Great & Little Chishill

Great and Little Chishill are located on the southernmost tip of Cambridgeshire, with Essex about a mile to the East and Hertfordshire about a mile to the West. Until 1895, Chishill was in Essex but then the boundary was changed and it became Cambridgeshire. However, our Church is still in the Chelmsford diocese and our postcode is Stevenage, Hertfordshire - very confusing for everyone!. Great Chishill has the distinction of being the highest point in Cambridgeshire at 480 feet above sea-level.

It is a very ancient settlement, to the north of the Village runs the Ickneild Way and to the west is the Cumberton Brook which was the division between the old Kingdom of Mercia and the Kingdom of the East Saxons. The Domesday Book of 1086 refers to Cishella which was held by Ulfeih, a freeman, and Little Cishella which was held by Sired, a freeman. William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, crowned on Christmas Day, 1066 in Westminster Abbey, bestowed large pieces of England to his fellow Normans, and Cishella went to Henry de Farers and Little Cishella went to Count Eustace of Boulogne.

Great Chishill was divided into five Maners , the Maner of Cardens, alias Bassets Hall, the Maner of Belknaps, the Maner of Tewes alias Lisles, the Maner of Friers alias Chishall-Grange and the Maner of Chishall alias Over Chishall-Hall. A farmhouse, Hall Farm, still occupies this latter site, today, on the east side of the village.

St. Swithun’s Church, situated on high ground at the Cross Roads was founded in 1136 by Geffrey de Magnaville under the Monastery of (Saffron) Walden, but almost certainly there would have been a place of worship there before with the position of Deep Well House just behind it. Wells, Springs, High Ground and Ash Trees were always places of deep religious significance. The Church has had a chequered history of partly collapsing and being re-built over the generations. The five Bells were rung for the first time in 23 years on September the 12th 1998 as the beginning of a village project to get them and the bell tower repaired in time to ring in the new millennium. The first recorded vicar was Anselm De Flempton, 14th May 1327.

Little Chishill has the Church of St. Nicholas, probably founded around the same time, its first recorded vicar was John Martyn in 1333.

On the 22nd February 1789 a fire broke out in the vestry house of the Congregational Church in Barley Road and quickly spread throughout the village, destroying many houses and setting light to the tower of St. Swithun’s Church - but no lives were lost. The Congregational Church was first built in 1694 and rebuilt in l894.

The Chishill Post-Mill stands to the west of the village on the road to Barley. The first authentic record of a Mill here appears in 1592 though it is possible there was one there before. The first recorded owners were the Cooke family and the first recorded miller was Joseph Rule in 1677. The Cambridgeshire County Council acquired the Mill in the 1960's, after William Pegram stopped working it in 1951. It is now preserved and open to the public.

In 1886 (Kelly’s directory of Essex) the Village was alive with tradesmen; Bakers, Butchers, Wheelwrights, Bricklayers, Dressmakers , six farms in Gt. Chishill and one in Little Chishill, with their attendant labourers, two Public Houses- the White Horse and The Plough (now The Pheasant) - a Shop and Post Office and the Village School for a hundred children. All that has now gone - the shop closed in the late l970's and the School on the 2nd April 1971. We now have only St. Swithun’s Church, the United Reform Church, The Pheasant, a Playing Field and Sports Pavilion, and a very fine Village Hall built in l982. However, two Farms are still being worked in Great Chishill and one in Little Chishill.

In the 1991 Census Profile of Great and Little Chishill Parish, there were 237 dwellings and a population of 634. The villages are fortunate in having a fairly balanced mix of old and new houses with varied architecture, some of the oldest houses being in Maltings Lane, off May Street, where once the Quakers used to meet.

Our main claim to fame is an entry in the Guinness Book of Records - on the 10th of September 1983 when Ben Palmer, a local farmer, and Owen North, the local baker, produced loaves of bread from the wheat in the field in 40 min. 44 secs.

(I have kept to the original Old English Spellings where appropriate.) October 1998

Lorna E. Prior. (Author of Gt. & Little Chishill, "A tale of two villages", Some copies may still be available from Ken Prior. 01763 838 587)

This article was written by the late Lorna Prior and printed in The Cambridgeshire Village Book, The book is published by Countryside Books. Telephone 01635 43816. The Book was compiled by members of the Cambridgeshire Federations of Women's  Institutes)