The History of Elton in Cambridgeshire

Historical notes about the town of Elton in Cambridgehsire.

The Geography of the Parish of Elton

'In the district of Huntingdon, there is a certain township, to which far-distant antiquity gave the name of Athelintone; it lies in a most beautiful situation, well provided with streams of water, in a pleasant plain of meadows, abounding in grazing for cattle and rich in fertile fields.'

Thus, in the 12th century, the chronicler of Ramsey Abbey described Elton, and the description remains true to the present day. The parish contains 3,758 acres, and lies in the north-western corner of the county, on the borders of Northamptonshire, into which the southern portion of Elton Park extends, and the county boundary passes along the south-east wall of Elton Hall. The River Nene forms the greater part of the western boundary of the parish and the Billing Brook the eastern boundary. The land is undulating, and in places near the Nene it is less than 50 feet above the Ordnance datum. Near Stock Hill Lodge, however, it rises to 200 ft. The subsoil is mainly clay and the occupation of the inhabitants entirely agricultural.

The Village of Elton

The village lies close to the River Nene at the western boundary of the parish, and is chiefly built along the High Street and a parallel road, both running east from the river to the junction of the roads from Peterborough and Stamford to Oundle. There was only a ford over the river until 1844, when a wooden bridge, called the Crown Bridge, was built. This was replaced by the present stone bridge in 1875.

River Nene

The River Nene at Elton (circa 1911)

The River Nene at Elton (circa 1911)


Elton Station, on the branch line of the London Midland and Scottish Railway from Peterborough to Northampton, is a mile to the west of the village, in the parish of Fotheringhay, Northants. The common fields of Elton were inclosed by Act of Parliament in 1779, when the first Earl of Carysfort (1789) was lord of the manor. The village is divided into Nether End or River End, as it appears on the Ordnance map, and Over End. These divisions can be traced back to 1331, when the cross in the 'Overtoun' is mentioned, and in 1386 the manor house stood in the Netherton, presumably on the same site as at the present day. In 1675 separate searchers of balks and tellers of cattle were appointed for the two divisions, which in 1791 each contained 109 houses. At the present day at Nether End there are a village green and the mill. The church stands at Over End, with Cooper's Hospital a little to the south. Farther to the south are Elton Hall and Park. The fine series of court rolls, ministers' accounts and other documents relating to the manor, preserved at the Public Record Office and the British Museum, supply a very complete picture of manorial economy in the Middle Ages and also a large number of local place-names, such as Beneyeston, Saldines cros furlong, le Gyldinegore (xiii cent.), Longmedehaven, Holweye, le Gores, Oldmoor, Butterfyllymede, Clakesdene, Kilnebrigge, Stock hill field (xiv cent.). The SheepWalk, a name still preserved by Sheep-Walk Farm, near the Billing Brook, where there is a rectangular moat, (fn. 9) is mentioned in 1588,  when it was leased with the site of the manor; and it appears as an ancient inclosure belonging to the lord of the manor in 1779.  Besides the medieval documents already mentioned, the court rolls of the manor are preserved at Elton Hall from 1631 to 1866.

Amongst the rectors of Elton was John Cooper, appointed rector in 1629. Calamy, in the Nonconformists' Memorial, speaks of him as 'a grave, venerable person of the Puritan stamp,' and after the Restoration in 1660 he was unable to subscribe to the new terms of conformity and resigned the living in 1661. He was also patron of the living. His memory is chiefly connected in Elton with the Cooper's Almshouses, which he founded and endowed in 1663. Frederick William Faber (1814–1863), the hymn-writer, was rector from 1843 to 1845, and, after joining the Roman Catholic Church, became Superior of the Brompton Oratory, London. Piers Calveley Claughton (1814–84) was rector from 1842 to 1843 and again from 1845 to 1859, and introduced harvest festivals in the church, a custom which has become popular and nearly universal in England. He was appointed Bishop of St. Helena in 1859 and translated to Colombo in 1862.

Under the wills of Frances Proby, dated 16 December 1711, and of her mother Jane Proby, dated 1 April 1711, who survived her daughter, the parish received the sum of £900; in consequence of a chancery suit the scheme of the charity was not finally settled till 1775, but the parish obtained part at least of the money soon after the testators' deaths. £100 was spent on building a work-house or room where women could meet and work; the interest from £100 was to provide a schoolmistress to live in the work-house and teach the children there; the interest from £600 was to provide a village schoolmaster to teach reading, writing, casting of accounts and the Church Catechism; the interest from £100 was to provide firing in the school in winter. In 1831 the work-house mistress was no longer there, but the school was still carried on under the scheme of 1775. The work-house was afterwards used for the girls' school, until, after many complaints as to its unsuitability, it was sold and the proceeds used towards the cost of new school buildings, which were opened in 1876. The boys' and girls' schools were amalgamated, but the old boys' school was used as the infants' school. Besides the endowment from the Proby Charity, by consent of the Charity Commissioners, part of the endowment of Cooper's Hospital was applied to the support of the schools.

Various Neolithic implements have been found in fair numbers scattered over the parish; Romano-British pottery, some being 3rd-century Castor ware, has been found in the village, while the remains of two Anglo-Saxon crosses of the Christian period, probably of a date later than 970, are standing in the churchyard.

Anglo-Saxon Crosses

Anglo-Saxon Crosses in Elton Churchyard (circa 1911)

Anglo-Saxon Crosses in Elton Churchyard (circa 1911)


In Domesday Book (1086) the Abbey of Ramsey held half a hide of land in Elton, in Northamptonshire, where there were two villeins. A few years later it was held by William Fitz-Ketelber(n), but it probably afterwards formed part of the Hall Fee (q.v.), of which part of the lands lay in Northamptonshire, as part of the park does to this day.

The Abbey of Peterborough also held land in Elton in Northamptonshire. In 1086 it held a hide and a half. In 1125 certain sokemen held one hide and one virgate there, and served with the knights of Peterborough. In 1290 Hugh son of Ralph Crane of Elton held a messuage and 60 acres in free socage of the abbey at a rent of 11s. 8d.

In 1086 there were two mills at Elton, rendering 40s. In Henry I's reign a virgate of land and 6.5 acres of meadow were attached to the mills, which rendered 40s. a year. The water-mills and their repair are continually mentioned in the manorial accounts and they were generally let on lease. In 1551 Edward VI granted them to George Raylton on a lease of 21 years at a rent of £6 13s. 4d. a year, but he seems to have assigned it to John Hixon, probably his brother-in-law. In 1556 Hixon left his lease of the mills to his son Thomas. In 1568 Queen Elizabeth granted them to Ralph Rawlinson, at the same rent, to hold for 21 years, beginning on the expiration of Raylton's lease, and in 1586 she granted them to Thomas Hickson, on a lease of 21 years, starting in 1593, on the expiration of Rawlinson's lease, and lastly she granted them to William Kirkham on a lease of 40 years, starting in 1614. In the meantime, however, Peter Proby appears to have obtained a lease of the mills from one of these lessees and held them in 1605 at the same rent, and continued to do so, although James I granted them in 1614 to William Whitmore and Edward Sawyer, fishing grantees, to hold to them, their heirs and assigns. A fulling-mill existed in 1296–7. In 1350 it was said to be in such disrepair that no rent was received for it.

Two common ovens belonged to the manor, one in Nether End opposite the manor house, the other in Over End.

In 1279 an agreement was made between the Abbots of Peterborough and Ramsey, by which in return for certain grants the Abbot of Peterborough agreed that the Abbot of Ramsey might hold a market on Mondays or Tuesdays at Elton, without any hindrance from the abbots of Peterborough. There is no evidence, however, that the market was ever established.

Victoria County History - Published 1932