What factors contributed to the expansion of the Barnwell area from a small village in 1801 to a busy suburb of Cambridge by 1901

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Last updated: April 3, 2019


* At the end of the eighteenth century Cambridge was suffering a significant reduction in the population.

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According to available statistics, in 1674 the population exceeded 9000, whereas by 1728 Cambridge’s population was under 8000. There are many possible explanations for this sudden fall in population. One is overcrowding, and its repercussions, such as poor conditions (lack of clean water for everyone, or excessive amounts of sewage which were hard to get rid of), lack of employment, and very high property prices and rents.The city was squalid, and the lack of a proper sewage disposal system lowered the already poor conditions. Another contributing factor to the mentioned fall in population was the attraction exerted by cities in the north around the beginning of 1750, a period of time marked by the onset of the Industrial Revolution. Cities such as Manchester or Leeds (typical northern cities) offered great opportunities of employment, particularly in the newly born industries. We will now analyze in more detail the expansion issue in Cambridge.

The city of Cambridge was expanding at a very fast rate, but the space available for settlement was running short. The expansion of the University restricted the residential areas to delimiting and unpleasant territories. Cambridge was surrounded by land liable to flood, which was the main factor that stopped the centre of town and the residential areas from expanding. Cambridge was also surrounded by open fields, which seemed to be the only possible area in which the town could expand.

But this was prevented by the way the land was divided into strips.These open fields, and areas surrounding the town, were mainly owned by the rich. This left the poor with the worst areas, both for settlement and agriculture. This unfair situation was by the Enclosure acts, which were put in practice in 1802 and 1807. This movement involved consolidating the scattered strips into single land holdings. Both the Cambridge and Barnwell fields were consolidated into larger fields, and in all of these new allocations were made to the former holders of the land, who included both colleges and private individuals.The new owners were now free to develop or sell their lands as they wished, and this resulted in what possibly was the single most important development in the evolution of the town’s urban form since the founding of the University and the colleges in the early medieval period. Cambridge enclosures took place very slowly, and were only completed in the mid nineteenth century.

Land was enclosed gradually by a series of private acts, and by the end of the eighteenth century two agricultural board reports were stressing the urgent need to enclose in order to save the farming in the area.In 1802, the land surrounding the parish of St. Giles had been enclosed, and in 1807, the Barnwell fields had been enclosed. By 1811, the Barnwell field allocations were completed, 4 years after the enclosure. Now that the land had been redistributed, there was possibility for expansion. Generalising, the enclosure acts freed the land outside the medieval core and created the necessary space for expansion. * The city of Cambridge had various Ecclesiastical Parishes spread around throughout the town.

Generally, each area had its own Parish. From 1801 to 1901, we notice a fast rise in the population of certain Parishes, and especially the Parish of St. Andrew The Less, which was allocated in the Barnwell area (1 mile away from the city centre). The Enclosure Award in 1811, resulted in an increase of population in nearly every Parish. It is not possible to directly attribute the rise in population in the parishes to the enclosure awards; there was a wider range of factors that made this possible in a much more direct way.During the nineteenth century, there was a general increase in population in Cambridge, which resulted from a decrease in the infant mortality rate and an increase in the general life span of the elderly, both of which kept more people alive for longer periods. These changes were brought about by improvements in public health provision (sewage disposal, cleaner and more plentiful water supplies), medical improvements overcoming fatal conditions (more doctors, improved surgery, new medicines, control of infectious diseases).

Another factor was the industrialisation of Britain. Although this statement may seem contradictory to a previous section of this report, in which I claimed that the Industrial revolution moved people away from Cambridge, there are statistics (which I couldn’t get hold of) which state that the number of people that moved away from Cambridge at the end of the eighteenth century was balanced by the number of people coming into Cambridge from the rural areas in the nineteenth century.Even if East Anglia was not an industrialised part of Britain, the Industrial Revolution generally created employment throughout the country, attracting people that were previously employed in the agricultural sector. The population gradually grew in certain Parishes, and although St. Andrew The Less had always seemed to grow at a faster rate than every other Parish, it was not until 1845 and the following years that its population enormously grew to reach a final peak of 27860 people.In 1901 this population rise can be noticed when looking at the the graph. 1845 was the year in which the Railway was built in Cambridge, and this was a very important factor, which contributed to the rise in population of this Parish.

This is because the Railway was constructed in the Barnwell area. We will analyze further the importance of the Railway, including an explanation of the location of this new mode of transport. For now we will only mention where the people that populated the Parish came from.They were mainly traders, that had previously been using the river and moved to the Barnwell area to make use of this new revolutionary transport which could have benefited their business, and students and labourers from other towns that decided to move to Cambridge.

The railway was faster and therefore a better value for money. As we notice from our statistics and our graph, St. Andrew The Less was not the only Parish in which we encountered a rise in population. But Parishes that were situated near the riverside encountered a substantial decline in population.This was due to the decline of the river trade afetr the arrival of te Railway.

This can be seen from fig. 4 (The River Cam toll receipts). We notice that gradually, from 1845 the tolls fell to eventually reach the value of 367 i?? per annum. Many jobs near the river were obviously lost and people moved closer to the railway for work.

* I will now analyze in more detail the wide range of factors, which contributed to the growth in population in the Barnwell area (parish of St. Andrew The Less). I will commence with the one that comes first n chronological order.The Enclosure movement initiated the process of expansion of this Parish (and of Cambridge in general). I have analyzed in detail the enclosure movement in a previous section of this report; therefore, I will not describe it again. This movement created the space for expansion by freeing the land outside the medieval core.

Throughout the eighteenth century the rise in population in the Barnwell area, was also due to foreign immigration as well as to the movement of people from other parts of Britain. There were many factors, which determined this movement to Cambridge and more particularly to the Barnwell area.An Agricultural Depression occurred between the 1870’s and the 1880’s had caused a large amount of people to leave their jobs in the countryside. In the American plains, producing wheat was much cheaper than producing it in England. It was much cheaper to consume wheat imported from America, than to produce wheat in England, therefore English farmers were not able to compete. 1 million English farmers abandoned their farms and started looking for alternative occupations. Many of these labour-seeking individuals arrived in Cambridge, and an obvious place to settle in was Barnwell, because of its closeness to the Railway.A similar situation happened in Ireland in 1846, where Blight (crop disease) destroyed potato crops.

The potato wass the stable diet of most irish people at that time. Because of this catastrophe, 1 million people starved and another million people emigrated. The main destinations were America (where nowadays a politically powerful Irish community is present), and Britain. One of the cities, which encountered a high Irish immigration, was Cambridge. We will now explore the reason behind Cambridge’s popularity. Around 1850, Coprolite was discovered in the Cambridge area.This discovery created a big employment opportunity: a labour force was requested. This became a major attraction for job-seeking individuals.

The Irish peasents, whose crops were destroyed, took this opportunity to come and work in Cambridge. Working in the Coprolite mines was exactly the type of job they were seeking for: a well-paid unskilled job. The profits varied because labourers were paid (piecework) according to the amount of work they completed. There is no evidence of anyone mining for Coprolite before the 1850’s. There are two main reasons behind this.Firstly, in such a widespread and traditional industry as agriculture, practices always take a long time to catch hold; in the same way, crop rotation spread extremely slowly after Townshend’s initial experiments. Added to difficulties of opening a market there were transportation problems; the railway network was still limited and river tolls still high.

The second important factor was the lack of accurate knowledge, on the part of the public, that was so important with thin seams of mineral. The first recorded discovery of a coprolite bed after 1851 that I have found was actually at Cambridge in 1858 on Coldham’s Common.As we can see from fig. 5 ( map of Coprolite mines) we can notice that the mines were relatively small and spread all over the county. There were a few large ones: these included Horningsea (the largest), Coldham’s Common, Cherry Hinton and Chesterton. The Coprolite industry produced explosives and fertilisers. There were mainly two methods of starting the production, changing in popularity according to the period.

In the early 1860’s the most common arrangement seems to have been that a landowner who farmed land on the Greensand ” belt” would hear of the industry and realise that there might be potential profits in it for him.He would then let it out to a firm, and would consult a local land agent for exploitation or consult. The land agent would make the facts known and tender out the contract to the highest bidder (generally the firm that could complete the job in the shortest time with the least disturbance). An alternative procedure could be adopted and was standard practice after about 1870; in which a concern dealing with coprolites might approach a landowner to negotiate terms for renting the land and extracting the mineral.Normally a firm that had rented land to extract coprolites did do on the assumption that the land would be put back to its original agricultural use after extraction. The Coprolite industry didn’t last very long, it had a very short boom lasted around 30 years, from 1850 to 1880. When an Agricultural Depression happened in England, labourers native of other parts of the country also came into Cambridge.

We can see from fig. 5 ( map of the coprolite mines in Cambridge), the main mines in Cambridge were in the Cherry Hinton area, in Coldham’s common, in Chesterton and the largest one in Horningsea.The workers in the mines were therefore, Irish immigrants displaced from their farms because of the Blight disease, and English farmers, which migrated to Cambridge because of the general depression throughout the country. From fig.

6 ( picture of Coprolite workers), we can observe some labourers in the mines. The income of labourers in Cambridge had produced a need for new housing contributing to the expansion of the town, and more specifically of Barnwell, where many workers had installed themselves.

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