History of Hardwick

by Christine Kuch


We have already seen how Hardwick owes both its name end its early existence to farming. The first written mention of farming activity in Hardwick is in the Domesday Book which states that the village owned 6 active plough teams and one ox for the land, 4 plough teams for the meadows and also 20 pigs. Despite Hardwick's name 'the place or farm of the sheep', there are no sheep horses or cattle recorded as belonging to the village in the year 1086. More woodland began to be cleared and farmed. The Bishop of Ely's records for the year 1251 mention arable and pasture land and that the Manor of Hardwick employed one plough team. Any supplementary work was carried out by tenants. By this time, a bull; 4 cows, 26 sheep and a ram are recorded as being kept here.

A total of 106 acres were held by free tenants. Henry le Fyr held the largest area, 20 acres for which he paid two shillings a year rent and in addition had to provide certain labour services to the Manor. In return for their holdings, all tenants had certain obligations such as having to do three weeks work a year for the Manor. These 'yardlanders', as they were known, had the right to a certain amount of wood both for fuel and fencing. Also at this time there were three crofters who each had a small holding, and a few unfree tenants in the village. Unfree tenants had the responsibility of guarding the lord's wood. It is worth noting that in 1316 land in Hardwick was valued at one shilling an acre. There was no mention of a mill in Hardwick until 1299. The first mention of one is in 1356 when it apparently needed new sails.

Things changed very little until the late fifteenth century when each tenant paid seventeen shillings rent a year. But the village declined in prosperity owing to fluctuating profits from the sale of wood and poor crops. Difficulties were experienced in rent collection. Rent arrears built up until rents were reduced to 13/6d (68p) in 1463 because of the continuing poverty of the inhabitants. Rents were then fixed and there is no further mention of the Manor's income being affected by the economic life in the village.

The heavy clay soil is not really suitable for sheep farming and historical evidence seems to bear this out. The next mention of sheep farming appears in the 1790's when we are told that one third of the flock of 600 sheep in Hardwick perished because of sheep-rot. The 1780's and 90's were very wet years and farming suffered accordingly. Produce per acre was well down. Peas, barley, oats, beans, wheat and cloves were all grown in the village. Arable farming was the most important occupation here in the seventeenth century and Hardwick was apparently noted for the quality of its oats, the principal crop here in 1501, and grown here as late as 1968.

Village holdings increased in size due to the government Acts of Enclosure in the early nineteenth century. Eight landowners dominated the parish such as the Revd. Edward Serocold Pearce and the Earl of Hardwick. But the village's general population suffered a serious decline and in 1831 the total population had fallen to only 90. Twenty seven out of the twenty nine adult males farmed.

In the twentieth century the pattern changed. Farming continued and soft fruit growing was introduced when extensive orchards were planted in the south east of the parish on land owned by Chivers Limited. During the second world war Pye's opened a small factory along the main road to attract women in the area to war work. The building was later used as a village hall.

Economic development along the 'top road' is connected with the village's closeness to Cambridge, the presence of the A45 trunk road and the needs of the modern motorist.

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