With the coming of the motorcar and the aeroplane Caldecote saw greater changes in the 20th century than ever before.
At the end of the nineteenth century, Caldecote was a small agricultural community. The freehold land, 915 acres in all, was owned mainly by Clare and Christ’s Colleges with a small amount of farmland in the ownership of private individuals. Change began with the death of Joseph Westrope in 1894. He was a wealthy landowner who lived at Manor Farm.
In his will Westrope instructed that the large area of land he owned be sold. At the time agricultural land was not that valuable. This was because with the cheap imports of wheat from America, cheap imports of beef from Argentina and cheap imports of lamb from New Zealand it was a bad time to be a farmer.
The land was sold to the Cavendish Land Company. On 15 July 1895 Joseph Noble, Secretary of the company, sold the land to Henry William Brake, who was a surveyor who living in Farnborough. Mr Brake divided the land up into twenty-foot wide strips approximately 100 feet long and sold them for use as small-holdings. To enable access to the strips of land he created a new track known as Estate Road. This enabled a double run of strips to be set up between Estate Road and what is now Highfields Road. At this time this was known as Broadway Road. Other strips of land ran from the opposite side of the new track. This is what we know as East Drive.
While Mr Brake intended the land to be used for small-holdings, events in the wider world changed things. The First World War caused an increase demand for home-grown food. There was a greater pressure for housing too. The slogan ‘houses fit for heroes’ was bandied about during the war and indeed some potential settlers made a start in building dwellings in what was known as the spinney along West Drive but they failed to return and the dwellings were never completed.
In 1932 Mr H. Game, another land speculator, purchased land in Highfields that had been owned by Clare College. This joined onto the land which Mr Brake had bought. Mr Game divided his land into plots for bungalows. To relieve the housing shortage temporary dwellings such as obsolete railway carriages were allowed to be installed on the strips of land. This enabled newcomers to move into the village.
Over the years these temporary dwellings were adapted and enlarged. One gentleman who had a smallholding on West Drive was Arthur Bossert. He was an engineer who developed a form of pre-cast concrete. Many of the homes in the village were built using his concrete structures. Initially they also had concrete roofs. With no running water in the village still and a lack of wells in this part of the village it was the custom to collect and use rainwater which ran off the roofs.
Unfortunately, concrete absorbs water. In a year of average rainfall this was not a problem. However, during the drought of 1934 there was little rainwater to collect. To help prevent such loss in the future the roofs were afterwards covered in corrugated iron sheeting. This gave rise to Caldecote’s nickname of Tin Town. Over time the new dwellings stretched along the roads that later became East Drive, West Drive, Highfields Road and also part of Hardwick.
With collected rainwater and sometimes unreliable wells as the only sources of water, and with only paraffin available for heating and lighting Caldecote was a far from luxurious place to live. However when compared with conditions elsewhere, especially in the industrial towns and cities, the quality of life was probably much better here.
All of the dwellings were known by a name not a number. Many of these names continued in use long after the original owner had left. Many were named after bushes, for example “Maybush”.
While Mrs. Sparkes set her general store up at the Brambles, another shop was kept by Mrs. Osborne. This however only lasted until around the war. There was a Post Office too. This was run by Mrs. May Harrup and was situated in a small farmhouse near to the phone box close to the Village Hall. Later the Post Office was kept by Miss Warne and was relocated to a site opposite to where the school is now. Most of the villagers needs arrived by carrier. Milk was supplied by Mr Harrup. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays Wrenn’s fish and chip van visited the village. The vehicle had a large megaphone on its roof used to encourage the villagers to come out and buy.
Public transport, too, was limited. It was not until around 1922 that a motorized omnibus provided a regular Wednesday and Saturday service to Cambridge. Whether travelling by horse and wagon or by omnibus, the passengers would have endured a rough ride. The main road through the village was not made up until1932.
A railway line operated by the London and North Western Railway Company was opened in 1862 and ran between Bedford and Cambridge passing through the Bourn valley close to the church of St Michael and All Angels at the southern end of the settlement. There were stations at Lords Bridge and at Longstowe, next to the Old North Road, where the remains of station platforms and buildings may still be seen, although now adapted to other uses. A siding between Toft and Kingston was accessible for goods trains to load and unload sugar beet and hay. There was no station serving Caldecote. The line, latterly operated by British Rail, survived the Beeching Cuts of 1963, only to close at the end of 1967, when all services were withdrawn.
Sunny, the son of Mrs Sparkes, ran the village garage. This was sited along the Old St Neots Road not far from the present filling station. While his parents lived in Bourn, Sunny, as a young man, lived in a thatched railway carriage which had a hole in the roof. If a caller came he would put his head through the hole to see who it was. Sunny Sparkes was a talented mechanic. He was succeeded at the garage by Mr Bird, another able man, who could fix most things. He invented an engine which worked using water, probably using electrolysis, however if anyone enquired about it he would deny any knowledge of it.
Children had no school to attend in Caldecote. They went to Toft. In 1910 Childerley Gate School opened on what is now the A428 dual carriageway at the edge of what was to become Bourn Airfield. This enabled children living in the village, and especially in Highfields, to attend a school near to their home. In those days it was compulsory for children to attend school until they were fourteen.
The village was affected by the First World War. Villagers joined the forces and, as an inscription in the church attests, some lost their lives. All young fit men over eighteen had been conscripted into the forces if they had not already volunteered and there were few families who were not touched in some way by the events of the Great War even though the fighting took place far away.
During World War Two, however, the village was potentially in the direct firing line. This was because Caldecote was situated next to Bourn airfield. Prior to 1938 the area which became Bourn Airfield was part of a 1000 acre farm called Grange Farm. At first the site was chosen as a satellite airfield for RAF Oakington, where Wellington bombers were stationed. These were twin-engined, propeller-driven planes. However, it soon became obvious that concrete runways would be needed to accommodate the heavy bombers expected to use the site. In the autumn of 1939 Stirling bombers arrived to join the Wellingtons. They were also twin-engined planes. Stirlings were made by Short Brothers based in Northern Ireland. In the early stages of the war there were incidents at Bourn Airfield. There was an attack by a Junker 88c on the runway at Bourn and on another occasion a Stirling was hit by another near the airfield as the aircraft returned from a raid on Brest in France. The crew bailed out over Bourn and one airman was killed.
In 1938 the Parish council had met to discuss air raid precautions. Three air raid wardens were appointed. Gas masks had already been allocated to the villagers. The Village Hall was to be used as a first aid hut. It also served the village well by providing a centre for entertainment and relaxation, especially as the war progressed. In March1940 whistles were given out to villagers to raise the alarm in the event of an air raid. To cope with fires caused by possible bombing three men in the village were allocated stirrup pumps. The only alternative fire-fighting apparatus nearby was a light trailer pump sited in Bourn. The nearest major fire-fighting equipment had to be brought from Papworth or Cambridge.
In October 1941 three large hangars were on the site. They were erected to the east of airfield by Short Brothers in order to carry out repair work to the aircraft. This area became known as SEBRO – Short Brothers Repair Organization. Unfortunately as the traffic using the airfield increased, the flight-paths of the planes came to be very close to Childerley Gate School. Following an incident in which a plane hit the roof of the building, the school was closed in order to make way for the new concrete runways. The children were taught in Hardwick Village Hall until a new school was built on St Neots Road at the house which is now called Nimitabel, The new school was finished and occupied by June 1943 and it had its own air raid shelter.
Bourn thus grew into a fully operational airfield with hangars and all of the other buildings necessary to support the war effort there. While the residents of Caldecote suffered the same rationing and other wartime hardships as the rest of the country, the fact that there was no mains electricity meant that the blackout that had been imposed by the Wartime Government was easier to cope with.
While the war brought problems it also brought opportunities. This was especially true for women. They had the chance to go out to work, doing more interesting jobs than they would have had in peace time. Before the war many women were expected only to work in the home or as domestic servants.
In May 1942 Pillar fountains were installed at various points throughout the village. Keys were given out to each householder at a cost of 2/6. At last there was a source of fresh water that was more dependable than wells or relying on captured rainwater.
In December 1943 ‘Black Thursday’ occurred. This was the night many planes crashed in fog when returning home to Bourn from bombing raids over Germany. Tragically 36 crew members died on home soil. Losses over the continent were the lowest of any night. It must be remembered that at this time Radar and other electronic devices were in their infancy. Navigational equipment was bulky. It used glass valves. These looked rather like smoky coloured light bulbs. Aircraft were not yet fitted with Radar which would have enabled planes to land in fog. The ground staff did not have effective equipment to guide them in either. The only thing some airfields were fitted with was something called FIDO. This was a system where a line of containers were filled with petrol and lit. The idea being the heat would drive the fog away. The pilot would also see the flames. It was all very primitive and not very effective.
In March 1944 Mosquitoes of 105 Squadron arrived from RAF Marham. The Mosquito was a remarkable plane. It was made of plywood, which gave it strength, but was not as heavy as aluminium. Plywood was a new material. The planes were powered by two Rolls Royce Merlin engines. These were the same very powerful petrol engines that were fitted to the Spitfire. The planes were fast and could fly at high altitudes. Some Mosquitos, like some Spitfires, were used for reconnaissance, but they were also very effective as fast bombers.
In May 1944 the airfield suffered an aerial attack. Some bombs fell within the parish but fortunately they did not explode and there were no casualties.
With the war over the site is used for a short while to repair vehicles such as cars which had been commandeered by the forces from civilians. In 1961 the site was sold to the Taylor brothers of Grange Farm Bourn and the land and buildings were leased to commercial and engineering companies. One such company built and serviced planes for spraying crops in Africa. Another company was Rototech which serviced helicopters. When President Clinton visited the American Military Cemetery at Madingley in the 1990s, the entourage of Chinook helicopters that accompanied him stopped over on Bourn Airfield. Today, a private flying club occupies the only part of the airfield left over from WW2.
After the war was over the pace of change in the village increased. Thanks to the efforts of Percy Bays, who made use of the opportunity that the building of Bourn Airfield gave to the village to push for running water and a water supply finally was installed. At first water had to be collected from stand pipes. Piped water arrived in peoples’ homes in 1946. Electric lighting was installed in1952, after much prevarication which had dated back to 1934. The first street lights were provided in 1953.
At the end of the war villagers went back to work on the land, traditionally the main source of employment in Caldecote. But there were also new job opportunities at the nearby industrial sites on Bourn Airfield. At this time few workers considered commuting to Cambridge or beyond for work. Consequently there was pressure for more housing. However, it was the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947 which had the most effect. The increasing number of people now living and working in the area created a need for cheap housing. However the provision of social housing by the local authority was impractical due to problems with drainage and sewerage in the village and the rough state of both East Drive and West Drive as neither road had been made up. Instead social housing was allocated to Hardwick.
The Act laid down minimum standards for housing. There was a move nationally to remove what was regarded as sub-standard and slum housing and the aim was for all houses to have electricity, a bathroom and running water. Rooms in domestic dwellings also had to be above a minimum size. Housing that could not be improved to meet these standards could be taken over and demolished. The dwellings already in use in Highfields were considered as well below these standards. In fact Chesterton Rural District Council (which was then the local authority responsible for Caldecote) regarded the housing in and around Highfields as being so bad that it wanted it all to be demolished. However this fact was never made known to the villagers who were hoping their plans for expansion would take place. It took a fight by people such as Percy Bays and Captain Hudson to enable Highfields to continue as a viable village site. Finally running water arrived as did electricity although the issue of drainage continued to a problem and remains so today.
Replacing the dwellings with more modern housing was a gradual process. Some infill building between existing housing took place too. A list of dwellings declared unfit for habitation was produced by the council and negotiations took place to enable such properties to be rebuilt. In the case of some elderly residents this would only occur when either they had died or moved. Even today you can see where some bungalows have been altered and modernized. But apart from Mr Rook’s dwelling opposite the school, most of the’Tin Town’ housing has largely disappeared.
Development along East Drive and West Drive was initially prevented by their poor road surfaces. They were private roads and not adopted by Cambridgeshire County Council. They were still dirt tracks. However when the Ministry of Agriculture decided that East Drive should be regarded as a private farm road new development could take place. The Ministry regarded the properties on East Drive to be small-holdings. It did not regard West Drive in the same way. On West Drive the residents were expected to pay for the road to be brought to the normal paved standard.
With the arrival of running water, electricity, and better housing things were looking up for Caldecote. The fight was still on for a new school. The classrooms at Nimitabel had only been a temporary measure. Finally, after a debate about where the school should be located, the present site of the school was chosen. The village also lacked a recreational area on which to play sport. When the new school opened in 1963 it was classified as a community school and the villagers were able to make use of the facilities. This was just as well as the Village Institute Hall was coming to the end of its useful life.
During the 1930s several villagers had come together with the intention of obtaining somewhere other than the Fox public house where they could get together. Money had been raised to buy the land and to build the Village Institute Hall. While grants were available to construct the hall of brick they were not taken up at the time. So unfortunately the hall remained a wooden structure. Once built, the Hall proved very popular. During the latter part of the war for example film shows were held here, as well as dances. The Men’s Social Club came into being soon after the hall was built. At first this made use of the new hall but after the end of the Second World War the Social Club acquired its own premises.
The next major change for Caldecote was the expansion of the village in the late 1990s. New estates were built. These included the houses around the school, the two shops and the new Village Hall. The derelict Village Institute Hall was finally demolished and a housing estate was built on the site. With the two pig farms at either end of West Drive being replaced by housing we have the village we see now. Once of the fortuitous result of the development was the discovery of Caldecote’s ancient past as archaeologists were able to examine the land before the developers could begin work.by