The History of Leighton Bromswold in Cambridgeshire

Historical notes about the town of Leighton Bromswold in Cambridgehsire.

The parish of Leighton Bromswold contains 3,128 acres, about half of which is arable and half grass land. Salome Wood is a fairly large plantation in the north of the parish, and there are one or two coppices. The soil is heavy and the subsoil is Oxford Clay. The land is undulating and is watered by two brooks, the one flowing from the west through the north and middle part of the parish; and the other, the Ellington Brook, flowing eastward through the southern part of the parish, forms the boundary for short distances. Between these brooks is a high ridge of land known as the Bromswold. On this ridge and also northward of the northern brook the land rises to rather over 200 ft. above the Ordnance Datum and from the ridge it falls about 100 ft. to the southern brook and about 70 ft. to the northern. The population is chiefly engaged in agriculture.

The village is on the ridge between the two brooks and contains some 17th-century timber-framed and plastered houses. The village street lies along the road to Old Weston, with Sheep Street branching off to the north-east to Duck End, and Leighton Hill to the south. The church stands at the south-east end of the village, with the Manor Farm, formerly called Church Farm, to the west.

Prebendal Manor House

South-east of the church is the site of the Prebendal Manor House. We may assume that the Prebendary of Leighton Manor always had a good manor house upon his estate, and it would seem that Henry Carnbull (1478–1506) rebuilt this house. Leland says:

'One Carneballe, prebendary there, dyd builde a peace of a praty House standinge within a Mote.'
 

Gilbert Smith (1506–1548), the next prebendary, had a school there and later sold the manor, no doubt by a forced sale, to Sir Robert Tyrwhitt, and the Prebend of Leighton Manor then ceased to exist. This house probably stood somewhat south-east of the present Gatehouse; and in it Sir Robert Tyrwhitt and his successors, Sir Henry D'Arcy and Sir Gervase Clifton, lived. Sir Gervase Clifton (1591–1618) began to build a new house from the designs of John Thorpe. He probably altered the moat and formed the banks with terrace walks and bastion corners inside it, and in 1616 he built a new Gatehouse within an extension of the moat at the north-west side of the site.

Whether he built any part of his new house is uncertain; some wrought stones were found in the west garden and in the moat in 1904, but it is very doubtful whether he actually built anything. Thomas Norton's map (c. 1660) shows a very fine house standing in the centre of the moated inclosure, but the sketches on old maps are generally only imaginative pictures, and this is no proof of the size or appearance of the house. Eighty years ago it was asserted that the house was still standing in 1750, and that people only recently dead could remember it and said that it was a red brick house with stone dressings; but it is probable that this was the old Prebendal house left standing while the new house was being built.

The Leightonstone

Leighton Bromswold Gatehouse (circa 1911)

Leighton Bromswold Gatehouse (circa 1911)

 

John Thorpe's plan for the House and Gatehouse still remains in the Thorpe collection in Sir John Soane's Museum. It shows an entrance porch on the west, a great hall in the middle with open roof, screens and dais, and behind the hall a large room having the long gallery with three bay windows facing east above it. Northward of the hall was the great chamber on the first floor, and a great staircase at the north-west corner, projecting north from which was the chapel. Westward of the hall were kitchen, larders, etc., with a bakehouse projecting northward to correspond with the chapel. On the west side of the house was an inclosed courtyard with the Gatehouse on the western side.

Gatehouse Plan

Plan of Leighton Bromswold Gatehouse

Plan of Leighton Bromswold Gatehouse)

 

The Gatehouse, which still remains, but converted into a Vicarage house in 1904, consisted of a central carriage way with a large arch at each end, and a room on each side of it; at the four angles were small square projecting turrets, those on the east containing staircases. The side rooms had a floor above them, and the whole was then covered by a flat lead roof, the angle turrets being carried up each with a small upper room and covered with pyramidal tiled roofs. At some period, probably soon after it was built, the rooms on each side of the carriage way were enlarged by extending them to the northern and southern faces respectively of the angle turrets—the foundations of the older walls and the beams in the floors above being found in 1904. The great arches were closed in and a floor was inserted across the carriage way. A large oven was built against the south-east turret. Some of the old walls were very rotten and had been much cut into to form doorways and other openings, while many of the windows had been blocked up.

The Gatehouse in 2010

The Leighton Bromswold Gatehouse in 2010

The Leighton Bromswold Gatehouse in 2010

 

The arches of the carriage way are of stone with a frieze and cornice above them and flanked by Doric columns supporting ornamental pilasters once surmounted by stone crests. Parts of an open balustrading of the flat roof still remain on the west side. The windows in the four turrets are square-headed two light windows with transoms; two or three other similar windows, but without transoms, remain, but most of the other windows were insertions of late date. The external appearance of the house has been little altered by the works of 1904; a low porch has been built across between the turrets of the west front, and a shallow bay window has been inserted in the great arch on the east front: on the north and south the rebuilt walls between the turrets have been taken down, and the central part of the house has been projected slightly in advance of the turrets on these sides. The Gatehouse had no ancient fireplaces, and only four modern ones; the two larger stone chimneypieces now in the house came from Stow Longa Manor House, which had recently been pulled down. The staircases were quite modern and of mean design; the turned balusters of the present staircase came from Stow Longa Manor House. A finely carved oak beam, now over the bay window of the middle room, was found in the house. Much of the old stone found on the site was used for the new work.

Highway Robbery

In 1289 Reymund de Solerettis, a merchant of Figeac, while passing 'with his harness and men, between the Ascension and Whitsuntide,' was attacked and robbed by Vincent of London and Hugh 'whose surname the jurors know not.' The merchant came in a dazed state to Coppingford and Upton and raised the hue and cry about midday, and 'the men of those towns followed the evildoers to Albrichelee [Aversley] wood whither he stated they had fled, but could not find them . . . because it was so dark that it was almost impossible to see.' Afterwards, however, the robbers were taken, and hanged at Lincoln.

Leighton Bromswlod's poetic connection

Nicholas Grimald or Grimbald (1519–62), the poet, is supposed to have been born in the parish.

Village Feasts and Fairs

William, treasurer of King John, in 1211 obtained a charter for a fair to be held on the feast of the Invention of the Holy Cross (3 May). There were later two fairs, one on May Day and the other on 24 September.

The following place-names occur in local records: Churchestreete, Plowewright's (15th century); Knolle Hill, Bury lease, Sallam green (16th century). An Inclosure Award was made in 1765–6 and a Tythe Award in 1851.

Victoria County History: Huntingdonshire ~ Printed 1932