17th Century

Wimpole parish in the 17th century was not owned by one person; there were at least six manors, most under the Lordship of Sir Thomas Chicheley, some not. He died in 1616 during a time when a sickness had descended upon the parish and took rich and poor alike; this left his son, Thomas Chicheley, as his heir, but he was not old enough and so the King had the rights to Sir Thomas Chicheley’s land until his son came of age. When he did, at 21, one of the first things he did was to have his lands mapped and for good reason: the old terrier system of writing down who had what was very confusing and very difficult to understand.

Mapmaker copy of Benjamin Hare's 1638 map of Wimpole

Mapmaker copy of Benjamin Hare’s 1638 map of Wimpole

I suppose it was  the state-of-the-art computing of the day. A certain Benjamin Hare was employed to survey the lands and draw a map on vellum ( lamb skin) . He produced five sheets which allowed Thomas to easily understand how his land was divided. At this time much was still divided up in strips called lands which varied in size from a quarter of an acre to maybe two acres in some cases. However there was quite a lot of land already engrossed, that is to say made in large fields. How this happened we are not sure but the light green areas were no longer farmed for crops but rather grazed by animals and in most cases in the name of a man called Daniel Finch. The light brown areas are those that would have been still cropped for corn (corn means wheat, oats, barley, beans, peas etc) The dark green is woodland and the pale green areas,  of which there are not many, are the meadows, probably hay. The purple areas are the houses and attached yards, orchards etc. We can see that unlike Orwell it is a dispersed village and one that is called poly-focal. Also on this map was the original manor house with its moat. Shortly after this map was made Thomas Chicheley had a most superb mansion-house built and indeed the centre of the present Hall is this house with later wings added which, as you can see from the Kipp engraving below,  at that time seem separate from Chicheley’s house.

The Kipp engraving 1705

The Kipp engraving 1705

Chicheley was strongly Royalist and shortly after the house was built the Civil war broke out. This did not stop Thomas from wheeling and dealing; he actively went out of his way to engross more land. In some cases at great cost, for in 1648 he had to pay Robert Seamer the princely sum of £400 for eight acres of free land dotted about the parish and the Roberts commoner rights to the same. Furthermore, Thomas had to buy the manor of Orwell so that he could then swap land he had in the Orwell parish for land in the Wimpole parish owned by men in Orwell. There is absolutely no evidence that Thomas aggressively cleared the Wimpole villagers from the land at Wimpole. All this engrossing cost him dear and he soon had to mortgage Wimpole and what with fines paid to Parliament for being on the “wrong side”, he was nearly broke.

More later…

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