The Village, 1100 to 1500 AD

Though we can be fairly certain what happened to the village in these four hundred years we cannot be sure of the exact dates when various events took place. The most important feature of the village during these centuries was that it increased in size. The two earlier settlements started to grow together as houses and farms were built along the edge of the meadow between the end of Church Street and Granham's Farm. This was done with difficulty as the meadow land itself was too valuable to build on and so it was left untouched. But gradually individual strips of the surrounding arable fields were enclosed, turned into gardens and yards and houses and farms erected on them. The houses were usually built at the end of the newly enclosed strips facing onto the meadow. The growing together of the two parts of Great Shelford was not sudden nor was it complete. The final joining up of the two parts was not really achieved until this century. But as time went on the slow process got under way. Both the old parts of Shelford gradually acquired these new buildings. In the old part, farms began to be built along the High Street from the present junction with Woollard's Lane as far as The Square and Compasses and also probably along the south side of Woollard's Lane. Similarly at the Granham's Farm part of the village houses and farms were gradually built along the eastern edge of the great meadow and also along the western side of the meadow where De Freville Farm and Malyon's shop now stand. Of the existing houses only De Freville Farm is of this date. The south end of this building dates from about 1500 but even this was probably the replacement for an older farm. All we can say is that the present houses that remain around the edges of the meadow, old as they are, are merely the later rebuilding of the original medieval farms.

The result of this growth of the two parts of Shelford was that each now had an open piece of meadow, partly surrounded by houses, and looking like a normal village "green" even though they did not originate as such. Therefore as time went on each "green" became known by a separate name. In the original Shelford the area now occupied by Powell's Garage and the south end of High Street became Ashen Green, perhaps where the ash trees grew, while the other one became High Green. The old village of Shelford also grew westwards. There was not much room for expansion here as the village was already on the edge of the gravel terrace overlooking the river. However one or two farms were probably built here, one of which was the present Rectory Farm which has parts dating back to the 15th century.

The most important and impressive building in the medieval village was of course the church. We do not know if there was a church here in Saxon times, but by the 12th century one certainly existed. A few fragments of stone from it are incorporated in the east wall of the south aisle of the present church. Of its appearance we know nothing and this is because it was entirely rebuilt on a massive scale in the early 15th century. The work was paid for by the then rector, Thomas Patisley, who died in 1418 and whose tomb still exists in the church. Unfortunately we have little information about Patisley but the church he left to Great Shelford is a fine monument to his piety and generosity.

By the end of the 14th century the bridge which now links Great and Little Shelford was in existence. In 1398 there is a reference to the Hermitage at the Bridge between Great and Little Shelford. This Hermitage requires an explanation. The Hermit who lived there at this time probably had no religious connections. Most of these so-called bridge-hermits "had lit'tle more claim to be considered men of religion than the toll-keepers of the 18th century." They merely collected money for the repairs to the bridges, and the Shelford hermit was doubtless no exception.

On the whole the new buildings of the village were probably little better than those which existed before and all were still of timber. All, whether large or small, consisted in the main of only a large room, open to the roof, in which everybody lived and slept. By the end of the 15th century the wealthier farmers started to improve their living standards and we find buildings with cross-wings added to one end of the larger halls. These blocks were used as private sitting rooms and bedrooms. Only two of these buildings survive. One is de Freville Farm at High Green. Here the south part of the present farmhouse dates from around 1500 and is one of these cross-wings, the hall of which has long since been rebuilt. The other is Rectory Farm at the Little Shelford end of the village. Here are the remains of a 15th century house which still retains the greater part of its former open hall as well as a cross-wing.

The Grange or Burystead Manor House and its lands remained in the hands of the Bishop of Ely throughout the whole of the medieval period. One feature of this period which does remain is the medieval fishpond which lies in the garden near the mill stream. It has been much altered over the years but was originally a set of rectangular ponds in which fish were kept.

The Manor house at the other end of the village, Granham's Farm, did not remain in one ownership but it changed hands a number of times throughout the medieval period and most of the landlords never lived there and usually it was leased out to other people. The only landlords who actually occupied Granham's Farm were the Le Moynes, who owned the Manor during the 13th century. It was probably this family who constructed a moat around the Manor House, some of which still remains. This is a wide shallow ditch, partly filled with water, which can still be seen on the north, south and east sides of the farmhouse, but which once enclosed the house and most of the farmyard. Of the same period is the large sub-rectangular enclosure, bounded by a large bank and ditch which remains behind the farm. Tradition has it that it is a Roman Camp but in fact it is merely the home paddock or field of the Manor House. Why did the Le Moynes construct a moat around their Manor House? We cannot be certain, but there is no doubt that in the 12th and 13th centuries the Lords of Manors all over Cambridgeshire built similar moats. There is hardly a village in the county without one. They cannot have been for defence for they are rather ineffective and anyone could have easily attacked and burnt down the farm inside them. The most likely explanation for these moats is that it was fashionable to build them round Manor Houses at this time, probably in imitation of the great castles in the land. To have a moat around one's house was a symbol of prestige and relative wealth. The Le Moynes at Great Shelford were probably aiming at this when they built their moat.

By the early 14th century the Manor was owned by the Earls of Pembroke and it was leased out to various tenants. One of these was John de Grendon who lived here in the 1350s and 60s. It was from this man that the farm derives its present name of Granham.'s.

During the whole of the medieval period the people of Great Shelford lived close to starvation level and were constantly afflicted by disease, pestilence and crop failures. Of these troubles we have little record, and certainly nothing survives in the landscape of the village today to tell us. Times were very hard but the difficulties and disasters appear to have made little long-term difference to the slow growth of the village. For example we have some information about the effect of the Black Death on Great Shelford. There is no indication that the village was affected by the first onslaught of the disease in 1349, but the village certainly suffered during a second outbreak in 1361. In that year it is recorded that no crops were reaped and little sown, and surviving figures for crop acreages at this time support the idea that a major disaster struck the village then. It seems likely that the village lost a large proportion of its inhabitants in that year. But terrible though it was, the village soon recovered and within less than 20 years was back to normal. Though there may have been deserted farms and houses, and abandoned fields for a few years after 1361, these were soon reoccupied. As a result there is no evidence of any major desertion or long-term decline in population either in documents or in the landscape of the village.

Page last updated October 29th 2009

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