The Farming Heffers of Stapleford

The Farming Heffers Of Stapleford Cambridgeshire

David Alan Baines My 4th Great Grandad

Approximately 5 miles south of Cambridge and to the west of Wandlebury, an ancient hill fort, stands the pleasant village of Stapleford.  Within the small churchyard, in the shadow of the parish church of St Andrews, there are several headstones memorials to the Heffer family who lived in the village for over a century.

The first note of the name occurred when the banns were called at St Andrews for the forthcoming marriage of Robert Heffer, a bachelor aged 29 of Stapleford to Mary Smith, spinster of Ashdon, aged 28.  Ashdon is situated on the borders of Cambridgeshire and Essex. The ceremony took place on July 1st, 1787.  Where Robert was born I have not yet discovered although there were several Heffer families in Great Shelford which adjoins Stapleford.  In 1790 Mary gave birth to a son who was baptized William.

In that year Robert became a copyhold tenant of a house, orchard with a close of pasture for which he paid 2/- rent, eight acres of arable land with three roods of meadow land at a rental of 8/-.  I think it was the place subsequently described by his great-grandson as “a large home-stead with stables”.  That he was gradually prospering seems the evident when, in the following year, he became the tenant of a messuage called “Bunts”, and 48 acres of arable land situated in the open fields of Stapleford.  Mary died in July 1802 aged forty-one.

Concern for the upbringing of his son, the busy life of a farmer, and his own loneliness led Robert to the alter when he married Mary Richardson in 1803.

Plans were afoot to enclose the agricultural lands in Stapleford, and objections to some details set out at the Sign of the Rose, the village inn to refresh their thirsts and discuss matters.  Meanwhile Robert continued acquiring property, for in 1808 he was admitted tenant of lands called Ancroft, Lammas-near Gravel Pit Field, and Wardens Close next to Millpiece.  The enclosure map was prepared, and it was put on show at the Red Lion Inn at Cambridge and was no doubt carefully scrutinised by Robert.  It showed lands allotted to him in Bar Lane and opposite a toll house on the turnpike road to London,

Son William was growing into manhood helping his father on the land, learning the skills of sewing, reaping, gathering, planting and ploughing.  His father would pass on the knowledge of buying seed and selling the crops.  In the summer of 1810 William married a local girl, Rebecca Rawlings whose own family are most interesting.  Rebecca’s mother-also named Rebecca-when a young lady was sent to a hospital in Brownlow Square, London, to be trained in medicine and midwifery so that she could attend gratuitously to the poor of Stapleford.  All her expenses were paid by lady Godolphin who lived in the mansion on the Gog Magog hills (Wandlebury) within the parish.

Rebecca (Mrs. William Heffer) and her sister Elizabeth, when girls, were sent to Luton in Bedfordshire to learn straw plaiting, and then returned to teach other villagers in Stapleford.  This idea was the brainchild of the Reverend Charles Simeon, a man who cared greatly for less fortunate inhabitants.

William and Rebecca were the parents of six children, two of whom died in infancy.  there were four sons- william² born 1812, Robert² born 1814, and David 1826.  James who was born in 1813 seems to be lost in the mists of time for I cannot find much about him!

William followed in the family tradition of farming, and so did David.  Robert became a tailor with premises in (St. Ives Cambs.) and later lived at Swavesey, thus complicating my searches for Ancestral members of the Hepher Family who also lived in that village.

In 1818 the second wife of Robert senior died and the following year he married for a third time.  She was Mary Churchman of Little Shelford.  Robert was a constant churchman and could be seen in his pew at the parish church each Sunday.  With his advancing years he became less active and in 1825 he sold part of Warden Close for sixty pounds, and in 1830 he sold part of Ancroft.  He was 75 years old when he died in 1833 and the Reverend Edwin Daniel was the executor of his will.

William continued farming in Stapleford and his son William became a farmer in nearby Foxton.  His youngest son David married Ruth Alice, the daughter of William Willis a millwright of Stapleford, and there were two sons of this marriage a William Herbert and Reubin.  The family were settled happily when tragedy struck, and David was accidentally killed in 1852 while riding home one winter’s day from Cambridge market.  Ruth was left with two young boys to care for and no doubt their grandfather William assisted until 1857 when Ruth married Henry Smith a maltster living in Stapleford.  Her boys lived with them and a daughter a son was born of her second marriage.

When Reubin was old enough h was an apprenticed to be a carriage maker but subsequently became a builder’s clerk with Bell & Company of Saffron Walden where he went to live.  He was a deeply religious man who became treasurer and secretary of the London Road Baptist Church.  He was the temporary curator of the town museum and contributed articles to the Essex Review on Wendon Ambo, Essex clockmakers, and Henry Winstanly.  More important is his history of Stapleford.  This is a fascinating account of his native village describing the old houses and farms, the schools and nonconformity, the shops and villages.  Reubin never married and died in 1923.  An obituary to his appeared in the Essex Review Vol, 33 1924.

The descendants of William Heffer continued farming in Stapleford and Foxton.  They were substantial farmers and the Manor Lands were described as “a model farm” in 1900.

References:     Parish Register Transcripts  (P. Laying)

Bury Manor Estate Books

Census Returns

Essex  Review

Cambridge Antiquarian Society


October 2018