The Domesday Survey of 1086, a tax record created for King William, records that at the time of the Norman Conquest, the manor of Caldecote had been held by Edeva the Fair, with a small holding by Earl Walthe of of East Anglia. Edeva is an enigma; according to Domesday she was one of the richest, non-clergy landowners in Cambridgeshire before the Norman Conquest, but by 1086 she is not mentioned, and most of her land has been passed to Count Alan of Brittany. It has been speculated that Edeva may have been Edith Swanneck, the consort of King Harold Godwinesson who was killed at Hastings.
Interestingly, only the overlordship changes and the actual lord of the manor, Aelmar, remained the same. His main holding appears to have been Bourn, with Caldecote as a secondary manor. A lesser manor also existed. The main manor in Caldecote wasn’t large, but did have woodland and meadow, and was almost certainly located around what is now old Caldecote, stretching north along Main Street from the church, overlooking Bourn Brook.
Villages in the mediaeval period had a set of components that had become established early on. These included a central core of authority, usually a main or manor house, the church, and then ordinary houses either side of a road. Villages often had mills, or would have an interest in one in a neighbouring village. Around the village would be the open fields, woodland and meadow. Villages typically had one road, a main street, but sometimes had a ‘back lane’ that ran behind a row of houses.
Houses were rectangular and fairly small. Each house would be situated in a plot of land that contained not only the structure but also enough space for an area to grow vegetables or keep a few animals. The inhabitants of these houses each had a share in the village’s open field system. Under this system, the village was surrounded by three large communal fields, in which each villager had strips of land. Each field was farmed under a strict rotation system, which meant that everyone grew the same crops each year, and one year in three saw a field left fallow, or unplanted. This allowed the soil to recover nutrients and to prevent it from becoming less fertile.
The system of strips also meant that ploughing, drawn usually by oxen, followed similar lines. This resulted in the same strips of soil being turned each time, thus rising up above the land surface, whereas the dip in between became lower. This is known as ridge and furrow, and where is survives it indicates the presence of mediaeval open fields and farming. It can be seen as a series of broad corrugations, often twisting sinuously to a perpendicular bank called a headland.
Aerial photographs of Caldecote have demonstrated the extent of survival of the mediaeval village and fields. The church in ‘Old Caldecote’ together with the manor and vicarage form the core of the mediaeval village. The church is sited the land that slopes down to the Bourn Brook and adjacent to the original main access route into the village which in turn formed the village street, leading northwards to the open fields.
Manor Farm house dates from the 16th century and is a timber framed, two storied building with a continuous jetty along the north side (i.e. facing the church). The former Vicarage to the north is multi-period but the wing immediately adjacent to the churchyard dates from the 15th or early 16th century. This may well be the building recorded in 1664 as a house for the vicar standing by the churchyard. These (and the church) are the oldest surviving buildings in the village.
From this core, a series of ordinary houses were located running both sides of the main street towards Highfields, the original Strympole Way, and ridge and furrow remains surround this settlement. Caldecote is what is called a ‘Shrunken Mediaeval Village’. There are many of these in Cambridgeshire, and are where a larger village has become smaller. Many villages either shrunk or were abandoned in the mediaeval period, usually due to a combination of events including the Black Death and ensuing economic instability of the 14th century, changes in farming practice by aristocracy (from arable to sheep) in the 15th century, war or pestilence. A good example of a Deserted Mediaeval Village can be seen at Clopton, near Arrington, where everything including the manor house, church and graveyard were abandoned and ultimately disappeared.
The open field system of farming was an integral component of the feudal system, a method of governance that had its origins in the Anglo-Saxon period, but was used by the Normans to reinforce their authority. Under feudalism, all land belonged to the king, and it was held by others in a pyramid beneath him in return for service or returns, such as military service or payment of taxation. Hence a powerful noble held form the king, and in turn passed it to lesser nobles, and ultimately down to common peasants, who had to provide food or other services in return for their strips of open field.
In Caldecote, the lordship was (after Count Alan) passed between various local lords, often as a sub-manor of a larger one. It grew up as a small settlement surrounded by open fields, with a church and central house located by the Bourn Brook, alongside the main entrance to the village, with houses and house plots straggling along the access to the fields. At some point much of it was abandoned, most likely in the upheaval arising from the Black Death and its aftermath, where the loss of rural population suddenly meant that the peasant farm worker was now in demand and could charge for his or her services rather than suffer as a bonded tenant. It was changes like this that saw population shift from the older feudal villages, often with the outcome that the local lord would enclose the open fields to rear sheep, at that time a very profitable way of faring due to the demand for English wool. Caldecote was no different to many other rural villages in this regard.
The village of Caldecote is identified in Domesday Book in 1086, but there is no reference to a place of worship, not uncommon in Cambridgeshire where churches known to have been in existence at the time are not mentioned. However, the annals of Barnwell Priory in Cambridge refer to the chapel of Caldecote together with the church at nearby Bourn, as a gift by Picot the Sheriff of Cambridgeshire when he founded that institution. However in 1217, the chapel was taxed as an independent parish, and a vicarage was recorded in 1275.
The current church is a simple structure, consisting of a west tower, nave, chancel, north and south porches. There is no evidence of any aisles. The majority of the fabric dates from the 14th century, when it appears the building was significantly rebuilt, with later additions. There is nothing evident in the extant fabric of the building to indicate material surviving from the 12th century, but there may be evidence in the plan form. The building is constructed mainly of fieldstones with some rubble, and ashlar dressings.
Each component of the building is dated as follows:
1) The tower is of 14th century date, with three stages and west angle buttresses.
2) The nave is also 14th century (but see below regarding plan form), and has a proportion of 2:1. Both tower and chancel arches are 14th century. Both north windows are also 14th century, but the three southern ones are modern, albeit fitted into original splays.
3) The chancel is modern, and is a complete rebuild undertaken in 1859
4) The north porch is also a rebuild by Kett
5) The south porch is 14th century.
The plan-form of the church is unusual, and demonstrates the possible earlier remains. Church buildings are usually in a co-axial plan, with the chancel, nave and tower in alignment. This is not the case with this church. The chancel is set to the north of the tower/nave axis, and it is feasible that this is a result of the reuse of the footprint of the earlier church building.
If this is the case, then elements of the north and in particular the north-east sections of the nave may well be 13th century or earlier. The chancel arch itself is 14th century, and the chancel is 19th century rebuild, but earlier elements may be present in this alignment. The tower is centred on the west wall of the nave, which is consistent with the 14th century architecture of both.
The chancel and north porch were rebuilt by Kett, of Rattee & Kett, the Cambridge stonemasons, and paid for by Francis Powell as a memorial to her children. The restoration undertaken in 1899 then overhauled the tower, nave and south porch. The restoration included work to some windows and also to the buttresses. The building was presumably reroofed at this time. The interior is rendered.
The building is listed Grade II*, which is unusual for a typically small, rural mediaeval church.by