Longstowe hundred lies west of Cambridge, and extends for almost 12 miles
from east to west. It is bounded, as far west as Ermine Street, on the north by
the road from Cambridge to St. Neots, on the south by an ancient hill-top
track called the Mare Way. The western boundary is also the county boundary
between Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, which in that part is much indented.
Croxton and Gamlingay parishes reach deep into Huntingdonshire, enclosing a
projection of that county which contains Waresley and Great Gransden. Tenurial
distinctions may partly have produced those irregularities. Thus Great Gransden,
owned by the Mercian earl, was divided after c. 1000 from Little Gransden, which
the abbot of Ely's lordship probably attracted into Cambridgeshire. The boundary
was well established by 1066. On each side of the boundary the vills helped to make
up the respective hundreds in which they lay to a round number of hides. Traces of
possible earlier connexions remained in 1086: Eustace, sheriff of Huntingdonshire, had
recently intervened in Croxton; and Ranulf brother of Ilger, who farmed much royal
demesne in Huntingdonshire, had land in Gamlingay. (fn. 1) The irregularity was slightly
reduced in 1965 when the westernmost tongue of Gamlingay, called Woodbury,
which had formerly separated two parts of Huntingdonshire, was annexed to that county.
In 1066 Longstowe hundred contained twelve vills, divided for the assessment of
geld into four groups, each containing 25 hides. (fn. 2) The easternmost comprised Toft,
Kingston, and Eversden; the next Bourn, and perhaps Caldecote and Longstowe; the
third Caxton, Eltisley, Croxton, and perhaps Little Gransden; and the fourth probably
Gamlingay and the Cambridgeshire Hatley. (fn. 3) Caldecote had probably once been part of
Bourn, on whose church its chapel remained dependent until the 12th century.
Hardwick, probably formerly included in Toft, achieved independent status as a vill
after 1066, perhaps because its principal manor was included in the liberty of the church
of Ely. By c. 1230 Eversden was divided into two parishes, Great and Little Eversden, (fn. 4)
which remained, however, a single unit for most jurisdictional and agricultural purposes.
Thereafter no change has been found in the constituent parts of the hundred.
Longstowe remained a royal hundred, whose bailiff farmed it for 4 marks before
1260, and for 6 marks c. 1279. (fn. 5) In 1268, in accordance with the system adopted in
Cambridgeshire outside the Isle of Ely, it was being administered with Armingford
hundred to the south, (fn. 6) and in the 16th and 17th centuries formed one group with
Armingford, Thriplow, and Wetherley hundreds. (fn. 7) Longstowe hundred shares its name
with one of its constituent parishes, and the original form 'Stow', meaning 'place', may
well have referred to the meeting-place of the hundred moot. (fn. 8) In 1271–2 the sheriff
claimed that the villagers of Longstowe were obliged to provide him with a building
in which he could hold his tourn; (fn. 9) the claim suggests that the hundred court met in
that parish, which is almost at the centre of the hundred, perhaps near where the road
from Bourn to Little Gransden crosses Ermine Street. Seventeen tenants owed suit
to the hundred court c. 1235, (fn. 10) but many withdrew it in the following years, (fn. 11) so that
by 1279 only nine suits remained. (fn. 12) Little Gransden and Hardwick, being demesne
manors of the see of Ely, were, under the bishop's liberties, exempted from the jurisdiction of the hundred court. (fn. 13) In addition 13 lords of manors claimed view of frankpledge and other minor franchises. (fn. 14)
The hundred of Longstowe, 1845
The hundred, lying mostly on the boulder clay of the west Cambridgeshire upland,
was originally well wooded. Place-names such as Eltisley, Swansley, and Papley recall
where settlements were once established in clearings in the wood, and the names Caxton
and Croxton may indicate Danish immigrants in the 9th or 10th centuries occupying
previously uncleared land. (fn. 15) Substantial woods survive on the higher ground in several
parishes. Eight of the villages lie in the upper valley of the Bourn brook, which rises
near Eltisley. Their eastern and western parish boundaries run between the stream and
the ridges of higher ground enclosing the valley. The eastern villages stand on rising
ground near the brook, but further upstream, at Bourn and above, they straddle it.
The more westerly villages lie on the upland where it begins to slope down towards the
Bedfordshire clays. Most of the villages are nucleated, some lying round greens, of
which traces remain at Eltisley and Kingston. Other smaller and perhaps later settlements, such as Caldecote, Little Gransden, and Longstowe, stretch along minor roads.
The main highways of the area were avoided, although at Caxton the village had
already by the 13th century begun to shift from an older site near the church to Ermine
Street. Its position on that road enabled Caxton to develop into a small market town
with several inns for travellers from the 16th to the 18th century. Its prosperity
vanished after the coaches were supplanted by the railways in the 19th century.
Gamlingay also was a marketing centre for its neighbourhood until c. 1600.
Otherwise the villages were predominantly agricultural, although their heavy clay
soil rendered drainage difficult. Cultivation was in two, or later three, fields. At
Kingston a two-field system survived until 1666. From the 15th century substantial
areas in several parishes were inclosed into separate farms, sometimes centred round the
farmsteads of minor manors sited some distance from their villages. (fn. 16) General inclosure,
however, except at Hatley St. George, where the single landowner had inclosed his
farms by the 18th century, did not take place until 1800 and after. Longstowe was
inclosed in that year, seven other parishes between 1809 and 1818, and the remainder
at intervals after 1830. The inclosure of Eltisley, between 1864 and 1868, was the last
but one in the county. (fn. 17) In the 19th century brick-works were established at Eversden,
and, on a larger scale, at Gamlingay. After inclosure the villages enjoyed a brief
prosperity, which was cut short by the depression of the 1870s, when the more northerly
parishes from Eltisley to Hardwick, being on the heaviest land, suffered especially.
Population fell, and some villages dwindled almost into appendages to neighbouring
country houses, as at Hatley St. George, and at Croxton where the park had swallowed
the original site of the village. The 20th century saw some new building in the parishes
nearest Cambridge, close to the St. Neots road. Elsewhere except at Gamlingay, which
flourished on market-gardening and light industry, population was still stationary or
even declining in the 1950s. (fn. 18)