The Surrounding Area: Cottenham

High Street, Cottenham (© Stephen McKay)

Cottenham is one of the largest villages in this area, and its position on the edge of the fens secured its success because of access to Roman and Medieval water ways and the Fenland's rich resources.

Prehistoric evidence incudes Mesolithic axe's and shallow pits which might suggest temporary settlement in the area. A few Neolithic and Bronze Age axes have been found as well as flint blades and waste flakes indicating manufacturing. To the north-east of the village a Bronze Age burial mound has been identified. Additionally, a Late Bronze Age settlement was identified at Lingwood Farm, with excavations uncovering surface pottery, granaries, several pits, fence-lines and waterlogged wells. There was also evidence of early Iron Age pits; one of which contained a complete pot that had been deliberately damaged and then reburied as part of a ritual activity.

During the Roman period the fen edge was further south than it was in earlier times. This allowed the northern and eastern parts of the village to take advantage good soils, improved fenland resources and good communications via road and water – particularly canal Car Dyke a Roman canal. Cottenham seems to have at least eight centres of Roman occupation. These are known from crop marks, surface finds and were exposed during modern gravel quarrying. A 20cm bust of the Roman Emperor Commodus was found at Bullocks Haste, on the Car Dyke, showing that the imperial cult existed in this region. Elsewhere in the parish there is evidence of a small double-ditched temple, suggesting that Cottenham was an area of local religious importance, and this site attracted votive offerings including miniature axes and low value coins.

Excavations next to Crowlands Moat uncovered an Anglo-Saxon sunken-feature dwelling (Grubenhaus) dating to the early Anglo-Saxon period (AD 450-650) as well as square Middle-Saxon (650-800) timber buildings set within ditched compounds – showing that like Oakington Cottenham was occupied by many generations in this period. In the late Saxon period much of the village of Cottenham was governed from the abbeys at Crowland and Ely. Cottenham Lode, intersects with Car Dyke, which is a later Saxon waterway or canal that would have connected Cottenham to Crowland and the rest of the Fen communities, it must pre-exist the Norman Conquest as it was used by William the Conqueror to invade Ely.

Crowland continued to govern Cottenham, Oakington and Dry Drayton during the medieval period, and the manor house in Cottenham was a despatch point for many of these manors produce. The village has always been one of the largest in Cambridgeshire and historical records give some indication of the size of the village. In 1086 the population is recorded at 60, which increased to 670 people by 1279. More than half of the tenants owned by Crowland died during the Black Death, but these numbers in Cottenham were quickly replaced; with 121 families taxed in the 16th century, increasing to 230 families by the 17th century. By 1851 census the population was around 2300 people.