A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 14, Bampton Hundred (Part Two). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2004.
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Witney Manor Court
A court for Witney manor, including its outlying settlements, existed probably before the foundation of Witney borough in the 12th or early 13th century. Following the establishment of a separate borough court and view, (fn. 1) inhabitants of Crawley, Curbridge, and Hailey continued to attend the manor court and twice-yearly tourn or view of frankpledge, held presumably, as later, in the bishop's manor house at Witney. At first they belonged apparently to a single tithing of 'Upland', comprising all those outside the borough, (fn. 2) but the three townships were occasionally called tithings from the 13th century, (fn. 3) and by the late 14th each formed a distinct tithing with its own officers. (fn. 4) In 1208–9 Upland tithing collectively paid 10s. at the court 'pro pace habenda', probably exemption from attendance at the lord's view, (fn. 5) and in succeeding years it paid 13s. 4d. (fn. 6) By the 1240s it paid 26s. 8d. at each of the two annual views, of which Crawley tithing's share was 3s. 8d. by the 16th century. (fn. 7) The payments, variously called fixed view, tithingpenny, and tithing silver, continued in the 18th century and probably until the 20th. (fn. 8)
In the 13th century the court baron met theoretically every three weeks, and the tourn around Hockday and Martinmas. (fn. 9) In the earlier 14th century there were up to eight court sessions a year besides the two tourns, (fn. 10) but in the later 14th century and the 15th possibly only two. (fn. 11) By the 16th century the court baron was usually combined with the tourn, meeting twice a year around April and October. (fn. 12) Occasional interim courts, dealing chiefly with copyholds, and for which the lord's steward received a special fee, were held by the 17th century, but admissions and surrenders of holdings were often made out of court and were merely ratified at the Hockday or Martinmas session, which by then was called simply a view or court leet. (fn. 13) In the 1790s no courts met for several years, (fn. 14) but May and Michaelmas or Martinmas sessions continued in the early 19th century, when dinners were provided for the 20–30 copyholders and others usually attending. (fn. 15) The May session was abandoned in 1847 as too expensive, but the Martinmas session and dinner continued until 1925, by which time the combined court and view was often called the 'Hailey court', presumably because Hailey, which retained the largest proportion of copyhold land, dominated its business. (fn. 16) The court continued to meet at Mount House (the former manor house) in Witney until the mid 19th century, after which it met usually in the Fleece or Marlborough Hotels or in the town hall; in the late 19th and early 20th century proceedings still included perambulation of a tree in the Mount House grounds. (fn. 17)
In 1301–2 small fines levied in the manor court totalled 27s., those from the Martinmas view 11s., and those at Hockday 56s. 1d. Entry and marriage fines yielded £16, (fn. 18) suggesting that then, as later, the courts' chief business was conveyancing of assart and other copyhold land, though medieval courts dealt also with agricultural and minor criminal offences, with regulation of baking and brewing, and in 1379 with a tenant's claim to free status. (fn. 19) Occasional licences to leave the manor (fn. 20) were presumably also issued in the court. Business in the 16th and 17th centuries included agricultural regulation, maintenance of roads and watercourses, encroachments on the waste, and subletting; (fn. 21) in 1597 the tithings were fined for not practising archery, and about 1608 Crawley's inhabitants were presented for allowing the stocks to decay. (fn. 22) From the later 18th century the court dealt almost exclusively with copyholds and election of officers, (fn. 23) most other responsibilities having by then passed to other bodies.
Medieval courts presumably elected tithingmen, and perhaps also the rent-collectors, reeves, warrener, and woodward mentioned occasionally from the 14th century. (fn. 24) In the 16th century and still in the 18th the Martinmas tourn elected a constable and a tithingman for Crawley, as for the other townships, (fn. 25) but other officers were appointed at Witney vestry or at a separate meeting in Hailey. (fn. 26)
Parish Government and Parish Officers
Crawley seems not to have had an independent vestry or parish assembly before the late 19th century, its parish officers being elected in the 16th and 17th centuries by Witney vestry (which inhabitants of all the rural townships attended), and later by a joint assembly with Hailey. (fn. 27) A surveyor of highways for Crawley was appointed occasionally in the late 16th century and regularly from the mid 17th, (fn. 28) and in the 1640s Hailey and Crawley shared three collectors or overseers of the poor; one may have acted for Crawley alone, since the township probably already administered its own poor relief. (fn. 29) Presumably there were also agricultural officers to oversee the common fields, but none are recorded, and in 1759 Crawley and Hailey were said to share parish officers, who were 'alternately chosen out of each'. (fn. 30)
By the 16th century Crawley, like the other townships, paid rates towards repairs of Witney church, (fn. 31) and apparently shared with Hailey a churchwarden appointed in Witney vestry. From 1761 Crawley inhabitants were presumably also rated towards repairs of the newly built Hailey chapel, and from 1837 the Hailey churchwarden exercised responsibility for Crawley's own new chapel. (fn. 32) After Hailey-cum-Crawley became a separate ecclesiastical parish in 1854, Crawley shared two churchwardens appointed by a joint vestry meeting, though in the early 20th century the vestry sometimes also appointed sidesmen for Crawley or Hailey alone. (fn. 33) The township had no parish property until inclosure of its commons in 1853, when the churchwardens and overseers received 9 a. on the township's western edge as poor allotments. (fn. 34)
Under the Local Government Act of 1894 Crawley, by then counted a separate civil parish, became part of the new Witney rural district, residual local powers being presumably vested in a new parish council or meeting. In 1974, like the rest of the former Witney parish, it became part of West Oxfordshire district. (fn. 35)
Crawley administered its own poor relief probably by the 17th century when it shared overseers with Hailey, (fn. 36) and certainly by the 1770s, when average annual expenditure was around £32–£34. (fn. 37) As elsewhere expenditure rose sharply in the late 18th and early 19th century, distress in the 1790s perhaps provoking an attack by local labourers on a prominent Crawley farmer; (fn. 38) by 1802–3, when 18 adults and 46 children received permanent out-relief and 63 others occasional relief, expenditure was £317, (fn. 39) and the following year the overseer advertised for a contractor to administer poor relief. (fn. 40) Expenditure remained above £255 in 1813–15, when 10–12 adults received out-relief and 6 or 7 others were accommodated in a workhouse, presumably a rented cottage or outbuilding; in 1818 a woman was imprisoned for misbehaviour in the workhouse, and another for refusing work. The parish rate of 9s. in the pound in 1802–3, though less than in Witney's other townships, was above average for the area, and expenditure by head of population (40s. in 1802–3 and over 50s. in 1816–18) was often exceptionally high, far exceeding that in Witney itself. By 1817 annual expenditure was almost £600, and although in 1823 it was again under £200 it rose intermittently until the 1830s. (fn. 41)
From 1834 responsibility passed to the new Witney union, for which Crawley continued to elect two overseers. (fn. 42) From 1853 the churchwardens and overseers also administered new poor allotments on the parish's western edge. (fn. 43)