"There has been village life in Landbeach for probably two thousand years. [Aerial photographs] show crop marks indicating quite clearly the foundations and pathways of an Anglo-Roman settlement in the southeast quadrant of the village, between Walnut Farm and the A10. A quantity of Roman pottery ploughed up by Mr. Gerald Webb in this area supports this view. Some of this pottery, donated by Mr. Webb, is on exhibition in the Granary.
The Landbeach that you see today can be recognised from William Clay's description of it in 1861. It is still composed almost entirely of one long street, which in the Middle Ages was called either "The King's Highway" or "Church Way from the South". The present High Street north of the crossroads was known, as it is now, as Green End, and south of the crossroads it was sometimes called Land End.
Origin of Name
In the documents in which the village is first mentioned, both Landbeach and Waterbeach appear simply as "Beche" which probably refers to some now vanished streams, "bec" being Anglo-Saxon for stream. It appears that originally the villagers of Waterbeach pastured their sheep on the grazing lands of what was to become the daughter village of Landbeach. By the time of the Domesday Book (usually known as the Doomsday Book), Landbeach was a separate village called Utbeche (Outbeach). The names Landbeach and Waterbeach were established when the fens became wetter and the higher pastures of Landbeach were even more desirable. Landbeach could still feed the flocks when Waterbeach was flooded.
Beneath the tar macadam and the neat new gardens, beyond the allotments and the centrally heated houses, the medieval village can still, with care, be traced. Nothing remains of Landbeach's two manors except their deserted moats. The Manor of Brays once lay in a square moat and can be found to the north-west of Worts Farm in the centre of the "Pocket Park", the entrance to which is through the kissing-stile south of the junction of Cockfen Lane and Spaldings Lane. A hollow road called Brays Church Path crossed the present Recreation Ground and led from the manor to the church. The Manor of Chamberlains stood to the east of the church and this site is still marked by an impressive complex of mounds and moats. Unfortunately these are not accessible to the public although it is possible to view the area from the apron of the Tithe Barn, access being through a kissing stile some 75m to the east of the crossroads and is marked by a finger sign mounted on a telegraph pole. An alternative view can be obtained over the five-barred gate just to the north of number 40, Green End.
Chamberlains was acquired in 1359 by Bene't College (which later became Corpus Christi College) from Sir Thomas Chamberlain whose grandfather, Sir Walter, had obtained it from Helen de Beche, and so the long association with Corpus Christi College began. The Manor of Brays, whose holdings were slightly smaller, had passed earlier in the fifteenth century from the de Brays to the Keterichs and eventually in 1702 to Sir William Worts who, on his death seven years later, empowered his trustees to administer the manor "for charitable uses". His name still survives in Worts Farm in our High Street and in Worts Causeway in Cambridge.
Northwards, beyond the church, lies the Green, or what remains of it, for the wide grass verges flanking the road are all that the 1813 enclosure has left us. Before that, the long front gardens of Virginia Cottage, Jasmine Cottage, Beach Farm and other houses on that side of the road were all part of the green; so too was the land across the road on which Robert Masters (Rector 1756-97) built his charity cottages. The Clerk's and the Widow's Cottages still remain. The Green was created by Corpus Christi College before 1439 from a villein's homestead which had fallen vacant; hardly any other medieval Green in the country can be dated that accurately. An article on Landbeach in the "Cambridge and Eastern Counties Weekly Gazette" (1900) says rather primly "Green End is, as its name would imply, the prettiest part of the village; there are numerous lover's walks, curiously enough, in close proximity to the church". These have long since ceased to exist.
Landbeach parish is cut from north to south by three roads; the medieval King's Highway which is our present High Street and Green End; the Mere Way (now called Akeman Street in part) along which the Roman legions marched north from Cambridge; and the Ely Road, the main road from Cambridge to Ely, which was modernised in 1763 by an Act granted for "Repairing, Turning and Keeping in repair the road from Cambridge to Ely, and thence to Soham". It was once an old field path, being "in some parts narrow and incommodious, and in others annoyed by water for the want of bridges". Robert Masters, who was Rector of Landbeach at that time, led an attack on this modernisation and improvement scheme. He and many of his parishioners would have preferred the road through Landbeach to have been improved instead, "particularly, that they, being utterly unable to receive any private benefit or advantage, as a parish, from the new road, were yet required ... to do statute work thereon for a certain number of days". Thus, it is no thanks to Robert Masters that, even now, Landbeach is a comparative haven of peace with traffic thundering down the A10 some half mile away rather than through the village.
It is quite clear that movement on the fen edge never did depend on the roads. The Roman Car Dyke, carrying supplies from Cambridge to the Roman garrison at York, crossed the Mere Way before joining the Great Ouse (now the Old West River). A network of medieval canals brought the narrow boats to the wharves of Lode Ware (the Old Town Pond), Cockis Bridge on the Common and Shawes Weights (Waites?) near the present Walnut Farm. Portions of these still exist as part of the present day drainage system.
Fifteen hundred years of recorded history have brought many changes to the village. "Nut Tree Yard" and "the little piece by the cross" have gone and so have the six medieval peasant tenements south of Lurteburgh Lane. We no longer have the Guild-hall, built in 1528 near the village pond, or the stocks at the corner of the village crossroads. The old wharves are no more than shadows on the turf. Much more recently the Village Hall has sprung up on the site of the old blacksmith's forge; the bake house built by Mr. Frederick Day in the High Street became a shop which in turn succumbed to economic pressures and has been converted to an extension of the attached dwelling. The grinding mill by the Baptist Church has disappeared along with Webb's Yard and John Gotobed's timber framed house. The Post Office moved to the dried flower shop that was once Mr. William Bull's butchers and general store when Miss Doris Mitham, the Sub-Postmistress, retired. The Post Office eventually closed its doors for the last time and the shop was converted into a "Granny Annexe". The Salvation Army Barracks fell into disrepair and the barn in which it was housed was eventually demolished.
In 1851 Landbeach had six pubs and a beer retailer, a Mr. William Webb; now there is only The Slap-Up (first mentioned in 1864) across the turnpike road. The Black Bull, The Bower and The British Queen are private houses and The Red Cow, which stood near Webb's yard, has been demolished, leaving only a fragment of its tiled floor in the garden of 40, High Street. This was revealed, together with traces of an underlying medieval stone floor, when the foundations of a rear extension were being dug. The fate of The Windmill, The Coach and Horses, The Queen Adelaide and The Bricklayers Arms is unknown."
Reproduced, with permission, from Historical Landbeach.