Stone Corner Cottage Heritage

Stone Corner Cottage Heritage

A View from My Bedroom Window

By Eleanor Whitehead

Photograph of Stone Corner Cottage April 2020. A View from my bedroom window

First thing in the morning as I look through my bedroom window, my eyes light upon a picturesque thatched house across the road. However, Stone Corner Cottage is not just your ordinary 17th century property. It appears to be the oldest surviving domestic building in Histon and is believed to be over 700 years old.

Described as a 14th century hall house (Grade II Listed) there has been speculation that the core of the building is all that remains of the St Etheldreda’s vicarage house ordered to be built by the monks of Eynsham Abbey in Oxfordshire. They owned the Manor of St Etheldreda in Histon, now at the centre of Abbey Farm, where the earthworks of the long-gone medieval Church of St Etheldreda can still be seen. The house stands at 36 Cottenham Road, just 250m north east of this church site.

Victoria County History vol9 pp102-106 summarises documentary references to this lost vicarage. The vicarage hall house was to measure at least 26 ft by 22 ft with a pantry at one end and a chamber and garderobe (a medieval toilet or small room) at the other. It was to be built of oak, to the east of St Etheldreda’s churchyard. A neighbouring building was to be erected to accommodate a kitchen, a bread oven and a malt house.

1991, Stone Corner Cottage is rethatched with barley straw. (Photograph by courtesy of Histon & Impington Village Society)

About 1935 when the building had been converted to two tied cottages. (Photograph by courtesy of Country Life Magazine)

Returning to Stone Corner Cottage. In the 1960s it was sold by Abbey Farm to a local builder with permission to demolish. The house had been divided into two tied cottages sometime during the later 19th century and by 1960, it was in a poor state. Thankfully, the builder chose to restore the property and make it his family home.

Stone Corner Cottage around 1970.  For Sale. In 1851 the building was known as Panton Hall after a previous owner of Abbey Farm (Photograph by courtesy of Histon & Impington Village Society)

During restoration, a closer look at the frame confirmed its medieval credentials. It was of oak and appeared to have been of aisled hall construction. The aisles were gone but it is said that the mortises remained. The original roof timbers were blackened indicating that the brick chimney stack, with its bread oven, was a later insertion. The frame was supported by a traditional brick plinth, which suggests a 16th/17th century rebuild. Its core dimensions are similar to those specified in the Eynsham Abbey cartulary of 1268 for the St Etheldreda vicarage. Could this be a previous incarnation of Stone Corner Cottage? However, the width would be a common feature of such a construction. Additional bays could add length to a building, but its width was dependent on the crossbeams. Width was limited to the average length of timbers produced by our native oaks.

Recent test pitting by Histon & Impington Archaeology Group in this area strongly suggests that Church End Histon (Church Street area) suffered greatly during the years of the Black Death. No specific Black Death related documents survive for the parish of Histon but there were 189 landholders in 1279 compared to just 54 families in 1563. The density of pottery sherds unearthed indicate that this area was the site of Romano British, Saxon and High Medieval settlement until about 1400.

In 1455 the vicarage was reported to be in a derelict state and the Abbott of Eynesham was ordered to rebuild it. Did he rebuild? No further documentary or physical evidence for a vicarage has so far been discovered. We know that by 1588 the parishioners of St Etheldreda’s claimed that the church was dilapidated and close to ruin. In 1599 it was reported that the nave had recently been demolished, reputably by Sir Francis Hinde (d. 1596) in order to provide materials/money for improvements to Madingley Hall. In 1638 inquiries were made into the cost of building a new church. By 1728 only the chancel, in poor repair, appeared to be still standing. Modern inspection of village walls confirms that much of the church’s remaining fabric was recycled by the community before 1745! The churchyard was taken into Abbey Farm before the Enclosure of 1806.

I would like to think that the Abbott of Eynsham rebuilt the vicarage and it is Stone Corner Cottage.  I would like to think that the tantalising similarities in the build of the two properties (planned and extant) does suggest that the timber frame was reused. The church had its own vicar until 1607. After 1607 the vicar of St Andrew’s Histon was appointed to serve both parishes. A redundant oak framed vicarage would have value whatever its state. Maybe it was demolished, and the timbers reused with a brick plinth and new chimney. Old aerial photographs appear to show the chimney emerging through the cottage’s ridge, not to one side as is often seen in ancient properties if a stack has been inserted at a later date.

However, whatever the true history of Stone Corner Cottage, it is reassuring to know that the frame of a relatively high status aisled hall house of 14th century origin survives and is home to another family in Histon.

Photograph around 1925 of Stone Corner Cottenham Road. Looking somewhat dilapidated. Note the large stones on the corner. (Cambridgeshire Collection)

Histon, 6th April 2020

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