The origins of the parish stretch back into saxon times and even further. The western boundary of the parish of Waresley (and also of Tetworth) is the Roman road from Sandy to Godmanchester. Other signs of antiquity are the ridge and furrow marks in various fields, but notably on the cricket pitch, and traces of the moat around Vicarage Farm, which was once a moated manor house. Waresley Wood, on the Eastern edge of the parish, is an ancient woodland.
The first written reference to “Weresle” is in a charter, which can be dated to between 975 and 984, when land from Waresley was used to re-found the monastery at St Neots.
The Domesday book (1086) lists three entries for Waresley (actually it calls it Wedreslei, but that might just mean that the Norman-French scribes couldn’t understand the locals); the two principal manors were Earl’s Manor and Gaynes Manor, which had a church and a priest.
By 1423, these 2 manors had been united into one holding under the ownership of William Drewell, whose name still survives in Drewels Lane, the western end of the back-road which forms our northern border with Abbotsley.
From this point on, until the 1930s, one major landowner owned almost the entire parish and this fact probably accounts for the survival of the village today with a population size not all that dissimilar to that in 1086.
At some point, the deer park was formed, but the first written record we have of Waresley Park is 1688. However, there was already a large house (21 fireplaces, owned by Sir John Hewett) in Waresley in 1671 and this must be Waresley Hall.
Waresley’s parish records – the record of births, marriages and deaths (and occasional fascinating notes) kept by the vicar, start at 1647 and record 3 generations of Hewetts before the next change of occupancy to the Needham family and ultimately to the Duncombes.
It was William Nedham, who in 1792 engaged the noted landscape gardener Humphry Repton to do a survey of the park with a view to possible “improvements”. Repton’s famous Red Book of Waresley survives and gives us a snapshot, in beautiful watercolours of Waresley Park, as it was then and as Repton hoped it might become. (It has to be said that most of his hopes were not fulfilled).
William’s distant relative Francis Needham, later Earl Kilmorey inherited the estate in 1806 and it was during his tenure that the enclosure of the parish took place. The enclosure acts enabled landowners to exchange property in order to consolidate their holdings.
In Waresley this did not change anything very much, as Earl Kilmorey already owned most of the parish. Waresley’s enclosure act was passed in 1808 but the actual map wasn’t finalised until 1822, so there may have been some discussion over the details.
In 1834, the estate was bought by Charles Duncombe, Lord Feversham and from 1842 it became the home of his youngest son, Octavius. It’s to Octavius that we owe most of the features which define the character of Waresley today.
All the estate cottages along Gamlingay Road and Vicarage Road were built by him, as was North Lodge and South Lodge, and the school master’s house (the school house next door hasn’t survived, but you can see the first few courses of bricks in the base of the walls of the Village Hall, which covers exactly the same footprint).
Until 1855 the church was situated (unsurprisingly) in the old churchyard in Vicarage Road. It had suffered depredations from time, neglect and weather and in 1724 actually blew down. It was rebuilt “in humble imitation of the chapel at Pembroke College” (Waresley was one of the founding villages, where tithes were used in 1347 to found Pembroke College, Cambridge, and the college to this day takes its turn in the appointment of our vicar).
This classical building did not last long, as in 1856 Octavius Duncombe had the church moved to a more central position. The architect was the famous Victorian architect, William Butterfield.
However, the old churchyard continued in use for some time as a burial ground and is now under the care of the Parish Council. The nave of the old church is marked by the avenue of lime trees and the cross marks the position of the altar.
Attached to the South side of the new Church is the Duncombe mausoleum and in a vault beneath it lie the remains of the two generations of the Duncombe family most strongly associated with Waresley.
The Mausoleum is usually open to the public and now houses two exhibitions: one on the Duncombe family (by Eleanor Jack) and another by Brian Burgess on Waresley in the Great War.
Maud, Octavius’ youngest daughter, was the only child to marry and have children of her own. Thus by 1932, after the death of Miss Emily Charlotte Duncombe, the estate, following the male line, reverted to the Earl of Feversham, a distant relative and was split up and auctioned off.
A few years later, the bulk of Waresley House was pulled down leaving only an inner shell, now part of the Orangery, but the servants’ annexe (seen on the right) and the stables (Waresley Grange) survive.
In March 1987, the weather struck again and the Church spire blew off, landing in the pub forecourt and demolishing the pub fence. Luckily no-one was passing (though there was a near miss) and no-one was hurt. This crisis united everyone and after a huge fundraising effort, this village of only 200 people raised the additional £20,000 necessary to replace the spire to the same design, within the year.
Eleanor Jack, May 2015