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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Lew's fields were mentioned in 1298, when a holding of 2 a. was unevenly divided among three named furlongs. (fn. 1) A 90-a. estate in the early 18th century was unevenly divided among Upper field, Lower field, Woodlains, and Blackpit piece, (fn. 2) and in the later 18th century there were seven fields covering the township's southern part, cropped on a four-course rotation: on the west, Hither west and Further west fields; in the centre, Stream (or Streamhead) and Combe Hill (or Wellhead) fields; and on the east, Gander, Woodlains, and Roughlains fields, (fn. 3) the last perhaps identical with the Thorney Leaze and Bullham fields mentioned in 1789. (fn. 4) The fields were regrouped before 1809 when the quarters were Further west and Long Breach fields, Home west and Whitehill fields, Gravel and Streamhead fields, and Combe Hill and Woodlains fields, not all of them adjoining, and Bullham and Ditcham fields were mentioned also. (fn. 5) Meadows, two of which were held severally for rent in 1279, (fn. 6) lay chiefly in the east, and in the 18th century included Cabbage, Park, and Woodlains meads, and Bull hook, where Christ Church had 6 a. severally every 12 years. (fn. 7) By then there were also meadow closes further west. (fn. 8)
Inhabitants enjoyed extensive common and furze-cutting rights on Lew heath, some 400-500 a. covering the township's northern part. (fn. 9) By the 18th century and possibly in 1318, when Lew Home heath was mentioned, (fn. 10) it was divided into an inner cow common on the north-west and an outer sheep common on the north-east, each estimated at c. 200 a. In 1609 the stint was 12 beasts and 60 sheep per yardland, and in 1746 it was 8 cows on the inner heath and 50 sheep and 2 cows or 1 horse on the outer; (fn. 11) for part of the year, in the 16th century apparently between 1 August and 25 March, sheep and cattle were depastured on both commons indiscriminately, and in 1809 the outer common's value for cows was said to be greatly lessened because of their intermixture with sheep. (fn. 12) In 1318 Aymer de Valence, as owner of the waste, challenged Exeter cathedral's right to commons in Lew Home heath, then divided into east and west parts, but later accepted that the cathedral's demesne carried common rights though its tenants were excluded. Commons in the heath were let with the cathedral's demesne in 1430, though the dispute evidently recurred later in the century. (fn. 13) In 1540 Lew's inhabitants impleaded John More of Lower Haddon for depasturing over 200 sheep on the common, and before 1625 his successors sold 250 sheep commons there, presumably those owned chiefly by outsiders c. 1798. (fn. 14) Combe Hill near Lew's southern boundary, a 73-a. (later 60-a.) Lammas ground of poor pasture and furze which in the early 14th century may have been open-field arable, was partitioned between the lords of Bampton and Aston in 1678, and in the 18th century claims to common rights there by Bampton's inhabitants were overturned. (fn. 15) Park mead and presumably other meadows were commonable from 1 August in 1767. (fn. 16)
By the 17th or 18th century a band of small irregular closes, some taken presumably from the heath and many of them probably medieval in origin, stretched across the middle of the township. (fn. 17) A tenant illegally inclosed some common land c. 1668, and in the 1760s a small piece of heathland adjoining Pound close, north-west of the hamlet, was inclosed with the lord's permission. (fn. 18) Quy closes in the south-west, perhaps arable in 1317 when Quyhay furlong was mentioned, (fn. 19) were inclosed presumably before 1420 when the Talbots' demesne included pasture in 'Overquyhey' and in 'Thorneylese', the latter one of another group of closes in the south-east. (fn. 20) Medieval assarting is suggested by the furlong names Pease-, Long-, and Shortbreach, the last two in the south-east, and perhaps also by the names of Roughlains and Woodlains fields, which abutted the heath and included the worst arable land. (fn. 21) No medieval woodland was recorded, though in the 18th century there was valuable hedgerow oak and elm between the closes and open fields: Christ Church's estate included some 500-600 trees c. 1729, and over 200 oaks, elms, and ashes in 1833. (fn. 22) Two small coppices existed c. 1812, but Ditcham wood and a smaller plantation further west are 19th-century. (fn. 23)
In 1086 much of Lew lay within the royal manor of Bampton. (fn. 24) Hugh de Bolbec's 1½-hide estate had one ploughteam worked presumably by the single bordar recorded, and on Aretius's 7-yardland estate in Lew and in Aston and Cote 3 villani and 2 bordars shared one ploughteam and, since no servi were mentioned, perhaps worked a second recorded on the demesne, which was later in Aston and Cote. Both estates had risen in value since 1066, Bolbec's from 10s. to 20s., and Aretius's from 20s. to 35s. (fn. 25) By 1279 (fn. 26) there were 17 villeins holding of the former royal manor, 4 with yardlands (each reckoned at c. 16 a. presumably excluding meadow), 10 with half yardlands, one with ¼ yardland, and 2 sharing a presumably recentlydivided yardland. Rents and services varied, but were broadly similar to those in Bampton and Weald on the same manor. No other villeins were mentioned in 1279, but one was recorded on a freehold yardland of the Belet family in 1227, and two on Robert of Yelford's estate in 1328. (fn. 27) Fifteen free tenants in 1279 occupied holdings ranging from a house and half yardland shared between three sisters to 4 yardlands; some owed tallage, suit of court, or hidage and scutage, and Osney abbey's free tenant of 2 yardlands discharged the abbot's obligations at the hundred court, for which he seems to have received a 4s. rent-allowance. (fn. 28) There was much subletting, one freeholder holding land under 8 owners and himself leasing a small parcel to another inhabitant. (fn. 29)
Early 14th-century subsidies suggest that Lew was one of Bampton's more prosperous hamlets, assessed wealth rising from c. £84 in 1306 to over £135 in 1327, and the number of taxpayers from 27 to 38. Roughly half were assessed on between 16s. and 50s.-worth of goods, and none on less than 11s. 8d. The highest contributors in 1316 were assessed on over £9 and £12 respectively, and those in 1327 on £10 and £19; presumably they were freeholders, though assessed wealth of villein families varied greatly, and some who had held in villeinage in 1279 and 1294 were among the highest taxpayers. (fn. 30)
The township's losses in 14th-century plagues (fn. 31) were perhaps exacerbated by the 15thcentury depopulation evident elsewhere in the parish. (fn. 32) Reduced population led to amalgamation of holdings, and by 1609 the Bampton Earls land was held as 5 farms of between 1 and 3 yardlands. (fn. 33) Several moderately prosperous yeoman families were recorded throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, among them the Startups or Bartletts, the Shaws, Moulders, and Wises, and later the Jeeveses and Collingwoods, though the Saunders family, which paid large amounts in 16th-century subsidies, was not mentioned later. (fn. 34) William Wise (d. 1687) left goods worth over £200, including a study of books. (fn. 35) Some leading farmers were freeholders, though several held of Bampton Earls manor, and a farmer who in 1686 left goods worth over £137 was tenant under at least 4 landowners. (fn. 36) Over half the contributors to the 1662 hearth tax paid on 2 or 3 hearths or more, (fn. 37) and some taxed on fewer may have been cottagers: 3 cottagers were recorded in 1609, and their numbers may have increased during the 17th and 18th centuries as population rose. (fn. 38)
Farms on Bampton Earls manor remained copyhold in 1609, and at least one in 1789 was let for lives at the old quitrent, though it was then sublet presumably at rack rent. (fn. 39) There were c. 7 large leasehold farms in 1789, 4 on Bampton Earls manor, another held under 3 non-resident freeholders, and the Oxford university and Wenman estates, both over 100 a., and most large farmers occupied additional small parcels under other owners. (fn. 40) The sole large owner-occupier, Jonathan Arnatt of Lew House, before 1785 added University farm to his extensive freehold and leasehold estate, and by the later 18th century held c. 35 per cent of taxable land in the township. (fn. 41) Few holdings included more than 20 a. of open-field arable, but many farms were held with significant acreages of inclosed meadow and pasture: Oxford university's estate in 1767 included 83 a. of inclosures compared with in a. in the open fields, though such a preponderance was unusual. (fn. 42) Four people paying less than 10s. land tax in 1785 were apparently cottagers. (fn. 43)
Agriculture was mixed from the Middle Ages, with perhaps a slight bias towards pastoral farming. A villein yardlander in 1227 held 20 sheep of his lady for 10s. a year paid instead of aid, (fn. 44) and in 1534 the jitney wool merchant and stapler Richard Wenman left sheep and cattle in Lew and at Weald. (fn. 45) Several 17th-century testators left flocks of up to 100, and some others left smaller flocks; (fn. 46) on Oxford university's estate in the 1790s Berkshire breeds predominated, larger types being thought impractical. (fn. 47) Cattle, pigs, and poultry were also mentioned frequently, and bees occasionally. (fn. 48) In 1789 Lew's extensive commons were favourably contrasted with the poor-quality arable, though the value of the commons was lessened by a tendency to sheep rot, and the stiff clay was said to produce excellent wheat and beans and reasonable oats and barley. The usual course was then (1) wheat, (2) beans, (3) oats and barley, and (4) fallow, though in the 1790s Jonathan Arnatt achieved good results on some of the poorest land by sowing clover after beans, allowing cattle and sheep to feed on it during the fallow year. The land was nevertheless deemed unsuitable for turnips without cheap lime, whose use was recommended both to improve lighter land and to allow more sheep to be raised. (fn. 49) Some poorer inhabitants in the later 18th century supplemented their income by poaching in nearby woodland. (fn. 50)
Inclosure, advocated in the later 18th century, was not achieved until 1812-21 under the Act for Bampton and Weald. (fn. 51) John Coventry and the earl of Shrewsbury, joint lords of Bampton Earls, respectively received c. 345 a. and 73 a. in the township; Jonathan Arnatt the younger received 207 a. for his freehold, Sophia Wykeham 81½ a. for her leasehold under Christ Church and 74½ a. for her freehold, Oxford university 200 a., and George Richards, a vicar of Bampton, 180 a. for later Morgan's farm, held in his own right. (fn. 52) Most farms continued to be run from existing homesteads. By 1861 there were 5 farms, all but one of 200 a. or more, and one, probably the former Arnatt estate, of 400 a.; in all they employed c. 68 men, women, and children, and 65 labourers, one living in a shed, were recorded, along with 3 carters, 2 shepherds, and 2 cattle dealers. (fn. 53)
The benefits of inclosure were not immediate. In 1816 it was doubted whether the tenant of Christ Church's farm could continue without rent abatement, and in 1824 a sale catalogue acknowledged that the farm had not improved, claiming nonetheless that it would quickly repay investment, notably for drainage, and suggesting that if converted to grass it would make an excellent dairy farm. Though the farm remained mixed, by 1833 it was 'well managed' despite the cold wet soil. (fn. 54) Before 1824 much of the former heath was converted to arable and so remained, though in 1826 a proprietor complained that it had not yet been brought into proper cultivation, (fn. 55) and on individual farms the proportion of arable often remained slightly lower than in Bampton and Weald. On Christ Church's farm in 1824 and on Manor (later Lower) farm in 1864 it was under 40 per cent, though Morgan's farm was 74 per cent arable in 1879 and good corngrowing land was reported. (fn. 56)
Drainage remained poor. In 1863 heavy clay soil on Manor (Lower) farm made the arable 'uncertain' and expensive to cultivate and the grassland 'poor', though some arable on Christ Church's farm was drained at the tenant's expense before 1861, and before 1870 the Talbots' farm was partially drained by the Lands Improvement Co. (fn. 57) Presumably such problems exacerbated the effects of agricultural depression in the 1870s: the longstanding tenant of Lower and Manor farms was bankrupted in 1878, and of 5 chief farmers in 1861 only one remained in 1881. (fn. 58) In 1872 labourers demanding increased wages were reportedly evicted by a Lew farmer. (fn. 59)
The bias towards pastoral farming continued to 1914, when 73 per cent of the township was under permanent pasture. Sheep were still kept, though in smaller numbers than in 1909, perhaps reflecting a shift towards dairy farming. Wheat remained the chief crop, followed by barley (20 per cent), oats (11 per cent), and a few swedes and mangolds. (fn. 60) Four chief farms remained in 1939, of which Church, University, and Manor farms were over 150 a. In 1959 University farm (216 a.) was a well-managed mixed and dairy farm with a good herd of Ayrshire cattle, though drainage on some land was still thought inadequate. (fn. 61)
Rural trades in Lew were recorded infrequently. John the cooper, perhaps formerly of Marsh Haddon, was mentioned in 1327, and the surname Iremonger or le Ferur in the late 13th and early 14th century, when it was evidently hereditary. (fn. 62) Weavers, masons, and a tailor with land in Curbridge were recorded in the 17th century, (fn. 63) and a cordwainer and a carpenter in the 18th. (fn. 64) A 'coal pit' mentioned in 1607 was probably the site of charcoal burning rather than of mineral extraction, and lay perhaps in the township's southern part near later Coalpit Farm, built after inclosure and so named by 1851. (fn. 65) A maltster was recorded in 1723, and the Chequers public house had a malthouse and bakehouse in 1768 and a smithy in 1800. (fn. 66) Only three families had non-agricultural occupations in 1811, and four in 1831; (fn. 67) non-agricultural inhabitants in 1861 were a grocer and postmaster, a toll-collector, and a retired wine-merchant living at Manor Farm (then called Lew House). (fn. 68) University Farm opened as a guesthouse c. 1959, and in 1992 was an hotel and restaurant; the post office, still the only shop in 1939, had closed by 1989. (fn. 69)
Windmill headland, on high ground near the township's southern boundary, was recorded in 1746, (fn. 70) but no mills are known.