A History of the County of Bedford: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1912.
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The parish of Oakley, bounded on three sides by the River Ouse, lies 4 miles north-west of Bedford. It has an area of 1,786½ acres, of which 883½ are arable land, 682½ permanent grass and 39 woods and plantations. (fn. 1) The land lies low, especially in the neighbourhood of the River Ouse, where it is liable to flood; in the east of the parish Oakley Hill rises to 279 ft. above ordnance datum. The soil is gravel and clay, and the subsoil Oxford clay, with patches of corn brash and Great Oolite limestone. The village is in the south of the parish; the parish church, on the east of the village street, is beautifully situated on rising ground above the river. South-west of the village the Ouse is spanned by Oakley Bridge, an old five-arched structure, bearing an inscription to mark the height to which the great flood of 1823 rose. Traces of an old mill are to be seen by the side of the bridge. Oakley House, standing back in well-wooded grounds on the north bank of the river, is the residence of Mr. R. E. Prothero, C.V.O., principal agent for the Duke of Bedford. The Midland Railway passes through the parish, and has a station some distance north of the village, in whose neighbourhood is an increasing number of modern houses. Bedford Isolation Hospital was erected in this parish in 1902, and there is also a Home for Old Soldiers, given by the Duke of Bedford to the Bedfordshire Regiment in 1908. Small manufactures of pillow lace and rushplaiting are carried on. Oakley was inclosed in 1803. (fn. 2)
A field below Oakley Church was the scene of a curious incident in 1707. Thither flocked the inhabitants of the parish to assist at or witness the swimming of a witch. The unfortunate victim was twice placed in the river—on both occasions her clothing kept her upon the surface of the water, convincing the majority present of her guilt. She was then weighed against the big church Bible, and this test resulting in her favour she was released. Many of those present, however, went away unconvinced, amongst these being the vicar of Oakley.
In the time of the Confessor Osulf, a king's thegn, held land in Oakley. (fn. 3) In 1086 Robert de Todeni held 4 hides, having two knights as tenants. This property afterwards became known as the OAKLEY REYNES MANOR. The overlordship of this manor follows the same descent as the honour of Belvoir, (fn. 4) as Robert de Todeni's fief afterwards became known, which passed from the Todeni family to the family of Roos of Hamlake, (fn. 5) the last mention of the overlordship being found in 1512. (fn. 6) The earliest known tenant of Oakley Reynes Manor was Simon de Bosard, who held it as a third part of a knight's fee at the time of the Testa de Nevill. (fn. 7) By 1278 he had been succeeded by Richard de Bosard, who in that year held the manor, then comprising 3⅓ hides of land, a view of frankpledge, a free fishery from Benery to his mill in Oakley and rights of common fishing from Milton Mill to Cothemannesholme. (fn. 8) Richard de Bosard's sister and heiress Joan married Thomas Reynes, who became lord of Oakley Manor in the right of his wife. (fn. 9) After his death his widow appears to have married into the Chamberlain family, and may be identified with the Joan Chamberlain who held this property together with land in Thurleigh as half a knight's fee in 1302. (fn. 10) Ralph Reynes son of Joan left his son and heir Thomas in the wardship of John or Roger de Tyringham. (fn. 11) Thomas Reynes having attained his majority, Simon de Tyringham, to whom the wardship had passed, gave him seisin of the manor in 1330–1, (fn. 12) which he continued to hold until about 1354. (fn. 13) He died some time before 1380, in which year Thomas (fn. 14) his son and heir obtained seisin of the manor from his guardian Richard Reynes. (fn. 15) John Reynes, son of the above, had succeeded to the property (then valued at £10) by 1415. (fn. 16) He was still holding in 1428, (fn. 17) and was succeeded by a son John, who died without male heirs about 1451. (fn. 18) The history of the manor here becomes obscure, owing to the lack of documentary evidence. It appears soon after the death of John Reynes to have been split into moieties. Elizabeth Anstey, granddaughter of Cecilia sister of John Reynes, married William Taylard (fn. 19); their grandson Sir Laurence Taylard was seised of one moiety before 1548. (fn. 20) He was succeeded by his son Geoffrey, whose daughter and heir Catherine married Robert Brudenell. (fn. 21) This moiety remained in the hands of the Brudenell family until 1648, (fn. 22) when Edmund Brudenell alienated it to Charles Mordaunt and others. (fn. 23)
Robert Lestraunge died seised of the other moiety in 1512, (fn. 24) his son and heir Thomas levied fines of it in 1530 (fn. 25) and 1533. (fn. 26) From the latter it would appear to have passed to William Mordaunt, (fn. 27) whose son Edmund made a conveyance of the moiety in 1610. (fn. 28) Charles Mordaunt son and heir of Edmund leased the property to his mother in 1622. (fn. 29) Twentysix years later he became seised of the other moiety of the manor as shown above. The manor thus reunited remained the property of the Mordaunts until 1679, (fn. 30) when it was alienated to Henry Lilly, (fn. 31) probably acting for Sir Creswell Levinz, who became lord of the manor in that year. (fn. 32) It remained the property of the Levinz family until 1757, when it was purchased by the Duke of Bedford. (fn. 33) The manor of Oakley Reynes has remained the property of the Dukes of Bedford down to the present day.
A mill in Oakley worth 26s. and 200 eels is mentioned in the Domesday Survey. (fn. 34) Its site is still to be marked near Oakley Bridge. Possibly this is the same mill that was owned by Richard de Bosard in the 13th century. (fn. 35) A mill in this parish was the property of the Lestraunge family in 1530, (fn. 36) whilst three water-mills were appurtenant to the manor in the latter half of the 17th century. (fn. 37)
The history of Oakley begins with an entry in the Ramsey Cartulary to the effect that one 'Alfelinus,' who died in 988, gave Oakley and Potton to the abbey. (fn. 38) 'Alfelinus' clearly represents one O. E. Ælfhelm, and the mention of Potton enables us to identify him with Ælfhelm of Wratting, a wealthy thegn of East Anglia and Cambridgeshire, who disposed of part of Potton by his extant will. (fn. 39) The church of Ramsey never obtained the latter vill, and its possession of Oakley was delayed, for in compiling a general charter of confirmation in the name of Edward the Confessor (fn. 40) the monks assert that they received Oakley with its appurtenances from Eadnoth the son of Godric. It is significant that Ælfhelm of Wratting in his will refers to Godric as the husband of his unnamed daughter; but the gift by Eadnoth, Godric's son, can hardly have been made long before the time of the Confessor, and the abbey's tenure in any case was brief. Although there is no direct evidence of connexion, the Ramsey estate is probably represented by the hide in Oakley which in 1066 had belonged to Godwine, a man of Earl Harold, and twenty years later was held by Miles Crispin of the Countess Judith. (fn. 41) Unlike the bulk of the property of the countess, this hide never became attached to the honour of Huntingdon. (fn. 42) Miles Crispin would appear to have later become seised in chief, and the property together with part of his Clapham lands later became the manor of Ocle-cum-Clapham or Bayeux Manor, and was held of the honour of Wallingford. (fn. 43) The history of this property until 1564 is the same as that of the manor of Ocle-cum-Clapham in Clapham parish (q.v.). In that year, however, the manor was divided, Lord Vaux selling his Clapham property to Thomas Rowe, while he retained his Oakley lands. (fn. 44) The Clapham moiety alone appears to have had manorial rights attached to it, but both are afterwards termed 'manors.' In 1582 Lord Vaux sold Oakley to Miles Sandys and Anthony Saurez. (fn. 45) They in turn sold it to Richard Faldoe in 1585 for £420, the property then comprising 200 acres of arable land, 30 acres of meadow and 6 acres of wood. (fn. 46) In 1612 Richard Faldoe alienated the property to Charles North and Stephen Partridge. (fn. 47) It probably was soon afterwards broken into smaller holdings, as no further mention of it has been found.
The church of ST. MARY THE VIRGIN consists of a chancel 33 ft. 7 in. by 16 ft. 1 in., nave 46 ft. 7 in. by 21 ft., a north aisle the same length as the nave and 10 ft. 11 in. wide, and a south aisle also the same length and 9 ft. 4 in. wide, and a west tower 12 ft. 1 in. by 12 ft. 1 in.
The tower is the oldest part of the building, its lower part dating from the middle of the 12th century, and the two western bays of the nave arcades were probably first built at the end of the same century. The chancel dates from c. 1220, and the east bay of the nave, which has pointed arches much narrower than those in the two western bays, may belong to the same time. The east wall of the 12th-century nave was perhaps some 12 ft. west of the line of the present chancel arch. In the 14th century the south aisle was rebuilt, and the north aisle, the clearstory, the upper story of the tower, the south porch and the west end of the chancel are also of this century or the early part of the 16th.
The east window of the chancel is a very good piece of late detail, probably c. 1530, of four cinquefoiled lights with uncusped tracery in the head; it contains two roundels of contemporary glass with gold suns on a dark background.
The only window on the north is near the west end, a 13th-century opening with a moulded rear arch, into which modern two-light tracery of 15th-century style has been inserted. There was probably a north-east vestry to the east of it.
In the south wall, near the east end, is a restored 14th-century window of two lights, with its sill stepped for sedilia, and a trefoiled 14th-century piscina to the east of it; further west are a 13th-century lancet, much renewed, and a blocked recess low in the wall, probably a destroyed low-side window. The 18th-century altar table and rails remain, but are disused, the present altar being set some feet to the west against a reredos formed of a fine 15th-century rood screen. This, though clogged with yellow paint, has remains of a very beautiful traceried cove over its middle doorway and large open traceried bays on either side, with solid lower panels. Against the chancel wall parts of some 17th-century pews are set as a dado.
The south door of the chancel is 13th-century work, with a chamfered arch; it is now blocked up on the inside. The chancel arch has lost its inner order, but the outer is well moulded with 13th-century detail, and the responds are of three engaged shafts with moulded capitals and bases.
The nave arcades consist of three bays, the two western on both sides being considerably wider than that nearest the chancel, and the pointed arches are of one square order with a chamfered label. On the north the arches are two-centred and have plain circular capitals on short circular columns, while those on the south have square abaci with recessed angles, and the arches are low, struck from centres well below the capitals. The wall above the north arcade seems to have been rebuilt, as the extrados of the arches projects beyond the wall face, and the level of the nave floor has been considerably lowered, exposing the foundations of the columns. The arches of the north arcade spring very awkwardly from their round capitals, leaving ample space on the capital to take a second order, but such an order does not seem to have existed. The capitals of the two columns of the south arcade are both modern, but the respond capitals are old and very clumsy and shapeless; the east respond was probably moved to its present place when the east bay of the arcade was built. The arches in the east bay are of two chamfered orders. The nave clearstory has four two-light windows a side, cinquefoiled, with quatrefoils in the head, except the west window on the south, in which the tracery of a small early 14th-century window is re-used.
In the east end of the north aisle is a 15th-century window of two cinquefoiled lights. In the north wall of this aisle is a three-light 15th-century window, and next to it another of very similar type, probably a later copy of it. There is a plain 15th-century north doorway, with an original oak door, and to the west of it a 14th century two-light window with a square head and label, like that in the south side of the chancel. The west wall of the north aisle is of 15th-century rubble walling, with a straight joint between it and the nave wall.
The south aisle has a 15th-century east window of three cinquefoiled lights with tracery, filled with fragments of mediaeval and later glass, a three-light south-east window like that in the north aisle, also with some old glass; next to it an early 14th-century window of three uncusped lights, and on each side of the south porch a two-lights, 15th-century window. The west window is of the 15th century, of three uncusped lights. The porch is of the 15th century, with a parvise over, and its inner and outer doorways are of simple 15th-century detail.
The west tower is built in two stages, of which the lower is of the 12th and the upper of the 15th century, containing two-light windows with a quatrefoil in the head in each face; it is crowned with a 15th-century parapet, and there are gargoyles projecting diagonally at the angles. At the west angles are diagonal buttresses, and in the west wall is a low doorway of two moulded orders, having over it a modern window. Immediately above it is a narrow 12th-century light and a similar one in the lower stage on the south side. The tower arch is in two chamfered orders with a label roughly carved with a nail-head ornament, resting upon plainly moulded capitals.
The roofs of nave and aisles are low-pitched, dating from the 15th century or later; the south aisle roof was repaired in 1629, from a date on it. The fronts of the lofts to the west screens of the aisle chapels remain in position, and in the north aisle the lower part also with its cove, on which is painted our Lord seated on a rainbow with an orb at His feet and an angel bearing passion emblems on His left; the northern part of the cove is gone. The original colour remains to a large extent—red, white and green— and the panels to the fronts of the lofts appear to have had figures of saints painted on them, though divided in half by applied tracery. There is a considerable amount of 15th-century pewing, with some 17th-century oak panelling in the chancel. There is a good 15th-century octagonal font with traceried panels to the bowl and buttresses, much cut back at the angles. In the chancel are an old alms-box and a chest, and a 17th-century chest in the vestry at the west of the south aisle. On the south wall of the chancel is a mural slab to Robert Stoakes, vicar of the parish, 1770. In the south aisle is a good early 14th-century tomb recess containing the effigy of Amabel daughter of Sir Richard Chamberlain of Petsoe, who was wife of Ralph Reynes of Oakley. It has been reset and its spandrels reversed; one bears a shield of Reynes, and the other a scallop shell and a shield of Chamberlain, a cheveron between three scallops. On the east label of the arch is a shield with two bars with three roundels on each bar and a label of five points over all. On the front of the low tomb on which the figure rests are five shields: (1) Reynes; (2) a fesse and three scallops (?); (3) two bars, each with three roundels; (4) Chamberlain; (5) a lion rampant.
The registers previous to 1813 are in six books: (i) all entries 1560 to 1653; (ii) the same, 1653 to 1688; (iii) the same, 1689 to 1790; (iv) marriages 1754 to 1794; (v) baptisms and burials 1791 to 1812; (vi) marriages 1794 to 1812.
Oakley Church with the chapel of Clapham was by the end of the 12th century in the hands of the Prior and convent of Caldwell, (fn. 48) but the early history of this monastery is so obscure that it is impossible to say when and by what means they became possessed of it. In 1229 the advowson of the church was the subject of a dispute between the priory and the proprietors of that property which afterwards became known as the manor of Clapham Greenacres. (fn. 49) The prior and monks were successful in the action, and in 1296 they impropriated the church and chapel and a vicarage was ordained. (fn. 50) The advowson remained in the hands of the monks until the Dissolution, when Clapham Chapel was separated from Oakley Church. (fn. 51) The latter was granted to Eton College by Edward VI. (fn. 52) The advowson has remained in the hands of the college down to the present day. (fn. 53) The living was incorporated with that of the neighbouring church of Bromham in the early part of the 19th century.
In 1291 the church of Oakley with the chapel of Clapham was valued at £12 per annum, (fn. 54) out of which £4 6s. 8d. was due to the Abbot of Oseney. (fn. 55) At the Dissolution the vicarage was worth £8 16s. 9d., (fn. 56) and the rectory £12. (fn. 57)
The commission to inquire concerning chantries in 1548 reported that two plots of land, one of 1 a., bringing in 8d., and one of 1 a. and 3 r., worth 14d. per annum, had been given to Oakley Church that the donors might have their names entered on the bead roll, (fn. 58) while, for the sustentation of a light, property had been given to the value of 2s. 3d. per annum. (fn. 59)
The Charity estate consists of 20 acres, producing £15 10s. a year, and 1 a. 30 p., with the school buildings thereon, in respect of which the Bedford County Council as the education authority pay £6 a year.
The trust is administered under the provisions of a scheme of the Charity Commissioners and subsequent orders, whereby a moiety of the net income is applicable for educational purposes. (fn. 60) The other moiety is applicable in ecclesiastical purposes