A Portrait of Caldecote Seen Through Historic Trade Directories

Before the days of Google and the internet there were chunky volumes called Yellow Pages. Before Yellow Pages there were Trade Directories. Produced from the early nineteen century into the middle of the twentieth century Trade Directories did more than inform their readers about trades and trades people. Location by location, whether city, town, or village, a trade directory offered a short account of an area, including the history of the local church and land ownership, provided basic information about necessities such as communications and transport links, and listed the main businesses and significant residents. Browsing through these volumes, which were produced at irregular intervals, it is possible to construct a series of snapshots through time of any chosen place. Here, then, is a brief look at what these Trade Directories have had to say about Caldecote through the years.

Title Page of Gardner’s History, Gazetteer and Directory of Cambridgeshire
title page of the 1883 edition of Kelly’s Directory of Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, and Suffolk (Right). © University of Leicester Special Collections

Directories and gazetteers for Cambridgeshire have evolved across the decades. The earliest that mentions Caldecote, R. Gardner’s History, Gazetteer and Directory of Cambridgeshire, published in 1851, has only a short entry for Caldecote. In 1869 and 1879 the Post Office produced similar directories, and the level of detail increased. Later, Kelly’s Directories became the standard reference work for Cambridgeshire. Kelly’s Directories for the years 1883, 1892, 1896, 1904 and 1916 are available online. We can see how Caldecote changed through those years – as well as what stayed the same. The history of the Church of St Michael and All Angels was repeated virtually word for word in each edition, although the fact that the church underwent substantial repair in 1860 and 1861 was considered worth mentioning in the 1869 Post Office Directory. The position of Vicar of Caldecote was in the gift of Christ’s College, Cambridge, and Gardner’s 1851 edition gives us the name of the vicar, the Rev. Edward Arnett Powell. He was appointed in 1843 and remained the vicar until his death in 1892. For most of his remarkable tenure he lived in the vicarage at Toft, while from Census Returns we learn that successive curates and their families occupied the Rectory in Caldecote.


The history of land tenure in Caldecote from Medieval times to the twentieth century is also included in each directory entry. The principal landholders in recent times have been Clare College and Christ’s College, Cambridge, and some private individuals, such as Joseph Westrope. Historically the area has always been farmland, and it is interesting how much can be learned about the pattern of farming in Caldecote. The main crops are consistently listed as wheat, barley, and beans. Each directory lists the acreage given over to agriculture and its value. This changed over the years. In 1869, 1879, 1883 and 1892 it was reported that 915 acres were under cultivation, but by 1896 this had increased to 948 acres. The rateable value of the land, though, did not increase. From a high point of £861 per acre in 1879, the value dropped to £484 in 1896 and had increased only to £566 per acre by 1916.


The main trade in Caldecote, therefore, was farming, and it was farmers who were listed in each directory. Usually these were tenant farmers, working the land on behalf of Clare and Christ’s Colleges. Combining information from the Census for 1871 with the 1869 Post Office Directory, for example, we can see that James Barnes was farming 170 acres and employing two men, Henry Poole was farming 120 acres and employing two men and two boys, while Joseph Westrope was farming 100 acres, which he probably owned outright. Few other businesses were listed. One tradesman who deserved a mention, although his name was never included, was Benjamin Prior. Born in Barton in 1769, he lived in Caldecote for most of his life until his death in 1862. He was a thatcher and would have travelled far and wide to ensure the homes and barns of the villagers of Caldecote and the surrounding area were weatherproof.
Only in 1851 and in 1883 were there specific references to shopkeepers in the village. Either there was an absence of shops at other times, or shops were not considered worth mentioning. Shops were often operated from one room of a family home and sold only a limited range of products. Other supplies, such as fresh bread, milk, fuel, and household needs, would be brought into the village by mobile traders, many of whom would deliver daily or weekly using a horse and cart. The provision of alcoholic refreshment, however, was always included in the directories. In 1851 Joseph Farrington was listed as a beer retailer, probably at The Fox Public House, although Gardner’s directory does not say so. However, The Fox is included in the 1869, 1879, 1883 and 1892 directories under the stewardship of William Badcock, and by 1916 Mrs Harriet Badcock is recorded as landlady.
One consistent feature of all the directory entries is information regarding postal services, and this included the ability to send and receive money, since most villagers would not have had access to a bank. In 1881 the Post Office introduced postal orders as a convenient way of transferring funds, but before that there were money orders. Each directory lists where the nearest money order office was located, and for Caldecote this was initially Caxton, and later Bourn, which also became the nearest telegraph office. Times for the collection and delivery of mail were also listed, becoming more frequent as time went on, but it was not until 1904 that it was apparent that Caldecote had acquired its own post box. By 1916 the village had two post boxes, each of which had two collections per day.

Old North Road Station on the Cambridge to Bedford Line. Reproduced with the permission of Martin Edwards

Access to transport was also mentioned in the directories as the population gradually became more mobile. The Cambridge to Bedford railway line, which passed close to the village, opened in 1862, although it was not until 1883 that the nearest station, Old North Road (now a private house on the present A1198 south of Longstowe) was first included in the listing for Caldecote, a mere 4 miles away. The line carried both goods and passenger traffic and provided opportunities for wider travel for Caldecote residents, in addition to the regular road carrier services that travelled to and from Cambridge on Wednesdays and Saturdays and which were consistently listed in the directories.

First of two promotional leaflets issued for excursions on the Cambridge to Bedford line. The inaugural excursion for directors and shareholders on the new railway on 4th July 1862.
Second of two promotional leaflets issued for excursions on the Cambridge to Bedford line. A leaflet detailing a day-trip to St Ives on 10th July 1884. Both leaflets show the stations along the line and the time taken to travel between them. North Road, later Old North Road, was a regular stop along the line. © Bill Simpson, Oxford to Cambridge Railway Volume Two, Oxford Publishing Co. Reproduced with the permission of Crecy Publishing Ltd

This short article cannot do justice to the wealth of information that can be gleaned from Trade Directories, but it does give a flavour of the stories that can be told when they are combined with other sources.

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