Our story starts over 100,000 years ago, before the last Ice Age. Bones were found in Barrington in 1879 and 1948 which revealed that hippo, rhino, elephant, hyena, lion, bear, deer and bison existed here. Finds such as polished stone axes suggest a settlement here in the Stone age; Bronze Age arrow heads and a small burial mound have also been found.
By the end of the Iron Age, a large settlement, well defended with ditches, had developed and there were large pits, probably for grain storage. Finds here included gold coins, an iron currency bar and a pottery bowl imported from Italy, indicating wealth and contacts with other parts of Europe.
The remains of a Roman villa, which evidence suggests had been attacked and burned down, have been unearthed to the South of the Village. Roman remains were also found by the river near Foxton Bridge and there are carved clunch blocks from a large building built into the foundations of a water mill. The story goes that Boudicca fought against the Roman army, if not on the site of the Village, then nearby.
Where did Barrington get its name? No one is sure. One theory is that “bara” could mean barrow, a hillock or burial ground; “ton” was the Anglo-Saxon word for settlement. Another is that Bara was a Saxon thane who settled in the place which came to be known as “bore’s ton” and the name evolved from this.
Barrington has been one of the most productive areas for the study of early Anglo-Saxon burials and two sites have been excavated in the 19th Century and more recently. These included over two hundred graves, with two very rare instances of women buried lying in wooden beds. There were also many grave goods and pieces of jewellery, indicating a large settlement with a fair degree of wealth.
Barrington, overlooking the River Rhee, a tributary of the Cam, was in a good defensive position and often seems to have sat between opposing armies. When the invading Danes finally came to terms with the English as to where Danelaw started and Mercia began, villagers found themselves on the borderline between both sides. as they had with the Romans and Boudicca and would again in the 17th Century, with the Roundheads and Cavaliers.
Before the Normans came, the Village land was spread between five main owners, one being the Abbey of Chatteris. There were also twenty four freemen with smaller acreages. Later William, now King of England rewarded his followers and family with these lands although the Abbess of Chatteris retained her holding. By 1087 it was recorded in the Domesday Book that Barrington comprised 54 households (about 270 people). There were two and a half mills; East Mill (shared with Foxton when we let them !), Bulbeck Mill and West Mill. By 1278 population stood at 102 families.
Building started on the main part of the present Church in the 13th Century, using clunch quarried locally. A century later the remainder, including the tower and clerestorey, was added. In 1326 the Church was passed to Michaelhouse College in Cambridge.
In 1280 an aisled hall known as Newlyn was built. Towards the end of the Middle Ages what now serves as our village pub, the Royal Oak, was constructed. In 1334 Edward III granted the village a weekly market and an annual St Margaret’s fair on July 20th. Barrington was a prosperous village.
Plague struck England in 1348 and the number of villagers fell from 612 to 341. Early in the 1400s, Alice Bradfield married Thomas Bendyshe, who by 1430 had transferred Barrington land to his son, Edmund; the family held their estate here until the early 20th Century. By 1485 they had built a moated manor house, traces of which can still be seen, albeit it was replaced by a more modern hall in 1702.
In the early 1500s saffron began to be cultivated here in fenced strips and around 50 families (about 250 people) are recorded. A short time after the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536-9), Trinity College came to hold an interest in the Church and Village which continues today.
In 1645, Roundhead troops from Cambridge were billeted in Foxton; Charles 1’s army attacked across the river at Harston and Barrington, and was repulsed. Roundhead cannon were trained on the Village and cannon balls have been found in the river near the bridge. In 1657, the Guildhall was built and several houses appear to have been constructed on the North side of the Green around this time. It has been said that Cromwell was granted land here to give to his onetime soldiers. After the Restoration it was reckoned that there were about 75 houses in the Village. A short time later a Congregational chapel or meeting house was built in Boot Lane.
Thomas Finch was appointed Vicar in 1775, he lived in Cambridge but rarely came to the Village to hold services. On some Sundays he would ride to the top of Chapel Hill and the Verger would signal him should there be some service, such as baptism, required. As the Church was rarely used, it fell into disrepair and villagers took to stabling their animals in it during winter.
In 1835, following appointment as Curate-in-charge, Michael Gibbs turned out the animals, started repairs and held regular services, even though the roof leaked. Three years later he opened the Village School, attended by 70 pupils and built on the site of the old Vicarage, which had burned down some years before. Although he received help from the Bendyshe family and some of the wealthier farmers, he had to put in £142 of his own money to finish the work. Much enlarged, the School still thrives.
In 1796 the Barrington Enclosure Act was passed. Strip farming ended and land was parcelled out to private owners. Unusually, the cottagers of this Village did keep their rights to a 22 acres, 1 rood and 6 perches of common land – the Green. By 1820 there was considerable poverty here as a result of agricultural depression and because some farmland had been left tenantless and/or waste. During the Captain Swing riots, when agricultural labourers, angered and frightened by loss of work, burned ricks, barns and machines, 5 Barrington men described as “rioters” were sentenced, in 1828, to hard labour in gaol for two months for “unlawful destruction of property”.
By 1830 the situation had improved and 156 men and boys, described as labourers, found work. In the 1851 census, 533 people were recorded. The number of farmers had fallen to 7. There were 99 agricultural labourers and 12 carpenters, also blacksmiths, millers, wheelwrights, tailors, shoemakers and dressmakers. In this year, Shepreth Station was opened and fruit grown in the Village was taken there to be transported to London.
1863 marked the start of nearly 20 years of high employment with the beginning of the mining for coprolites – phosphate nodules, found in sub-soils in this area, which could be ground up and used as fertiliser. They could be dug very profitably in deep, open cast trenches; however, the work could be very dangerous and accidents were recorded. At the peak of the digging, the population rose to 727, many of them men attracted to the Village by pay rates much above those for agricultural labourers. Villagers also thrived, many taking in lodgers.
Rev. Conybeare became Vicar of Barrington in 1871. As the mining came to an end, at the beginning of the 1880s, the number of people here fell by 100 and poverty crept in again. He not only appealed for help to the Board of Guardians in Royston and to his own College, Trinity, but created as much work as he could; repair work in the Church, making drinking fountains and ponds on the Green and supervising clearing out of ditches. Some of the wages were found from his own pocket. He employed men fairly, giving priority to those with young children and trying to ensure that work was divided evenly among the rest. To make things worse, in the early 1890’s, the Prime Brickworks, which had had a chequered career over 15 years, finally closed.
The early years of the 20th Century brought some employment when Royston Cement Company remodelled the Brickworks and built a tramway to the railway at Shepreth. 10 men from Barrington died in battle during World War I, including, in 1917, Richard Bendyshe; an event which virtually brought an end the Bendyshes in the Village. The Dreadnought Cement Works opened, north of Haslingfield Road, in 1918. Two years later, a new Light Railway was built to join the London – Cambridge Railway and this and the Cement Works were bought by Eastwoods Ltd in 1924. In 1937, their future Managing Director purchased Barrington Hall as a residence. During the second half of the Century, the Hall contained offices, particularly after 1962 when Rugby Portland Cement Company took over Eastwoods, employing over 300 people by 1968. In 2000, this company became part of the RMC group, which in turn was the subject of a take-over by Cemex in 2004. The number of employees has fallen over time, as a result of automation and outsourcing of logistics. The tall chimney of the Works was a well-known landmark of the Village skyline to the North.
In 1928, the Village Hall Charity was founded, the Hall being the gift of the Bendyshe family. By 1931, the population had fallen to 440 and in 1939 only 50 children attended the School. The autumn of 1939 brought 24 evacuees to swell the numbers. These numbers fluctuated but rose to 32 evacuees in September 1941, when air raids began in London. Five men from the Village were killed during World War 11.
Few people will remember the “one size, one recipe fits all” National Loaf. This was first cooked in Barrington where Dr Elsie Widdowson, who was closely involved in the design of its high vitamin content, lived. Her war work on the nation’s diet and her subsequent research on nutritional science earned her the Award of Companion of Honour – the first woman scientist to be honoured in this way.
Electricity began to be available in the Village in 1937; a clean piped water supply was completed in 1955 and drainage and sewerage installed between 1969 and 1972. In 1961 the population was 531 and from this time new houses and bungalows appeared, mainly at the East end of the Village but also to the West. Currently the Village numbers around 900 adults.
Shepreth children have come to share Barrington Church of England Primary School, which currently has some 120 pupils. Whereas at one time you would have found, within living memory, bakeries (including the one, near where the Shop is now, to which people took their Sunday joints to be cooked); a butcher’s shop; a Post Office; a fried fish shop; two small sweet shops and the Blacksmith’s shop (demolished in 1959). Today there is a Shop/Post office which we are fortunate in retaining.
In Victorian times there were 7 public houses: The Catherine Wheel, The Fountain and the Butcher’s Arms in the High Street; The Boot in Boot Lane; The Queen Victoria in Mill Lane and the Robin Hood which is said to have stood opposite the old Brick and Cement Works in Shepreth Road. The Royal Oak is the sole remainder – most of the others are now dwellings.