A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 13, Bampton Hundred (Part One). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1996.
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Chimney's small open fields seem to have lain in a band across the middle of the township, on a gravel and clay terrace which still provided the only arable in the 19th century. (fn. 1) Church field, north-east of the hamlet, East or Great field (perhaps identical with Church field), and West field were apparently still open fields in 1681, but were probably much reduced and had been inclosed by 1789. Arable and pasture closes to the east and west, recorded in the 17th century and including Corn ground, Long Acres, and Rye furlong, had presumably been taken from the fields earlier. (fn. 2) Yardlands in 1650 varied in size but were usually reckoned at c. 24 a., though the division of the township into 12 yardlands suggests a statute measure of up to 50 a. including meadow. (fn. 3)
Part of a common pasture at 'Sewalesweare', presumably near Showells mead in the southwest, was illegally appropriated by a tenant in 1429, (fn. 4) and was not mentioned later. The moor, which stretched across the north of the township adjoining Aston's and Shifford's commons, (fn. 5) was common pasture presumably from the Middle Ages: a tenant had 24 sheep and 2 colts there in 1611, and a 2-yardland holding in 1626 included 4 beast commons in the moor and horse commons in Horse leaze, perhaps a subdivision of the moor. (fn. 6) All or most of it seems to have been inclosed by the lessee of the manor during the 1630s, apparently without the lord's knowledge or permission, and by 1665 several tenants had no common rights at all and others had rights only in the highways, though holdings included numerous closes both in the moor and elsewhere. (fn. 7) Surviving common rights in 1665 were valued usually at c. 5s. per yardland. (fn. 8)
In the 18th century and presumably earlier Chimney's southern part and some areas further north were meadow. (fn. 9) All or part of Easthey, later the township's entire south-east corner within a loop of the Thames, (fn. 10) was by 1279 let to the tenants in common; the rent, recorded as 16d. presumably per yardland, rose by stages to a total of 66s. 8d. in 1317, still paid in 1420-1. (fn. 11) By the mid 17th century and probably much earlier Easthey had been divided into small closes held by various tenants. (fn. 12) Baingey, within another loop of the Thames in the south-west, was still partly common meadow in the mid 17th century, when some tenants held yards of meadow there proportionate to their holdings. (fn. 13) Most other meadows were then held severally as small hams and closes, and by 1789 Baingey, too, had been partitioned among the remaining tenants. (fn. 14) Although of excellent quality the meadows flooded frequently, which left a watery, putrefying scum after the waters had subsided, and greatly lessened their value. (fn. 15) Scouring of watercourses was mentioned frequently in 15th-century court rolls, (fn. 16) and lessees of the manor in the 1760s and 1770s, pressing for allowances, claimed that despite attempted improvements the problem had worsened, for which they blamed penning of the Thames for navigation by 'a lawless set of bargemen'. (fn. 17) In wet summers all but '3 or 4 fields that lie high near the homes' was sometimes flooded, ruining arable crops also. (fn. 18)
A wood called Cawatys or Cawete, mentioned in 1442 when the tenants were to ditch and hedge it, presumably included the later Cavet and perhaps Ash closes east of the hamlet, which together totalled c. 20 a. (fn. 19) In the Middle Ages the wood was apparently kept in demesne, and was perhaps that from which both Chimney and Bampton tenants in 1588 were to have timber for repairs at the lord's discretion. (fn. 20) It may have been reduced by 1504 when there were closes adjoining it, and the following year the homage was fined for cutting three small trees there without licence. (fn. 21) By the early 17th century the area was mostly pasture closes, and in 1619-20 Robert Veysey claimed that there was little wood in the township, which prompted tenants to plant quickset thorn hedges and fruit and other trees around their houses both for 'harbouring their cattle' and for fuel and timber. (fn. 22) In the 1630s and 1650s, however, lessees of the manor were accused of wastes including wrongful felling of trees, (fn. 23) and a tenant's holding in 1665 included 80 trees in Little Cabett (½ a.). (fn. 24) In 1789 the only trees were alongside some of the streams and in hedgerows between closes, presumably the source of timber sold from the estate in 1811. (fn. 25)
Chimney was not separately surveyed in 1086. (fn. 26) In 1279 there were 12 yardlands divided among 16 villein tenants, one holding 1½ yardland, 5 holding 1 yardland, 2 holding ¾ yardland, and 8 holding ½ yardland, and in 1317 there were also two cottages, one held for rent and the other for rent and services. Yardlanders owed similar harrowing, mowing, and harvest services as on the same manor in Bampton, but no ploughing or fallowing and less carting of wood; every two yardlanders were to supply a boat and two men for one day to ferry grain to Oxford, and at harvest all the tenants together were to find six carts to transport produce from the demesne. In 1279 the services were valued at 4s. 9¼d. per yardland compared with 10s. 2½d. in Bampton. Tenants of smaller holdings owed the same services as yardlanders but with a proportionate reduction in ferrying and carting. Rents were charged proportionately at 5s. 8d. a yardland including 20d. aid, slightly heavier than in Bampton, and all except cottagers owed hearthpenny. (fn. 27) Land granted in villeinage in 1262 for 21s. 1d. a year (fn. 28) cannot be identified later. Harrowing and hay-lifting services were apparently sometimes commuted by 1317, presumably because of the distance from the demesne, which probably explains differences in rents and services generally between Chimney and Bampton. All services were commuted before 1416-17, when sale of works from the 12 yardlands and one cottage yielded 93s. 11½d. (fn. 29)
Assessed wealth rose from c. £60 in 1306 to over £96 in 1327, though some substantial taxpayers seem not to have been manorial tenants and, since there were no freeholds, were perhaps entered under Chimney in error. Average personalty was nevertheless relatively high compared with Bampton's other outlying townships, with some large payments from villeins. The wealthiest taxpayer in 1316, assessed on goods worth £8, held a yardland with a share in a fishery, and the tenant of 1½ yardland was taxed on £6, though one tenant of ¾ yardland paid on only 20s. The lowest contributors in 1316, each assessed on 12s., were a cottager and possibly a half-yardlander, though some individual assessments varied widely in different years. (fn. 30)
Rent increases in the late 14th century suggest that the effects of the Black Death were limited, (fn. 31) but by the early 15th century holdings were becoming concentrated among fewer tenants, notably members of the Sely family, some holdings were remaining vacant, and rents were falling. (fn. 32) In 1437 a tenant was presented to the manor court for removing doors, a lead cistern, and other fittings from a presumably vacant house of which he was tenant, (fn. 33) and in 1427 a vacated croft was let to all the tenants in common. (fn. 34) In 1438 a yardlander left the lordship 'on account of poverty', and his goods were seized. (fn. 35) Though depopulation evidently halted, Chimney seems never to have recovered fully, (fn. 36) and none of the surnames mentioned from the 13th century to the 15th survived into the 16th and 17th.
Several inhabitants in the 16th and 17th centuries were moderately successful yeomen by local standards, and some held lands elsewhere. (fn. 37) Sixteenth-century taxpayers, including members of the Veysey, Minchin, and Farr families which all remained prominent in the 17th century, paid frequently on between £3 and £5-worth of goods, and in 1561 a tenant taxed possibly on £4 in 1523-4 left goods worth c. £77. (fn. 38) Three tenants in the 17th and early 18th century left over £200 and four more left over £100, while William Farr (d. 1623) and Thomas Stampe (d. 1694) were called gentlemen. (fn. 39) Only one inhabitant was taxed on less than three hearths in 1662, though one was discharged through poverty in 1665, and two widows in the late 16th century and early 17th left less than £10. (fn. 40)
Repairs to a tenant's sheephouse and cowhouse were required in 1490, (fn. 41) and in the 17th century livestock often accounted for most of an individual's wealth. (fn. 42) Most testators owned some cattle, several made cheese, and herds of 10 and 24 were recorded in 1594 and 1718. (fn. 43) Not all testators left sheep, perhaps because pastures were too low and wet, though a tenant in 1605 had 59 worth £18 besides 11 cows and a calf worth £20, and William Farr had 30 in 1623. (fn. 44) Pigs and poultry, including ducks and, in the 15th century, geese, (fn. 45) were also kept. Wheat, beans, pulses, and barley were all grown, hemp was mentioned in 1611, (fn. 46) and several farmers made malt, though hay was often the most valuable crop: a tenant in 1605 left 30 loads worth £20, and in 1719 another's was valued at £56 compared with wheat, beans, and barley worth c. £66. (fn. 47)
Tenants in the earlier 17th century still held by copy, granted for two lives and a widow's estate. Farms then ranged from ¼ yardland to 2 yardlands, and there was a cottager whose house was being built or rebuilt c. 1615. (fn. 48) Manorial customs, including housebote, hedgebote, and firebote, were confirmed in 1588, but litigation arose between Robert Veysey (d. 1635) and a tenant in the 1620s, (fn. 49) and in 1657 Veysey's successor was accused of destroying copyholds in Chimney. One farm of ½ yardland and another of ¾ yardland, from which lands had reportedly been detached, were then let at rack rent, and seven surviving copyholds were held by relatives of the Veyseys who apparently sublet them also at rack rent. (fn. 50) The practice evidently continued, (fn. 51) and though copyhold and leasehold lands were still distinguished in the 18th century, in practice the whole estate was then let. There were by then only 3 farms, one (218 a.) centred on the manor house, another (245 a.) centred on Lower Farm, and a third (95 a.) centred on a later-demolished homestead south of the manor house. As in the 17th century a few small hams, totalling 96 a. in 1789, were held by outsiders. (fn. 52) By 1841 the estate had been consolidated into two farms of c. 358 a. and 239 a., centred still on Lower Farm and on the manor house, and later on the predecessor of modern Chimney Farm. (fn. 53)
Continued flooding and the impossibility of improving the land led in the mid 18th century to repeated disputes over renewal fines between Exeter cathedral and lessees of the manor, and in 1775 and 1776 two tenants, one of 20 years' standing, quit rather than accept a 10 per cent rent increase. (fn. 54) In 1866 it was hoped that an embankment recently built by the tenants would improve matters, (fn. 55) and the Thames Valley Drainage schemes of the later 19th century were said in 1914 to have had some effect generally, though seasonal flooding on low ground continued, notably in meadows south of Shifford Lock cut. (fn. 56) The area of arable was increased slightly during the earlier 19th century from c. 85 a. (13 per cent) to c. 143 a. (22 per cent), chiefly through conversion of closes in the former moor and east and south of Church field, and by 1877 arable totalled 205 a. (32 per cent); (fn. 57) Chimney remained chiefly pastoral, however, and in 1914 dairy farming predominated, sheep being kept in very small numbers compared with further west. Wheat was the chief crop, followed by barley, oats, swedes and turnips, and mangolds. (fn. 58) The estate was run as a single farm from the early 20th century. (fn. 59)
One of two fisheries owned by Exeter cathedral in 1086, together worth 33s. a year, was presumably in Chimney, where in 1279 the chapter had 3 weirs and a fishery in the Thames worth 20s. (fn. 60) One was perhaps the 'Sewalesweare' mentioned in 1429, presumably near Showells mead; (fn. 61) a later weir near there, said to have survived in 1821, did not, however, belong to the Chimney estate. (fn. 62) Later weirs at Duxford and Tenfoot bridge also lay outside the lordship in Berkshire, (fn. 63) and the sites of the other medieval weirs are unknown. By 1317 fishing rights were leased to 10 tenants for 33s. 8d. a year, individual payments (unrelated to the size of their other holdings) varying from 1s. to 10s. 2d.; (fn. 64) four Chimney tenants and a co-defendant probably from Shifford were named before the justices in eyre for fishing with kiddles in 1285, and in 1429 seven tenants were fined by the manor court for taking pickerel contrary to Statute. (fn. 65) Rent for the fishery was still recorded in the earlier 15th century, when a Chimney tenant owed 12d. fish tithe from 2 'locks', (fn. 66) and in the 16th and 17th centuries fishing rights in the Thames and its backstreams continued to be let piecemeal to tenants and sometimes, with small hams, to outsiders. (fn. 67) Two copyholds in the 1650s and 1660s included fishpools, one of them at Lock ham adjoining the township's northern boundary. (fn. 68) By the later 18th century all the fishing rights, together with the 'fishing hams' by the western boundary and birding of the water meadows, were held by Richard Kent, presumably one of the family associated with Tadpole and Duxford weirs; (fn. 69) the hams and fishery remained in the family in 1847 (fn. 70) but were not mentioned later.