The Commons & Horse Fens

The Commons & Horse FensSoham has to its credit three unique commons which are derived from strip farming methods and land rights that go back to the medieval period. The Commons and Horse Fens are not known to exist, in quite the same way as they do in Soham, anywhere else in the country. They are protected by law and are not allowed to have developments built on them.

Decree of the Court of Exchequer 1686

An important event in the history of Soham was the Decree of the Court of Exchequer made in the Easter Term of 1686. This followed a dispute over commons and involved the Lord of the Manor of the time, Sir Thomas Chicheley.

It runs to 19 pages and is quite a complicated document but, since it has such a bearing on the subsequent history of Soham, it is as well that we try to understand it.

1628 AD Sir Robert Heath was ordered to set aside Common Land at Soham

(1) In 1628 Sir Robert Heath, the then Lord of the Manor, exhibited a bill against some of the tenants of the Manor, saying that they had surcharged the common with cattle, and the purpose of the bill was to see that everyone had their fair share of the 9400 acres of marsh and fen grounds which lay waste and common. 1500 acres in Metlam Fen and 500 acres in Barroway Fen were subsequently enclosed and handed down via his descendants to Sir Thomas Chicheley. 420 acres (of the 1500) were later taken by the drainage undertakers and the tenants threw down the enclosures.

Sir Thomas Chicheley asked in 1655 to have the former decree observed. He and his tenants agreed in 1658 that he should enjoy the 500 acres in Barroway Fen and certain other waste fens and commonable grounds and resign his interest in the 1080 acres.

(2) By an "Act for the settling of the draining of the Great Level of the Fens, called the Bedford Level" in 1663 it was enacted that it should be lawful for Lords of Manors and those who had rights of common to set out and enclose their respective share and proportions of commons in the Bedford Level. Differences arose about the division and in 1664 the commoners referred the dividing and allotting of shares to Sir Thomas Chicheley and Sir Jonas Moore.

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