The History Of Great Chesterford



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Great Chesterford is an ancient village with many  listed buildings situated on the banks of the River Cam, or Granta, on the boundary of Essex and Cambridgeshire.

The church, All Saints, dates from the 13th century, and has had many additions over the years. Rumour has it that silver bells which hung in the church tower, were hidden in an underground passageway which ran between the Church, the Old Vicarage (haunted) and the Crown House Hotel to keep them safe from government soldiers. They have never been found, although some traces of the passageway have been uncovered.

The land around Great Chesterford has been inhabited for centuries, and there have been many archaeological finds e.g. Bronze Age beakers, Belgic pottery and jewellery, and many Roman artefacts which can be found in both Saffron Walden and Cambridge museums. In the 1st century AD, a Romano-British civil settlement was established near the river, occupying an important site en route between London, Cambridge and Newmarket. They erected many buildings,including a tax office, and a  temple which was excavated to the east of the town near the Belgic cemetery. In the 4th century the Romans built a wall around the town – remains have been found and its exact location is known.  In fact it passed underneath what is now the Crown House Hotel. 

After the Romans left, it was presumed that there was continuity of occupation through the Saxon period, probably outside the Roman town. The only actual evidence of Saxon occupation is found in the burial sites. Medieval development was in the centre of the village. The name Chesterford is first mentioned in a document in 1004, and again in 1086 in the Domesday Book. In 1459 the Rector Thomas Hyll endowed a charity for the benefit of needy parishioners. This still exists today.  In 1514 a school was licensed, and in 1540 Gt. Chesterford was described as being a purely agricultural community. By medieval times Great Chesterford was a town of some importance with a weekly market (confirmed later by a charter from Charles I in 1634), and a Fair held on St John the Baptist Day.

By 1635 it grew in importance as a staging post for the Newmarket Races, often used by Charles I, who drew quite a crowd of onlookers. Complaints about gambling and noisy revelry at the Crown House (then a coaching inn) and its environs on Easter Sunday by travellers to the races eventually led to a ban on Sunday racing. Newmarket Races adhere to the ban to this day.

In 1801 it had a population of 600, and in 1804, the Enclosure Act had a profound effect on villagers due to the division of land. By 1841, the population had grown to 917, despite the terrible infant mortality rate.

1848-1851 saw the building of the short-lived Great Chesterford toNewmarket branch line for the benefit of racegoers coming from London. The main line station in the village today still provides quick and easy access for commuters to London and Cambridge, thus assuring the continued popularity of Gt. Chesterford because of its position as a main thoroughfare – just as in Roman times.