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Villagers: 750 Years Of Life In An English Village

 

 

The Evidence

The bulk of the material I've collected over the past 35 years is in the form of documents, although I used many other sources as well.

   The main sources are as follows, some examples of which are reproduced here.

 

•  Manor Court Rolls

•  Bailiffs' Accounts

•  Wills and inventories

•  National court records

•  Church Court records

•  Parish records

•  Maps

•  Newspaper reports

•  Assize records

•  Convict records

•  Published national records

•  Books

•  Photographs/Postcards

 

 

Maps are great sources of information. This is John Ogilby's road map of 1675 showing part of the route from Oxford to Cambridge passing through Gamlingay.

Will of John Foxe, 1559 Ogilby: Oxford to Cambridge 1698

An original Tudor will, from 1559, probably written at the testator's bedside as he lay dying. The list at the bottom shows debts owing to him.

Inventory Robert Wallis 1685 (detail)

Inventories take you on a tour of a village home. This is part of an inventory from 1685. The text reads 'In ye Chamber: Item one flockbedd & two coffers valued att xiijs iiijd' (13s 4d). The coffers would have been similar to this one, of around the same date.

Churchwardens' accounts 1664

Parish records are very informative. This is part of a 17th century churchwarden's account and mentions the 'Common Plow', and going on procession.

Slade detail

I was incredibly lucky to find such a wealth of evidence from all periods - Gamlingay must be one of the best-documented villages in England.

   The fact that Merton College in Oxford owned a manor in the village from the 1260s (and still owns village land today) was my biggest stroke of luck.

   The long series of surviving Merton manor court rolls illuminate village life from 1340 right through to the end of the seventeenth century.

   They provide a wealth of details about the village, from bakers and brewers through to petty crimes and misdemeanours involving theft, stray animals, eavesdropping, illicit sex, fights and a host of other matters.

   Merton's bailiffs' accounts run from 1289 to the middle of the 1350s, just after the Black Death.

   They are full of fascinating details about how the medieval manor functioned. They show manorial expenses such as the cost of looking after the ploughs and carts, maintaining the buildings, repairing the chancel, and the upkeep of the new-fangled windmill.

   On one memorable occasion the mill burned to the ground and the Bailiff sent a message to the Warden of Merton asking what to do about his pyromaniacal miller. Perhaps it's as well his answer does not survive.

   

   

 

 

 

c1680 coffer

Some of the evidence used in a court case in 1532 about a riot in the village.

   This is a deposition from one of the witnesses when Edward Slade was forcibly arrested in his own home by Thomas Chicheley, the local JP, and around 60 village men. They dragged Slade through the mud and locked him in the stocks in the rain.

   The arrest is vividly described here - flattening the fence around Slade's house, using an improvised battering ram to break down the doors, with Chicheley 'crying for Gune powder' and saying they would 'burn Slade out of the house'.