Little Wilbraham

Little Wilbraham, is approximately 8 km. (5 miles) east of Cambridge, and covers 806 ha. (1,990 a.), and by 1086 it was an independent village. It wasn’t known as Little Wilbraham until the mid 13th century.  It is divided from its slightly larger southern neighbour, Great Wilbraham, by the Little Wilbraham river, which rises near Wilbraham Temple, the main house in Great Wilbraham parish. Further south-east the parish has a long straight boundary stretching to the line of the Icknield way. The elongated parish, which reaches across that way, includes at its southeast extremity the 19th-century settlement called Six Mile Bottom after its distance from the Newmarket racecourse start. Little Wilbraham’s north-eastern and northern boundaries follow former field and fen boundaries. The parish lies on the Middle Chalk, overlaid in the north-west with Totternhoe Stone and the Cambridge Greensand. There are deposits of river gravels, especially near the brook and the village.  The surface slopes gently from over 30 m. (100 ft.) in the south-east to 15 m. (50 ft.) near the village, while the north-west end of the parish consists of fenland below 15 m., imperfectly drained until after 1800.

There were no ancient woodlands recorded in 1086. It wasn’t until the late 19th century belts of trees were planted on the Six Mile Bottom estate to assist game preservation.  A 25-a. field facing Wilbraham Temple had been similarly planted after 1800 so as to be visually part of that house’s parkland.  A royal forester of Wilbraham was recorded from the 1170s until the 1220s. Newmarket being a centre for the Stuart kings’ hunting, from 1605 to the 1680s the Crown regularly appointed keepers, perhaps after 1660 sinecurists, for a royal warren called Wilbraham Bushes,  which probably included the parish’s south-eastern corner.

An Anglo-Saxon cemetery a mile south-east of the village, was excavated, mostly in 1851, partly c. 1926. It contained c. 300 burials, a third of which were cremations, probably dating from the pagan period. From the 13 peasants recorded, with 5 servi recorded in 1086  the number of landholders increased to c. 40 by 1279.  The fifteenth was paid by 38 people in 1327, the poll tax by 108 adults in 1377, and the subsidy by c. 30 people in 1524. In 1563 there were only 21 families, but the population may have risen in the late 16th and early 17th centuries before declining after 1640.  Under Charles II there were c. 40 dwellings, and 124 adults were reported in 1676. After probably declining by a third or more between 1690 and c. 1740, numbers recovered from the 1750s and stood at 183, in 41 families, in 1801. The total population in the parish rose steadily to reach 397 in 1851, and after dipping briefly in the 1860s stood at 412 in 1881 before falling gradually to 266 in 1951. It rose to 388 in 1961 and was c. 350 in the 1980s.Little Wilbraham, almost entirely devoted to agriculture, consisted until inclosure in 1797 of arable open fields in the south-eastern two thirds and fen pasture in the north-west. The village, close to their meeting point, lay largely along a curving street, running east-west, ¼ mile north of the brook.

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