History of Hardwick

by Christine Kuch


Evidence from archaeology shows that the Romans and later the Romano-British people tended to cultivate lighter soils such as are to be found near river valleys. This explains why there were early settlements in places such as Comberton. But in Hardwick, the heavier clay soil was less suitable for cultivation and so the area remained forest until a much later date. Anglo-Saxon settlers began to clear parts of the woodland but as late as 1496 Hardwick was noted for its large wooded areas. The name 'The Stockings' which is still used today, means "a group of stumps" and was given to the area as the forest was gradually being cleared in the interest of sheep farming.

In the days when Viking raids on East Anglia were commonplace, it was traditional that any important person with property would make a kind of will in case he died in battle. Through this tradition we have our first written mention of Hardwick as the land around the village was one of the estates Ealdorman Beorhtnoth gave to Ely in 991 A.D. Beorhtnoth was a local chief and an old English poem about his last battle against the Danes at Maldon in Essex on the 10th or 11th of August 991 has come down to us The poem, together with a tapestry made by his wife depicting his deeds in the battle, was given to the monks at Ely after his death when they inherited the land at Hardwick.

Although it is through his untimely death that our village is first mentioned by name, the poem does show how unnecessary his death was. He led the English army to 'safety' on a piece of land in the centre of the river only to find that the tide came in. Many soldiers drowned and the others, including Beorhtnoth himself, fled to the river bank only to be met and slaughtered by the Danish invaders

Hardwick is mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086) as belonging to the Abbot of Ely who owned a total of twenty two acres. The See of Ely, or what was legally entrusted to the Bishop of Ely, was created in 1109 and records show that at this time there was a Manor in Hardwick situated by the moat in the south of the village This Manor was converted for the use of the Bishop of Ely and remained the property of successive bishops until 1600. In this year Queen Elizabeth I forced Bishop Heton to exchange the Manor for other land. The Manor was given to an agent, who was incidentally the Rector of Little Gransden, for sale in 1610 by King James I. The Manor then had several owners but in 1666 it again became connected with the Bishop of Ely.

Matthew Wren was Bishop of Ely then and he was the uncle of the famous architect Sir Christopher Wren, who was at that time building a new chapel at Pembroke College, Cambridge. This chapel was Wren's first architectural design. The chapel was designed and built to celebrate his uncle's release after eighteen years of imprisonment. Pembroke College was endowed with Hardwick Manor to celebrate the completion of this chapel. Ever since, the land where the Manor stood has been owned jointly by the Master of Pembroke College and two trustees of Wren's first chapel.

From this point onwards there are endless records of land changing hands in the area for prices that would astonish us today. There are too many to mention, but for those who are really interested in the details, I suggest reading the relevant parts of 'The Victoria County History of Cambridgeshire' which can be found on the second floor of the reference library in Cambridge but which runs to many volumes! However, it is worth noting that Lancelot Brown who is better known as Capability Brown, the famous English gardener, took possession of some land in Hardwick in 1770.

In order to meet the national need for corn, the government passed 'Enclosure Acts' between 1795 and 1812 which affected ownership and use of the land in Hardwick. The Acts meant that farms increased in size and a few outlying farmhouses were built in the area. However, the Enclosure movement meant that the small cottager who had previously worked his own small allotment had to become a hired farm labourer to continue working the land.

The pattern of settlement remained the same until Hardwick suffered in the agricultural depression of the late 19th century when the population declined. Houses were built In the north-west corner of the parish in the 1930's and after the second world war dwellings were built to the east of Hardwick turn along the main road.

Individual buildings of interest in Hardwick, both past present, will be dealt with in a later chapter, as will economic history of the village.

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