Leonard Illingworth, musician, chess-player and beekeeper

I am researching the life of Leonard Illingworth, who lived in Foxton from the early 1920s till his death in the mid 1950s. He lived at The Way’s End, with two and a half acres of garden, where he kept an apiary of 5o-60 hives. He was an active chess player at county level and previously at Cambridge University. His bee-keeping interests led to involvement in various related organisations and an active side line as a writer on bee-matters. He was also a gifted musician (piano and organ).

I would be interested to hear from anyone who has information on his life, family background and origins, and local activities, and his property in Foxton.





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The legal dispute between Chivers and Eastwood Cement at Barrington hill in 1930

Extract from my forthcoming book on the history of fruit farming in South Cambs:

In 1900 the fruit-growing and jam making business of John Chivers & Sons began to take an interest in acquiring suitable orchard land in South Cambridgeshire, purchasing the large De La Warr estate in Haslingfield. Previously John Chivers had bought greengages from a local dealer, which had been grown on the chalk hills between Haslingfield and Barrington. The wider low-lying district had suffered very badly from frost damage. Three of the farms in Haslingfield, Grove, Green and River Farms, were retained as mixed-farming enterprises. The rest were sold off and Chivers planted greengages and Victoria plums on the southern side of Barrington hill in 1910. The Land Valuation Survey of that year records Chivers then owned ‘land and plantation’ of 45 acres on Barrington hill. In 1924 8 acres of raspberries were planted below the plum orchard.

By the late 1920s this was a mature fruit orchard of some 85 acres. The large scale 25 inch OS map revision of 1937 shows the detailed lay-out of the fruit farm. At that time the main orchard of 65 acres was set out in six rectangular blocks on the southern side of the hillside, with access lanes leading back to the storage and packing buildings. An adjacent block of 5 acres was also planted and there were three other blocks of 4.7, 6.3 and 5.8 acres on either side of the ridge.

A report on a visit to the orchard in 1929 describes a mixed orchard of plums, apples, pears, cherries and soft fruit. The largest blocks on the southern slope were greengages and plums. The orchard maintained 70 beehives to assist pollination of the plums, a grove of cherries, pear trees and blackcurrants. It was stated the bees were not used in the apple orchard, where a heavy set was undesirable. The hives were moved about the orchard by means of trucks on a light tramway. Chivers had banned the use of tar-distillate sprays at blossom-time, following evidence of their ill-effects on the bee population.

Meanwhile, in 1914 the Dreadnought Portland Cement Co. Ltd. had purchased Hill Farm, an estate of 151 acres running from the high road towards the boundary with Chiver’s fruit plantation on Barrington hill. A geological survey had revealed that large chalk deposits below the surface of the hillside were of a quality suitable for the manufacture of Portland cement. Work was started. The chimney and power house were built and the laying down of a private standard gauge branch railway line, connecting the works and future quarry to the main line at Foxton station, was completed. However the firm went bust and was liquidated in 1921. The business was bought by the Eastwood Cement Co. Ltd. in 1924. The new works and quarry came into full production in 1927, with a capital investment of £200,000 and a government grant of £100,000, eventually employing several hundred local people.

Sulphurous smells and plumes of light dust and smoke from the chimneys were experienced by the fruit pickers during the course of 1927 and in the summer of 1928 there was large-scale damage to the raspberry crop, with scorching and shrivelling of the plants facing the cement works. In May of 1929 the heavy plum blossom was seriously damaged. Chivers took legal and technical advice and, with the financial assistance of the National Farmers Union, brought an injunction against Eastwood’s to cease operations deemed to be damaging their fruit. The case was heard in the Court of Chancery in early May 1930. The Injunction was granted with a stay of 21 days to allow negotiations over compensation. Eastwood’s took the case to the Court of Appeal in July, where the original injunction in favour of Chivers was upheld. However, a further temporary stay of the injunction was granted to allow the parties to come to an agreement.

Accepting defeat, in order to have the injunction lifted Eastwood offered to purchase the fruit farm from Chivers, offering £7,000 but eventually accepting Chivers’ valuation of £13,000. The sale was completed by the end of January 1931. From that time on the orchards were maintained by Eastwood, taking staff formerly employed by Chivers, working under their own fruit farm manager. Things appear to have settled down. In 1934, at Eastwood’s expense, the fruit pickers employed by the company went on a day’s outing to Southend. In the fruit season advantage was taken of the firm’s branch railway line to deliver fruit to Foxton station for onward distribution to wholesale markets. (One wonders whether they sold any of their fruit to the Chivers Jam factory). Regular passenger trains were shunted into the siding at Foxton to pick up a waggon of plums brought in by the shunter.

In 1945 the fruit farm was visited by a party of 180 local fruit growers. The report of the visit described an orchard of approximately 100 acres of fruit, mainly plums and greengages, ‘for which this orchard is famous.’ The party, who were guided by the orchard manager, Mr Baker, and K.V. Cramp the county horticultural adviser, ‘were quick to appreciate the excellent cultivation on this heavy boulder clay and also the clear condition of the trees and enormous fruit crop.’ In his closing remarks Mr Cramp noted the heavy spring frosts which elsewhere in the district had produced a complete ‘wipe-out.’

The company had always denied that there was a persistent or general problem with emissions and that the damage done to Chivers’ crops in the late 1920s was caused by other factors such as frost, drought or insect damage. However evidence of specific intermittent damage by emissions from the chimneys was considered strong enough by two courts to support the case for an injunction against the company. The judgements given in both courts stated that the other causes cited by Eastwood had existed before 1927 and not produced the same ill-effects. The only new factor to emerge in 1927 was the cement works and the judges in both hearings felt compelled to allow the injunction. The eventual compromise allowed the works to continue and for Chivers to walk away with sizeable compensation – the £13,000 paid by Eastwood for the orchard was spent on extensions to the Jam Factory at Histon.

Given the excellent condition of the orchard in the mid-1940s, we might conclude that eventually solutions were found to this intermittent problem with emissions and the fruit farm was able to prosper. The quarry, cement works and fruit farm were taken over by Rugby Portland Cement Co. in 1962. The fruit farm survived until the early 1970s, when it was grubbed up, but this was due to market conditions which were having a bad effect across the whole district.

Full references to be be provided in the book form.

(Copyright Jonathan Spain 2016.)

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Shepreth as seen by others

Over the years I have come across references to Shepreth in historical papers, local history books, county guides and other publications and it is interesting to see how the village has been represented down the ages.

If one was writing a description of the village today I would mention the magnificent stand of mature trees along Fowlmere Road, the pleasant chalk stream running through the village, and one or two of the older houses, such as Docwras Manor, Tyrells Hall and Nuns Manor at Frog End, and also the attractive cluster of thatched cottages (and mill buildings) around the bridge in the centre of the village and at Frog End. The gardens at the Meldreth Road crossing house and at Docwras Manor have become well-known local features.

The development of Shepreth Wildlife Park would be worthy of note, with an interesting history, starting out as an animal rescue center. I would mention the modernised village pub, The Plough, newly reopened, which has proved such an asset to the village and restored a greater sense of community. The recent improvements at the railway station, carried out by the small band of local volunteers, with the arrangement of flower tubs, would speak to this improved community spirit.

But what did others make of it in earlier times? Writing in the 1630s the Shepreth antiquary, John Layer, described the parish thus:

‘The soil is very fruitful for corne and grasse, the towne standeth almost in the midst of the bounds, and is environed on all sides, the south-east excepted, with rivers and brooks, and hath a pleasant and sweet brook besides, running through the middle of the towne.’

The vicar of Barrington, Edward Conybeare, wrote a series of local guides and history books in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In his ‘Tourist’s Guide to the City of Cambridge’ (revised 1892) he set out a series of walks based on the railway stations on lines running from Cambridge. In Route ‘C’ from Cambridge to Royston by rail he writes:

‘A footpath from Barrington to Shepreth, the next station, whence the visitor will observe rising all around him the chimneys of cements works, the latest Cambs. industry,’ and goes on to mention Shepreth ‘which is chiefly attractive by the clean and copious stream winding through the village, which is worth tracing to its source (2 miles off) in the old mere, whence Fowlmere is named’.

Conybeare was, like many in the Late Victorian-Edwardian period, a cycling enthusiast, and published a popular book of routes, ‘Rides Round Cambridge. A Cyclist’s Guide to the District,’ 1902. Route VII (Barrington, Orwell, Shepreth, Foxton) contains the following description:

‘Crossing the Cam we reach the Great Northern Railway at Shepreth Station and immediately enter the pretty village…with its shady lane watered by the clearest of brooks (rising in what was till lately the veritable mere of Fowlmere). Turning right after passing the station and immediately left, leads us past the church (barely worth a mention though the chancel arch has curious features).’ The route then turned back towards Foxton.

Conybeare was clearly delighted by the brook for again in ‘Highways and Byways of Cambridgeshire and Ely,’ (1910) he writes of Shepreth, ‘This is a little gem of a village, with a clear and copious brook, running across its maze of thick-shaded lanes’. Members of ‘The Friends of the River Shep’ will take note of this long-standing appreciation of the attractive qualities of our little brook, as a distinguishing feature of the village, going back to John Layer in the mid 17th century and noted repeatedly by Edward Conybeare in the late 19th/early 20th centuries.

Shepreth (and its brook) was not always treated so well by writers. Charles G. Harper, (1863-1943), author and illustrator, made an industry of topographical works, with titles such as ‘The Brighton Road’ (1892), ‘The Portsmouth Road’ (1899) etc. In 1902 he published ‘The Cambridge, Ely and Kings Lynn Road. The Great Fenland Highway.’ Harper must have visited on a wet and dreary day for his description of Shepreth is unremittingly damning and snooty. He begins pleasantly enough:

‘Shepreth hides itself from the road. Let us take the winding by-way that leads to it [from the present day junction of Frog End and the A10] and see what a purely agricultural Cambridgeshire village set down in this level plain and utterly out of touch with the road may be like.’

But he was clearly unimpressed, for he continues….’It needs no great exercise of the deductive faculty to discover, on the way to Cambridge, that this is not a place of great or polite resort, [gasp!] for the lane is a narrow and winding way, half muddy ruts and loose stones. Besides it crawls imperceptibly in its deep ditch like bed, overhung with pollarded willows, a stream which takes its rise from the bogs of Fowlmere. By what lazy snakish windings it ultimately finds its way to the Cam does not concern us.’ Evidently, Harper did not appreciate Conybeare’s ‘shady lane’ watered by a ‘clear and copious brook’, rising ‘from the veritable mere of Fowlmere.’

He continues: ‘Here and there mud-walled cottages, brilliantly white-washed and heavily thatched dot the way, the sum total of the village, saving indeed the church standing adjoining the farmyard churned in a sea of mud.’

About the church Harper and Conybeare are more in agreement but Harper is unreserved in his criticism, laced with a touch of ironic understatement: ‘The church is not altogether prepossessing. The south isle has been rebuilt in white brick, in the style rivaling the worst efforts of the old time chapel-builder, and the old tower, whose upper stages have long fallen in ruin, shows in the contorted courses of its stone work how the building has sunk and settled in the water-logged soil’. Harper concludes his description of Shepreth with evident relief: ‘beyond this soddened village, coming to the High Road again, the station and level crossing at Foxton are reached.’

The most detailed description we have of the village (and its history) comes from the report of the ‘Autumn Excursion of the Cambs. and Hunts. Archaeological  Society’, which visited Melbourn, Fowlmere and Shepreth on the 22 September,1922. This coach party was led by William Mortlock Palmer, the local antiquarian and Linton GP, whose family was from Meldreth. He gave a series of talks on various architectural features in the village as the group made they way round.

The first stop was the mill, where the mill house, mill and barns were described as ‘a pleasant group’ before moving on to Manor Farm, adjacent to the church, where Palmer read a paper  on the history of the Manor of the Nunnery of Chatteris, down to the time of John Layer, about whom Dr Palmer was an authority.

Dr Palmer’s detailed description of the history of the village church rather bears out the comments made by Conybeare and Harper. Although first recorded in 1254,  the short heyday of its history was the 14th century when it was largely rebuilt and well furbished. Thereafter it is a continuous story of disrepair, delapidation and periods of non-residence. In 1774 the spire was taken down because it had cracked the tower, causing two bells to fall and be broken. In 1852 the tower remained in a dangerous state and the church’s condition was described as disgraceful. Palmer, like Conybeare noted the chancel arch, possibly Norman, as the best, most important feature. Despite the history of neglect the church still stands, its original clunch masonry patched up with modern brickwork and cement, (not the best means of renovation!)  but the churchyard is rather attractive in a quiet modest way.

The party then moved on to Wimbish Manor, some of the group walking through the ‘well-wooded and well watered park of Tyrells Manor, with Mr Woodham, the owner. On the way to Tyrells, the “pleasant sweet brook” of old John Layer was crossed by a footbridge’.

The report continued… ‘At Wimbish Manor the jaded antiquaries were welcomed by Mr and Mrs Webber. Tea tables had been set on one of the lawns, and the guests enjoyed the good things thereon in ease and comfort.’ To conclude the outing Dr Palmer then gave a paper on the complicated descent of the other manor in the village, Delahaye’s Manor which was eventually divided into Wimbish and Docwras Manors.

John Layer, Edward Conybeare and Dr Palmer, would be gladdened to know that the brook, which we know as the River Shep, is enjoyed and looked after by local residents, long after their time, and recognised as a vital and important feature of the village. Even Charles Harper, one would hope, would have appreciated the efforts of the ‘Friends of the River Shep’ to clear the banks and maintain the flow of the river!

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Our Lady of White hill: new evidence of the chapel at Haslingfield

Since publishing my short book, ‘The Pilgrimage to Our Lady of White hill,’ in 2013, I have come across further evidence relating to its use in the early 16th century. This relates to bequests made in two wills, of offerings and gifts.

The first is from the will of Agnes Bowyer, widow, of the village of Over, (dated 25 March, proved 17th April, 1521). She willed that ‘my ghostly father, (the parish priest) should visit or cause to have visited, for my discharge, these places, our Lady of Redybunde, St. Androwe and St. Pernell of Ely, our Lady of Grace of the Blackfryers in Cambridge, and our Lady of Whitehill, and there to offer for me a Halfpenny or Penny at his pleasure’.

(Source: Palmer, ‘The Blackfryers of Cambridge’, The Reliquary Quarterly Archaeological Journal, vol. XXV, 1884-5, p.208.)

This indicates that the shrine was in use until just before the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the sacking of shrines. Over is a village about seven miles north of Cambridge in the Fens, indicating the shrine was known in the wider Cambridgeshire area.

The reference to other shrines requires further consideration. The shrine at the church of the Blackfriers in Cambridge is well-known and documented. Our Lady of ‘Redybunde’ could be a miss-transcription by the clerk of ‘Radygunde’, the former nunnery on the site of Jesus College? ‘St.Androwe [St. Audrey of Ely?] and St Pernell of Ely’ require further research.

The existence of a second will was brought to my attention recently by Dr Clair Daunton, of Cambridge University. This concerns a bequest by Edward Shuldham, Master of Trinity college from 1502 until his death in 1503. He was also Rector of Therfield in Essex. Under his will of 1499, Shuldham left several bequests to churches and chapels in and around Cambridge, including… ‘To the chapel of Our Lady of Whitehill, a vestment, or something necessary for the chapel, to the value of 13 shillings and four pence.’ Will proved on 3rd August, 1503. (Tranls., Dr Daunton. Source: TNA Prob/11/13/image ref.2343.)

From this we may infer the chapel was known and in use between 1503-21. There are some other points of interest to consider: the suggested gift of a ‘vestment’  – the garment worn by a priest when carrying out some religious service or ceremony – ‘or something else necessary for the chapel,’ is suggestive (no more) of the existence of a chapel priest.

Another point is that whilst Agnes Bowyer’s gift, of a halfpenny or penny, is the offering of a relatively poor person, Edward Shuldham was a person of local significance both within the church and the University, and his gift is correspondingly larger – 13 shillings and four pence.

It would be interesting to create an accurate survey of all local shrines, holy wells and places of pilgrimage in the Cambs. area. Further research into wills, including members of the University, should throw up further gifts to local shrines, even, perhaps, Chapel hill. Something I will return to in due course.

It would be interesting to see how far back in time such (possible) bequests were made, since the origin of the shrine is open to question. The first mention of the chapel comes in a deed dated 16th June, 1432, describing a parcel of land ‘below the chapel’, next to the ‘Stayneway’ – the name for the lane leading over Chapel hill from the 13th century. There is also an Indulgence granted by Bishop Alcock, dated 18 December, 1488, for the repair of the chapel. (See my book, pp.6-7). Further ‘will evidence’ would help to fill in the picture and provide information regarding the pilgrimages significance.

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Old Orchards in South Cambridgeshire

Where ever you go in South Cambs. it’s possible to see the remnants and relics of a once thriving fruit growing industry. Most of the commercial orchards were grubbed up in the 1970s so it’s a question of looking for clues such as house, place and street names, bits of old orchard, and hedgerow fruit trees. Also many of our villages have community orchards, established since the 1970s when the pressure group’Common Ground’ was established to protect our orchard heritage before they all disappeared due to ‘market forces’.

I am in the process of writing a history of fruit farming in South Cambs. To this end I have been researching the whereabouts of old orchard land in around the villages using documentary sources and large scale OS maps. Having done this research its interesting to then go for a walk and have a close look at the landscape. There are a series of local walks which provide ample evidence of our former orchards.

For example: walking from Shepreth, where I live, to Barrington, I pass ‘The Bramleys’ and ‘Blenheim Close’, and if you look at old maps you find that these private housing estates were once old orchards attached to the Docwras Manor estate. Bramley Seedling cookers and Blenheim Orange, a dual purpose cooking and dessert apple, were widely grown in local orchards. Crossing the River Rhee or Cam, using the footbridges into Barrington, you see a strip of old orchard attached to a property on the right hand side of the footpath. At one time there were many of these small orchards backing on to the river, with properties fronting the High Street. These were smallholder orchards of an acre or so, where the owners or tenants combined fruit growing with poultry, pigs and honey making, and often combined this work with paid employment elsewhere.

Turning left along Barrington High Street and walking back towards Shepreth, on the right hand side of the road before the road turns down towards the bridge, there is a property called ‘Orchard End’, where through the hedgerow you can see a fairly large plantation of old fruit trees, grown as half standards, set in a square pattern about 16-20 feet apart. This was a standard method of cultivation. In the opposite direction, climbing to the top of Barrington Hill (Chapel Hill), on the left hand side was a large 50 acre orchard of plums, greengages and apples, owned by the Eastwood Cement Company (circa 1930-60). This was considered a prime site for orchard land because of its relative height. The fruit trees did not suffer from frost damage at blossom time, since the cold air collected in the valley bottom. for the same reason Mettel hill in Meldreth and Greenlow (Grinnel) hill, in Melbourn became prime orchard land and the latter remains so, (Cam Valley Orchards).

Most of the local farm shops and gardening outlets began life as fruit farms. In Meldreth Fieldgate Nurseries started out as a fruit orchard and so too Phillimore’s Garden Centre in Melbourn. The largest of these concerns, Bury Lane Farm Shop was the old Bury Lane Fruit Farm, a 79 acre holding established in the early 1900s, part of the Melbourn Bury estate. This became a ‘pick your own’ fruit farm in the 1970s. You can see their old plum orchard on the right hand side of the railway line, as you travel by train to Royston. Similarly you can see old orchard land on the left of the railway line just before you enter Meldreth station.

The one remaining commercial fruit farm is Cam Valley Orchards in Meldreth, centred on the cold store and farm shop in Whitecroft Road.The present owner, Tim Elbourn, owns about 50 acres of orchard land in Meldreth and Melbourn. Tim grows a wide variety of heritage apples as well as pears, plums and gages. His shop is well worth a visit and offers excellent fruit and good value for money.

In terms of acreage, the main center of fruit growing in South Cambs was Melbourn and Meldreth. This can be seen in the road names in Melbourn which celebrate the apples grown in the area: Bramley Avenue, Russet Way, Orchard Road etc. Cherry Park industrial estate is the former site of the Palmer family’s apple cold store and packing sheds. The Palmers were the largest fruit growers (and early pioneers) in the district. The ‘American Golf’ site on the approach to to the village was formerly a large apple orchard, owned by the Palmer’s. One of the earliest orchards was owned by a local Melbourn farmer, J.J. Newling, at The Moor, near the present site of the allotments. In Meldreth, Howard Way commemorates another pioneer fruit growing family, who owned Chiswick Farm situated in Chiswick End.This fruit farm was later owned by the Dash family until it was grubbed up in the early 1970s.

Stockridge Meadows in Melbourn is a good recent example of the community orchards which have been set up in the district.This has been turned into a nature reserve with a circular walk. New fruit trees have been planted to supplement the older fruit trees which once formed part of a commercial orchard. Other community orchards have been established in Harston, Orwell, Kingston and The Eversdens. One of the most recent community orchard developments has been in Trumpington where a project to plant local heritage apples has been undertaken.

In medieval times most orchards were situated on small crofts or enclosures of land with the villages, close by the farmhouses and other properties. As the industry developed in the late 19th century arable land was converted to orchards, a response to the Great Agricultural Depression and falling cereal prices. The introduction of the railway line from Cambridge to London via Royston in the 1850s opened up new and more distant markets for local growers and a rapid means of transport for perishable fruits. All of the villages with local stations saw the expansion of fruit growing: Harston, Foxton, Shepreth and Meldreth. Villages further afield such as Harlton, the Eversdens and Kingston sent fruit to Lord’s Bridge station on the Bedford-Gamlingay-Cambridge line.

You can enhance the enjoyment of your local walks by keeping a watchful eye for signs of old orchard land; there is much more of it around than you might think!

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Fruit Farming in South Cambs: writing a history

Having spent much of 2013 and early 2014 researching the history of fruit farming in South Cambs., I have completed the introduction and first chapter. I am having a break at present before returning to work on this project in September.

I have divided the book into three sections. The first contains chapters on the origins and history of the fruits grown in the district; greengages, plums, apples, pears and soft fruits; the second section looks at the geographical development of the orchards in and around the villages and the social history of fruit growing – its impact on village life and the role of particular families in this industry. The third section looks at the economic and organisational history of fruit farming in South Cambs. from the mid 19th century to modern times. Its a story of the rise and eventual decline of a once important local industry and the reasons behind this.

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Forthcoming local history talks

Haslingfield Village Society: Haslingfield Village Hall, Tuesday 16 September, 8pm.

The Pilgrimage to Our Lady of White hill. I will be discussing the documentary evidence for the shrine and the role played by local historians in the preservation of this local tradition from the mid 17th century to modern times.

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