A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
Social and Economic History
OXFORDSHIRE, one of the four English counties in which the census of 1901 showed no increase of population, (fn. 1) owes both its early importance and its later decline to those physical conditions which marked it out from the beginning as an essentially agricultural district.
An artificial division formed mainly by historical agencies, what natural definition it possesses is due to its character as 'a land of streams,' a tract of rich clay soil, shut in to the north-west and south-east by the limestone and chalk escarpments of the Cotswolds and the Chilterns, and watered throughout by the tributaries of the Thames, which separates it from Berkshire on the south. An economic truth underlies the poetic conceit by which Michael Drayton made his description of the 'Oxfordian fields' centre in the marriage of 'Isis, Cotswold's heir,' with 'Thame, old Chiltern's son.' (fn. 2) Lying almost entirely in the upper basin of the Thames, Oxfordshire is noted for its fertile arable ground, its woods and pastures, and the water-power on which the primitive wool-trade largely depended. Five of its market towns, Burford, Chipping Norton, Henley, Thame, and Witney, are on rivers, the city of Oxford has grown up near the head-waters of the navigation of the Thames, (fn. 3) and Dorchester marks the junction of Thame and Isis. 'That Oxfordshire is the best water'd county in England, though I dare not with too much confidence assert, yet am induced to believe there are few better,' wrote Plot, the Oxford historian, (fn. 4) in the seventeenth century. The distinction remains, but it has lost its economic significance. Water-ways and water-power have fallen into desuetude with the advent of steam and electricity, and Oxfordshire has none of those natural features and products which make for preeminence in modern industrial England.
The irregular form of the county has tended to emphasize its want of economic unity. The city of Oxford, in the narrow central strip, has developed owing to its position as the seat of a university, but the southern region, the Thames valley, is still almost entirely agricultural and pastoral. No great industrial centre, such as Reading, on the Berkshire side of the river, has sprung up within it. The wide expanse of north Oxfordshire has clung, it is true, to the skirts of the Cotswolds, and has shared the good and evil fortunes of the West-country wool-trade; but here, too, the towns have dropped behind in the economic race, and have failed to rise above the level of local centres of secondary importance.
Yet the very lack of industrial progress in modern Oxfordshire lends greater interest to its early economic history. The social characteristics of mediaeval England, the feudal tenures and services, and the open-field methods of tillage, may here be studied to the best advantage, unobscured by the growth of great urban districts, and the consequent blotting-out of old traditions and customs. Two full records of mediaeval Oxfordshire in its economic aspect remain to us, which, with the scattered sketches in monastic chartularies and manorial court-rolls, make it possible to reconstruct, with some degree of accuracy, the social life of the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries. Domesday Book represents the county when the feudal organization of English society had just been systematized. The Eyre and Hundred Rolls of 1254, 1274, and 1279, compiled from the evidence of the county landholders, show that organization in its maturity, on the eve of its slow decay.
Domesday Book gives the householders of Oxfordshire as 6,775 persons, (fn. 5) of whom 334 may be reckoned as free, and 6,441 as unfree. By 1279 the householders had increased to about 9,287, and the proportion of free to unfree had risen strikingly, since there were now some 3,461 free to some 5,826 unfree inhabitants. (fn. 6)
This calculation, which omits the city of Oxford (fn. 7) and the non-resident mesne lords, but includes the tenants in chief of the crown, gives only a rough idea of the total population of the county, but it may be taken as representing not unfairly the proprietary and agricultural population, the actual holders of the soil, exclusive of women and children and dependent people.
A comparison between the returns of 1086 and those of 1279 brings out clearly the spread of freedom and the changes in economic status which took place during the two hundred years which followed the Norman Conquest. But it must be remembered that the class-names of Domesday Book have a different connotation from their apparent equivalents in the Hundred Rolls. The villein of 1086, if economically dependent, was, in the eye of the law, a free man; the servus was personally unfree. In the thirteenth century, servi and nativi were, in both economic services and legal disabilities, practically indistinguishable from the villani, and all three terms were used interchangeably. In the following table, then, like terms do not imply an exact correspondence of meaning. (fn. 8)
|Domesday Book, 1086 (fn. 9)|
|Tenants in chief of the crown||84|
|Other freemen (including undertenants, occupiers, burgenses, Francigenae, milites, homines, liberi homines and priests)||250|
|Hundred Roll, 1279 (fn. 10)|
|Tenants in chief of the crown||72|
|Other freemen (including socmen, free socmen, burgage tenants, libere tenentes, liberi homines and priests)||3389|
|Miscellaneous (piscatores, homines habentes hortulos)||27|
|Cotarii, coterelli, cotagiarii, &c.||1349|
|Servi and tenants in bondage||921|
|Miscellaneous (virgatarii, &c.)||510|
|Custumarii, consuetudinarii, &c.||457|
The density of the population increased from about 70 to 80 acres per head in 1086 to between 50 and 60 acres per head in 1279. (fn. 11) The free element was marked in 1279 at Woodstock, in the hundred without the north gate of Oxford, and in the Banbury hundred, where royal and urban influences were at work. Elsewhere, it constituted from a third to half of the population, save in the hundreds of Dorchester and Ploughley, where the unfree element predominated. More significant are the changes in economic terminology, and the growing complexity and interfusion of classes. The eighty-four Domesday tenants in chief of the crown had dropped by 1279 to seventy-two, among whom were conspicuous the king's kin and the great earls. Conspicuous too, were the religious houses of the neighbourhood: Abingdon, Eynsham, Godstow, Oseney, St. Frideswide, with the Templars and Hospitallers, and the bishops of Lincoln, Winchester, and Exeter. Below them came the mesne lords and their tenants in a bewildering tangle of tenures and obligations which shows how the old order was breaking up from its own weight and intricacy, and how the labour-services by which the whole life of the countryside had been sustained were being replaced by a system of money payments.
Yet the customary methods died hard. If personal military service were largely represented by payments of scutage, three-quarters of a knight's fee could still be held by following the earl of Cornwall on horseback for forty days, when he marched with the king against Scotland, (fn. 12) and a tenant of Roger Mortimer could be enfeoffed with an Oxfordshire manor (fn. 13) on condition of doing castle-guard at Wigmore with twenty horses for forty days when there was war with North Wales.
Tenure by serjeanty in varied and picturesque forms was not uncommon. Fiefs were held of the crown by finding an archer with bow and arrows for the king's host for forty days 'within the four seas,' (fn. 14) by bearing a pennon before the foot-soldiers of Wootton hundred at the royal summons, (fn. 15) by carrying spits to the king's dinner in the forest, (fn. 16) furnishing him with water or a tablecloth 'worth 3s,' (fn. 17) mewing his falcons and goshawks, (fn. 18) or acting as his chamberlain, doorkeeper, steward, or woodward. (fn. 19) To Oxfordshire also belonged the distinction of providing an usher for the king's exchequer at Westminster. (fn. 20) The knight's fee, though much subdivided, (fn. 21) remained the unit of military tenure. Scutage was paid by ecclesiastics and freeholders, and even by villeins and nativi. (fn. 22) A good instance is found at Standlake, where four tenants held three-eighths of a knight's fee each, and three of them paid scutage to the fourth, who was responsible for the whole to the countess of Devon, from whom the township was held for a knight's fee and a half. (fn. 23) In other cases, the tax apparently fell on special tenants (fn. 24) or lay on the land itself, as at Cropredy, where every virgate held by a tenant of the bishop of Lincoln gave 2s. 6d. for scutage when the fee (scutum) gave 40s. (fn. 25)
Of the non-military free tenures, frankalmoign was well represented, and a grant in 'free alms' might include high franchises. At Arncot the abbot of Oseney held 'in free, pure and perpetual alms' with all royal rights except the Crown Pleas. (fn. 26) If scutage were paid, the word 'pure' seems to have been omitted. (fn. 27) A quit-rent often accompanied a gift in frankalmoign, as when Guy de Merton granted land to the Templars with his body and his best horse at his death, and received 15s., two loads of wheat for his wife, and 12d. for his son 'to mend his hose. (fn. 28)
Honorary tenures occur frequently, rents of pepper, cummin, ginger or wax, a rose, a clove-gilly-flower, gilded spurs, gloves, a buck, a sparrowhawk, a sword, or an arrow. (fn. 29) In one case, a new lord was 'recognized' by the offering of a sparrowhawk or half a mark. (fn. 30) Tenants also held by singing masses, giving wax to the church, or providing lamps for a particular chapel or shrine, and as late as 1806 lands in Heyford parish were called 'lamplights' from such an endowment. (fn. 31) Social status seems to have been determined by the service rendered by the landholder, but classes melted almost insensibly into one another, (fn. 32) and the line between free and unfree was hard to draw. The fiefs of the freeholders (libere tenentes) ranged from half an acre to one or two hides, held by lease or charter or by every variety of service, serjeanty, military service, alms, suit of court, peppercorn rents, money rents, scutage, hidage, tallage, payments in kind, and labour-services. (fn. 33) But money rents preponderated, and the change from villeinage to freeholding was marked by the rendering of rent, suit of court, and 'the king's service' (regale). (fn. 34) Certainty of service and conveyance of the tenement by feoffment with homage instead of by 'surrender and admittance' with fealty were also tests of liberty. Free tenants are rarely said to work or hold 'at the will of the lord,' (fn. 35) and it could be contended in a court of law that land was held freely if the tenant were enfeoffed as a freeman. (fn. 36)
A link between freeholders and villeins was formed by the free socmen and tenants in socage, who had no place in Oxfordshire in the Domesday Survey, but numbered about seventy persons in 1279, (fn. 37) of whom forty-four are found at Bensington, a manor on ancient demesne. (fn. 38) The majority of them held immediately of the crown or of the church by suit of court, moneyrents, or labour-services; they paid hidage, tallage and heriots, and even fines on the marriage of their children. Yet they were regarded as free, (fn. 39) and had free tenants under them, (fn. 40) and their services, if base, were fixed and certain. (fn. 41)
The villani, strictly so called, decreased between 1086 and 1279, the bordarii (fn. 42) and buri gave place to custumarii, consuetudinarii, cotarii, cotagiarii, and coterelli, and the serf class was largely increased by the addition to the servi of Domesday Book of a considerable number of nativi. But this changing terminology implied altered conditions and local developments rather than any real degradation of the peasantry. Of all the customary and servile tenants it is frequently said that they 'hold in villeinage,' and the consuetudinarii and nativi are probably but old villeins with new faces, the descendants of the Domesday villani, born into the servile state of customary labour. The salient point which stands out from contemporary records is the tendency to regard freedom less as a question of personal status than as a matter of economic and legal relations. The villeins proper still formed the essentially agricultural class, on whose work in the fields the village economy depended. 'Pure villeinage' seems, indeed, to have merely implied uncertain and forced labour-services for the whole year, with tallage and merchet at the lord's will. (fn. 43) The generic name villani covered and was interchangeable with the specific terms which were used to indicate particular economic distinctions or local custom. The cotarii, like the earlier bordarii, were primarily the holders of cottages, with or without land; in the case of the servi, stress was laid on the rendering of base services, opera servilia, while with the custumarii and nativi the antiquity of such services and their heritable nature were emphasized. Local nomenclature is also responsible for many differences. Servi and nativi seldom occur in the same manor as villani proper. Custumarii are found chiefly in central. Oxfordshire, (fn. 44) and consuetudinarii in the northwest and south. (fn. 45) Servi are most common in the western hundred of Bampton, and nativi in Ploughley hundred, and a few tenants in bondage are mentioned in the hundred of Wootton. (fn. 46) Such combinations of terms as liberi-consuetudinarii, servi-socmanni, servi-custumarii, servi-villani, servi-nativi (fn. 47) show the transition from one stage of freedom to another, a transition which has left its mark upon the Hundred Rolls, and is connected with the commutation of labour-services for money-rents. In the Dorchester hundred, unfree tenants complained that their ancestors were free like socmen, and did the king service for forty days at their own cost, with pourpoint, lance, and steel cap, but the bishop of Lincoln had 'subtracted' that service. (fn. 48)
At Draycot, near Ewelme, the villeins protested that their old rent of 8s., with six days' mowing and autumn work, had been unjustly raised by the lord who held the vill to farm. (fn. 49) In the hundred of Wootton, at Upper Worton, (fn. 50) the reverse process is seen taking place. A villein holding 7 acres paid 4s. rent to his lord and 1d. to the parson of the church 'who redeemed him from servitude.' At Newton Juwell, in the same district, the ancient services of a tenant in villeinage had been changed twelve years or more before 1279 into a yearly rent of 12s., but he might not sell horse or ox or 'free tree' without the lord's leave. (fn. 51) The commutation of labour services had already gone far by 1279. In the Bampton hundred the change into moneyrents had been very generally effected. (fn. 52) Elsewhere services were still rendered in kind, (fn. 53) but their money-value was often stated, (fn. 54) and the process of commutation can occasionally be traced. Thus certain customary services of the tenants of the abbot of Eynsham at Woodcote, near Dorchester, had been 'converted into money,' and the abbot received 12s. for each virgate. (fn. 55) At Ropeford and at Watlington, also in the south of the county, the villeins had commuted their labour-dues for rent, but their lord was left free to revert to the old customary services at his pleasure. (fn. 56) These services, in addition to payments in money and kind, comprised agricultural labour of every description, and the importance attached to the territorial tie is seen in the gradual shifting of burdens from the tillers of the soil to the soil itself. Virgates are said to perform services, to work, and to pay scutage. (fn. 57) Virgatarii, dimidii virgatarii, and operarii are mentioned, with terra operabilis, terra consuetudinaria, terra custumaria, and terra vilenagia. (fn. 58)
Oxfordshire was a land of villages, with dependent hamlets. The cottages, yards, and gardens, which clustered about the manor-house and the parish church, or lined the straggling street, were set in the midst of open arable fields, common pastures, woods, and wastes. (fn. 59) The open fields were divided into culturae, quarentenae, furlongs, or shots, (fn. 60) in which lay the scattered holdings of the lord and his tenants, in acre or half-acre strips. (fn. 61) The hide and the carucate of four virgates (fn. 62) were used indiscriminately as measures of land, and there is evidence to show that in the Ewelme district a hundred acres went to the hide. (fn. 63)
Seliones, the ridges which alternated with furrows in the arable; gores, or sharpened strips; butts, or blunted strips; forerae, capitales or headlands, which gave access to the strips, are constantly mentioned, with odds and ends of land, assarts, recovered from the waste, forlands, closes, crofts, tofts, corners and angles, cotlands, ferndels, and ferthinglands. (fn. 64) The lynches, or uncultivated banks dividing the hillside strips of Bensington, which were destroyed at the time of the inclosure, dated back to Anglo-Saxon days. (fn. 65) The two-field system of cultivation was, not improbably, followed in central Oxfordshire, at Yulebury, Great Tew, and Newton Juwell, in the hundred of Wootton, but the evidence is too scanty for any certain conclusion. (fn. 66) The three-field system may more confidently be traced at Stoke Talmage, where mention is made of a grant of half a hide lying in the north field, the south field, and the west field, (fn. 67) and at Marston, where a certain terra in the open field (campus) paid rent to the lord of the manor in the year when it was sown, and always in the third year it rendered nothing because it lay fallow. (fn. 68) An interesting case is recorded, where the abbot of Eynsham was accused of disseising a free tenant of his common of pasture at Stoke and Woodcote, in the Dorchester hundred, by dividing into three parts lands which had always formerly been divided into two parts. (fn. 69)
Meadows, though sometimes held independently, were usually regarded as appurtenances of arable land. (fn. 70) In Oxfordshire they were often divided into portions for the hay season by lot, (fn. 71) and the term 'lot meadows' lingers still in the county. (fn. 72) The lord's demesne meadows might lie apart, or be intermixed with those of his tenants, and subject to the same method of apportionment, (fn. 73) and there were meadows held by the tenants in common. (fn. 74) After the hay was carried, the boundaries were thrown down, and beasts were turned out to graze.
Pasture was similarly 'adjacent' to the arable, (fn. 75) and was held either in severalty or in common, (fn. 76) and grants were frequently made of the amount requisite for feeding a specified number of animals. (fn. 77)
Although much of the lord's land was intermixed with the peasants' strips, the broad distinction between land in demesne, the inlonde and inmede, and land in villeinage was always maintained. (fn. 78) The cultivation of the demesne depended mainly on the customary services of the tenantry, which included the whole yearly round of rural labour. The land, whether for crop or fallow, (fn. 79) was ploughed in spring and winter (fn. 80) by men who owed one or more 'ploughings' (arurae) a year, varying in money-value from 1d. to 7d., and constantly combined with harrowing. (fn. 81) The service was usually reckoned by the amount of land ploughed, (fn. 82) and free tenants, socmen, villeins, custumarii, and servi were alike liable to it. (fn. 83) Professional ploughmen, who had to 'hold the lord's plough' all the year round, were allowed to use it on their own land every Saturday, or every second or third Saturday, or to turn beasts into the lord's pasture. (fn. 84) Similar grazing-rights were granted in return for the special ploughing-service called Grassearth. At Chalgrove the villeins who ploughed 2 acres for their lord in winter with their own ploughs, and harrowed a proportionate amount, were free of the demesne pastures from 1 August to Lady Day, and of the demesne meadows after the hay was carried. (fn. 85) The peasants' ploughs were either private property or held in common, (fn. 86) and their services were commuted or rendered in kind according to circumstances. (fn. 87) The normal plough seems to have been drawn by four horses or oxen, and the harrow by one or two horses. (fn. 88) Certain tenants were responsible for supplying iron-work for the lord's ploughs and shoeing his plough-horses, and at Bensington rents of ploughshares were paid for pasture-land. (fn. 89) Hay-making and harvest, the central events of the rustic year, were regulated with elaborate care. All classes owed service in the hayfield, where free tenants and serfs might meet on equal terms, (fn. 90) but the exceptional character of these services was acknowledged by quaint traditional ceremonies. In central and southern Oxfordshire it was customary for each mower, after his day's work, to have the grass that he could lift with his scythe-handle, or with his scythe, without breaking it or resting it on the ground. A day's carrying was rewarded with as much hay as could be gathered up in the labourer's arms, (fn. 91) and at Iffley each cottar haymaker was entitled daily to a portion of hay raked together, 'which in English is called Yelm,' a term still used in Oxfordshire for straw or stubble. (fn. 92)
Money-payments 'from the lord's purse,' allowances of food, permission to the mowers to tether horses in the fields or on the headlands and pasturerights are also found. (fn. 93) An acre was held by the service of sharpening scythes, and a croft by carrying water to the mowers. (fn. 94) The gathering in of the hay-crop was often celebrated by a feast, the Medsipe, the ancestor of the modern Hay-home, for which the lord provided bread and salt, mutton and cheese 'of second-best quality,' and wood to cook the meat, or money equivalents. (fn. 95) By 1279 both payments in kind and services were beginning to be converted into money-values. In the north-west of the county four half-day mowings were estimated at 6d., the hay which could be lifted with a scythe at ½d., three haymaking 'works' (opera) at 1½d., and a carrying 'work' at 2d. (fn. 96)
Harvest-services were also rendered by all classes of the community, and carried with them little or no implication of servitude. Traditional customs were observed, varying from manor to manor. There were bedrips or reapings at the lord's 'bidding,' nedrips, and the autumn precariae or boondays, when almost the whole village turned out into the harvest-field, though wives, nurses, and shepherds were sometimes exempted. (fn. 97) At Elsfield, near Oxford, (fn. 98) the customary tenants had to ride, with saddle, bridle, and spurs, to see that their lady's corn was well and safely reaped. At Bensington, on the ancient demesne, a free socman and his tenant rode by the reapers to supervise their work and dined with the lord's steward. (fn. 99) Two free tenants in the Bampton hundred held by money-rents and the service of acting as ripereeve for four days 'at the lord's table.' (fn. 100) The lord often provided food for the harvesters, (fn. 101) and they, like the haymakers, received payment for their work in kind, a sheaf tied with a band of corn drawn from itself, (fn. 102) or with a cord of the length of 2½ ft. and a barleycorn, (fn. 103) a dish full of corn, (fn. 104) a sheaf from the last load, (fn. 105) common of pasture, and the right to turn beasts into the lord's stubble. (fn. 106) The consuetudinarii of Bensington, Warborough, and Shillingford had an acre of meadow called Medaker and 2 acres of wheat of medium quality called Ripkowel in return for their labour, (fn. 107) and at Stoke Basset the customary serfs who by the service called Deywine reaped half an acre a day for six days received a sheaf of corn every second day. (fn. 108)
But these special services by no means exhausted the obligations of the peasantry. They had to act as manorial reeves or bailiffs. They paid hidage, sometimes as a common burden laid on the whole township, tallage, Peter's-pence, churchscot or chirchett, head-penny, and pannage for the right to feed their pigs in the lord's woods, and in one case a villein owed the 'ordinary aids' for knighting the lord's son and marrying his daughter. Heriots were given by the heirs of customary tenants, and the 'redemption of flesh and blood' was common, the payment of merchet on the marriage of a daughter, and occasionally of a fine on the tenant's own marriage or on his son's taking holy orders. Licence had often to be obtained to sell horse or ox, or to brew beer, chepale as it was called in the south of the county. There were payments also representing commuted labour, cornbote, maltsilver, salt-silver, a penny at Martinmas in lieu of fetching salt, or a wood hen at Christmas for the right of gathering dead wood. Offerings of poultry and eggs, and carrying services and labour-dues of every description, were customary; sheepshearing and washing, thrashing and winnowing, beanplanting, malt-grinding, and cider-making, thatching and building, with work in the stubble-field, the flax crop, the garden, and the sheepfold. Christmas-tide saw the peasants trooping to the manor-house, laden with poultry, bread, and ale, to share the lord's Christmas dinner, but these compulsory gifts, somewhat irksome probably to both sides, were soon commuted for money. (fn. 109)
Very slowly, from this chaos of manorial custom, fixed standards of value emerged. In the thirteenth century rents varied so greatly even in the same manor that it is impossible to reduce them to scale. The free tenants' rents were much lighter than those of the villeins, which represented commuted labour-services. To take one instance among many, at Weld, a hamlet of Bampton, the maximum rent paid for a messuage and a half-virgate by the villeins was more than double that of the free tenants. (fn. 110) There was a tendency to arrange the villeins in groups, each following one type, and to equalize their payments, while greater irregularity and independence distinguished the holdings of the free tenants. That the villeins' rents were supposed to be the exact equivalent of the services they replaced is shown by a case at Garsington, (fn. 111) where two virgaters paid 15s. for nine months and worked for the remaining three months, and their labour was worth 5s. Work and rent were here alike estimated at 2s. 6d. a quarter per virgate. At Kingham (fn. 112) the villeins stated that their yearly rent of 16s. with tallage acquitted them from all further service, since it far exceeded their 'works and customs.' Where labour was in the main customary service, rewarded by traditional dues, the question of money wages hardly arose; but occasional money payments for piecework, or to artisans and farm servants not otherwise provided for, are found very early. These wages were generally paid twice a year, one-third on Lady Day and two-thirds at Michaelmas. Smiths, for looking after the iron-work of the lord's plough and shoeing the plough horses for a year, received from 5s. to 6s., with an allowance of wheat or rye. Plough drivers (fugatores, tentores) had from 3s. 6d. to 4s. 6d. a year. A shepherd earned 3s. 6d. yearly, a cook who 'mowed and harvested' 2s. 8d., and a miller 6s. 6d. Masons and carpenters were apparently often paid by the piece, though they also received yearly wages. Roofing a sheepfold cost 7s., repairing the roof of the manor hall 3s., building a wall 4s. 6d., making two locks and keys 8d. (fn. 113) Ploughing was paid at 8d. an acre, mowing a meadow at 6d. an acre, carting the hay at 4d. an acre, and thrashing a quarter of grain at 2½d. (fn. 114) In the Chadlington hundred, in the north-west of the county, where the old labourservices and their new money equivalents were recorded with peculiar care, a local standard of wages for ordinary work had been approximately fixed by 1279 at an average of 1d. a day, ½d. from Michaelmas to the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (24 June), 1d. from 24 June to 1 August, and 1½d. from 1 August to Michaelmas. Special work was paid at special rates, mowing at from 2d. to 3d. a day, haymaking at 1½d. a day, and bean planting and nutting at about ½d. a day. (fn. 115) How these estimates were arrived at it is hard to say, but a boon work or precaria was sometimes valued at 2d. without food, and at 1d. when meals were provided, (fn. 116) so that a day's food might be roughly reckoned at 1d., and this might fairly be taken as an average day's wage. The purchasing power of a penny was not inconsiderable, since in 1279 a sheep sold for mutton was worth 1s., and a cock or hen 1d., while two pennyworth of cheese and from a halfpennyworth to a pennyworth of bread was the usual allowance per head at the hay-home or Medsipe. (fn. 117)
Indications of the cost of living are somewhat scanty in the early records, but a fair general idea of the price of necessaries and of the manner of life of the Oxfordshire peasantry and country landholders in the thirteenth century may be gathered from incidental entries. Wheat averaged about 5d. a bushel, (fn. 118) and in the southern district 100 loaves went to the quarter, or twenty 'little loaves' to the bushel. In other words, a bushel of wheat corresponded to about twelve and a half ordinary loaves, and the halfpenny loaf seems to have been taken as the standard. (fn. 119) In addition to bread, the peasants lived chiefly on soup, cheese, herrings, and ale, with beef, mutton, pork, bacon, and poultry occasionally. Fish of all kinds abounded in the rivers and ponds, and rents were sometimes paid in 'sticks of eels.' Weirs and water-mills fetched high rents. Windmills are also found, but more rarely, with a horse-mill in Oxford and a fulling mill at Sandford. At Sandford, too, there was a stone bridge, and other bridges are mentioned. (fn. 120) Around the thatched timberframed houses, or 'fair halls' of wood and stone, were grouped the farm buildings, grange and dovecot, cowhouse, sheepfold and pigstyes. Timber for repairs and fencing was provided by the franchise of 'husbote and heybote,' and building stone came from the Bloxham, Burford, or Headington quarries. Within the houses a certain rude comfort reigned. Dishes, cups, and brazen vessels figure in the contemporary accounts, with woollen and linen stuffs, the hides from which white gloves were made, and the Cordewan or Cordovan leather which was used for boots and for purses. Candles were supplied to the Chalgrove villeins at their harvest supper, and the prior of Bicester bought 'Paris candles,' varying in price from 3d. to 9d. (fn. 121) Markets and fairs were held at Bampton, Radcot, Standlake, Witney, Charlbury, and Banbury, as well as at Woodstock and Oxford; (fn. 122) but though Burford and Oxford were already chartered and privileged, while Banbury, Chipping Norton, Deddington, Henley, Witney, and Woodstock sent twelve representatives each to the shire court as boroughs, (fn. 123) they were all rather markets for rural produce than independent industrial centres, and Oxford had already assumed the peculiar monastic and academic character of a mediaeval university town.
Country life in thirteenth-century Oxfordshire was, then, monotonous and restricted rather than squalid or stagnant. The political importance of the county reacted on its social condition, and there was a good deal of stir and movement and of intercourse with London and the outer world, while at home the responsibilities of local self-government gave public interests and occupation to both landlords and villagers.
Besides the shire-moot, which met at Oxford, there were the hundredmoots, held every three weeks, and the half-yearly great courts of the hundred, or views of frankpledge. These, with the seignorial courts proper, were to a considerable extent in private hands, as the result of grants from the crown. The soke of two hundreds belonged to the royal manor of Headington, and that of four and a half hundreds to the royal manor of Bensington. (fn. 124) The obligation of doing suit of court was apparently attached to particular tenements or laid on special tenants, such as the 'hundredors' of Aston or the men of the 'hall-moots' of Lewes and Clanfield. (fn. 125) The jurisdiction of these courts was chiefly civil, but many of the tenants in chief held high judicial franchises, infongenethef and outfongenethef, rights of life and death over thieves taken red-handed (cum manuopere), gallows and tumbril, and the cucking-stool for scolds, view of frankpledge and the assize of bread and ale. (fn. 126) The cases tried in the manorial courts by compurgation or by juries of villeins were mainly pleas of debt, trespasses committed by animals in the crops, the impounding of stray beasts and petty assaults and quarrels of the villagers. Here, to answer for their misdoings, appeared the villein who had shirked his work, and the bailiff who had been over-lavish in meat and drink, and had wasted the goods entrusted to his keeping, and sometimes the whole township was fined for neglecting common duties. Here the villeins elected the manorial reeve, paid their fines for their daughters' marriages, or for liberty to come and go freely with their families and chattels, rendered their heriots and were admitted to their customary holdings; and here, at the great half-yearly courts, they were sworn into their tithings or frankpledges. There can be little doubt, too, that though no 'by-laws,' such as were common in the fifteenth century, are found in this early period, they were issued by the hall-moot as need arose, to regulate the economic affairs of the village community. (fn. 127)
More serious offences were brought before the king's justices at the assizes which were held from time to time in the county. The pleas of the crown, murdrum, or secret slaying where the 'Englishry' of the slain man could not be proved, felonious assault, larceny, burglary, and the breaking of the assizes of wine and cloth were common, and occasionally an offender was hanged at Oxford or Mapledurham. But it was more usual for the criminal to fly to sanctuary and then abjure the realm, when he would be 'exiled and outlawed,' and forfeit all his goods and chattels. Instances of escape from prison were very frequent, and the burgesses of Oxford were held responsible for the 'evasion' of the men who had been immured in the castle gaol. Death by misadventure was of constant occurrence, and the instrument of the misfortune, the cart and oxen or the horse which crushed a child, the boat from which a man fell into the water and was drowned, were entrusted to the township, to be handed over as deodand to the royal officers. Cases occur in which the township is 'in mercy' for not producing a deodand before the justices, and in one instance the justice gives the price of the offending cart and horse to the mother of the victim, 'because she is very poor.' Civil assizes, possessory and proprietary, 'Utrum,' Novel Disseisin, Mort d'Ancestor and the Grand Assize, with disputes of all kinds over land rights and succession claims, also played an important part in the courts of the justices in Eyre. (fn. 128)
At the opening of the fourteenth century, Oxfordshire was one of the wealthiest and most prosperous of the counties of England. (fn. 129) But with the death of Edward I in 1307 the transitional tendencies in English society appeared more clearly. The economic inquest of 1279 and the mortmain and quo warranto legislation of Edward's reign had marked the anxiety of a strong king to define and retain rights which he felt to be slipping from his grasp. A similar anxiety on the part of the great landowners of Oxfordshire, lay and ecclesiastical, is seen in the carefully preserved manorial 'extents,' the court-rolls, and the accounts of bailiffs and monastic bursars of the early fourteenth century.
At first sight, the picture of mediaeval Oxfordshire in these local records seems to be almost identical with that in the Hundred Rolls, but a closer study reveals the first faint signs of the coming changes. Holdings are alienated, cottages are left 'ruinous' and revert into the hands of the lord, and the working class is beginning to dissociate itself from the land. At Bicester, in 1309, a tenant was allowed to 'serve where he would,' boarding himself, on condition of giving his lord, the prior of Bicester, two capons at Christmas every year, as long as he should 'stand without his service.' (fn. 130)
Fines were inflicted for conveying land 'to the disherison of the lord,' and in one case the custumarii witnessed against the lord's arbitrary resumption of such a tenement. The tenant, they said, had a right to the holding while he did the custom and suit belonging to it. (fn. 131)
But this peaceful development was checked by a catastrophe, the great pestilence which in 1349 swept over England. That Oxfordshire suffered is certain, (fn. 132) but the precise effects of the plague on the economic condition of the county are not easy to estimate from the scanty evidence which survives. It is perhaps not without significance that there is a gap of seven years in the Bicester Priory accounts, between 1348 and 1355, while the court rolls of the priory manors are carried forward from 1344 to 1358, with a break for the intervening fourteen years. The last entry, too, for 1344, treats of bondage and opera servilia; the first entry for 1358, written on the same membrane, mentions a stranger (extraneus) in the manor for whom the reaper (messor) acts as pledge. (fn. 133)
There is also one important piece of direct evidence. The Eynsham Chartulary relates how' in the time of the mortality of men or pestilence which befell in the year of our Lord 1349 scarce two tenants remained in the manor [of Woodeaton], and they would have departed had not brother Nicholas of Upton, then Abbot . . . . . . made an agreement with them and the other tenants who came in afterwards.' (fn. 134)
By comparing the terms of this agreement with the earlier conditions of labour on the manor, it is possible to trace the gradual emancipation of the Woodeaton villeins from their compulsory labour-services, and the reaction which followed when the pestilence had made labour scarce and dear. The obligations of the typical villein or virgater are given for three different periods: before the plague, when he held 'ad firmam' or by rent, and when he held 'ad operacionem' or by labour; and after the plague, when the new compact was entered into with Abbot Nicholas. The holding included a messuage, eighteen acres of arable land, and two acres of meadow.
Services of Walter Dolle, virgatarius
(a) Ad operacionem
Work from Michaelmas to Martinmas for five days a week: from Martinmas to St. John Baptist's Day, four days a week.
Carrying on Sundays to Eynsham, if necessary. Pannage: aid: toll for brewing at the tavern: ox and colt not to be sold, daughter not to be married without the lord's leave.
Work included thrashing a deywina of corn (defined as a measure of which four went to seven bushels), two measures of barley, three of oats, and one of beans or pease, hedging and ditching.
Whether 'ad operacionem' or 'ad firmam,' nutting in the lord's wood one day and carrying two loads of wood to the lord's court (hall) for Christmas, or four bundles of wood.
(b) Ad firmam
One ploughing with food: a hen to the lord and eggs at Easter: pannage: harrowing one day, if ad deywinam three roods: mowing (sarculare) one day with one man: carrying hay one day: three bederipes in autumn with three men without food: a fourth with food.
(c) By new agreement
Fine for entry on tenement.
Suit to all courts.
Heriot of best beast. Ox and colt not to be sold, daughter not to be married without the lord's leave.
Three precariae or ploughings at the two sowings with 'as many (beasts) as he has in his plough,' with food: three bederipes with two men without food: a fourth with food: mowing (falcare) twelve days the lord's meadows or cornfields, without food.
Rent 13s. 4d. while it pleases the lord, and the scribe thinks that it will please him, for he notes that 'the aforesaid services were not worth so much.'
The revival of the servile 'merchet' by Abbot Nicholas, and the large sum claimed for commuted service, illustrate the reluctance of the landlords to part with their cherished privileges. The enhanced value of labour, indeed, though it enabled the emancipated villein to earn higher wages, made it harder for him to win his freedom, since the 'rent' which represented his customary services might exceed their market worth. Thus at Aston a virgatarius commuted for 12s. a year a rent of 5s. with labour-services which, estimated separately, were only valued at about 3s. 9d. In the majority of cases, as is seen in the chartularies of Eynsham and St. Frideswide, the old services were continued without further commutation, and the great ecclesiastical landlords were even careful to insert in their records the passages in the Hundred Rolls which referred to their labour dues. (fn. 135) It is no wonder that in the Peasant Revolt of 1381 the manorial extents and court rolls were destroyed wholesale. In that revolt the discontented Oxfordshire peasants probably played their part, but, except for the city of Oxford, no details of their doings have been preserved. (fn. 136) Some seventeen years later, in 1398, when the dissatisfaction with the government of Richard II was rising to its height, Oxfordshire was the scene of serious riots. Bands of armed men met together at Bampton, chose captains and leaders, and on Palm Sunday paraded the country, proclaiming as they went: 'Aryseth, aryseth all men and goth with us: whoso will not he schal be ded,' and wounding and ill-treating those who would not join them. (fn. 137) It is interesting to note that the chief malcontents came from Bampton, Witney, and Eynsham, that western district which, all through the history of Oxfordshire, has shown a restless and independent spirit.
If the Oxfordshire landlords of the fourteenth century were conservative in their enforcement of their rights over their tenants, they seem to have been progressive and enterprising in the management of their estates. The extents show a remarkable variety and irregularity in systems of cultivation, and an appreciation of the capacities and possibilities of different soils. At Shifford, near Bampton, in the low-lying country about the Thames, both a three-course and a four-course rotation of crops are found. The four-fold course included barley, pulse or pease, wheat, and fallow, and the fields on which it was used were valued at from 4d. to 8d. an acre, while the threecourse fields were only worth from 3d. to 4d. an acre. (fn. 138) At Piddington, near Bicester, a five-fold course seems to have obtained on the demesne, of wheat, beans, drage, (fn. 139) oats, and fallow, and the acre was valued at 6d. a year. (fn. 140) The three-field system was followed at Stoke Abbot, with a three-course rotation of two crops and a fallow. (fn. 141) This was the district in south-western Oxford shire in which in the thirteenth century the abbot of Eynsham had introduced the three-field system. From another Eynsham manor, in the northwest of the county, comes an admirable example of the two-field method of cultivation. At Little Rollright there were two fields held in demesne and by the tenants, which were not measured for the inquest taken in 1363, because in those times they were not sown, but they had formerly been sown in alternate years. (fn. 142) Now the lord held them in severalty (separale) in alternate years until 1 August. Here, immediately after the second great plague of 1361–2, the lord is seen inclosing open fields, and thus encroaching on tenant-rights which may have lapsed during the years of suffering. This, the policy of the future, was destined to a more lasting success than the attempt of Abbot Nicholas to revive the old system, with its complicated rights of ownership and possession and its wasteful and cumbrous methods of tillage.
But even the landlords were not strong enough to break the bonds of custom and tradition whenever it suited them to do so. At Shifford, in the middle of the fourteenth century, the meadow and pasture land were annually divided into twelve equal portions 'by the rod,' and the lord and tenants respectively took the odd and even portions in alternate years, the first, third, fifth, &c., falling to the lord in one year, and the second, fourth, sixth, &c., in the following year. (fn. 143) A still more curious and elaborate arrangement was in use at Eynsham. A meadow was divided into six parcels; the first and sixth were held by the lord in the odd years, and parted out by lot among four tenants in the even years; the second and fifth, much larger portions, always belonged to the lord; the third and fourth went to the lord in the even years, and were divided by lot among the tenants in the odd years. (fn. 144)
Another meadow was similarly cut up into four parcels, of which the lord's bailiff (bedellus) had one 'by custom' (de consuetudine), the second fell to the lord in odd years and in even years was divided by the tenants into seven portions, the third was always occupied by the lord, and the fourth was held by the lord in even years and by the tenants in odd years. Out of three parcels of meadow, in two other cases, the tenants had the second and the lord the first and third; but two of these portions, one in each instance, he had acquired from the almoner, sacristan, and nativi of Tilgardesley, a 'member' or hamlet of the manor of Eynsham. (fn. 145) The system of intricate division was, then, no new thing, and here again a movement may be traced towards greater concentration of land in fewer hands.
The carefully recorded rentals in the manorial extents of the later fourteenth century are indicative of the demand for land, the tendency to alienate estates, and the rapid changes of possession which characterized the period. Four of these rentals, dating from about 1360 to 1366, and referring to different parts of the county, may serve to illustrate the relative values of arable, pasture, and meadow in the years immediately succeeding the second pestilence. (fn. 146)
|Manor||Date||Value per Acre||Average Value per Acre|
|Shifford [West]||1360 c.||3d. to 8d.||3d. to 1s.||1s. to 2s.||5½d.||7½d.||1s. 6d.|
|Rollright [NW.]||1363||2d. to 8d.||4d. to 6d.||1s. 4d.||5d.||5d.||1s. 4d.|
|Piddington [SE.]||1363 c.||6d.||—||2s.||6d.||—||2s.|
|Stoke Abbot [SW.]||1366||1d. to 4d.||8d. to 1s. 4d.||5s. 8d. (fn. 147)||2½d.||1s.||5s. 8d.|
|Average Value per Acre for the County|
If these calculations are to be trusted as representative of the county at large, the commutation of servile dues for a money-rent of 4d. an acre, which was one of the concessions made by Richard II to the rebels of 1381, and afterwards retracted, would, in Oxfordshire, have been favourable to the peasantry. The Woodeaton virgaters paid a rent of 13s. 4d. in addition to certain labour-services, (fn. 148) and elsewhere rents of 8s. 3d. and 8s. 6d. per virgate were exacted, (fn. 149) with heriot, suit of court, merchet, and a fine on admittance to the tenement. The high values of meadow and pasture were probably due to the peculiar fertility of the water-meadows of Oxfordshire, and this is borne out by the exceptional meadow and pasture rents at the riverside manors of Stoke Abbot and Shifford, which were much in excess of the arable rents. The rise in wages, which was one of the most striking results of the great pestilence of 1349, (fn. 150) is but dimly discernible in the somewhat disconnected returns of the Oxfordshire bailiffs, provosts, and bursars, but the few facts that can be established point to a decided increase in the value of both skilled and unskilled labour in the second half of the fourteenth century. In 1327 carpenters employed by Bicester Priory were paid from 8d. to 1s. 2d. a week, or between 1½d. and 2d. a day. In 1377 they received 5d. a day. (fn. 151) In 1355–6, between the two visitations of plague, (fn. 152) the Bicester plough-drivers and teamsters (tentores, fugatores) had 3s. 6d. each at Michaelmas, a rise of from 6d. to 1s. a head on the Oseney wages of seventy years earlier, while the Shifford drivers (tentores) and carters at the end of the reign of Richard II had 10s. each a year, and the teamsters (fugatores) from 8s. to 9s. In 1355–6, too, hired labourers appear, earning about 4s. a year. The lord's immediate servants were paid at much the same rate, woodwards 4s. to 5s. a year, park-keepers (parkmanm) 6s. 8d. a year, a bailiff (bedellus) and his boy 5s. a year 'by custom' (ex consuetudine). (fn. 153) A thatcher could earn from 2d. a day to 4d. a day with food, a 'dauber' or plasterer 5d. a day, a slater (fn. 154) employed in mending a pigstye 10d. for a week's work, a plumber 7s. for three weeks and three days, or about 4d. a day, a washerwoman (lotrix) 8d. to 16d. a year. A smith, for looking after and repairing a plough for a year, received 9s. with a bushel of wheat. Journeymen tailors, who came to Bicester Priory to make and mend the monks' habits, had 2s. a week, and their cutters (cissores) or assistants from 1s. to 1s. 6d. a week. Educated workers were not more highly paid than manual labourers. The annual stipend of 'Robert the clerk' was 6s. 8d., and the doctor, Johannes medicus, was given only 4s. for frequent attendance at Bicester. (fn. 155) In the wages of agricultural labour the same development is perceptible; a steady rise with occasional fluctuations, and an utter disregard for the restrictive provisions of the Statute of Labourers, which had been enacted in 1349, in the vain hope of checking the economic changes that followed the great pestilence. A typical case is afforded by the manor of Shifford, where the records of the labour-services and their money-values have been preserved for two critical periods, the time between the first and second pestilence (about 1360) and the troubled year 1398, when the spirit of revolt was abroad amongst the Oxfordshire peasants.
Agricultural Wages at Shifford.
1360 circ. (fn. 156)
Mowing: per diem, 4d.
Carrying hay, two men: four cartloads a day, per diem, 2d.
Reaping: a bederipe, 3d.
Ploughing an acre and sowing it with the lord's seed [an arura], 6d.
Ploughing called grassearth, 3d.
Harrowing: an acre 1d., per diem 4d.
1398. (fn. 157)
Mowing: 6d. per diem, paid to ten and a half labourers (i.e. ten for a day and one for half a day) brought in to replace ten and a half Aston tenants who had this year commuted their services for a fixed rent, at the lord's pleasure. The remaining customary tenants had an allowance of food in return for their work.
Haymaking: 2d. per diem, paid to ten and a half labourers as above.
Reaping (sarclare): 2d. per diem paid to labourers brought in from outside.
Carrying straw: 2d. per diem paid to women workers.
These entries are brief, but suggestive. They reflect the growing importance of the hired day labourer, called in to fill the gap caused by commutation of customary service, and the increasing value of labour, which enabled even women to earn good wages. (fn. 158) Nor were these favourable con ditions counteracted for the working-classes by a corresponding fall in the purchasing power of money. It has often been pointed out that in the period immediately succeeding the great pestilence prices were low. (fn. 159) Unfortunately the Oxfordshire records are not sufficiently full or consecutive to allow of a detailed comparison between different years, though the Cuxham and Bicester Priory accounts are valuable; but enough evidence exists to show remarkable stability in the prices of the chief objects of daily expenditure. Wheat, which stood at 6d. a bushel in 1355–6, (fn. 160) was estimated at 8d. a bushel in the Shifford and Aston extent, which dates from about 1360; (fn. 161) and as twelve loaves could still be reckoned to the bushel, (fn. 162) this would mean a rise in the value of the standard loaf from ½ to 2/3 of a penny. By 1360 the mowers of Shifford had commuted the daily loaf per head, which had been their traditional due, for four bushels of wheat which would be worth 2s. 8d., and in 1366 the mowers of Woodcote received 4s. yearly in lieu of bread. In 1398, the year of the Oxfordshire rioting, the reeve of Shifford sold wheat at 10d. a bushel, pulse at 7d., and malt at 7¼d., 9d., and 10d. a bushel. (fn. 163) Beer remained steadily at 1d. a gallon, (fn. 164) wine varied from 8d. to 1s., and oil from 10d. to 18d. a gallon. Sheep could still be bought for from 9d. to 1s., (fn. 165) beef was sold at from 8s. 10d. to 10s. 1d. the carcase; pigs at from 3s. to 3s. 5½d. each, and sucking pigs at from 5d. to 6d. A 'bacon' (1 bacone) fetched the high price of 6s. 2½d., while venison was relatively cheap, and cost from 1s. 6d. to 4s. the 'beast' (bestia). Fish was largely eaten on fast-days, and at bedripes and benherthes, (fn. 166) and many kinds appear in the accounts—salmon, pikerel, ray, mackerel, mulvell, eels, congers, stockfish, plaice, codling, merling, haddock, gurnard, roach, herrings, hard or dried fish, sea-fish, 'sea wolves' (lupi aquatici), and, very frequently, oysters. Herrings at 6s. 8d. a thousand are mentioned, and pikerel at 6d. and 1s. 8d. each; but purchases of fish were generally entered on the roll with no indication of quantity, hence their precise value is difficult to determine. The spices and condiments which were such important ingredients in mediaeval cookery occur constantly. Sugar-loaves cost from 8s. to 10s. 1d., or as much as the carcase of an ox; rice sold at 8s. the cwt., and almonds at 14s. 8d. the cwt. The Bicester roll for 1327 gives a typical list of spices which shows their relative values very clearly:—
|Sanders, (fn. 167) per lb.||4s.|
|Liquorice, per lb.||1s. 2½d.|
Cummin, saffron, pepper, mustard and salt, which are omitted here, are found elsewhere in the accounts. Salt was used in large quantities for curing the meat which served for the winter store. In 1317–18 the Bicester bursar paid 61s. for the purchase and conveyance of 17 quarters of salt, bought at le Wyhc. (fn. 168) Six bushels of salt were bought for 1s. in 1392–3, and one bushel for 4½d. (fn. 169)
A barrel of tar cost 7s. in 1327; lime varied from 5d. to 6d. a quarter; charcoal is found at 8d. a quarter, and wax at from 6d. to 7½d. a pound. Candles were 1½d. a pound, and 'Paris candles' 2d. a pound. Hanging-lamps also occur, torches, and the wax tapers used in the church, which were made by a special workman employed by the day. The prices of clothing throw curious side-lights on the social history of the time. Blanket sold at 1s. 4d. a yard, and linen at 5d., 6d. or 10d. a yard. Worsted for two cloaks, (fn. 170) for the prior of Bicester cost 15s. 6d., and the thread and silk for making them up 1s. 8d. Cloth was cheaper; the material for two cloaks only came to 10s., and the cloth for a tunic to 3s. 6d., while two cloaks of frieze (frisum) could be made for 6s. Dyeing wool for the prior's cloak at Aynho cost 6s., his hood (capellus) 3s. 4d., his gloves 6d. for four pairs, his boots 1s. 10d., 2s., 2s. 4d., and 2s. 6d. a pair, his shoes (soculae) 2s. a pair, and his galoches, probably some kind of slipper, 5d. or 6d. (fn. 171) He had also 'night-socks' (soculae nocturnae) which cost 1s. and a cloth cappa pluvialis, the mediaeval mackintosh, for which he paid 13s. 4d. Sevenpence was charged for making a pair of cordwain boots, 3d. for mending boots, and 5d. for mending shoes. The 'prior's boys' were provided with robes at from 9s. 2d. to about 11s. 9d. each, with boots at 2s. a pair and with shoes at 6d. a pair. The prices of cloth for two pairs of breeches or gaskins [caligae] (fn. 172) ranged from 1s. 8d. to 2s. 3d., and linen for the same purpose was 7d. the piece.
Wool was sold by the sack, the stone, and the tod, at prices varying from four sacks for £28 8s. 4d., or three and a half sacks for £31 6s. 8d. in 1327, to £5 6s. 8d. per sack in 1346. Expenditure on tanning is a common item in the rolls. (fn. 173) To dress (coriare) forty-two lambskins cost 1s. 6d.; to tan (tannare) the hides of an ox and seven calves 1s. 5d., and to dress four horsehides for white leather (dealbare) 1s. 7d.
Live-stock fetched high prices. Oxen were worth 12s. 6d. to 17s. 3d. a head, cows 5s. 1d. to 8s., lambs and calves 1s., pigs 2s. to 5s., and geese 2¾d. Horses, of course, varied greatly in value; from 13s. 4d. to 32s. and more. In 1327 two colts were bought for 72s. 8d. The miscellaneous articles which are entered in the accounts indicate a general rise in the standard of living and an appreciation of comfort and even luxury. Dishes and plates, silk purses, parchment and ink for writing, silver-gilt vessels for the church, all occur, with nails and hinges, and barrels and brass dishes, and household utensils of many kinds. Millstones, a costly item in the manorial economy, are seldom found, but in 1346 two are entered at £1 3s. 2d. Considerable sums were disbursed for the travelling expenses of the prior, his officials and the monks, and also in the entertainment of the various distinguished visitors who came to the priory, and the record of 6d. paid to Taylefer menestrel, (fn. 174) and of 15s. to Roger Pictor for painting 'the image (pictura ymaginis) of the Blessed Mary,' are significant of a time when music and painting were beginning to be recognized among the pleasures of life. The constant use, too, of English words in the records, Shephous, Malthous, Bakhous, ovensled (oven-lid), endnayl, pronge, whip-cord, &c., shows the persistence and the spread of the vernacular in the age of Chaucer and Langland. (fn. 175) In the following century the Latin register of the nunnery of Godstow was translated into English, that 'relygyous women . . . myght have, out of her latyn bokys, sum wrytynge in her modyr tongue, where-by they myht have bettyr knowlyge of her munymentys. (fn. 176) '
The legislation of the fourteenth century shows a valiant if futile effort to grapple with the labour problem. Attempts were made to fix both wages and prices by statute, (fn. 177) and when it was found that 'a Man cannot put the Price of Corn and other Victuals in certain,' the assessment of the rates of labourers' wages and of the gains of victuallers was entrusted to the justices of the peace in their Easter and Michaelmas sessions. (fn. 178) Two statutes of the reign of Richard II are peculiarly significant of the disturbance in social relations consequent on a period of economic transition. The 'first English Poor Law,' which provided for the punishment of able-bodied beggars and for the maintenance of the impotent poor, was passed in 1388, the 'first English Game Law' in the following year. (fn. 179) The same economic movement which produced the tenant-farmer and the free labourer produced also the pauper, the vagrant and the poacher. All through the fifteenth century the emancipation of the peasantry from predial servitude went on apace, while the rapid development of industry and the growth of towns gave an opportunity to ability and an outlet to the labour which had been set free from the soil. The Oxfordshire court rolls of this period are full of indications of the break-down of the manorial organization. Free tenants pay fines instead of doing suit of court, customary tenants are amerced for neglecting their labour-services, houses and granges fall into disrepair, land is left uncultivated, and hedges are not kept up. In one instance, as early as the reign of Richard II, a tenant has to be forced to live on his holding by threats of forfeiture. Questions of title constantly arise, the old services and rents have been forgotten, and occasionally the jurors of the hall-moot report that a much lower rent than is due is being paid for a tenement. (fn. 180) Juries of neighbours are called on to decide whether or not a tenant is a nativus and liable for merchet, or a villein is presented for fleeing from the manor. The records of such flights, however, are exceedingly rare in the Oxfordshire rolls, and it appears probable that the peasants were prosperous, and that they had almost entirely commuted their labour services for rent by the second decade of the fifteenth century. (fn. 181)
The 'lawful English money' (legalis moneta Angliae) in which rents are to be paid, is frequently insisted on, and reference is made to the rentals which become common in the fourteenth century, and are often added to the earlier custumals and extents. (fn. 182) Perhaps the most interesting feature in these court rolls is the first appearance in definite form of what was, doubtless, no new thing, the 'by-law,' 'precept,' or 'ordinance,' issued by the hall-moot, with the consent of the village community. (fn. 183) These injunctions are chiefly concerned with the regulation of the manorial economy; they deal with common rights, common duties, and common nuisances:—injury to the crops in the open fields, the 'ringing' of pigs, the minding of ducks and geese, trespass, poaching, fencing and ditching, the upkeep of the 'common Pinfold,' the repair of roads and bridges, houses and barns. They are usually issued with the consent of the whole 'homage,' coupled occasionally with a mandate from the lord. The ordinance is enforced by penalties and, not infrequently, half the fine for disobedience goes to the lord, and half is devoted to the removal of the grievance, or bestowed in charity. Often, however, the amount of the amercement is simply mentioned, with no provision for its application. (fn. 184) Good examples of fifteenth-century bylaws are found in the manor of Shifford. By an 'ordinance' of 1481–2 it was agreed, with the consent of the whole 'homage,' that no man henceforward should tie or fasten up horses and mares in the cultivated fields, from the time of the sowing to the carrying of corn and hay, on pain of a fine of 3s. 4d. for each offender. (fn. 185) Again, in 1484–5, fishing in the Thames and its tributaries with 'coupes, (fn. 186) nets, and unlawful Engines' without leave from the water-bailiffs (ballivi aquarum) was forbidden by common assent. (fn. 187) 'No man henceforward,' runs another 'precept,' from the court of the manor of Eynsham, 'shall trap, angle for, or catch fish in water held in severalty (separal. aqua), nor ferret, nor catch conies, pheasants (ffesinitz), (fn. 188) partridges, larks, or other "preserved" birds (volucres warrenal.), on pain of 4d. for each offence.' (fn. 189) This order, half an enforcement of the old feudal franchise of 'free-warren,' and half an echo of the Game Law of 1389, (fn. 190) where the penalty is a year's imprisonment and the justices of the peace are empowered to punish offenders, illustrates admirably the way in which the manorial courts were first supplemented and then superseded by the royal officers. The supervision and repair of roads and bridges, here regulated by the hall-moot and carried out by the villeins, passed also, in later times, into the hands of special officials.
But these ordinances come from courts held late in the century, from which the free tenants constantly absented themselves, and if the lord were still a 'constitutional king,' (fn. 191) he was becoming more and more of an absolute monarch, though a monarch shorn of much of his power by the gradual centralization of local government. The lord of the manor himself was often a justice of the peace, a royal delegate, and the manorial court-leet could be used to enforce Parliamentary statutes. (fn. 192)
Much of the activity and energy which had once centred in the village community had, by the middle of the fifteenth century, been transferred to the towns, which developed rapidly under the stimulus of the increasing importance of English industry and manufactures. In Oxfordshire, as elsewhere, the towns henceforward took a more active and distinctive part in public life, though their prosperity remained closely bound up with that of the country districts. The woollen and cloth manufactures of Witney and Chipping Norton, the plush of Banbury, the saddlery and leather of Bampton and Burford, the gloving industry of Woodstock, and the malt trade of Henley, (fn. 193) all depended on agriculture for their raw material. Oxford, early chartered and enfranchised, with its municipal organization, its merchant gild and craft gilds, and its elaborate market system, stood somewhat apart from the lesser towns, as the political, intellectual, and social centre of the county. (fn. 194) But even Oxford was, from an economic point of view, a country town. The wares sold in its market were mainly country products, and leather and cloth were its chief manufactures. Its earliest craft gilds, which date from the twelfth century, were those of the cordwainers and the weavers, and the 'Drapery,' where cloth was sold, is mentioned in the reign of Henry III. (fn. 195)
Oxfordshire was, indeed, noted for the excellence of its wool, the raw material of the cloth manufacture. When in 1343 Parliament fixed the minimum price at which English wool might be sold, Oxfordshire was placed among the first five counties, with a minimum of 10 marks to 16 marks per sack. (fn. 196) A hundred years later, in 1454, its wool was assessed at seven marks or 93s. 4d. the sack, and in 1503 it ranked as the second richest county in England. (fn. 197) These natural advantages, and the great profits to be made by laying down land to grass, tended to strengthen the movement towards the conversion of arable land into pasture which had begun in the later fourteenth century, and had been accelerated by the rise in the value of agricultural labour. Thus the way was prepared for the 'agrarian revolution' of the sixteenth century, the systematic inclosure of the open fields, and the development of pasture farming. The movement seems to have included 'ingrossing,' or throwing together two or more holdings, with the consequent destruction of dwellinghouses, 'inclosure' of the open fields by hedges, ditches, or fences, and the conversion of arable land into pasture. The Acts of 1490 (fn. 198) and 1515 'agaynst pullyng doun of Tounes,' and the proclamation of 1514 against ingrossing farms and converting tillage into pasture, (fn. 199) proved powerless to check these abuses, and in 1517 Royal Commissioners were appointed to inquire by sworn juries of the neighbourhood into the whole question of inclosure and depopulation. The Oxfordshire Commissioners held six sessions, at Culham and at Henley, in August and October, 1517. Their returns, which have been preserved, are of first-rate importance for the economic history of the county in the critical period of the early sixteenth century, though, consisting as they do of answers to a definite set of questions, they have necessary limitations and omissions which make them an unsafe basis for wide generalizations. The Commissioners had to collect information on three main points: the number of houses and buildings thrown down since the fourth year of King Henry VII, the amount of land then under tillage and now converted to pasture, and the amount of land inclosed for parks. (fn. 200)
From the returns it appears (fn. 201) that 124 messuages, 2 mansiones, and 14 cottages were 'destroyed,' ruined, or uninhabited, 83 ploughs had been put down, and 626 persons had been evicted or thrown out of work. About 4,016 acres are distinctly said to have been converted from arable into pasture, and 69 acres had been inclosed for parks. Acreage is so often omitted in the jurors' statements that it is difficult to arrive at the total amount of land inclosed, (fn. 202) and only 7,523 acres are definitely returned as inclosures for arable, pasture, or parks, or as appurtenant to 'decayed' messuages. This, about 1.5 per cent. of the county area, (fn. 203) is, it can hardly be doubted, too small a proportion, but all the evidence points to the comparative unimportance of the inclosure movement in Oxfordshire. (fn. 204) Leland, who was rector of Haseley from 1542 to 1552, and knew the neighbourhood well, notes the uninclosed arable land, the 'marvelus fair Champain and fruteful Ground of Corn' in the south of the county between Dorchester and Wallingford and between Ewelme and Haseley, in the northern district about Banbury, in the north-east between Bicester and the Northamptonshire border, and in the west beyond Wychwood Forest. (fn. 205) Even at the beginning of the eighteenth century nearly a hundred Oxfordshire parishes remained uninclosed. (fn. 206) Still, the inclosures of the sixteenth century, which extended to all parts of the county except the hundred of Banbury, (fn. 207) must have caused much immediate suffering to the evicted peasants, suffering none the less keenly felt and resented because it was on a relatively small scale. The inclosures varied in size from 10 to 300 acres, (fn. 208) and tenants in chief of the crown, lay and ecclesiastical, freeholders and leaseholders, were all concerned in the movement. (fn. 209) The majority of the Oxfordshire landlords seem to have inclosed with the intention of converting arable into pasture. That the temptation to abandon the old system of tillage was strong is shown by the remarkable case of Churchill, (fn. 210) near Chipping Norton, where the inclosure of 300 acres for pasture increased their annual letting value from £15 to £41. If to the 4,016 acres for which the fact of conversion to pasture is expressly stated be added the cases of 'ingrossing' in which ploughs had been put down, and a few instances of inclosure of land already in pasture, (fn. 211) a total of 5,714 acres will be obtained, and the inclosed pasture will stand to the inclosed arable in the ratio of 76 to 24 per cent. (fn. 212)
Though these statistics are by no means conclusive, they tend to confirm the view that in Oxfordshire inclosures for pasture were much more frequent than inclosures for arable, for the purpose of higher farming, of which, indeed, there are few unequivocal traces in the records. (fn. 213)
The religious houses, which were directly interested in the wool trade, appear prominently among the Oxfordshire inclosers, and the jurors' returns show a tendency to dwell particularly on the misery caused by evictions on ecclesiastical holdings. At Little Rollright, when the abbot of Eynsham converted 200 acres to pasture, the twenty dispossessed tenants are said to have left their houses 'in tears' (lacrimose). (fn. 214) When the prior of St. Frideswide put down three ploughs at Binsey and evicted fifteen persons, they 'led an evil and wretched existence, until life ended.' (fn. 215) The labourers whom the prior of Bicester turned out of their homes at Wretchwick 'withdrew sadly (dolorose), wandering about and seeking their bread elsewhere.' (fn. 216) No such clear note of sympathy with the distressed peasantry is struck in the business-like account of the evictions carried out by Sir Richard Empson on the lands of the suppressed priory of Cold Norton, which deprived twenty persons of 'habitations and occupation,' or in the description of the inclosure at Churchill by a tenant of the Earl of Warwick, when sixteen agricultural labourers were driven from their holdings, and 'withdrew, and remain idle.' (fn. 217) Yet there seems little to choose among these various cases, and there is really nothing to prove that the ecclesiastical landlords in Oxfordshire treated their tenants with exceptional harshness. (fn. 218) But the doom of the religious houses had been pronounced, and already their destined supplanters were in the field. In the Inquisition of 1517 three Oxford colleges—Oriel, Lincoln, and Brasenose—are returned as holding land converted from arable into pasture. (fn. 219) The corporate character of Oxfordshire land-tenure, which had been a marked feature of its early history, was to be continued in a new form in its later development.
By 1550 the great change was completed. The Oxfordshire monasteries had been dissolved, and their estates had passed into lay hands. There can be little doubt that this transference of landed property to 'new men,' bent on profiting to the utmost by their bargain, was accompanied by an extension of the inclosure movement and a further development of sheep-farming. Those 'sturdy beggars' the clergy were replaced by 'a sturdy sorte of extorsioners,' as a contemporary pamphleteer puts it. (fn. 220) The futility of the Acts against 'Decaying of Houses of Husbandry' is seen by the repeated legislation on the subject, (fn. 221) and the commission appointed by the Protector Somerset in 1548 did nothing to alleviate the prevailing distress. (fn. 222) High rents, renewal of leases on the forfeited abbey lands, the oppression of 'improving' landlords, and the increase of want, beggary, and crime are bitterly inveighed against in the Supplication of the Poore Commons, (fn. 223) and the same cry is echoed in another anonymous tract on the Decaye of England by the Great Multitude of Shepe, written probably about 1550, and referring chiefly to Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, and Northamptonshire. (fn. 224) The author states that, as he thinks, forty ploughs had been put down in Oxfordshire since the time of Henry VII, each of which was able to keep six persons, (fn. 225) but 'where that the sayde twelf score persons were wont to have meate, drynke, rayment and wages, payinge skot and lot to God and to our Kyng, now there is nothyng kept there, but onlye shepe.' The twelvescore persons must wander from shire to shire, and be driven to steal or beg. Each plough, moreover, representing a yearly rent of £6, £7, or £8, gave thirty quarters of grain a year for sale. Hence there was a shortage of 1,200 quarters in Oxfordshire, which would have kept 300 persons, allowing each person two quarters of wheat, and two quarters of malt a year for bread and drink. The total loss of population in the county, then, is nearly 540 persons, and if, as the pamphleteer suspects, the number of ploughs has been reduced by eighty rather than by forty, (fn. 226) this loss will be doubled. He traces the evil to two main causes: conversion of arable to pasture, and deliberate withholding of the supply of wool, in order to raise prices. Many worshipful men of Oxfordshire, he says,
sette no store nor pryse, upon the mayntenaunce of tyllage of theyr landes, as before tyme hath been used, neyther breadyng nor feadynge of catle, but many of them doeth kepe the most substaunce of theyr landes in theyr owne handes. And where tillage was wont to be, nowe is it stored wyth greate umberment (number) of shepe. . . . And we do partly knowe that there be some dwellynge within these thre shyres [Oxon. Bucks. Northants.] rather then they wyll sell theyr woll at a low pryse, they will kepe it a yere or twayne, and all to make it deare, and to kepe it a deare pryse. (fn. 227)
The effect on the cost of the necessaries of life is to raise the price of mutton, because it is eaten instead of beef, and 'so many mouthes goith to motton, whiche causeth motton to be deare'; to make beef dear, because it is scarce, and to cause eggs to be sold for four a penny, 'by reason cottages go doune in the contre, whereas pultrye was wonte to be breade and fedde.' The decay of households also implies the loss of cows, milk, butter and cheese, hogs, pigs, bacon, capons, hens, ducks, and fruit. (fn. 228) In the final appeal to the king to provide a remedy, the new classification of society is unconsciously reflected—
Craftsmen dwellyng in cyties and townes, daye laborers that laboreth by water or by lande, cottygers and other housholders, refusyng none, but only them that hath al this aboundaunce, that is to saye, shepe or wollmasters, and inclosers.
In statements such as these, much must be allowed for political bias and rhetorical effect, but if the statistics of the author of the 'Sheep-tract' can only be accepted with caution, he probably represents the popular feeling towards the inclosures not unfairly. Perhaps the pinch of poverty was specially galling to the Oxfordshire agricultural labourer by contrast with his former well-being. It seems to have been a peculiarity of the county that cottages often had land, varying from 7 to 15 acres, attached to them, (fn. 229) and the custumarius, now practically identical with the copyholder, (fn. 230) was a substantial householder, who could afford to pay a heavy fine on admittance to his tenement, and considerable sums as compensation for remitted dues and obligations. (fn. 231) Rents, too, appear to have maintained a steady level, and the complaints of their excessive rise would seem to apply mainly to cases of conversion to pasture, which had long been more highly rented than arable. The following instances, taken from all parts of the county, and from both lay and ecclesiastical tenancies, show how slight were the changes effected in rental values through long periods of time:—
|Manor||Lord||Date||Average Value per Acre||Area of Virgate|
|Rollright (fn. 232) [N W.]||Eynsham Abbey||1363||51/8d.||7½d. c.||1s. 4d.||—|
|(conversion to pasture; messuage 'decayed')|
|Piddington (fn. 233) [S E.]||St. Frideswide's Priory||1363 c.||6d.||—||2s.||—|
|(conversion to pasture; messuage 'decayed')|
|South Stoke (fn. 234) (Stoke Abbot) [S W.]||Eynsham Abbey||1366||2½d.||1s.||5s. 8d.||—|
|(Yardland let at 9s. c.||1530 c.||33/5d.||—||—||—|
|(allowing 30 ac. to the yardland)|
|(allowing 40 ac. to the yardland)|
|Yarnton (fn. 235) [Central]||Rewley Abbey||1517||—||9 7/10d.||—||—|
|(conversion to pasture; messuages and cottages 'decayed')|
|1530 c.||6 3/10d.||—||—||Yardland of 32 ac.|
|Taynton (fn. 236) [W.]||Lord Cobham||1517||3d.||—||—||Virgate of 40 ac. (fn. 237)|
|(John Brooke)||(messuage 'decayed')|
|(higher rents when pasture or meadow attached to arable)|
|Bloxham (fn. 238) [N.]||Lord Saye and Sele (William Fiennes)||1550–51||2½d. c.||—||8½d.||—|
The second half of the sixteenth century was a period of economic disturbance throughout England. The debasement of the coinage by Henry VIII and Edward VI aggravated the distress caused by changing conditions of labour and land cultivation. In many parts of the country actual revolts broke out, and the comparative tranquillity of Oxfordshire may be taken to imply the prosperity of the working-classes. When, in the troubled time between 1569 and 1571, the Privy Council, through the agency of the justices of the peace, rigidly enforced the statutes against vagrants, the report from Oxfordshire was frequently: 'All things be well.' (fn. 239) But the last two decades of the century were marked by seasons of extreme scarcity, when corn rose to famine-prices, (fn. 240) and stringent measures for the relief of want became necessary. In 1587 the Privy Council issued orders to the justices of the peace to appoint juries in each county, to return the number of persons in the household of every owner of grain in barns and stacks or sown in the fields, the amount of such grain, the 'badgers, kidders, broggers (fn. 241) or cariers of corne,' the 'malte makers, bakers, comen brewers or tiplers,' (fn. 242) and the 'greate buyers of corne.' The justices were then, after deducting an allowance of corn for the food of the family and for seed, to bind owners to bring the remainder to be sold 'in open markett.' (fn. 243) The Oxfordshire returns for the hundreds of Wootton, Dorchester, Thame, and Bullingdon, and for the four and a half 'Chiltern Hundreds' of Binfield, Langtree, Lewknor, Pyrton, and Ewelme, are extant, and incidentally prove the fertility and wealth of the county. In the Wootton district the farmers were ordered to bring certain definite quantities of grain, wheat, barley, malt, 'maslin,' pease, beans, rye, winter-corn, and in one case oats, at specified times to the various markets at Oxford, Woodstock, Witney, Banbury, Deddington, and Chipping Norton. In the Dorchester Hundred the 'some (sum) of winter corne to be weakely brought to Oxford market' was 65 quarters, the sum of barley and malt 549 quarters, the sum of beans and pease 79 quarters, and Thame market is also mentioned. The care with which the instructions of the Council were carried out is seen in the subjoined specimens of returns from the Chiltern Hundreds and from New Woodstock. (fn. 244)
Returns for New Woodstock:—
G. W. in his barne wheate and unthrashed 10 qrs. Ys to spare none; in house and barnes in malt and barley 54 qrs.
16 persons in house.
J. P. alderman in his barns and uppon his malt floor barley and malt 24 qrs. 8 persons. Ys to furnish the markets weekly from Midsummer to Michaelmas with 4 bushels of malt. Recognisance £3.
Further, in accordance with the orders of the Privy Council, the numbers of 'victuallers and innholders,' 'malters' and dealers in corn, or 'badgers' in each district were ascertained, with the amount of grain used in baking, brewing, and malting. Apparently these trades were usually combined with others. At Thame the three 'malters' were respectively a bricklayer, a shoemaker, and a butcher. A weaver who was also a victualler baked 4 bushels weekly, brewed 2 bushels, 'and hath,' say the jurors, 'used it 20 yeares.' A 'daie laborer' baked I bushel and brewed 2 bushels weekly, and had done so for 20 years. A cooper, a glover, a tailor, a mason, a shoemaker and a labourer are all returned as 'victuallers,' and there is mention of a 'comon bere brewer' who brewed 5 quarters weekly in the winter time and 10 quarters in the summer. An unlicensed 'badger' at South Stoke had bought 40 quarters of barley at £17 the score, and had not paid. Another, who was also an ingrosser, had bought 'on the grounde' 4 acres of winter corn, 10 acres of barley, and 2 acres of pulse, for £20; 4 acres in another place for £4, and 16 acres for £11. The 'badgers' seem to have bought barley at prices varying from 6s. 8d. to 22s. a quarter, and averaging about 16s. (15s. 11½d.). They bought beans at 16s. a quarter and pulse at £1 a quarter. (fn. 245) These prices tally fairly well with the market prices given by Professor Thorold Rogers for this year, and leave a good margin of profit for the dealers. (fn. 246)
In their returns for the hundreds of Bampton and Chadlington the justices make use of a significant phrase. The store of corn and grain, they say, 'falleth out to be verie skantt,' 'by reason of the barrenness of this our cotsold (Cotswold) Soile (being more usuallie ymployed for sheepe than for graine). (fn. 247) ' Eleven years later the people of western and central Oxfordshire were plotting to murder inclosing landlords.
The year 1591–2 was the last in which the average price of wheat fell below 20s. a quarter. Wet seasons followed by bad harvests led, in 1596 and 1597, to actual famine. The average price of wheat rose from 37s. 7½d. a quarter in 1594–5 to 56s. 6¼d. in 1596–7, and 52s. 4½d. a quarter in 1597–8. In the Oxford market wheat was quoted at 64s. a quarter at Michaelmas, 1596, and at 72s. a quarter at Lady Day, 1597. (fn. 248) In the winter of 1596 an armed rising was planned. The insurgents were to meet at Enslow Bridge, (fn. 249) attack the chief houses in the neighbourhood, murder the gentry, take the corn from the barns, and 'cast downe the hedges and diches.' 'It would never be merrye,' one of the leaders is reported to have said, 'till some of ye gent were knocked downe.' The plot was discovered in time and the ringleaders were arrested and imprisoned by one of their intended victims, Sir William Spencer, who had incurred odium by his recent inclosures at Yarnton. (fn. 250) 'They have confessed little,' wrote Sir William to the lord-lieutenant of Oxfordshire, 'but might do more, if sent for and more sharply examined.' (fn. 251) The examination of the prisoners brought out clearly the connexion of the revolt with the inclosure movement. The rebels petitioned for 'Relief for corne and putting downe of inclosures.' The witnesses when asked, 'What gentlemen in that Countrey have inclosed or converted theire lande from tillage,' replied that 'Mr. Frere had destroyed a whole town called Water Eaton,' that about Banbury 'verie manie have inclosed, in everie place somewhat.' Mr. Power of Bletchingdon had also inclosed the commons. Corn, it was said, 'would not be better cheap till hedges thrown down.' Were there not, it was asked, 100 good men who would rise and knock down the gentlemen and rich men who made corn so dear, and who took the commons? Even Lord Norris, whose arms and horses were to have been seized, asked the Council for 'commands and order to be taken about inclosures on the western part of the shire, where the stir began, and that the poor may be able to live.' Though the rebels are described as 'yonge men unmarried and in noe necessitie for want of livinge,' 'no base fellows,' in their own words, 'but husbandmen and such as had a plougheland of their own,' the poverty in the district was evidently extreme. Roger Ibill, a loader at Hampton Gay mill, and one of the instigators of the revolt, had 'heard people say . . . that the prices of Corne weare so deere that there would be shortlie a risinge of the people and more adoe than had beene a great while ffor that the poore sorte of people coulde not tell how to make shifte to Compasse the yeare aboute.' James Bradshaw 'had been at Bicester and wheat was at 9s. a bushel' [72s. a quarter]. The town of Witney was 'full of poore people,' who, it was hoped, would join the rising. The Government evidently feared an extension of the spirit of revolt and a combination of the discontented in various parts of the country. The Oxfordshire malcontents had planned a march on London and had looked for support from the 'prentices.' The witnesses were also to be carefully examined as to the connexion of the rebels with gentlemen 'that doe favour the Comunaltie,' and with 'certen persons calling themselves Egiptians.' No doubt there was another side to the picture. The ringleader of the revolt, a carpenter called Bartholomew Steere, seems to have been a typical demagogue. Other men might live like slaves, but for himself 'happ what would, he could die but once, and he would not always live like a slave.' 'We shall have a merrie worlde shortlie,' he said, 'for there are goode fellowes abroad that will have both corne and Cattaill,' and he urged his friends not to work 'nor take anie Care for Corne this dear yeere.' At least one of his hearers replied to these specious arguments that 'he needed not to use anie such unlawfull courses, for he myght live well and be honestly maintayned by his worke.' (fn. 252)
The revival of the inclosure question is recognized in an Act passed in 1597 which repealed the Statutes against the destruction of Towns and Houses of Husbandry, but provided for the restoration to tillage of all land converted to pasture since the accession of Elizabeth, and forbade further conversion of arable to pasture. (fn. 253) In Oxfordshire the distress attendant on an agricultural crisis was intensified by the coincident depression in the cloth-trade. In 1546 a scheme had been on foot for making the deserted abbey buildings of Oseney the centre of a local cloth-making industry which should give employment to 2,000 persons, (fn. 254) and in the Cloth Act of 1585 Oxfordshire was included among the cloth-making counties. (fn. 255) But in the seventeenth century the cloth-trade declined owing to war and other causes. Complaints of want of work among weavers, spinners, and fullers reached the Council, and in February, 1621–2, the justices of ten counties, including Oxfordshire, were ordered to 'deale effectually' with the clothiers, for the employment of their workpeople. If weavers and spinners still remained unemployed, the justices were to raise a public 'stock' or fund to find them work. Wool-dealers were also bidden to sell at a moderate price. In the following month the Oxfordshire justices reported that the clothiers had dismissed their workmen because they could not sell their cloth, and this was confirmed by a statement signed by six Oxfordshire clothiers, in which they gave four causes for the stagnation in their trade: (1) The decrease in the number of clothiers; the trade had passed into the hands of young inexperienced men, and was dull; 'many have stoode with Clothe from Markett to Markett and cannott sell in any sorte, but have been constreyned to take money at interest to paye theire poore workfolkes ther wages.' (2) Secret transportation of wool beyond sea for the foreign cloth-trade. (3) Competition of the Low Country. (4) Taxation: the great imposition laid on cloth both in England and beyond the seas. They craved as a remedy that the cloth-duty might be made uniform in all counties, 'that other Clothiers of all places may give the same rates that wee in the County of Oxon do give whereby our Clothe may come as cheape to the Markett as other Clothiers of this kingdom do bringe yt,' and further that 'the Brogger of Woolle may not buy any Woolle but what shall be first weyed by a man that shall be sworne to deale truly betweene the buyer and the seller.' A few days after the presentation of this statement to the Council, five of its signatories were returned by the keeper of Wiltshire Hall as having cloths still unsold. (fn. 256)
The action of the Privy Council in this matter was characteristic of a period of paternal government and state interference. The great Poor Law of 1601 was only one of a long series of experiments in poor relief, in which the justices of the peace supplied the local machinery for the enforcement of Acts of Parliament and Orders in Council. (fn. 257) The impotent poor had long been the objects of private charity. The towns and villages of Oxfordshire are rich in benefactions, dating back to the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries, and varying in importance from the famous 'God's House' of the Dukes of Suffolk at Ewelme, to the petty doles of bread, cakes, and pence, which are common throughout the county. The foundation of almshouses or hospitals was a favourite form of philanthropic activity, and landed property was sometimes bequeathed for charitable uses by the heirs of former 'inclosers.' (fn. 258) County rates were levied for the relief of maimed soldiers and poor prisoners in the King's Bench and Marshalsea, and private bequests were often made for the benefit of prisoners in local gaols, (fn. 259) who sorely needed help.
A tablet still commemorates the terrible 'Black Assize' of 1577, which was held in the old shire hall at Oxford, when a disease caused by the smell of the gaol where the prisoners had been 'long, close, and nastily kept,' carried off about 300 persons, including 'Judges, Sheriffs, Justices, Gentry, and Juries.' (fn. 260)
In the relief of the able-bodied poor, private and public enterprise went hand in hand. Funds or stores called 'stocks' were formed by the justices of the peace, in accordance with the Statute of 1575–6, to give work to the unemployed. In April, 1630, the Oxfordshire justices reported to the Council that they had not omitted to provide such stocks, to 'sett able poore on worke.' (fn. 261) The Statute of 1575–6 also ordered houses of correction to be built in every county for the idle rogues who would not work. (fn. 262) Other expedients were adopted to meet temporary distress, such as lending money without interest, (fn. 263) supplying fuel in winter, selling corn to the poor below market price, or suppressing alehouses and restricting the output of malt, to keep up the supply of barley for the barley-bread which formed the staple food of the working classes. The mayor of Banbury wrote to the Council early in 1623 to state that he had suppressed a third part of the alehouses formerly allowed, and restrained the making of malt. The market, he added, was well supplied with grain; wheat at 6s.; barley, 3s. 8d.; beans, 2s. 4d.; peas, 2s.; oats, 1s. 6d.; malt, 4s. (fn. 264) Collections in churches, in response to 'briefs' authorized by the king or bishop, were made for most miscellaneous objects, sufferings by flood or fire, repairs of churches and bridges, the ransom of Christians taken by the Turks or the Moors, assistance to foreign Protestants, and the relief of Irishmen, Scotchmen, and poor travellers. (fn. 265) A special rate called 'mileway money' was levied after the Act of 1575–6, which provided that every person holding a yard-land or more within five miles of Oxford should contribute to the repair of bridges and highways. (fn. 266)
But in spite of public organization and private benevolence poverty increased, prices were high and wages low, (fn. 267) and in the ship-money assessment of 1636 Oxfordshire had fallen from the second to the seventeenth place among English counties ranked in order of wealth. (fn. 268) The Stuart policy of monopolies affected the wool trade, and civil war completed what misgovernment had begun. (fn. 269) Yet, such force has economic tradition, the old customary methods of land-cultivation were carried on and the customary courts were held through all the turmoil and distraction of the time. The office of king was abolished, but the sheriff still accounted for 'the rent of the Soakemen in the late king's Mannor of Combe.' (fn. 270)
The estate maps made for Corpus Christi College, Oxford, in 1605–6 illustrate this continuity of agrarian custom. (fn. 271) At Whitehill, in the parish of Tackley, four fields were divided into shots and strips, held in equal portions by a yeoman and by the College. The estimated area of the strips, generally 2 acres each, was considerably less than their real size, which was noted on the map. In the reign of James I, as in former days, the terms 'acre,' 'half-acre,' 'two acres,' were evidently used to describe holdings in the open fields without precise reference to actual acreage. (fn. 272) At Lower Heyford the land was in the hands of many small holders, and the map shows the village street, with the churchyard and the 'town house.' There were four irregularly shaped fields, and much of the lord's demesne lay in scattered strips. There were heaths, on which the 'fursen' were divided by 'knowne lottes,' and the herbage was 'common sheep's pasture,' and at Whitehill Lammas ground is mentioned, while at Cowley, further south, there were three fields and 'lot meades.'
The economic legislation of the Tudors quickened the activity of the manorial courts by widening their sphere of usefulness. (fn. 273) They still exacted fines for breaking the assizes of bread and ale, often at the old rate of 2d. to 3d. for each offence, (fn. 274) but they also fined the millers who took excessive toll, the common butchers, bakers, brewers, fishmongers, chandlers, and innkeepers who took 'excessive gayne contrary to the Statute,' or bought bread of 'foreign' bakers, and sold it again 'with excessive Lucre.' They continued to issue by-laws, 'with the assent of all the tenants,' and fined those who failed to observe them. (fn. 275) In the Courts Baron and Courts Leet of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, (fn. 276) customary tenants were given seisin of their holdings 'by the rod,' the oath of allegiance was taken by the villagers when they were admitted to their tithings at the View of Frankpledge, (fn. 277) the constables and tithingmen were elected, and the 'haywards' were sworn in. At Aston, in 1657, sixteen men, chosen out of those who had rights of common, and called the 'Sixteens,' were accustomed to meet at the Town Cross, and there 'to make orders, set penalties, choose officers, and lot the meadows, and do all such things as are usually performed or done in the Courts Baron of other manors.' From the 'sixteens' four grass stewards were elected to represent the sub-manor of Aston and Cote at the court of the superior manor of Bampton. (fn. 278) But the Civil War, if it left the ancient village organization practically untouched, threw out of gear the new machinery for the relief of the poor, and though efforts were made under the Commonwealth to provide remedies for pauperism, the restored Stuart dynasty was confronted by serious social problems. (fn. 279) Anthony Wood in his chatty pages constantly refers to the scarcity and want in Oxfordshire at the close of the seventeenth century. In April, 1693, 'the poore in Oxford by clamoring brought the price of corne from 9s. to 6s. 2d.' In May, poor women in Oxford market pelted millers, mealmen and bakers with stones. In November, after a wet August, which spoiled much grain, the mob rose at Banbury, at Chipping Norton, and at Charlbury, and 'took away the corne by force out of the waggons, as it was carrying away by the ingrossers, saying they were resolved to put the law in execution, since the magistrates neglected it.' In the following December corn sold for 9s. 6d. a bushel, and the poor were eating turnips instead of bread. In March, 1694, Wood wrote:—'All things exceeding deare—corne at 10s. per bushell, mutton 4d. a pound, butter 8d. a pound, apples 2 a penny and 3 at 2d.' (fn. 280)
The famous Settlement Act of 1662 (fn. 281) was intended to restrain the poor from going from parish to parish and settling 'where there is the best stock, the largest commons or wastes to build cottages, and the most woods for them to burn and destroy, and when they have consumed it, then to another parish.' The Act provided for the removal of a new-comer within forty days, if there were danger of his becoming chargeable to the parish, to the last place where he had been legally settled. (fn. 282) The earliest extant records of the sessions of the Oxfordshire justices of the peace (fn. 283) show that in the eighteenth century one main function of the rural justices was the issue of orders for the transference of vagrants from one parish to another, and the decision of disputes arising out of such orders. That the system was costly and wasteful is evident from the ill-written and ill-spelt bills sent in by the village constables who were entrusted with the execution of the justices' orders. Such entries as the following are common in the Sessions Rolls (fn. 284) :—
The usual rate of 'pay' seems to have been 4d. a day for a vagrant, and 1s. 6d. a day for the constable.
Bills for bread at 7d. the loaf for the 'felons' in the Oxford Castle Gaol are filed with the Settlement Orders, and piteous appeals for an allowance of bread are made by prisoners 'in a Miserable poore Condition and in verry greate Want,' appeals generally answered by a grant of 1d. a day to each petitioner. Lists of prisoners in the house of correction and in the castle gaol occur: thieves, sheep-stealers, vagrants, 'idle incorrigible and dissolute persons,' who had been public nuisances in their villages. In 1716 a man was imprisoned for drinking the Pretender's health, and two others for killing a deer in Wychwood Forest. The offences presented by the grand jury at quarter sessions include building a cottage without four acres of land attached, dividing a tenement for sub-letting, and thus encouraging pauperism; selling ale without licence; neglecting to repair the roads and keep up mounds, 'whereby the Cattle come thro' . . . from the comon field,' obstructing the public ways, and not clearing out water-courses. (fn. 285)
The economic history of the later eighteenth century is the history of two revolutions—one industrial, the other agrarian. The failure of Oxfordshire to respond to the appeal of the new industry gave additional importance to the far-reaching agricultural changes in the county in the hundred years between 1760 and 1860, the central period of the modern inclosure movement. Increasing population, and the growing demand for corn, made farming profitable, and the enterprise of capitalist landowners produced a great improvement in methods of tillage, and led to the inclosure both of the remaining open fields and of large tracts of waste and common land. (fn. 286) In Oxfordshire 68,840 acres were inclosed between 1760 and 1800, and Arthur Young, writing about 1810, stated that, proportionably to the extent of the county, more land had been inclosed during the past forty years than in any county in England, though nearly a hundred parishes remained uninclosed. (fn. 287) From the dates of the Oxfordshire Inclosure Awards, it appears that the movement was particularly active in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, and in the second and third quarters of the nineteenth century. The whole aspect of North Oxfordshire was transformed, and great changes also took place in the west and south. But the customary methods passed away very gradually. The inclosures of the 'sixties' are still fresh in living memory, and old men in Oxfordshire villages can even recall the riots which attended the draining and fencing of Otmoor in 1830. (fn. 288)
To Arthur Young and the thriving farmers and landowners from whom he sought information, the change seemed wholly good, 'the capital improvement of the county.' Inclosure, they said, had doubled and trebled rents, doubled the produce of the soil, freed husbandry from hampering restrictions, and prevented loss of time 'in travelling to many dispersed pieces of land.' Even the poor profited. The new system was 'far better for their morals,' there was 'less pilfering,' and they received allotments in return for their 'cottage common.' (fn. 289) In the Inclosure Awards an attempt was, indeed, always made to give compensation for existing rights, (fn. 290) and estates were much subdivided even after inclosure. (fn. 291) The Hampton Poyle Award of 1796–7 is a case in point. Here 593 acres 1 rood and 17 perches were allotted to four private owners, to the Glebe to Merton College, the Woodstock Corporation, the Poor of Islip, and the Poor of Hampton. There was also a 'manorial allotment' and about 11½ acres with 'stone pits' were assigned for the repair of the public roads. But the estates of the individual proprietors lay in separate plots scattered about the parish, some of them less than an acre in extent, and only one containing more than 100 contiguous acres. (fn. 292) Though the later inclosures were usually for the purposes of better farming, and did not imply conversion of arable into pasture, a good deal of land in Oxfordshire was laid down to grass, and Arthur Young notes the prevalence of dairy-farming. (fn. 293) Where the new ideas had been adopted there was 'a revolution in the arrangement of crops.' Turnips, sainfoin, and clover were grown, and there was often a six-course, or even a seven-course, rotation. (fn. 294) But the oldfashioned system was slow to yield to improved methods. At Baldon, in the early eighteenth century, questions of encroachment in the open fields were settled by jury, and men would plough their land in the night to steal a furrow from a neighbour. (fn. 295) At Kidlington there was 'a large open field upon which every man sows just what he pleases, which occasions such a confusion of headlands and abutments in tillage, &c., as can hardly be conceived.' (fn. 296) There were also 'a very large common, which feeds 300 cows from May 16 to Michaelmas, all by farmers according to their yardlands and their cottages,' and 'a sheep common with adjistment shepherds. . . . Both sheep and shepherds miserably poor.' These common rights could be let and hired. (fn. 297) At Aston and Cote, as late as 1848, there were a Common Field, cultivated on the four-course system, a Common Meadow, and a Common Pasture. The whole was supposed to be divided into sixty-four yardlands, of about 30 acres each, and each holder of a yardland had about 20 acres of arable in the Common Field, 4 or 5 acres in the Common Meadow, and the right of feeding either eight cows or four horses in the Common Pasture, and sixteen sheep on the portion of the Common Pasture set apart for them. The system was beginning to break up in 1848, but the Common Meadow was still apportioned in the hay season by an intricate method of lot-drawing, carried out under the superintendence of the four Grass Stewards. (fn. 298) The villages of Aston and Cote 'intercommoned' with Yelford and Shifford from Michaelmas to Martinmas. (fn. 299) At Yarnton a somewhat similar system of division is still observed in the 'Lot Meadows,' which are 'drawn' every year by the 'Meadsman.' Here, too, other parishes, Begbroke, Water Eaton, and Wolvercot have shares in the meadows; there is 'intercommoning.' (fn. 300)
When Arthur Young wrote, ploughing with oxen was common in Oxfordshire, and 'increasing attention was being paid to oxen as beasts of labour.' Breast-ploughing was used for stubbles, and was paid at the rate of 6s. an acre. It was a matter of regret to Arthur Young that while inclosing had 'changed the men as much as it had improved the country,' a great deal of 'ignorance and barbarity' remained. 'The Goths and Vandals of open fields,' he said, 'touch the civilization of inclosures.' (fn. 301) Yet this champion of the inclosing movement himself admitted that incidentally the new methods pressed hardly on the cottagers, (fn. 302) who were too ignorant or short-sighted to make good bargains, and often parted with customary rights without realizing their value. (fn. 303)
The trebling of the poor rates in forty years (fn. 304) is sufficient evidence of the distress in Oxfordshire at the opening of the nineteenth century. In 1803 the average poor-rate of the county was returned as 4s. 8d. in the pound, but at Thame it was never less than 6s. in the pound, at Crowmarsh it was 6s. to 7s., at Burford 10s. to 11s., at Witney 10s., and in years of scarcity it rose to 12s. and 14s. and even as high as 29s. and 50s. When Arthur Young drew up his Report, thirty-eight parishes or places were maintaining all or part of their poor in workhouses, and about five in 100 of the resident population belonged to friendly societies. The poor of seven parishes or places were farmed, or maintained under contract. The increase of pauperism was partly due to the decline of industry in the county. At Witney, the introduction of machinery had revived the decaying weaving trade, but the number of hands employed fell between 1802 and 1807 from 400 to about 150, while wages only rose slightly. 'Masters and fabric may flourish,' wrote Arthur Young, 'but it cannot be contended that labouring hands do the same.' From the shag weavers of Bloxham and the velvet manufacturers of Banbury came the same complaint: 'their fabric had travelled to the North,' and the unemployed, wandering about in search of work, 'were beginning to riot, had not the yeomanry come in.' (fn. 305) High rents and prices and low wages were also doubtless responsible for much of the social and moral degeneration which was, perhaps, inevitable in a period of transition. The poor, living mainly on bread and water, were constrained to run into debt, and were tempted to eke out their scanty pittance by petty thefts; they became demoralized, and felt no shame in applying to the parish for help. (fn. 306) The rise in wages in the closing years of the eighteenth century was accompanied by a more than proportionate rise in the prices of the necessaries of life. Mutton went up 64 per cent., beef 50 per cent., veal 114 per cent., bacon 25 per cent., and butter 76 per cent., (fn. 307) while the average rise in the wages of agricultural labour between 1790 and 1803 was only 37 per cent. and the rise in artisans' labour (fn. 308) 35 per cent. Rent rose in the same period 20 per cent., tithe 33 per cent., and rates no less than 169 per cent. (fn. 309)
It is to the credit of the Oxfordshire landlords and employers of labour that they were fully alive to the sufferings of the working classes. Many schemes for the relief of the poor were mooted in the columns of the Oxford Journal, and private charity was active throughout the county. Subscriptions were set on foot to provide the poor with bread at reduced rates or with coals in winter. (fn. 310) Ardent agricultural reformers advocated the cultivation of the potato, the granting of plots of land to labourers, (fn. 311) reduction in the size of farms, commutation of tithes, and 'general inclosure, securing at the same time the interest of Cottagers.' Moralists preached philanthropy in the press and from the pulpit, and central and local authorities alike encouraged the formation of friendly and provident societies. (fn. 312) In January, 1794, the chairman of the Oxfordshire quarter sessions in his charge to the grand jury 'recommended it to the Farmers to increase their Labourers' Wages, which should keep Pace with the increased Price of Provisions.' The winter of 1794–5 was extremely severe, and at the end of January, 1795, 4,200 'necessitated Persons' were receiving charitable assistance in Oxford. In July the prices of all sorts of provisions, particularly corn, were extraordinarily high, and the quartern loaf was selling for 9d. The chairman of quarter sessions urged economy in the use of wheaten flour, and resolutions were signed by the county magistrates and gentry engaging to use bread made of flour with 'only the broad Bran taken from it.' (fn. 313) An address of the Common Council of the city of Oxford to their representatives in Parliament (fn. 314) sums up the main causes of that 'disastrous malady,' the 'excessive high Price of Corn,' as the Consolidation of Farms, 'Jobbers' or middlemen, [a 'new species of Locusts,'] and selling grain by sample. A load of corn, it was said, was now rarely seen in Oxford market, whereas fifteen years earlier it was difficult to find room for the corn waggons: the poor were no longer able to buy small quantities at first hand, and the farmer was not induced to lower the price by the prospect of carrying the corn home again. Subsidiary causes were the high price of meat, which forced the poor to live almost entirely on bread, (fn. 315) and the country banks, which lowered the value of money by circulating 'amazing quantities of imaginary specie.' Amongst the remedies proposed were the prohibition of distilleries, bounties on the importation of wheat, and restricting bakers to making one common sort of wheaten bread.
The great scarcity and distress of 1795 further led the Oxfordshire magistrates to adopt the system of allowances in aid of wages which was organized by the Berkshire justices in this same year. (fn. 316) At the winter quarter sessions—
it was unanimously agreed, that the following weekly Incomes were at this time absolutely necessary for the support of the poor industrious Labourer; and that when the utmost Industry of a Family cannot produce the undermentioned Sums, it must be made up by the Overseer, exclusive of Rent.
|A single Man according to his Labour||per Week.|
|Man and Wife, not less than six shillings|
|Ditto, with one or two small Children, not less than seven shillings|
|And, for every additional Child 1/-|
The evil effects of this policy were not long in showing themselves. As early as October, 1795, poor persons were beginning to demand the allowance as a right, whereas it was intended to be 'an indulgence to be bestowed only on the orderly and industrious.' (fn. 317) By 1830 it could be stated that Oxfordshire farmers were accustomed to pay only half the wages earned by labourers and to send them to the parochial authorities for the other half out of the poor rates. (fn. 318) The customs of farming out the poor and of employing them by the yardland were also productive of much evil. The parish let the maintenance of the poor at the cheapest possible rate, and the keeper made his profit by 'squeezing and oppressing' his unfortunate charges. Advertisements such as the following abound in the Oxford Journal:—
Wanted.—A proper Person to farm the Poor of the Parish of Chipping Norton, either by the head, or altogether, at an annual sum. There is a convenient Workhouse, and necessary Accommodations. Any Person, properly recommended, who can find Employment for the Poor, may apply to the Overseers of the said Parish. (fn. 319)
Able-bodied unemployed labourers were apportioned among the landholders in a parish at the rate of one day's work for every yardland. This was called 'going the Rounds,' and the 'Roundsmen' were often paid wages insufficient for the necessaries of life. (fn. 320)
Attempts were made to render the workhouses self-supporting by teaching the inmates trades and selling the products of their labour. A similar system was applied, with great success, to the prisons. In 1794 the Oxford Castle gaol and house of correction had a balance in hand of £64 5s. 6d., derived from the labour of prisoners, 'the County Allowance for whose Bread would have been £68 4s. 10d. had they, as heretofore, remained unemployed.' The prisoners were employed in canal and river navigation, and in roadmending and stone-sawing. The Oxford gaol seems to have been remarkably well managed, and the county generally was noted for its freedom from crime. (fn. 321)
But the condescending philanthropy which treated the 'industrious Poor' as 'a highly useful Class of Men' rather than as self-respecting individuals, could not check the rising tide of popular discontent. (fn. 322) In the pages of the Oxford Journal, side by side with notices of florists' feasts and penny clubs and subscriptions for soup and coals, are the records of poaching and burglary, and threatening letters and rick-burning. (fn. 323) Wages were high between 1763 and 1815, during the French war, but the price of corn continued to rise. In 1821 wheat was selling in the Oxfordshire markets at from 13s. to 20s. the bushel, and the half-peck loaf at from 2s. 3½d. to 3s. 1d. (fn. 324) After the peace of 1815 wages fell, while prices remained high, and the new machinery deprived the agricultural population of those home industries by which they had supplemented their regular earnings. The Witney woollen trade revived, but the hand-loom weaving of the rural districts rapidly declined. The introduction of threshing machines and other agricultural machinery was viewed with distrust by the labouring classes, and the inclosures which the landlords regarded as so great a benefit were disliked, not only by the villagers, but by many of the farmers. In May, 1830, the bells of Benson 'rang a merry peal on the death of the late projected Inclosure Bill, and the ringers were plenteously regaled by the opulent farmers in that neighbourhood.' (fn. 325) Later in the year, the 'Moormen' of Otmoor and the surrounding townships, who had been deprived of their rights of free pasturage by the recent inclosure, went 'possessioning' round the Moor, and destroyed every fence which obstructed their course. Troops were brought up, the Riot Act was read, and a number of Moormen were arrested and sent to Oxford. As they passed through St. Giles', where the annual fair was going on, cries of 'Otmoor for ever' were raised, the soldiers were pelted with stones and mud, and the prisoners slipped out of the waggons and escaped, only to be recaptured, and committed for trial. The Moormen had a tradition that their common had been given to them by 'Queen Elizabeth or some other Lady.' In reality the right of conmon was attached to certain cottages, each of which had received an allotment in the Inclosure Award. (fn. 326) The same somewhat unreasoning but deep-seated sense of wrong was seen in the winter of 1830–1 in the 'Swing' riots against agricultural machinery, which resulted in rickburning and destruction of threshing machines, outrages heralded by anonymous letters to the farmers signed 'Swing.' It was said that strangers traversed the country to excite the labouring poor to revolt. Special constables were sworn in, troops were called out, and many of the rioters were transported or imprisoned. In several districts of Oxfordshire, however, the villagers refused to rise and even helped to repress disturbance, while some of the landlords met their tenants half-way by a considerable reduction of rents. (fn. 327) Inadequate means of communication intensified the general distress. In the winter of 1794–5, when the Oxford Canal froze, coal, brought by land from Birmingham, rose to 4s. 8d. per cwt. and fell to 1s. 6d. per cwt. when the thaw set in. (fn. 328) Arthur Young complains that the canal, which was in course of construction from about 1770, (fn. 329) had spoilt valuable meadow land; but the importance of cheap water-carriage for coal was great, since much timber had been cut down in the Civil War, wood was dear, and the poor used peat and furze for fuel. (fn. 330) The badness of the Oxfordshire roads was proverbial. In 1848 the bedel of Bampton stated that in his father's time 'there was no stoned road of any kind leading from Bampton to the neighbouring towns and villages, and travellers were in the habit of striking across the common . . . and finding their way to Witney, Burford, Oxford, or any other place, in the best way they could. (fn. 331) Arthur Young could remember the roads of Oxfordshire 'in a condition formidable to all who travelled on wheels . . . the cross-roads impassable but with real danger.' The Turnpike Act of 1763, by which tolls could be levied for road-mending, was a real boon to the county. (fn. 332) The first Oxfordshire railway was opened for traffic in 1850. The Oxford Journal is full of advertisements of its eighteenth-century predecessors, the 'Oxford Post Coaches,' the neat Postchaises with fresh able horses, 'Bew's Flying Machine,' 'The Worcester Fly,' performed by Samuel Manning, (fn. 333) and the 'Burford, Witney, Oxford, and Thame Fly.' (fn. 334) Anthony Wood went to London in a stagecoach in 1667, but took two days on the journey. The first 'flying' coaches, which performed the journey from Oxford to London 'commodiously in one day,' were set up in 1669. (fn. 335) Highway robberies were frequent on the coach roads, and the Oxford Journal and other contemporary sources give amusing details of these encounters, and of everyday life in Oxfordshire in the Georgian period. Cockfighting and horse-racing were the chief amusements of the gentry, while their humbler neighbours diverted themselves with lamb ales, Whitsun ales, morris-dancing, spinning feasts, venison feasts, 'hay-homes,' harvest-homes, and fairs. Inoculation has a prominent place in local newspapers, and it was usual for doctors to take country houses to which their patients could retire for the operation. 'Eloping' apprentices are advertised for, and ill-used apprentices are freed from their masters. (fn. 336) Suggestions of modern developments are found in the opposition of the Woodstock glovers to the truck system, in Arthur Young's description of the bishop of Durham's village shop and cottage weaving industry at Mongewell, and in the formation of an emigration committee at Bicester. (fn. 337) After 1830 a new and more hopeful era opens. In 1848 there is mention of a Chartist meeting at Banbury, and complaints are made that bread, bacon, and fuel are dear, and that labourers' wages, 9s. or 10s. for six days, do not keep pace with the rise in prices. (fn. 338) O'Connor's National Land Company purchased a farm at Minster Lovell in 1847, and in 1848 started the artisan colony of 'Charterville.' (fn. 339)
In the labour movement inaugurated by Joseph Arch, which led to the organization of the Agricultural Labourers' Union in 1872, Oxfordshire took an active share. Meetings were held, and branch societies were formed. The farmers and employers of labour retaliated by establishing the 'Oxford Association of Agriculturists,' to resist the demand for increased wages, (fn. 340) and to pledge themselves not to employ union men. It is a curious fact that in this disturbed time the Oxford city gaol was empty from 20 July to 18 August, 1872. When the unionists struck work soldiers were employed to gather in the harvest, to the great indignation of the strikers, who protested that 'when the sword assumed the sickle it was time to be up and doing.' Still, on 26 October, Professor Thorold Rogers could declare that he knew of no combination 'that had been so temperate and so hopeful as this one.' Unfortunately the peaceful, orderly character of the movement changed in 1873, when sixteen women of Ascot under Wychwood were sentenced to imprisonment for assaulting the labourers brought in to replace the unionists on strike. There was rioting when they were committed to gaol and great rejoicing when they were released. The Times and Daily News sent commissioners to inquire into the affair, and the Ascot farmers published a statement of the case for the employers, in which they asserted that the full weekly income of an agricultural labourer from all sources was nearer £1 than 12s., (fn. 341) 'while the interior and exterior of their cottages, the smartness and finery on all occasions,' indicated ease and comfort. But the men had a strong case also, and it was probably due in part to the action of the Union that their main point was eventually won, and agricultural wages rose in Oxfordshire to 12s. or 14s. a week. (fn. 342)
The social and economic history of Oxfordshire for the last thirty years has been uneventful. The flood of modern progress has overwhelmed the city of Oxford, but the rural villages have slept on, undisturbed in their peaceful seclusion. Yet still, on market days, the flocks and herds obstructing the narrow mediaeval Oxford streets, and the carriers' waggons clustered about the church of St. Mary Magdalen, recall the fact that only a few miles from that busy centre of activity lies a country of archaic survivals and oldworld traditions, 'a fertile country and plentiful, the plains garnished with cornfields and meadows, and the hills beset with woods.' (fn. 343)
Appendix No. I
Inclosure Awards, Oxfordshire (fn. 344)
Appendix No. II
Wages, &c., in 1769 and 1808 circ. (fn. 345)
|Winter labour per diem||10d. to 1s.||1s. 6d.|
|Mowing grass||1s. 4d.||2s. 6d.|
|Reaping||5s. 6d.||8s. to 10s. 6d.|
|Carpenter and wheeler||1s. 4d.||2s. 6d.|
|Taxes||£1 8s. 6d.||£30 to £40|
|Labour per week (fn. 346)||6s.||9s.|
|Mason per diem||1s. 8d.||2s. 6d.|
|Carpenter per diem.||1s. 8d.||2s. 6d.|
General Average of Agricultural Wages in 1810 circ. (fn. 347)
Prices of Provisions in 1768 and 1807 (fn. 348)
|Mutton per lb.||4d. to 4½d.||7d.|
|Beef "||4d. to 5d.||6½d. to 7d.|
|Butter "||6d. to 7d.||10d. to 1s. 1d.|
Prices of Provisions in 1810 circ. (fn. 349)
|Bread, quartern loaf||0||9|
|Butter per lb.||1||3|
|Coals per cwt.||1||2|
|Common cottage||£3 a year and taxes|
|East.—Bicester and Wendlebury:—||s.||d.|
|Beef per lb.||0||7½|
In 1789 butter was 7d. and 8d. in winter and summer: it had risen to 1s. 3½d. in winter and 1s. 1½d. in summer. Coals 1s. 3d. per cwt., allow them to the poor in winter at 1s.
Appendix No. III
In accordance with the Acts for regulating 'the Price and Assize of Bread,' (fn. 350) the clerks of the Oxford market from time to time set 'Assizes of Bread,' fixing the price of the bushel of wheat and the weights and prices of loaves of various kinds. Specimens of these curious documents are worth preserving, if only as illustrations of a long-abandoned policy. They were published in Jackson's Oxford Journal, the first Oxfordshire newspaper, which began to appear weekly in 1754. (fn. 351)
Assizes of Bread. (fn. 352)
9 March, 1765:—
On Wednesday last a new Assize of Bread was set forth by the Clerks of our Market, when the second-best Price of Wheat was fixed at 6s. per Bushel, (fn. 353) and the Weight of Bread, according to Avoirdupois, was settled as follows, viz.:—
|The 1d.||White loaf||0||6||10|
26 February, 1774:—
By the new Assize of Bread, delivered out by the Clerks of our market on Monday last, and which takes place this day, the following Weights and Prices are fixed, viz.
N.B.—The Peck Loaf must always weigh 17 lb. 6 oz. Av.; the Half-peck Loaf, 8 lb. 11 oz.; the Quartern Loaf, 4 lb. 5 oz. 8 drachms.
[Another Assize was set on 26 March.]
5 December, 1795 (Oxford Market):—
Second-best Price of Bushel of Wheat 10s. 6d., according to which Price and a due allowance made to Baker, Assize and Price of Bread are as follows:—
The Assize took place on Wednesday 2nd December.
Prices of Grain in Oxfordshire Markets (fn. 354)