CAMBRIDGESHIRE, an eastern county of England, bounded N. by Lincolnshire, E. by Norfolk and Suffolk, S. by Essex and Hertfordshire, and W. by Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire and Northamptonshire. The area is 858.9 sq. m. The greater part of the county falls within the district of the Fens, and is flat, elevated only a few feet above sea-level, and intersected with innumerable drainage channels. The physical characteristics of this district, and the history of its reclamation from a marshy and in great part uninhabitable condition, fall for consideration under the heading Fens. Except in the south of the county the scenery of the flat land is hardly ever varied by rising ground or wood, and owes the attraction it possesses rather to individuality than to beauty. At the south-eastern and southern boundaries, and to the west of Cambridge, bordering the valley of the Cam on the north, the land rises in gentle undulations; but for the rest, such elevations as the Gog Magog Hills, S.E. of Cambridge, and the gentle hillock on which the city of Ely stands, are isolated and conspicuous from afar. The principal rivers are the Ouse and its tributaries in the south and centre, and the Nene in the north; the greater part of the waters of both these rivers within Cambridgeshire flow in artificial channels, of which those for the Ouse, two great parallel cuts between Earith and Denver Sluice, in Norfolk, called the Bedford Rivers, form the most remarkable feature in the drainage of the county. The old main channel of the Ouse, from Ely downward to Denver (below which are tidal waters), is filled chiefly by the waters of the Cam or Granta, which joins the Ouse 3 m. above Ely, the Lark (which with its feeder, the Kennett, forms the boundary of the county with Suffolk for a considerable distance) and the Little Ouse, forming part of the boundary with Norfolk.
Geology.—By its geological features, Cambridgeshire is divisible into three well-marked regions; in the south and south-east are the low uplands formed by the Chalk; north of this, but best developed in the south-west, is a clay and greensand area; all the remaining portion is alluvial Fenland. The general strike of the rocks is along a south-west and north-east line, the dip is south-easterly. The oldest rock is the Jurassic Oxford Clay, which appears as an irregular strip of elevated flat ground reaching from Croxton by Conington and Fenny Drayton to Willingham and Rampton. Eastward and northward it no doubt forms the floor of the Fen country, and at Thorney and Whittlesea small patches rise like islands, through the level fen alluvium. The Coralline Oolite, with the Elsworth or St Ives rock at the base, occurs as a small patch, covered by Greensand, at Upware, whence many fossils have been obtained; elsewhere its place is taken by the Ampthill Clays, which are passage beds between the Oxford and Kimmeridge Clays. The latter clay lies in a narrow strip by Papworth St Agnes, Oakington and Cottenham; a large irregular outcrop surrounds Haddenham and Ely, and similar occurrences are at March, Chatteris and Manea. Above the Kimmeridge Clay comes the Lower Greensand, sandy for the greater part, but here and there hardened into the condition known as “Carstone,” which has been used as an inferior building-stone. This formation is thickest in the south-west; it extends from the border by Gamlingay, Cuxton and Cottenham, and appears again in outliers at Upware, Ely and Haddenham. The Gault forms a strip of flat ground, 4 to 6 m. wide, running roughly parallel with the course of the river Cam, from Guilden Morden through Cambridge to Soham; it is a stiff blue clay 200 ft. thick in the south-west, but is thinner eastward. At the bottom of the chalk is the Chalk Marl, 10 to 20 ft. thick, with a glauconitic and phosphatic nodule-bearing layer at its base, known as the Cambridge Greensand. This bed has been largely worked for the nodules and for cement; it contains many fossils derived from the Gault below. Several outliers of Chalk Marl lie upon the Gault west of the Cam. The Chalk comprises all the main divisions of the formation, including the Totternhoe stone, Melbourn rock and Chalk rock. Much glacial boulder clay covers all the higher ground of the county; it is a stiff brownish clay with many chalk fragments of travelled rocks. Near Ely there is a remarkable mass of chalk, evidently transported by ice, resting on and surrounded by boulder clay. Plateau gravel caps some of the chalk hills, and old river gravels occur at lower levels with the bones of mammoth, rhinoceros and other extinct mammals. The low-lying Fen beds are marly silt with abundant peat beds and buried forests; at the bottom is a gravel layer of marine origin.
Industries.—The climate is as a whole healthy, the fens being so carefully drained that diseases to which dwellers in marshy districts are commonly liable are practically eliminated. The land is very fertile, and although some decrease is generally apparent in the acreage under grain crops, Cambridgeshire is one of the principal grain-producing counties in England. Nearly nine-tenths of the total area is under cultivation, and an unusually small proportion is under permanent pasture. Wheat is the chief grain crop, but large quantities of barley and oats are also grown. Among green crops potatoes occupy a large and increasing area. Dairy-farming is especially practised in the south-west, where the district of the Cam valley has long been known as the Dairies; and much butter and cheese are sent to the London markets. Sheep are pastured extensively on the higher ground, but the number of these and of cattle for the county as a whole is not large. Beans occupy a considerable acreage, and fruit-growing and market-gardening are important in many parts. There is no large manufacturing industry common to the county in general; among minor trades brewing is carried on at several places, and brick-making and lime-burning may also be mentioned.
Communications.—The principal railway serving the county is the Great Eastern, of which system numerous branch lines centre chiefly upon Cambridge, Ely and March. Cambridge is also served by branches of the Great Northern line from Hitchin, of the London & North-Western from Bletchley and Bedford, and of the Midland from Kettering. A trunk line connecting the eastern counties with the north and north-west of England runs northward from March under the joint working of the Great Northern and Great Eastern companies. The artificial waterways provide the county with an extensive system of inland navigation; and a considerable proportion of the industrial population is employed on these. In this connexion the building of boats and barges is carried on at several towns.
Population and Administration.—The area of the ancient county is 549,723 acres, with a population in 1891 of 188,961, and in 1901 of 190,682. The ancient county includes the two administrative counties of Cambridge in the south and the Isle of Ely in the north. The liberty of the Isle of Ely was formerly of the independent nature of a county palatine, but ceased to be so under acts of 1836 and 1837. Its area is 238,048 acres, and that of the administrative county of Cambridge 315,171 acres. Cambridgeshire contains seventeen hundreds. The municipal boroughs are Cambridge, the county town (pop. 38,379), in the administrative county of Cambridge, and Wisbech (9381) in the Isle of Ely. The other urban districts are—in the administrative county of Cambridge, Chesterton (9591), and in the Isle of Ely, Chatteris (4711), Ely (7713), March (7565) and Whittlesey (3909). Among other considerable towns Soham (4230) and Littleport (4181), both in the neighbourhood of Ely, may be mentioned. The town of Newmarket, which, although wholly within the administrative county of West Suffolk, is mainly in the ancient county of Cambridgeshire, is famous for its race-meetings. The county is in the south-eastern circuit, and assizes are held at Cambridge. Each administrative county has a court of quarter sessions, and the two are divided into ten petty sessional divisions. The borough of Cambridge has a separate court of quarter sessions, and this borough and Wisbech have separate commissions of the peace. The university of Cambridge exercises disciplinary jurisdiction over its members. There are 168 entire civil parishes in the two administrative counties. Cambridgeshire is almost wholly in the diocese of Ely and the archdeaconries of Ely and Sudbury, but small portions are within the dioceses of St Albans and Norwich. There are 194 ecclesiastical parishes or districts wholly or in part within the county. The parliamentary divisions are three, namely, Northern or Wisbech, Western or Chesterton, and Eastern or Newmarket, each returning one member. The county also contains the parliamentary borough of Cambridge, returning one member; and the university of Cambridge returns two members.
History.—The earliest English settlements in what is now Cambridgeshire were made about the 6th century by bands of Engles, who pushed their way up the Ouse and the Cam, and established themselves in the fen-district, where they became known as the Gyrwas, the districts corresponding to the modern counties of Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire being distinguished as the lands of the North Gyrwas and the South Gyrwas respectively. At this period the fen-district stretched southward as far as Cambridge, and the essential unity which it preserved is illustrated later by its inclusion under one sheriff, chosen in successive years from Cambridgeshire proper, the Isle of Ely and Huntingdonshire. In 656 numerous lands in the neighbourhood of Wisbech were included in the endowment of the abbey of Peterborough, and in the same century religious houses were established at Ely and Thorney, both of which, however, were destroyed during the Danish invasions of the 9th century. After the treaty of Wedmore the district became part of the Danelaw. On the expulsion of the Danes by Edward in the 10th century it was included in East Anglia, but in the 11th century was again overrun by the Danes, who in the course of their devastations burnt Cambridge. The first mention of the shire in the Saxon Chronicle records the valiant resistance which it opposed to the invaders in 1010 when the rest of East Anglia had taken ignominious flight. The shire-system of East Anglia was in all probability not definitely settled before the Conquest, but during the Danish occupation of the 9th century the district possessed a certain military and political organization round Cambridge, its chief town, whence probably originated the constitution and demarcation of the later shire. At the time of the Domesday Survey the county was divided as now, except that the Isle of Ely, which then formed two hundreds having their meeting-place at Witchford, is now divided into the four hundreds of Ely, Wisbech, North Witchford and South Witchford, while Cambridge formed a hundred by itself. The hundred of Flendish was then known as Flamingdike. Cambridgeshire was formerly included in the diocese of Lincoln, until, on the erection of Ely to a bishop’s see in 1109, almost the whole county was placed in that diocese. In 1291 the whole county, with the exception of parishes in the deanery of Fordham and diocese of Norwich, constituted the archdeaconry of Ely, comprising the deaneries of Ely, Wisbech, Chesterton, Cambridge, Shingay, Bourn, Barton and Camps. The Isle of Ely formerly constituted an independent franchise in which the bishops exercised quasi-palatinate rights, and offences were held to be committed against the bishop’s peace. These privileges were considerably abridged in the reign of Henry VIII., but the Isle still had separate civil officers, appointed by the bishop, chief among whom were the chief justice, chief bailiff, deputy bailiff and two coroners. The bishop is still custos rotulorum of the Isle. Cambridgeshire has always been remarkable for its lack of county families, and for the frequent changes in the ownership of estates. No Englishmen retained lands of any importance after the Conquest, and at the time of the Domesday Survey the chief lay proprietors were Alan, earl of Brittany, whose descendants the Zouches retained estates in the county until the 15th century; Picot the sheriff, whose estates passed to the families of Peverell and Peche; Aubrey de Vere, whose descendants retained their estates till the 16th century; and Hardwinus de Scalariis, ancestor of the Scales of Whaddon.
From the time of Hereward’s famous resistance to the Conqueror in the fen-district, the Isle of Ely was intimately concerned with the great political struggles of the country. It was defended against Stephen by Bishop Nigellus of Ely, who fortified Ely and Aldreth, and the latter in 1144 was held for the empress Maud by Geoffrey de Mandeville. During the struggles between John and his barons, Faukes de Breauté was made governor of Cambridge Castle, which, however, surrendered to the barons in the same year. The Isle of Ely was seized by the followers of Simon de Montfort in 1266, but in 1267 was taken by Prince Edward. At the Reformation period the county showed much sympathy with the Reformers, and in 1642 the knights, gentry and commoners of Cambridgeshire petitioned for the removal of all unwarrantable orders and dignities, and the banishment of popish clergy. In the civil war of the 17th century Cambridgeshire was one of the associated counties in which the king had no visible party, though the university assisted him with contributions of plate and money.
Cambridgeshire has always been mainly an agricultural county. The Domesday Survey mentions over ninety mills and numerous valuable fisheries, especially eel-fisheries, and contains frequent references to wheat, malt and honey. The county had a flourishing wool-industry in the 14th century, and became noted for its worsted cloths. The Black Death of 1349 and the ravages committed during the Wars of the Roses were followed by periods of severe depression, and in 1439 several Cambridgeshire towns obtained a remission of taxation on the plea of poverty. In the 16th century barley for malt was grown in large quantities in the south, and the manufacture of willow-baskets was carried on in the fen-districts. Saffron was extensively cultivated in the 18th century, and paper was manufactured near Sturbridge. Sturbridge fair was at this period reckoned the largest in Europe, the chief articles of merchandise being wool, hops and leather; and the Newmarket races and horse-trade were already famous. Large waste areas were brought under cultivation in the 17th century through the drainage of the fen-district, which was brought to completion about 1652 through the labours of Cornelius Vermuyden, a Dutchman. The coprolite industry was very profitable for a short period from 1850 to 1880, and its decline was accompanied by a general industrial and agricultural depression. Cambridgeshire returned three members to parliament in 1290, and in 1295 the county returned two members, the borough of Cambridge two members, and the city of Ely two members, this being the sole return for Ely. The university was summoned to return members in 1300 and again in 1603, but no returns are recorded before 1614, after which it continued to return two members. Under the Reform Act of 1832 the county returned three members.
Antiquities.—In ecclesiastical architecture Cambridgeshire would be rich only in the possession of the magnificent cathedral at Ely and the round church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jesus College and King’s College chapels, and many other examples in Cambridge. But there are many fine churches elsewhere. At Thorney, a small town in the north of the county, which owes much in appearance to the 8th duke of Bedford (d. 1872), the parish church is actually a portion of the church of an abbey said to date originally from the 7th century, and refounded in 972 by Ethelwold, bishop of Winchester, as a Benedictine monastery. The church is partly fine Norman. Another Norman building of special interest is Sturbridge chapel near Cambridge, which belonged to a lepers’ hospital. To this foundation King John granted a fair, which became, and continued until the 18th century, one of the most important in England. It is still held in September. At Swaffham Prior there are remains of two churches in one churchyard, the tower of one being good Transitional Norman, while that of the other is Perpendicular, the upper part octagonal. Among many Early English examples the church of Cherry Hinton near Cambridge may be mentioned. The churches of Trumpington and Bottisham are fine specimens of the Decorated style; in the first is a famous brass to Sir Roger de Trumpington (1289). As Perpendicular examples the tower and spire of St Mary’s, Whittlesey, and the rich wooden roof of Outwell church, may be selected. Monastic remains are scanty. Excluding the town of Cambridge there are no domestic buildings, either ancient or modern, of special note, with the exception of Sawston Hall, in the south of the county, a quadrangular mansion dated 1557–1584.
Authorities.—See D. and S. Lysons, Magna Britannia, vol. ii. part i. (London, 1808); C. C. Babington, Ancient Cambridgeshire (Cambridge, 1883); R. Bowes, Catalogue of Books printed at or relating to Cambridge (Cambridge, 1891 et seq.); E. Conybeare, History of Cambridgeshire (London, 1897); Victoria County History, Cambridgeshire.