A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.
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The ancient chase of Woodstock lay to the north of Oxford, and adjoined the considerable forest of Wychwood on the west. Immediately to the east of Oxford were the forests of Shotover and Stowood, whilst on the north-east, near Bicester, was the Buckinghamshire forest of Bernwood, a considerable section of which over-lapped into Oxfordshire. On the south-east were the wild stretches and dense beech-woods of the Chilterns; and the circle was completed on the south by the woods of Cumnor and Bagley. (fn. 1)
It was doubtless the considerable and varied area so well suited for hunting, accompanied by its easy reach from the capital of the kingdom, that made this shire so favourite a residence of our Norman kings. In order to secure good accommodation when indulging in the pleasures of the chase, Henry I built himself an important house at Beaumont on the north side of Oxford. The same monarch established a hunting-lodge at Woodstock, where his Saxon predecessors had often sojourned, and surrounded the park, which was seven miles in circuit, with a stone wall. Within this park the king maintained a menagerie of foreign wild beasts, including the porcupine, 'covered over with sharp pointed quills, which they naturally shoot at the dogs that hunt them.' (fn. 2)
The Close Rolls of the reign of Henry III abound in references to the various royal forests of Oxfordshire. The forest of Wychwood was of independent ministration. The forests of Shotover and Stowood had their own officials, but were sometimes considered as members of the great stretch of Bernwood.
Thomas de Langley, throughout the earlier part of this reign, was the master forester of fee for Wychwood. In 1216 he received orders from the crown to permit the abbot of the Cistercian house of Bruern to take a third wagon-load of wood out of the forest in addition to the two already granted him by charter. (fn. 3) In the following year Langley was instructed to allow William de Brewere to take ten wild boars and to fell ten trees in this forest. (fn. 4)
Order was made in 1218 for the perambulation of Wychwood for the establishment of its ancient bounds and for the disafforesting of recent additions. (fn. 5) The foresters, verderers, and agisters of Wychwood were instructed, in October, 1221, to see to the due agistment of pigs, and to the presentment of owners of swine found in the forest without warrant. (fn. 6)
Robert Arsic obtained royal permission, in 1223, to hunt the fox and hare with hounds throughout Wychwood. (fn. 7) In the same year Thomas de Langley was instructed to take two wild boars, and to transfer them to the royal forest of Havering in Essex. (fn. 8) Another order received by the master forester this year was to deliver four dead oaks to the prior of Lanthony to serve for fuel. In 1224 John de Beauchamp was permitted to take a buck in this forest, and Ernald de Bosco, two years later, two does. (fn. 9) Like entries of royal gifts of game and timber from this forest continue throughout the reign. Fallow deer and wild boars seem to have been fairly abundant, but references are rarely made to red deer.
Forest Pleas were held at Oxford in 1229, when Thomas de Langley, the forester of fee, had to pay the exceedingly heavy fine of £100 to the crown, to be quit of the results of a variety of forest trespasses of which he was convicted before the justices. (fn. 10) The offender was allowed to retain his office. In 1231 Langley was instructed to send the tithe of all venison taken in this forest to the abbess and nuns of Godstow, whether the king was hunting in person or otherwise. (fn. 11)
Full accounts are extant of the Forest Pleas held at Oxford for executing the forest laws throughout the county in 40, 51, and 56 Henry III. (fn. 12) A very brief abstract of the proceedings at the pleas of 1255–6 may be given as an example.
The pleas were held at Oxford before William le Breton and three other justices. On the first day (14 January) the initial business was the receiving the 'essoins' or reasons for absence of officials and others who had been summoned to attend. Twenty-five instances of absence for the irrefutable reason of death were entered on the roll, together with the names of those who appeared to swear to the death. This was followed by the enrolment of officials who were present, to the number of forty-seven; the list is headed by 'Walterus le Mareschal de Wudestoke.' There was also in attendance a jury of fifteen, drawn from all parts of the county where forest law prevailed, such as the hundreds of Chadlington, Banbury, and Bullingdon. A considerable number of defaulters were fined for non-attendance, some for not being present at the opening day of the session; these fines were usually half a mark, but varied from 40s. to 2s. The particularity of the forest laws is shown in the first case of venison trespass that was brought before the justices. An offender had been arrested with the skin of a brocket, or hart of the second year, in his possession, five years before and committed to the castle of Oxford. From this and other pleas it is clear that Oxford Castle was the prison for all forest offenders throughout the county, whether from Wychwood, Shotover, or Bernwood. Such offenders were, as a rule, speedily released on bail, and often had to wait many years before the next pleas were held. The venison trespasses were for the most part leniently treated, half a mark being a usual fine on this occasion. Four trespassers caught a doe in Wychwood Forest and cut its throat; the chief culprit was fined 10s., and the rest half a mark apiece.
The vert offenders presented before the justices far exceeded those of venison. The list of amercements de defalco, or of felling timber, in the hundred of Chadlington (which included the forest of Wychwood), embraced sixteen offenders, who were fined either half a mark or 2s.— save in one case, that of John the parson of Bampton, when the fine amounted to 20s. There were twelve cases of timber felling in other hundreds, Peter Folyot incurring the heavy penalty of 100s., and the prior of the small alien house of Cogges 40s. It was usual at these forest pleas, so long as they existed, to take into account the position of the offender as well as the extent of the offence when imposing fines. Those charged at these pleas for the lighter offence of taking loads or back-burdens of green wood were far in excess of those who had cut down saplings of trees; their fines were sometimes half a mark, but more usually 12d. In three cases those thus charged were able to establish an alibi, and in a like number of cases they were excused any fine on the score of poverty. (fn. 13)
Shotover Forest, which was so much nearer to Oxford than that of Wychwood, was constantly supplying wood for both fuel and building purposes, by royal grant, during the reign of Henry III. During the first fifteen years of that monarch, gifts were made of loads of dry wood for fuel to the Oxford hospitals of St. John Baptist and St. Bartholomew, to the Dominican and Franciscan friars of Oxford, to the prior of St. Frideswide's, and to the bishop of Chichester for his hearth at Oxford. (fn. 14)
Among the more interesting grants from Shotover Forest for building purposes, during this period, the following may be mentioned. In 1223 twenty tie-beams (copulas) were ordered to be supplied to William, chaplain of the bishop of Winchester, towards the rebuilding of the church of St. Budoc, Oxford, below the castle; it had been thrown down during the recent war for strategic purposes. (fn. 15) In the same year the requisite timber for constructing a gaol at Oxford and for the general repairs of the castle was also obtained from Shotover. (fn. 16) Ten loads of timber suitable for fencing were granted by the crown in 1231 to Elias, chaplain to the earl of Cornwall, to enclose the churchyard of Horsepath, of which place he was rector. (fn. 17) The parish of Horsepath was within the bounds of Shotover parish.
In 1231 the king, at the instance of the archdeacons of Chester, Leicester, and the East Riding, as well as of the chancellor of Oxford and of the whole university, granted liberty to Thomas de Compton, Henry de Kinneton, and three other clerks, who had been arrested and lodged in the king's prison at Oxford for having been found in the forest of Shotover with bows and arrows. (fn. 18)
The Close and Patent Rolls are equally prolific during the reign of Edward I with regard to forest incidents of Oxfordshire, of which a few of the more salient examples may be cited. In June, 1276, Philip Mimekan, keeper of the wood of Shotover, was ordered to supply Sir Francis de Bononia, LL.D., with eight trees and their loppings for his fire, of the king's gift. At the same time, the curious order was issued to John son of Nigel, the keeper of the forest of Bernwood, to supply Sir Francis with two young bucks and four young does, and also four live hares and six live rabbits, which were to be placed in the king's garden at his house at Beaumont, Oxford, in accordance with a verbal promise made by the king to the learned doctor. (fn. 19) In 1277 the keeper of Wychwood was directed to supply the archbishop of Canterbury with six trees for fuel, and a like number to the abbot of Bruern. (fn. 20) In 1280 six live does were sent to the earl of Lincoln from Wychwood, to help to stock his park at Middleton, together with fifteen does for a like purpose from the manor of Woodstock. (fn. 21) Eight live does and four bucks from Wychwood were granted in 1284 to Thomas de Charlcote towards stocking his park at Haseley in the south of the county. (fn. 22) Bucks, as venison, were continuously granted by the crown, throughout this reign, to distinguished persons, from the forests of Wychwood, Shotover, and Bernwood, as well as timber for building purposes, chiefly to the religious orders.
Mandate was issued to the king's foresters, in 1283, not to implead the king's cousin, Edmund earl of Cornwall, touching thirty-eight bucks and two harts, lately taken by him with the king's licence in the county of Oxford; namely seven bucks in Wychwood Forest, seven bucks and two harts in Shotover and Stowood, and thirteen bucks in the forest of Bernwood. (fn. 23) From this it is clear that there were then red as well as fallow deer in Shotover Forest.
From an inquisition taken in 1283, it appears that the hospital of St. John, within the west gate of Oxford, held a wood in the forest of Shotover, called St. John's Wood, by ancient grant of the crown. Other woods in the same forest were held by the hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, and by the respective abbeys of Osney, Westminster, and Eynsham. (fn. 24)
Edward I, in 1284, granted pannage to the hospital of St. John, Oxford, for fifty pigs in the forest of Shotover, fifty in Bernwood, and fifty in Whittlewood. (fn. 25)
John de Langley, bailiff or forester of fee for the forest of Wychwood, appears to have somewhat abused his trust, like his father before him. In May, 1305, in consideration of a fine of twenty marks made by him before Hugh le Despenser, justice of the forest, John de Langley was pardoned for all the forest offences that he had committed; at the same time his bailiwick, which had been taken by the justice into the king's hands, was restored to him. (fn. 26)
Two years later, in consideration of a fine of a hundred marks made by the abbot before the same justice, the abbey of Eynsham was permitted to hold the woods of Eynsham and Charlbury within the metes of Wychwood Forest, and the wood of Eton within Shotover Forest, quit of regard or definite inspection, on condition that the venison was well kept, and the covert of Eton wood not destroyed. The keepers or woodwards appointed by the abbey were to take oath not to commit venison trespasses, and all such trespassers were to be attached by the king's forest ministers. (fn. 27)
The nearness of Oxford to various woods and forests seems to have been a source of distraction to the scholars in mediaeval days. A petition was presented to Parliament in 1421 complaining of the grievous conduct of a number of the scholars and clerks of Oxford, who, armed and arrayed as though for war, broke into parks, warrens, and forests of the counties of Oxford, Berks, and Bucks, and hunted with dogs and greyhounds, taking deer, hares, and rabbits, and threatening the lives of foresters, keepers, and parkers. It was further complained that clerks thus offending had been taken from ordinary custody and merely fined by the chancellor of the university. Whereupon it was enacted that all such scholars thus offending were to be judged by the ordinary law of the land, and to be outlawed if they came not to answer; and that the chancellor was to be certified by the justices of such outlawry, and the outlawed scholars by him expelled from the university. (fn. 28)
There is a record extant of the sale of underwood in May, 1352, in Wychwood Forest, returned by Thomas de Brewosa, keeper of the forests south of the Trent, and carried out by Thomas de Hugele. Fourteen acres of underwood were sold in one place to fifteen persons, at 12s. an acre, and twenty-two acres in another place, producing a total of £19 19s. (fn. 29)
The farm of the forest of Wychwood was assigned in 1281 as part of the dower of Queen Eleanor, the king's mother, and from that date it was usually in the hands of the queen. There is a somewhat damaged account roll extant of the commissioners of the queen for the wood-sales and expenses of Wychwood Forest in the year 1436–7. The receipts from the sale of certain parts of the undergrowth amounted to £26 17s. 11d., but the expenses reached £34 18s. 3d., leaving an adverse balance of over £8. The enclosing expenses (clausure forest) came to £16 1s. 11d.; the repairs of the lodges, to make them fit for a visit from the queen, £15 12s. 10d.; whilst other sums were expended on taking venison and providing meat and drink for the queen's hospitality. (fn. 30)
After every sale of underwood there was always a considerable outgoing for enclosing; because when a coppice had been cleared it was necessary to fence it in stoutly with pales for several years, so as to allow the undergrowth to shoot up again without molestation from the deer. In every well managed royal forest a certain amount of undergrowth was cleared every year. In Wychwood, where the growth was slow, a coppice generally had a twenty years' growth before it was considered fit to cut, but the more usual period was from ten to fourteen years.
The sale of underwood at Wychwood realized £4 2s. 3d. in 1535, and the enclosing cost £9 9s. The wood was chiefly oak, but there was some ash; the coppice cleared that year amounted to twenty-eight acres. (fn. 31)
The customary division of the acre for these sales in Wychwood was into braids, bredes, or breadths; each acre contained forty breadths, a breadth being one pole long and four broad. The wood was offered in the first instance to the poorer tenants, in these small lots or breadths, and no one was suffered to buy wholesale. (fn. 32) The extant wood-sale accounts at the Public Record Office almost invariably give the number of breadths purchased and the name of the purchaser.
A very large number of the wood-sales of Shotover Forest during the reign of Queen Elizabeth are extant, and supply many interesting particulars as to the prevailing customs, which differed somewhat from those in vogue at Wychwood.
The certificate of Thomas Collins and John Gadburye of the sale of woods and underwoods of the forest of Bernwood (Shotover portion) in the county of Oxford for the year 1572, shows that the coppice of Horsepath was cut and sold that year, by Mr. Edward Martin, the queen's woodward, by virtue of a warrant of the Lord Treasurer of England. This coppice was sold for the most part by the acre, not by the breadth. The first entry of sale is—'Imprimis to Mr. Lewes Bachiler of Dewinitye in Christchurche in Oxon, for on acre of underwod per warrant 30s.' This, or 33s. 4d., was about the usual price per acre; but the dean and scholars of Christchurch paid £5 for two acres. Among other purchasers were the president of Magdalen, the provost of Queen's, the president and fellows of Corpus Christi, the president and fellows of Brasenose, the warden of New, and the bursar of All Souls. Another purchaser was 'Mr. Thomas Smithe, the beare brewer,' who paid £3 6s. 8d. for two acres. There were also various smaller lots sold at 10s., 5s., and 4s., each. The total of the sales was £92 8s. 9d. The size of the coppice was 80½ acres, including several roods of underwood on the waste, which realized about 3s. a rood. In addition to the underwood, certain 'dote' or dotard oak trees were felled and sold for fuel; the term implying an old oak tree whose topmost boughs were dead and bare. The president and fellows of Corpus Christi bought 20 of these 'dote tres of oke' for 40s. They realized in all £8 7s. Certain 'stems' of oak and ash were also exempted from the undergrowth and obtained special prices. Thus two stems of oak realized 16d. and a single one 12d., whilst two stems of ash fetched 8d. All the stems produced 52s. 11d.
From these and other small receipts had to be deducted the large sum of £23 17s. 5d., for hedging in the coppice, and further sums for preparing the stakes and poles, making gates, purchasing locks, &c., so that the clear sum paid to the queen was £79 11s. 3d. (fn. 33)
The presentment and certificate of William Collins and John Banyster, regarders of Stowood, parcel of the great forest of Bernwood, and the wood-sale of the coppice called 'Princefall Coppice,' sold by the queen's woodward in March, April, and May, 1573, are also extant, though very indistinct in places. The fellows of Brasenose purchased twenty dotard oaks for 50s., and the fellows of Corpus Christi twelve for 30s. Fifty-three oaks were cut down to provide stake timber for the after enclosure, and forty more to provide post timbers. Forty of the best timber oaks in all the forest were cut down under special warrant, valued at £22 for 'the Buylding of a college in Oxon called Jesus College.' The oak bark of the coppice was valued at £9 4s. 4d., but this was the fee of the chief forester. (fn. 34)
The coppice of Horsepath was again cleared in 1592. The account of the woodward of Shotover for the sales opens with the entry of 'My Lord Norris of Ricot 1 acre of underwood 26s. 8d.' This was the usual price at that date. The colleges were again among the principal buyers. The total of the underwood sale amounted to £85 10s. 10d. Dotard trees produced £16 12s. Twenty timber trees were sold by special warrant to the master and fellows of Balliol at 8d. each. The stems of ash realized £3 17s. 6d., and the stems of oak £22 10s. 4d. The tops of the stake trees brought in £4 9s. 10d. The charges for 'securing' the coppice by hedging and ditching amounted to £36 3s. 10d., leaving a clear profit of £115 12s. 1d. for the queen.
The presentments showed that the keepers had cut fourteen loads of oak and sallow boughs for deer-browse in the winter. Two offenders were presented for cutting 'great arms of green oak' for their own use, whereby the 'Queene is damnified' in the respective sums of 6s. 8d. and £7.
John Addam and Thomas Penge, churchwardens of Headington, were presented, for taking a load of boughs to make a bower, and a young oak 'to make them a maypole att Whitsontyde as they had been accustomed being foresters'; the damage was valued at 18d. The churchwardens of Marston also took boughs at Whitsuntide, for a bower, valued at 12d., and those of Beckley a bower and maypole at 18d. The churchwardens of Horsepath took a tree, valued at 5s., in which sum the queen was damnified. Another offender took wood without warrant to wattle his house. The regarders also presented that Redhill coppice was greatly spoiled by the putting in of horses, and by leaving the gates open and thus letting in the deer; they estimated the damage, for which Lord Norris and his keepers were responsible, at £10. (fn. 35)
In 1598 about £30 was expended in putting in repair both the Old and the New Lodges at Shotover Forest. In that year the churchwardens of Headington, of Beckley, and of St. Clements were presented as having taken loads of green boughs at Whitsuntide according to custom, valued at 12d. in each case, but there is no reference to maypoles. Richard Alder, keeper, had cut thirty loads of deer browse, but five loads, valued at 15s., were 'to bigge for Browse,' and he put them to his own use.
A peculiarly interesting entry of the wood-sales of this year states that 'Sixe tymber Trees (were) solde in Weecke Copis to Mr. Bodly by vertue of a warrante from Sr John Fortescue for the buyldinge of a publique Liberary in Oxon, and were soulde for xls.' (fn. 36)
In the following year a special presentment was made by John Golde, for forty years a regarder and wood-salesman of Shotover Forest, to the effect that the juries at the Swainmote courts deliberately declined to give any verdict, and smothered up all defaults to the great spoil of Her Majesty. He stated that John Stevenson, the woodward, had for fourteen years past cut down two or three hundred ashes at unseasonable times, kept back when coppices were cut, and they did not shoot up again; he also appropriated two or three hundred young oaks yearly, to the value of £20 or £30. He considered that the forests of Shotover and Stow were worse than they were thirty years ago to the value of £2,000. (fn. 37)
Oxfordshire affords a striking example of the mischievous and unfortunate attempt that was made to revive strict forest jurisdiction in the time of Charles I. A forest court was held at Headington on 9 June, 1636, for the forests of Shotover and Stowood, before foresters, verderers, regarders, and a whole posse of officials newly appointed on the old lines. The presentments and consequent convictions were absurd in their severity, and entirely contrary to true forest procedure if it had been rightly studied. A shipwright for felling fifty oaks and exposing them for sale was fined £2,050; two husbandmen for removing an oak worth 3s., £5; and another delinquent was fined 40s. for taking an oak worth 6d. A fine of £10 was imposed for removing three cart-loads of ash, worth 20s., and there were several fines of 20s. for taking green wood, valued at 4d. Among venison trespassers Roger Gardiner was fined £100 for killing two does and two bucks. (fn. 38)
The officers of the Navy certified to the lords of the Admiralty, in August, 1636, that 200,000 tree-nails would be required for His Majesty's yards, and for the repairing of the Anne Royal. It would require 1,000 young trees for that number of nails to be cleft out of the heart; the best trees for the purpose were to be found in the forests of Shotover and Stowood. The king, however, in the following month, declined to allow such an extensive felling at Shotover, and eventually the tree-nails were obtained from the New Forest. (fn. 39)
About the last royal gift of timber from Shotover Forest was that of Charles I to the bishop of Oxford, in March, 1636–7, when fifty timber trees were granted to that prelate, towards the building of a residence for himself and his successors at Cuddesdon, he having obtained leave to hold that vicarage in commendam and finding the vicarage-house 'meane and ruinous.' (fn. 40)
The Oxfordshire maps of Saxton (1574) and of Speed (1605) show various wooded parks that have long since disappeared. Near Witney was Minster Lovell Park, for the enclosure of which Sir William Lovell obtained a licence in 1441. (fn. 41) At Hook Norton, on the Warwickshire border, was an ancient park, which belonged in Leland's days to the king. (fn. 42) At Beckley, to the north-east of Oxford, was a park, first enclosed in 1312, by grant to Hugh le Despenser; it reverted to the crown, and in 1457 Henry VI gave Archbishop Chicheley twelve oaks from his park at Beckley, towards the building of All Souls', Oxford. (fn. 43) Elsfield, an adjoining parish to Beckley, also had its park, enclosed in 1327 by licence to Gilbert de Elsfield. (fn. 44) Ewelme used to boast of a 'right fair parke'; (fn. 45) it contained 895 acres in the time of Charles I, (fn. 46) and seems to have disappeared during the Commonwealth.
The elaborate and careful map of the county that accompanies Plot's Natural History of Oxfordshire (1676) shows several parks not included in the earlier maps, such as Bletchington, belonging to the Annesleys, earls of Anglesey; Caversham, then belonging to the Craven family, in the extreme south of the county; Hanwell, the seat of the Copes, in the extreme north; Watlington, below Thame, then belonging to the Stonor family; and Yarnton, to the north-west of Oxford, an estate of the Spensers. This map also shows the four great woods or 'Quarters' at Stanton St. John, and depicts the whole of the Chiltern corner of the county, to the south-east of the old Ikenild Way, as abounding in frequent woods.
Dr. Plot in 1676 gives an entertaining and interesting account of some of the largest and more unusual timber of the county. (fn. 47) An oak between Nuneham Courtenay and Clifton shaded 460 square yards, beneath which it was calculated that 2,420 men 'may be sheltered from the injuries of sun or rain.' A larger oak than this stood at Magdalen College, near the gate of the water-walks; it shaded 768 square yards. In Lord Norreys's park at Rycote, near Thame, there was a third great oak having a yet wider stretch of branches, shading 972 square yards. A hollow oak on Kidlington Green was put to a curious use— it being frequently used before the death of Judge Morton (before whose house it stood) for the imprisoning vagabonds and other inferior malefactors, for the space of a night or so, that they conveniently might be had to the gaol at Oxford; of whom the hollow is so large within that it would receive eight or ten commodiously enough, the tree without being 25 foot round above the spurs.
On Bletchingdon Green there was an elm of so capacious a hollow that it was the scene of the birth of a child in Dr. Plot's time living near Harwich; the mother had been excluded from all the houses of the parish to prevent her bringing a charge on it.
Mention is made by Dr. Plot of avenues of narrow-leaved elms in Lady Cope's park at Hanwell; of firs and pines at Cornbury Park, and at Lillingston Lovell; of double-bearing peartrees in the parishes of Huxley and Standlake, 'whose first crop is ripe about Midsummer and the second at Michaelmas'; and of the hard-fruited 'Wooden Pear' tree, at Corpus Christi College.
The Commissioners of Woods and Forests, who reported on Wychwood in 1792, described this forest as almost entirely surrounded by a stone wall. The extent within the enclosure was divided into five walks, distinguished as the Ranger's, Roger's Hill, Patch Hill, Porter's Hill, and South Lawn Walk. The lodges of three of the keepers were on crown land, and of two on the land of the duke of Marlborough. The actual crown land within the perambulation was estimated at 3,709 acres. The Oxfordshire parishes of Ascot Doyley, Asthall, Fulbrook, Minster Lovell, and Swinbrook, as well as certain hamlets in the parishes of Charlbury, Shipton, and Taynton, together with the Gloucestershire parish of Widford, exercised rights of common within the forest for horses and horned cattle (except oxen). The hamlets of Leafield, Langley, and Shorthampton enjoyed sheep pasturage on certain parts of the waste land of the crown, and several other hamlets and parishes like privileges on certain parts of the waste belonging to private owners within the stone wall. The extent of these sheep walks was well known to the keepers, and stray sheep were impounded. No swine were admitted to the forest.
The forest ministers were a ranger, a launder (or keeper of the launds or lawns), four bailiffs or keepers, two verderers, and a woodward. The four keepers each received 4d. a day, the launder 4d. a day, and the ranger 6d. a day. These fees were originally paid out of the produce of the coppices. These various offices were granted in fee by James I to Henry earl of Danby; but having reverted to the crown by the forfeiture of Sir John Danvers, were again granted in fee by Charles II to Edward earl of Clarendon, his heirs and assigns. This latter patent was purchased in 1751 from the descendants of the earl of Clarendon by the duke of Marlborough. (fn. 48) By virtue of this grant the duke of Marlborough held the rangership, and appointed the keepers and woodward, paying them such salaries as he thought fit. The two verderers were chosen, as of old, by the freeholders of the county, and had no salary, but each a brace of bucks and a brace of does annually. There were at that time (1792) about a thousand head of deer; the number annually killed were sixty-one bucks and forty-two does, of which six bucks and six does were sent to His Majesty's larder.
The keeper of the ranger's walk had a brace of fee bucks and a brace of fee does, which he sold for about £6 a brace. The other three keepers had a buck and a doe apiece, and they all shared equally in the profits of the skins, shoulders, and offals of all deer killed in the forest. They cut browse wood for the deer in winter from thorn, maple, ash, and ivy.
The proceeds of various wood sales out of this forest, from 1716 to 1775, amounted to £5,411 5s. 6d. In 1778, 129 trees were felled for the Navy in Wychwood Forest, together with 368 'scrubbed and unthrifty trees.' In 1790 twenty were felled for the Navy and forty-two of inferior worth.
A report made to the Board of Agriculture in 1794 divided the woodlands of the county into three sorts: viz. groves or spring woods, consisting of trees only; woods, consisting of timber trees and underwood; and coppices, consisting only of underwood.
Under the first head the beech-woods of the county are considered. They were confined to the Chiltern country, and consisted of 'trees growing on their own stems, produced by the falling of the beechmast; as very little is permitted to grow on the stools, which are generally grubbed up. They are drawn occasionally, being never felled all at once, except for the purpose of converting the land into tillage, which has been much in practice of late years. The beech wood thus drawn is either sold in long lengths called poles, or cut short in billet lengths and sold for fuel.' Some oak and ash trees were dispersed among the beech, springing up where bird-borne seeds had been dropped, but they seldom grew to any great bulk.
Of the second kind were the four woods in the vicinity of Stanton St. John (Shotover Forest) called the Quarters, where the strong clay was well adapted for oaks. The coppices of the county were very few save in the Wychwood district. (fn. 49)
In 1809 Arthur Young, who was then secretary of the Board of Agriculture, drew up a much more comprehensive account of the agriculture of Oxfordshire, in which he gave special attention to the woods, plantations, and wastes. (fn. 50) He describes the produce of the woods at Stokenchurch, south of Thame, on the Buckinghamshire border, as 40 per cent. dearer than it had been twenty years ago, the increase in price arising from the large number of woods that had been grubbed up, the arable rent of the land being much higher. At Wormsley the large beech trees measured as timber, and the smaller as poles of 25 ft.; the latter were from twenty to twenty-five years old. Twenty years earlier the price was 8s. 6d. the half-load, but at that time 24s. The price was so high that there was much temptation to grub, for a common offer was from £30 to £35 per acre, with the land left ready for the plough.
It is mentioned that Sir Charles Willoughby had 300 acres of beech wood on the Chiltern Hills, which were cut at forty years' growth, and thinned every seven years. At Mongewell, near Wallingford, the bishop of Durham possessed beech woods, which were managed on the thinning system at twenty years' growth, and paid about as well as the contiguous arable land. No woods of any extent had been grubbed up in that vicinity.
It is remarked that the then duke of Marlborough had planted the great belt at Blenheim, the extent of which was 13 miles. Among all the plantations there Arthur Young remarked a great want of thinning.
The late and present Mr. Stratton planted at Tew on a scale and plan that decorates that fine estate considerably; the amount is now 63 acres, and no year passes without additions. There are many thousand trees of 15 years' growth from 20 to 30 feet high.
Mr. Young's report of Wychwood Forest, made fifteen years after that of the commission, gives details of the copses. There were thirty-four copses in the forest; eighteen belonged to the king, twelve to the duke of Marlborough, and four to certain individuals. They averaged 100 acres each; those of the crown were cut at eighteen years' growth, and those of the duke at twenty-one. When cut, they were fenced off with hedge and ditch, for keeping out all commonable cattle and sheep, for seven years, after which all must enter. But the hedges were to be sufficiently low never to exclude the deer. The copses, on an average, returned £6 an acre, clear. The open parts of the forest produced nothing save brush-fuel and browse for the deer. As to the timber of the forest, Mr. Young stated that he did not see a single very fine tree of navy oak in a ride of sixteen or seventeen miles; but he noted a considerable number of thriving trees that seemed to be from sixty to seventy years' growth, and that promised to be valuable in another century. Next to oak, ash seemed to abound, and then beech, with a few elms.
The morals of the whole surrounding country demand it (enclosure) imperiously. The vicinity is filled with poachers, deer-stealers, thieves, and pilferers of every kind; offences of almost every description abound so much, that the offenders are a terror to all quiet and well-disposed persons; and Oxford gaol would be uninhabited were it not for this fertile source of crime.
It is always of interest in connexion with forestry and arboriculture to draw particular attention to the parks of a county, for there, as might naturally be expected, the finest and oldest timber is usually to be found.
The present deer parks of Oxfordshire number twelve. (fn. 51)
Blenheim Park (duke of Marlborough) was the new name conferred on the old royal park of Woodstock, when it was granted by Queen Anne in 1705 to the first duke of Marlborough. According to Rous, the old Warwickshire antiquary, Woodstock Park, which surrounded a royal residence, was founded in 1114 by Henry I, (fn. 52) and had a circuit of seven miles. The manor of Stanton Harcourt was held of the crown by the service of finding four 'browsers,' or cutters of deer browse, in Woodstock Park whenever the snow fell and lay for two days; each browser when thus engaged was to have night lodging and a billet of wood the length of his axe halve each day. (fn. 53) The present park contains 2,400 acres, but in this average are included the two lakes which are said to cover 120 acres; it is 9 miles in circuit, and divided into two parts, the Great or High Park and the Home or Little Park. The park is now stocked with about one hundred and twenty fallow deer. Until recent years there was also a stock of red deer; but as they persisted in swimming the lake and destroying trees, shrubs and plants in the gardens, they were gradually killed off. There is much fine timber, particularly oak and elms, and a noble belt of beeches. Very little planting has been done of late years, but when any is done it is of mixed character: spruce, larch, and Scotch fir as mosses, with hard woods such as oak, ash, and elm as the main crop. There is no planting done on the estate except for game cover and for material for fencing, &c. For all roofing work and such-like foreign timber is purchased; indeed, much fencing is done with foreign creosoted timber, as it is the most economical method. (fn. 54)
Cornbury Park (Vernon James Watney, esquire), to the west of Woodstock and adjoining Wychwood Forest, was another of the Oxfordshire royal parks in early days. Edward III, in 1339, granted to John de Solers the custody of the royal mares in this park, to hold during good behaviour at the accustomed wage. (fn. 55) It remained in the hands of the crown till after the Restoration, when Charles II granted it, together with Wychwood Forest, to Earl Clarendon, who took his second title of Viscount Cornbury from this beautiful park. Evelyn records a visit that he made in October, 1664, to assist him in the planting of 'a sweet park, walled with a dry wall and well stock'd.' (fn. 56) The area of the present park is 450 acres; it is stocked with about two hundred fallow deer, which are said to be the descendants of the former wild deer of Wychwood. The park contains some grand and venerable oaks, and there are avenues of beech, lime, and chestnut trees.
Crowsley Park, the seat of Colonel John Baskerville, dates, together with the house, from the time of James II. It encloses some 250 acres, and is stocked with a herd of about two hundred fallow deer. The park is remarkable for its seven avenues, one of which, in the rear of the house, is a mile long; another of the avenues encircles the park like a wheel, and is planted with alternate oaks and elms. Some of the timber is exceptionally fine; one of the oaks has a girth of 30 ft. at a height of 5 ft. from the ground. About 300 acres have been planted on this estate during recent years, chiefly larch.
Ditchley Park, belonging to Viscount Dillon, encloses 325 acres, but is stocked with 150 head of fallow deer. Although this park is not shown on Speed's map of 1605, nor on Plot's of 1676, it is known that a royal licence was granted in 1603 to enclose a park for deer at Ditchley to Sir Henry Lee, K.G.; as Sir Henry was at that time ranger of Woodstock, it is supposed that he took his deer from that royal park. Some ancient deerheads belonging to animals killed by James I are preserved at Ditchley House bearing inscriptions on brass plates naming the dates and places where they were slain. (fn. 57) King James visited here in 1608 and again in 1610. The park is exceptionally well wooded with every variety of English tree, some of which are of venerable age, and supposed to be older than the park.
Glympton Park, belonging to Mr. F. H. Barnett, north of Woodstock, encloses 110 acres, and is stocked with about seventy fallow deer. This small, well-timbered park, traversed by the River Glyme, does not appear on any of the old maps.
Grey's Court Park, near Henley, belonging to Mrs. Stapleton, is of old origin; it is noticed by Leland and Camden. The area of about 100 acres is undulating and well wooded with fine old forest trees; it is stocked with about seventy fallow deer.
Holton Park, the seat of Mr. H. S. Tynedale Biscoe, to the east of Oxford, is of ancient origin; it bordered on the forest of Shotover, and is named in some of the old records of that forest. The park, which is enclosed within a stone wall, has an area of 185 acres, and is stocked with fifty fallow deer. Some of the old timber in this park is of grand proportions; an oak measures 28 ft. four feet from the ground, an elm 28ft. 4 in., and a beech 19 ft.
Nuneham Park, the seat of Mr. Lewis Harcourt, has an area of 1,200 acres; the part used by the deer is 300 acres. This estate was purchased by Simon Lord Harcourt about 1710, and the beautiful and finely wooded park, which rises steeply from the banks of the Isis to a height of about 270 ft., was soon afterwards laid out and enclosed. Deer were first introduced here by George Earl Harcourt in 1780. The centre enclosure or deer park consists of 315 acres, which is stocked with about 300 fallow deer. The two outer parks enclose additional areas of about 200 acres. The house, demesne, including pleasure grounds, woods, &c., yields a total of 1,310 acres. There are also in the park four kangaroos, two turned down in the autumn of 1904, and their young of 1905 and 1906. (fn. 58)
The well-known park or paddock of Magdalen College, Oxford, of 11 acres, otherwise called The Grove, shelters about forty fallow deer. It is supposed to have been stocked with deer at the beginning of the eighteenth century; they are named in the college accounts of 1721–2. Most of the trees in the grove are English elms, and date from the Restoration period. A great wych elm has had its girth repeatedly taken at 5 ft. from the ground; it was 21 ft. in 1831; 23 ft. in 1861; 23 ft. 9 in. in 1866; 25 ft. 6 in. in 1886; and 26 ft. 5 in. in 1899; its approximate height is 130 ft.
The grand old oak tree by the gate of the walks, mentioned by Plot, fell down in 1789; it then had a girth of 21 ft. 9 in.; the president's chair was made out of the timber. (fn. 59)
Stonor Park (Lord Camoys), south of Watlington, on the verge of Buckinghamshire, is noticed by Leland, temp. Henry VIII, as 'a fayre Parke,' though not marked in either Saxton's or Plot's maps. It has an acreage of 150½ acres, excluding all pleasure grounds, and is stocked with 110 fallow deer. This picturesque and hilly park abounds in fine beech woods.
Thame Park, belonging to Mr. W. A. Wykeham-Musgrave, is of great antiquity. When Alexander, bishop of Lincoln, refounded the Cistercian abbey of Thame in 1138 he gave them his park of Thame as a site for their church and buildings. (fn. 60) This park is marked on all the old maps; the deer park has an area of 250 acres, and is stocked with about 160 fallow deer.
The county is also exceptionally well stocked with parks which do not contain deer; indeed Oxfordshire, in proportion to its area, seems to be better supplied with parks than any other county save Hertfordshire. Every one of these parks contains more or less fine timber, and they are frequently fringed with woods, plantations, and coppices. The following are the largest and most noteworthy:—Ambrosden Park, which was much larger in the eighteenth century; Bletchington Park (Viscount Valentia), 70 acres; Caversham Park, 300 acres; Broughton Castle (Lord Saye and Seal), an ancient park; Cokethorpe House, 170 acres; Eynsham Park, 700 acres; Heythorp Park, 300 acres, richly timbered; Kirtlington Park (Sir G. J. E. E. Dashwood), 700 acres; Mapledurham House, stately avenue of elms about a mile long; Mongewell Park, 80 acres; Middleton Stony Park (Earl of Jersey), 600 acres, very beautifully wooded; Sandford Park, 100 acres; Shelswell Park, 228 acres; Shirburn Castle (Earl Macclesfield), 225 acres, fine avenues; Shotover House, 150 acres, much fine timber, some of considerable age, originally part of Shotover Forest; Tew Park, 120 acres, much fine timber; and Wroxton Abbey (Lord North), undulating and richly wooded.
The official Agricultural Returns for 1891 give a total acreage of 24,466 acres for the woods of Oxfordshire; this total included 763 acres that had been planted during the past ten years. The woodland return for 1895 showed a considerable gain in this county, as the total acreage then stood at 26,611, the acres planted since 1881 numbering 1,293.
The returns made on 5 June, 1905, were arranged on a better principle, being divided into coppices, plantations, and other woods. By coppice is meant woods that are cut periodically and reproduce themselves naturally by stool shoots; and by plantation is signified land planted or replanted within the last ten years. Oxford is returned as having 4,464 acres of coppice, 1,385 of plantation, and 18,528 of other woods. This gives a total of only 24,377, showing a falling off of about 2,000 acres in the last decade. The attention paid of late to arboriculture has led to the gratifying increase throughout England of nearly half a million acres under woodland in the past ten years. Oxfordshire, however, is one of the very few counties that have considerably decreased in the like period.