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Thurstan Shaw, 1914 – 2013
Professor Charles Thurstan Shaw died on 8 March, aged almost 99. Probably the most distinguished of Cambridge walkers, he was first involved as a member of Cambridge RA Group Committee in the mid-1970s. Following on from this, he was the pioneer of the Icknield Way Long Distance Path, being Chairman of the Icknield Way Association for many years from its inception in 1984, and personally responsible for treading out many miles of track, before an attractive and feasible route was identified.
The first edition of the walkers’ guide to the path, running from Ivinghoe Beacon to Knettishall Heath, appeared in late1984, and Thurstan lived long enough to know of the recently published 6th edition. The route passes through six counties, and joins two National Trails, the Peddars Way in the east, and The Ridgeway Path in the west. It was Thurstan’s ambition to see The Icknield Way also as a National Trail, resolving this anomaly, but up to the present it has only the lower status of a regional route, though as such it still receives preferential treatment in terms of waymarking and maintenance from the relevant county councils.
Thurstan’s work for East Anglian rights of way was a labour of love in retirement. Members of the Icknield Way Association Committee, meeting in Thurstan’s study among ranks of archaeological tomes and journals, were very aware of his distinguished background in studies of prehistory in West Africa, principally in Nigeria and Ghana. Such was the fame and respect accorded in the localities where he worked, that he was made an Ibo tribal chief, and close connections were maintained until the end of his life.
At the Quaker meeting celebrating Thurstan’s life on 17 March were several representatives of the Ibo tribe, amongst his numerous family and friends, who overflowed from the large meeting room, sat on the stairs, and stood in the doorways. In an hour of tributes, very many of us wanted to stand and pay our respects to Thurstan, and to thank him for his kindness and wisdom. I feel privileged to have known him.
Thurstan is survived by his second wife, Pamela, and family of 5 children by his first wife, Ione, and their many descendants.
There is to be an archaeological memorial meeting at Sidney Sussex College in the Autumn. See also the “Times” obituary of 13 March.
Parish of the Month, Wimpole.
Speak of Wimpole, and most of us think of the National Trust property – the hall, the stable block, the restaurant, the gardens and orchards, The Belts, The Park, giving scope for many days of interest and exercise. But Wimpole is also a parish of over 1000ha, bounded by The River Rhee, Ermine Street (or Old North Road) and the Cambridge-Arrington Bridge Road. In 1086, the population was 57, gradually growing to 583 in 1831, before declining steadily to 160 in 1996.
Let us consider the parish before the National Trust took control of the Hall, buildings, and 1200ha of land in 1976.
When a gas compressor station was sited by the A603, as part of the gas pipeline laid across East Anglia in 1994, pottery of the late Iron Age (ca 100BC to 100AD) was found. An archaeological dig revealed 3 circular Iron Age huts of 12 – 13m diameter.
There is evidence of much more Roman occupation. The junction of two major Roman roads at Arrington Bridge, TL 334 486 was the site of a posting station. Construction of a swimming pool at Wimpole Lodge, TL 334 487, revealed foundations of stone and clunch, with much Roman pottery and coins. This is clearly part of an extensive site, for similar finds are known from Wendy, Arrington and Whaddon, meeting at the same cross-roads. Excavations to the N of this site revealed cobbled yards and ditched enclosures that had been paddocks, garden plots and residential sites, used from the late C2nd., and being reorganised three times before the C5th. There was evidence for blacksmithing and leather and bone working, with large numbers of artefacts (hob-nails, two iron heel-plates; door hinges and key; linch-pins; reaping hook; spear; chisel; brooch, pins, knives, buckle, razor, glass and coins). In addition, Roman cremation urns were reported during WWII at TL 342 498, near Cambridge Road Farm.
An unexpected discovery during excavations at Wimpole Lodge, was a C6th Anglo Saxon cemetery. A middle-aged woman was buried with a necklace of amber beads, a bronze brooch and wrist-clasps. Bones of seven other skeletons were recovered, including new-born infants. The Roman site had been abandoned for over a century, but ditches, ruined buildings and Roman roads would still have been in use.
In Medieval Times, Wimpole was a village originally comprising a group of hamlets. The main village was adjacent to the church, but was removed in the mid C17th, when the hall was rebuilt by Sir Francis Chicherley. Two hamlets once existed to the SW (Benhall End, site of the original hall, cleared in the 1730s, when Charles Bridgeman laid out the park), and to the S (Thresham End, cleared C18th). A section of village N of the hall disappeared in the 1750s when Capability Brown extended the grounds. Wratsworth hamlet, was once located in the NE of the parish, near Cobbs Wood Farm, but was cleared in the C19th. during a further landscaping phase.
Thus, preserved in the grassland around the park are the remains of 3 parts of the old village, with streets, house-sites and gardens visible as low banks. The strategic importance of Ermine Street makes it likely that the large mound in the park, 500yd NW of the house was a C12th castle motte. A post-mill stood on it in the C17th. Old roads still survive as slight hollow ways, as do considerable areas of ridge & furrow (although some were inadvertently ploughed up by the National Trust over a decade ago, to great public complaint). There is no Inclosure Award for Wimpole because its open fields had been gradually enclosed by successive owners of the hall before the C19th.
In 1730 two hamlets were displaced to plant a 2mile long avenue of elms (lost to Dutch Elm disease, and replanted in the 1970s with limes) leading to the front of the hall. In 1850, the then owner, Admiral Sir Charles Philip Yorke erected the estate village of New Wimpole on the A603, consisting of 12 semi-detached houses in a Tudoresque style. The village church remains on its original site. Rebuilt by Flitcroft in 1749, but much Victorianised, it retains a C14th N chapel as a mausoleum. One original c14th window was kept. Contents include alabaster tombs, brasses, and a monument to the Earl of Hardwick.
From C16th onwards, successive owners had the enthusiasm and capability to buy land at great expense for status and pleasure, rather than agriculture, and in the process depopulating the countryside. Wimpole’s estate started with a manor house, church and settlement around the later site of Wimpole Hall, which was given to Henry Chicheley, Archbishop of Canterbury in the C15th. His descendant, Sir Thomas Chicheley, rebuilt the hall in brick, and replaced the village around the church with gardens. Subsequent owners were the Earl of Radnor and the Duke of Newcastle. The Duke’s daughter married Edward Harley, Earl of Oxford, who employed Charles Bridgeman to change the formal gardens into park land, and include an octagonal water-filled basin near Whaddon. The scholarly Harley collected books and manuscripts, which became the core of the British Library. In debt, in 1739 he sold Wimpole to the Earl of Hardwicke who employed Capability Brown for more enlargement and landscaping, removing another medieval hamlet, and joining Bridgeman’s ponds into a curving lake. These, with his medieval-style folly, remain major landmarks today. In the early C19th. Humphrey Repton introduced newer garden fashions, and in 1850 the then owner, Admiral Yorke, erected New Wimpole Estate Village on the A603. Foreclosure on a mortgage in the late C19th left the estate with the Agar-Robartes family from Llanhydrock in Cornwall, whence much of the Hall’s furnishings were removed. In the 1930s Wimpole was sold to Captain Bembridge, whose widow Elsie, daughter of Rudyard Kipling, was a recluse, and the park sank into benign neglect. In 1976 she left the Hall and 1200ha acres of the park to the National Trust.
The paths in Wimpole
The parish has 9 public rights of way. In addition, there are at least 8 other permissive paths within the Wimpole Estate, and other approved routes or open access across grassland. This makes possible a great variety of walks, within the park and the parish, and onwards into adjacent parishes. It is believed that the NT is about to propose diversions of some of these RoW. RA Cambridge Group will examine such proposals very carefully when it is consulted.
Of the definitive paths, Wimpole Bp 1 starts from TL 339 526, from the corner of the Old Cambridge Road above The Belts, and runs E along the hilltop as part of Mare Way. Beyond the water tanks at the top of the Wimpole Road, TL 352 524, Mare Way continues on both sides of a shallow ditch. On the N side it is Eversden Bp 11, leading to walks in Eversden, and on the S side it is Orwell Bp3, a dead-end which, however, has a side branch, Orwell Fp2 leading down into Orwell village.
Wimpole Fp2 is a short path starting from much the same place as Bp1, passing through a tree belt, and crossing an arable field, to join well-waymarked but muddy paths in Eversden Wood. In late Spring, the woodland rides have bluebells, oxlips, and early purple orchids.
Wimpole Fp3 leaves the minor road opposite Home Farm at TL 342 514, and follows the farm track past Cobbs Wood Farm and uphill past woodland to the multiway junction at the top of the Wimpole Road, joining Orwell Fp4 for the last few metres. Branching off Fp3, just before the bridge, is Wimpole Fp4, waymarked through the yard of a deserted house, over a bridge, and through fields to cross Victoria Drive, then over more fields to reach Orwell., via Orwell Fp1. This is a good all-weather route, and the “Bull in field” sign on stiles is left there whether the bull is present or not.
Wimpole Fp5 is the Wimpole Drive, leading to Arrington, and routes beyond. It is the start of The Clopton Way, going to Gamlingay Cinques. As the path emerges through the decorative gates onto Ermine Street, note that you have already entered Arrington parish. Note, too, the display board, recalling that this part of the park was a hospital in WWII.
On Ermine Street, A 1198, a sign shows the start of Wimpole Fp 6, starting at TL 329 500, a little way beyond The Hardwick Arms. This path crosses arable fields, and the Wimpole Avenue, then another arable field, finally to emerge down the drive of Cambridge Road Farm onto the A603. As far as the Wimpole Avenue, it is part of the Harcamlow Way. In wet conditions, this is a very sticky route.
Wimpole Fp7 leaves Fp6 at TL 337 497, to run S down the Wimpole Avenue, crossing the A603, to reach the Whaddon parish boundary at a bridge over the River Rhee, TL 337 485. From here paths lead to Whaddon, Wendy, or a WWII display board by the A1198 at TL 339 469. Sadly, there is no public path leaving the road opposite this point. However one may walk 600m north along the verge, to pick up Shingay cum Wendy Fp 8 near Road Farm at TL 329 500. This path uses mostly field edges to zig-zag to the hamlet of Wendy.
Note that in damp conditions, it is pleasanter to start this walk in the park, through a gate in the railings at ca TL 338 509, rather than going round by Fp6.
Wimpole Fp8 forms two short sections of footpath within Eversden Wood, where the parishes of Wimpole, Kingston and Eversden form an elaborate patchwork.
From Old Wimpole Road, opposite Kingston Pastures Farm at TL 329 529, Wimpole Fp9 runs S across fields to the A1198. Half-way across, there is a strip of pasture field. This pasture may be accessed from The Belts via a stile at ca TL 331 517, which is not obvious from the path.
The Permissive Paths
The best-known of these is The Belts, a track running in the woodland to the W and N of Wimpole, and part of the County Council’s promoted route, The Wimpole Way. Reaching the Old Wimpole Road at TL 339 524, it is possible to continue immediately opposite in woodland, to join FP 3 above Cobbs Wood Farm, at TL 350521.
The National Trust promotes a route across pasture, and by the Chinese Bridge over lakes to visit The Folly, and emerging on The Old Wimpole Road, a little way N of Home Farm. Alternatively, a return may be made across another portion of the lakes on a causeway. It is a pity that The Folly itself is fenced off, due to safety considerations, and that there are no seats on the hill top, where otherwise a good view could be appreciated in comfort. From The Folly, however, one can go N to follow a ditch to TL 336 524, and join The Belts, not far from the exit onto The Old Wimpole Road.
Users of Wimpole Fp4 as the route to Orwell and beyond, may wish to return another way, using the very attractive Victoria Drive, the old carriageway route, which starts in Orwell on the A603 at TL 359 507, and emerges on The Old Wimpole Road, just opposite the NT drive. It is possible to turn off Victoria Drive at TL 358 508, and follow a path by a hedge to join Orwell Fp2 up Thorn Hill, and onto Mare Way.
Almost opposite the drive to Cobbs Wood Farm (Fp 3), a kissing-gate gives access to a short-cut path across the park, to the carpark and stable block. This path is shown clearly on the 1902 1: 10 000 OS sheet, and again on the First Series 1:25 000 OS sheet as a black dotted line, but it was never registered as a public right of way.
The National Trust promotes these routes, and several other short walks around the grasslands of the park in a leaflet available for a charge.
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© Janet Moreton, 2013