Littlebury lies nearly two miles north west of Saffron Walden. The River Cam roughly describes the eastern boundary, with the village of Littlebury lying adjacent to it. In addition to Littlebury village there are two other villages in the parish, Littlebury Green and Catmere End, with one house remaining at Chapel Green, lying in the hills of the west where ponds dug in boulder clay above the chalk would once have supplied water.
The earliest evidence for habitation is that of Neanderthal man, found near Little Chesterford. Neolithic and Bronze Age flint tools, together with aerial photographs of Bronze Age ring ditches,and various finds confirm man's presence for these periods.
Iron Age sherds were found to the west of Littlebury village and in areas extending to land between Chapel Green and Catmere End. In 2004 during a field walking exercise led by Dr. Tom Williamson, a gold Catuvellaunian coin circa 50BC was found as well as sherds of prehistoric, Romano-British pottery and medieval pottery, brick and tile, together with a Roman period forgery of a nummus coin circa AD318-324.
It is thought that Ring Hill Fort to the west of Audley End dates from the Iron Age period. Roman artefacts, Claudian gold coins and a silver patera have been found nearby, whilst jewellery, Samian, 'Hadham' ware and greyware have been located throughout the parish. Saxon sherds found in the west indicate settlement for that period.
The earliest known reference to 'lytlan byrig' occurs in the late 10th century will of a landholder, Aelfhelm Polga. By 1008, 20 hides known as 'Lithanberi' and half that again at Littlebury Green and Strethall (altogether about 3,600 acres of land), had been awarded to Ely Abbey by King Aethelred to supply food and later, cash, rents to the Abbey. The Domesday survey of 1085 describes Littlebury as having 30 hides and a value of £28. In 1109 the Manor of Littlebury was transferred to the Bishopric of Ely when the lands held by Ely Abbey were divided.
The relationship between Ely and Littlebury survived until the early C17th. Thomas Sutton was granted the lease of Littlebury from Ely in 1569; it was renewed in 1583 and in 1601 he purchased the Manor of Littlebury from the Crown during a vacancy of the Ely Bishopric. In 1603, Thomas Howard, First Earl of Suffolk, who was building Audley End mansion, agreed to sell his London property, Charterhouse, to him for £13,000 and the Manors of Balsham, Hadstock and Littlebury were left to the Earl in return for a payment of £10,000 into Sutton's estate.
Successive generations of Suffolks lived at Audley End, until the 10th Earl died childless and intestate. Elizabeth, Countess of Portsmouth came into possession of the estate with her sister on one side and the Earl of Bristol on the other and a deed of partition was drawn up in 1753. She subsequently purchased the mansion and parkland and in 1762 left it all, on her death, to her nephew, John Griffin Griffin. He was to become the first Baron Braybrooke and spent the rest of his life consolidating his landholdings through purchasing and swapping land and property with the Earl of Bristol and others. He commissioned Robert Adam to design the Temple of Victory and The Stone Bridge, and amongst much else was responsible for the Tea Bridge and extending the kitchen gardens. Capability Brown redesigned the parkland, much of it lying in Littlebury parish, most of which still falls within and forms part of the Audley End estate.
Littlebury parish has 52 listed buildings, including The Stables at Audley End; the centre of Littlebury village is a conservation area. The church, Holy Trinity, mentioned as long ago in an Ely charter dated between 1163-1169 was considerably altered between 1870 and 1874 and St Peter's church at Littlebury Green was erected in 1885.
Apart from the incumbents of Audley End, parish notables include Henry Winstanley, Thomas Sutton and Dame Joan Bradbury.
Local History Recorder, Littlebury
Click here to visit the Littlebury village website.