Sawston Village History Society

Home Page

January 2008 Meeting Report

A History of Abington and the Mortlock Family

The subject of our first meeting in 2008 was the influential Mortlock family who owned a large amount of Abington (as well as land in Pampisford and Sawston) in the 19th and 20th centuries and was given by Jennifer Hirsh, Chairman of the Abington History Group.

The founder of what could be regarded as the Mortlock dynasty was John Mortlock. He was born in Cambridge in 1756, the son of a fairly well to do draper. The family also owned flocks of sheep which grazed in Pampisford, whose wool was turned into clothes as part of the family business. It seems that John was very much an entrepreneur and in his twenties was lending money and issuing promissory notes to merchants travelling to Cambridge by coach, thus reducing the need to carry large amounts of cash which could be stolen by highwayman. This led to him founding a banking business which soon became the most prominent in Cambridge. His bank flourished at the Bene’t Street site until 1896 when it was bought by Barclays. The blue wall plaque for John Mortlock has an intriguing quotation: “That which you call corruption I call influence”. This would seem to indicate that he was less than scrupulous in his business dealings. This was probably how he managed to become elected as an MP for Cambridge while also holding the job “Collector of Land Taxes for Cambridge”. He was later forced to resign as MP, but this did not seem to prevent him from having been an MP no less than 13 times.

Perhaps because of his questionable business ethics he apparently was not the most popular man in Cambridge during his early banking career and invested some of his cash by “buying to let” Abington Hall in 1780, which he rented out to wealthy tenants.

He married Elizabeth Harrison, who was the daughter of a wealthy Cambridge grocer and together they had 9 children, the seven eldest being sons, two of whom also became MPs after John’s death in 1816.

After his death most of the family business and properties was administered by Charles, the 3rd son who bought the 4th son, Frederick Cheetham’s share. One of the other prominent sons was Edmund, who was a clergyman and a Cambridge academic. The son who appeared to do most to continue the line however was Frederick Cheetham. He married another local girl, Sarah Finch, and they had seven children. The eldest of the sons, John Frederick, born 1809, after his father’s death in 1838 had a vendetta against his 2 uncles, Charles and Edmund, who he felt had cheated him of his share of the estate left by Frederick. He initially picketed the Bene’t Street bank using an apple stall to block the pavement and giving out pamphlets. By all accounts this became quite a spectacle.

This vendetta culminated in an apparent arson attack on Rectory Farm in Pampisford, owned by the Mortlocks, and later another fire at Thomas Mortlock’s house in Great Abington (Abington Lodge) in 1837. John was tried for this on the basis of reports of him being seen in the vicinity at the time, but he was acquitted on the grounds of insufficient evidence. He obviously was able to afford a good lawyer! His final act of retribution, in November 1842, was to assault Edmund while he was in his Christ College rooms. A shot was fired, injuring Edmund. So John was arrested, tried, and sentenced to 25 years deportation to Australia. By all accounts his adventures did not end there and he continued to have various misadventures for many years.

Descendants of John Mortlock continued to be influential in the Abingtons. A grandson, Edmund John Mortlock, paid for the building of a school which was opened in 1874. Alice Mortlock, daughter of Edmund, died in 1950 at the age of 90. She was married but reverted to her Mortlock name on being widowed. She was very active in the Abington community up to her death. One of her achievements was the founding of a village orchestra.

The Abington History Group had been very fortunate to acquire a number of unique maps of Abington, the earliest dating from 1603. These were auctioned at Sothebys in 2003 and, with the support of the Cambridge Record Office, managed to raise enough money to buy them. Very impressive copies of these had been made which were on display at the meeting. Sadly, copyright issues prevented copies being emailed to one interested Society member!

10 January 2010 - Since publishing this report we are indebted to Mr RJH Griffith for the following clarification:

"My attention has been drawn to a piece from your website relating to the Mortlock family. Unfortunately this contains at least two misleading errors; first it misnames the Mortlock who took over the running of the bank from Frederick; and secondly it in two places mistakes 'Mayor' for 'MP'. JM was only MP the once, but mayor 13 times. Some of his sons also served as mayor but never as MP. The banker brother was Thomas, not Charles."

The next Society meeting will be on Thursday, February 14th , the topic being “Sawston Fires and Firemen” presented by John Reynolds, at the Chapelfield Way Community Centre starting 7.30 pm.

The March meeting will be on Thursday, 13th when there will be a presentation by Maureen James entitled “The Clarksons of Wisbech”. Same time and place as above.

The Sawston Community Archive Group (SCAG) now has a strong nucleus of members drawn from the Society. Our mission (as they now say) is to create a digital archive of anything relating to Sawston under the auspices of the Cambridgeshire Community Archive Network (CCAN) and we are intending to hold an open evening at the OWL Café in April. For further information please refer to the December page or contact Bruce Milner on 01223 570596 or email:

Our archivist, Bryan Howe is at the Sawston Heritage Centre at the Sawston Parish Council Office in Link Road on Monday mornings. Bryan is very amenable to arranging an alternative time to view the archives, just ring him on 01223 833963 to arrange a mutually convenient time.


About Us | Contact Us | ©2006 Sawston Village History Society