Skip to main content

Arbury Archaeology and History: Part 1

Imagine an iron age settlement. It is surrounded by a circular earthwork. People live here. There are houses, and pens for animals within the enclosure. Until recent years, it was not believed to be a fort. The settlement is larger than some, but believed to be very much the equivalent of what we now call a village - the earthwork simply to defend it from wolves and animal thieves. The earthwork is filled with water, and reeds and rushes grow there.

Despite the naming of the Arbury earthwork as 'Ring Fort Road' in the Arbury Camp Farm Arbury/Orchard Park development, the original height of the earthwork and its enclosed area were not believed to indicate that Arbury was a fort (compare to Wandlebury), and the findings of archaeologists from Cambridge and London from the early 1960s to 1970 discounted the notion.

Comment from Arbury Camp, Cambridge, A Preliminary Report on Excavations - by John Alexander and David Trump, 1970:

The excavations therefore tend to confirm earlier speculations that this enclosure belongs to the pre-Roman Iron Age and was not in use in the Roman period or later. It now takes its place among the remarkable series of circular earthworks of that period in the Cambridge region, two of them (see Note 1) lying within a few hundred metres of it. It is distinguished from the others only by its greater size and no longer merits description as a "hillfort" of any kind.

But more recent work on the site has found evidence to the contrary, and we will cover some of these findings soon.

Arbury Camp, of course, is the root of the Arbury name in Cambridge.

There is no Chesterton at this point in time. 

There is conjecture that the basis for Arbury Road came into being around the time of Arbury Camp as a track, connecting the settlement with the river, and other settlements, as part of an iron age network. If you follow the route of Arbury Road and Union Lane, they go towards the river in what is now Chesterton, at what would have been a good crossing point.

The landscape is very different from today - large amounts of trees, wolves and wild boars roaming free.

Move on in time a little and we find the earthwork is still there, but silted up and deserted. The Romans have built their own settlement on the land adjacent, and their road - Akeman Street/Mere Way cuts through the area.

There are less trees, more farming, and the lifestyle is altogether more sophisticated than the iron age development's thatched huts.

A grand Roman villa stands not far from the earthwork. 

'We have reasons to be proud to live in Arbury with such a rich history. People have lived here for thousands of years.' - 'Arbury Is Where We Live!', 1981.

But the earthwork is still very much in evidence and still referred to by (what we now call) Romano-British locals. It is very much a landscape feature.

Of course, it is not called 'Arbury'. The English language did not exist. We do not know what it was called, or what its original inhabitants called it.

There is an awful lot we assumed about the iron age people that modern DNA studies have severely shaken  - and the same for the people who came after them. The notion of a Celtic/Anglo Saxon Britain has been scrambled like a Rubik's Cube, and the fact that emerges is of something very different, far less simple - far more mixed and inclusive. 

Move forward in time again. This time it's the medieval era. The village of Chesterton has sprouted, the fields by the earthwork are part of the 'Royal Manor of Chesterton'.

The earthwork is still very much a feature of the local landscape, referenced as 'Ertburg', 'Herburg' and, according to the archaeologists, 'Herdbury' or 'Herdburw', in 13th Century documents. The name is derived from the Old English for 'earthwork'.

Forward in time again, and we arrive in 1840 for the Chesterton Enclosures. Before this, land ownership was like a patchwork quilt in the area.

The 1840 Enclosures regularised things, pulling owned acreage into large single areas. From this was formed the area's two farms - Hall and Manor - both belonging to Chesterton Hall.

Part of the ancient earthwork has been obliterated, but around half of it is still visible.

An 1839 newspaper report reveals that the area north of Arbury Road had already acquired the name 'Arbury Meadows'. The 1840 Enclosures map features West Harborough Corner (up by the Ely/Milton Road), North Harborough Furlong (up by what would become the original King's Hedges Road) and so on (see below). Harborough is a variation on the Arbury name. We had originally thought that the meadows were simply called 'Harborough Meadows', having studied the 1840 Chesterton Enclosures map, but the discovery of a reference to 'Arbury Meadows' in the 1839 newspaper report revealed otherwise. The names evolved as the English language evolved and were interchangeable. From Ertburg, Herdbury, Herdburw, and Herburg to Arbury and Harborough. 

The Arbury/Harborough (a variation on the Arbury name) Meadows, North Arbury/Harborough Furlong, Arbury/Harborough Furlong and West Arbury/Harborough Corner (by Milton Road) shown on our trusty old map.

The earthwork is clearly defined on the enclosures map, later being divided into a number of distinct plots. Later still, the land closest to and including the earthwork, then known as Arbury Camp Farm, was occupied by Chivers, of Histon jam factory fame, and became an orchard and poultry farm.

Manor Farm referenced the earthwork with two large fields north of Arbury Road - 'Arbury' and 'Arbury Field', two of the fields closest to the earthwork.

The Arbury landscape in 1900.

In 1905, geologist Professor T McKenny Hughes arrived to carry out excavations at Arbury Camp, confirming its status as what was almost certainly an iron age settlement.

The 20th Century saw many Roman discoveries to the north and south of Arbury Road, and more recent finds, confirming that this was an area that had been lived in for thousands of years.

Many of the findings were discovered during the building of the 'Arbury Road housing estate', and included Roman graves and the Roman villa near the iron age settlement in the old Arbury/Harborough Meadows.

From 'The Story of Cambridge', Stephanie Boyd, Cambridge University Press, 2005. The Roman villa was found in the old Harborough/Arbury Meadows, now Northfield Avenue, not far from Arbury Camp (see map at top of post) - and was quite luxurious, including a hypocaust (underfloor heating).

'Cambridge Evening News', 1969 - detailing the discovery of the Roman villa and earlier remains in a North Arbury barley field. Northfield Avenue was so named as a result.

Modern Arbury had begun to arrive, and the name was used many times in the area between Gilbert Road and the original (much shorter) King's Hedges Road, including Arbury School, Arbury Court, the North Arbury Post Office, Arbury Community Centre, Arbury Community House, Arbury Town Park and the North Arbury Chapel. The majority of these establishments were north of Arbury Road, which is where the majority of Arbury history resides.

Cambridge City Council planners began to confuse the issue by importing the name 'King's Hedges' from a small farm north of King's Hedges Road in the 1960s and 1970s. King's Hedges comprised fifty-eight acres, and the original King's Hedges Road, once a private road, a dead end, led to it. But, from the early 1960s, and its late 1960s plan for the 'Kings Hedges Estate' and the establishment of King's Hedges School in the old Arbury Meadows, the council began to blur and confuse historic locations.

King's Hedges School is dearly loved by many of us and we treasure it, but those in the know accept it's not actually in any historically meaningful King's Hedges district, and the site had nothing to do with King's Hedges. The school was named by the council in 1968, which then had a bit of an obsession with the name. King's Hedges School pupils and teachers made many contributions to the Arbury 1980 project and the 1981 Arbury is where we live! book.

No 'King's Hedges' named establishment in the district is actually in the historic King's Hedges acres.

So, what was King's Hedges historically? The most likely explanation is one advanced by Professor T McKenny Hughes (who, as already noted, later headed excavations at Arbury Camp) in the late 1800s. 

A hedged hunting warren for royal sport had been established in the area of the original King's Hedges some time after the arrival of William the Conqueror. These warrens were used to trap and kill animals for 'sport', and the hedges were a visible landscape feature. In this case, as the Manor of Chesterton was royal and the area belonged to the king, these were the 'King's Hedges', north of what is now the guided busway, a well known local landmark, sometimes the visual landmark being accompanied by the sound of hunting pursuits within. Perhaps not something many modern folk will relish. In the early 19th Century, the 'sporting' tradition continued, with pugilists slugging it out there, attracting huge crowds from Town and Gown.

King's Hedges, which was never a district, was brought further out of its own strictly defined farm boundaries by the plans for a King's Hedges electoral ward in what was the North Arbury area of the original Arbury electoral ward - the old Arbury/Harborough Meadows. 

As noted, the council had established a sub-district of North Arbury as the King's Hedges Estate - although why council planners were so obsessed with the 'King's Hedges' name was a mystery. The Estate was poorly defined amongst locals. North Arbury defined the area (which was correct historically) and a lot of community spirit had grown up around the name, resulting in the establishment of the Arbury Adventure Playground, Arbury Carnival, Arbury Community House, Arbury Community Centre and Arbury Town Park, amongst other things.

The name, of course, linking back to the ancient settlement and its protective earthwork.

Historian Sallie Purkis believed in Arbury as a place on the map with a history, and was a major force in the primary schools (Arbury, the Grove, King's Hedges and St Laurence's)  project 'Arbury 1980'. This resulted in the 1981 book, Arbury Is Where We Live!

The 'King's Hedges' name made further inroads across the land just beside the Arbury Camp earthwork when King's Hedges Road was massively extended and redirected in the late 1970s, from its original course (from Chesterton to north of what is now the guided busway) to across the old Arbury/Harborough Meadows and the Manor Farm's Arbury fields, lopping off the end of the original Arbury Road, for the A14/Cambridge Northern Bypass. 

The extension and redirection was sometimes referred to as the 'Northern Peripheral Road' during its planning stages. Few people realise that what many regard as the 'historic' King's Hedges Road is pure late 1970s invention and misplacement. The majority of King's Hedges Road now dates from the late 1970s.

Even more confusingly, as Arbury Road was vanquished at this point, Arbury Camp Farm suddenly found itself on the new King's Hedges Road!

All this, of course, suited Council planners who were, as already noted, apparently obsessed with establishing a historically groundless 'King's Hedges Estate' on historic Arbury land.

A brand new out-of-area stretch of King's Hedges Road lops of the end of the original Arbury Road in the late 1970s.

It is all very well to call things 'King's Hedges', but it can be confusing to modern local historians and has led to misrepresentations of the history of the land north of Arbury Road - including one lad believing that the hedgerow on Arbury Road (originally a field boundary) was the 'King's Hedges'!

The local councils further confused the issue of 'where is Arbury?' by electorally chopping the estate in two in the 1970s and 1980s, moving the most historic Arbury area into its newly created 'King's Hedges Ward' and shunting Arbury Ward down into areas formerly known as New Chesterton, North Chesterton Ward and Castle Ward. 

The fringes of Arbury Ward in Histon Road, nearest the city centre, are now a short walk from the Shire Hall, but rather a longer walk to the Arbury Meadows - which now reside in King's Hedges Ward, which was not there, historically.

Arbury made it into the pages of 'History Today' in 1983.

Arbury Estate, of course, has endured much negative publicity and, in our opinion, became something of a 'whipping boy' in Cambridge circles. The notion of replacing the name with King's Hedges seemed attractive to some as time went on (although many were unaware of the King's Hedges name's origins!) but has come to not-a-great-deal as the majority of people still, correctly, identify the area as Arbury and the name change, adopted by some, did nothing to solve social problems in the area - problems that are on a far wider scale in the UK and did not originate with the estate.

As one Cambridge City Councillor told us: 'We're aware that Arbury and King's Hedges are often referred to as "The Arbury"'. Yes. Because that's correct. The Arbury Community Centre cannot logically be outside of Arbury, and ancient history cannot be rewritten.

The Roman landscape described on this modern display (hopefully not paid for by the taxpayer) was not in any area historically called 'King's Hedges' but the Arbury/Harborough Meadows, north of Arbury Road.

The Council was accused of trying to 'yuppify' the area, and push poorer people out, solving no problems at all, and, in throwing out the Arbury name, chucking the baby out with the bath water, as it had inspired great community activism.

The Council had positively fawned over community efforts like Arbury Is Where We Live!, but their plans for the area, splitting the estate in two and renaming the most historic part something unrelated, remained unaffected.

From 'Arbury Is Where We Live!' 1981. It was suggested recently to the Arbury Cambridge blog that there had been something of a disconnect between the Council and local historians as ward and name changes were being implemented in Arbury. But both City and County Councillors were well aware of the area's Arbury history, and out in force to attend the 'Arbury '80' exhibition at the Manor School in 1980.

The original Arbury Estate remains imprinted on local memory and is handed down as a clearly identifiable area - from Gilbert Road up to and including the late 1970s stretch of  King's Hedges Road and the original King's Hedges Road. It has refused to fade away.

When Arbury Camp was finally built on, the new community was originally to have been called 'Arbury Park', but people moving in protested, preferring the site to be named after the old Chivers' Jam Factory orchard at the poultry farm.

With the reputation, fuelled by the Great and the Good and the local press, of the Arbury Estate (and 'Kings Hedges Ward') their preference is, of course, understandable, although it is somewhat sad.

The outline of the Arbury Camp earthwork has been preserved at Orchard Park, although the late 1970s King's Hedges Road has lopped off the original end of Arbury Road.

So, that was Arbury and that is what Arbury is now. This is a potted history and we apologise for its brevity (the Council era, being the most convoluted, taking up rather a lot of space in a history spanning over two thousand years).

We are about to upload documents from archaeologists detailing what was found at Arbury Road (both sides) in the 1960s. These include excavations at Arbury Camp Farm, the adjacent fields, and surrounding area.

Please stay tuned!


Comments

  1. The chink of Earl Grey teacups and the meanderings of kohl rhabi and butternut squash enthusiasts up at 'The Hedges' (a minority but very snooty) is muted as they face the fact that beyond a council fiction and a 1970s highway they live in.... ARBURY!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Another thing is the way Councillors glorify themselves. The road naming in Arbury is testament to that. Campkin Road is probably better named Manor Farm Drive in reference to local history, yet its named after an old councillor. Same as Brimley Road. Same as Peter Cowell wotsit. Same as Alex Wood Road. Alex Wood kept naming roads in Chesterton after locations in Scotland when he was a councillor may years ago, simply because HE came from there. It's appalling. Not only are we shunted around and forced to accept artificial ward names and areas, but councillors are only intent on glorifying themselves and forcing personal biases through 'our' road names. It stinks. We're like serfs, yet we pay for the council to exist and it's supposed to serve.

    ReplyDelete
  3. When is Part 2? I liked this very much.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We're working on it! Lots of scans to do as it contains the original documents from the archaeologists at the Arbury Road digs.

      Delete
  4. The display is infuriating as it refers to villas at Milton and King's Hedges, as though Kings Hedges is an established historical entity like Milton. The Council wants telling straight - they only do this sort of thing to erase Arbury and appeal to incoming academics and moneyed types who don't know local history from a squashed banana.

    ReplyDelete
  5. The Council does strange things. As the Roman villa was not historically at King's Hedges, it has no logical reason to say it was - except to reinforce its modern modular plastic units of governance. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and look forward to more Arbury archaeology.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

What Did The Romans Ever Do for Arbury? Jim Smith

Our trusty old Arbury map showing location details before the Manor Farm was established. The red line, inserted by Jim Smith, indicates the course of the Roman road - Akeman Street or the Mere Way. The land north of Arbury Road was the Arbury or Harborough Meadows, Arbury/Harborough furlongs and Arbury Camp, King's Hedges was in its original position, north of the railway (now guided busway) and Arbury Road ran from the Ely/Milton Road to the Histon/Cambridge Road - as it did until the late 1970s. Introduction - by the Arbury Archivists Jim Smith is a local history researcher and a good friend of the Arbury Cambridge Blog. He has been researching Roman finds in the historic Arbury area and has written this article for us. We are most grateful! He follows the adventures of those who scraped away centuries of soil to reveal ancient findings beneath.  Of course, as always, we deal with historic Arbury here, not council planners' estates or electoral wards, which are both prone to

Exploring The REAL King's Hedges...

The Cambridge and St Ives Branch railway line is now the Guided Busway. Where was King's Hedges historically? How did the name come about? Why is the majority of King's Hedges Road no more historic than late 1970s - and nothing to do with the course of the original road? What have council planners of the 1960s and 1970s and the needs of motorists got to do with the King's Hedges presence in the historic Arbury district? All will be revealed... We're going to leave Arbury briefly and go to King's Hedges. No, not King's Hedges Ward - that area is, in reality, one of the most Arbury of Arbury areas in Cambridge historically, but the REAL King's Hedges. North of the Guided Busway. You see, the land north of Arbury Road is the site of the Arbury Camp, the Arbury/Harborough (a variation on the Arbury name) Meadows and the Arbury fields of Manor Farm.  It has absolutely nothing to do with King's Hedges at all. And King's Hedges was never a district. Land no

Main Streets of Arbury: Campkin Road - Part 1

Left: work begins on Campkin Road in 1961. Numbers 1 and 2 Manor Farm Cottages have been demolished, but the intention is to preserve the old trees lining the old Manor Farm Drive. Right: a similar view in more modern times, with the Arbury Town Park and Campkin Road. In 1982, Campkin Road was described as the 'Hauptstrasse of North Arbury' by local journalist Sara Payne. Ms Payne's local history articles in the Cambridge Weekly News were hugely popular and, for each one, Ms Payne visited a street in Cambridge and talked to the residents, collecting their memories for publication and producing a fascinating series of 'Then and Now' style articles. 'Cambridge Weekly News', 1982. Down Your Street followed in the footsteps of a similar series in the local press in the early 1960s - by Erica Dimmock - and both now make fascinating reading. We're starting our look at Campkin Road with material from the 'Arbury 1980' project and accounts from locals

Manor School Memories Part 1

The Manor School on Arbury Road was one of the main focuses of life for North and South Arbury for decades. With its evening classes and youth centre, and various community activities - like the annual Christmas party for the elderly and the annual school play in the 1980s ( Annie Get Your Gun and Dracula Spectacular spring to mind) - the Manor opened as separate boys' and girls' schools in 1959 (the girls had to share the boys' buildings at first as their own were still under construction). The school later became co-ed.      An aerial view of t he Manor Schools - Boys' and Girls', around 1960, with a section of Arbury Road and Arbury Court. Note Arbury Court was yet to gain its library and large supermarket building, and Campkin Road was still the Manor Farm Drive. The side of the Manor School 'new block', built in the early 1970s, the tower block and boys' gym beyond. The school was built in the Park Meadow of the old Manor Farm - which is how the &

Arbury Court - Part Of The 'Centre' Of The Original Arbury Estate...

A view across Arbury Court, looking towards Arbury Road, in 1976. Arbury Court is part of the 'centre' of the original Arbury Estate in Cambridge. The Court, with its pub, supermarket, hardware store and post office, chip shop, newsagent, TV shop, greengrocer, hairdresser, chemist, supermarket and branch library, is part of the 'hub' of the estate. The historic Arbury district. The Arbury or Harborough (the names were variations on each other and interchangeable) Meadows covered most of the land north of Arbury Road. The road ran from Milton Road to the Histon/Cambridge Road until the late 1970s. The Manor Farm was formed in the years following the 1840 Chesterton Enclosures. Orchard Park (originally Arbury Park and, before that, Arbury Camp Farm) features the outline of part of the Arbury prehistoric settlement at Ring Fort Road. We've inserted the sites of Arbury Court, the Guided Busway and Campkin Road. Arbury Road marks the boundary of North and South Arbury, a

Ask Arbury: The Roman Villa in Arbury

     E-mail to Arbury Cambridge blog: Was a Roman villa found at King's Hedges? I recently saw an outside display in North Arbury/King's Hedges Ward called 'The Roman Landscape in King's Hedges' which claims there was one. And is King's Hedges Road Roman?  We've seen that display. Electoral wards are not historic areas and local historians really do need to be mindful of that fact. The answer to your questions regarding the Roman villa and King's Hedges Road is no. The Roman villa was found on the site of King's Hedges School, which is not part of the historic King's Hedges acres. Historically, King's Hedges was simply a named property, a farm, of fifty eight acres, and is now north of the guided busway. It was never a district. King's Hedges School is dearly loved by many of us and we treasure it, but those in the know accept it's not actually in any historically meaningful King's Hedges district, and the site it was built on ha

Manor School Memories - Part 2

Lads from the Manor Boys' School in 1960. D. Claton, M. Farrow, R. Mitchell, C. Peck, I. Skeels, R. Potter and G. Paine are present. Do any readers remember who is who? School's back in - Manor School/Community College on Arbury Road that is (now North Cambridge Academy). Here is the second part of our series on Manor Memories - Part 1 is here . Pupils' foreign holiday, 1960: the first Manor girls to go on a joint foreign holiday with Manor boys: G. Anderson, J. Barnes, C. Blackwell, H. Brown, S. Budd, L. Carter, A. Clarke, L. Doggett, C. Doughty, P. Drake, S. Hardy, E. Harradine, B. Kaspar, D. Miller, J. Parker, L. Phillips, J. Reeves, J. Spencer, J. Symonds, with headmistress Mrs Firman. Note the Manor Schools' caretaker's house can be seen in the background, and the trees of the old Manor Farm orchard. October 1960, and here is a view of the Manor Boys' and Girls' schools from the car park at the Snow Cat public house (now the Cambridge Gurdwara). A view

What Arbury Means To You...

We thought it would be good to invite comments (or emails - arburyestate@btinternet.com) from readers about what Arbury means to you. Of course, many have already made their views plain on here, but we like the idea of a dedicated blog post. Please be aware that we are referring to the original Arbury area here, the area between Gilbert Road and King's Hedges Road, not modern electoral wards/misnamed apparently 'separate' housing estates. From 'Arbury is Where We Live!' (1981): Community action has always been important in Arbury. The first Arbury community groups were formed with the building of South Arbury in the 1950s, and North Arbury has seen many fantastic community efforts - resulting in the likes of the Arbury Adventure Playground, Arbury Carnival, Arbury Community Centre and the Arbury Town Park. So, what does Arbury mean to YOU? How long have you lived here? Are you interested in Arbury history? What do you like about Arbury? What do you dislike? What mak

Arbury Snippets Part 4: Arbury Terrace, Arbury Hedges, 19th Century Pugilists, Hunting & Escaped Prisoners At The Real King's Hedges And Suspects On The Arbury Meadows...

We've superimposed the old Arbury Meadows, Furlongs and Corner onto a 1900 map. Remember, the Manor Farm, which covered most of North Arbury (or the Council's inappropriately named 'King's Hedges Ward'), did not exist before the 1840s. Our 1900 map also features the details from the 1840 enclosures map. The names Arbury and Harborough were variations on each other and interchangeable. Whilst the 1840 enclosures map used the 'Harborough' form, an 1839 newspaper article (featured) used the 'Arbury' form. During the late 1800s, the 'Harborough' form all but disappeared. The Arbury name is derived from the Old English for 'earthwork', the earthwork surrounding the iron age settlement at Arbury Camp Farm (now Orchard Park, originally Arbury Park). The earthwork, or at least part of it, was a landscape feature for around 2000 years, and the part of the outline seen on this map is incorporated into the design of Ring Fort Road. Arbury was. f