Robson’s Commercial Directory of the Six Counties Forming The Norfolk Circuit: viz Beds, Bucks, Cambridgeshire, Hunts, Norfolk and Suffolk with Oxfordshire 1839

Various Trade directories have existed throughout the country for various areas, Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely are no exception. To understand the county an extract from "Robson’s Commercial Directory of the Six Counties Forming The Norfolk Circuit: viz Beds, Bucks, Cambridgeshire, Hunts, Norfolk and Suffolk with Oxfordshire 1839" has been included here and related links added.


CAMBRIDGESHIRE is an inland county, bounded on the north by Northamptonshire and Lincolnshire, on the east by the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk, on the south by Essex and Hertfordshire, and on the west by Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire. Its greatest length is about 45 miles, the breadth about 30 miles, and in circumference it is about 130 miles. Cambridgeshire is in the province of Canterbury and diocese of Ely, excepting a few parishes. Cambridge is the county town, and Ely is a city; there are in the county seven market towns and 165 parishes, containing 143,955 inhabitants in 1831. Two members of Parliament are returned for the University, two for the Town of Cambridge, and three, for the County: the present members are Richard Greaves Townley, Esq., of Fulbourn, near Cambridge; the Hon. Elliot Thomas Yorke, nephew of the Earl of Hardwicke; and Richard Jefferson Eaton, Esq.

The limits on the northern side of the county are chiefly formed by rivers and their branches around the rich marshes in the vicinity of Wisbech, but the face of the county exhibits considerable variety. The northern part, including the Isle of Ely, is for the most part fen land, comprising nearly half of the Bedford Level, an extensive tract which has gradually been brought into excellent cultivation; it is intersected by canals, and abounds with mills worked by wind or steam, for conveying the water off the land into the channels provided for carrying it towards the sea. On the most considerable rising ground in this part of the county stands the city of Ely. The fen land extends southward of the river Ouse, and almost to the neighbourhood of Cambridge.

The south-western part of Cambridgeshire• is varied by gently-rising hills, with downs, open corn-fields, and a considerable portion of wood from Wood Ditton to Castle Camps, but in other parts this county is very bare of timber. The south-eastern side of the county is the most pleasant, especially towards the banks of the river Cam, where are dairy farms celebrated for the production of excellent butter and cheese, and where many calves are reared for the London markets: other parts on this side the county between Gogmagog hills and Newmarket are appropriated to sheep-walks, and in some parts to the culture of barley. On the south, where the ground is more elevated, it produces very fine wheat, barley, and oats, of which a considerable quantity is sent to the London market. The cultivation of hemp and flax is practised near Wisbech, and the neighbourhood of Ely is particularly famed for the production of garden vegetables. A district of this county, formerly called the Dairies, comprehended the parishes of Shengay, Windy, Whaddon, &c.; but the dairy farms in this particular district are now not so considerable as those in the parishes of Chatteris, Mepal, Sutton, Swavisey, Over, Willingham, Cottenham, Rampton, Landbeach, Waterbeach, Stretham, Ely, Littleport, Soham, and Fordham. In Cottenham and Willingham, the Cottenham cheese is made; and Soham, more eastward, is also famed for its cheese. The rivers of Cambridgeshire abound in fish, and the fens with wild-fowl, which are caught in decoys that annually supply the metropolis with many thousands. The principal rivers are the Ouse, the Cam, the Glen, the Nen, the Lark, and the Rhee. The Ouse, or Old Ouse, traverses a very considerable part of the midland counties, rising on the borders of Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire; it enters this county near Erith, in the parish of Haddenham; thence it passes nearly eastward through the centre of the fens. The navigation was improved as early as 1663, by making the Old Bedford river, and by the completion of the New Bedford river. The Ouse and Lark navigation was in 1827 consolidated with the Little Ouse, with the New Bedford river, and with the Eau brink cut to Lynn. A navigable canal, called the Forty-foot Drain, enters the Isle of Ely near Ramsey mere, and passes between Chatteris and Doddington to Welslie's Dam, where it enters the Old Bedford river, the main channel for vessels passing from the upper to the lower parts of the Ouse. There is another short canal from the Ouse, commencing near Barway, to Soham, another to Rearn, and a third to Burwell. The river Ouse in its course forms a boundary between the Isle of Ely and the rest of the county; it afterwards passes Stretham to Upware, where it receives the Cam, and a few miles below receives- the Lark, and becomes a boundary between Cambridgeshire and Suffolk in its course towards Lynn. The river Cam, or Granta, is formed by the Rhee, which enters this county• at a point where Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire join it, and flows to Granchester, where it meets another stream rising at Henham in Essex; at Granchester the Cam acquires its name, and passes through the town of Cambridge to Upware, where it falls into the Ouse. The river Nen, in its old course, enters the fens of this county at Benwick, and runs through March and Upwell to Outwell, where it enters Norfolk, and finally discharges itself into the Ouse at Salter's Lode. The Nen, in its present course, divides Huntingdonshire from the Isle of Ely till it enters the Isle, and passes Whittlesea and Wisbech to Cross-Keys Wash. The Nen and Wisbech river navigation was improved in 1829, at the outfall of the river Nen, by altering the line of navigation. Besides the great north road which enters the county at Royston, and passing through Caxton to Papworth-Agnes, near which it leaves Cambridgeshire, there are three turnpike roads from Cambridge to London, a road from Cambridge to Norwich, another to Huntingdon, and a third to Colchester. The road from London to Newmarket passes through part of the county; there is a road from Newmarket to Ely, and from Ely to Wisbech. Another principal road enters the Isle of Ely near Ramsey mere, and passing through Whittlesea, enters Lincoln shire at the extremity of the Isle of Ely. The Northern and Eastern Railway, now constructing, which is to connect London and York, will have a branch Railway from Cambridge to Norwich and Yarmouth; the main line passes Bishop's Stortford, Cambridge, Huntingdon, &c., and the branch from Cambridge, by Mildenhall, Thetford, and Attleborough to Norwich. Cambridgeshire is not distinguished for manufactures: the principal is that of coarse pottery; a manufacture of earthenware and white bricks has been long established at Ely, made from the gault found in that neighbourhood; and there were several mills in the county for preparing oil from cole and rape seed, but the culture of cole seed for the purpose of making oil has been of late much disused.


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