The Village Of Kings Cliffe
The village of Kings Cliffe has a tremendous amount of history. There were brochures of all the types of historical walks in and around the village which we plan on taking while we are here. All the buildings are built in the local limestone, a beautiful blonde color, and each building has a blue sticker in the window depicting the resident who lived there in 1911. This was part of a project that the Heritage organization conducted in 2018, tracing the history of the village and celebrating the community. Some were laborers, others were bakers, woodturners, farmers and one was a victualer – a person licensed to sell alcohol and provisions. As we walked around the village, we imagined all the ‘busyness’ of the past professions. The woodturners, the farmers, brewers, bakers, butchers and basket-makers, seamstresses, launderers, saddlers, ironmongers, the dairy, the grocery store and the drapery, all making up a thriving and successful community.
The village was named King’s Cliffe because it nestled on the side of the Willowbrook Valley – Cliffe and the surrounding land was owned by the King in 1086, was a Royal Manor and therefore became the village of King’s Cliffe.
In 1249 King Henry III granted a Royal Charter for a 3-day annual fair in October and a weekly market on Tuesdays, both to be held in King’s Cliffe. A cross was erected in the center of the village along with the stocks and whipping post! The fair and the market were stopped in 1462, when a fire destroyed over one hundred houses and the village became a ‘waste’, meaning it could no longer provide taxes to the King. It was not until 1603 that King James I reinstated them, ‘so as to relieve poverty’.
There was a great deal of farming in the area and the land owned by the sovereign of the times. It became free in 1812 when it was sold outright to the Earl of Exeter, who remained as Lord of the Manor until the 1920s. People were free to live or leave the village and many craftsmen settled in the village. Most notably was the woodturners who settled here and made all manner of wooden implements. There is now a woodturning school here and a lovely basket weaving shop which hand weaves baskets from the local willow wood that grows in the area.
The railway from London to the North came through the village and was a busy stop both for passengers and goods, especially in the Second World War, but was no longer needed in the mid 1960s with new roads and motorways being built. An airfield was requisitioned from an area north of the village and both British and US squadrons flew from there. For two years after the war the buildings and hangars were used to house and transit German prisoners-of-war who were being repatriated. A memorial to all those that served on the King’s Cliffe airfield was erected in 1983. Glenn Miller performed his las US airbase concert here, but two months later died in an aircrash on his way to Paris. A memorial to him also stands at the spot where he conducted his concert.
One of two notable people of King’s Cliffe are Reverend William Law 1686-1761. He lived his whole life in the village and was an influential religious thinker and writer. He became world-famous for his books about his Christian beliefs, and they are still available in print today. The other notable was Reverend M J Berkeley 1803-1889. He was one of the first people to study fungi and the science of mycology. He studied more than 10,000 specimens of fungi, locally and from distant areas and wrote six books on the subject. His collected specimens and drawings were given to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew where they still remain and are a resource for students. At the peak of the Irish potato famine in 1845, he came to a vitally important conclusion: it was a fungi that had caused the potatoes to rot. Scientists found a way to protect the potatoes from the fungi attack and the potato farming industry has been thriving ever since!
These are just a few events in the history of this village. If you want to read more go to: www.kingscliffeheritage.org
The bakery is just a minute’s walk away, which could be considered a good or a bad thing. We enjoyed the fresh baked multigrain bread, and teacakes and drooled over the offerings of Eccles cakes, bakewell tarts, apple pies, and flapjacks, all baked on the property using locally sources wheat and ingredients. They also sold preserves, duck and chicken eggs and there was a café to one side, although closed due to COVID. We were going to be frequent customers over the coming weeks. There is still the original oven from the 1700s on the back wall of the bakery. Back then there was more than one baker in the village, and many would roast joints of beef on Sundays for those families who did not have an oven, or could not afford a joint of beef.
The Cross Keys pub
The most historically important village inn dates back to at least 1732. It was used as the courthouse up until 1813 and in the 1850s became the post office of the village. It had its own brew house and stables in the back yard, and provided transport to the railway and hired out carriages for weddings and hearses for funerals. They certainly had all events covered! We may not see inside the inn as it is closed due to COVID but they do take-away so we will sneak in to pick up a delivery! At one time there were 5 pubs and Inns in this small village, The Red Lion Inn, The Cross Keys Inn, The Turners Arms, The Wheelhouse Inn, The Wheatsheaf Inn. With all the local breweries and Inns in this village of two main streets, it seems you didn’t have to stagger too far to get to the next pint!
The local Londis store was a short walk away, and good for last minute items that we had forgotten. On our first week we needed tonic water for our usual gin and tonic at 6pm. On our first trip there, I did look for a few cans or a bottle, and was horrified to find none! Our second trip was more successful and after digging deeper into the depths of the soft drinks shelf I found a couple of bottles of Schweppes!
The owner was an Indian or Bangladeshi gentleman, who was constantly on the phone every time we entered. He was pleasant and
There was another store located a little further away that sold local produce, so we frequented there when we could. It was a ‘cash only’ store and when we entered and saw the ‘sweetie jars’ stacked behind the counter, I was reminded of the little stores I used to visit with my dad on ‘payday’ where we would choose our treats from the ‘penny tray’ which were then placed in a little paper bag and clutched tightly all the way home, when we could tip them all out and munch through them, lips smacking and chins wet with sticky, sweet drool.
Along the street we saw a trestle table with jars of homemade preserves and locally produced honey. It was expected that if you purchased these you would leave the money in a box on the table – very honest and trustworthy folks here. Also, there was a wooden hen house constructed on a wall where eggs were sold – again, leaving money in small box, trusting that you only took what you had paid for.
The King’s Cliffe Endowed School building is currently up for sale! This historic school was in use from 1873 to February 2017 when it moved to another site. When it was first opened in 1873, it was to replace the boys’ and girls’ charity schools and housed pupils from ages 3 to 14. On the new site it is a primary school, still endowed by the Law & Hutchison Charity.
This picturesque village is certainly cared for and maintained, keeping its history alive in everyday life, with proud homeowners and villagers alike, taking the time to research and record details for future generations. There are so many villages like this in the UK; I’d love to visit them all!
Click on the Photo Below to be taken to a Larger Gallery.