Harston lies some five miles from Cambridge, in the valley of the Cam or Rhee.
The name of the village has evolved from different spellings, the closest to present day usage being Hares-town; this and surrounding villages e.g. Fox-town and Hawkestown, are said to have been the hunting ground of Queen Elizabeth I.
There is evidence to suggest that Harston is of Saxon origin, but Roman as well as Saxon pottery has been found in the surrounding area.
The village is situated on the busy A10 road. It has been said that Harston ‘is one long street’, but with recent building developments this is now less so. The ‘long street’ was always bustling with travellers from Cambridge to London in wagons, carts and coaches and the inns catered for passengers and traders of all kinds. One of the oldest inns, the Coach (or Wagon) and Horses is possibly a 16th century house, and was recorded in 1800. It been practically rebuilt, and is now a private dwelling.
At the entrance to the village, approached from Cambridge, on the High Street, stands a public house the Old English Gentleman, newly built in 1839 and named for the then rector of Fowlmere: at the opposite end of the street, where stands the war memorial, is the Pemberton Arms built around 1865. In between these two points the present day traveller will find the village stores and post office, an antique shop, garages, car showrooms etc, replacing among other things the wheelwright’s shop and the smithy.
The manor house is of 17th century origin, but was extensively remodelled in the 18th and 19th centuries. Beside the manor is the parish church of All Saints. The building, built of field stones and ashlar dressing, is mostly mid to late 14th century, but there is some evidence of an earlier church on the site. The church was restored in 1853. The wooden pulpit is an example of medieval craftsmanship; the octagonal font is 15th century.
Turning on to the road to Haslingfield and bearing left, we come to a popular riverside walk. It was here in 1645 that a force of King Charles’ cavalry attempted to fight their way across the river Rhee. A bloody battle ensued and the crossing was held by Cromwell’s men. The site is known as The Red Field. The watermill in the vicinity dates from 1086. In the 1960s it was bought by an animal feed company and it has now undergone an architectural award-winning transformation to become the headquarters of a scientific company.
Winding north from the church is Button End, a narrow lane, partly residential, partly industrial. In 1870 it was the site of the digging of coprolites, involving an influx of 55 immigrant workers.
The village sign is situated on the (now diminished) green. It depicts a rook, a honey skip and water springs, the last recalling the beautiful clear water which welled up at many points in the village, to be collected by the people.
The HARSTON VILLAGE SIGN ON SWAN GREEN
The inscription says “This sign was erected by the people of Harston to commemorate the Silver Jubilee in 1977 of Queen Elizabeth II”.
The sign depicts eight artesian wells which is how many used to exist, few of which were public.
After a water shortage in 1934/5 a well was sunk by the Water Company set up by Chesterton RDC to a depth of 164ft in Greensand at Button End giving a plentiful supply of good water for the village.
The Skep denotes the honey which was produced in large quantities in Harston in days gone by.
Rooks are well recorded and there used to be two notably large rookeries in the village. Rooks are still commonly seen in the village.
There is a patch of woodland called Harston Rookery (see Harston Rookery on a map).