Stapleford History Society 11 March 2014
Talk by Jon Gibbs
Almost 50 History Society members and guests heard a fascinating talk on 11 March about Stapleford’s grand house and estate at Wandlebury.
The estate is owned by Cambridge Past Present and Future, formerly Cambridge Preservation Society. Jon Gibbs, the Head Ranger, outlined the organisation’s origins in the 1920s, driven by concern about encroaching suburbanisation around Cambridge, which it pursues by campaigning and by managing a range of historic properties. Wandlebury was acquired in 1954, partly by gift from the Gray family and partly by purchase. The mansion, in poor condition, had to be demolished in 1956.
The Iron Age hill-fort was constructed around 400 BC. Archaeology shows that there had previously been a settlement there, but the hill-fort was not permanently inhabited: it seems to have been used more as a meeting-place. When rampart and ditch stood to full height it must have been an impressive monument, especially when a second rampart was added inside the original circuit around 40 BC. This was levelled in the eighteenth century to make way for gardens.
In 1685 a racing stable was established for James II. This was acquired by the Godolphin family, who added the mansion in the eighteenth century. Woodland was planted around the mansion; previously the hill-top had been heathland.
Among other myths connected with Wandlebury, it was the location of a midnight combat in 1219 between Sir Osbert and a ghostly Black Knight. Sir Osbert prevailed, captured the Black Knight’s horse and led it back to his own stables. Come the morning, the horse had gone, wrecking the stables; Sir Osbert’s only memento of his triumph was a wound which opened and bled on the anniversary of the encounter.
The next Stapleford History Society talk is by Helen Ritchie about Addenbrooke’s hospital, on 13 May at the pavilion at 7:30pm. This will be combined with the Annual General Meeting, marking completion of a successful first year for the Society.
[report by John Street]