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Reflections on Meldreth History


As the first test pits are about to be dug in the village on 8th/9th June, I have been ruminating on the past. Six hundred and thirty two years ago, momentous goings on rocked Cambridgeshire in mid June. Written records exist which enable us to learn more about these events and bring to life some of the individuals involved. The Peasants’ Revolt had various causes, including the imposition of a highly unpopular poll tax, collected three times in six years, to pay for a foreign war (against Scotland!). The usual explanation is that the people’s ire was principally for the tax collectors (surprise, surprise), the landed gentry and the monastic orders.


The Peasants Revolt came to a head over much of England in 1381 on 15th, 16th, and 17th June. The 16th was the day that Wat Tyler, the Kentish leader, was killed at Blackheath, apparently betrayed having negotiated with the King: a 14 year old Richard II. But there were other leaders in other places; for instance, Jack Straw in Essex. In Cambridgeshire, there were a number of ringleaders, prominent among whom was “Hanchach” who headed a band in Cambridge. We know he was in Duxford on Saturday 16th and made his way to Steeple Morden on the same day, linking up with others of his band who had followed Akeman Street (roughly the A603). “Hanchach” must have made his way along Ashwell Street (A505). There was mayhem at Steeple Morden where the target seems to have been Thomas Hasilden, the controller of the household of John of Gaunt.


There was considerable trouble elsewhere too. But not so much in Meldreth! Here the worst recorded was, “John Staunford, sadler of London, threatened Thomas Cavell and John Topcliffe of Meldreth with other faithful man of the King, so that they dare not remain in their houses. He committed robberies and burnt down houses”. Subsequently, John Topcliffe (who gave his name to Topcliffe Manor/ Mill) was on the special commission appointed to deal with the rebels. Edmund de la Pole, another of the same commission, had land here. Thomas Cavell was said to have “acquired … part of a mill in Meldreth in 1382, and further lands there in 1390 and in about 1395 held Veseys manor”. This manor stood in what today is our garden.


The same “John Staunford” aka “John Sadler of London” figures elsewhere. He was at Abington Pigotts on the Saturday, where it is said that “with others (he) entered the close of Thos. North of Abington and


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