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Arbury 1918: The Death Of A Soldier, A Confusion Between Parishes, And Where Is King's Hedges In Reality?


Alfred Brett was a quiet, studious young man. On leaving St Andrew's School in Chesterton, he got a job as an assistant at an antiques shop in Cambridge and joined the Territorial Army.

A postcard to Miss Lily Brett, Manor Farm, Arbury Road, Chesterton, Cambridge. The card came from Claude (Skinner) of the 3rd Norfolk Regiment (then in Felixstowe), a young friend of Lily: 

Dear Lilly [sic], Just a line hoping to find you and all quite safe as it leaves me at present. Tell Jimmy [?] he is a long time writing that letter. I expect Alf is alright. Give my love to all. Glad to hear that your father is better, from yours truly, Claude.

Lance Corporal Alfred Brett, son of Richard and Amelia Brett of the Manor Farm, Arbury Road, 'Old Chesterton', was killed in the trenches of World War 1 not long before VE Day.

The family - Richard, Amelia, and their ten remaining children - staggered under the blow, and their misery was in no way lessened by the fact that Alfred's name was not to be listed amongst his sadly fallen friends and neighbours on the Old Chesterton War Memorial at St Andrew's Church in the village, but on the Histon and Impington Memorial.

Now, this may seem very confusing, because, after all, Richard and Amelia lived on Arbury Road and that is in Arbury, right - so why not an Arbury War Memorial? Well, Arbury did have an existence - the Arbury Camp with its ancient earthwork, Arbury Camp Farm and the name of the road, for a start. Before the establishment of Manor Farm (some time after the 1840 Chesterton Enclosures), most of the land north of Arbury Road, right up to the Ely/Milton Road, was known as the Arbury or Harborough Meadows - 'Harborough' being a variation on the Arbury name. After the establishment of Manor Farm. there were two large fields there - north of Arbury Road - named 'Arbury' and 'Arbury Field'.

The locals knew of Arbury's long history to some degree - there had been excavations at Arbury Camp - and there were rumours of 'Roman ghosts' in the area, via the known Roman road.



However, at the time of World War 1, Arbury was rural - it was not a town or village, had a tiny population, and therefore had no parish. As areas were divided up into parishes it had no parochial existence in itself - and that meant a lot to most residents.

Arbury Road was part of the old manor of Chesterton and was part of Chesterton for most administrative purposes.

Richard and Amelia looked to Chesterton as their local village for all purposes and wrote 'Chesterton' or 'Old Chesterton' as their address, but the fact was the Chesterton/Impington parish boundary line fell across what is now Arbury Town Park in Campkin Road. The first two cottages in the Manor Farm drive were in Chesterton parish. The Bretts' house, although still opposite the modern day Arbury Town Park, was in Impington parish.

Of course, the loss of their son was the main grief, but the family was not happy at the sudden strange turn of events. After all, Alfred had been christened at St Andrew's and Amelia was a member of the Mothers' Union there. And surely she knew where she lived? She had, after all, listed her children as being born in 'Chesterton Parish' on census forms.

The Bretts wanted to be able to join their friends and neighbours for Remembrance Days. As Richard and Amelia's granddaughter, Mrs Muriel Wiles, said in 1985, 'It would have been a great comfort to them.' 

But parishes were parishes and Alfred's name was added to the Histon and Impington Memorial, and so the family had to trek out there, while friends and neighbours went to St Andrew's in Chesterton.

The Impington parish issue caused confusion amongst the wider community at Manor Farm, as neighbours wondered where did they live?

Alfred was laid to rest in France.


Happy at home... The Park Meadow at Manor Farm - later the site of the Manor School/North Cambridge Academy. 12 September 1908 and young Alfred Brett (sitting), joined his family for a photograph by Starr and Rignall to celebrate his sister Louisa's wedding to Thomas Walter Ashman. His sister Lily is to his left and his parents, Richard and Amelia, behind him.


          In Memoriam - Cambridge Daily News, Saturday, 14 June, 1919.


Alfred's name on the Histon and Impington War Memorial (photograph taken in 1986).

And where was King's Hedges in all this, you may ask? Well, the King's Hedges name has no historical justification in what would become North Arbury or "King's Hedges Ward". It is simply a modern day electoral ward - created by the City and County Councils - out of thin air - first as an inappropriately named sub-district estate in North Arbury (council planners were terribly keen to import the name), and then an electoral ward when they wanted to change the Arbury electoral ward to cover historically unrelated areas, like Stretten Avenue and Akeman Street. 

In the days we are speaking about, King's Hedges Road was simply a short track leading from Chesterton to King's Hedges, which was north of the modern day King's Hedges Road. The original road was far shorter, leading to the farm only. Most of King's Hedges Road dates from the late 1970s, when it was redirected across Arbury and lopped off the original Cambridge/Histon Road end of Arbury Road.

As for King's Hedges School and King's Hedges Ward/Estate (AKA North Arbury), none are in the original King's Hedges area, the strictly defined farm of fifty eight acres, the name probably derived from a hedged hunting warren in the days of the Royal Manor of Chesterton. The warren was used to trap and kill animals for 'sport'.

1900: find King's Hedges!

There is a world of difference between the modern day local government estates and electoral wards (subject to arbitrary re-wardings) in the Arbury district and reality.

And, in examining local history, that is very important to remember. 

If you had asked a resident of the Manor Farm to direct you to King's Hedges, they would have directed you to the farm, the original fifty eight acres of King's Hedges, north of the railway line.

Alfred left his sister, 'Cissie' (Ellen) Brett a book - Florence Barclay's patriotic novel 'My Heart's Right There!' - after his leave in October, 1915. Alfred and Cissie were close in age and she was his favourite sister. A large framed photograph of Alfred was prominent in Cissie's home until her death in 1965.



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