The Primes of Cambridgeshire & Middlesex part one

The Primes of Cambridgeshire
With the help of Maureen Nicholls (the Research Officer for Cambridgeshire Family History Society) I believe I have traced our Prime ancestors to the early 1700s. There have been Primes living in Cambridgeshire from at least a hundred and fifty years before, however, and several families sharing the surname. Nana and Grandpa chose the village of Swaffham Prior to settle in after moving out of London. Our ancestors chose the parishes of Thriplow, Sawston, Great Shelford, Little Shelford and Whittlesford. A 14 mile round trip connects the five villages which are situated south of Cambridge, near Duxford. The earliest relations we have found living there are husband and wife Matthew and Mary. They are my 7x great grandparents.
(U = unconfirmed)
The parish of Thriplow saw only six christenings in the church in 1723. Non-conformity was widely popular in the county. One of the six took place on the 19th August. The child christened was Matthew, son of Matthew and Mary, my 6x great grandfather. Matthew was their second child; their daughter Mary had been baptised in June two years earlier.

'...the parish has, since medieval times, been devoted to arable farming' (Wright, et al., 1982a) so it is highly likely that Matthew was a labourer and that his son found similar employment at an early age. The Cambridgeshire Archives hold a settlement certificate from the churchwardens and overseers of the poor of Great Shelford to their equivalents in Thriplow. It staes that a Mary Prime, widow of Mathew Prime, and her children are legally settled in their parish as of the 5th of May 1726. (The possibility of having to provide poor relief to a family who had recently arrived in or were passing through a parish worried parish officials. 1662 therefore saw the introduction of rights of settlement. The right of settlement gave an individual a named parish that would support them if they came to needing poor relief.) This record may refer to my 7x great grandmother. If so, it shows that Matthew died soon after their son's baptism, some time between 1723 and 1726, and there is in fact a burial record for a Matew Prime in Thriplow on 27th February 1725. Maureen believes that a burial record in 1748 in Great Shelford refers to his wife Mary.

In 1745, aged about 22, my 6x great grandfather Matthew marries Rebecca Noble in the nearby parish of Sawston. Fourteen years later on the 15th April 1759 they baptise their son whom they also name Matthew. (Since there is a considerable gap between their marriage and his baptism Maureen suggests that Matthew could be a late child to the couple, possibly with other children baptised elsewhere, or he could have been baptised some years after his birth.) On the 19th October 1784 he marries Elizabeth Schare in All Saints Church in the parish of Little Shelford. They return to the church on the 23rd September 1792 to baptise my 4x great grandfather John with his sisters Elizabeth and Mary following in 1795 and 1797.
All Saints Church, Little Shelford

Little Shelford is a growing community, doubling in size from approximately 32 families in 1737 to 61 families in 1801 (Wright, et al., 1982b) and Matthew and Elizabeth choose to remain there. Matthew lives to the age of 64 (although those recording his burial believe him to be 70) and is buried on the 5th March 1823. Elizabeth lives to 84 and is buried on the 8th May 1835.

John's sisters Elizabeth and Mary marry in 1817 and 1819. Elizabeth marries Charles Brooks of Islington. They move to Great Shelford and Charles finds work as a labourer. They have a daughter named Sarah whom they baptise on the 5th March 1823. The following entry in the parish baptism register is for a "Matthew Pryme Brooks, son of Elizabeth of Great Shelford" baptised on the same day. The names strongly suggest that he is also the son of Elizabeth and Charles, although it is strange that Charles is not recorded in the entry. Sadly, he only lives to 10 months. Mary marries William Elbourn from Great Shelford. They appear to start their family in Great Shelford and then move 50 miles south to the parish of Brassington. My 4x great grandfather John marries a girl names Susan from the nearby village of Trumpington. I have yet to find a marriage record for them but 'emmaw6551' (among others) has stated on her tree on that she believes his marriage to be to Susannah Marshall on the 26th October 1813. As with his forebears John inevitably works as a labourer. Even though this is unlikely to generate a large income he and Susan have a total of six children. They settle initially in Little Shelford where they baptise their children Henry in 1815 and Mary in 1817. Their third child, John, is baptised in 1820 by which time they have moved to the parish of Whittlesford. My 3x great grandfather William is baptised on the 3rd August 1823 and he is followed by Susan, Hannah and Elizabeth within the next nine years.

1841 finds John and Susan living in North Street, Whittlesford, with their three daughters: 14 year-old Susan, 12 year-old Hannah and 9 year-old Elizabeth. John, now aged 50, still works as an agricultural labourer. Mary did not live past the age of 18 and was buried in Whittlesford on Christmas Day 1834. William, now aged 18, has already moved out to find work, as has his elder brothers and Henry and John - John is also married with a small son. Both are employed as agricultural labourers. 'Most inhabitants made their living by farming ... . About 1830 there were 100 farm-labourers and 14 farmers, of whom only 2 employed no labour. ...Farming was and remains mainly a standard mixed arable type' (Wright, et al. 1978). An agricultural labourer's wage wouldn't be high and would fluctuate with the seasons. At 50, John might be overlooked for employment in favour of younger men. It is therefore very likely that his three sons try and send as much of their wages as they can back home. The census of 1851 shows the family's financial plight. Their address now places John and Susan specifically at the Old Workhouse on North Street. Whilst no longer used as a workhouse it did offer cheap housing for the poor and John's occupation, now in his early 60s, reads Pauper relief Farm lab. This means that the family are struggling to survive on their income and have applied for aid from the parish.
Whittlesford Guildhall, post 1770
The building was erected in the early 16th-century to serve as the Guildhall. At the time of the Dissolution it changed its function to a workhouse and then briefly became a school during the mid to late 1700s. 'The new poor law of 1834 ended its use as a workhouse, the indoor poor being transferred to the Linton Union. The building continued in use as low rental tenements for the poor and, despite the efforts of the overseers to repair and maintain the rooms, a sanitary inspector visiting the premises in 1853 declared that its inmates were living more like beasts than human beings.' A local carpenter, John Pamphilon, took over responsibility for the building, reducing the number of tenants and improved conditions overall. (Whittlesford Parish Council, no date). I am unable to say how long John and Susan were living there for after 1851 and so don't know whether they experienced its extreme conditions or the improvements. In 1851 there are approximately six other families living in the building. Their size ranges from families of five to seven individuals. It is unclear how many rooms the building had but we can guess that maybe each family had use of a couple. In 1861 the census unfortunately doesn't record street or building names. It is therefore impossible to tell whether the number of tenants was reduced much by John Pamphilon. (The building returned to being a Guildhall later and remained under the ownership of the village until 1966 when it was sold due to extensive renovations costs (Whittlesford Parish Council, no date)).

John and Susan's daughters are still at home on census night in 1851 but only two are able to contribute anything financially to the household. Susan, the eldest at 24, gives her occupation as servant but there is an annotation next to it which reads Out of Place - meaning she is currently without a position. Elizabeth, the youngest at 19, works at the local paper mill. For those not working on the land the Sawston Paper Mill was a major employer where '24 Whittlesford people, mostly women, worked in 1841 and 91 in 1861...' (Wright, et al., 1978). 22 year-old Hannah has taken work as a dressmaker. There is, however, another listed at the address - 9 month old Angelina, Hannah's illegitimate daughter ... and another mouth to feed. A few years later their life seems to take a positive turn when all three girls secure husbands. Susan marries Charles Fortin in 1851, Hannah marries Isaac Wisby in 1853 and Elizabeth marries William Lagden in 1854. Having fallen on hard times I imagine it would have been a relief to John and Susan to see their daughters married with the opportunity of a better life.

John lives to the age of 70 and dies of old age on the 2nd May 1860. The census of Tottenham, Middlesex, for the following year shows that Susan is visiting, or has temporarily been taken in by, her daughter Elizabeth. Elizabeth and William have four children under ten by this time so it would have been quite a lively house for 74 year-old Susan. On the census return Susan's occupation is given as Nurse Not Dom (i.e. not domestic). As earlier census are known for not always recording female occupations I can't say what she did or for how long. I do know that she lives to a good age until 1862 when she is back in Whittlesford.

Whittlesford Parish Council (no date) The Guildhall. Available at: (Accessed: 13 October 2012).

Wright, A. P. M. (ed), Baggs, A. P., Keeling, S. M. and Meekings, C. A. F. (1982a) A history of the county of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: volume 8 [Thriplow]. Available at: (Accessed: 13 September 2014).

Wright, A. P. M. (ed), Baggs, A. P., Keeling, S. M. and Meekings, C. A. F. (1982b) A history of the county of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: volume 8 [Little Shelford]. Available at: (Accessed: 30 August 2014).

Wright, A. P. (ed), Roses, A., Keeling, S. M. and Meekings, C. A. F. (1978) A history of the county of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: volume 6 [Whittlesford]. Available at: (Accessed: 13 October 2012).

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