1902 Encyclopedia > County of Cambridge, England

County of Cambridge
England




COUNTY OF CAMBBIDGE, one of the smaller English counties, belonging to the South Midland division of England, is about 45 miles in length and 30 in breadth. It comprises 17 hundreds, and the boroughs of Cambridge and Wisbeach. There are in the county, which is embraced within the diocese of Ely, 172 parishes and townships, be-sides parts of parishes. It contains, according to the census of 1871, 524,926 statute acres. It is divided by the old course of the Biver Ouse into Cambridge proper and the Isle of Ely. Until the year 1857 the Isle of Ely was practically a county palatine, like the county palatine of Chester and the bishopric of Durham, a distinct enclosure within the county. The liberty of the Isle of Ely has its court of quarter sessions, a separate commission of the peace, and its own county rate. The county, which is purely agri-cultural, and for the most part arable, presents a vast land expanse, with little that is picturesque and with no claims to fine scenery, but imposing to the summer tourist by the frequent pollarded watercourses, the heavy crops of grain, and the immense dome of sky.

Cambridgeshire evidently once formed part of the country of the Iceni. The Icenhilde, always a British way, and never a via strata, was most probably derived from the same root. The country is rich in Boman roads and other remains, and some of the Boman roads were doubtless formed on old British tracks. (For the ancient roads con-sult Professor Babington's Monograph.) Cambridgeshire became a dependency of the kingdom of East Anglia. It was included in the Danelagh, though how far it was colonized by Northmen is uncertain. According to Henry of Huntingdon, in the war against the Danes, when the English fled the men of Cambridgeshire resisted most manfully. During the period of the Conquest, the siege and capture of the Isle of Ely is the most remarkable event; the sea country was the last that yielded to the Conqueror, and the half-legendary Hereward is the last English hero of the conflict. In the time of Stephen, in the time of John, and in the time of the Barons' War in the reign of Henry III., the Isle of Ely emerges repeatedly into notice. The splendid foundations of Etheldreda and her sister, with the- rising colleges of the university of Cambridge, drew pilgrims to the district from all parts of the country. In the Civil War Cambridgeshire belonged to the associated counties, and had no actual share in the conflict. Cromwell possessed a considerable estate in the Isle of Ely, and lived in the rectory house of Ely till elected member for Cambridge. He became governor of Ely, and his son Henry died in the neighbourhood (Carlyle's Cromwell). King Charles, after his seizure at Holdenby, was brought to Childerly near Cambridge, and was taken thence to Newmarket, near which the Parliamentary army was encamped under Fairfax and Cromwell.

The drainage of the Cambridgeshire fens forms one of the most remarkable chapters of the industrial history of the country. All the northern portion of the county, at the junction of the counties of Lincoln, Huntingdon, Cam-bridge, and Norfolk, is part of the vast district known as the Great Level of the Fens. A large province of 680,000 acres of the richest land in England has been reclaimed from the sea and preserved by continual watchfulness, as completely as is the case in the opposite kingdom of Holland. The great works which have reclaimed the land were mainly clue to Cornelius Vermuyden, the Dutchman, knighted by Charles I., and the Dutch and Flemings he employed, and in more recent times to James Bennie, the eminent engineer. The chief promoters were five successive earls of Bedford, who have given their name to the great Bedford Level. From the earliest times, however, there had been conflicts between the encroaching waters and the inhabitants of the invaded shores. The Bomans, who left few great works unattempted, reclaimed much of the rich silt and soil deposited on the shores of the Wash, and con-structed the immense drainage work known as the Carr (Fen) Dyke. They also carried causeways over the fen country. Much of the Boman work seems to have lapsed into the " great dismal swamp," caused by the silting up of the outfalls of rivers, and the mingling of the tides with the upland waters. The submergod territory seems originally to have been rich meadow and forest land, and it receives the river deposits of soil from eight counties, the causes of the great and abiding fertility. All this region then formed an immense estuary, the Wash, or rather a large lake, communicating by shifting channels with the sea. The more elevated grounds were called islands, whose isolation sometimes invited the founders of religious edifices, and sometimes those without the pale of the law. The whole country from Cambridge to Lincoln was a morass abounding with fish and fowl, and all the scattered habitations of the f enmen were liable to be swept away by sudden storms.





The monasteries and the bishops of Ely did good work in the reclamation of lands. Morton's Leam was a canal made by Bishop Morton of forty miles from Peterborough to the sea, which drained the North Level. After the dissolution of the monasteries the work fell into abeyance until renewed by Cornelius Vermuyden. The fenmen vehemently opposed his plans, and Oliver Cromwell, the member for Cambridge, put himself at their head and succeeded in stopping all the operations. When he became protector, however, he sanctioned Vermuyden's plans, and Scotch prisoners taken at Dunbar, and Dutch prisoners taken by Blake in his victory over Van Tromp, were employed as the workers. Much valuable land was reclaimed, and the fen country altogether improved. There remained, however, very much to be done. Ver-muyden's system was exclusively Dutch; and while perfectly suited to Holland it did not meet all the necessities of East Anglia. He confined his attention almost exclusively to the inland draining and embank-ments, and did not provide sufficient out-let for the waters themselves into the sea. So late as 1810 there were districts in which people reaped their harvest, and gathered their orchard fruits, and went to church, in boats. Bennie pointed out the true scientific principle that a thorough drainage could only be effected by cutting down the outfalls to low water at spring tides, and so facilitating the escape of the waters. He projected a great system of drainage and provided a more effectual outfall of the Ouse into the Wash. His work was improved and extended by Telford.
Throughout the present century great improvements of all kinds have been carried on. The surplus waters were formerly pumped into the rivers and canals by windmills; but this could not be counted on as an invariable force, and steam-mills are generally substituted. Dykes, cause-ways, sluices, and drains were now cut in every direction. All the rivers of Cambridgeshire which formerly found their outlet at Wisbeach, before the channel was choked up, now mainly by cuts and straightenings, have forsaken their old beds and are poured into the sea by artificial streams, like the Bedford rivers into the German Ocean.

It will be interesting to enumerate the original courses of the streams; it is not always easy to decipher the natural channels. The chief rivers are the Nene and the Ouse, with its tributary streams. The Nene on arriving at Peterborough turned to the right, and making a circuit of several meres passed by March to Wisbeach. It is now made to flow into three channels. One arm is the Cats-water or Shire Drain, which meets Morton Leam and flows into the Wash; the second arm is Whittlesey Dyke, or the old Nene river-5 the third is Morton's Leam. The Great Ouse enters the Fens near Earith, where it formerly forked ; one branch ultimately joined the Nene; the other branch was called the West Water, and ultimately joined the main channel of the Nene. Both the channels are now nearly closed to the waters of the Ouse, and are carried by the Bedford rivers in a direct line to Denver, where they meet the channel of the Little Ouse, and so reach the sea at King s Lynn. The Cam or Granta, formed by the junction of some small Essex streams, flows N.N.E. from Cambridge, changing its name to Ouse three miles from Ely, but instead of flowing into the sea at Wisbeach is carried on to Denver and thence to the sea at Lynn. The Lark for seven miles separates Cambridgeshire from Suffolk, and the Linnet, a feeder of the Lark, also serves as a boundary stream for another stretch of seven miles.

Ail the northern part of Cambridgeshire, the fen country, is covered with alluvial deposits resting on a bed of clay of great but unknown thickness. These are called the Kimmeridge and Oxford clays, the Oxford clay lying below the Kimmeridge. There is no break of continuity between them ; they are only distinguished by the embodied fossils above the clay. There is a deposit of peat of variable thickness, but generally very deep. South and east the Fens are bordered by a narrow belt of Kimmeridge clay, beyond which is a strip of lower and then of upper green-sand ; and beyond this, in the southern division of the country, we have the chalk. In the fen country there are great masses of gravel, sand, and drift-clay. " We can trace the rise of the fen lands through the deposits of land-floods, and the growth of fuel-bogs " (Professor Sedgwick). Besides these regular formations and deposits Cambridge-shire contains much diluvial deposit, not to be accounted for by land-floods or tides and currents, but belonging to the glacial period. The uplands or so-called " highlands " of Cambridgeshire are level, but broken by low chalk hills in the neighbourhood of Essex and Suffolk. The chalk is in two divisions,—upper with flints, lower without flints. At the foot of the hills the lower bed of chalk has been extensively quarried, and much elaborate sculpture in Ely Cathedral has been formed of it. The thin upper greensand below the lower chalk rests on gault. This formation everywhere constitutes the northern border of the chalk, and in the western portion of the country forms rich, well-wooded soil. The gault is the blue brick earth of Cambridge, and has a thickness of 150 feet. Professor Sedgwick has given a careful account of the fossils found in these formations, and there is an ample collection of examples in the Woodwardian Museum. In deep diggings in the fen lands, and in excavations for buildings in Cambridge gravel, remains are discovered of the wolf, bear, horse, and bos primigenius. Diluvial beds of loam mixed with fragments of chalk extend into the parts of Cambridgeshire adjacent to Essex and Suffolk. Along the irregular line separating Cambridgeshire from these counties the iron-sand which underlies the gault rises to the surface. It forms excellent garden ground, and is rich in fragments of mineralized wood (Conybeare and Phillip's Qeology of England and Wales). Cambridgeshire is one of the chief corn-producing counties. A part of the county near the south-west border was formerly called the Dairies; and large dairy farms are still found producing cheese very similar to the best Stilton. The census of 1871 returned 25 per cent, of the male population as agricultural labourers, farm-servants, and shepherds. Although the county is entirely agricultural, mainly arable, with some wheat and pasture crops, many busy trades are also carried on,—brewing and malting, brick-making, lime-burning. There is a great deal of boat-building, and there are many seamen employed on the navigable cuts. The climate of the county is generally healthy, but it would be premature to say that ague is altogether banished from the fen country.





Some reference has already been made to the British and Roman antiquities. There are some remains of Boman camps; a few only of Norman castles. In the southern part of the county are four great dykes. They once formed the boundary between East Anglia and Mercia; each extended from fen land to wooded country, crossing the open intervening space. The chief of these fosses was the Devil's-Ditch; another was the Fleam or Balsham Dyke; the-others were the ditches of Breat and Bran. All these were-most probably of British origin. The county of Cambridge; is rich in churches, especially in Ely and Cambridge and their neighbourhoods. We have abundant examples of Pre-Norman, Norman, Early English, Decorated, Perpen-dicular. At Ely there are some valuable monastic remains. The famous Abbey of Thorney is only represented by-various foundations, and a fragment of the abbey church,, which has been worked into the present parish church. Of domestic architecture there are very slight remains in one-or two manor houses, and some remains of the Episcopal palace at Downham. The modern architectural efforts, may well compete with those of any former age.

Though Cambridge is the county town, Ely is the on& city of Cambridgeshire. It derived its name from the abund- ance of the eels which were found there. It was situated on the largest of the islands that rose above the level of the Fens, which in winter were surrounded by water, and were only accessible by certain passes or gates. (See ELY.)- The other Cambridgeshire towns are soon enumerated. Wisbeach (beach of the Ouse) is a large and prosperous- town, next in size and population to Cambridge. The- navigable Biver Nene intersects the town and makes it a port. The main export is grain; the main import is Baltic- timber. The Wisbeach canal gives water communication in many directions. Newmarket has a somewhat peculiar reputation, and is called the metropolis of the turf. The race course is four miles in length, of elastic turf ; some- hundred horses may be seen exercising on the Downs. There are seven race meetings in the year. This and the neighbouring town of Boyston, on the borders of Hertford- shire, have been often frequented by royalty ; many houses- are inhabited by patrons of the turf. Our literature abounds- with references to Newmarket, which, truth to say, are as a rule of an unflattering description. Wimpole Park, Lord Hardwicke's place, is the principal seat in the county, and the fine park has some of the best timber in the country. Wimpole is celebrated for its pictures, and there is a good library. The principal other proprietors are the dukes of Bedford and Butland and Mr Childers. Doddington was till recently the richest living in England, but the revenues- are now spread over seven rectories. The village of Babra- han is celebrated as the first place in England where water irrigation was introduced, and also for the breed of South- down sheep which bears the name. Whittlesea Mere is the- most remarkable of the modern reclamation; there abund- ant crops are raised where boating and fishing were carried on within living memory. Whittlesea West is still covered with water many months in the year, when there is abund- ance of waterfowl. The ancient town of March should be noticed, also Chatteris, Thorney, Johan, formerly famous- for their abbeys. The town of Thorney was greatly im- proved and beautified by a former duke of Bedford. In 1875 the county was under the ownership of 6497 pro- prietors of one acre and upwards, and of 6677 proprietors of less than one acre. For parliamentary purposes the two divisions of the shire and isle form one district, returning three members to parliament. The population of the county in 1861, as compared with 1851, exhibited a de- crease of 5 per cent., but in 1871 an improvement was manifested to the extent of 6 per cent. The rate of progress is slow, and it is hardly likely to be acceler- ated. By the census of 1871 the population consisted of 186,906 persons,—of whom 92,115 were males, and 94,791 females. (v. A.)




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