it still stands. It was described soon after as being in the Romanesque style, though this is not perhaps how we should describe it now. The minister lived in the house opposite until 1896 when the present Manse was built next to the chapel in a similar style. Around 1870 a school was built for nonconformist children on the corner of Woollard's Lane and Church Street on land which was once part of Ashen Green. This is now Powell's Garage but even a casual glance reveals that its origins were very different from its present use.

Even in this age of respectability, industry was not absent from the village. We have already noted the development of the corn merchants establishment near the station and by 1890 King's Mill had been modernised and rebuilt and was then described as a "water and steam" mill. In addition sometime in the 1850s a factory was built on the south side of the London Road on the Stapleford side of the railway. It was probably developed by Peter Grain of The Grange, who owned the land, though it was sold to a firm called English Fibre Industries in 1879. It was used for the manufacture of hemp and flax and included an 870 foot long rope-walk for the making of ropes which lay between the river and the London Road. Its position however, tucked away behind the railway, did not constitute an eyesore to the rest of the village.

By the end of the 19th century Shelford was a respectable upper middle class centre where some of Cambridge's dons, solicitors, doctors ;etc. , lived in quiet rural surroundings with easy access to their work. With this class came all the necessities for such a life. For many of these years a Mrs. Hannah Turner ran a "seminary" in the village and there was at least one other "ladies school" there in 1883. But as always time did not stand still. Other forces were at work which were to bring a new influx of people into the village from lower down the social scale and once again the character of the village changed.

Page last updated October 29th 2009

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