The Manor Oakington

A talk given by Mrs P Ravensdale to the WI in 1959. Edited by RCT Warboys.

This really is the story of how our house grows older, every time we learn a little more about it.

We heard about it one winter day in 1956, when John Belowe (who was the vicar of Oakington) phoned my husband to say that some bricks which he had thought were possibly Tudor, had been uncovered by workmen when digging out the back of the Manor House. Would he like to come over and have a look at them? he did; and came home to ask me if I wanted to live in an old Victorian farmhouse at Oakington. I said,” Of all houses I would like to live in, that was not one of them”.

But a few weeks later we came to see it on a wet Sunday afternoon in February, with trees damp and dripping, and the house dark and derelict, full of dark brown paint and peeling wallpaper, and other people’s dusty furniture. We hated it and decided we would not have it as a gift. However, we came again, and we took the children around and into the garden which was overgrown and horribly neglected but still beautiful. I can remember looking back at the house from the garden and that did it. So, we bought the Victorian farmhouse brown paint and all.

We soon discovered it was much older than Victorian. The main part of the present house is Georgian. It was built by Alderman Guy Sundrey (who was Mayor of Cambridge),  had taken the Manor from Queens college on a lease of ”three lives”. He rebuilt the house as a gentleman’s country residence. The Sundery’s connection ceased in 1772 when his wife (the last of the three lives) died. There were no passages upstairs in the house as he built it in the 18th Century; all these were added later, as was the whole of the front part of the short wing, (where our kitchen is now), the bathroom and the hall by the front door.

The L-space-shaped plan is typical of a medieval country house and the lower courses of the main wing, (with our sitting room hall and study), and much of the cellars are of handmade brick, probably 17th Century. [In view of the next sentence, should this be 18th Century]. The ceiling beams in the cellar are studs from the older 17th (SIC) Century house which was here before the Sundrys.

The Manor was owned by Queens College up until 1940 [I have a copy of the sales particulars – RW], and seems to have been bought by the College about 1590, although they had leased it since 1568, and bought the “advowson” of the Church (the right to present the Vicar to the living) in 1558. Before the dissolution of the monasteries in Henry VIII reign, the Manor had been held continuously by Crowland Abbey since about the year 950, when Turketyl (a Saxon courtier), impressed by the resistance of the monks of Crowland to the Danes, gave them amongst other gifts, his Manors of Oakington, Cottenham and Dry Drayton. He himself became a monk and died as Abbott of Crowland in 975.

The early Saxon settlement left this mark in the names of the two paddocks behind the Manor, of Highbury and Lowbury (the two enclosures around the Saxon house). Before the Saxons, the Romans lived here in common with almost every village nearby [[we now know from extensive test pitting around the village that although the Romans lived nearby it was not in the village of Oakington – most likely to the north – airfield/Northstowe and it was the Saxons that first settled here. Other than prehistoric occupation]]

Oakington was founded when the Saxons picked the site of one of the two small Roman farms to settle on. Before we came my husband thought there should be traces of a Roman farm in the village, but we never expected to find the site in out own garden! We have cereal packets full of pieces of Roman pottery all over the house; but the only coin dug up so far is a silver halfpenny minted somewhere between 1422 and 1425, thin as a wafer and no bigger that the nail of a little finger.

And so on, on the site of the “Victorian farmhouse” which we bought 5 years ago with its garden and paddock, is all that is left of a 500 acre farm. Even the name of the paddock, Camping Close *, takes us back to the middle ages – this enclosed field was used for playing Camping ball, a kind of group football in which all the village boys and young men would have taken part on feast days. Men have lived and worked for more than 1500 years when the Romans lived here and farmed what the Saxon Turketly, nearly 1000 years ago called my Manor of Oakington.

Pamela Ravensdale

(President of the Oakington WI) 1959

*Camping Close was the paddock in which Church View estate now exists RW February 2001

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