A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 12, Wootton Hundred (South) Including Woodstock. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1990.
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Wootton Hundred (Southern Part)
THE SOUTHERN part of Wootton hundred (fn. 1) covered 35,473 a. (14,362 ha.) divided between 15 ancient parishes and several extraparochial places, notably Woodstock, later Blenheim, Park. Eynsham and Woodstock were boroughs and market towns. The area, lying partly on the limestone uplands of central Oxfordshire, partly on the flat river gravels of the Thames valley, was not a distinct region; some villages looked to markets at Woodstock and Eynsham, others to those at Witney and Oxford. Many parishes lay within the royal forest of Wychwood and some, notably North Leigh, had the dispersed settlement pattern typical of forest areas; many were affected by intercommoning and other forest customs.
In the Anglo-Saxon period Eynsham was an important centre, its early minster church succeeded in 1005 by Eynsham abbey, which remained a dominant influence in the west of the area throughout the Middle Ages. Godstow abbey was established in the south of the hundred in the 12th century. Early medieval prosperity is reflected in the successful establishment of New Woodstock and of borough extensions, both called Newland, at Eynsham and Cogges. Much of the area was devastated by plague in the 14th century, particularly Eynsham, where a large hamlet, Tilgarsley, was abandoned after the Black Death. Other settlements deserted at various periods were Somerford in Cassington, Hamstall and Pinkhill in Stanton Harcourt, Gosford, Water Eaton, and Cote in Kidlington, and the extraparochial Cutteslowe. At Cogges and Combe there are signs that settlements were re-sited.
In the Middle Ages much of the area belonged to a royal estate, Woodstock manor, centred on the king's palace and park at Woodstock and encompassing several 'demesne towns', of which Bladon, Combe, Hanborough, and Old Woodstock are treated in this volume. The manor and park were granted in 1705 to the duke of Marlborough, Blenheim Palace was built, and later dukes enlarged the estate so that by the mid 19th century they owned over a third of the area here treated. (fn. 2) From the later 19th century the Mason family at Eynsham Hall built up a large estate in the west of the hundred. The influence of such landlords is reflected in distinctive farm buildings and estate cottages and in the extent of surviving wood and coppice. The Marlboroughs' local political control was at its height in the 19th century, when their pocket borough of Woodstock was extended to include much of the Blenheim estate. The building of Blenheim Palace stimulated local trade and in the 18th century Woodstock became known for its steel jewellery and fine gloves, for which fashionable tourists provided a ready market; the gloving industry survived in Woodstock and surrounding villages into the 20th century.
Farming in the area was mixed, and the villages were predominantly nucleated and set in open fields until parliamentary inclosure in the 18th century. Much of Eynsham, however, was turned to inclosed pasture after the depopulation of Tilgarsley and there was substantial early inclosure, chiefly for sheep farming, at Cogges and South Leigh in the west and Begbroke, Water Eaton, and Yarnton in the east. There was abundant meadow along the rivers Thames, Cherwell, Evenlode, Glyme, and Windrush; complex meadow customs prevailed, and at Yarnton the drawing of lots for meadow continued into the later 20th century.
By the 17th century the predominant building materials were limestone and thatch or stone slate, but lack of local stone in the south, chiefly at Stanton Harcourt, encouraged the continuance of timber construction. Larger houses in the area included Eynsham Hall, Wilcote House, and the manor houses at Shipton, Stanton Harcourt, Water Eaton, and Yarnton. Woodstock acquired some distinguished houses in the 18th century. Of Eynsham abbey only fragments survive but of Godstow abbey more was preserved. The plan of early medieval Cogges, comprising church, priory, and two manor houses, may be traced in some detail. Notable churches include those of Stanton Harcourt, North and South Leigh, and Kidlington; Freeland church was a centre of high churchmanship and controversy from its foundation in 1869.