A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 6. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1965.
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The small parish of Clapton, or Clapton-on-theHill, 819 a. in area, (fn. 1) lies immediately south of Bourton-on-the-Water, with which it has been closely associated throughout its history. Its shape is irregular and elongated: its short eastern and southwestern boundaries are marked, respectively, by the River Windrush and by the stream along Broadwater Bottom. Part of the northern boundary follows a water-course draining into the Windrush, and part of the southern boundary runs along the road that crosses the Windrush by New Bridge. (fn. 2)
The land rises steeply from under 400 ft. beside the Windrush to a flat summit of 725 ft. at the centre of the parish and then falls only a little more gently towards Broadwater Bottom. The northern edge of the parish is marked by a steep-sided valley running down towards Bourton. (fn. 3) The central and southwestern parts of the parish lie on the Inferior Oolite; to the east, at 650 ft., the Cotswold Sand is exposed and lower again the Upper Lias, Middle Lias, and Lower Lias in succession, with alluvium in the river valley. (fn. 4) The soil is mostly thin and stony. The agricultural use of the land is relieved by only two small areas of woodland: in 1540 there was said to be no wood except in the hedgerows. (fn. 5)
According to Rudder, Clapton has 'nothing worthy the attention of the naturalist or antiquary'. (fn. 6) The small village is near the centre of the parish, a little below and north-west of the highest point, seemingly remote and exposed. It is mostly on the Cotswold sand, through which springs emerge. The village may have been established in the 12th century. Clapton is not named in the Domesday survey, (fn. 7) being apparently included with Bourton. Part of the church derives from a 12th-century building, (fn. 8) and the first documentary reference to Clapton is apparently in the name of an inhabitant in the late 12th century. (fn. 9)
Most of the evidence indicates that Clapton was founded as an offshoot of Bourton. In the Middle Ages Clapton was included in the manor of Bourton, and the church at Clapton, so far as is known, has always been a chapel of ease to Bourton. (fn. 10) Despite opinions to the contrary, (fn. 11) the area of Clapton was included in grants of the 8th and 10th centuries of an estate centred on Bourton, the southern boundary of which was the southern (not the northern) boundary of Clapton parish: 'Withigford' is more likely to have been on the site of New Bridge than 500 yards upstream; the boundary described in the charter of 949 is too simple for the complex north boundary of Clapton; the later tenurial connexion of Clapton and Bourton is unquestionable; and had the charter of 949 intended to define the north boundary of Clapton it would have mentioned the water-course rather than a road (fn. 12) which can be identified with the road from New Bridge. The identification of Win's Barrow, which is a landmark in the charter of 779, (fn. 13) with a barrow near Bourton Hill Farm, on the north boundary of Clapton, is a result of, not a reason for, thinking that the charter excluded Clapton; earlier the name Win's Barrow had been given to another mound on Clapton's north boundary, until that mound was discredited as a barrow. (fn. 14) In the charter of 949 Win's Barrow gives place as a landmark to 'Pippen's pen', (fn. 15) which was near the site of Clapton village and may have been connected with farm buildings that foreshadowed the village.
The village is built round a cross formed by two lanes, with the southern and western arms of the cross joined by a third lane. The church stands in the north-east angle, the manor-house in the northwest angle. Possibly the south-west angle was an open green before two rows of cottages were built there in the 18th century. In the early years of the 20th century ten cottages were demolished, (fn. 16) and another eight were pulled down in the years following the Second World War. (fn. 17) In 1962 the outer row of cottages in the south-west angle of the village was being replaced by council houses. From the southern corner of the village two roads lead off, one towards Sherborne, meeting the road from New Bridge, the other, beside which a few 20th-century houses have been built, joins the road from Sherborne to Bourton. There are no houses at a distance from the village: all the farm-houses are in the village, for the small size of the parish and the small numbers of estates in it made their dispersal after inclosure in 1774 (fn. 18) unnecessary.
In the 14th century Clapton was one of the smaller villages in the area, with 13 people assessed for the subsidy of 1327 (fn. 19) and 23 people for the poll tax of 1381, (fn. 20) and from the mid-17th century the population remained small. There were said to be 15 families in 1650, (fn. 21) 17 households in 1672, (fn. 22) and 18 houses c. 1710. A slight rise in population may have continued in the 18th century, (fn. 23) and from 103 in 1801 the population rose to 138 in 1871 before falling to below 100 in 1921. In 1951 it was 95. (fn. 24)
The buildings in the village are mostly of stone with Cotswold stone roofs. Two of the farm-houses date from the 17th century: Manor Farm (the manor-house) and Church Farm have mullioned windows and dormers; Manor Farm, which in the late 17th century contained 5 hearths (fn. 25) and was clearly the largest house in the village (fn. 26) but a hundred years later was considered unsuitable as a residence for its owner, (fn. 27) also has stone chimneys with moulded capitals, and has undergone alterations at various dates from the 17th century to the 20th. Upper Farm and Newbridge Farm form together an L-shaped block built mainly in the 17th and 18th centuries. At the east end of Upper Farm an addition dated 1790 has wide architraves, keystones, long and short quoins, and a bracketed stone hood over the doorway. The cottages of the 18th century mostly have timber lintels to doors and windows, but there are several cottages with arched stone openings apparently of the early 19th century. The buildings of the village include several substantial barns. Some of the stone used in building the village may have come from quarries in the west of the parish; at inclosure in 1774 1¾ a. was set aside for a public quarry. (fn. 28)
Clapton is not served by 'buses. Electricity became available in 1954 and main water at about the same time. (fn. 29) One native of Clapton is known to have achieved national renown: William Fox (1736– 1826), founder of the Sunday School Society, who left home at 16, later became lord of the manor, was a benefactor to the village, and lived there for one year of his old age. (fn. 30)
In the Middle Ages Clapton was part of the manor of Bourton-on-the-Water, which belonged to Evesham Abbey. (fn. 31) In 1540 the Crown granted the rents and other profits from the abbey's tenants in Clapton, together with Farmington manor, to Michael Ashfield, of Northleach, (fn. 32) who died the same year. His son Robert, aged 6 in 1540, (fn. 33) may have been the Robert Ashfield who died at Farmington in 1616 holding the same estate, to be succeeded by his son John. (fn. 34) By 1620 this estate was regarded as the manor of CLAPTON. (fn. 35) From the Ashfields the ownership passed in a way that has not been discovered to William Powell, who in 1660 sold the manor to John Woodman of London, (fn. 36) though members of the Powell family continued to live and own land in Clapton. (fn. 37) John Woodman died in 1700 and was buried at Clapton; (fn. 38) he was succeeded by his son Philip, and Philip by his son Haynes Woodman by 1711. Another Philip, son and heir of Haynes, was succeeded in 1773 by his son Philip, who in 1795 sold the manor to William Fox, (fn. 39) mentioned above. The manor had passed by 1805, before Fox's death, to Vernon Dolphin of Eyford, (fn. 40) whose grandfather John Dolphin had acquired an estate in Clapton c. 1770. (fn. 41) In 1840 the manorial estate, comprising nearly 500 a. (fn. 42) and heavily mortaged, was bought by George Bennett, who sold off some of the land. (fn. 43) By 1870 the owner of Clapton manor was Horace Townsend (d. by 1885), from whose trustees the manor was acquired by Col. H. Cholmondeley of Keyham Old Hall (Leics.). From 1906 to 1919 (fn. 44) the lord of the manor was George Frederick Moore of Bourton-on-the-Water, who owned or rented nearly all the land in the parish. By 1923, however, the ownership of the land was divided between the several farmers. (fn. 45) The manor-house and Manor farm changed hands frequently up to 1954 when they passed into the ownership and occupation of Commander and Mrs. A. B. MacBrayne. (fn. 46)
In the late 12th century Clapton was said to contain 5½ hides. (fn. 47) This assessment survived almost unchanged, for in 1540 (fn. 48) and 1621 there were c. 23 yardlands (fn. 49) and in 1736 the tithes of Clapton were valued on a computation of 235/8 yardlands. (fn. 50) From the size of the parish, and allowing for closes, waste, common meadow, and common down, each yardland can be assumed to have contained c. 20 a. or less of open arable land, much the same as in neighbouring parishes. Since the number of lands or field-acres in a yardland was c. 40, not counting odd butts, fardels, and leys, (fn. 51) the land or field-acre was half a statute acre or less. Though one piece of the glebe in 1584 was 4 a. (or four ridges) (fn. 52) there is little evidence of any consolidation of open-field arable before inclosure in 1774, and the evidence that is available suggests rather that nearly all the land of each holding lay in single ridges. The arable was divided into furlongs, but there is no evidence of the grouping of furlongs into distinct fields. (fn. 53)
In the late 12th century two of the 5½ hides in Clapton were distinguished as former demesne, the tenants of which owed no boon services. (fn. 54) With the commutation of labour services, probably in the 13th century as at Bourton, the distinction between the former demesne and the customary land disappeared: the two freehold tenants in 1540 held little land in Clapton and had the major part of their holdings in Bourton. Nearly all the land in Clapton, 21 yardlands, was held by six copyholders and one leaseholder, in holdings of from one to four yardlands; the way in which the holdings were recorded and named suggests that holdings of two yardlands had for long been not uncommon. Heriots, mostly in kind, were due on the leasehold as well as on the copyholds. (fn. 55) The absence of any reversionary interest suggests that the copyholds were heritable. In the early 17th century the holdings of land in Clapton were described much as in 1540: perhaps there had been little change, but because they had been separated from their original manor the copyhold tenures had changed their character; (fn. 56) one at least was converted into a freehold in 1620, (fn. 57) and another had undergone the same change by 1665. (fn. 58) By this period the manorial estate included four yardlands of demesne, (fn. 59) and in 1690 the lord of the manor held more land in Clapton than any other landholder. (fn. 60) When 140 a. of downland was inclosed by agreement in 1711 eight owners including the Rector of Bourton were involved: 40 a. were assigned to the lord of the manor, and two other owners received more than 20 a. each. (fn. 61) Under the parliamentary inclosure award of 1774, which affected 612 a., again eight owners including the rector received allotments. Philip Woodman and John Dolphin each received c. 130 a. and there were six allotments of 30–90 a. No cottager received land to replace rights of common. (fn. 62) About 100 a. remained commonable after the inclosure of 1774, (fn. 63) and it is not known when the commoning rights were finally extinguished.
Before inclosure the type of agriculture practised was presumably a conventional open-field, sheepand-corn husbandry. In 1540 a house for a town herdsman was planned, (fn. 64) and the downland inclosed in 1711 had evidently been a sheep-pasture, for the landowners undertook to abate one sheepcommon on the open fields for each acre of inclosed downland. (fn. 65) In the fields a three-course rotation was used, with fallow every third year, in 1690. (fn. 66) Inclosure in 1774 was followed, perhaps as a result, by the extinction of the smaller estates, for by the early 19th century the manor estate was much enlarged, including both Woodman's and Dolphin's allotments of 1774. (fn. 67) The proportion of arable land may have decreased: Bigland and Rudge reported an equal division of the parish between pasture and arable; (fn. 68) in 1801 a third of the parish was sown, with a high proportion of oats and turnips (fn. 69) for winter feed; and in 1832 about a third of the two farms that comprised the manor estate was arable land, including still some fallow. (fn. 70)
In 1831 there were four farms, (fn. 71) and the number remained at four or five in the later 19th century. In 1939 there were two farms of over 150 a. and three others, (fn. 72) and in 1962 there were three of c. 200 a. and two of c. 50 a. (fn. 73) In 1935 about half the parish remained arable, an unusually high proportion, (fn. 74) and in 1962 only a little over half was permanent grass. The farming then was mainly beef, sheep, and dairying. In 1897 an allotment scheme was started, (fn. 75) and after the Second World War further land was made available as allotments. This became more than normally important in the twenties when the growing of strawberries on a commercial scale began. Although high and stony, the land produces good crops which, having a later season than those from the Vale of Evesham and elsewhere, are financially rewarding, and about half of the allotment land is devoted to strawberries. (fn. 76)
Agriculture has been almost the sole occupation of the people of Clapton. A smith is recorded in 1608, (fn. 77) and a smith's shop in 1832; (fn. 78) a carpenter in 1608 (fn. 79) and in 1856–1906. From 1885 the carpenter also kept a shop, and by 1906 there was also a carrier who kept the post office. (fn. 80) In 1962 the post office retained some marginal trade as a shop. Apart from occupants of Manor Farm, gentry are unknown as residents of Clapton, and in 1962 none of the inhabitants had retired to the village from elsewhere. (fn. 81)
Ecclesiastically, and until 1540 manorially, Clapton belonged to Bourtonon-the-Water. No separate manor court for Clapton is known to have existed. Ecclesiastically, however, Clapton achieved a measure of independence; it had two churchwardens of its own in 1584 (fn. 82) and in 1661, (fn. 83) though only a single 'chapelwarden' by 1784. (fn. 84) For civil purposes Clapton achieved complete independence as a parish. No parochial records of civil government survive, the chapelwarden's book of 1795–1909 (fn. 85) recording only the ecclesiastical business of the vestry. A constable and a tithingman for Clapton were appointed in the court leet at Stow, (fn. 86) where in the 18th century defects in the stocks, the pound, and the hedges of Clapton were presented. (fn. 87)
In 1802 there was a single overseer, (fn. 88) and it is not clear whether the chapelwarden had any poor-law function, though presumably the 17th-century churchwardens did in theory. Perhaps as a result of the beneficence of William Fox, who is said to have clothed all the poor of the village, (fn. 89) parish expenditure on the poor increased in the years up to 1803 much less than in other parishes of the district; (fn. 90) in 1812–15 Clapton was remarkable for the small number of families on permanent relief. (fn. 91)
Clapton became part of the Stow-on-the-Wold Poor Law Union under the Act of 1834, (fn. 92) of the Stow-on-the-Wold highway district in 1863, (fn. 93) and of the Stow-on-the-Wold Rural Sanitary District under the Act of 1872 (being transferred to the newly formed North Cotswold Rural District in 1935.) (fn. 94) In 1895 the parish meeting received the powers of a parish council, enabling it to administer allotments; (fn. 95) in 1962 it administered not only the allotments owned by the county council but also those that were privately owned. (fn. 96)
Architectural evidence indicates that Clapton church existed by the late 12th century; the absence of any medieval documentary reference to it is explained by the fact that it was a chapel of ease to Bourton-on-the-Water. The Rector of Bourton received the small tithes and one-third of the great tithes in Clapton, (fn. 97) valued at £30 in the 17th century; (fn. 98) the remaining two-thirds belonged to Evesham Abbey and later, apparently, to the owners of Clapton manor, for although by 1703 some landowners owned tithe on their lands (fn. 99) the lord of the manor received an allotment for tithe on seven yardlands at inclosure in 1774. The rector then received allotments for tithe for both new and old inclosures, (fn. 100) the minor inclosure of 1711 having left tithe unaffected; (fn. 101) by 1736 a modus of 16s. a yardland was paid for all tithe due to the rector. (fn. 102) The rector's glebe in Clapton was half a yardland in 1584, (fn. 103) for which 23 a. were allotted in 1774. (fn. 104)
In 1636 the inhabitants of Clapton complained that although the sacraments had been administered in the chapel time out of mind the rector, Dr. Thomas Temple, had neglected his duties, had sworn that there should be no prayers said there, and had offered £5 to have the chapel pulled down. (fn. 105) The rector's attitude helps to explain why in 1650 the inhabitants requested that Clapton become independent of Bourton church. (fn. 106) In 1660 there was a curate apparently for Clapton alone, but he was ejected and joined the Baptists. (fn. 107) Thereafter Clapton either shared a curate with Lower Slaughter, where the curate lived from the mid-19th century, (fn. 108) or had to rely on the personal ministrations of the rector.
In 1736 the inhabitants remembered weekly services and complained that they had been reduced to one a month or less, with Communion only once a year, and the rector was said to have refused sometimes to come to bury in the graveyard. (fn. 109) In the early 18th century marriages were celebrated at Clapton; (fn. 110) at the end of the century only a few families were said to have right of burial there. (fn. 111) In 1743, 1750, and c. 1805 services were still held only once a month, the appropriation of the south aisle of Bourton church to the inhabitants of Clapton allegedly making more frequent services unnecessary. (fn. 112) By 1825 services were held every third Sunday, with Communion three times a year, (fn. 113) and in 1851 (fn. 114) (as in 1962) (fn. 115) there were services every Sunday.
The church or chapel of ST. JAMES (fn. 116) is among
the smallest in the Cotswolds, comprising chancel,
nave, north vestry, and south porch. (fn. 117) The floors of
chancel and nave are on the same level, but the nave
is both wider and higher than the chancel. Most of
the fabric may be of the late 12th century, the date of
the responds of the chancel arch, the south doorway
with its lintel and small tympanum hidden by
plaster, and the plain tub font. (fn. 118) On the chamfered
abacus of the northern respond of the chancel arch
is a two-line inscription of an elegiac couplet in
Lombardic lettering that reads:
Qui ter devote pater ave genebus ipse Dixerit, en merces sunt sibi mille dies. (fn. 119) The chancel arch itself was added in the 13th century, as were the south porch and the two surviving lancets, one over the altar and the other to the west of the south door. Another feature of the medieval building is the aumbrey to the right of the east window.
In the early 18th century the church was said to have been newly built in 1670, (fn. 120) which is plainly wrong. It may have been at that date that the surviving roof was built, the one- and two-light squareheaded windows in the chancel and nave were made or altered, and the squat bell-turret, its sides as well as its pyramidal roof covered with Cotswold stone tiles, was put up over the east end of the nave. The roofs have unusually wide stone copings at the gable-ends, with finial crosses of the 17th century or earlier. The chapel was repaired in 1795, new seats were provided in 1830, (fn. 121) and the north vestry was built in 1912. (fn. 122)
In the nave are floor slabs from the late 17th century to members of the Woodman and Wise families. There is one bell, made by Henry Bagley in 1743. The plate includes an Elizabethan chalice and paten, the paten inscribed IC 1609. (fn. 123) The registers begin in 1873; earlier entries were made in the Bourton registers until 1813 and then in the Lower Slaughter registers.
The curate of Clapton who was ejected at the Restoration and became a Baptist was Thomas Paxford, (fn. 124) presumably of the same family as William Paxford, the first person buried in the Baptist graveyard at Bourton. (fn. 125) In 1676 Clapton had a fairly high proportion of dissenters, (fn. 126) two of whom were fined in 1685. (fn. 127) In 1736 the rector's neglect of Clapton was said to have turned many to dissent, (fn. 128) and in 1797 a house was registered for nonconformist services, (fn. 129) apparently Baptist. In 1851 the Baptist minister from Bourton held Sunday evening services in a house at Clapton. (fn. 130) A permanent branch chapel was built in 1908 (fn. 131) and continued in use in 1962.
William Fox started and supported a free day school c. 1795 (fn. 132) but it is not clear whether there was any continuity between it and the day school for 11 children paid for by the rector in 1825. (fn. 133) A Church of England Sunday school survived in 1851, with 15 children, (fn. 134) but no more is known of the Church of England day school. In 1863 a school which was later a British school was started in a former cottage; in 1883 it had an attendance of 21 children paying fees of 1d., and a single uncertificated mistress. The building belonged to one of the landowners, (fn. 135) and the school was run by private managers. (fn. 136) From 1887 the teacher was certificated, (fn. 137) but in 1893 a school board for the parish was formed and took over the British school. The school was moved to a new building in 1896, (fn. 138) and had an attendance of 24 in 1904. (fn. 139) Attendance remained at about that figure, (fn. 140) but the school was closed in 1933, (fn. 141) the younger children going to Sherborne, the older children to Bourton or Northleach.
Under a Scheme of 1865 Clapton receives one-fifth of the benefit of Dorothy Vernon's charity for Bourton-on-the-Water. (fn. 142)