Caxton is most famous for the Caxton Gibbet, which stood at the road junction (and gives its name to the junction still).
Caxton has two churches:
- Church of England: St Andrew's
The Church of St Andrew was built of stone and flint mainly in the Early English style. It has a low tower with six bells.
The Baptist church was built in 1842.
What was the Roman Ermine Street, now the A1198 road, bisects Caxton parish. The modern village has grown up around the road, although the church is a short distance south-west, along Gransden Road. There are also three mediæval moated sites further from the road: Caxton Moats, which has signs of Anglo-Saxon or Norman occupation; Caxton Pastures, south-west of Caxton Gibbet, which may have belonged to John of Caxton, a 13th-century landowner; and Swansley, south-east of the gibbet. St Peter's Street, north and east of the church, may have been the centre of the original village.
The road provided passing trade; the market was held next to it and the Crown and George inns were built there. Parts of the Crown date from the 15th century and it was known by that name by 1545. Caxton benefitted from travellers passing through but highway robbers could also be a problem. The road became busier after the 16th century and a post office was opened at the Crown Inn 'many years' before 1660. By the mid-18th century, Caxton post office was one of only two in the whole county.
After the end of the coaching era, Caxton declined. In 1863, a traveller described the village as "a small, rambling village, which looked as if it had not shaved and washed its face, and put on a clean shirt for a shocking length of time". Fires in 1896 and 1897 destroyed more than a dozen houses and, although the arrival of the motor car in the 1920s brought traffic back through the village, its former prosperity did not return. In 2004 a bypass was completed around Caxton to accommodate traffic for the newly built Cambourne to the north.
Caxton parish is 9 miles west of Cambridge, 7 miles east of the town of St Neots. It stands on the A1198 (Ermine Street, the Old North Road) between the villages of Papworth Everard, to the north, and Longstowe, to the south. Roads run from Caxton to the villages of Bourn and Great Gransden. Bourn Brook runs through Caxton, towards its meeting with the River Cam at Grantchester.
Motorcycle speedway racing was staged at Caxton. The venue was described as being on the main Cambridge to St Neots road near Caxton Gibbett. The first meeting was staged on 6 April 1931 and a number of Sunday afternoon events were staged that year and again in 1932. Fewer meetings appear to have been staged 1933 and further research is needed to ascertain other activity.
In 1932, a greyhound stadium was constructed adjacent to the speedway track. This opened on 11 September 1932.
About the village
A war memorial, commemorating Caxton men who died in the two World Wars, stands at the junction of Ermine Street, Bourn Road and Gransden Road.
From summer 1940 to 9 July 1945 the RAF operated a Relief Landing Ground in the field to the south of Ermine Street. Tiger Moths from 22 EFTS from Cambridge used it. Huts there were also used to house personnel from 105 Squadron from RAF Bourn.
Caxton Gibbet (TL295606) is a small knoll north of Caxton village, on Ermine Street (now the A1198) near its crossing with the old route (now the A428) between Oxford and Cambridge. The place now has a roundabout, which is also known as 'Caxton Gibbet' and it was anciently a crossroads on the main routes north-south and west-east.
There are tales of murderers being hanged and displayed at Caxton in the 1670s, and records in a court case that the gibbet was still there in 1745. Several local writers say that it was no longer there by the early decades of the nineteenth century.
There is presently a modern replica which can be seen in photographs dating back to 1900, the erection of which may have been connected with the nearby pub of the same name.
This gibbet is reputed to be a gruesome example of the cage variation of the gibbet into which live victims were placed until they died from starvation, dehydration or exposure. After execution dead bodies were certainly suspended in cages as a warning, and may have been here. There are a number of folk tales reported in perhaps unreliable secondary sources of people being hanged at Caxton, none of which can be verified from primary sources. The most gruesome concerns the murder of a man called Partridge, either by a poacher or a man who thought Partridge had killed his dog. The murderer, sometime after having escaped abroad for a period, boasted, or was otherwise detected of the crime and ordered to be gibbeted alive. In some versions a local baker who offered him bread suffered a similar fate. There is no contemporaneous record of anything that confirms any part of this story, either in court or burial records. The practical difficulties of enforcing this penalty would be insuperable. There is little evidence of this practice anywhere in England.
Cambridgeshire County Record Office says that the following entry in the manuscripts of William Cole, a Cambridgeshire antiquarian (1714-1782) has been taken to refer to the Caxton Gibbet although there is no more specific mention of the actual location in the text. He is clearly referring to a dead body.
|“||About 1753 or 1754 the son of Mrs. Gatward being convicted of robbing the Mail was hanged in chains on the Great Road. I saw him hanging in a scarlet coat after he had hung 2 or 4 months it is supposed that the screw was filed which supported him and that he fell in the first high wind after.||”|
In May 2013 the site next to the gibbet was cleared to make way for a McDonald's restaurant, which opened in November 2013.
| ("Wikimedia Commons" has material|
- Mills, A.D. (1998). A Dictionary of English Place-names. Second Edition. Oxford University Press, Oxford. p74. ISBN 0-19-280074-4
- 'Parishes: Caxton', A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 5 (1973), pp. 26-35
- Cambridgeshire Churches: St Andrew, Caxton
- Roll of Honour: Caxton
- AIX discussion and published sources.
- Whitehouse, R., The Iron Cage, Cambridgeshire Journal, Feb 2001, p.11, includes a full and lurid exposition of the folk tales.
- Mossop, D., Caxton Gibbet, available from Cambridge Local Studies Collection includes an extensive analysis of the tales connected with Caxton Gibbett, their possible sources, correlates and the (lack of) sources for any of them.
- Cambridgeshire County Records Office Add MS5820 fo. 19v