Cambourne is a new settlement and civil parish in the district of South Cambridgeshire lying south of the A428 road between Cambridge, approximately 9 miles (14 km) to the east, and the same distance to St. Neots to the west. It comprises the three villages of Great Cambourne, Lower Cambourne and Upper Cambourne and the current population is approximately 11,000. Cambourne has recently been used by government departments and in school geography lessons as it provides a useful case study of designing and building a settlement from scratch.

It is the largest settlement in South Cambridgeshire, with a population that has risen sharply each year because of continued house-building and a very high birth-rate. The recently approved planning application for a development west of Cambourne will add a fourth village with a further 2,350 homes to the parish.

A Short History

As part of plans to build thousands of new homes in the south east of England, a new settlement on 400 hectares of former agricultural land, 9 miles west of Cambridge was considered in the late 1980s. In 1994, the Section 106 agreement from the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 was completed by the developers (MCA Developments), South Cambridgeshire District Council and Cambridgeshire County Council together with the landholders. Planning permission for the development was given in November 1996, and construction began in June 1998. The first house was moved into in August 1999.

Cambourne was initially going to be named Monkfield after the name of the original farm, which is commemorated by Monkfield Lane in Great Cambourne and the village pub, The Monkfield Arms. However, Cambourne was chosen, created from the names of Cambridge, the nearest city, and Bourn, a nearby village.

The South Cambridgeshire (Parishes) Order 2004 created the new civil parish of Cambourne from 1 April 2004 and changed the boundaries of the Bourn, Caxton and Knapwell parishes.

In 2008, building work began on Upper Cambourne, with the original estimated date of completion being 2012. The existing planning permission allowed 3,300 homes in the development. On 3 October 2011, planning permission was granted for a further 950 homes. This will take building work up to approximately 2018 at which stage Upper Cambourne should be complete.

Although a new settlement, excavations were carried out by Wessex Archaeology within the Cambourne Development Area which gave an insight into historical occupation.

Situated on the clay uplands west of Cambridge, which had seen little previous archaeological investigation, the results were important in demonstrating the ebb and flow of occupation according to population or agricultural pressure.
Short-lived Bronze Age occupation was followed in the Middle Iron Age by small farming communities with an economy based on stock-raising and some arable cultivation. The Late Iron Age seems to have seen a recession, perhaps partly due to increased waterlogging making farming less viable.

From the mid-1st century AD new settlements began to emerge, possibly partly stimulated by the presence of Ermine Street, and within a century the area was relatively densely occupied. Several farmsteads were remodelled in the later Romano-British period, though none seem to have been very prosperous.

The farmsteads that had been occupied for more than a millennium were still used after the Romans withdrew from Britain in the early 5th century. By the 9th century, however, the landscape was changing and people across Britain were beginning to move from isolated settlements into villages; to places like Caxton in the case of people living on the Cambourne site.

Dispersed occupation may have continued into the early 5th century at least, followed by a hiatus until the 12th/13th century, when the entire area was taken into arable cultivation, leaving the ubiquitous traces of medieval ridge and furrow agriculture.

Medieval ploughs destroyed almost all the archaeological evidence in the area, so the knowledge of this period is patchy, but it is believed the land had been turned into regular strip fields where villagers grew their crops. This continued until the land was enclosed and farmed privately in the first half of the 19th century and farmhouses were built.

A richer history of Cambourne can be researched at Cambourne Library.

Some of the Metalwork, personal objects – Brooches uncovered during the pre-development dig(s) for Cambourne

Images reproduced with the kind permission of ‘2009 Wessex Archaeology Ltd’ from
‘Cambourne New Settlement – Iron Age and Romano-British settlement on the clay uplands of west Cambridgeshire’

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