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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By the 17th century Curbridge's open fields surrounded the village in the township's central part, while the whole eastern area, mostly comprising former demesne of Witney manor and the former Witney park, was inclosed, as was the large Caswell estate in the south-west. (fn. 1) In the Middle Ages, however, Curbridge's open fields evidently covered a much wider area, with strips of demesne arable as far apart as Hawksley in the township's north-west corner, (fn. 2) and between Witney manor house and the river on its eastern edge. (fn. 3) Most of Witney's medieval demesne lay in Curbridge township, perhaps because, when the borough was created, fields once attached to the pre-urban settlement at Witney were absorbed into Curbridge's fields. (fn. 4) Thereafter, although some demesne was located in Curbridge's western part, the bulk seems to have been concentrated in the east, in what had probably been the fields of Witney.
In 1231 the chief areas of demesne arable were 273 a. in and around 'Thornihull' field, (fn. 5) possibly near the later Thorney leys south-west of the borough; 204 a. in 'Crundelham' field, possibly north-west of the borough where the implied conjuncture of quarry and river meadow was certainly evident later; (fn. 6) and 178 a. in the field 'between (?) Colwell and the road to Ducklington', (fn. 7) perhaps the later Starnham field south-east of Curbridge village. There were smaller acreages in four other fields, of which one lay 'behind the court', presumably Witney manor house (now Mount House). Probably that was the field later described as 'between the court and the lord's meadow': (fn. 8) certainly in 1231 demesne grassland included 70 a. 'behind the court', presumably east of the manor house on the river Windrush. Other demesne meadows identifiable from later evidence, notably Burwell, Apley, Fulney, Tognall, and Swanney, all lay in Curbridge township. (fn. 9)
The creation of Witney park in Curbridge in the mid 13th century may have required some reorganization of fields, but no details are known. In the later 13th century and the 14th demesne arable was recorded in up to 26 named fields, many of them presumably alternative names. (fn. 10) Identifiable fields included Burwell, Apley, Hawksley, and Old field (south of the park), and several of those mentioned above. Other regularly sown demesne pieces, such as Goldcliff, Ashfurlong, Morefurlong, and Grosfurlong, though probably all in Curbridge, have not been located. Caswell, comprising 12 yardlands in 1279 and evidently inclosed in the later Middle Ages, may never have formed part of Curbridge's open fields, though there is a hint that its landholders may have had rights in Curbridge meadow. (fn. 11)
In the mid 13th century substantially more than half the measured acreage of demesne was sown each year, (fn. 12) suggesting a possible three-field rotation, and there was a regular succession of wheat, oats, and fallow in Thornhill in the 1280s, though later only oats seem to have been sown there. There are signs of a three-course rotation in Burwell field in the early 14th century, but in Hawskley field no regular pattern is discernible. (fn. 13)
Demesne Arable In 1086 Witney manor was reckoned to contain land for 24 ploughs, and on the demesne had 5 teams worked by 9 slaves. (fn. 14) In 1208 there were still 5 teams, but from 1210 a lost rent of 48s. was recorded from 2 hides taken into demesne, possibly in connection with the foundation of the borough. (fn. 15) By 1223 there were 6 demesne teams and by 1225 and for the rest of the 13th century seven. (fn. 16) After its apparent enlargement the demesne arable was measured in 1231 at 886 a., with 222 a. of grass. In the 1220s some 700–825 a. of demesne were said to have been sown each year, implying, with fallow, an arable area much greater than that measured in 1231, although the figures evidently referred to customary acres. By contrast the 502 a. sown in 1235 were measured units, as were later sown acreages until the first decade of the 14th century when there was a brief reversion to customary acres. (fn. 17) In the later 13th century sown acreages fell somewhat and, although usually above 400 a., covered less than half the demesne arable as measured in 1231: there may, therefore, have been a permanent reduction of the demesne arable area. (fn. 18)
The chief crops rotated on the demesne (fn. 19) were wheat, spring barley, and oats; dredge was sown from the 1220s, and peas from the early 14th century. Wheat was the chief crop, particularly in the early 13th century when it usually occupied more than half the cultivated demesne, while later in the century usually 180–240 a. were sown annually. Of the wheat crop usually between a half and a third was reserved for sowing. In the early 13th century 12 manorial servants each received a livery of 25 bu. a year, reduced by 1301 to 6 bu., and small quantities were dispersed in presents or in customary payments, such as the 1 qr given annually to the ferryman at Bablock hythe in return for free passage for the bishop and his men. In most years much of the wheat was sold, in 1210 as much as 158 of 307 qr in the barn, and in 1301 126 out of a total 208 qr. Barley was grown in much smaller quantities, usually fewer than 50 acres. About half the barley crop was kept for sowing and much of the remainder was used in liveries for manorial servants (25 bu. each in the early 13th century); in 1208 the king's hunting dogs consumed 4 qr during a 9-week stay. Oats were sown in similar acreages to wheat until the 1260s. In the early 13th century most of the crop was used to feed the horses of the bishop and his distinguished visitors, including the king: in 1208 the royal horses consumed a quarter of the total oat crop of 334 qr, and there were many other named beneficiaries of fodder. Oats were fed to the eight demesne carthorses, and some was used as meal for the pottage of manorial servants. Declining oat-cultivation in the later 13th century reflected the reduced importance of Witney manor house as an episcopal residence: in 1301 over half the oat crop of only 176 qr was resown, 39 qr sold, c. 20 qr used for carthorses and servants' pottage, and the rest fed to a few visitors' horses, notably those of the manorial steward at his tourns. By the mid 13th century dredge occupied some of the acreage formerly occupied by oats, usually between 30 and 60 a.; in 1301 as much as 44 qr of the crop of 65 qr was sold. Small quantities of peas and vetches were sown, mostly used to feed pigs.
From the early 14th century demesne cultivation was sharply reduced: in the period 1320–50 fewer than 30 a. were sown each year, the reduction applying to all major crops, but particularly to oats which by the 1340s occupied only 50–60 a. (fn. 20) In 1335 only about 10 qr of oats were required for servants, the demesne carthorses, and visitors' horses, and the rest of the 96 qr was resown or sold. (fn. 21) The first reference to a lease of demesne arable was in 1302 when several Witney men paid £18 15s. for 187½ a. 'assarted from the demesne'; use of the standard assart fine and rent (respectively 2s. and 6d. an acre) suggests that the lease marked a deliberate and permanent reduction of demesne. The trend was reversed occasionally, as in 1309 when 77 a. were taken back into the demesne 'through lack of tenants', (fn. 22) but the number of demesne ploughs, having fallen to 6 by 1305 and briefly to 4 by 1319, was never more than 5 from the 1320s to the Black Death. (fn. 23)
Demesne Stock The lord's stock in 1208 comprised 70–80 head of cattle, including 47 oxen, and there were 7 carthorses and 8 asses. In 1210 cattle numbers varied from 80 to 92, and draught animals from 11 to 16. In 1208 the pig herd, augmented from the Winchester manors at Adderbury and Brightwell, reached over 330 (excluding piglets), but in 1209 was smaller, reaching just over 200. The sheep flock in 1208 was larger than in any year before 1334: the flock of over 680 (augmented by 144 lambs) was reduced by sales and murrain to about 260. By contrast the flock in 1210 was exceptionally small, always below 100. (fn. 24)
The pattern of stock farming changed little during the 13th century: in 1248 the inherited cattle herd was about 100 and in 1254 about 120, and sheep flocks of some 400 in those years were producing 100–120 lambs. Pig herds were smaller than in the early 13th century, usually 70–80. (fn. 25) In 1301 the inherited cattle numbered 104, including 58 oxen and 20 cows; a flock of initially 500 sheep produced some 140 lambs, and the pig herd reached 90. (fn. 26) Throughout the 13th century geese were kept (in 1208 a flock of 40) and other poultry included 52 hens given annually as churchscot. Goats were kept from the 1220s to the 1240s, and in 1301 there were peacocks. (fn. 27) Cheese and bacon production was an important part of the manorial economy: in 1208, of 168 cheeses produced between May and Michaelmas, 108 were sold and the rest given as tithe, or to the tables of the bishop, the king, and other named recipients, or to labourers at autumn boon works and on other agrarian occasions. The 230 bacons produced that year were similarly used, and 7 were given in alms to lepers at the bishop's behest. By mid century far fewer bacons were produced and almost all were sold. In 1301 summer cheese production was 149, and there were also 36 winter cheeses; except for 2 given in customary payments to the dairymaid and at haymaking all were sold. (fn. 28) In 1208 the demesne sheep produced 234 fleeces and the lambs 82; 23 fleeces were given as tithe, one in customary payment to the shepherd, and the rest sold. Fleece numbers were usually between 250 and 400 until the 1330s. There is no indication that sheep-farming was especially important, or that there was strong local demand for wool: in 1296 and 1301, for example, all fleeces were sent for distribution to the bishop's manor at Wolvesey (Hants). (fn. 29)
There was more than sufficient grassland for the demesne stock, and pasture rights and hay were sold each year. Income from sales rose steadily from only 15s. in 1208. The first recorded lease of demesne pasture was in 1283 when two Witney men fined £14 for 140 a., and in 1286 and 1301 a close and sheepcot at Roughfield were also on lease. In 1301 grazing 'behind the court', in 'the moor', and in Swanney was charged per head of cattle, which included at least 7 horses, 71 oxen and cows, 38 bullocks, and 470 sheep, while other pastures, including Ashmoor and 'the marsh behind the court', were let in parcels. Grazing in the park that year was reserved for beasts of the chase, and other grazing sometimes let or sold was required by the demesne stock: it was noted from the mid 13th century that much of Swanney once available for cattle had been turned to arable in the time of Bishop William (d. 1250), presumably referring to his creation of assarts there. (fn. 30)
The reduction of demesne cultivation in the early 14th century was not matched by a decline in stock farming. Fewer draught animals were required, but in 1338 the inherited demesne stock of 94 cattle (including 42 oxen and 20 cows) and 74 pigs was not much smaller than in 1301. (fn. 31) Sheep-farming expanded when Adam of Orleton became bishop in 1334: average sheep numbers at Witney rose to 700–800, the flock comprising almost entirely wethers, while ewes were kept at Adderbury and lambs were transferred each year. The number of fleeces at Witney was always 400–500 by the 1340s. When William of Edington became bishop in 1346 he stocked Witney with over 1,000 sheep, a clear indication that sheep-farming was an established priority there before the Black Death. (fn. 32)
Labour Services (fn. 33) The demesne was worked by a combination of customary services and paid labour. By 1208 and until the Black Death the bishop's customary tenants held their land for a nominal annual rent of 5s. a yardland, reduced according to the services performed. In 1208 the full reduction of 5s. was allowed to 13 yearly operarii chosen from the villeinage (2 reeves, a pigkeeper, and 10 ploughmen), while 2 other ploughmen were allowed 1s. 3d. for a quarter year; the 10 ploughmen worked the 5 demesne ploughs on alternate weeks. In 1248 the full yearly allowance was made to 18 operarii, including a single reeve, 14 ploughmen for the 7 demesne ploughs, and a shepherd and a goat-keeper in addition to the pig-keeper. (fn. 34) In 1301 full allowances were made to a reeve, 2 shepherds, and 14 ploughmen, but in 1335 to only 10 ploughmen, although by then an additional shepherd was allowed for a half year's work in winter. (fn. 35)
A separate small group of customary tenants provided winter services. In the 13th century and early 14th rent reductions of 2s. 6d. were allowed each year to 8–10 men whose service, in 1248 for example, included working alternate days from Michaelmas to Easter, harrowing (with horses) for 70 days, threshing for 16, and providing other agricultural services on a further 16. (fn. 36) A much larger group of customary tenants, presumably all or most of those who were not serving as yearly operarii, received rent reductions of 1s. 3d. each for working on the demesne between Midsummer and Michaelmas. In 1279 the annual rents of customary tenants on Witney manor were recorded, without explanation, as 3s. 9d. a yardland, presumably because the 1s. 3d. deduction for summer services was automatic. (fn. 37) Throughout the 13th century the deduction applied to between 40 and 44 yardlanders, whose services in 1248, provided on alternate days, included haymaking for 22 days, reaping for 16 (of which 12 were boon works), weeding for 10, carrying for 5, and collecting dung and stacking corn at the grange for a further 8 days. (fn. 38) Despite a reduction of demesne farming in the earlier 14th century summer labour services continued to be invoked, and in 1335 as many as 55½ yardlanders received the allowance. (fn. 39)
Boon works owed by the tenants were valued in 1279 at 10s. 10d. a yardland. (fn. 40) A yardlander with his plough was to plough 1 a. in winter, another in spring, and 2a. at the lord's cost, and in return was allowed to graze his oxen on the demesne pastures; at haymaking a yardlander with one helper was to work partly at the lord's cost, partly at his own, the lord apparently making a fixed contribution to the mowers' feast of 3 bu. wheat, meat worth 2s., and a cheese, while each man might take away so much hay as could be lifted on a fork; at harvest the yardlander was to work with 2 men for 3 days at his own cost and a further 2 days at the lord's. The rents and services of half-yardlanders were defined pro rata, while those of cottars were less onerous. Payments for food on ploughing boon days in the 13th century show that there were usually about 30 tenants' ploughs at work in winter and spring, and apparently more in 1301 when as many as 90 men with 45 ploughs were paid for the Lenten ploughing. (fn. 41) By the 1340s, however, ploughing boon works had ceased, presumably because of reduced demesne cultivation. In the 13th century the number of harvest boon works far exceeded the 5 obligatory days: in 1262 the lord provided food, costing about ¾d. a head, for 8 boon works, amounting to 1,122 man-days on which 291 a. of corn were reaped; the villeins' own three boon works involved 420 men who reaped 109 a., while a further 50 a. were reaped by the operarii. In 1301 the lord paid for 9 boon works and 1,188 man-days, but thereafter fewer boon works were required: in 1335 only 780 man-days were paid for at 1½d. each, and in 1347 there were only 2 boon-reaps at the lord's expense in which 374 men cut 93 a., while a further 192 a. were cut on the tenants' boon days or by paid labour. (fn. 42)
Customary services were routinely supplemented by paid labour for winter threshing and winnowing. Piece-work rates in 1301 ranged from 2d. a quarter for threshing wheat to ¾d. for oats; winnowing was partly carried out by labour service and the dairymaid, but an overseer of threshing was paid, bringing the cost of processing 268 qr of grain to £2 15s., while 211 qr were processed by customary labour. In 1335 273 qr were threshed by piece-work and only 99 qr by customary labour. (fn. 43)
One group of manorial servants, the famuli, were not customary tenants but possibly the successors of the demesne servi of 1086. In the early 13th century there were 12 famuli. In 1301 an overseer of the harvest (messor), 7 ploughmen, 2 carters, and a cowherd each received 1s. in the winter, and in summer an acre of corn, plus 1 qr barley every 10 weeks of the year; a dairymaid received 6d. in winter, an acre of corn, a small grain allowance, and, as in the early 13th century, a cheese; a swineherd and a keeper of lambs also received small grain allowances. By the 1330s, because of the reduced need for ploughmen, there were only 9 servants, including the dairymaid. (fn. 44) Throughout the period other workmen receiving annual payments included a smith, to maintain the demesne ploughshares, and, from 1268, a park-keeper.
Manorial Income and Expenditure Manorial income rose from about £75 a year in 1208 to over £100 by 1218, and usually over £150 from 1245 until the 1270s; it was rather less in the 1280s, and as little as £116 in 1296. In the earlier 14th century totals were usually between £150 and £180, but in 1309 over £200. The increase during the 13th century chiefly reflected a steady rise in assized rents (from about £32 in 1208 to nearer £50 by mid century), and a sharp rise in income from mill leases (from 8s. in 1208 to over £20 by the 1230s); rent income in the earlier 14th century was £50–£60. A major cause of fluctuations was varied income from sales of surplus, the grain yielding over £50 in some years, in others less than £20. Low income in 1296 reflected negligible sales of grain and stock, while a high total in 1309 included some £32 from sales both of stock and of wool. Expenditure, in which the regular items were maintenance of buildings and equipment, payments for threshing, mowing, and harvesting, and wages and expenses of servants and officers, ranged from £20 to £60 in most years before the Black Death; a high total of £135 in 1251 reflected extensive building work and creation of the park, and expenditure of £100 in 1345 included £75 for purchase of stock. The accounts show a consistent cash surplus, but provide only a partial indication of profit and loss: some costs were presented as allowances against rent, and some potential income, for example from produce supplied to the bishop's table or fleeces transferred for sale at Wolvesey, was never valued. (fn. 45)
The 36 villeins and 11 bordars recorded on the manor in 1086 worked 20 ploughs, some of them presumably in Curbridge. (fn. 46) An apparent increase in peasant holdings by c. 1237, when Witney manor contained 89 yardlands, 13 cotlands, various additional pieces, and a large number of assarts, may simply reflect the inclusion of freeholds at Caswell, perhaps omitted in 1086. (fn. 47) Very few of the assarts lay in Curbridge, which had evidently been fully cultivated from an early date. (fn. 48)
Of the 25½ freehold yardlands in Witney manor c. 1237, 12 were in Caswell and possibly 6 more were held by Curbridge men: certainly Adam Palmer's 4 yardlands and 1 a. were probably the estate which John of Woodstock held freely in Curbridge in 1279, and 2 yardlands and 1 a. held by Robert of the heath were probably related to the remaining 2 yardlands and 2 a. of Curbridge freehold in 1279. (fn. 49) Of the 63½ customary yardlands recorded about 1237 Curbridge contained 29½, held by 25 tenants (19 yardlanders, two with 2 yardlands, four with 1½, and a single half-yardlander). There was little change before 1279, when Curbridge (excluding Caswell) had 6 free and 30 customary yardlands. The Curbridge free holdings were then in the hands of 4 men, and its customary tenants comprised 28 yardlanders and 4 half-yardlanders; there were also 2 cottars, each holding a few acres for much lower rents and fewer services than the villeins, bringing the total of recorded tenants in the township (excluding Caswell) to 38. (fn. 50) Later medieval accounts suggest that there continued to be around 64 customary yardlands on the manor as a whole, including around 30 in Curbridge. (fn. 51) An apparent increase implied by the number of rent reductions given in return for annual or seasonal services during the 14th century (fn. 52) is difficult to reconcile with other evidence and, since there was no expansion of customary land in Curbridge, is unlikely to have been at the expense of the demesne. (fn. 53)
Some two-thirds of the tenants of Witney manor may have died of plague in 1349–50: rents from 35½ yardlands were excused because of the death of tenants in 1349, while the payment of 57 heriots in that year shows that some customary tenants were succeeded more than once. Rent reductions for autumn labour service, allowed for 53½ yardlands in 1348, were given for only 21 yardlands in 1349, and for only two in 1350. (fn. 54) In Curbridge in 1349 there were vacancies in 18 houses with 17 yardlands (14 single yardlands, 3 half yardlands, and one holding of 1½ yardland). Recovery was slow, and in 1358 there were still 33 yardlands in Witney manor without customary tenants. Compulsion to take up tenancies almost halved vacancies by 1360, (fn. 55) but the second great plague of 1361 permanently affected manorial organisation. Thereafter most customary services were commuted, and the demesne cultivated by paid labour; entry fines were largely abandoned, and when levied were as little as 2s. a yardland by the 1380s. (fn. 56)
From 1362 customary works were commuted for a fixed payment of 6s. 8d. a yardland, although tenants were still obliged to contribute to an annual tax, to serve as reeve and tithingman, and to help with sheep washing and shearing and a variety of minor tasks. In 1376–7, when no rent reductions were made for labour services on the demesne, the fixed payment was made by only 27 tenants in respect of 28½ customary yardlands, (fn. 57) while in 1409–10 rent reductions were made only for a reeve and 3 rent-collectors, and the fixed payment was made by only 22 men for 21 yardlands. (fn. 58) Another 35 yardlands in 1376–7 were 'in the lord's hand', and in 1409–10 as many as 43½, though in fact all those holdings were let at the rate of 6s. a yardland, yielding £13 1s. in 1409–10. By then some 17 customary yardlands in Curbridge were listed among rents decayed through plague, while around 12 others seem to have paid the fixed commutation fee. (fn. 59) By 1440–1 only two, possibly three, customary holdings in Curbridge were held on the old terms, their tenants paying the 6s. 8d. for 'sale of works', presumably the commutation fee; 29 yardlands were let, mostly at 6s. a yardland, although 5 (including 4 held by one man) paid 6s. 8d. (fn. 60) In the later 15th century rents reduced because of plague were noted for 28 yardlands in Curbridge, once held by up to 32 men but in 1469–70 let to only 13 tenants at between 6s. and 7s.; a further 2 or 3 yardlands still paid the commutation fee. By the end of the century there seem to have been even fewer landholders, though the formulaic nature of the bishop's accounts may conceal changes. (fn. 61)
In the 1350s some 300 a. of demesne was still cultivated each year, but two thirds were reaped by paid labour and profits fell: labour costs rose from £31 in 1347 to £54 in 1365. By 1375–6 only 164 a. were sown, of which 16 a. were reserved for famuli, and the sown area remained below 200 a. throughout the later 14th century. (fn. 62) From the 1350s there was increasing emphasis on sheep farming, and in 1359 the bishop's flock numbered 1,500. (fn. 63) Some pieces of demesne were let, usually (by the 1380s) for terms of years, as was a sizeable holding (once Thomas of Curbridge's) which thereafter remained a distinct leasehold estate. (fn. 64) In 1398 the bulk of the demesne was let as a unit for 7 years, together with its stock and crops, which included 6 horses, 48 cattle, 29 pigs, and some 220 qr of cereal crops (wheat, barley, dredge, and oats). The bishop continued to farm sheep directly, and the demesne flock at the beginning of that year numbered 1,600; some 100 a. of pasture was kept in hand, and the tenant of a piece of demesne called 'inland' was expected to provide a shepherd and fold. (fn. 65) The park pasture was regularly excluded from leases of demesne and pasture in the earlier 15th century, and there were still 1,000 sheep on the demesne in 1442. Even so direct farming was sometimes abandoned: in 1427 the demesne lessee took on the byre and sheep-pen in the park and 600 wethers, and sheep were again let with the demesne in 1435. Under Bishop William Waynflete from 1447 direct sheep farming ceased: in 1449 over 800 sheep were let, half of them to the main demesne lessee, and sheep were still included in leases in the 1450s. (fn. 66)
Most of the later-medieval demesne lessees seem to have been existing manorial tenants. Sometimes there were joint lessees, as in 1449 when John Lewe and John Hayward rented the demesne and part of the demesne flock for £18 13s. 4d. a year. In the later 15th century leases became longer: John Pitts (or Puttes) in 1474 followed a 12-year lease with one of 10 years, which by then included demesne meadows previously reserved for the lord's sheep. The annual rent of £20 remained unchanged into the 17th century; presumably there were substantial renewal fines. From the 1490s the demesne lessees were successive members of the Brice family, (fn. 67) occupants of the manor house in Witney, which in the early 17th century was called Witney Farm. (fn. 68)
The first Brice lessee, William, was reported in 1517–18 to have 'laid waste' 3 yardlands of arable held from the bishop, presumably inclosing it for sheep pasture and allegedly depriving six men of their work. (fn. 69) Probably that was only part of a more widespread conversion to pasture after the Black Death, of which the most notable example was at Caswell. There Richard Wenman allegedly turned 20 a. to pasture about 1500, (fn. 70) but Caswell's marked association with wool merchants in the later Middle Ages suggests that it had long been inclosed sheep pasture. (fn. 71)
Before the 17th century Curbridge's fields were wholly reorganized, and the formerly dispersed demesne replaced by an integrated swathe of closes immediately west and south of the borough, leaving Curbridge's remaining open fields (which by then contained no demesne) entirely in the township's western part (Fig. 68). A map of Witney manor in 1662 (fn. 72) showed only the fields (mostly named closes) in Curbridge's eastern part, excluding the open fields which then, as later, lay west of Colwell brook. In 1814 most of that eastern area belonged to the bishop's manorial lessee and was sublet as two large inclosed farms, (fn. 73) implying that the map was drawn chiefly to show the bishop's inclosed demesne. By 1662 most of the named closes had boundaries which survived into the 19th century. (fn. 74) Burwell field and Old field, successors partly or wholly of medieval arable fields, were large pasture closes (65 a. and 50 a.), as were most of the adjacent closes let in the later 17th century as Pryor's (later Burwell) farm. (fn. 75)
The date of such wide-scale conversion to grass, which would have required major reorganization of the open fields, remains uncertain, but seems likely to have been associated with the flourishing of local sheep-farming in the later Middle Ages and the 16th century. Nevertheless, in some respects the map of 1662 suggests that reorganization of the fields was still in progress. Some areas, notably the adjacent Further Hill and Apley furlong between the Witney—Burford road and the river Windrush, have the appearance of open fields, and in 1695 it was recalled that Quarry ground and Mill piece in that area had been, as late as the 1670s, part of an open field called Witney field, usually growing cereals. (fn. 76) By 1695 inclosure of the chief demesne farm, Witney farm, was evidently complete, and probably Further Hill and Apley furlong had been included in that process: certainly by 1713 (and probably by 1700) they had been divided into five grounds (157 a.) which, together with Apley meadow, made up the leasehold Apley farm. (fn. 77) Other survivals in 1662 of earlier open-field arrangements were three areas of copyhold land on the western fringes of the borough, two of them described as 'shooting' on adjacent closes, implying strip cultivation, the third evidently meadow, since the lord (and later the tenant of Burwell farm) retained a right to after-feed there. Probably those copyhold areas, too, were soon inclosed, and certainly before 1814 were divided into small closes held by several tenants. (fn. 78)
In the early Middle Ages amalgamation of tenant holdings was discouraged (fn. 79) and Curbridge remained a community of small farmers, mostly with single yardlands. In 1327 its 32 taxpayers (including at least two at Caswell) were assessed on total moveable wealth of £76 15s. (about 48s. a head), a somewhat higher average than Hailey, where there were more taxpayers but probably many more cottagers. The average payment in Curbridge was inflated by Richard of Standlake, who was assessed on goods worth over £14 on his Caswell estate; twelve others paid on between £5 and £2, and 19 on less than £2. (fn. 80)
After the Black Death changing manorial organization allowed the emergence of more substantial customary holdings. Among 13 or so tenants of Curbridge's roughly 30 customary yardlands in 1479–70, William Ivinghoe held at least 4 yardlands and Richard Purton (Puryton) possibly more, (fn. 81) and by the late 15th century the customary yardlands seem to have been divided among only seven or eight tenants. (fn. 82) By then entry fines and commutation payments had been re-established, and from 1528 rents were reorganised so that sales of works were absorbed into a new assized rent. (fn. 83) Rents thereafter varied greatly from 6s. to 15s. a yardland, and fines from 6s. 8d. to 20s., (fn. 84) while in Curbridge, as elsewhere in Witney manor, copyhold developed into copyhold of inheritance or 'customary freehold'. (fn. 85) In the later 16th century Curbridge was still reckoned at 30 customary yardlands, and in 1646 some 29 or 30 Curbridge yardlands were occupied by around 14 tenants, each with between ½ and 6 yardlands; only four tenants held more than 2 yardlands. (fn. 86) All those figures excluded the open-field glebe, later reckoned as 4 yardlands, and the leasehold Curbridge farm, usually reckoned as six. (fn. 87)
Several of Curbridge's prominent later farms may be traced to amalgamations of copyholds in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Newman family acquired two 4-yardland holdings named Pirton's and Garston's after late-medieval tenants, (fn. 88) and though Henry Newman settled two of the yardlands on a younger son in 1599, (fn. 89) the other six became the later Charity farm. (fn. 90) Manor farm may be traced to a 4-yardland estate held by John Haddon in 1562; (fn. 91) from the 1630s to the early 19th century it was held by the Hackers of Churchill, (fn. 92) who in the 17th century acquired another 5½ copyhold yardlands and various closes. (fn. 93) In the 18th century they sublet their estate in three portions of between 2 and 4½ yardlands, largely preserving the earlier constituent farms. (fn. 94) The later Dutton's farm, held from the 1650s by the Harrises of Minster Lovell, was a 4-yardland estate of the Hunsden family in the mid 16th century; (fn. 95) the Harrises enlarged the estate in the early 18th century, usually subletting it, (fn. 96) and when sold in 1800 it was reckoned as 5½ yardlands. (fn. 97) Nevertheless such customary holdings accounted for less than a third of the land in Curbridge, where quitrents from copyholds totalled only some £20 in the mid 18th century, compared with over £47 in Hailey. (fn. 98) The largest farms in the township were not customary open-field holdings, but inclosed leasehold farms at Caswell and on the former manorial demesne. (fn. 99)
For the subsidy of 1524–5 fourteen people contributed to the township's assessment of 25s., and eleven to a further assessment of around 22s. (fn. 100) The township's wealthiest men, however, were taxed separately, Richard Wenman of Caswell paying £43 6s. 8d. (a twentieth of assessed wealth of 1,300 marks), and William Brice the elder and younger, lessees of the demesne, paying £2 10s. (fn. 101) In 1544 Curbridge's principal taxpayers were Thomas Wenman of Caswell and Witney Park, paying on land worth £360, three other members of the Wenman family (land worth £20–£40), the demesne lessee Thomas Brice (land worth £30), and two farmers, John Newman and John Penny (land worth £26 and £20). Five others paid on goods worth £5 or £6, and five on less. (fn. 102) The Wenman and Brice families continued to pay the bulk of Curbridge's subsidy contributions in the later 16th century. (fn. 103)
Probably the wealthiest inhabitant in the early 17th century was Richard Ashcombe (d. 1606), gentleman, who seems to have been involved in the Witney cloth trade and held substantial estates elsewhere; he made his will and probably died at Witney manor house, home of his father-in-law Stephen Brice, but evidently farmed in Curbridge and had a house there, possibly Curbridge Farm. (fn. 104) His bequests included £800 in cash; his farm was mixed, for in 1606 wheat, barley, and malt were stored at Curbridge, while earlier he had kept large sheep flocks, supplementing the pasture on his Curbridge farm by using Witney park, where in 1591 he lambed 100 ewes. (fn. 105) Ashcombe was exceptional, but the emergence of some larger holdings in Curbridge meant that several other farmers were moderately wealthy. The Newman family remained prominent for several generations: John Newman (d. 1548) left personalty worth £96, (fn. 106) and while that of his son William (d. 1579), one of only eight taxpayers in Curbridge in 1576, was valued at a modest £72, William's son Henry (d. 1601) made large cash bequests to his children and left personalty worth £218. (fn. 107) Henry Bentley (d. 1625), whose farm has not been identified, left personalty worth over £300, including a flock of 140 sheep and much else in bonds, debts, pewter, brass, and linen. (fn. 108) A more typical Curbridge yeoman, perhaps, was William Brice (d. 1613), of a junior branch of the Brices of Witney manor, who probably farmed 3 yardlands and left stored corn and hay (£43), growing wheat (£6), and cattle, sheep, and poultry (£55) in a total inventory of £118. (fn. 109) Robert Tanner (d. 1625) had a mixed farm with 9 cattle, 139 sheep, 20 pigs, corn and hay worth £32, and a total inventory of £158, (fn. 110) while Andrew Dalton (d. 1699) had 20 cattle, 90 sheep, 13 pigs, 11 horses, and grain worth £20. (fn. 111) More affluent was the Wenman's lessee at Caswell Robert Ballard (d. 1612), who made cash bequests of over £120 and was sometimes called gentleman. (fn. 112) Thomas King (d. 1649), yeoman, had an expensively furnished house, his personalty of £224 plus debts deriving from a mixed farm and probably from Woodford Mill, (fn. 113) while Robert Plowman alias Wright (d. 1666) made cash bequests of over £300 and seems to have held farms in both Curbridge and Northmoor. (fn. 114)
In the 16th and 17th centuries the manor house in Witney (later Mount House) continued as the working farmhouse for much of the bishop's demesne in Curbridge, and was held by the Brices until the mid 17th century. (fn. 115) They also seem to have occupied the lodge in Witney park from the later 16th century, (fn. 116) and may have worked parts of the demesne from there. By the later 17th century the former demesne, by then inclosed and concentrated in the township's eastern part, (fn. 117) was let in several units (Fig. 68). The principal farm, some 320 a. in the Burwell area, was worked from farm buildings next to Witney manor house, with the use of Old Field barn within the park's southern boundary; in 1697 that holding, called Pryor's farm from an earlier subtenant, was let to John Horne for 19 years. (fn. 118) Horne was already lessee of Witney park, 173 a. when let to him in 1693, (fn. 119) and in 1700 he obtained the lease of the 177-a. Apley farm north of the Burford road, thus acquiring all the former demesne except for a block of closes immediately south and south-west of the borough. (fn. 120)
In 1713 Horne took a new lease of his three farms for £380 a year, renewed on similar terms by him and Thomas Horne in 1730 and 1735. (fn. 121) The Hornes evidently lived at Witney Park Farm and may have worked most of the land from there. In the 1750s, however, following acquisition of the manorial lease by the duke of Marlborough, there were major changes. Although Thomas Horne's lease was not due for renewal until 1756 (fn. 122) he seems before then to have been holding at rack rent, while the northern part of his holding, Park farm, was by 1755 (and probably from 1751) held at rack rent by another farmer. (fn. 123) A new farmhouse was built at Burwell before 1756, when the duke granted to Thomas Staley a 12-year lease at £230 a year of the southern part of Horne's former holding, the area once Pryor's farm, and known thereafter as Burwell farm. Though there may already have been a cottage and barns on the site none were mentioned in earlier leases, and there is no evidence that the farm was worked from Burwell before 1756. (fn. 124) The Staleys farmed there until the mid 19th century.
In 1755 Thomas Horne was paying 10s. 3d. an acre for what became Burwell farm, comprising 250 a. worth £1 an acre and 120 a. worth only half that: 40 a. in Great Old field were 'exceedingly foul'. The rack-rented Park farm comprised 346 acres. Both had over 100 a. devoted to cereals, but retained large acreages of permanent grass and meadow, while clover and sainfoin were used in crop rotation. (fn. 125) Subsequent leases carried the usual penalties for ploughing up meadow and pasture, and discouraged the planting of successive grain crops without the intervention of a 'good summer fallow' or a rotation crop. The farmer of Park farm was forbidden to grow grain in more than 5 of his 7 arable fields at any one time, or to have more than three successive grain crops in any field. (fn. 126)
Before 1759 the duke of Marlborough granted a long lease of Park farm for £360 a year to Edward Rogers, (fn. 127) and in 1766 renewed it on the same terms for 8 years to John Bush of Minster Lovell. (fn. 128) The Bush family farmed there until the early 19th century, when the annual rent was £500. (fn. 129) Park farm was then taken over by the Staleys of Burwell, and in 1818 Richard Staley farmed some 800 a. of contiguous land for £766 a year. (fn. 130)
By the early 18th century the former demesne closes south and south-west of the borough were let in various combinations on long leases, usually to Witney tradesmen: thus in 1705 the manor house and a close on its north side were let with Rushey meadow (30 a.), Veysey's moor (12 a.), the Witney butchers' stalls, and other manorial perquisites, while in 1719 Fulney, Conygree, Henney, and other meadows adjacent to the manor house were let with its great barn to Sarah Gascoigne. In 1739 the same estate was let in two parts, each with a section of the great barn, to John Woodbridge and Edward Druce, who remained the tenants in 1750. At that date the manor house was still held with some 30 a. of meadow, and other groups of closes were held on long leases: in all, excluding the principal farm lease and the two mills, some dozen Curbridge leases yielded nearly £250 a year. (fn. 131) In 1763 the duke of Marlborough's leases of the same property yielded over £350, including James Gray's lease of the manor house with some 27 a. (£69), and John Druce's lease of the great barn with perhaps 80 a. (£71). (fn. 132)
In the early 17th century the Wenmans' Caswell estate may have been farmed solely by Robert Ballard (d. 1612), who held two separate leases, (fn. 133) but by the mid 18th century Caswell was let and worked as two farms. The larger, held in 1758 by Thomas Lancashire for £179 a year, (fn. 134) was the later Caswell Manor farm, retained by the Lancashires into the early 19th century. (fn. 135) The smaller, occupied since at least 1748 by William Upstone for £80 a year, (fn. 136) was presumably the later Lower Caswell farm in Brize Norton. (fn. 137) In 1824 the Wrights, successors to the Lancashires, held both farms: Caswell Manor farm, worked from Caswell House, comprised 378 a. of which two thirds were arable, while the adjacent Lower Caswell farm, worked from a separate farmhouse, comprised 167 a., of which less than a third was arable. (fn. 138)
A small open-field holding in Curbridge in the later 17th century was divided between two large fields, South field and Garston, which seem, from furlong names, to have covered much the same area as the 19th-century open fields: South field contained all the arable south and south-east of the village, other furlongs to the east, and Hawksley in the north-west, while Garston field included all or most of the arable on the west side of the later fields. (fn. 139) The two-field division may have reflected earlier descriptions rather than current cropping arrangements: certainly by the 18th century a fourcourse rotation of crops was established, and in 1785 there were four large fields, South, Park Hill, Rush Acre, and Minster Hedge fields. Furlong names relate them partly or wholly to the later Starnham, Folly, Garston, and Far Corner fields respectively, lying roughly south-east, north-east, south-west and north-west of the village. (fn. 140) In 1775 and 1794 the open-field arable was variously estimated as 600 a. and 863 a., but in 1814, when first surveyed fairly accurately, the arable covered 729 a. in six fields. Garston field (163 a.) then straddled the Brize Norton road between the village and the inclosed Caswell farm, while Folly field (198 a.) lay north of the village, stretching along the west side of the former Witney park to the Witney-Burford road; further west was Middle field (56 a.) and, on the township's western edge beyond Curbridge down, Far Corner field (163 a.). Hawksley field (63 a.) occupied the township's north-west corner, and Starnham field (87 a.) lay south-east of the village on both sides of the Ducklington road. (fn. 141)
The chief areas of common pasture were the heath in the south and the down in the north-west, though animals were also grazed on baulks in the open fields and on the stubble. The heath provided fuel for commoners, who were regularly fined in the manor court for cutting furze prematurely. (fn. 142) In 1617 commoners were allowed to graze 20 sheep to a yardland, but in the 18th century and early 19th the stint seems usually to have been 40 sheep. (fn. 143) A cattle stint of 3 to a yardland seems to have been retained throughout. When measured in 1814 the down, used exclusively for sheep, comprised 99 a., and the heath, grazed by cattle, 152 a.; the common baulks provided 15 a. and, in all, 265 a. of pasture were commonable by the owners of 42 yardlands, theoretically shared in proportion to their holdings. (fn. 144)
Much of the best meadow, along the river Windrush, was inclosed and had probably always formed part of the demesne, but in 1814 there was also 143 a. of common meadow. Curbridge meadow (100 a.) lay on the Windrush in the extreme south-east of the township, and there were five lot meadows, of which the chief were Starnham (16 a.) on the south-eastern boundary stream, Colwell (5 a.) on Colwell brook west of Burwell farm, and Crawley meadow (22 a.) on the Windrush near Crawley. (fn. 145) Curbridge meadow, sometimes called Ducklington meadow, was shared with Ducklington under arrangements probably of great antiquity: Curbridge men had the first mowth in proportion to their yardland holdings, and thereafter until Lady day in the following year Curbridge meadow was common pasture for Ducklington landholders. (fn. 146) Sometimes the meadow was said to lie in Ducklington, but in 1814 it was surveyed as part of Witney manor (elsewhere co-extensive with Witney parish), and was treated as part of Curbridge during preparation for tithe commutation in the 1830s. (fn. 147) In 1775 it was said that 77 a. of meadow there was apportioned to 40 yardlands in Curbridge, with a further 33 a. attached to 1½ yardland: (fn. 148) possibly that reflected an ancient connection with the long-inclosed Caswell, whose owners retained an open-field estate reckoned as 1½ yardland, although associated meadow rights were not mentioned elsewhere. (fn. 149) In 1814 Curbridge meadow was called lot meadow, perhaps mistakenly: (fn. 150) by then it lay in some 20 pieces, apparently permanent subdivisions, since Curbridge farm retained an unchanged piece (c. 9 a.) in 1785 and 1828, (fn. 151) and another estate had the same 13½ a. in 1814 and c. 1832. (fn. 152)
By contrast the five smaller lot meadows were divided annually, and swathes were allotted by drawing named lots (e.g. Three Hack, White Wheel, Curry Comb) which were attached to particular estates and carried rights to whole or partial swathes. Starnham meadow was divided into 10 swathes, for each of which one lot was drawn. Six lots conferred whole swathes, three necessitated the division of a swathe into halves, and one lot (Dung Pike), shared by three estates, required a division into a half and two quarters. The 6-yardland Curbridge farm had lots in all five meadows, attached to Five Hack, Cheese Cake, and Dung Pike, while the 4-yardland glebe included one whole lot in each, all attached to Black Wheel. For Crawley meadow, customarily divided into 13 swathes, an additional lot was drawn; it was called the Cross and conferred 3 swathes. (fn. 153)
Much of the open-field arable was considered poor, the soil cold, thin, and rocky. (fn. 154) Holdings remained scattered, and even in the 1820s farmers rarely held more than two strips together. (fn. 155) A rotation of three crops and a fallow, the latter preceding the wheat crop, was maintained until inclosure. (fn. 156) In 1828 Curbridge farm's 92 a. of open-field arable comprised 21 a. of wheat in Garston field, 26 a. of barley in Park Hill and Briar Hill fields, 16 a. of beans in Middle and Lower fields, and 30 a. of fallow in Far Corner field; 'precarious' crops and excessive weeds were blamed on the failure to sow turnips or graze sheep on the land. (fn. 157)
In 1775, when the open fields were surveyed with a view to inclosure, (fn. 158) there were said to be 41½ yardlands farmed by eight men, the holdings ranging from 2 yardlands to Robert Hiett's 8½ yardlands (including Curbridge farm). Rentable value of open-field land around Witney was 7–12s. an acre, (fn. 159) but it was estimated that inclosure would raise the value of Curbridge's arable to 14s., the pasture to 11–12s., and most of the meadow to 17s.; existing closes were valued at 18s. an acre. Rents for an estimated 1,115 a. of open land and 200 a. of closes totalled £580 (including tithe rent), which the surveyors concluded would increase by at least 10 per cent after inclosure; the scheme was not proceeded with, however.
In 1814–16 Curbridge contained 1,114 a. of open-field land, 1,789 a. of closes, and 35 a. of roads and waste. (fn. 160) Three-quarters of the inclosed land was accounted for by Caswell farm (384 a.) and the duke of Marlborough's estate (983 a.), its chief constituents still Witney Park farm (357 a.), Burwell farm (348 a.), and the block of mainly grass closes in the south-east. Other old inclosures were attached to open-field farms, of which some had 40–50 a. of closes; most were small and lay adjacent to village farmhouses, though there were also blocks of probably ancient closes within the open-field area. In the south between the Bampton road and the boundary brook was a group including Bilvers (presumably the earlier Gilbards) pits, recorded from the 15th century. (fn. 161) East of the village by Colwell brook were Hill Closes, a group of parallel, rectangular fields recorded from the 16th century, (fn. 162) and seemingly created in a single process. Other groups of small early closes on the marshy western perimeter of the borough, including Brice's moors, (fn. 163) may have been used by Witney tradesmen rather than Curbridge farmers.
In 1814 there were reckoned to be 42 yardlands in Curbridge. John Hacker's 9-yardland estate, centred on the later Manor Farm, seems to have been wholly occupied by Samuel Busby from 1802; (fn. 164) it comprised 319 a. including 59 a. of old inclosures, while the open-field acreage included a nominal 57 a. for the estate's share in common pasture and wastes. Busby was also, briefly, tenant of Curbridge farm, which in 1814 comprised 192 acres. Other major open-field holdings were Dutton's farm (6½ yardlands or 210 a.), which had passed from the Harris family to Thomas Castle in 1800, and Holloway Charity's 5 yardlands (149 a.), held by Thomas Wright with the 4 yardlands of glebe (142 a.). The remaining 11½ yardlands were divided among 6 tenants, including Robert Coppin's 3 yardlands (Dog farm), sublet to Wright, and Daniel Dalton's 3 yardlands, later Malthouse farm. (fn. 165)
Inclosure of the open fields, combined with tithe commutation, began in 1838 and was formally confirmed in 1845, but the allotment of land was evidently complete before tithes were apportioned in 1840 and confirmed in 1841. (fn. 166) The township's 23 landowners were reckoned to hold 2,952 a., of which 2,812 a. were titheable and 139 a. (in the former Witney park) were exempt; just over 2,000 a. were arable, 909 a. grass, 10 a. woodland, and the rest roads or water. The inclosure award dealt with only 1,274 a. (excluding roads, quarries, and some small exchanges concerning Ducklington meadow), including some 156 a. of old inclosures re-allotted presumably to ease the formation of integrated farms. The open fields, including common pasture and meadow, comprised only 1,118 a. compared with some 1,800 a. of old inclosure (both figures excluding roads and water). The commissioners met costs by selling 185 a., notably 110 a. to James Leake, which became the core of Downs farm. The bishop of Winchester and his lessee received 9 a. for manorial rights, various Ducklington landholders received 21 a. in Curbridge meadow for former grazing rights there, and 5 a. on the township's southern edge were granted as a recreation ground for the poor. (fn. 167) The remaining awards were to 20 recipients, of whom ten held only minimal stakes in the common fields: (fn. 168) the chief allottees were James Leake (253 a.), William Dutton (185 a.), E. H. Butler (130 a.), Holloway's charity (111 a.), the rector of Witney (101 a.), Charles Leake (66 a.), William Dalton's trustees (55 a.), and the Wright family (50 a.).
After inclosure the principal landowners were the duke of Marlborough as the bishop of Winchester's lessee (999 a.), James Leake (415 a.), the Revd William Pearson at Caswell (413 a.), William Dutton (210 a.), E. H. Butler, lessee of the bishop of Winchester's Curbridge farm (168 a.), the rector of Witney (124 a.), and Holloway's trustees (115 a.). The duke of Marlborough's estate was divided chiefly between Park and Burwell farms (357 a. and 347 a.), with a holding of some 150 a., immediately south of the borough, worked by James Marriott from the farmstead east of Mount House. Caswell was farmed as a single unit by Henry Venn, probably then, as in 1851 when he held some 580 a., (fn. 169) with Lower Caswell farm in Brize Norton. James Leake's estate was divided chiefly between Manor farm (209 a.), let to Robert Matthews, and the new Downs farm (200 a.), let to William Grace; in 1845 both farms were sold to pay Leake's debts, Manor farm apparently to the Witney auctioneer James Long and Downs farm to William Dutton, (fn. 170) whose 210-a. inclosure allotment, later Dutton's farm, was mostly let to John Clare. Curbridge farm was sublet to Lionel Bury with most of the glebe, known later as Glebe or Parsonage farm, while Charity farm was held by Edward Busby.
In 1851 the principal farmers were Henry Venn at Caswell, employing 20 labourers, Thomas Staley at Witney Park, and Charles Staley at Burwell, both employing 12; four other farms employed between 6 and 9 labourers. The Staleys farmed Witney Park until the 1870s, but the Burwell lease passed before 1858 to John Walker, whose widow Elizabeth farmed there from the early 1860s to the end of the century. At Caswell there was even greater continuity, the Roberts family farming there from 1852 until the 1880s, and the Joslins thereafter.
In 1861 Caswell farm employed some 27 labourers, and Witney Park and Burwell 14 each; Dutton's farm employed 16, Manor farm 9, Butler's (Curbridge) farm 7, and Charity farm five. (fn. 171) In 1867 there were some 23 farms and smallholdings and the cultivated area was 2,796 a., half of it pasture or hay; the chief crops were barley (425 a.), wheat (388 a.), turnips (276 a.), beans (128 a.), and oats (75 a.), with some vetches, mangolds, potatoes, peas, and cabbage. Livestock in the summer included 2,674 sheep, 351 pigs, and 259 cattle, of which a third were dairy cattle; (fn. 172) in 1871 stock on Thomas Staley's mixed Park farm included 280 Oxford Down sheep, 26 dairy cattle, 25 pigs, and 9 cart horses. (fn. 173) In 1875 Joseph Roberts at Caswell farm was 'an eminent breeder' of Oxford Downs. (fn. 174)
Agricultural depression greatly reduced the workforce: at Caswell farm 41 men, 10 women, and 6 boys were employed in 1871, but ten years later only 21 labourers in all. (fn. 175) The number of smallholdings increased in the later 19th century: by 1896 the 2,911 a. of cultivated land had as many as 48 occupiers, mostly tenants. The proportion of grassland increased to almost two thirds, though the chief crops were still barley (246 a.), wheat (218 a.), and turnips (200 a.); potatoes (188 a.) and oats (178 a.) were also important. Cattle numbers (273) were little changed, but there were fewer sheep (1,850). (fn. 176) Poultry farming, established by then on a small scale, became more significant in the early 20th century, a period when sheep numbers, as in many Oxfordshire parishes, suffered temporary decline.
On the eve of the First World War two thirds of Curbridge's cultivated area was permanent grass, and the arable was chiefly sown with wheat (25 per cent), barley (17 per cent), oats, and turnips (each 10 per cent). (fn. 177) The principal farms were still Caswell (575 a.) and the duke of Marlborough's Park and Burwell farms (386 a. and 338 a.), farmed by J. H. Wilsden and R. D. Buswell. Downs farm, sold by the Duttons to C. W. Early in 1900 and farmed by Joseph Mawle, comprised 180 a., Curbridge and Manor farms 160 a., and Charity and Glebe farms around 115 a.; Charity farm had been sold by Holloway's trustees in 1907 because of inadequate rents after the agricultural depression. (fn. 178)
By 1926 Curbridge's 28 farmers and smallholders included six with holdings of more than 150 a., and 18 with fewer than 50 a.; 61 workers were employed full-time. Almost three quarters of the 2,800 a. cultivated were pasture or hay; wheat and barley covered over 500 a., turnips and mangolds over 100 a., beans and vetches 60 a., and potatoes only 5 a., Sheep numbers had recovered to 1,875, and there were 636 cattle of which half were dairy cattle. Poultry numbers had reached nearly 3,000. (fn. 179)
The extent of agricultural land in Curbridge was steadily reduced in the 20th century. Much of Downs farm was requisitioned for the airfield in 1917, and the residual 100 a. was farmed from elsewhere or combined with land in Minster Lovell. (fn. 180) Sales of land for housing and for the airfield reduced Park farm to 230 a. by 1941. At that date the other large farms were Caswell (558 a., including land in Brize Norton), Burwell (316 a.), Curbridge farm (228 a.), Charity farm (434 a., including land at Minster Lovell), and Manor farm (395 a., including a Brize Norton farm). Most of Dutton's farm seems to have been absorbed into Glebe and Peashell farms (148 a. and 130 a.), (fn. 181) the latter a compact block of land west of Curbridge village allotted to William Dutton at inclosure; by 1876, and perhaps from the outset, it included a farmstead, called Peashill or Peashell Farm by the 1930s. (fn. 182) Most farms in 1941 were mixed, growing cereals and cattle feed on half their land, and keeping cattle, sheep, and poultry. Curbridge farm was praised as a first-rate dairy farm with a pedigree Friesian herd, and Caswell farm, almost entirely grass before the war, was noted for the quality of its newly ploughed arable. Some smallholdings were poultry farms, notably Swanny Lea (7 a.) with 1,300 poultry. (fn. 183)
Witney's westward expansion further reduced the cultivated area from 2,670 a. in 1946 to only 1,794 a. by 1966, and during the 1980s there was another sharp fall from 742 to 500 ha. (1,235 a.). (fn. 184) As early as 1948, when Park farm was put up for sale by the duke of Marlborough, its potential as building land was emphasised, (fn. 185) and in the 1960s houses were built on much of the farm's eastern part. The rest of its former land south of the Burford road was covered by the Deer Park housing estate in the 1990s. (fn. 186) The duke sold Burwell farm in 1949, and when resold in 1956, though still a profitable mixed and dairy farm, it was reduced to 152 a.; fields on its east side had been reserved for housing, and some 100 a. north of the WitneyCurbridge road became New Leys farm, which acquired a new farmhouse in 1960. (fn. 187) The rest of Burwell farm was sold to a property developer in the 1960s, and by the 1990s the former fields of both Burwell and New Leys farms were entirely built over. In the same period much other agricultural land, including some 150 a. in the Downs Road area, was turned to recreational and other uses. (fn. 188)
In 1966 Curbridge retained 17 agricultural holdings, of which six were over 150 a. and the rest under 30 acres. By 1988 there were only seven holdings, including five over 50 ha. and two under 20 ha.; three were worked part-time, the number of full-time agricultural workers having fallen from 32 in 1946 to only seven. In 1966 some 60 per cent of the cultivated area was grassland, and the livestock comprised cattle and sheep (600–700 of each), pigs (over 300), and poultry (over 5,000); the arable was devoted chiefly to barley (478 a.) and wheat (133 a.). By 1980 pig-farming had almost ceased. Agricultural land lost in the 1980s was mostly pasture, and by 1988 the arable area was 258 ha., the grassland only 240 ha. All but 50 a. of the arable carried barley and wheat in roughly equal quantities, and there were some field beans and oil-seed rape. Of the four substantial farms two were mixed, and two concentrated on rearing and fattening livestock: sheep numbers approached 2,000, and there were 337 cattle and 8,000 poultry. (fn. 189)
Trade and Industry
Most of the masons, slaters, and carpenters employed on the medieval demesne buildings were probably local men, although when Woodford fulling mill was rebuilt about 1460 the floodgates were built by a Worcester carpenter. (fn. 190) In the 13th century a smith was paid each year for the demesne ploughshares, and in the 14th century the lord's permanent famuli included a smith. (fn. 191) The township's mills provided employment for fullers and weavers, and many residents of Corn Street, which lay technically in Curbridge but was effectively part of the town, followed non-agricultural trades. (fn. 192)
There were several quarries in the township, some of them ancient. It is likely that Corn (earlier Crundell or Corndell) Street derived its name from quarries at its west end, where some were still active in 1814. (fn. 193) A quarry in Galley Hill field in that area, probably on the site of the later Witney cemetery, was excepted from leases of the main demesne farm in the late 17th and 18th century. (fn. 194) Probably most of the land bounded by the Burford road, Tower Hill, and Dark Lane was quarried at various times: fields at its southern end, called Bryans Hill and Cocked Up Hat in 1814, were Quarr piece in the 18th century and possibly Quarry close in the 16th and 17th, (fn. 195) while immediately north were Dailey's Hills, earlier called Quarry ground and Clay piece. (fn. 196) Union quarry near Tower Hill, opened for the building of Witney workhouse in 1835, supplied stone for the rebuilding of Eynsham Hall in 1904, and for a time was worked by the Bartletts, Witney builders. (fn. 197) Several cottage rows in the area were occupied by, and perhaps built for, quarry workers. (fn. 198) A quarry and limepit further north near Woodford Mill, possibly 'the lord's quarry' mentioned in 1465, was active in the mid 15th century, (fn. 199) and old workings in that area were recalled by the names Quarr piece (recorded in 1662), Quarry ground near Apley barn (part of Witney Park farm in the 18th century), and Quarry pit and Hills and Mountains (held with Witney Mills in the 18th and 19th centuries). (fn. 200) Quarries on Curbridge down and in Garston field, south of the village, were active in the mid 19th century, (fn. 201) and one 'at the top end' of the village was used for road stone in the 20th. (fn. 202) Quarries of unknown, pre-19th century date existed north of Park Farm and west of the village near Peashell Farm. (fn. 203)
From the 16th century to the 20th Curbridge remained an agricultural community, with a few craftsmen such as carpenters, wheelwrights, and smiths. (fn. 204) A smithy at the south end of the lane to Manor Farm was worked by the Gould family in the earlier 19th century, (fn. 205) moving before 1876 to Stanhope Cottage on the the south side of Main Road, which the Goulds bought in 1890. (fn. 206) The smithy passed from the family after the First World War and fell out of use in the mid 20th century. (fn. 207)
Few tradesmen were recorded in Curbridge before the 19th century, and in 1805 the village lacked a baker. (fn. 208) A rise in the number of families engaged in trade and manufacture, from 9 in 1811 to 21 in 1831, probably marked the beginnings of urban expansion into the township's eastern edge. (fn. 209) In 1841 Curbridge's tradesmen were a grocer, two butchers, and a publican, and its craftsmen included a mason, a slater, a carpenter, a smith, and (in the Woodford Mill and Corn Street areas) a few textile workers. (fn. 210) In the mid 19th century there was a shop, partly a butcher's, at the Merry Horn alehouse, and another at the post office, which was open by 1854; (fn. 211) in 1877 James Smith was postmaster, but by 1883 and until at least the 1920s the post office was run as a general stores by the Allsworth family. (fn. 212) In the 1860s the Smith family, higglers and poulterers at the later Malthouse Farm, also ran a grocer's shop. (fn. 213)
In 1901 Curbridge's occupational structure was largely unchanged, comprising chiefly farmers and labourers with a few quarry and textile workers in cottage rows at Cemetery, Union, and Razor Hills and in Mill Lane, effectively in Witney. (fn. 214) In the 1930s the village seems still to have had only one shop, possibly the post office, but the opening of a café and garage on the Burford road reflected the growing importance of motor transport. (fn. 215) In the later 20th century the post office became a private house (now Wraycott) and another post office was opened in a cottage near the churchyard (now Church House); (fn. 216) that too was closed before the end of the century, when the village had no shop.
Woodford (later Witney) Mills and Waleys (later Farm) Mills, within Curbridge township until 1898, are treated above. (fn. 217)