A brief summary of Harston's history
Written by unknown author, March 1989. Donated by Brian Arbon.
HARSTON lies some five miles from Cambridge, in the valley of the Cam, or Rhee. The name of the village has evolved from different spellings, the closest to present day usage is Hares-town;this and surrounding villages e.g. Fox-town and Hawker-town, are said to have been the hunting ground of Queen Elizabeth 1. There is evidence to suggest that Harston is of Saxon origin, but Roman, as well as Saxon pottery has been found.
During the construction of the Cambridge Western by-pass (the Mil) a series of ditches were seen and documented by members of the Cambridge Antiquitarian Society, which later excavations proved were of two different phases, the footings of walls belonging to one or two buildings, and the remains of three kilns, probably used by a late Roman fine ware producer. It would appear that the site was occupied during the second, third and fourth centuries AD. A possible working area may belong to a pre-second century phase. The site is recorded as the Obelisk Kilns, Cambridgeshire.
The village is situated on the busy A10 road. It has been said that Harston ‘is one long street’, but with recent building developments this is now less so. The ‘long street’ was always bustling with travellers from Cambridge to London in wagons, carts and coaches and the inns catered for passengers and traders of all kinds. One of the oldest inns, the Coach (or Wagon) and Horses is possibly a C16 house, and was recorded in 1800. It has been practically re-built, and is now a private dwelling.
Along this road from the C14 worked numerous craftsmen, drapers, tailors, bakers, butchers (mentioned 1313), shoemakers carpenters and textile workers. There were also a number of ale-houses – some infamous!
At the entrance to the village, approached from Cambridge, on the High Street, stands a public house ‘The Old English Gentleman’ newly built in 1839 and named for the then Rector of Fowlmere. At the opposite end of the street, where stands the War Memorial, is the ‘Pemberton Arms’ built c1865. In between these two points the present day traveller will find the village store and Post Office, an antique shop, garage, car showrooms etc., replacing among other things the wheelwrights shop, started in 1870 by Mr.G.Willers (now F.Willers and Sons of Button End), from which the newly-made wheels were trundled down to the smithy to be clad in iron by one of the Lawrance brothers. The Lawrances took over the smithy from the Hatleys, who had worked it since 1700. The smithy was demolished when Mr.Harry Lawrence died in 1971. Mr. Lawrence was well known for his ornamental ironwork. Other parts have little changed.
On the NW side of the street is the Baptist Chapel, opened in 1871, replacing a smaller building to house the congregation which, since 1786 had worshipped in a barn. A little further on is Park House and cottages. Of the latter, No.91 is late C17 and no.93 late C16; both listed GII. Park House is the home of Col. and Mrs.G.T.Hurrell. It was built by the Hurrell family, whose previous residence had been Harston House (which in 1700 had been called the New House.
Col.Hurrell was the Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire 1965-75.
No.53 is another cottage c1550 with C17 and C19 additions, which for a while this century served as the village Post Office. Before reaching the top of the High Street are two more timber-framed buildings, the Old House, and the Antique Clock Shop; neither are listed buildings.
On the SE side, progressing from the ‘Old English Gentleman’ we pass Manor Close, site of an ancient manor, and beyond, a more recent building, the Village Hall. The Hall was built under the generous patronage of Sir William Graham Greene KCB. The Greene family led the people of Harston in presenting elaborate pageants and other entertainments to raise funds for a really splendid building, which unfortunately deteriorated badly after being requisitioned by the military for the duration of the war. It was restored in 1971.
Beyond is Harston and Newton County Primary School which opened in 1877. Education previously (from 1818) had been in schools run by the Church, the Baptists, and Dame Schools.
Turning W towards the river and Church Street (The Portway in the 13th.century), and on the N. side is Harston House c1700 in which is incorporated the pre-Tudor remains of Shadworth Manor. The house was bought by Sir Wm.Graham Greene in 1893,who made additions in 1912. Sir Graham was one time Permanent Secretary of the Admiralty and the uncle of Graham Greene, the author. The present occupants are Dr.and Mrs.T.Armstrong. Harston House is listed GII*
On the S side is No.1 ‘The Old Bakehouse’, now a glass engraver’s shop; it is a cottage of late C16 or C17, much altered in C19. Listed GII. No.41 is C17 with a thatched roof of long straw. Listed GII. The Manor House on the SW side is of C17 origin, but extensively remodelled in C18 and C19s. Evidence of the original building can be seen in the main range of the interior. Listed GII*.
Beside the Manor is the Parish Church of All Saints. The building, built of field stones and ashlar dressing is mostly mid-late C14,but there is some evidence of an earlier church on the site. The church was restored in 1853. The wooden pulpit is an example of medieval craftsmanship: the octagonal font is C15. Listed GII*.
The Old Vicarage (Rhee House) built in 1849 is listed GII. Turning on to the road to Haslingfield and bearing left, we come to a popular riverside walk. It was here in 1645 that a force of King Charles’ cavalry attempted to force their way across the river Rhee.
A bloody battle ensued and the crossing was held by Cromwell men. The site is known as The Red Field. The watermill in the vicinity dates from 1086; it was reconstructed in 1869 and 1880. In the 1960s it was bought by an animal feed company; it has now undergone an architectural award-winning transformation to become the headquarters of a scientific company.
Winding N. from the Church is Button End, a narrow lane, partly residential, partly industrial. In c1870 it was the site of the digging of coprolites, involving an influx of 55 immigrant workers.
The Village Sign is situated on the (now diminished) green. It depicts a rook, a honey skep, and water springs, the latter recalling the beautiful clear water which rose up at many points in the village, to be collected by the people. Positioned by the green was the village’s most important inn, the C17 White Swan, said to have been a coaching inn until the 1870s. It was burnt down in 1928. Opposite is the Queen’s Head, opened in 1851.
On Station Road is Bagot Hall, it’s four bay C18 front in plastered brick possibly covering an earlier structure. Listed GII. It is the home of Mr.and Mrs. T.Hays.
The Village Hall is used by a variety of organisations and clubs, including a Music Society, the Women’s Institute, formed 1920, the Horticultural Society, re-formed 1923 (when the hall was opened). A Lunch Club is held each Monday, run by volunteers, providing an excellent lunch for Senior Citizens (but not exclusively) at a coat of 50p.
Harston undoubtably deserves the estate agents description “— a highly desirable and very popular village–“