A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 5, Bullingdon Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1957.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
The parish of Merton, (fn. 1) covering 1,932 acres, lies about a mile to the south of Bicester, mostly in the plain of the Oxford Clay, and on the 200-ft. contour line. (fn. 2) Before 1941 when the army began work on improved drainage schemes it was liable to flooding in the south-western parts. (fn. 3) The land rises to the north-east reaching its highest point of 350 ft. at Graven Hill. The river Ray and two of its feeders form the boundary on the east, south, and west. The ancient boundary of Bullingdon hundred is conterminous with the parish's northern boundary. (fn. 4)
In medieval times Bernwood Forest on the north and Otmoor on the south tended to isolate the parish. Akeman Street, marked as a road on a map of 1777 (fn. 5) and now only a track, passed through the western end, running north to south; a causeway, branching off from it, was the only way of approach to the village from the west. Traces of this causeway existed at the end of the 19th century. (fn. 6) But the main approach to the village, until the present road from Ambrosden to Merton and Charlton was built in 1763, (fn. 7) was from Bicester, the parish's market-town, by a trackway across open country. The present road from Islip to Merton is first shown on Harrison's map of 1787. (fn. 8)
The opening of the Midland railway station at Bicester in the mid-19th century and of the Halts at Charlton and Wendlebury (closed 1926) brought the parish into closer contact with the outside world. (fn. 9) The Second World War led to the introduction of a daily bus service to take war workers to Oxford factories and the Ordnance Camp. (fn. 10)
The only woodland left is at Graven Hill. A large area was recorded in Domesday (4X1½ furlongs), (fn. 11) but was in part early converted into fields. (fn. 12) Underwood from Graven Hill Wood was, however, being sold in 1311–12, (fn. 13) and 80 acres of it still remained in 1512. (fn. 14) The wood was then surrounded by hedge and ditch, and contained oak, willows, thorn, and hazel. The scarcity of wood in the 17th century is illustrated by the agreement between Sir Henry Poole and Sir Edward Harrington in about 1614 that not more than 5½ acres should be cut a year. (fn. 15) Graven Hill was still a well-wooded area in the early 19th century; (fn. 16) but there was much felling during the Second World War and after. (fn. 17)
The village is sited at the west end of the parish on one of the dome-shaped outcrops of corn brash which rise out of the Oxford Clay in the neighbourhood. (fn. 18) Today the village straggles along the straight edges of the highway, but before the inclosure of the open fields (fn. 19) the road curved southwards after passing the vicarage, and the village was probably mainly built round the green to the west of the church. Foundations of houses have been found here, and the line of the green can still probably be seen in the alignment of the house on the south of the highway, which stands just opposite the church and was recently built from two thatched cottages of 17th-century date. (fn. 20)
A rental of 1512 (fn. 21) further helps to reconstruct the layout of the ancient village. The street was gated; there were 52 houses, mostly with gardens; there was a cross, no doubt on the green, and a common bake-house nearby, which the villagers had to repair at their own cost with timber supplied by the lord. At that date there was no manor-house, only the close, still known as Court Close, where the Templars', later the Hospitallers', grange (fn. 22) had once stood, well to the east end of the village street.
The inclosure award of 1763 radically altered the pattern. The churchyard and part of the green were inclosed; the direct road from Bicester fell into disuse, and a new one from Ambrosden was driven through the middle of the green; (fn. 23) the ancient windmill went and by the end of the century many of the cottages had been pulled down. (fn. 24) The remains of the green on the north side of the road seem not to have been inclosed until 1873, when an exchange of land, which included the pasture called the Butts, was made between Exeter College and Sir E. H. Page-Turner. (fn. 25)
The Doyleys' 16th-century manor-house, built on or near the site of the medieval grange, survives in part as Manor Farm. At present it is built on a long rectangular plan with two stories, facing south, but the south front of the building is thought to have been originally L-shaped, and to have had a long gallery on the upper floor with parlours below. The entrance porch was on the north side, and led into a hall and panelled parlour. In 1585 it was said to comprise a parlour, hall, kitchen, dairy, buttery, larder, cheese-chamber, and chambers over the buttery and parlour, and a 'great chamber'. (fn. 26) And when Sir James Harrington had it in the first half of the 17th century, he referred to it in his Horae Consecratae as a 'noble house'. The garden on the south front appears to have been moated; it had a raised terrace with a view over Otmoor. (fn. 27) When Sir Edward Page-Turner bought the estate in 1749, he pulled down the south wing of the house and converted the remainder into a farm-house. (fn. 28) In 1838 the oak panelling was sold, (fn. 29) and the restoration of 1860 completed the destruction of the Elizabethan features. (fn. 30) Gables, porch, stone roof, and mullioned windows were replaced by a new stucco front, sash windows, and slate roof. The original kitchen and stone-arched cellar remain. The latter, which contains a well, was used as a dairy until the present dairy wing was built on at the north side in the late 19th century. (fn. 31)
The square two-storied dovecote near the house has suffered less. It is built of coursed rubble and has a tiled roof, surmounted by a louvre with a tiled and gabled roof. The great tithe-barn, west of the church, was perhaps originally built by Eynsham Abbey. (fn. 32) The obligation to repair it was incorporated in the rectory tenant's lease in 1535. (fn. 33) Farther west along the village street is the Plough Inn, which is partly Tudor. Its alignment shows the direction of the old village street coming round from the northern half of the green to end at the gateway on the southern side of the road almost opposite to the Inn where the lane or cart track to Charlton began. West End Farm is also of early date. It is a building of two stories with attics, apparently of 17th-century date originally, but refronted in the 18th-century out of materials from the manor-house. In about 1800, when a drawing was made of it, it was occupied by a local farmer named Hawkins. (fn. 34) It is L-shaped and is built of coursed rubble with rusticated quoins; the roof is tiled. The south centre front breaks forward and has a rusticated pediment with a circular lunette and a front door flanked by two-light casement windows.
College Farm, that is the old rectory farm belonging to Exeter College, was built in 1874 to replace the former house destroyed by fire. (fn. 35) The site next to the present Vicarage is not that of the preenclosure farm-house, for the Rectory Farmhouse and the vicar's house were then exchanged for other property belonging to the lord of the manor. (fn. 36)
The village has a sub-post-office but no general store, though it had one at the Plough Inn until 1930; electric mains were brought in in 1949; and twelve council houses which harmonize well with their neighbours were built soon after. (fn. 37)
Until recently there were three farms outside the village. Their situation demonstrates the old road communications, Astley Bridge Farm lying on the bridle road towards Arncot and Piddington, and Merton Grounds and Mount Pleasant on or just off the old route to Bicester, The last has been taken over by the Ordnance Depot and the path to it closed. Merton Grounds, which is now in an isolated position in the north-east of the parish and only linked with the village by a footpath, was once close to the ancient water-mill. It is a striking 18thcentury building of an unusual type for the district. It is two-storied with a protruding pedimented centre-piece, on either side of which is a large sash window. The centre-piece itself has a semicircular lunette in the pediment and a three-light Venetian window in the first floor. The whole is built of coursed rubble with ashlar quoins; the roof is hipped and stone-slated in the front; at the back there is a tiled pent roof. At the south-west end of the building is a lower outbuilding which is probably of earlier date. (fn. 38)
Merton was for many years the home of the Republican Sir James Harrington. He was one of Charles I's judges, though he did not sign the death warrant. (fn. 39) With his cousin James Harrington, the author of Oceana, he later opposed the Cromwellian dictatorship. (fn. 40) His Horae Consecratae (1682), which contain his views on politics and religion, and an account of his own life, have some local interest. (fn. 41)
The early history of the lordship of MERTON is closely allied to that of its neighbour, Piddington. (fn. 42) It belonged before the Conquest to the Dane, Hacun, and is found in 1086 in the hands of the Countess Judith, niece of the Conqueror. (fn. 43) It is likely that it had formed a part of the earldom of Huntingdon and Northampton, granted by the Confessor to Earl Waltheof, (fn. 44) and was assigned as dowry to Judith on her marriage to him. Thenceforth Merton followed the descent of the honor of Huntingdon held in turn by the Senlis family and the royal house of Scotland, until Simon (II) de Senlis, Earl of Huntingdon, bestowed the manor in free alms on the Templars at some time between September 1152 and his death in August 1153. (fn. 45) The grant was confirmed in 1152–3 and 1164 by Theobald and Thomas Becket, archbishops of Canterbury. (fn. 46) The Templars held the manor until the order was dissolved in 1312, when it reverted to the king. (fn. 47) It was assigned with the rest of the Templars' possessions in 1313 (fn. 48) to the Hospitallers, with whom it remained until their suppression in 1540. It then reverted to the Crown. (fn. 49)
It seems that the Dammartin family were lords of Merton in the reigns of Henry I and Stephen, (fn. 50) and even after the grant to the Templars Aubrey de Dammartin II, son of Aubrey I, Chamberlain of France, some time before 1184 successfully claimed to have an hereditary right to Merton. (fn. 51) He subsequently obtained a charter from Henry II confirming the manor of Merton to himself and his son Reynold with all the rights that their ancestors had enjoyed under Henry I. (fn. 52) Count Aubrey was supported in his suit by his lord, Simon (III) de Senlis. Their object was presumably to quash the claims of the canons of St. Frideswide's to Piddington (fn. 53) rather than to disturb the Templars, for Aubrey soon acknowledged the Templars' right to Merton except for the fee and tenement of Guy of Merton and his heirs, the overlordship of which Aubrey reserved to himself. (fn. 54)
After the dissolution of the Hospitallers in 1541, their tenant William Mablyston of Ludgershall (Bucks.), was left in possession by the Crown. He had taken a lease for 29 years in May 1536. (fn. 55)
In 1554 Robert Doyley, second son of Thomas Doyley of Chislehampton (Oxon.) and Yewdon Manor (Bucks.), (fn. 56) and his son John were granted for £624 6s., the manor of Merton, and the reversion of Mablyston's lease. (fn. 57) This grant probably explains why Merton does not occur among the lands belonging to the preceptory of Sandford which were granted to the re-established order of Hospitallers by Queen Mary in 1558. (fn. 58)
Robert Doyley settled at Merton (fn. 59) with his first wife Elisabeth Cheney of Woodhays (Bucks.). (fn. 60) In the following decades he enlarged his estate by buying up the whole of the former Piddington fee. (fn. 61) In 1557 he acquired 3 virgates from Thomas Denham of Boarstall, and a close called 'Madgehays' and 2 virgates from Thomas Parkins of Launton; and in 1563, 1½ virgate from Edward Gonne of Merton. (fn. 62) In 1557 he bought an additional 3 virgates and a messuage from William Tipping, a Lancashire gentleman who was connected with the neighbourhood by his marriage with the daughter of Edmund Rede of Boarstall. (fn. 63)
In about 1564 he married, as his second wife, Katharine, daughter of a Cornishman, John Tregian of Golden, in Probus (Cornw.). (fn. 64) He died in 1577. By his will, dated 1577, he left the manor to his eldest son John. (fn. 65) His widow was to have two rooms in the manor-house during her life, together with the rectory house and tithes, saving those of the demesne lands. (fn. 66)
According to his funeral monument John Doyley 'lived in great reputation in his countrye for his sinceritie in religion, integritie in life, equitie in justice and hospitalitie'. (fn. 67) He married Anne Barnarde, of Northamptonshire, and died in 1593, leaving four daughters as coheirs, and reserving a life-estate in the manor of Merton to his wife, with reversion to his eldest daughter Margery. (fn. 68)
Later the widowed Anne married Sir James Harrington of Ridlington (Rut.), (fn. 69) who held the manor in her right until his death in 1614. (fn. 70) Anne then married as her third husband Sir Henry Poole of Oaksey (Wilts.). (fn. 71) His interest in the estate came to an end with his wife's death in 1629, and the manor reverted to the husband of John Doyley's eldest daughter Margery, Sir Edward Harrington. (fn. 72) As early as 1604 the two surviving younger daughters of John Doyley had conveyed their reversionary rights to Sir James Harrington and to his son Sir Edward. (fn. 73) Poole, however, as his late wife's executor, began a suit in Chancery for the recovery of rents, debts, and tithes owed by Sir Edward. (fn. 74)
After coming into their Merton estate the Harringtons seem to have resided partly at Merton (fn. 75) and partly at Ridlington. Margery survived her husband and died in 1658, when Merton passed to her son, Sir James Harrington. (fn. 76) In 1632 he had married Katherine, daughter of Sir Edmund Wright, Lord Mayor of London in 1640, and a Royalist throughout the Civil War—a fact which stood Lady Harrington in good stead after the Restoration, (fn. 77) when her husband, who was exempted from the general pardon issued at the Restoration, (fn. 78) had fled into exile. He died in hiding and his body is said to have been brought secretly to Merton and there buried without a tombstone. (fn. 79)
Sir James's widow, Katherine, petitioned for the restoration of Merton on the plea that she had not shared her husband's political views and that the Merton estate, worth about £600 a year, had been settled on her as a jointure and entailed upon her issue. (fn. 80) In October 1662 letters patent were granted her putting the manor in the hands of trustees on payment of £700; (fn. 81) on her death in 1675 the estate passed to her eldest son, Sir Edmund Harrington. (fn. 82) There is no evidence that she resided at Merton during her husband's exile, and in 1665 the property was certainly leased. (fn. 83)
Several attempts were made in the next halfcentury to recover full possession, but in spite of wise marriages the Harringtons were unable to clear themselves from the financial embarrassments caused by Sir James's political adventures. In 1679 Sir Edmund married an heiress, Sarah, the daughter of Penning Alston, citizen and grocer of London, (fn. 84) and made use of her large dowry to pay off £6,000 of debt. (fn. 85) In 1708 he was succeeded by his brother Edward, (fn. 86) who resided elsewhere and who left the management of the Merton estate (still in the hands of trustees) to his nephew Richard. (fn. 87) After Richard's death in 1712 and Sir Edward's in 1716, the estate descended to Richard's son James, (fn. 88) the last member of the Harrington family to live at Merton. By 1731 he appears to have secured unencumbered possession, (fn. 89) but was soon heavily indebted once more, owing to his extravagant sporting tastes. (fn. 90) In 1740 he mortgaged the estate for £9,500 to Sir Edward Turner of Ambrosden (fn. 91) and in 1741 raised a further £3,000 upon it, (fn. 92) with which he bought the manor of Bards in Caversfield (Bucks.), where he went to live. (fn. 93) He was an ardent Jacobite, and in 1747 went into exile with the Pretender. Sir Edward Turner thereupon foreclosed the mortgage and bought up the Merton estate in 1749. (fn. 94) It remained in the possession of the Page-Turner family until 1930. (fn. 95)
When Earl Simon granted Merton to the Templars he exempted an estate later known as the Piddington fee. (fn. 96) It appears from the inquest of 1185 (fn. 97) and later evidence that it amounted to 3 hides out of the 10 at which Merton was rated in Domesday Book, but before 1255 (fn. 98) it was reduced to 2 hides as its third hide had been added to the Templars' manor. (fn. 99)
The overlordship of the fee seems to have followed the same course as that of the other Dammartin manor at Piddington. Like Piddington it was in the king's hands in 1255 (fn. 100) and in 1270 it was granted by the king along with Piddington to Alan Plukenet. (fn. 101)
The descent of the immediate lordship of the fee can be traced back in all probability to Pain, who before 1108 (fn. 102) was lord of Ryhall (Rut.), also in the honor of Huntingdon. His successor at Ryhall, Guy de Cahaines, certainly held this estate in Merton. (fn. 103) He is to be identified with Guy de 'Chaaing', a free tenant in Merton in the second quarter of the 12th century, and with Guy de Ryhale, the lord of Muswell in Piddington, (fn. 104) who married Joan, the daughter of Gilbert Basset, lord of Wallingford and Bicester, and sister to Thomas Basset. (fn. 105) Guy was dead when Earl Simon granted Merton to the Templars, but 2 virgates of his land there, held of the manor of Merton, were expressly reserved to his widow Joan, on whose death they were to revert to the Templars. (fn. 106) Also his Merton fee, which was Joan's dower land, was reserved. (fn. 107) She had already taken as her second husband Simon de Gerardmolendino, (fn. 108) and apparently married, on his death, Aubrey de Dammartin. (fn. 109) Aubrey acquired in Merton possession of his wife's life-interest in the 2 virgates held of the Templars, and of her fee which was now attached to the Piddington lordship.
In the late 12th century the lord of the Piddington fee was Sir Guy de Merton or Le Butiller, as he is sometimes called, the son of William de Merton. (fn. 110) The fee is evidently represented by the 2½ ploughlands in Merton which were returned as liable for the carucage of 1220, (fn. 111) the rest of Merton's land going free of tax on account of the Templars' privileges. Guy's son Simon was probably lord by then (fn. 112) and he was followed by his son Robert, (fn. 113) or Robert Dikerel, as he is called in the Hundred Rolls of 1255, (fn. 114) where it is recorded that he held the fee of Piddington by the service of ⅓ of a knight's fee. (fn. 115) He died in 1266, leaving a son Robert as his heir.
According to his inquisition post mortem (fn. 116) he was seized of only I hide in Merton, of which 2 virgates were in demesne, 2 half-virgates were held by free tenants, and 1 virgate was in villein tenure. Nevertheless in 1279 (fn. 117) Robert Dikerel, the son, held the original fee of 2 hides for which he owed suit to Piddington and in an early-14th-century survey he or his descendant held on the same terms. (fn. 118) No further reference to the family has been found, but the fee is clearly represented by the holdings of the six free tenants described in the survey of 1512. (fn. 119) They then held 6¾ virgates of Piddington. After the Dissolution the lord of Merton, Robert Doyley, bought up piecemeal the various holdings. (fn. 120)
Economic And Social History.
The Domesday account records 27 tenants in the village, and shows that by 1086 some of the arable land had gone out of cultivation, for there was said to be land for 12 ploughs but only 7 plough-teams. However, the large amount of meadow recorded, 100 acres, perhaps accounts for the fact that the pre-Conquest value of £8 was still maintained. (fn. 121)
The original character of the country may be guessed at from the fact that Merton appears to have been once in Bernwood Forest. In the 12th century it is known to have been closely associated with Piddington which was then on the forest boundary. The best explanation of the statement in the Hundred Rolls of 1279 that Merton had been 'anciently appurtenant to the manor of Headington' seems to lie in its one-time inclusion in the forest, which with Stowood and Shotover was formerly dependent on the manor of Headington. (fn. 122)
The transfer of the property to the Templars (fn. 123) led to active reclamation and improvement. They had cleared and cultivated 10 acres of woodland by 1160, when Henry II remitted the fine payable on this assart in the royal forest. (fn. 124) The immunity was confirmed by Richard I, who added the proviso that the tenants should not trespass in the king's forests. (fn. 125) This assart was most likely on Graven Hill, and was perhaps the piece of the hillside which is now in Merton parish. (fn. 126)
The Templars also set up a water-mill. It is first recorded about 1156–66 when Sewel de Oseville, lord of Wendlebury, granted to the Templars in free alms his stream called the Eastbrook so that they might lead it through the middle of his land from near the south side of Alchester towards the dam of their mill at Merton. Trouble with the neighbours evidently followed, for at the end of the century Sir Guy de Merton, son of William, is found giving them an acre of land below their mill at 'Frankeburg' (Wendlebury?) and an acre where 'they began to turn their ditch through the middle of their meadow towards the mill'. By this grant in free alms he quitclaimed all the damage which the Templars had done him in making their pool, in drawing off water for it, and in making ditches and a bridge. In return he received spiritual benefits as well as material ones, which included the curious gift of 11d. to his son to buy hose. He was also given liberty to grind his barley free and to grind wheat on payment of multure for whatever he ground. (fn. 127) The survey made of the Templars' land in 1185 mentions two mills, of which this was probably one and the other a windmill.
The survey of 1185 (fn. 128) gives an interesting picture of the organization of the Merton estate. The headquarters of the Templars were at Cowley but their 7 hides at Merton formed their largest and most valuable property in the Oxfordshire area. It was managed by a reeve who was also in charge of other property in Oxfordshire at Hampton Gay, Bladon, Fewcot, Ash, and Marlake, (fn. 129) as well as of estates in Berkshire. By this date the demesne lands had been partly leased. Of the 2 hides recorded in Domesday only one was still demesne; the other was leased for 21s. to six free tenants, of which William the bailiff was one. He held a virgate for 5s., as well as half a virgate of villein land; another tenant held a virgate also, and the other four tenants were apparently half-virgaters. Godwin the weaver held a croft for 12d.
The remaining 5 hides of customary land were rented at the rate of 5s. a virgate to 30 tenants, an increase of 5 over the 19 villeins and 6 bordars recorded in Domesday. Twenty-seven or possibly all 30 tenants, paid an additional 8s. a year by ancient custom. The payments amounted to £5 11s. a year.
By the end of the 13th century there seems to have been a further increase in the number of customary tenants, and possibly an increase in the number of labour-services exacted. The Hundred Rolls account of 1279 (fn. 130) mentions 37 tenants: 18 virgaters paying 2s. 9½d. each as fixed rent and doing services at the lord's will; 5 virgaters holding at a fee-farm rent of 5s. and owing no services; 12 cottagers paying rents varying from 1s. to 3s.; and 2 cottagers owing services only. Unfortunately there is only a brief report on the estate in the Hundred Rolls of 1279; no information is given about the demesne, or the free tenants, or even the fee of Piddington mentioned in 1255. (fn. 131)
Early-14th-century accounts fill out these bare details. Two were made by royal ministers when the manor was in the king's hands following the suppression of the Templars: one for Michaelmas 1311 to Michaelmas 1312, (fn. 132) a second for Michaelmas 1313 to July 1314. (fn. 133) A third very full report on the Merton property was made in 1338 to the Grand Master of the Hospitallers, the new lords of the manor. (fn. 134) The first account shows that, as on the other properties of the Templars, all labour-services seem to have been commuted. In the year 1311 to 1312, 849½ works were commuted for 57s. 9d., at the rate of ½d. for a winter day's work, ¾d. for one after Easter, 1d. for an autumn reaping work, 3d. for a day's ploughing, and 2d. a day for carrying hay. The most valuable item in the economy was the arable crops (wheat, beans, peas, oats, and barley), the sale of which brought in £29; next came sheep and wool which fetched £7 12s. 2d. The wool was of medium quality, a sack being sold for £5 6s. 8d. The dairy, as one would expect from Merton's rich meadow land, was productive: 99 cheeses sold for 3½d. each, and 66 for 2d. each; 16 gallons of butter sold for 6d. a gallon. However, as much as £4 3s. 8d. was received from the sale of surplus pasturage and herbage, including hay. Pigs were reared for the market, 28 fetching 75s. 3d. Small profits came from the sale of fruit, apples selling for 8d. a quarter, pears for 3d. a bushel. Normally the dovecote brought in money, but this year, it is stated, there was none as it was being renewed.
There is interesting information about the amount of seed used. Three bushels to the acre was reckoned as the normal amount of wheat seed required— about the same as today. For beans and peas 2 bushels of seed to the acre were allowed; for dredge 3 bushels to the acre; for oats 4 bushels to the acre.
The account also gives details about some of the animals. The number of horses is noteworthy: at the end of the year there were 4 cart-horses left, one old sick horse having been sold, 2 cobs (affri), 3 mares, and 10 colts. Twenty oxen were left, after the sale of 4 during the year, and only 8 sheep. There is no mention of the number of dairy cattle.
A house and garden with an establishment was evidently kept up at the Merton grange. Among the allowances were 5 quarters of oats for porridge for the household (familia). Other allowances were 16 quarters of 'coral', 5 quarters of beans and peas, 4 quarters and 5 bushels of dredge to the free members of the familia (possibly the customary tenants are intended), and one quarter of corn for the 8 weeks between 1 August and Michaelmas to the freemen for their table according to the custom of the manor. The house was used as a court house, and it is probable that the Templars' tenants at Fewcot, Bletchington, and Hampton Gay had to attend here with Merton men. The rents from these hamlets, long treated as dependencies of the manor of Merton, were included in this account, and their fines may be included in the figure of 55s. 9d. for perquisites of courts. This sum included a fine of £2 for view of frankpledge at the Michaelmas court.
The taxation rolls supplement the picture of the community at this date. In 1316–17 (fn. 135) 45 people were taxed, and in 1326–7 (fn. 136) there were 53. Among those most highly assessed was Edward the miller (5s.) and Felise le Meleward. Compared with those of other villages Merton inhabitants were fairly wellto-do.
Prior Philip's account of 1338 records 280 acres of arable and 40 acres of meadow, with separate pasture worth 20s. a year and common pasture worth 40s. On other estates of the hospital meadow it was normally worth 2s. or 2s. 6d. an acre, but here a quarter of it was valued at 2s. 6d. and three-quarters at 3s. an acre. The arable land was also high in value: 10d. an acre compared with 6d. an acre at Horspath, but not so high as the 12d. an acre found at Temple Cowley. The total receipts from the demesne land were £21 9s. 4d.; this included 16s. from the grange (messuagium) and garden, and 5s. from the dovecote. The three mills (two water-mills and a windmill) were worth £3; the profits from the undergrowth in the wood 30s.; pleas of court were worth 10s.; customary rents £5 13s. 8d. and villein works and customs £4 4s. 9d. (fn. 137)
There is no certain indication of the effect of the Black Death in Merton, but shortly after in 1357 Eynsham Abbey petitioned for licence to appropriate the church of Merton, on grounds of poverty caused inter alia by the Black Death. (fn. 138) If it can be assumed that the abbey would naturally seek to appropriate prosperous parishes, and not those whose labour force had been decimated, then Merton must have escaped the ravages of the plague lightly.
By the early 16th century some small changes in the organization of the grange had taken place, but it was still very conservatively managed. A rental drawn up in 1512 (fn. 139) by the Hospitallers, shows that the old manor-house no longer existed—only the close where it had once stood. But some other house must have been built or taken over for the use of the court, as the lord still claimed the traditional judicial privileges of stocks, gallows, tumbril, and 'le coking stole', and exacted the common fine of 40s. for view of frankpledge. All tenants owed suit and, if resident, enjoyed the exceptional privilege of having their wills proved in the Hospitallers' court. The tenants of the Hospitallers' property at Fewcot, which was, it seems, still appurtenant to Merton, also owed suit.
All the demesne was now leased out, but the free tenants had decreased in number. The vicar and only 4 others were joint tenants of the 8 virgates. There were only 34 customary tenants, including the vicar, with 25½ virgates of 1 acre of land between them. They were mostly virgaters and half-virgaters; only three held as much as 1½ virgates in the fields. All held gardens and some closes as well. The total income, amounting to £43 10s., was made up as follows: the demesne land produced £9 2s. (£8 for 8 virgates of arable land; 14s. for Court Close, and 8s.; for Grass Close); the common bakehouse 6s. 8d.; the common fine £2; the wood £16; and the rents of customary tenants £14 14s. 8d.
The six free tenants of the Piddington fee (6¼ virgates) were all absentees. William Read held the capital messuage and 3 virgates, the rest halfvirgates or virgates. They were the heirs of the 'Lady of Denham', the Master of University College, the Prior of St. Frideswide's, and the feoffees of John Haddon, clerk. In addition, the water-mill held by Thomas Botfish, a copyholder, with two pokes of pasture and some willows on the high road brought in an annual rent of 26s. 8d. a year. The tenant was responsible for all repairs, but the necessary timber was to be provided. A Chancery suit of 1669 gives some details about this mill. Its runner stone was 4 in. thick, the bedstone 2 in., the water-mill stones each 2 in. (fn. 140)
An action in the Court of Requests, arising out of the activities in Merton of Thomas Leyland, the compiler of the above rental, gives the only clue to farming methods at this period. It shows that oxen were valuable and much used, for William Lewes complained that he had hired out his six 'wayne' oxen while he was away at the wars, and that Thomas Leyland had stolen them; they were worth £10. (fn. 141)
The second half of the 16th century saw great social changes, the arrival of a resident squire (fn. 142) and the disappearance of most of the old families. Some light is thrown on the dispersal of the villagers by a tithe suit of 1590. (fn. 143) Four of the witnesses, who had lived between 11 and 50 years in Merton, had left the parish by then. A fifth witness, on the other hand, though an old inhabitant, was from Warwickshire. He was Thomas Deeley, the ancestor of a long line of yeoman farmers in this neighbourhood, whose descendants were farming Merton fields at Manor Farm and College Farm in the 20th century. (fn. 144)
The standard of living at the manor-house in the late 16th and early 17th centuries may be deduced from two documents. When Katharine, widow of Robert Doyley (fn. 145) made her will in 1585, (fn. 146) there were at least six servants and the house was comfortably furnished with feather beds, chairs, needle-work valances and hangings. Katharine's personal goods, including much jewellery, amounted to over £290 in value. In about the 1620's Lady Anne Poole was said to have 'maintenances fyttinge a ladie of her degree and meete, drinke, and wages for two gentle women, two chamber maids and one serving man to waite on her'. Her plate, jewels and 'household stuff', furthermore, were of 'great value'. (fn. 147)
During the late 16th and the whole of the 17th century in contrast with later centuries, besides the Doyleys and later the Harringtons, a number of other gentle families lived in the village. Prominent among the 16th-century families were the Tippings, (fn. 148) and in the first half of the 17th century there were the Danverses, the descendants of Sir William Danvers of Colthorpe. George Danvers, (fn. 149) the first of the family to live at Merton, was resident in the village in the 1630's. (fn. 150) He was followed in 1641 by his son Harrington Danvers.
Another gentleman was John Dunkin, the ancestor of the early-19th-century local historian. (fn. 151)
Lower in the social scale were some substantial men of yeoman status. Of these the Prestons were an outstanding and long-established family. John Preston died in or about 1563, leaving a modest amount of farm stock, and domestic furniture and furnishings—his sheets were of hemp not linen. (fn. 152) His son Damian (will proved 1586), had clearly prospered, judging from the amount of new articles of furniture left behind—a new cupboard, joined bed and chair. It is of interest that he left to one of his sons 'a coffer as he hathe his books in'. (fn. 153) Damian Preston, a 17th-century member of the family, belonged to the yeoman class. His goods were valued at about £118 in 1670. His well-furnished farmhouse had a kitchen, hall, buttery, and milk-house on the ground floor, and two bedrooms over these. He seems to have made cheese for sale, for among his goods was 1¼ cwt. of cheese. (fn. 154) He also had pewter dishes, feather beds, wool and hemp for spinning, and a malt mill. One of the family is remembered as the churchwarden who beautified the church in 1718. (fn. 155)
Another family long established in the neighbourhood was the Hearnes. The inventory of Thomas Hearne (1686), yeoman, values his goods at over £86. The difference in social arrangements in his house is striking. He had 8 chairs and tables in his hall and also a bedstead; his kitchen had stools, not chairs, except for two old ones, but plenty of pewter (e.g. 29 dishes and 'sassers'). In his chamber over the hall was a bedstead with curtains and valances, a feather mattress and bolster, coffers and chests with five pairs of sheets and half a dozen napkins. His house was a six-roomed one. (fn. 156) His stock consisted of 7 cows, 2 horses, 4 hogs; his corn and hay were valued at £34 10s. and his total goods at over £200. He was in a position to leave £1 to the poor, of which half was to go to Merton. (fn. 157)
Thomas Heritage (will proved 1691), mason, was perhaps of about the same social status as these yeomen farmers. He was a small farmer and propertyowner as well as a craftsman, for he owned a herd of 26 cattle, 5 horses and 18 sheep worth £55 10s. His corn and farm implements were valued at about £50. He leased three cottages, two in Merton and one in Charlton. His goods were valued at over £200. The inventory of these reveals considerable comfort. In his hall he had an elbow chair and a 'flagon bottom' chair as well as others; in the kitchen there were 4 candlesticks, a table with frame, another 'flagon' elbow-chair, cupboard, and dresser with a quantity of pewter plates, dishes, and porringers; the furnishings of his bedchamber included a bedstead with curtains and valances, feather mattress and pillow, bolsters, blankets, coffers, and boxes containing 10 pairs of sheets, a dozen napkins, and three tablecloths. His house was an eight-roomed one. (fn. 158) In his buttery he had a cheese-press and an oat-meal mill. His son John Heritage (d. 1726) followed his father's trade.
The social position of another craftsman, John Rose, the lessee of the water-mill, is revealed by a Chancery suit of 1669. He rented it from another miller who was the lessee of the Harringtons, and trouble arose over the conditions of his lease. He alleged that he was not allowed his due amount of hedgewood for the repairs of the mills, or straw for thatching. On the other hand he was accused of not keeping the mill in proper repair, though he had good custom at the mill and his house was well furnished. He was found to be illiterate and did not fully understand an agreement he had entered into. His goods were valued at over £91. They comprised 3 horses and some farm stock, his own clothes (£14 10s.), his wife's (£9 10s.), and household goods. The last included two spinning-wheels, a Bible, and 4 other books valued at 5s. (fn. 159)
The first clear evidence of the field system is supplied in a glebe terrier of 1612. The bulk of the land still lay in the open fields and commons. There were four fields: Claypit Field, Woodfield, More Hedge Field, and Ashley Bridge Field. (fn. 160) Three lay north and east of the village, roughly where the arable fields still are. Woodfield was probably between Graven Hill and the old Bicester road; Ashley Bridge Field to the south, stretching across the line of the 1763 Merton-Ambrosden road towards the bridge over the Ray; Claypit Field to the south-west of the village between the road and the Ray, and Moor Hedge Field to the north of it, between Court Close and Chesterton Brook. (fn. 161) It is clear that the arable was divided into four fields by 1585. (fn. 162)
The terrier of 1612 also contains the names West Field, North Field, and Windmill Field, which were probably inclosures. The second may have been the isolated piece of arable shown on Davis's map (1797) north of the village, (fn. 163) and the third was presumably near the village as the windmill stood close by the manor-house. (fn. 164)
The extent of the open fields in the 17th century has been estimated at 740 acres, (fn. 165) and a detailed account of James Harrington's property in 1709 roughly agrees. He is recorded as holding 650 acres of arable, 220 of meadow, and 650 of pasture with 35 acres of wood and 10 of furze and heath. (fn. 166) It is in any case beyond dispute that the proportion of arable to meadow and pasture must always have been small at Merton.
Some light on the difficulties of 17th-century farmers is thrown by the literary writings of Sir James Harrington. In his 'Pillar of Praise' he speaks of a great plague and of the murrain of horses and cattle which afflicted the countryside round Merton during Cromwell's Protectorate. Three parts of the people were sick. The loss among horses was so great that he says there would be no horse-racing at Brackley (Northants.) that year: the fields were untilled for lack of teams; dairymen and graziers threw up ground because their sheep and cattle died unsound. The countryside resounded with the cries of husbandmen and carriers whose livelihood was taken away. (fn. 167)
The evidence of the Exeter College leases of Rectory farm shows the steadily mounting value of land in the late 17th and 18th centuries. In 1635, when a new lease was drawn up in favour of Sir Edward Harrington, the annual rent was £1 13s. 4d., (fn. 168) with one quarter of wheat and two of malt, and the annual payment of £30 to the vicar. On top of this traditional rent, fines for the renewal of the lease were paid every three years. These normally fluctuated between £120 and £140, but in 1695 a fine of £300 was paid, and between 1729 and 1744 the fine seems to have been £200 every three years. (fn. 169) After inclosure a fine of £700 was exacted and the rent was increased to £265 a year, but the college perhaps over-estimated the farm's productivity for their tenant was bankrupt thirteen years later. (fn. 170)
Although the inclosure of the arable came late at Merton, there had been inclosure of meadow and pasture from early times. Separate pasture is referred to in 1338, (fn. 171) and in 1512 we hear of the demesne close called 'Lylly' (30 a.) and of 'Shepey' close (I a.), hedged with elm and ash, which were apparently worth 42s. together. Court close (7 a.) and 'Grassland close' (4 a.) have already been mentioned. (fn. 172) A survey of the glebe (1612) reveals many others. Dewes close, Parsonage close, Robert Payne's close, the More close (21 a.), Bushe Meade close (3 a.), Farme close and Richard Jones's close. It is stated that the 3 yardlands of More close (21 a.) were laid out after the rule of 7 acres to the yardland. (fn. 173) It belonged to Rectory farm, now College farm, hence its present name of College meadow, it having remained an isolated portion of that farm until modern times. (fn. 174)
General inclosure took place in 1763. In 1762 Sir Edward Turner, who held the manor, introduced a private bill. (fn. 175) After petitioning against it, Exeter College agreed to abide by the award of referees. (fn. 176) By the final agreement the college received an allotment of £173 in rents as compensation for loss of tithes, common pasture, and glebe land; the remaining lands were assigned to Sir Edward Turner. (fn. 177)
After inclosure, the Merton fields began to be farmed on more efficient lines. New roads were constructed, the common land was improved, (fn. 178) and small farms were amalgamated. (fn. 179) The productivity of the land rose immensely. Arthur Young in his agricultural survey stated that rents in the stonebrash area were doubled by inclosure, and he estimated the average annual value of an acre as 20s., but at Merton in the early 19th century Sir Gregory PageTurner got £3 and Exeter College £2 an acre. (fn. 180)
An account of the Page-Turner tenants in the parish around 1805 (fn. 181) shows that the 25 pre-inclosure tenants had been halved in number. There were five fair-sized farms, belonging to William Hawkins the elder; (fn. 182) William Grule, succeeded by William (?) Hawkins the younger (303 a.); Robert Hartin (201 a.); William Turner (211 a.); and Mary Jones (270 a.). The rest of the land was held by six smallholders.
Dunkin, the antiquary, (fn. 183) considered that inclosure in Merton was carried through with unnecessary callousness, and that a few farmers grew rich and showed little feeling for their less fortunate neighbours. He states that many of the smaller yeomen sank to the level of common labourers or were forced to leave the village; that several of the villagers actually perished from want; that the poor allowance was below subsistence level, although the farmers had amassed fortunes in spite of the high rents; and that so strong was the feeling against them that they were hissed in Bicester market.
There is some evidence to support this harsh judgement. The curate reported in 1774 (fn. 184) that 'the parish has been greatly thinned by the late inclosure', and he reckoned that there were about 6 farms and 12 cottages left. The land tax returns of 1785 show that there were in fact 7 farmers. (fn. 185) In the previous report to the bishop in 1768 (fn. 186) the incumbent gave 42 families comprising 170–80 persons. Real poverty is suggested by Samuel Hart's report of about 1800 (fn. 187) that five or six of the poorest absented themselves from church, pleading want of decent clothes.
The parish registers record a decline in the birthrate and an increase in the death-rate following inclosure. There were seven deaths in the year of inclosure—mostly at the end of the year; the average death-rate had been 2.4 in the preceding decade, and was 4.3 in the decade following inclosure. Births fell from an average of six a year in the decade preceding 1763 to 39 a year in the decade following. Although these figures cannot be accepted as accurate, and may be at least partly accounted for by other causes, they indicate a decided downward trend which continued throughout the century. (fn. 188)
The evidence of the poor-rate is equally difficult to interpret. Dunkin (fn. 189) asserted that the farmers were determined to free themselves of the burden of parish relief and reduce the allowance to their poor as far as possible. His further charge that they were not compelled to adopt these measures from high rents or depreciated produce is not entirely supported by other evidence; Exeter College's tenant, Jackson, went bankrupt in 1779, although the college did not ask as high rents as the PageTurners. (fn. 190)
The poor-rate rose sharply in the last quarter of the 18th century; from £67 in 1776 to its highest figure, £450, in 1813. (fn. 191) This was in common with the rest of the county, and can be partly explained by the impact of war. Merton's low rate of 1s. in the £ compared with Wheatley's 7s. in 1803 (fn. 192) should perhaps be considered in conjunction with Dunkin's attack on the farmers. In this connexion too the prosecution in 1786 of two Merton farmers is illuminating. They are said to have bribed a Chesterton pauper to marry a pauper woman of their parish so that Merton should be spared the cost of her support. (fn. 193)
In the 19th century the last of the small farms were gradually absorbed into the larger as old tenants died out. (fn. 194) Their memory survives in fieldnames, such as Preston's Close, and until quite recently cowsheds where they milked still stood in the fields on the fringe of the parish. (fn. 195) There were two shoemakers in the 1850's, (fn. 196) and in the last decade of the 19th century there were still some independent tradesmen. There were, for example, a maker of gingerbread and sweets, for sale at the local fair, and a man who kept a team of donkeys for hire to allotment holders who used them for ploughing. (fn. 197)
In recent years Merton has experienced the usual changes of occupation. In the 1920's and 1930's the blacksmith's forge was kept going by a visiting blacksmith; by 1953 it had become a farm building. The publican no longer has a general shop, but a garage and threshing business. The residents include civil servants and factory workers who travel daily to Oxford. Others are employed at the Southern Command's Ordnance Depot. (fn. 198) The population in 1951 numbered 182, the same as in 1901. (fn. 199)
Some time between 1118 and 1136, the advowson of Merton church, with its lands and tithes, was granted to Eynsham Abbey by the antecessor of Guy de Cahaines. (fn. 200) This benefactor was probably Pain de Ryhale. (fn. 201) His successor Guy de Ryhale (or Cahaines) evidently refused to recognize the abbey's rights and attempted to exercise the rights of patronage himself, for he was ordered by Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln (1123–48), to restore the advowson to Eynsham. (fn. 202) The abbey clearly recovered it for, shortly after, it is found securing its title against possible encroachments by the Templars. It obtained a mandate from Malcolm IV, King of Scotland, probably issued in 1165, (fn. 203) ordering the Templars to allow the abbey to hold the advowson. (fn. 204)
The abbey had a pension of 30s., first mentioned in a deed of 1203–6, (fn. 205) when it was stated to be of long standing, and which it probably received at the time of the original grant of the advowson. It continued to be paid until the appropriation. (fn. 206)
The church was not rich for a large parish; it was valued at £10 in 1254 (fn. 207) and at £11 16s. 8d. in 1291. (fn. 208) Nevertheless, after the Black Death, the abbey petitioned for its appropriation, alleging poverty, due partly to the plague. (fn. 209) It is of some interest that it was granted to them at the king's request and that the royal licence was issued as early as 1351, (fn. 210) although the deed ordaining a vicarage was not issued by the bishop until 1357. (fn. 211)
The new arrangement was to take effect after the death or resignation of the then rector. The vicar's salary of 10 marks a year was to be paid by the abbot and the abbey. A suitable house was to be provided and put into good repair; the vicar was to undertake subsequent repairs. The abbey was to maintain the chancel, the windows, the vestments and ornaments, to provide incense and lights for the chancel, and to pay all taxes. The vicar was to pay for the bread and wine for the sacrament. The Bishop and the Dean and Chapter of Lincoln were to receive pensions of 20s. and 10s. respectively—no doubt their fee for consenting to the appropriation. The abbey held the advowson and the rectory until the Dissolution. (fn. 212)
There is not enough evidence to say what the value of the rectory was to Eynsham. In 1535 it was farmed for £12 9s., and after paying the vicar's salary and pensions, the net value to Eynsham was £1 19s. 1d. (fn. 213) But it is likely that its true value was greater. In 1390, for example, the tithes of sheaves were sold for £24. (fn. 214)
In 1379, (fn. 215) when the abbot gave his share of the income from Merton to the monks in consideration of their 'great penury and lack of victuals', the convent assumed all the rights and burdens of the appropriator, save that of defending any suit about the church. The convent undertook to distribute certain alms and find wax torches. Despite the alleged poverty, Merton church appears to have been completely rebuilt at this period. (fn. 216)
In 1403 or 1404 another change was made in the use of the Merton revenue; the camerarius assigned a portion to each monk for personal expenditure, such as clothes and books, entertainment, and journeys to friends (devillacio). In one case a monk used his portion for a pilgrimage to Canterbury. (fn. 217)
It is not known when the abbey began to lease the rectory, but John Camby of Stanton Harcourt is known to have been a lessee in 1514, (fn. 218) and the terms of the lease to Richard Gunter, their last tenant, have survived. (fn. 219) The convent undertook all repairs to buildings—the parsonage, barn, and chancel, for example; all other rectorial burdens were Gunter's.
The rectory and advowson remained with the Crown from the Dissolution until 1565, when they were bought by Sir William Petre for £1,376 11s. 4d. (fn. 220) Just before his death, in 1572, Petre gave both to Exeter College, (fn. 221) who still remained patrons in 1953 and only ceased to be owners of the rectory estate, now known as College Farm, in 1920. (fn. 222) This estate, before the inclosure of 1763, consisted of 137 acres of inclosed lands and 86 acres in the common fields. By the award, the rector obtained 168 acres in lieu of tithes and of land in the common fields. (fn. 223)
When the college first obtained the farm, the abbey's tenant Richard Gunter continued as their tenant for some years. Afterwards the lease was held until the 18th century by the holder of the manor, first the Doyleys, then the Harringtons. (fn. 224) When the Turners became lords of the manor, the rectory was leased in 1750 to Ambrose Jackson of Ambrosden, and on his bankruptcy in 1778 to a Merton yeoman family, the Martins. (fn. 225) Robert Martin, the elder, was lessee until 1797, when his son Robert Martin took on the lease. He was followed by William Brown of Chipping Norton in 1813, and by William Cole of Bicester in 1827. (fn. 226) After 1834 Exeter College no longer leased the property but let it at a rack rent. (fn. 227) In 1920 it was purchased by H. A. Deeley, the tenant. In 1946 the War Department bought 19½ acres for sewage works for £1,380. (fn. 228)
The survey of 1512 (fn. 229) shows that the vicar, Nicholas West, was resident and was then one of the best-off of the villagers. Like the majority of his parishioners he held a messuage with a garden and half a virgate of customary land, but in addition he held jointly with four others 8 virgates of demesne. By 1535 the vicar's salary had been increased to £8 a year and was charged on the rectory estate. (fn. 230) The tenant also paid him 6s. 8d. for 'brede, wyn and wax'.
Before the tithes were commuted in 1763, the lessees of the rectory were paid in kind. In a suit brought in the archdeacon's court in 1590 it was stated that it was customary to pay tithe milk from the ninth day after Michaelmas until Lammas. If a cow calved during that period no tithe milk was paid for seven weeks from the time of calving. If the calf was sold before weaning, the parson or the farmer of the tithes had the tenth of what it made, but if the calf was weaned, then the parson had half that proportion and no tithe milk from the cow for seven weeks. If a man had seven calves in the year, the seventh was the tithe calf, and the owner had to keep it for seven weeks. The parson then paid ½d. when he received the calf. (fn. 231)
Of the changes made after the Dissolution there is little evidence. There is no record of the presenta tions made by Exeter College, though White Kennett says that it appointed vicars during the first half of the 17th century. (fn. 232) There was certainly a resident vicar, John Andrews, from about 1633 to 1641, who enjoyed a stipend of £30 a year. (fn. 233) His successor Thomas Whicker was also resident. (fn. 234) As a protege of Sir James Harrington's, Whicker probably held advanced opinions, and it was no doubt through Sir James's influence that by order of Parliament (1646 and 1650) £50 was paid to him from the profits of the rectory of Bicester, sequestrated from Sir Charles Blount. (fn. 235)
It is probable that from 1654 until 1796 there was no regular vicar; instead the Fellows of Exeter took turns at supplying the cure. (fn. 236) The first record of the appointment of a preacher or concuriator comes in 1688, (fn. 237) and by 1695 the system of an annual nomination of a fellow, known as the 'preacher of Merton', to supply the services without any 'institution or residence' was well established. (fn. 238) Kennett condemned the system as being 'contrary to the rights of the church, the good of the parish and the honour of religion'. The college replied that it had been forced to take this course, as no one could be found willing to take so poor a cure; that moreover it had offered £30 to any vicar instead of the obligatory £8—a payment which exceeded its 'ability'. (fn. 239)
The 18th century was not a period of religious activity in Merton. In 1738 (fn. 240) the parish was receiving the minimum amount of services—a Sunday service, and the administration of the sacrament four times a year unless the floods made the river impassable. Any emergency, it was stated, was met by the Rector of Charlton-on-Otmoor. From 1741 to 1751 no marriage was celebrated in the church and the parishioners were obliged to go to Exeter College chapel. (fn. 241) It is not surprising, therefore, that the curate reported in 1759, 'backwardness' and 'a general supineness in regard to religion' in the parish. At this time the church itself was also in a bad state of repair. (fn. 242)
Towards the end of the century, efforts were made to revive religious life. In order to augment the value of the living, the college gave three gifts of £200 in 1787, 1791, and 1796, which were invested in land. (fn. 243) The custom of annual election was ended in 1796 with Samuel Hart's presentation to the vicarage and in 1809 his successor began to reside in Merton. (fn. 244) But his house was no more than a thatched cottage, 'too small and badly constructed' for a permanent residence. The college therefore built a new vicarage in 1827 in order to secure the Revd. J. T. Lys as vicar, the fellows having each in turn declined the offer of the vicarage in its old state. The new house cost £1,157 17s. 10d.; it was enlarged in 1835. (fn. 245)
Lys (1826–34) did 'more for the parish and church that any other man for a long time'. (fn. 246) In his time the congregation numbered between 60 and 90, besides children; the sacrament was administered six or seven times a year instead of the customary three, and a village school was opened. (fn. 247)
In 1841 the college gave £1,500 in order to meet £200 from Queen Anne's Bounty, (fn. 248) raised the vicar's stipend from £50 to £80, and allowed a temporary grant of £50. (fn. 249) This increase, combined with the religious enthusiasm of the time, brought about further changes in the life of the parish. The clerical return of 1854 (fn. 250) reports that there were three services a week; that the sacrament was administered monthly; that the Sunday morning and afternoon congregations numbered 75 and 140 respectively; that there was a Sunday school with an attendance of 40; and that there was a night school for men and boys, besides the daily school for children.
The public institution, probably the first in the parish, of James Avery in 1874 was a further sign of the times. (fn. 251) So too was the comment of the local antiquary Wing on the church's success in finding an 'educated man' to serve so poor a cure, and on the secular advantage (already emphasized by the Quaker William Howitt) of 'having at least one gentleman in every parish'. (fn. 252) Avery was followed in 1880 by the parish's historian, E. R. Massey, a former vice-principal of Lichfield Theological College. (fn. 253) In 1953 the net value of the benefice was £257. (fn. 254)
The church of ST. SWITHIN is a stone building almost entirely of the 14th century; it consists of a chancel, clerestoried nave, south aisle with porch, and west tower. Originally there was also a north aisle, and the western tower was surmounted by a fine spire, 60 ft. high, which was once a conspicuous landmark. (fn. 255) Still a fine church, it was originally one of the biggest and most ornate in this part of the country.
The nave on the south side has four early-14thcentury arches set on octagonal pillars with moulded capitals. (fn. 256) The roof of the nave was rebuilt in the late 15th century, and the clerestory added. (fn. 257) Both the roof and the walls of the nave were once covered with 'brilliantly' coloured wall-paintings; (fn. 258) they were described as 'dim with age' in 1823, (fn. 259) and in the restoration of 1865 it was found impossible to strip off the coats of whitewash with which they were covered without destroying them. (fn. 260) In the 15th or 16th century the north aisle was pulled down, the three nave arches filled in, and the three Decorated windows moved from the aisle to the nave wall. The three-light east window in the south aisle has 'Decorated' 14th-century tracery and the 14thcentury south door has a 15th-century panel over it. (fn. 261)
During the latter half of the 18th century the church was in a dangerous condition. In 1795 the spire was said to be 'out of the perpendical', and only kept together by rusty iron cramps. (fn. 262) The churchwardens, instead of repairing it, got permission with the 'unanimous wish' of the parish to demolish it, and to sell five of the seven bells to cover the cost of the scaffolding and the releading of the roof. (fn. 263) John Heritage received £55 for removing the steeple in 1796 and Thomas Whale £3 1s. 2d. for taking down the bells, which were sold for £77 13s. (fn. 264) In the same year a further £72, raised by a rate, was spent on repairs, probably to the body of the church, as the rectory tenant was responsible for the chancel. (fn. 265)
In the first part of the 19th century the church was kept in fairly good condition. In 1808 £15 odd was paid for repairs, and in 1811 £17 13s. for repointing the tower; in 1817 the William and Mary church clock was repaired for £5 15s. (fn. 266) In 1827 new pews were installed in the south aisle by the vicar, Dr. Lys. (fn. 267) In 1822 heating is first mentioned; the churchwardens purchased coal. (fn. 268)
In 1865–6 the church, said to be in a shameful condition, was extensively restored by the architect C. Buckeridge; the work, which included the installation of new pews and the replastering of the nave, was not completed until 1872, when the church was formally reopened by Bishop Wilberforce. (fn. 269) The restoration cost £785, partly raised by a loan from the Diocesan Building Society. (fn. 270) In 1866 the chancel was repaired by Exeter College, and a new roof added at a cost of £300. (fn. 271) The old roof had been causing trouble since 1809, (fn. 272) and in 1813 the college had inserted a clause in the lease of the rectory, stating that the tenant should rebuild the chancel if it fell down. (fn. 273)
In 1922 a sacristy was made in the tower and a new mahogany screen erected across the tower arch, which had been removed from the priory church of St. John, Clerkenwell, and presented by its rector and churchwardens to Merton; in 1923 the chapel at the east end of the south aisle was made a memorial to the men who died in the First World War. Between 1924 and 1926 £600 was spent on restoring the chancel, nave, and tower; of this sum, £400 was raised by private subscription outside Merton and only a small contribution was made by the village. (fn. 274) In 1935 part of the nave roof was destroyed by fire; its restoration was carried out by Prof. A. E. Richardson, P.R.A. (fn. 275) He also designed the chimney for the heating apparatus.
The stone font is medieval, and has a 17thcentury wooden cover which, according to Dunkin, formerly bore the date 1639 and the initials 'hk.' The well-designed wooden pulpit is of the 17th century. The 17th-century chancel stalls with carved bench-ends came from the Jacobean chapel of Exeter College, which was pulled down in 1855, and were installed at the time of the 19th-century restoration. (fn. 276) The wooden screen between chancel and nave, which bore an inscription to the effect that the church had been beautified in 1718 by the churchwardens William Bartlett and John Preston and was still standing in 1823, has now gone. (fn. 277) The 16th-century communion table has a detached slab and was installed some time after 1559. (fn. 278) The church is still lighted with oil lamps.
Within the chancel is a coloured alabaster monument erected to John Doyley (d. 1593), and his wife Anne Barnard. (fn. 279) It carries the kneeling figures of a man in armour and a woman, with the figures of their four daughters below. It is surmounted by the arms of Doyley quartering More. (fn. 280) There is also a monument to Elizabeth (d. 1621–2), daughter of Sir Henry Poole. (fn. 281) Among the Harrington ledgers on the floor of the chancel is one to Katherine (d. 1675), wife of Sir James Harrington the Republican, who is buried in the chancel but without a memorial. (fn. 282) There are also inscriptions to Lucy, widow of James Harrington (d. 1713); Lucy Harrington (d. 1660) and Theodosia Fountaine (d. 1684), daughters of Sir Edward Harrington (d. 1716), who is also buried in the church; to Richard Harrington (d. 1712) and to Richard Harrington (d. 1763); to Richard Bartlett (d. 1683); Mary, wife of John Bartlett (d. 1753); Richard Bartlett (d. 1722), William Bartlett (d. 1717), and his father Richard (d. 1685), and tablets to other members of the family. There are also tablets to Christopher Irons (d. 1666) and his son John (d. 1683); to Silvanus Vaughan (d. 1678) and to his wife Joan, the daughter of Edward Presser, a yeoman of Merton; to Robert and Joseph Vaughan; to William Ridges (d. 1691) and to John, son of Arthur Vosper. (fn. 283)
In 1552 the church was richly furnished. Among its possessions were a 'chalice of sylver and gylte', 2 crosses 'the oon of brasse the other of copper', 2 copes 'oon of grene sylke and the other red', and '3 payer of vestmentes with awbes one of which was made of yellow silk'. (fn. 284) The church still (1953) possesses a silver chalice and paten-cover presented by Lady Anne Poole in 1629, and a tankard flagon of silver presented by L. W. Rawlinson in 1857. (fn. 285)
The western tower contains two bells, one inscribed 'Rich. Keene cast this ring 1694', and the other a modern bell of 1887. The Edwardian Inventory records three bells and a sanctus bell. (fn. 286)
All that remains of the ancient parish cross is a small shaft, formerly surmounted by a sundial, removed in the 19th century. The churchyard was enlarged by Sir Edward Turner at the time of the inclosure and again in 1866 and 1905. (fn. 287) The modern churchyard gates are a gift of the PageTurners.
The Revd. James Vernon, curate of Merton, who as chaplain at St. Helena officiated at Napoleon's funeral, is buried in the churchyard. (fn. 288)
The registers are as follows: (i) 1635–1737, baptisms and burials with some gaps; (ii) 1655–84, births and burials with some gaps; (iii) 1737–1812; (iv) 1754–1814, banns and marriages; (v) from 1813, baptisms, marriages, and burials.
Though no dissenters are returned in 18thcentury Episcopal Visitation Returns, it is known that the Presbyterians registered a meeting-house, the property of Robert Hartin, in 1772. (fn. 293) In 1828 another private house was registered for nonconformist worship. (fn. 294)
In 1890 the present Congregational chapel was erected with seating for 70, (fn. 295) at the expense of Mr. McKay, a draper of Bicester. Owing to the difficulty of getting preachers he asked the Marsh Gibbon (Bucks.) church to take charge. (fn. 296) In 1953 an evening service only was held. (fn. 297)
In 1784 Sir Gregory Page-Turner and Exeter College agreed to subscribe respectively 3 and 2 guineas for a charity school, (fn. 298) but nothing appears to have come of this scheme, and it was not until 1814 that the Revd. J. L. Heyes, Fellow of Exeter College, opened one of the first National schools in the county for 30 boys and girls. (fn. 299) In 1829 a new school, of stone, with lodging for the matron, was built by the vicar, Dr. J. T. Lys, on a site west of the church given by Sir Gregory Page-Turner. (fn. 300) Exeter College gave £30 (fn. 301) and continued to subscribe £5 a year for expenses. Originally no charge was made, but in 1833 (fn. 302) it was reported that children were paying 1d. a week. Thirty-five to 38 children between the ages of six and ten attended. (fn. 303) Village education was supplemented about this time by a dame school which charged 3d. or 4d. a week. (fn. 304)
By 1870 the school site had been given to the vicar and churchwardens, who also became responsible for its management. (fn. 307) This arrangement continued until 1913, when the school was closed because of the small numbers, and its 12 pupils were sent to Ambrosden. Strong local feeling was roused by this action, but the petition against it, which was unsupported by the vicar, was unsuccessful. Disputes followed over the letting of the schoolhouse until 1924 when Mr. Page-Turner claimed possession of the site. The matter was referred to the Charity Commissioners, who gave judgement in his favour in 1926. In 1930 the house and school were sold as a private residence. (fn. 308)