Lot Way Comberton - Lost Highway

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The document is available as a PDF at https://pghardy.net/comberton/lotway/Lot_Way_Lost_Highway.pdf, and a PDF of enlarged figures is available at https://pghardy.net/comberton/lotway/Lot_Way_Enlarged.pdf.

The Lot Way - History

The Lot Way is an ancient track running East/West just to the southwest of Cambridge. Historically, it joined the villages of Barton, Comberton, Toft, Caldecote and Bourne, whose churches lie on or close to this ridgeline path. The route continued onward past Gransden to the West, and Grantchester to the East.

The Lot Way is one of several parallel such tracks - the best known is the Icknield Way, running a dozen miles to the south along the ridge above Royston. Just to the north of Comberton is the Port Way, running through Coton, Hardwick and Caldecote Highfields, and three miles to the South is the Mare Way, running along the ridge between the Eversdens and the Wimpole estate.

Most of these tracks probably date back to the Bronze age, when they were a major east-west route, connecting East Anglia and its flint mines with Cornwall and its tin mines. [The Icknield Way, Edward Thomas, 1916]. They remained in use through Roman times and the Medieval period, as they form the first dry east-west routes south of the swamp of the fens.

Fig 1 shows the first edition Ordnance Survey (OS) map of the area from 1836, predating enclosure, showing the Lot Way as a main connection between Comberton and Barton. Local names near Comberton include Mill Way or Millway for the section between Comberton and Toft, and Great and Little Hodge, for the sections between Barton and Comberton. [Landscapes Decoded, Prof Susan Oosthuizen, 2006].

Fig 2 is from [Archaeology of Cambridgeshire, Alison Taylor, 1997], (see article page), and shows "Lot Way (line of Roman Road)" passing Comberton Church along the ridge, with arrow, label and route showing continuation to Barton.

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Fig 1 - OS first map of 1836, showing Lot Way route before enclosure Fig 2 - A. Taylor 1997, showing Lot Way as line of Roman Road

Lot Way Now

The Lot Way to the West of Comberton still exists as a linear set of public right of way paths and tracks, passing Toft and Caldecote churches on its way to Bourne. Figs 3 and 4 show the two directions from the high point of the ridge on the way to Toft, in Spring 2020.

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Fig 3 - Lot Way looking East to Comberton Church Fig 4 - Lot Way looking West towards Toft

Within Toft parish, the Lot Way is well used, and is cherished, with part of the original wide 'common' or green lane preserved as Lot Meadow, with a sign with description and map (Fig 6). "Lot Meadow is located on the Lot Way, an ancient 'Common', probably of prehistoric origin, linking the Bourne valley villages of Caldecote, Toft, Comberton and Barton with Grantchester. Though the footpath was established long before the churches of these villages, both it and the churches are located on the same higher ground to avoid the floodplain of the Bourn Brook. The Commons were areas between the fields, where livestock could be moved easily and grazed during the day away from crops."

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Fig 5 - Lot Way near Toft Fig 6 - Lot Meadow Sign in Toft

Lost Highway

However, to the East of Comberton church, the right of way has been lost. The first section east of the church to the Herringfield Drift, which was a track used as a footpath in the 1970s, was closed and ploughed up during the 1980s, during an era of consolidation of fields for agricultural efficiency. Figures 7 and 8 below show this first missing section in Spring 2020.

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Fig 7 - Lot Way missing section East of Comberton Church Fig 8 - Lot Way missing section from The Drift to the Church

Agricultural Enclosure

One major contributory factor affecting the Comberton-Barton section of the Lot Way was the agricultural enclosure/inclosure of Comberton, for which the act was passed in 1840 - rather late by comparison with many other parishes. See "An Act for inclosing Lands in the Parish of Comberton in the County of Cambridge [14th June 1839]".

The enclosure survey of 1839 (Figs 9 and 10 from Cambridge University Library) laid out a new straight highway (Long Road) heading north from Comberton to Madingley. It also defined a byway continuing the same alignment due south (now known as The Herringfield Drift, but marked First Private Road on Fig 10 below) which cut across the Lot Way between Comberton church and Barton.

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Fig 09 - Enclosure map 1839 - Overview Fig 10 - Enclosure map 1839 - Zoomed to Lot Way east section

The enclosure map was designed to show the ownership of land, plust the new byways, and does not show footpaths or tracks. However, it shows the route of the Lot Way as a set of light green linear polygons, which were the wider green lane 'commons' mentioned on the Toft sign above. The Lot Way/ Millway ridge route is the middle of the three horizontal green bands, with the upper green band being along Tit Brook, and the lower one being the Broadway/Stallan Way in the valley of the Bourne Brook [See figure 5.3 in Oosthuizen, 2006, cited above].

Post-Enclosure

After enclosure, the section of the Lot Way between the Church and the Drift remained in use, and was rerouted slightly south to follow the new field boundary, as can be seen on the maps in the following section "Evidence of Long-term Highway Use".

In the same general period, the main route from Barton to Comberton shifted to a more northern alignment to more directly access the modern centre of Comberton at the crossroads, so the original Lot Way from Barton to the Drift became much less used. There are still short fragments of the original alignment near Barton used as parts of a permissive path (Fig 11).

The Lot Way is documented locally at Watt's Wood nature reserve, which is by the Herringfield Drift (Fig 12). "From the edge of the wood you can just see the tower of St Mary's Church, south of the village. It is on an ancient route called the Lot Way, dating from Roman times or earlier. This follows a narrow ridge which links it to other elevated churches at Barton and Toft. To the south is a Roman villa discovered in 1842."

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Fig 11 - Lot Way fragment West of Barton Fig 12 - Watts Wood Sign

Evidence of Long-term Highway Use

The route of Lot Way heading east from Church Lane in Comberton has been shown on every edition of all the large scale Ordnance Survey (OS) maps of the area, starting with the pre-enclosure map of 1836 (Fig 1).

Figs 13 and 14 are the 25-inch map of 1886, and the 6-inch of 1903. Both show the adjusted alignment of the Lot Way from Church Lane to the Herringfield Drift.

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Fig 13 - OS 25in 1886 Fig 14 - OS 6in 1903

OS maps through the whole of the 20th century continued to show that section of the Lot Way as a track - See Fig 15 of 1946, and Fig 16 of 1956.

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Fig 15 - OS one inch 1946 Fig 16 - OS 25K 1956

The track is still shown on the 2007 edition (Fig 17), but the current 2020 edition does not show it, as it is not currently marked on the ground.

There is good evidence also from sources other than Ordnance Survey - in particular, Fig 18 shows the 'Cambridge and District Footpath Map' published by the Cambridge Preservation Society in 1936. At two inches to the mile it shows a lot of paths and tracks not on the modern definitive map, but also omits quite a few routes now public. The inside cover has some interesting advice, presumably valid in the 1930s, e.g. "Any footpath connecting two spots open to the public is as a rule a public footpath."!

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Fig 17 - OS 1:25K 2007 (Crown copyright) - Lot Way to The Drift is still shown. Fig 18 - Cambridge and District Footpath Map 1936 shows track to the Drift.

Failure to Record as Right of Way

Until at least the late 1970s, the track existed on the ground, and can be clearly seen on aerial imagery, such as Fig 19, which is Cambridge University imagery from 1962 [CUCAP AEG14, 1962]. When I moved to Comberton in 1977, the route was well established and often used by Comberton residents for circular walks, or to reach the church from the east side of the village. However, despite the 'National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949', and the 'Countryside Act 1968' it missed being recorded on the county's definitive rights of way map in the 1960s, so was never shown as a right of way on OS maps. See the Ramblers page on Rights of way law. It appears that the parish council in Comberton in the 1960s was not effective in making the case for recording rights of way against opposition from landowners, as the parish has only about a third of the number of footpaths as neighbouring parishes such as Toft and the Eversdens.

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Fig 19 - CUCAP Aerial photo 1962 - Lot Way track is at base by cursor Fig 20 - OSM 2020 - Jubilee Walk alternative in orange, and original Lot Way in red

Permissive Paths

Currently, there is an indirect route from Comberton Church to the Herringfield Drift, using a permissive path (part of Diamond Jubilee Walk from 2012) which starts in the extension graveyard, and follows field boundary to the north, then alongside a drainage ditch east to the Drift. This route is shown in OpenStreetMap in Fig 18, and highlighted as an orange dashed line, with the original (post-enclosure) line of the Lot Way marked as a red dashed line. The Jubilee Walk is described in the Diamond Jubilee Walk Booklet. Thanks are due to the current landowner for these permissive paths. Note that I am not against using the current permissive path route as part of a replacement for the original Lot Way alignment, if that helps the agricultural efficiency of the landowner while maintaining a permanent access route.

Reasserting the Lot Way as a Right of Way

However, I feel we owe it to our children and their descendants to re-assert the Lot Way ancient highway right of way as a lost highway, before the legal expiry deadline in 2026. This would be to ensure its survival into perpetuity - currently, the permissive path could be permanently closed at any time by the landowner. It would also get it onto the Ordnance Survey maps, so that walkers and residents could find and use it in conjunction with other local paths. This re-established right of way could be either along the original route, or along the permissive path (but linked to the end of Church Lane).

When the current evidence-gathering is done, I intend to request that the Parish Council take on the case of re-establishing the lost Lot Way highway from Church Lane (TL 3848 5550) to the Drift (TL 3882 5548). This could preferably be by negotiation with the landowner to dedicate a right of way, or if not, by making a Lost Highway claim with the county. A second phase might be to recover the Lot Way route from the Drift to Barton, but that is outside the scope of this document.

As I write this, the current Coronavirus lockdown has highlighted the vital importance of our network of footpaths and byways, both for local exercise, but also as an escape from the stresses of a lockdown house into the peace of the countryside, to preserve our mental balance. Covid-19 has reminded us that footpaths matter!

If you have further evidence about this lost highway, photos of its route, or remember walking it in the 1950s/60s/70s, please contact me at paul@paulhardy.net or telephone 263232.

Notes

  1. Prof Susan Oosthuizen PhD FSA FRHistS, who is Emeritus Professor of Medieval Archaeology at the University of Cambridge, checked the landscape history sections above, and commented by email on 12/06/2020 that it was "a good summary of the evidence".
  2. It would have been useful to check the 1839 Act of Inclosure against its associated survey map, but the master copies are held by the Cambridgeshire County Archive. Unfortunately, the archive has been shut for months as it moved in 2019 from Cambridge to Ely, followed by Coronavirus lockdown restrictions, so access has not been possible.

[V1.5 of 22 June 2020, PGH]


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