Gamlingay Cambridgeshire Village
Saxon Gamlingay



Evidence of prehistoric occupation is fairly widespread in the region. Fox, for instance in the Archaeology of the Cambridge Region (1923), notes the large number of prehistoric finds in the region south west of Cambridge, and much evidence of prehistory has been found along the Ouse valley to the west. The VCH records the discovery of early prehistoric microliths and later flints 'found on the surface at Gamlingay', and also the discovery of Bronze Age palstaves in the locality. As mentioned above, the County SMR records a number of finds of flint artefacts in the vicinity of the course of Millbridge Brook.

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Iron Age and Roman

Iron Age and Roman settlement in the immediate area does not appear widespread, though the network of Roman roads was well established. Taylor (1997), suggests the presence of Iron Age occupation in the extreme western part of the parish, close to White Wood, as implied by cropmark evidence of irregular enclosure, ditches and a possible pit-alignment boundary. The site lay within a triangle formed by the main north-south routes of Ermine Street, the present Al 198, to the east, and another main Roman route to the west of Godmanchester to the north and the Roman centres of Sandy, Baldock and Braughing to the south. East-west routes are slightly more difficult to place, though the Viatores (1964) also suggest the reputed course of another Roman road, passing through East Hatley from the south west before following Croydon Old Lane and on past Wimpole as Akeman Street to Cambridge. The Cambridgeshire VCH suggests the line of a Roman track/road from Sandy to the west, through Gamlingay, Bourn and Toft to Grantchester before joining Worsted Street (Route E, Malim, in Kirby & Oosthuizen, 2000, 21). A probable villa is recorded on the SMR at Dutter End to the north of the site, though there is otherwise very little known Roman evidence in the vicinity.

Sub-Roman and Saxon occupation is not well defined, but it was likely that Gamlingay occupied the site of an earlier Saxon settlement: it was certainly an established Domesday village

Domesday Book

Gamlingay is known as Gamelinge in the Domesday Book of 1086. The place name evidence suggests an '?enclosure belonging to the people of Gamela' (Reaney). The importance of place name evidence for Gamlingay village and the surrounding region is addressed in the Discussion section. The majority of the parish was held by Count Eudo at this time, though Ranulf son of Ilger, and Robert Fafiton also had much smaller holdings. Eudo held land for 18 ploughs, 9 of which were in demesne. The largest holding, Eudo's, was worth £18, though only £10 when received and pre-Conquest, suggesting that the settlement was possibly no larger before 1066. Nine hides in Gamlingay formed part of the original endowment of St Neots Priory, founded in the 970s, probably given by Ely Abbey, one of the joint founders of the new priory. The priory apparently did not survive, but in 1066 the Abbott still retained a virgate in Gamlingay. Most of Gamlingay had come into the hands of Ulmer or Wulfmaer of Eaton, though by 1086 the holding was given to Eudo.

Mediaeval Layout

Traces of the mediaeval layout can be seen today in the village plan, though it is probable that the site was always on the periphery of the settlement. The principal manor was that held by Merton College, Oxford, and the site was close to north-east of the subject area, where a fine 15th/early 16th century, timber-framed house is present today, surrounded by the remains of a moat. Walter of Merton bought an estate in 1268 that had been mortgaged by a rebellious baron and passed it on to what was to become Merton College, Oxford. Features within the moated enclosure and a wider walled enclosure in the 13th century included servants' and bailiffs' houses, granaries, a barn and various other buildings. Gamlingay church was appropriated for the college in the same period by Hugh de Balsham (VCH). the church of St Mary the Virgin, some 400 m to the north-west of the site, dates from the 13th century, though likely overlies an earlier structure.

See also the History of Worship in the Church of St Mary the Virgin.

The site was part of the Merton Manor estate in the mediaeval period, and continued as part of the Merton College Estate until the present day. The other principal manors in the parish were Woodbury in the far west, and Avenells (represented by a moated site at Dutter End to the north of the subject area, apparently levelled in 1983 (Taylor 1997, 51)). Avenells Manor, recorded in the 12th-14th centuries, passed into the ownership of Merton College after the 16th century, still probably standing in some form in 1844. It was associated with a deer park, from which the theft of deer is recorded in 1289. There is also some evidence of 16th-century enclosure in the village (Taylor). The subject area was in one of the three large, pre-enclosure 'three-field-system' cultivated fields in the parish ('South Field'), as shown on the detailed Thomas Langdon map of 1602 (see below). Woodland is widespread in the parish, typified by Gamlingay Wood to the north of the village. Parts of this wood belonged to Merton college until 1959, and remains one of the best documented examples in England (Rackham 1994). Remains of wood banks from manorial divisions of the 12th century survive, as does an earlier circular enclosure of unknown origin. Other areas of wood and parkland are still present in the village.


Historical sources point to Gamlingay as being a reasonably large settlement throughout the mediaeval period, with evidence of a market (VCH). Taylor (1997, 52) notes 219 poll-tax payers in 1377, increasing from an estimated Domesday population of 65. The RCHM(E) West Cambridgeshire volume 5 suggests that after c. 1600 Gamlingay gradually declined and its market passed to Potton, 3 km to the south west. The VCH records a large fire in the village in 1600, believed to have destroyed 76 houses and it may be this that prompted the compilation of an exceptionally detailed map of the parish by Thomas Langdon in 1602 (CRO). The map depicts the character of the mediaeval layout of the settlement and fields, and provides details of the strips, furlongs and landowners (Fig. 4). The subject area was arable in 1602, with the former mediaeval strips and furlongs still visible. The track that today forms the western site boundary is visible as an established track, not labelled 'balk' as are a number of similar features nearby. The majority of the site was in 'Merton Barre Furlong' (Station Road is labelled as Hatley Waye, but is called 'Merton Bar Lane' on the 1844 Inclosure map - Fig. 5 right) and of course owned by Merton Manor, whilst the southern part of the site was in 'Grimes Meads Furlong' and predominantly owned by Avenells Manor. To the east lay 'Water Landes Furlong', with strips held by Merton Manor and lesser individuals. The field strips follow the natural line of drainage down to the meadows adjacent to Millbridge Brook. 'Grasse Pathe' is also shown crossing the outh eastern part of the site, though not crossing 'Merton Barre Furlong'. Other points of interest on the 1602 map are the depiction of buildings and other structures. None are within the subject area, though a 'Stone Bridge' is shown where Hatley Way crosses Millbridge Brook to the west of the site.

Recent History

By 1844, the enclosure map shows a much altered picture, though the larger furlong boundaries remain vaguely recognisable. The subject area is now in part of 'Middle Field' and is likely arable. It is still owned by Merton College but leased by William Fanning. The track forming the western site boundary remains recognisable. 'Church Meadow', to the south of the site reflects the former 'Greate Snowte & Towne Meade' recorded in 1602, and also Grimes Meadow by the Millbridge Brook is labelled. The significance of the name Church Meadow is difficult to assess, but likely relates to glebe land, rather than the presence of any early association with a religious building. No buildings are shown in the subject area, which remains largely featureless'.

The 1850 Tithe Map is largely the same as the map of six years earlier. The subject area is a large field extending to the stream, labelled 'Middle Field and Grimes Meadow' and described as arable and grass. The track that formerly followed the western boundary of the site is not shown. The area continues to be owned by Merton and leased by William Fanning.

The 1st edition Ordnance Survey 25" map of 1883/6 records the major development of the Potion-Cambridge railway line and the creation of an 'out-of-town' station to serve Gamlingay. Small-scale development was triggered around the station (e.g. the building of the 'Sultan Inn'), though the subject area remained featureless and likely continued in arable usage. The track along the western part of the site is now clearly shown. 'Station Road' is now thus named, as is 'Martin Barrow Bridge'. By the 1902 edition, the layout was the same, though a belt of trees was planted to the immediate north of Station Road.

Population figures for Gamlingay in the 19th and early 20th centuries are interesting, and actually show a decline after the arrival of the railway. The VCH notes that there were 847 people residentin the 1801, 2004 in the 1861 census and only 1408 in 1931.

Few changes are evident on the present day map of the area, except for the recent development of industrial units immediately east of the subject area. The railway line which formed the southern boundary of the site was closed following the Beeching cuts of the 1960s, and the track lifted. Twentieth-century housing development has not intruded on this south eastern part of the village, and the site remained under arable crop prior to the excavations.