Background to the Scarecrow Festival
The Haslingfield Scarecrow Festival was first held in 2004. It has been held every two years since then, with an emphasis on getting as many villagers as possible to take part. The number of scarecrows has increased from around 50 the first time to over 200 in recent festivals.
There is a whole lot more than scarecrows at the festival. Take a look at the What’s On page
Find out more about Haslingfield
Haslingfield has its own website which offers information about the village, and what is going on here at other times of the year.
Please visit it at www.haslingfieldvillage.co.uk
How to find Haslingfield
Haslingfield is around 5 miles South West of Cambridge. Click for a map
History of Haslingfield
It is no surprise that there will be plenty happening in Haslingfield during the Festival weekend – that has been the situation here for the last sixteen hundred years at least! During its colourful history it has played many roles – royal estate, pilgrimage centre, home of violently revolting peasants, mining boom town and even occasionally a quiet agricultural village.
It really started in earnest with the Saxons, who came and settled here during the 5th century. Evidence of wooden Saxon settlements are notoriously hard to find, but their cemeteries are easier to discover. Weapons, brooches, beads and vessels they buried here in the 5th & 6th centuries can now be seen in assorted museums in London, Cambridge & Oxford. The village had acquired its present name – give or take the odd spelling – by the 7th century
Eventually a great green was laid out and the nucleated village gradually formed around it. This large oval green gives the village the shape it is today, and if you find yourself driving round in circles along High Street, Church Street and New Road, you have found its perimeter! On the eve of the Norman Conquest, Haslingfield was a prosperous place. Most of the parish’s 2,300 acres were owned by the royal family and their officials, and it was probably the centre for a royal estate encompassing the villages of the Bourn Valley.
The Normans changed all that. King William took over the 36% owned by King Harold and gradually sold or granted it away piecemeal, whilst the rest was divided between 4 Norman lords. They safeguarded their eternal futures by granting about a quarter of their lands to various ecclesiastical houses, and these remained in Church hands until the Reformation. Most of the balance eventually came into the hands of the Lords Scales, who effectively ruled the village for around 200 years. The Scales were a warlike family, and no doubt led a good number of Haslingfield men in the wars against the Welsh, Scots and French.
Under the patronage of the Scales, the growing village set about building itself a fine new church. Disaster in the shape of famine and the Black Death was imminent, however, and as elsewhere, the death toll was high. A settlement located in what is now called the Well House Meadow, where the many events at the Festival will take place, was abandoned. Three years after the Plague, in 1352, the new Church was completed and stands virtually unchanged today after more than 650 years.
The horrors of the Plague focussed attention on providing for the afterlife, and the village Chantries became amongst the richest in the county. Most famous was the Chapel of Our Lady on Barrington Hill, which became a great centre of pilgrimage. Contemporary writers report that the crowds were so large at Easter that it was impossible to get accommodation in the village. Later Reformation writers remark disparagingly on how well the priests and villagers did out of it!
Life lower down the social order was still not easy, however, and when crippling taxation was added to the burden the good citizens of Haslingfield enthusiastically joined in the Peasants’ Revolt. John Coggeshall led a band which burned and looted premises in the area and tried to kill a prominent Cambridge man in St. Giles church. Various other Haslingfield men were involved in similar activities against people organising the taxes. Inevitably, the authorities soon regained control, Coggeshall was hanged and others who could not be found were outlawed.
The Wars of the Roses finished off the Scales family, and the Reformation finished off the village’s ecclesiastical landowners, bringing the well-connected Dr. Thomas Wendy into our story. Personal physician to four successive Tudor monarchs, he was in a good position to snap up a bargain, and had soon acquired both the Scales land and the ecclesiastical lands. His fine moated manor house (Queen Elizabeth slept here!) sits squarely in the centre of the village and a walk down the High Street takes you past the lovely 17th century dovecote, granary and old brick walls built by his descendents. Their striking monuments in the church proclaim their status. Several houses built by the yeomen farmers of the period still stand in the village.
Enclosure of the common fields in 1810 met the needs of modern farming but firmly set the already widening social divide between farmers and labourers. Low wages and lack of work drove younger people to leave the village, with many of them taking the brave step of emigrating to Australia. Then came the bonanza years, with the discovery that Haslingfield and the surrounding villages were sitting on a bed of coprolites, in great demand as a fertilizer.
Suddenly, everything had changed! Contractors paid the landowners huge sums to stop farming whilst they mined the ore; tenant farmers received compensation for temporary lack of income; unskilled labour was in demand and wages soared. Large areas of the village fields were covered in deep opencast mining trenches, labour flocked in, the population rose by around 50% (mostly young men), lodgings were in great demand and complaints about the decline of moral standards rose!
Unfortunately, the good times did not last. After about 25 years, cheap imports from America brought a collapse in prices, the local mining became unprofitable and ceased, and the village returned to its old agricultural pace. The pace now, however, was almost non-existent, with a deep slump in agriculture. Poverty in the village was high and many voted with their feet, leaving the village, bringing the population down to around 500 – not much more than it was at Domesday 900 years earlier.
Chivers, who had bought most of the village’s farms around 1900, provided most of the employment in the first half of the 20th century, with apples, plums and soft fruit feeding their jam factory at Histon. It was not until the 1960s, however, that basic services such as sewerage and piped water were connected to the village and the post-war housing expansion brought the village we know today.
The Haslingfield of today is a vibrant, active community, with high levels of social and small commercial activity, retaining our school and village shops. The ghosts of Saxon invaders, Tudor yeomen and coprolite miners are still around us, however. Come and see for yourself, or just follow the scarecrows!