A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 10, Banbury Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1972.
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The lordship of Prescote (555 a.) lies on a spur of land, rising in the north to over 450 ft., between the River Cherwell and its tributary the Highfurlong Brook. (fn. 1) It was independent for civil purposes, but dependent on the mother church of Cropredy. The lordship contained two hamlets, Prescote and Upper Prescote, the former represented in the 20th century only by one manor-house and its outbuildings, the latter by a farm-house; there is also an isolated house at Highfield, just on the county boundary. The site of Prescote hamlet is an area of flat ground at the southernmost tip of the lordship, divided from Cropredy village by the Highfurlong Brook. Upper Prescote stands on a bridle road from Wardington which crosses the Cherwell just south of the hamlet by a well-constructed bridge (called Prescote New Bridge in 1762) (fn. 2) and traditionally represents the line of a former main route; (fn. 3) the bridle road ends at Broadmoor Bridge, but may once have continued through Clattercote. (fn. 4)
There was probably a settlement at Prescote by the late 12th century. (fn. 5) The two hamlets were small but together comparable in size with other hamlets in the parish: there were 12 villein yardlands in 1279, and 34 persons over fourteen were assessed for polltax in 1377, three more than at Williamscot. (fn. 6) By 1665, however, only the manor-house was assessed for hearth tax, (fn. 7) although there may have been a few cottages at Lower Prescote which escaped taxation, as there certainly were at Upper Prescote. Local tradition asserts that Upper Prescote was burnt down some time before the Civil War, and that the parliamentary cavalry stabled its horses in the ruins before the battle of Cropredy Bridge. There is, however, evidence (fn. 8) that Prescote was turned over to sheep-farming in or before the 16th century, and the likelihood is that there was a gradual depopulation in the period 1377–1665. Upper Prescote was still shown as a small hamlet on a map of 1797. (fn. 9) At that date it contained a farm-house, a butcher's shop, two or three cottages, and the remains of Prescote mill. (fn. 10) In a map of 1823 Prescote Farm is shown due north of Upper Prescote at White Barn, by the bend in the Appletree lane; (fn. 11) the farm buildings there are modern. The total population of the lordship in 1801 was 22; subsequent totals have varied between 9 in 1851 and 31 in 1881. In 1961 the population was 19. (fn. 12)
The layout of the medieval hamlets is not visible. In 1876 it was reported that in wet weather the foundations of old buildings could be seen in a field to the north of Prescote manor-house, (fn. 13) but they may have been merely the vestiges of a quarry from which stone was taken to build the house. There may also have been a chapel: in 1655 Walter Gostelow, who was born and brought up in Prescote Manor, wrote of his birthplace: 'some religious house I conceive it to have been, an altar and chapel I have known in it'. (fn. 14)
Prescote is associated with the legend of St. Fremund; (fn. 15) its name, which means priests' cottage (or possibly cottage owned by priests), (fn. 16) may have given rise to the story of the vill on the Cherwell inhabited by five priests, (fn. 17) near which the saint's body was rediscovered. South of the manor-house, between two arms of the Cherwell, is a field which occurs in 1613 as Fremans Ham; this may be connected with the story.
Prescote was the home of Walter Gostelow (baptized 1604), (fn. 18) who lived at the manor-house and is remembered for the prolixity of the titles and the extravagance of the contents of his works, especially the apocalyptic The coming of God in Mercy, in vengeance; Beginning with fire, to convert, or consume, at this so sinful city London: Oh! London, London (1658), (fn. 19) and an earlier work (fn. 20) in which he suggested possible brides for Charles II and foresaw the assumption to heaven of himself and his family in the company of the Stuarts and Oliver Cromwell. (fn. 21)
Prescote probably formed part of the Bishop of Lincoln's Cropredy manor in 1086 as it did in 1279. (fn. 22) Among the donations to Clattercote Priory confirmed by Bishop Chesney in or before 1166 was one, perhaps at Prescote, by William de Bussei, (fn. 23) presumably the William de Bussei whose immediate successors were his sons Bartholomew and Walter in turn. (fn. 24) William's elder daughter Cecily married John de Busli (Builli), who held 3 fees of the see of Lincoln in 1201–2, (fn. 25) and in 1208–9 had 1½ fee in Prescote. (fn. 26) John was dead by 1213; Idony, daughter of Cecily and John, married Robert de Vipont, a prominent supporter of King John, (fn. 27) who c. 1225 held of his wife's inheritance 1½ fee in Prescote and Bourton. (fn. 28) Robert was dead by 1228 and Idony by 1241; (fn. 29) John their son seems to have predeceased Idony (fn. 30) and her heir was John's son Robert. Robert, a Montfortian, was dead by 1264; his heirs, his daughters Isabel and Idony, held 1 fee in Prescote in 1279. (fn. 31) Isabel had married Robert de Clifford and died in 1291; (fn. 32) in 1300 1½ knight's fee in Prescote and Bourton was held in two moieties by her son Robert de Clifford and her sister Idony, then relict of Roger deLeyburn, (fn. 33) whose only son by her had not long survived his father. Idony's moieties of Prescote and Bourton were among the fees which in 1315 Idony and her second husband John Cromwell, by whom she left no issue, obtained licence to settle on themselves for the life of Idony, with remainder to the Despensers. (fn. 34) The Clifford moiety was among the fees forfeited to the king on the rebellion and execution of Roger Clifford, Idony's great nephew, in 1322, and was thereupon granted in fee to Robert Baldock, a feoffee of the settlement in favour of the Despensers. (fn. 35) Baldock and the Despensers fell in 1326, (fn. 36) Idony died in 1333, and the Cliffords obtained seisin of both moieties of Prescote. Roger Clifford, nephew of the rebel Roger, died seised of the mesne lordship of Prescote in 1389, (fn. 37) as did his son Thomas in 1391. (fn. 38) No later mention of the mesne lordship has been found.
The mesne tenants took their name from the manor; the first bearer of the name so far noticed was William of Prescote, who witnessed a Clattercote deed dated between c. 1150 and c. 1170, (fn. 39) and was probably the man who before 1196 witnessed a deed concerning Bletchingdon, (fn. 40) where the family also held land. (fn. 41) Gilbert of Prescote, who dealt with land in Warwickshire in 1208 and 1210, (fn. 42) may have held Prescote, though it was Walter of Prescote who granted land at Bletchingdon by a deed of c. 1210. (fn. 43) Richard of Prescote was a defendant in a lawsuit by the Bishop of Lincoln in 1223, and the same name was borne by a witness to several Oxfordshire deeds of a rather later date, and by the tenant of Bletchingdon in 1235–6, 1240–1, and 1242–3. (fn. 44) There were evidently two Richards, father and son, for after 1241 Richard of Prescote paid relief for Prescote on his father's death. (fn. 45) The younger Richard was succeeded in 1250 or 1251 by his brother Walter, (fn. 46) who was dead by 1258. (fn. 47) His daughters, rather than the daughters of Robert de Vipont, were presumably the two sisters whose manor of Prescote was held before 1265 by Sir Thomas Musgrave and Sir Richard of Hemington as guardians; (fn. 48) the sisters or their representatives, described as the heirs of Prescote, held the manor in 1279. (fn. 49)
The lordship descended in two moieties, held by the Musgrave and Trimenel families. The two daughters of Walter of Prescote may well have been the Maud and Mabel who were married respectively to Hugh Musgrave and Nicholas Trimenel, and who were concerned in a dispute over the advowson of Bletchingdon in 1298. (fn. 50) Thomas Musgrave was alive in 1318, and it may be inferred that Prescote was the manor of which he was returned as lord in 1316. (fn. 51) In 1349 Isabel, daughter of Thomas Musgrave, sold her moiety of Prescote to Sir Roger of Cottisford. (fn. 52) The first Trimenel known to have been connected with Prescote was Nicholas, who with his wife Mabel held a moiety of the manor in 1296. (fn. 53) It was presumably the same Nicholas who was taxed at Prescote in 1306 and 1327 and was returned in 1316 as lord of a manor which was presumably Prescote. (fn. 54) He occurred again in 1321 and 1331. (fn. 55) John Trimenel dealt with land at Prescote in 1336, and in 1346 Nicholas Trimenel was returned as lord of one fee there. (fn. 56) Nicholas, John, and Nicholas appear to have been father, son, and grandson. (fn. 57) Sir John Trimenel, possibly the John of 1336, sold his moiety of Prescote in 1350, in return for a rent in cash and kind for his life, to Sir Roger of Cottisford, (fn. 58) who thus reunited the two halves of Prescote.
In 1361 Sir Roger settled Prescote on himself, Catherine his wife, and his son Philip for their lives. (fn. 59) Sir Roger was still alive in 1370 but in 1386 Master John, his son and heir, delivered seisin of Prescote to his own brother Sir Thomas of Cottisford. (fn. 60) In 1395 the latter settled the manor on himself and his wife Alice for their lives, with remainder to John, son of Thomas Raleigh of Mollington, and his wife Idony and their heirs. (fn. 61) In 1417 the same John Raleigh sold Prescote to John Danvers of Calthorpe, and Thomas and Alice of Cottisford granted to Danvers all their right in Prescote. (fn. 62) Nicholas Trimenel of Brackley (Northants.), descendant of the former Trimenel holders, in 1419 quitclaimed all his right in Prescote to John Danvers, who was returned as lord in 1428. (fn. 63)
The Calthorpe and Prescote branch of the Danvers family continued to hold Prescote for 300 years, the manor usually descending from father to son. (fn. 64) The original purchaser's grandson Richard received a free pardon, as executor of Sir Robert Danvers, in 1468, and a grant of free warren in Prescote in 1474; he bequeathed to an executor £50 for the defence of the Danvers title to Prescote. (fn. 65) At the Restoration the regicide Sir John Danvers (d. 1655) was attainted; Clarendon received most of the lands thus forfeited, but in 1662 Prescote was granted to Sir John's relict Grace and their only surviving son (Sir) John, the last direct descendant of the Prescote branch of the family. (fn. 66) Sir John died in 1721 leaving Prescote to Joseph Danvers, son of his wife Elizabeth (née Morewood) by her first marriage to Samuel Danvers of Swithland (Leics.). (fn. 67) Joseph, who was M.P. for Totnes and never lived at Prescote, (fn. 68) was succeeded by his only son Sir John Danvers, Bt., (fn. 69) who died in 1796, leaving Prescote to Augustus Richard Butler, (fn. 70) husband of his only child Mary, with the provision that he assume the additional surname and arms of Danvers. A. R. ButlerDanvers sold Prescote in 1798 to Thomas Pares of Leicester and Hopwell End (Derb.), (fn. 71) a banker, who handed Prescote over to his son and heir Thomas in 1801. The latter died in 1824 and by will left Prescote first to his brother John (d. 1833) and then successively to 'the second and every other younger son' of John's first son Thomas. This Thomas had eleven children, and doubt arose whether his uncle's will designated Thomas Henry Pares of Claverdon Lodge (Warws.), the second (but first surviving) son, or John Pares, the fourth (but second surviving) son. By mutual consent Prescote was in 1855 vested in the latter, (fn. 72) who in 1867 sold Prescote to Samuel Jones Loyd, Baron Overstone. Loyd died in 1883 and his extensive estates passed to his only surviving child, Harriet Loyd-Lindsay, Lady Wantage. (fn. 73) On her death in 1920 the Overstone estates were broken up and Prescote was bought by A. P. McDougall, (fn. 74) founder of Midland Marts Ltd. In 1964 it was held by the latter's daughter Anne Patricia, wife of Mr. R. H. S. Crossman, M.P., (fn. 75) himself a descendant of the Danvers family.
The Danvers manor appears to have comprised the whole of Prescote, but its northern third (which was leased separately from the remainder in 1797, 1819, and 1843) (fn. 76) was sold separately to its tenant in 1921 and in 1964 was attached to an estate in Appletree (Northants.). (fn. 77)
The manor-house stands near the southern tip of the lordship and is reached from Cropredy by a private approach road which crosses the canal and Highfurlong Brook. The previous house on the site was assessed at 4 hearths in 1665 when it was lived in by Katherine Gostelow, perhaps widow of Richard Gostelow (d. 1660), (fn. 78) but in 1621 on the death of Richard Gostelow it was a residence of some size, with extensive outbuildings. Five rooms were furnished more elaborately than the others, the parlour, garden chamber, lodging chamber, knights' chamber, and chamber over the parlour; (fn. 79) there were 'groves and good walks' about the house. (fn. 80) Traces of a former moat could still be seen in 1964.
The existing house was built by Sir John Danvers (d. 1721). (fn. 81) It is a plain rectangular structure of brown ironstone ashlar, with a chamfered plinth, a horizontal string-course, and a moulded eavescornice. Over what was originally the principal doorway are the date and initials I.D. 1691. In its original form the house consisted of only three northern bays, with the doorway in the centre of the symmetrical west front. Early in the 19th century the house was extended to the south by the addition of two further bays adhering closely in design to the original structure. The original south-west quoin can, however, still be seen in the west wall between the third and fourth bays, and a corresponding change can be discerned in the masonry of the east wall. Only in the south elevation, which is pierced by seven large round-headed windows and a doorway, does the 19th-century addition fail to conform to the older structure. In 1797 the house was improbably described as a venerable Gothic mansion, (fn. 82) in 1852 as a handsome modern building, and in 1895 as modernized and refaced. (fn. 83)
In the drawing-room there is a fireplace of Sussex marble with a shield quartering the arms of Danvers (a chevron between molets) and Neville (a saltire with a ring in the centre), the initials J.D., and the date 1718. Below is the motto nec misere nec laute. The 17th-century panelling in the room is said to have come from Warkworth Castle (Northants.), (fn. 84) the materials of which were sold on its demolition in 1806. In the kitchen is a carving in oak of a sow and two pigs, believed to have been part of the older building on the site. In the Fremund legend a white sow and thirteen pigs occur as a portent of the saint's reinvention; the motif itself occurs in ecclesiastical decoration elsewhere. (fn. 85)
In 1279 Prescote contained 8 yardlands of demesne and 12 yardlands held in villeinage, each yardland rented at 4s. and owing services worth 4s. 2d. (fn. 86) Of the eight people assessed to pay a total of 15s. 9d. tax in 1327, three paid 3s. or more, four paid 1s. or more. (fn. 87) The total assessment of £13s. 5d. for the late medieval taxes was more than that of Little Bourton, and approached that of Great Bourton. (fn. 88)
The first hint of conversion to pasture in Prescote occurs in 1547 when a Danvers lease was granted to Richard Lyllys of Prescote, shepherd. (fn. 89) In 1621 Richard Gostelow died possessed of 236 sheep, with 23 cattle; (fn. 90) in 1797 the farm of 385 a. corresponding to that later attached to Prescote Manor was described as 'uncommon rich old inclosed principally feeding land' of which 75 a. were in tillage. Of 518 a. in the whole lordship, 104 were then arable, 123 meadow, and 291 pasture. (fn. 91) Some 40 years later of the 526 tithable acres in Prescote 168 were arable, 116 meadow, and 242 pasture. (fn. 92) Prescote was in 1964 a mixed farm containing relatively little permanent pasture.
The early inclosure of Prescote brought wealth to the Gostelow family, lessees of Prescote for about 70 years in the 17th century. Richard Gostelow, third son of a Mollington yeoman of some substance also named Richard, (fn. 93) probably obtained his first lease of Prescote from the Danvers family in 1592, (fn. 94) and in 1613 he obtained a lease for 21 years. (fn. 95) The Gostelows also held from 1583 to 1652 the freehold of Lady Moor, a small close near Cropredy village, (fn. 96) and after 1607 the lease from Brasenose College for 21 years of a house and 2 yardlands in Cropredy. (fn. 97) In 1613 Prescote and the Cropredy leasehold were valued at £50 over and above the rents, (fn. 98) and in that year Richard married as his second wife Katharine Hawes, widow of a London haberdasher, (fn. 99) a man with whom, as a sheep-farmer, he is likely to have had business dealings. When Richard Gostelow died in 1621 (fn. 100) his son Richard (d. 1660) was his successor, (fn. 101) and a Katherine Gostelow was living at the manor-house in 1665. (fn. 102)
Prescote mill was probably one of the three mills held by Cropredy tenants in 1086. (fn. 103) The mill of Prescote called Boltysmylle was mentioned in 1482, when, as afterwards, it was held with the manor: John Mitchell of Cropredy leased it from Richard Danvers for 20 years, and entered into a bond for its repair, Danvers supplying the great timber, stone, and straw. (fn. 104) Boltes Mill, included with the manor in deeds of 1613, (fn. 105) was apparently near the Wardington boundary and may be identified with the Prescote mill at which Timothy Parsons was miller in 1654. (fn. 106) About 1700 Prescote mill was occupied by the same or another Timothy Parsons. (fn. 107) In or soon after 1703 Prescote mills, then leased to John Lord of Williamscot, were much out of repair. (fn. 108) The remains of the mill are mentioned in auction catalogues of Prescote in 1797–8; it was presumably then unoccupied; it is, however, shown on Bryant's map of 1823. Prescote mill lay near Upper Prescote, where are the mill-cut and the islet Mill Holme.
Prescote was a separate unit for poor relief purposes in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and probably before. In 1776 just over £13 was spent on relief. (fn. 109) By 1802–3 the figure was almost £44, nearly £2 a head. That was the cost of out-relief for 4 able-bodied adults and 9 children. (fn. 110) Prescote suffered very badly in the years after 1815 and in 1817, the worst year, expenditure was £109, a very large sum for so small a place. (fn. 111) In the 1820s the total fell steadily and in 1829 was under £20. (fn. 112) By the time of the new Poor Law it was no higher than in the latter years of the 18th century. (fn. 113) Prescote was incorporated in the Banbury Poor Law Union.