Leaden Hill

By Peter Kruger & Sue Miller

Photo:Trackways between the village and the River Rhee 1686

Trackways between the village and the River Rhee 1686

Photo:Leaden Hill shown as No.2 Private Road on the 1837 Enclosure map

Leaden Hill shown as No.2 Private Road on the 1837 Enclosure map

  As the 1686 Chicheley Estate map shows, Leaden Hill was once part of network of tracks that gave access to the Open Fields of Orwell. When those fields were enclosed by an Act of Parliament in 1837 what we now call Leaden Hill was designated No.2 Private Road, with a width of 30 feet.  Six parcels of land on the west side of the road were allotted to some of the villagers in lieu of their strips in the Open Fields.

The Act stated that such private roads, as well as driftways and public footpaths,  were "for the use of all owners and occupiers of lands and tenements in Orwell having occasion to use the same."  The roads were "forever to be supported and kept in repair by, and at the expense of, the owners and proprietors of the lands of Orwell, in the same proportion that they contribute to the repair of the public roads. The grass and herbage in and upon the private roads are for the benefit and use of adjoing owners."   As far as we know these regulations still apply, as Leaden Hill residents know to their cost !

Photo:Leaden Hill residents at work, about 1990

Leaden Hill residents at work, about 1990

As well as a route out of Orwell into the fields to the south of the village, Leaden Hill was once used by the residents of the now vanished farm workers' cottage at Field Barn. They used it to ‘travel into town.’ (Orwell has not shrunk – the world has merely become bigger). The name ‘Leaden’ is self explanatory, certainly to anyone who has worked the land on the hill. Clay that lies two or three feet below the surface across the rest of the village is, in some places, only inches from the surface on Leaden Hill. In winter months there is the curious spectacle of water seeming to flow up the hill and form lakes on its summit. In the early part of the last century horses were known to sink up to their shoulders into the mud as they pulled carts along the road, men sank up to their knees and steam ploughs up to their axles. The land either side of the road was little better and a lack of topsoil saw consistently poor crops of wheat and barley.

In the mid 1950s the owner of a number of Leaden Hill’s smallholdings, which ranged in size from 1.5 to 3.5 acres, died intestate. So began a period during which the fields and orchards were either merged with surrounding farmland or repeatedly changed hands – in one case exchanged for a quantity of meat. Refugees from Eastern Europe purchased two of smallholdings. One used an orchard to graze cattle for a butcher’s shop he had purchased and the other grew cash crops to supplement the income from farm work. Fruit from the orchard was sold to the Chivers jam factory in Histon while potatoes from the field were sold to the residents of Orwell.

Within a few years the shortages that previously had kept food prices high eased and, once again, farming smallholdings was no longer economically viable. One of the plots of land was turned over to residential use. The bungalow that is now 16 Leaden Hill was built in 1961 and over the course of the next five years a row of houses was built between this and Hurdleditch Road. 

With the houses came a pressing need for a road surface that would support the weight of a vehicle and, come to that, a person. The first two attempts at building a road saw the crushed bricks and concrete sink into the mud during the winter months. Most of the rubble poured into the road’s foundations came from the recently demolished American military hospital at Wimpole Hall.

Photo:A Wimpole Park window at 16 Leaden Hill

A Wimpole Park window at 16 Leaden Hill

Other material from the hospital, such as window frames, was put to good use in the development of buildings on Leaden Hill.  Today the road is known to most people as the first stage of the ‘Leaden Hill Loop’ – which is not actually a loop but a two-mile journey around the square taking the walker back into the village at Meadowcroft.

The bench under the Ash tree on the summit of Leaden Hill offers a panoramic view of the farmland to the west of the village with Whaddon and Royston in the distance. To the northeast is Orwell itself against the backdrop of the Mare Way and Glebe meadow.

 

 

 

This page was added by Sue Miller on 14/07/2014.

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