Anyone interested in studying the local history of Cambridgeshire can find a great deal of fascinating information from secondary published sources. I have been reading through the local antiquarian journal, ‘The East Anglian’ in Cambridge University Library. The county has been well served by antiquarians and local historians. At the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries William Mortlock Palmer of Linton (and Meldreth) was one such. There are many of his writings and transcripts from manuscript sources in the East Anglian including materials on the Peasants Revolt of 1381 to which I’ll return in a separate blog.
There are two interesting translations from the Azzize Rolls which show what a harzardous route the Icknield Way could be in the middle ages. The first extract is from 1272 describing how ‘Peter de Logges, Henry de Logges and Saul the Jew were found murdered in Melbourn field. It is not known who killed them.’ Palmer describes how the borders of the parish were wild heath and woodland through which ran the Icknield Way, then a main cross country route for travellers. Apparently a state of lawlessness then prevailed – the same roll recorded seven murders in Melbourne and one in Meldreth, committed by local inhabitants. (East Anglian, new series, VI p21).
The second extract taken from the assize roll for 1285 describes how ‘Hugh, son of Rolph of Meldreth, and William le Ken of Pylawston rode together from Walden fair in a cart. They were coming along the Icknield Way and had got as far as the cross roads at Chrishall Grange when it pleased them to stop in the middle of the road. A certain Henry, son of William Prude of Melbourn, who was travelling behind them, was much troubled thereat and drawing his sword cut off the first joint of Hugh’s thumb, who retaliated with a sword slash on the left shoulder. Henry appealed Hugh, but as he is the aggressor, Hugh is quit and Henry has to pay a fine’ (East Anglian, new series VI, p.7) An early example of medieval road rage.
Lawlessness along the Icknield Way was common and being on the borders of two counties, Essex and Cambridgeshire, allowed perpetrators to skip away from the justice of one or other county sherrif. Royston was a case in point where gangs of cut-throats based themselves between the jusrisdictions of different counties – the local jusrisdiction of the Prior not being strong enough to quell them. The Victoria County History notes that because of its location as a border town Royston was the scene of much crime and disorder; numerous special peace commissions were established in the 14th cent in an attempt to quell the activities of the ring leader of one such gang, Richard Howessone, the so-called ‘Marshal of Royston’. (See also A. Kingston, A History of Royston, 1906)