Gargoyle from the village church


Artefacts from prehistoric times, traces of Roman occupation and a few Saxon remains all provide evidence of settlement in this parish. The Domesday record gives more precise information about land ownership and farming. Grantchester Church has some Norman stonework but is mainly of 14th and 15th-century construction. Corpus Christi College, as part of its endowment, became patron of the Parish Church of St Andrew & St Mary in 1352. A century later, King’s College acquired the Lordship of the Manor. Both colleges have maintained their influence over village developments.

Medieval Grantchester (probably called Grantasete at a time when Cambridge itself was known by the village’s present name) was laid out in three great fields, and three lesser ones. These were divided into long strips, most coming into the ownership of the nearby colleges of the university. The crops were the traditional ones of ‘oats, beans and barley’, and fertility was maintained by rotation and by grazing. It was hard to make much profit from the produce of these separate acres. On the Trumpington side of the river was the watermill mentioned in Chaucer. Later, Grantchester had its own corn mill, spanning the millstream at the lowest point of the village, and owned by Merton College, Oxford.

Many changes took place in the 19th century. The Enclosure Act brought a redistribution of land, so that farmers could gather their holdings into whole, rather than separate, areas. The landscape became the fields we now recognize – a great benefit for efficient farming though a loss to those with smallholdings. A new road was built across to the A603 (our Coton Road).In 1830 a National School was built to educate the children of the ‘labouring poor’ (now our Reading Room, the small thatched building attached to the Village Hall), and in 1867 larger premises were built across the road (now the Old School). With a growing population accommodation grew insufficient; especially when deposits of ‘coprolites’ were found in the fields and workers came in from elsewhere to mine them. A terrace of houses was built along the Broadway, and also a Baptist Chapel for those who had formerly been gathering in a small conventicle built of wood in the Coton Road. Inspired by the prevalent enthusiasm, the church too undertook a major building work: Grantchester Church acquired a south aisle and raised the roof of its nave.

The village’s association with the university developed as Fellows of colleges were, towards the end of the century, permitted to marry. But the university’s expansion also led to the growth of dense housing at the northern end the parish. This Newnham Croft area, known as New Grantchester, built its own St Mark’s Church and in 1911 was incorporated in Newnham and the borough of Cambridge.

Twentieth century developments included the dispatch of older children from the village school to Sawston Village College; the destruction of Grantchester Mill by fire in 1928; the erection of the Village Hall that same year; the closing of the Baptist Chapel and its conversion to an artist’s studio, and the end of Merton Farm in the 1960s; the end of Lacie’s Farm, which under Bob Vigus had become renowned for championship cattle, in 1992; and the increasing prosperity and new premises of Grantchester School, followed by its closure in 1982.

The new millennium was celebrated in style and with great hopefulness by villagers. An increase in the number of children encouraged improvements to their recreation ground (though it aggravates regrets for the loss of the school). Constant – and successful – efforts are made to cultivate the strong sense of community and pride is taken in conserving the attractive village environment.

10 thoughts on “History

  1. Nick Randall-Smith


    Can you help?

    Do you know anything about a property called “The Grennan”, Grantchester Meadows, Cambridge.

    My great aunt Emily was living there in May 1920 and I would love to be able to find it.



    1. Diane Barnes

      My grandparents and late mum lived in the village and we still visit often as we live in Cambridge. I would guess the Grennan , was actually the pub called the Green Man , which almost backs onto the Meadows. Although some of my ancestors (we’ve traced back to 1822 in the village) lived in a cottage , now demolished , between Green Man and Red Lion, so that’s another possibility. Was your great aunt related to the Muggletons in in any way as they ere mum’s family ?Hope that helps,

      1. nigel simon

        the muggletons lived on the footpath… next to balls grove i have a photo somewhere of mrs muggleton at the gate of the cottage…

        1. Ian Simon

          Frank Muggleton was Churchwarden at Grantchester Church … the family lived at No 1 the Footpath this was in the early to mid 1960’s I believed Frank passed away early 1965 but i am not sure of this date or year

    2. Ian Simon

      The Brennan also known as Brook Lodge was a property on a road called Grantchester Meadows but this property was actually in the suburb of Cambridge called Newnham

  2. Robert Ashcroft

    In 1973/74 I attended the Grantchester village school (now “The Old School”) when I was 9 and 10. My dad was at the Cavendish Laboratory. We lived in Clare Hall in Cambridge, but I believe we weren’t able to get into any of the Cambridge schools because we’d applied so late. We weren’t alone in this – we were in a carpool out to Grantchester with a South African family and, I think, one other.

    The school was organized in two sets of three years, as I recall. I was in the upper set. I think it was my year and the two above it, but can’t be entirely certain. The “big kids” (my set) were educated in the room that faces the road, I think the “small kids” were in the “ell” to the back.

    There was a big field behind the school where we played, among other things, rounders. To the back of the school, on the left, was an above-ground swimming pool, which I recall being very cold and unpleasant.

    Overall, I recall it with enjoyment, despite anti-Americanism from a lot of the kids, which was ironic because my passport was UK. Didn’t matter – my accent was US. I remember visiting Cambridge in, I think, the summer of 2001 and walking out to Grantchester to see the The Old School – very very small it seemed.

    We had morning assembly in the Village Hall across the road. I believe there was singing, including hymns. I associate it with “Morning has Broken”. I recall other activities in the hall, including some that were after-school. To some degree we had the run of the village – I recall activities involving the church and messing around at the mill pond.

    The headmaster lived next door – the house to the right as you face The Old School. He used to read to the “big kids” in the afternoons, sometimes in the living room of his house. He favored science fiction and fantasy and was pretty good at it – kept the kids spellbound. That’s how I first “read” The Hobbit. I think he also read to the assembled school sometimes in the Village Hall. I recall him reading Jonathan Livingston Seagull to us, but I think that happened in the hall.

    Lunch was brought in on stainless steel trays and was about as grim as you can imagine British institutional food being in the 1970s. It was a rotating menu on, I think, a two-week cycle. Most of them were so revolting I went hungry until I got home where there was decent bread-and-scrape. This wasn’t reported to my parents, who were very surprised when, years later, I told them their lunch money had gone to waste. We ate (or in my case, did not) in the same room in which we had instruction. I think there were round tables.

    The larger Cambridge experience was pretty idyllic as a kid. I recall riding into the center of town on my bike regularly, through the Backs, helping my parents go shopping, etc. The UK in 1973/74 was a deeply messed up place, but Cambridge and Grantchester always felt safe to me.

    1. Lisa Ellis

      I was a pupil at Grantchester between late 1973 and 1980, i can remember the ‘New School’ building opening and remember the villlage celebrations there for the Queens jubilee in 1977, there were many different races for the children, in paticular an obsticle race, where us paticipents had to climb over a frame there were two frames next to each other but we all queued up to use the same one, none of us thought to use the other and get iver it much quicker. There was a hog roast and disco that night and it was a magical day, starting with a parade of floats through the village. It seemed the whole village was out that day celebrating, hoping we can all celebrate something again as a village very soon

      1. Ian Simon

        I was a pupil at Grantchester school between 1961 and 1963, Mrs Alice Freeman was headmistress.
        After leaving Primary school I attended Comberton Village College .. free transport to the Village College was provide by Millers Coaches (normally an old charabang dating from the early 50’s)

  3. Edward Murphy

    Hi Rob, very interesting hearing about your experiences. Another American, I attended the Village school a couple of years after you did and I experienced some of the same things, though at the time I didn’t think it was particularly anti-American, I just thought that the new (American) Headmistress didn’t like me! I felt like I was her personal whipping boy for pretty much the entire time I was there even though my family has deep roots within the village and I’ve always considered myself a local no matter how long I’ve been gone.

    On another note, my Nan used to serve those school lunches up, and I remember them being quite edible, shoot with enough gravy, or hot custard on something you can usually choke it down!

    If you ever visit these pages again, leave me a note, I’d be interested in knowing if our paths ever crossed.

  4. Jonathan Derrick

    I am a great-grandson of Herbert Houlton, headmaster of the Grantchester Old School for many years in the early 20th century; he dies in the 1950s. How and where can I find out more about him?


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