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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In 956 an estate of 17 hides at Curbridge was granted by Abingdon abbey to Brihthelm, bishop of Wells, but by 969 Curbridge was part of the 30-hide Witney estate which descended as Witney manor. The manor was held by bishops of Winchester and their lessees until 1862, when it was sold to the duke of Marlborough, whose predecessors had been lessees since 1751. (fn. 1) Most of Curbridge was held of Witney manor by copyhold, but two important freehold estates developed.
Curbridge farm may be traced to a holding, later reckoned as 6 yardlands, held of Witney manor in the mid 14th century by Thomas of Curbridge, which reverted to the bishop of Winchester as lord. (fn. 2) Thomas's estate may have descended from 6 freehold yardlands in Curbridge held in the early 13th century by Adam Palmer and others, and in 1279 by John of Woodstock and others: (fn. 3) its continued treatment as a leasehold distinct from the manor's customary holdings certainly supports that possibility. From the first known lease to John Bunting in 1387 (fn. 4) the unchanged holding, comprising the land once Thomas of Curbridge's and 12 a. in Fulney mead, was held on long leases or for life, eventually at the settled annual rent of 38s. 9¾d. (fn. 5) In the early 16th century it was held by the Lawley family with a separate 40-a. leasehold in Hailey, (fn. 6) and in 1554 Richard Lawley was granted a 40-year lease of what by then was called Curbridge farm.
In 1577, under arrangements negotiated by the local Box family, the bishop granted a 60-year lease to the queen, who at once assigned it to Philip Box's son-in-law John Hampshire, a royal servant, with the intention that the Hailey land be secured to the Boxes. The lease, due to begin on the expiry of Lawley's lease in 1593, carried the fixed annual rent of £3 18s. 8d., of which 25s., under an assignment of 1582 to the Boxes, was for the Hailey land. (fn. 7) By the 1590s the Curbridge portion was perhaps let or sublet to the wealthy Richard Ashcombe (d. 1606), whose 'farm in Curbridge' was deemed capable of providing an annuity of £40 for his widow. (fn. 8) By 1646 the Hailey land had become detached, and the £2 13s. 8d. for Curbridge farm was paid by Walter Veysey. (fn. 9)
After the Civil War Witney manor was sold by the Parliamentary trustees for bishops' lands, and Curbridge farm, still regarded as part of Witney manor, was sold separately in 1648 to William Wells and Robert Martin, probably agents. (fn. 10) Joyce Weston, widow, was tenant in 1649, (fn. 11) and when the estate was restored to the see of Winchester in 1660 she and her sister Cecily Franklin were granted a new 21-year lease; at that date the farm comprised 54 a. of open-field arable, around 15 a. of closes, the 12 a. in Fulney, and lot meadows. (fn. 12)
Curbridge farm was owned thereafter by the bishops of Winchester; it was not sold with the rest of Witney manor in 1862, but passed to their successors the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, who continued into the 20th century to grant 21-year leases renewable by fine. Lessees were frequently non-resident, notably the Butler family from the 1830s into the 20th century. (fn. 13) The later 18th-century tenants, the Wrights, held an estimated 90 a. of open-field arable, 41a. of pasture closes, around 15 a. of meadow, and a seventh share in the common pasture (i.e. for 6 yardlands). (fn. 14) After inclosure in the 1840s Curbridge farm comprised 168 acres. (fn. 15) The Ecclesiastical Commissioners sold the freehold to the Parker family in 1956. (fn. 16)
The farmhouse, on the south side of Main Road, is a two-storey stone-rubble and stone-slated house of several builds. The re-use of smoke-blackened timbers in the 19th-century roof suggests that the house's central part was a late-medieval hall. There was probably a cross passage on the line of the present entrance hall, and an east service cross-wing. In the 16th century a parlour was added to the west end, and a chimney stack between parlour and hall; in the parlour are remains of the original fireplace. The house was remodelled in the late 16th century or early 17th, when a floor and a fireplace were inserted in the hall, and timber doorways made to the cross passage and the chamber over the parlour. Long, carved timber lintels over the much later windows in the north front have a mid 17th-century appearance, but perhaps date from this remodelling, which in scale and detail is consistent with gentry occupancy, perhaps by the Hampshires or their suggested tenant Richard Ashcombe (d. 1606). In the earlier 19th century the interior was partly refitted, the roof reconstructed under a continuous ridge, and broad sash-windows fitted on the north front. In the early 19th century the building was L-plan: a large range (probably a barn), attached to the east end of the surviving house and projecting southwards, was demolished in the late 19th century. (fn. 17) Most of the internal timbers of the house were replaced to the original pattern in the late 1990s.
Caswell was not mentioned among the bishop of Winchester's holdings in 1086, but later evidence suggests that an estate there was held of him by Roger d'Ivri, descending with other d'Ivri lands to the St Valéry family. (fn. 18) An early 13th-century survey of the bishop's Witney manor included a freehold estate of 1½ hide held by Robert of Dreux, husband of Annora, daughter and heir of Thomas of St Valéry. (fn. 19) Robert was deprived in 1226 of his English lands, which were granted to Richard, earl of Cornwall; (fn. 20) the earl's Witney holding was certainly at Caswell, and was assessed as ⅓ knight's fee. (fn. 21) On Richard's death in 1272 it passed to his son Edmund, after whose death in 1300 the honor of St Valéry was retained by the Crown. (fn. 22)
Another ⅓ fee recorded at Caswell in the 14th century, held of the bishop by Eynsham abbey, had also belonged earlier to the St Valérys and probably to d'Ivri: when granting his Caswell estate to the abbey in the 1220s William de Elmel claimed that his family had long held it of Bernard of St Valéry and his heirs, and the attachment of the Eynsham fee to the honor of St Valéry continued in the later 14th century. (fn. 23) The honor became the honor of Wallingford, and from 1540 Caswell was held of the honor of Ewelme until the connection lapsed in the early 19th century. (fn. 24) The bishop of Winchester's connection with Caswell seems also to have lapsed in the 19th century: a quitrent for Caswell was payable to the bishop's tenant of Witney manor in 1716 and probably in 1816, when Caswell was included in a survey of Witney manor, but no quitrent was recorded in later rentals, and when sold in 1824 Caswell was described as freehold. (fn. 25)
The two fees descended separately until the mid 15th century. In 1279, although the earl of Cornwall's intermediate tenure was not mentioned, his fee was presumably the 6 yardlands held of the bishop of Winchester by Hugh de Scotthorne. (fn. 26) Since one of Hugh's yardlands was held of him by the rector of Witney, he was probably the successor of the Roger of Caswell from whom an earlier rector held a yardland by military service in 1229. (fn. 27) In the earlier 14th century the bishop's immediate tenant was another Roger of Caswell, and in 1346 the ⅓ fee was held by the guardian of Roger's minor son and heir John. (fn. 28) It was presumably the same ⅓ fee for which, in the later Middle Ages, bishops of Winchester received 33s. 4d. a year, recorded variously as relief or as rent from 1 or 1½ hides. In 1385 the sum was described as a lost rent from a house and 1 hide late John Wawe's, (fn. 29) probably the same rent which, in 1479–80, was said to be for 1 hide, late Thomas of Curbridge's, into which the abbot of Eynsham had intruded before it was recovered by John Wawe. (fn. 30) Thomas of Curbridge was presumably the Thomas who was Eynsham abbey's tenant at Caswell in the 1340s. (fn. 31) The 33s. 4d. rent seems to have been paid by unnamed lessees in the 1390s but was again recorded as lost from 1405. (fn. 32) In 1434 John, brother and heir of William Hall, paid 33s. 4d. relief, presumably one year's rent, for ⅓ knight's fee at Caswell, evidently the same estate, (fn. 33) but by 1479 the rent had been in arrears for over 33 years. (fn. 34)
In the mid 15th century Walter Mymmes, of a family involved in the Gloucestershire wool trade, acquired the fee, and in 1478–9 it passed to the guardian of Thomas Mymmes, the minor son of another Thomas and probably grandson of Walter Mymmes. (fn. 35) Payments for Caswell continued to be recorded variously in Winchester accounts: from 1480 until the earlier 16th century Caswell tenants paid 33s. 4d. rent for 1½ hides late Thomas of Curbridge's, and in 1558 the same sum was paid as a relief, by then mistakenly thought to be rendered for Beckingham's fee (discussed below). (fn. 36)
Eynsham abbey's ⅓ fee at Caswell also comprised 6 yardlands, and in the early 13th century was perhaps the freehold 1½ hide held of Witney manor by Roger of Sampford for 13s. 4d. a year. (fn. 37) When William de Elmel granted his Caswell estate in free alms to Eynsham abbey in the 1220s it comprised 2 yardlands of demesne and the rent and services from 4 other yardlands. (fn. 38) The abbey granted the 2 demesne yardlands to Hugh Pomeray for 13s. 4d. rent, and in 1279 Joan Galard, formerly Pomeray, was paying that rent for 2 yardlands, the other 4 yardlands yielding an additional 8s. 8½ d. (fn. 39) In the later 14th century the estate was held by military service for the slightly lower rent of 21s. 4d., with an additional 2s. 2d. for part of Caswell said to be in Brize Norton; at the Dissolution the reported rent was only 13s. 4d., probably representing the traditional rent of the demesne yardlands. (fn. 40)
The subtenancy of those yardlands was said to have passed from Hugh Galard to the Standlake family, and in 1327 Richard of Standlake was a major taxpayer in Witney parish, probably for Caswell. (fn. 41) In 1346 the ⅓ fee, presumably Eynsham abbey's but mistakenly said to be formerly the earl of Cornwall's, was held by Richard of Standlake and two other tenants, Thomas of Curbridge and Felice at Heath. (fn. 42) Thomas was presumably the Thomas whose custody, as minor son of Stephen of Curbridge, Eynsham abbey's tenant at Caswell, had been granted away by the abbot in 1342. (fn. 43) Richard of Standlake's grandson Roger was the subject of lunacy proceedings in 1373, when it was found that he had released his rights in the Eynsham estate at Caswell in 1368 to John Blewbury, clerk, possibly a trustee for Standlake's mother Isabel; Blewbury enfeoffed Thomas Austin, who was tenant in 1373. (fn. 44) Before 1384, when Eynsham abbey was at pains to secure its tenure in mortmain, Austin's tenancy passed to the Wawe family of Astrop (in Brize Norton parish); (fn. 45) later John, son of John Wawe, citizen and draper of London, enfeoffed Thomas Beckingham, probably the man whose memorial brass of 1431 is in North Leigh church. (fn. 46) Like the other ⅓ fee in Caswell Beckingham's fee was acquired by Walter Mymmes, and in 1478–9 passed to the guardian of Thomas Mymmes, minor. (fn. 47)
The Mymmes family paid the 33s. 4d. rent to Winchester until 1505 when Richard Wenman took over payment, (fn. 48) but Caswell may have been sublet to Wenman's family much earlier. In 1485 his stepfather Thomas Fermor or Ricards, son of a Langford wool merchant and a wealthy landowner in Witney and elsewhere, (fn. 49) left funds for building the 'Caswell aisle' in Witney church, his chosen burial place, implying that he lived at Caswell, which passed to his wife Emmot (d. 1501). (fn. 50) Richard Wenman, Emmot's eldest son by her first husband, Henry, was inclosing at Caswell by 1500. (fn. 51) Whether Henry Wenman, who died before the mid 1470s, (fn. 52) first established the family at Caswell is not certain, though the descent of the estate to the Wenmans rather than the Fermors suggests that it was Emmot's from her first husband. Henry Wenman, too, was probably a woolman, and had interests in Abingdon and Blewbury (formerly Berks.). (fn. 53)
Although much of Emmot's other estate passed to the Fermor children (fn. 54) her son Richard Wenman prospered at Caswell and became a merchant of the Staple. (fn. 55) He presumably also succeeded the Mymmes as subtenant of the Eynsham abbey fee at Caswell: certainly his son was paying 13s. 4d. rent to the abbey for Caswell in 1535, and his family held both fees there after the Dissolution, paying reliefs of 33s. 4d. and 13s. 4d. in 1558. (fn. 56) Richard's extensive estates included a lease of Witney park from 1520. (fn. 57) He died in 1534 (fn. 58) and Caswell, by then called a manor, passed to his son Thomas, later Sir Thomas (d. 1557), then to Thomas's son Sir Richard (d. 1572). (fn. 59) In 1554 the Brize Norton part of Caswell, then called Caswell farm and identifiable as the later Lower Caswell farm, was also acquired by the Wenman family. (fn. 60)
Sir Richard, through marriage to Isabel Williams, also acquired Thame Park, which descended to the heirs of his eldest surviving son Thomas; (fn. 61) reversion of Caswell, however, was settled on his second surviving son Francis, who succeeded after a dispute. (fn. 62) Francis died in Ireland in 1598, his son and heir Francis being born posthumously, (fn. 63) and Caswell was held by guardians until that Francis (knighted in 1618) secured possession before 1621, following a dispute over custody with his stepfather. (fn. 64) Francis died in 1640, leaving minor sons Samuel and Francis. (fn. 65)
Francis succeeded before 1651, when Caswell was part of the settlement on his marriage to a distant cousin Mary, daughter of Thomas Wenman, Viscount Tuam, of Thame Park. (fn. 66) Francis, created a baronet in 1662, (fn. 67) was succeeded on his death in 1680 by his son Sir Richard. (fn. 68) Sir Richard, Viscount Wenman of Tuam after the death of his great uncle Philip, Lord Wenman, in 1686, (fn. 69) died in 1690 leaving a minor son Richard, later declared an idiot; Viscount Wenman's widow Catherine (d. 1742), who had a life interest in Caswell, married James Bertie, earl of Abingdon (d. 1699), and later Francis Wroughton (d. 1733), (fn. 70) who paid the manorial chief rent for Caswell in 1716. (fn. 71) In the early 18th century the family was still resident at Caswell, but though the estate continued to descend with the viscounty it was later let to farmers. (fn. 72)
Philip, 7th Viscount Wenman, died childless in 1800, when the baronetcy and viscounty became extinct. His estates passed briefly to William Wykeham of Swalcliffe, son of Philip's sister Sophia; William also died in 1800, leaving as heir to Caswell his daughter Sophia Wykeham, later Baroness Wenman of Thame Park. (fn. 73) Caswell manor was sold in 1825 to the Revd Dr William Pearson, rector of South Kilworth (Leics.); the attached estate was then some 545 a., comprising Caswell Manor farm (378 a.), Lower Caswell farm in Brize Norton (167 a.), and a separate holding of 34 a. in Curbridge, also included in the sale. (fn. 74) Pearson was succeeded in 1847 by a nephew, William Pearson; in 1884 the latter's son Lieut. Col. William Pearson was declared bankrupt, and in 1887 the estate was sold to Victor Van de Weyer, a Berkshire landowner. It was leased in 1884 to John Joslin (d. 1929), a Devonshire farmer who in 1904 bought the freehold. The Joslin family retained Caswell thereafter. (fn. 75)
The house (now Caswell Farm) stands ¾ mile southwest of Curbridge, surrounded by its estate and on a moated site (Fig. 67). The moat, fed from a stream rising ⅓ mile to the north, has four arms and, with the house as its north-east side, forms a rough pentagon. It seems likely that this is the late-medieval layout, though it has been suggested, on the basis of the house's alignment and some subsidence in an outbuilding to the north, that the moat itself formed a pentagon. (fn. 76)
The earliest part is the long, late 15th- and early 16th-century south range, of rendered rubble with a stoneslated roof, which formed the six-bayed cross-wing of a larger house. Within that range the earliest parts are the two eastern bays, which have a late 15th-century scissor-braced roof truss and re-used moulded beams: they may have formed the parlour cross-wing of a hall which has been demolished. The wing was extended westwards by four bays in the early 16th century, possibly as part of more extensive additions to which the stub of a range at right angles to the south front may have belonged. The internal framing of the westward extension, and its roof with cambered collars and windbraces, are roughly finished, suggesting that it comprised unheated service and sleeping accommodation. The south front of the whole range has early 16th-century windows with arched lights: it evidently faced a courtyard, entered from the east through an early 16th-century four-centred gate arch which remains in situ in a stretch of rendered rubble boundary wall. The additions to the late 15th-century part of the house were perhaps carried out by Sir Richard Wenman (d. 1534); whether or not the house extended along the west and south sides of the courtyard, as has been surmised largely on the basis of the projecting stub, remains uncertain.
Substantial alterations to the south range were made in the late 17th century, when the east parlour was modernized and the adjacent dog-leg staircase inserted. During the 18th century, when the Wenmans ceased to reside, the house was probably much reduced in size and adapted as a farmhouse. At the west end of the south range a two-storeyed block was added, probably, as later, used for agricultural purposes including a cheese room; it incorporates beams which were once the wall plates of a large structure. The same type of dressed rubble was used to wall up the end of the stub wing.
In the early 19th century the house had its present plan. (fn. 77) The central part of the present north-east range was apparently rebuilt in the second quarter of the century as a plain neo-classical block of squared stone with a slate roof, facing east and containing two reception rooms. At its north end what appears to have been an 18th-century outbuilding was remodelled to imitate the east gable of the south range, creating a symmetrical east entrance front. The design was completed before 1852, though some windows may have been remodelled later. (fn. 78) Other later alterations included additions on the south range's north side, and insertion of brick chimneystacks. The unusually extensive ranges of early farm buildings were on their surviving plan by the early 19th century: (fn. 79) they retain 17th-century features, notably, east of the courtyard, a barn with upper-cruck roof-trusses, later incorporated into an L-plan range of large barn and stables.
Thomas Baskerville, travelling from Curbridge to Burford in the time of Sir Francis Wenman (d. 1680), noted that 'a little above Curbridge' could be seen Wenman's banqueting house and 'down in the bottom among trees' his dwelling house. (fn. 80) Baskerville was presumably on the former Burford road, now preserved as the track past Peashell Farm, (fn. 81) and the banqueting house, probably some kind of rural pavilion, was evidently on the higher ground north of Caswell House. One possible site is on the north side of the Brize Norton road opposite the end of the drive to Caswell House, where a field called Fountain ground contains remains of a spring-fed well with paved surround. (fn. 82) Another possible site is slightly further north-east, in an adjacent field called Study ground: in 1814 an open-field furlong immediately outside the estate boundary at that point was described as 'shooting to White House wall', suggesting that there was a building in that area. (fn. 83)