A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 5, Bullingdon Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1957.
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Piddington, lying five and a half miles south-east of Bicester, is a long narrow parish of 2,354 acres rising from about 200 ft. on its northern boundary to about 600 ft. on Muswell Hill to the south. It is bounded on the west by the road from Brill to Bicester, with Piddington Wood forming an outpost to the west of the road; farther north the boundary leaves the road, cutting across country to the north-west to join the River Ray, which it follows to Blackthorn and Heath Bridges. (fn. 1) The eastern boundary with the Buckinghamshire parishes of Ludgershall and Brill takes in part of the ancient farm of Chilling Place (half in Brill parish), which forms the southeastern tip of the parish. The southern boundary runs over Muswell Hill and includes Muswell Farm. The soil of the lowlands is clay, with clay subsoil; Muswell Hill, the western extremity of the range including Brill, is of Portland Oolite, capped by Lower Greensand.
The modern village (1953) is comparatively isolated. Its nearest station is Brill and Ludgershall, one and a half miles to the east; the main road from Bicester to Aylesbury, the former Akeman Street, crosses the north of the parish, leaving the village well to the south; there is no bus service nearer than the one from Bicester to the army camp about a mile away at Arncot. (fn. 2)
Piddington Wood now measures almost 25 acres.
Its Domesday predecessor, reckoned as 2 leagues by 5 furlongs, (fn. 3) was by the 13th century within the bounds of Bernwood Forest. (fn. 4) This forest, which included Boarstall, and Brill (Bucks.), and part of Ludgershall, also included the Piddington estate of Muswell, (fn. 5) the 13th-century boundary passing by Muswell ditch, then between Piddington and Ludgershall Fields, and then up north to 'Heathenburnde'. (fn. 6) The Crown granted estovers within Piddington Wood (valued at 13s. 4d. in 1270), and villeins, who took housebote and heybote from the wood, were obliged to work one day a year closing the hedge 'in the field next to the wood.' (fn. 7) Probably there were other stretches of woodland in the medieval parish, for in the 16th and 17th centuries several coppices, by that date used as pasture, lay towards Muswell Hill on the southern boundary, (fn. 8) and leases mention 236 acres of woodland. (fn. 9) In 1721 Pipley Hill and Cleywell Hill coppices were the two subdivisions of Piddington Wood, and in 1807 they measured 23 acres, almost the present extent. (fn. 10)
Piddington village lies beneath Muswell Hill in the centre of the parish, and straggles along the road from Boarstall to Heath Bridge for a mile. The medieval church stands at its southern end, 'up town' as the villagers call it, surrounded by cottages and houses of various periods. Some of the cottages are of stone, some timber-framed with old red-brick filling. Some are built of 19th-century brick and their roofs have slates instead of old red tiles like their neighbours. The largest of the ancient cottages was once an inn. At the northern end of the village the road forks, one arm going to Arncot, the other to Ludgershall, and the village is still extending along these roads.
Nineteenth-century Piddington has been well described by John Drinkwater (1882–1937), who spent childhood holidays there with his relatives the Browns: 'It is a plain, grey little village, neutral in design, ambling from cottage to cottage with no apparent sense of direction, its half-dozen larger houses of red brick sitting discreetly here and there at the roadside. . . . When I knew it, a stranger was seen only when one passed through in the carrier's cart, or when the Irish labourers came over for harvest, a talkative, thirsty lot, sleeping in the lofts and barns. In the winter, when icicles were on the thatch eaves, the village would lie for days as if it were asleep.' (fn. 11)
Today the village's predominant colour is no longer grey: many of the old cottages, built of local rubble and thatched, and consisting of one room up and one down, have been pulled down and replaced by council houses, especially along the Ludgershall road. Moreover, the Southern Command Ordnance Depot, which reaches to the edge of the village, has considerably altered its social life. The 'Seven Stars', for instance, though flourishing in the 19th century, (fn. 12) had lost its licence in the 1930's. Now, however, it has been modernized and is extremely prosperous.
An undying interest in sport may be deduced from the name of a 5-acre pasture in 1598, 'Futball Plaine', and from that of a small piece of land in the south-western corner of the parish called 'Bowling Alley' in 1847. (fn. 13)
There are at present five farms, some with ancient buildings; Manor Farm and the Rookery in the village itself, Gravel Pits, Muswell Hill, and Chilling Place, all lying to the south of the parish. Manor Farm, opposite the church and possibly on the site of the former manor-house, is now two houses under one roof. The building dates from the 17th century, the south elevation of two stories of coursed rubble being of this date. It has four hipped attic-dormers with casement windows in a tiled roof. Three brick chimney-stacks, one ancient, stand one on each gable-end and one in the centre of the house. The original plan of the building was L-shaped. There is a modern brick addition on the north side, but the west front of the north wing is a separate building of old rubble, like that on the south elevation, with casement windows and a modern porch. Fir Tree House, farther north up the village street, is a twostoried building with three attic dormers and a tiled roof. It is built of coursed rubble with ashlar quoins, and bears a plaque 'W I E 1693'. The initials stand for John and Elizabeth Walker, whose monuments are in the church. Their descendant still lives in the house. Twin chimney-shafts of brick rise from the end-gable. The whole plan is rectangular, with a long north-south axis and a one-storied wing at the southeast angle. There are 17th-century casements in the south end of the west elevation, and over the west doorway is a contemporary plaster hood with a medallion (the bust of a woman, full-faced) over the lintel, and with cherub heads on the soffit. There is a good oak staircase of three flights with a dog-gate, also dating from the late 17th century. Muswell Hill Farm, lying on the southern boundary, has been modernized and partly rebuilt. The original plan was probably L-shaped; the present two-storied building is built partly of 17th-century brick on a rubble base, and partly of 18th-century brick and timber, with some modern additions. The roof is partly a mansard one; it has modern tiles. On the west side is a massive 17th-century brick chimney of three engaged shafts with modern brick tops. The interior has been modernized. Chilling Place, a farm on the south-east boundary, probably dates from the 17th century, the original plan being L-shaped with wings to the north-west and northeast. The present building is two-storied, built mainly of ancient brick and timber, and has a partly hipped tiled roof. The main (south-east) front of the north-east wing is of plastered brick and timber. On the south-west side of the north-west wing is a massive chimney-stack consisting of seven mainly 17th-century brick shafts, five being engaged and two standing free.
There is no mill in the parish today, though in medieval times there were two: a water-mill at Piddington, mentioned in 1270, but then decayed and worth only 5s.; (fn. 14) and another mill at Muswell (1279), almost certainly a windmill, for a water-mill would be unlikely in this upland estate. (fn. 15) The windmill mentioned in 1634 as part of Muswell manor (fn. 16) is no doubt the successor of the medieval mill, but no later record of it has been found.
The date of settlement at Piddington ('Pyda's tun') (fn. 17) is not known, but it seems likely that settlers were invited by the presence of the spring which gave Muswell Hill its name, and which flowed down its northern slope to join a brook leading to the River Ray. Piddington's history has never been eventful. It has no place in national history except at the time of the Civil War, when the siege of Oxford brought this stretch of country into prominence. In 1643, when the parliamentarians were attempting to take Brill, a troop of their horse, quartered at Piddington, were taken in the night by Col. Goodwin and the royalists. (fn. 18)
Before the Conquest, PIDDINGTON with the neighbouring estate of Merton probably belonged to the Countess Judith, and was held freely of her by Hacun, a man of Danish descent. (fn. 19) Both properties became attached to the honor of Huntingdon and followed the same descent until about 1152, when their paths diverged. Simon (II) de Senlis, Earl of Northampton, who obtained the honor in 1152, must have granted the manor of Piddington almost immediately to St. Frideswide's monastery in Oxford, (fn. 20) as he was killed in the following year. He was succeeded in the honor of Huntingdon by Malcolm, King of Scotland, and the convent was careful to obtain the Scottish king's confirmation of Earl Simon's charter. (fn. 21) Presumably because of his rivalry with the de Senlis earls, this took the form of a new grant of the manor for 'the salvation of the souls' of himself and his family. A second Scottish royal charter shows that the grant of the manor was made for the sustenance of the canons of St. Frideswide's. (fn. 22) Nevertheless, in the subsequent struggles between the rival claimants to the honor of Huntingdon, the canons' interests were ignored. William, Malcolm's brother and successor as Earl of Huntingdon, robbed St. Frideswide's of Piddington, and his younger brother David retained it after his succession to the earldom. When the honor was again transferred to the rival house of de Senlis in about 1174, Simon (III) de Senlis made a formal recognition of the right of St. Frideswide's to the manor, but ignoring 'God and the peril of his soul', he continued to hold it. (fn. 23) The Huntingdon overlordship appears to end about this time, and the claims of St. Frideswide's, in spite of a papal bull ordering restitution of their rights, (fn. 24) were temporarily ignored (see below).
Meanwhile, Joan of Piddington had been holding the manor as a sub-tenant. Simon (II) de Senlis's grant of the manor to St. Frideswide's had been subject to her life-interest. (fn. 25) She was a well-connected woman (fn. 26), and Simon (III) de Senlis in about 1183 seems to have rewarded one of his supporters, Aubrey de Dammartin, with her hand and the lordship of Piddington. (fn. 27) Aubrey was the son of Aubrey (I), Chamberlain of France, and his family was apparently closely connected with the Senlis earls of Huntingdon; both Aubrey and his brother Odo held lands elsewhere of the Huntingdon honor. (fn. 28) He held Piddington until 1192 (fn. 29) or possibly until his death in 1200. (fn. 30) In 1194 the manor, described as lately belonging to the Count of Dammartin, was in royal hands as an escheat. There it remained until 1205,' when Reynold de Dammartin, presumably a mino on the death of his father Aubrey, may have succeeded, though there is no evidence for his connexion with the manor until 1213 when he secured it with the rest of his English property, which he had recently forfeited for supporting the King of France against King John. On Reynold's death in 1227 his lands were seized by the Crown. (fn. 31) Piddington was later leased to Joldewin de Doe (sometimes called Geodo de Bado), a foreign favourite, who in 1228 was allowed to mortgage it on going to the Holy Land. In 1234 Geoffrey de Craucumb, keeper of Oxford castle, received the property to hold until its restoration to the rightful heirs. (fn. 32) Geoffrey was still holding it, then ranking as 1 knight's fee and worth £20, in 1237, but he died in or before 1249 when the manor is found in the hands of the keeper of his lands. (fn. 33) In 1266 it was granted for seven years with the manor of Brill (Bucks.) to Walter Giffard, Bishop of Bath and Wells, rendering yearly £20 (for Piddington only), but with allowance for reasonable repairs of the houses on the estate. (fn. 34)
The next stage in the ownership of the manor came in 1270, when it was granted by the king, in exchange for a manor in the New Forest, (fn. 35) to Alan Plukenet and his heirs. (fn. 36) Alan Plukenet, distinquished for his service in the French wars, left the manor to his son Alan (II) in 1299, (fn. 37) who granted it to Hugh Despenser in 1309; Hugh in turn granted it for life to John de Hadlow, lord of Boarstall, and his wife. (fn. 38) With the fall of the Despensers the manor was forfeited to the Crown but Hadlow retained his life-interest until his death in 1346. (fn. 39) It appears, however, that the Hadlows never had more than two-thirds of the manor, for Alan Plukenet's wife Sybil (later married to Henry de Pembridge) successfully claimed a third part as dower. (fn. 40) Nevertheless, in 1337 the reversion of the whole manor was granted to Nicholas de la Beche of Aldworth (Berks.) for his service to the king. (fn. 41) In 1340 Nicholas de la Beche had licence to grant the reversion of the manor to Sir John Sutton, lord of Dudley, and in 1347 Sutton had similar licence to make a grant to John de Peyto for life with reversion to himself. (fn. 42) These transactions led to legal disputes, first between Sybil de Pembridge (formerly Plukenet) and John de Hadlow and later between Sutton and de Peyto. (fn. 43) However, these issues were overshadowed by the protracted lawsuit over the right of St. Frideswide's to the manor, brought in 1331 against John de Hadlow and continued intermittently until 1359, when the priory was adjudged the rightful lord. (fn. 44) Thus, after a lapse of some 200 years, Piddington returned to St. Frideswide's and was owned by it until 1525. It is worth noting that the priory, in defending its claim, alleged possession of the manor in the time of Prior Elias (1228–35).
During the medieval period there was a manorhouse at Piddington. The sub-tenant Joan of Piddington occupied it in the mid-12th century, and her successors probably occasionally did likewise. (fn. 45) The capital messuage was valued at 6s. 8d. in 1270, (fn. 46) and was clearly inhabited about this time, for Alan Plukenet (II) refers in a charter of 1309 to 'all his moveables and chattels and his chapel in the manor.' (fn. 47) In the next century, when John de Hadlow was lord, there was a fishpond in the manor courtyard and one outside and a piece of ground, also within the courtyard, where cabbages and leeks were grown for the lord's household. (fn. 48) Hadlow lived at Boarstall until his death in 1346 (fn. 49) and a tenant presumably lived in the Piddington house. When St. Frideswide's again took over the manor, the lord was represented by a bailiff.
In 1525 Henry VIII granted Piddington manor to Cardinal Wolsey to endow his Oxford college. (fn. 50) It passed in 1532 to the king's foundation at Oxford, (fn. 51) but was granted to Thomas Dynham in 1553. (fn. 52) Dynham was lord of Brill and Boarstall manors through his marriage with Katherine Rede, heiress of Leonard Rede, whose family had for some time held these properties. Through this marriage Dynham also obtained the manor of Muswell. He devised it with Piddington to his son John, who succeeded his father in 1563. (fn. 53) During John's tenure of Piddington manor much of the estate was sold, so that after about 1598 (fn. 54) Dynham held little more in Piddington than his manorial rights. The centre of the Dynham estate was now at Muswell Hill, where the family lived.
John Dynham was succeeded in 1602 by his son John, who died in 1634 seised inter alia of Piddington and Muswell manors, leaving as coheirs his two daughters Mary and Alice. (fn. 55) It seems that Mary, the wife of Laurence Banastre, succeeded to Piddington, for their daughter Margaret, who became wife of William Lewis, was lady of the manor in 1661. (fn. 56) Margaret's son Edward died without issue in 1672, so her daughter Mary and her husband William Jephson succeeded. Mary Jephson, who survived her husband, married secondly Sir John Aubrey, (fn. 57) and on her death in 1717 Piddington manor descended to her stepson, Sir John Aubrey, who had married Frances Jephson, her daughter by her first marriage. There was thus a double marriage alliance between the two families, Boarstall and Brill manors also passing to the Aubreys in this way. Sir John was succeeded by his son John in 1743. He died in 1767, leaving no children, and was succeeded by his brother Thomas. (fn. 58)
The Aubrey family retained the manor until the present century, but never lived at Piddington. (fn. 59) Sir Thomas Aubrey's grandson, Sir Thomas Digby Aubrey, succeeded in 1826, and died without heirs in 1856, being succeeded by a cousin Elizabeth Sophia, who married Charles Spencer Ricketts. Their son, Charles Aubrey Ricketts, took the name of Charles Aubrey Aubrey, and succeeded to the property. On his death in 1901, the manor passed to Sir Henry Fletcher, great-grandson on the female side of Sir John Aubrey (d. 1743); he took the name of Aubrey Fletcher, and was succeeded by his brother Sir Lancelot Aubrey Fletcher in 1911 and in 1913 by Sir Lancelot's son Henry, (fn. 60) well known as Henry Wade, a writer of detective fiction.
It is not known when the MUSWELL estate came to rank as a separate manor. In the mid-12th century it was part of the fee of Piddington, when Joan of Piddington (tenant of that manor) and her husband Guy de Ryhale allowed Ralph the hermit to build a hermitage there and found a chapel. (fn. 61) Ralph the hermit granted the 'whole place' of Muswell to the abbey of Missenden (Bucks.), a grant confirmed by the King of Scotland as overlord of Piddington. (fn. 62) The abbey retained possession until 1236–40, when it sold Muswell to John de Plescy for 20 marks and an annual rent of 2 marks. The property then comprised a messuage and a carucate. But in 1279 it was stated that Hugh de Plescy, son of John (who died in 1263), had granted the land to John FitzNiel, son of the lord of Boarstall. (fn. 63) The Plescy family remained overlords until 1356, (fn. 64) but thereafter the position is uncertain; in an inquisition of 1419 it was stated that the tenure by which the manor was held was unknown, and in 1435 it was found that the property was not held in chief. (fn. 65) It has not been possible to solve this problem, which evidently perplexed contemporaries. John FitzNiel, the third in his line, probably succeeded Sir Richard le Poure, (fn. 66) who had previously been given a lifeinterest in the estate. FitzNiel settled the property before his death in 1299 (fn. 67) on his daughter Joan and her husband John de Hadlow. This is the first occasion on which Muswell is named a manor and it was held as such by John de Hadlow of Boarstall and Piddington (q.v.) at his death in 1346. (fn. 68) Hadlow was succeeded at Muswell by his grandson Edmund, who died in 1356, leaving as coheirs his two sisters Elizabeth and Margaret. (fn. 69) The latter and her husband John Appleby first succeeded to the manor, but by a new partition in 1366, the result of a royal decision, Muswell came to the elder sister Elizabeth and her husband Edmund de la Pole. (fn. 70) Edmund retained a life-interest in the manor, in right of his wife, until his death in 1419. (fn. 71) His daughter Katherine, the wife of Robert James, obtained the reversion of the whole property, which she and her sister Elizabeth, wife of Ingram Bruyn, (fn. 72) had jointly inherited. James, who survived his wife, held the whole manor at his death in 1432, and settled it on his daughter and heir Christine, who married Edmund Rede. She succeeded to two-thirds of the manor, the third part being held in dower by her stepmother. (fn. 73) Christine's son Edmund, who succeeded to his mother's share on her death (1435), obtained the reversion of the third part in 1437. Muswell followed the descent of Boarstall in this period. (fn. 74) Edmund Rede's grandson William became lord of Boarstall in 1489, and was followed by his son Leonard in or before 1527. The reversion of Boarstall, and presumably also of Muswell, was conveyed by Rede to his daughter Katherine and her husband Thomas Dynham, already lord of Piddington. (fn. 75) Dynham's son John died possessed of Muswell in 1602, (fn. 76) the property thereafter descending with the manor of Piddington. It may be noted that the Dynhams lived at Muswell. John Dynham's widow Katherine apparently held the latter property in dower; a recusant, she compounded in 1614–15 for two parts of Muswell manor. (fn. 77) John Dynham the younger also lived at Muswell, but in 1626 he leased the mansion house in which he had lately resided to William Standen, together with the Muswell estate. The 'manor' of Muswell is last mentioned in the 1661 conveyance of Piddington manor (fn. 78) and it seems likely that after this date the two became merged, though the Muswell land preserved its identity as a farm. It ceased to be owned by the lords of Piddington manor at some date before 1847, (fn. 79) when the Duke of Buckingham held it. His tenants were James and Michael Griffin, who farmed 167 and 74 acres respectively. Their family occupied it until the end of the last century. (fn. 80)
Since the 17th-century lords of Piddington manor owned but a small portion of the land in the parish, other landowners may be noted. Before 1563 James Dynham had leased Piddington manor to Henry 'Vines', a member of the Vyne family of Ash and Vyne Place (Berks.). (fn. 81) In 1582 John Dynham leased the capital messuage either to this Henry or a son of the same name; and renewed the lease in 1597 to Jane, widow of Henry Vyne. (fn. 82) In the same year Jane's son Ralph is said to have bought from Dynham 400 acres of arable, 100 of meadow, 180 of pasture, and 36 of wood. (fn. 83) In 1625, however, Ralph Vyne enfeoffed Hugh Barker with the capital messuage, 114 acres of pasture, 38 of wood, and 8 virgates in the common fields (the ancient manorial demesne). (fn. 84) The Vynes remained at their Chilling Place property for a few years, but then ceased to own land in the parish. John Dynham had also sold a large parcel of land to John Hebborne and Vincent Coventry—36 messuages with orchards and gardens, and 1,850 acres of land and wood (fn. 85) —but the successors to this property have not been traced.
Chilling Place, which lay on the south-eastern edge of the parish, half in Brill and half in Piddington, first appears as a separate entity in 1586, when John Dynham sold it to Henry Pool. (fn. 86) In the first half of the 17th century the Vynes and then the Walkers appear to have been successive owners. The tithes of Chilling Place were leased by Ralph Vyne to Richard Walker in 1634; in 1667 Edward Rudge, who had acquired the tithes in 1647, conveyed the Chilling Place estate to Jeremiah Snow of London, having previously sublet the property to Henry Churchill and Gabriel Allen. (fn. 87) In 1672 the estate was settled on Elizabeth Vyner, daughter of the Dean of Gloucester, and her husband John Snell, with a life-interest to Snow. (fn. 88) In 1667 the estate was described as comprising a messuage, a dovecote, two gardens and orchards and 170 acres in Piddington, and 110 acres in Brill. (fn. 89) When the property later came up for sale in 1824, it comprised two farms, Manor farm and Poltrees farm, totalling some 326 acres, of which 184 acres were in Piddington. Both farm-houses, however, were in the parish and both had about half their land within its bounds. (fn. 90) In 1847 both farms were owned by Col. William Snell. (fn. 91) In 1953 Chilling Place was owned by Mr. H. K. Harrison, and was no longer divided.
It is probable that Manor farm in Piddington village is all that is left of the original Piddington manor. Its ownership may early have passed away from the lords of the manor, perhaps at the time of the Dynham sales. In 1758 it appears to have been in the possession of the largest freeholder in the parish, Sir Edward Turner of Bicester; (fn. 92) in 1847, when it was in the possession of the trustees of Sir Gregory Page-Turner, (fn. 93) it amounted to some 369 acres. The family retained the ownership until 1925. (fn. 94)
Economic and Social History.
There are few details of the agricultural life of Piddington in the early medieval period. In Domesday Book there was said to be land for 9 ploughs, but only 8 plough-teams were at work, 3 of them on the demesne. Probably, therefore, rather under 700 acres were under cultivation in 1086. Since before the Conquest the value of the estate had declined from £6 to £4, probably as a result of the devastation of that part of the country. There were 30 acres of meadow. (fn. 95)
The land was apparently farmed on a two-field system, for a grant of about 1152 to Missenden Abbey mentions 2 acres of meadow which were in Westfield meadow when the Westfield was sown, and in Langedale meadow when the Eastfield was sown. (fn. 96) As the latter meadow was near the ditch dividing Piddington from Ludgershall, the two medieval fields may have lain on either side of the village. There were still two fields in 1550, but some time before 1758 a three-field system had been introduced. (fn. 97) The kind of crops grown are illustrated by an early-14th-century survey (fn. 98) which states that each acre of the demesne could be sown with 2 bushels of corn, 3 of beans, 6 of dredge, or 6 of grass seed, the acre being valued at 6d., whether sown or fallow. As late as 1758 two of the three fields were called Wheatfield and Beanfield, the third lying fallow each year. (fn. 99)
The stocking of the medieval manor is mentioned in 1195, when 9 cows, a bull, 7 sows, and a boar were bought; in the next year two ploughs were bought, and in 1249 the royal tallage was remitted for the purchase of stock. (fn. 100) In the early 14th century the lord had common pasture rights for 16 cows and a bull, with heifers, 240 sheep (between Hockday and St. Martin's day), 40 goats, and as many pigs as he wished. (fn. 101) Though mixed farming was probably always practised, a good number of sheep seem to have been kept from the medieval period onwards. Besides the 14th-century evidence just quoted for the lord's flock of sheep, there is that of the new leases made out for copyholders in 1598, which specify that they shall have some 250 acres of common pasture and coppice. (fn. 102) At this period the tenant of the manor-house is known to have owned between 200 and 300 sheep, while Hugh Barker in the early 17th century had pasture rights for 450. (fn. 103)
It is probable that the upland areas of the parish, particularly the Muswell Hill and Chilling Place estates, were well suited to sheep-farming. The Muswell Hill property appears to have been cleared for cultivation at a later date than Piddington manor, and was probably still largely woodland, pasture, and wild-life preserves in the 13th century. Land adjoining the hermitage there is mentioned as an assart in about 1153, (fn. 104) and in 1255 there is evidence for a design to assart 2 acres in the forest of 'Fernhurst' between Brill and Piddington. (fn. 105) Indeed, in a parish originally forest land, assarting must have continued throughout the medieval period. Pasture land seems to have predominated in the later Middle Ages and after, and was being early inclosed. In 1395 Muswell Field (fn. 106) is mentioned as a separate pasture; in 1417 closes are described as hedged. (fn. 107) In 1626 the Muswell estate had only 3 corn fields of 34 acres, and comprised besides a close called 'Howse close', a park and grounds called 'The Two Parks', four meadows and a pale called the 'Boury', grounds called the 'Warren' and 'game of conyes there', a pasture called 'Colwell' and another of 60 acres called 'Ramscomb' (in 1598 these pastures had been reserved for the lord of the manor), two meadows near the coppices called 'Hasellkomes' (200 acres), and a coppice called 'Polltrees' near Brill. (fn. 108) Some of this land can still be traced; the 'Boury' survives as the Bowery, a small field on the boundary of Chilling Place Farm; and Cobwell (later Corbell), the Warren, and Ramscomb can be located on the tithe map of 1847. At that date the parish still retained large areas of pasture, both in the uplands and in the lowlands. (fn. 109) Mixed farming is the rule today, the lowlands being used for dairy cattle.
The community which farmed the land can first be traced in Domesday Book. It records 12 villeins, 6 bordars, and a serf. By 1279 there were 3 freeholders (perhaps not all resident) and 41 villeins. A late-13th-century extent shows a slight increase: 5 freeholders and 41 or 43 villeins. (fn. 110) In 1377 the poll tax returns give the names of 108 persons over fourteen. (fn. 111)
The custumal and extent (fn. 112) of their Piddington property made by St. Frideswide's gives a detailed picture of rural life in the early 14th century. It is not clear how far services had been commuted for rent, but the wording of the account suggests that the practice had increased since 1279, when there were only three villeins who paid rent: one held a virgate and two held half-virgates each. The rent-paying tenants paid on the basis of 5s. a virgate and in addition owed some special services. They mowed for a day, the lord providing food or 40d. in lieu ('meteshippe'); harvested for three days; did a day's nutting, and a day hedging the field next the wood. With the other tenants they owed grasherth and 2s. aid to the lord at Christmas. Six cottars paid small money rents and performed minor labourservices. Eight tenants (described as 'in the manor' in 1279) held a quarter of a virgate (i.e. 5 a.) and the lord chose any four of them to plough at will. They were thus exempt from all other services. The later survey mentions nine of these holders of a quarter of a virgate, but makes no reference to special services.
The villeins, who performed services only, worked four days a week except on festivals and 'stormy' days. Some of the tasks are specified. At the beginning of the farming year, for instance, from 2 February to Easter, the villein ploughed every Monday; at the Lent sowing, he harrowed with his own horse and harrow; at haymaking time he came with one man to mow and cart, and also provided a horse and cart. The winter ploughing began at the end of September. Then the villein brought his plough to plough the lord's separate pasture in the fallow field, a custom called grasherth; in mid-November he ploughed 3 roods of land, thrashed and winnowed the lord's corn, carted it to the field for his household servants to sow, then harrowed it, providing, as in the spring, his own horse and harrow. In addition to these agricultural services, in 1279 the villein owed 1d. 'salt silver' instead of fetching the lord's salt from the market to his 'larder', and on Saturdays had to send a man and horse to market, if the lord willed. (fn. 113)
The Piddington villein enjoyed various privileges. There was the harvest feast at which the lord provided food for the labourer and his wife but required them to bring cloths (mappae), small and large dishes, cups and other necessaries. On two of the three harvest days, if he was binding sheaves he might take one away in the evening. At haymaking, each mower could take away as much grass as he could carry on his scvthe. He was allowed housebote and heybote in the lord's wood, but for this privilege the community had to answer through four men before the forest justices for any charges of wasting the royal forest. As for heriot, the custom was that the lord took the man's best ox on death, but allowed his widow, so long as she remained single, to keep house and land for life.
There was evidently some uncertainty over conditions of tenure in the period after the Dissolution. An inquiry of 1561 found that until twenty years previously no copies of court roll had been made, but that in about 1541 the Dean and Canons of Christ Church, then lords of the manor, compelled the tenants to have copies. (fn. 114) The fragmentary court rolls of Edward VI's reign (fn. 115) throw little light on the question of tenure, but all uncertainty was ended in 1598, when John Dynham provided his Piddington tenants with leases for 2,000 years, based on money rents at 6s. 8d. a yardland. (fn. 116) The leases laid down rights of pasture (see above); stated that the tenants had rights to the wood on their land, save for the oak, ash, and crabtrees growing in two coppices; and gave them permission to dig and carry away gravel from Gravel Pits Coppice.
The community revealed by these new leases is interesting. As far as the size of the holdings is concerned, there had been little increase since the late 13th century; then only one customary tenant held a yardland, the majority holding half each, whereas in 1598 of 16 copyholders, 3 owned 1 yardland each, one owned three-quarters, 6 owned half each, 4 owned a quarter each, and 2 owned less than this. Nine tenants had one or two closes in addition. However, while the half-virgaters of the earlier survey were all villeins, the tenants of 1598 are described as 'yeomen' save for two 'labourers'. It is unlikely that these men held land only in Piddington, but it is an interesting fact, and one not always easy to discover, that fourteen out of sixteen were resident in the village.
Inclosure in Piddington had begun at least by the late 16th century, for the 1598 leases to customary tenants refer to three coppices, then used for pasture, as 'now divided and set forth by hedge and dytch' for the lord's use. This land was mainly part of the Muswell estate. Other inclosures, before the final inclosure of the open fields in 1758, were at Chilling Place, referred to in the award as old inclosure, and parcels of land in Piddington proper, including Cow Pasture, an old inclosure belonging to Sir Edward Turner, and another old inclosure belonging to the Trustees of the Poor of Marsh Gibbon. The inclosure award of 1758 gave the largest allotment, 499 acres for freehold and 36 acres for leasehold, to Sir Edward Turner. John Walker came next with 198 acres; 4 others had between 70 and 100 acres each, 5 (including the vicar) had between 30 and 60 acres, and 15 had smaller parcels of land, the majority under 5 acres. Seven others had 2 roods apiece, as common for a horse each. (fn. 117)
There was evidently trouble in the years following the inclosure, for in 1791 25 owners and occupiers of land in the village agreed to prosecute at their own expense, by a pound rate raised by the overseer, all persons guilty of damaging their property. They claimed that they had sustained great injury 'by persons who . . . have broken down, destroyed, and carried away our hedges, gates, and other fences, and have robbed our gardens, orchards, hen roosts, faggot piles, and other outbuildings'. (fn. 118)
The total population in the 18th century remained small: in 1758 there were said to be 56 houses, almost the same number as in 1821, when the population was 359. In 1841 the figure had risen to 427, but it declined again to 281 in 1881, and to 212 in 1901. (fn. 119) The figure in 1931 was 196 and in 1951, 311. Most of the villagers, like their predecessors for many centuries, are employed on the land. Isolated scraps of evidence relate to other employments, for instance, the existence of a parcel of land called 'Allum Piece', lying east of the Bicester–Brill road as it leaves the parish, suggests that alum may once have been dug. (fn. 120) Trade and local handicrafts occupied 6 out of 55 families in 1822; (fn. 121) a wheelwright's shop and a bakehouse figure on the tithe map of 1847. The census of 1851 recorded 13 craftsmen and tradesmen. Among them were 2 shoemakers, 3 bricklayers and 2 carriers. (fn. 122) There was a village smithy until early in the 20th century. In 1953 some of the villagers were working at the neighbouring army establishment at Arncot. (fn. 123)
Piddington chapelry lay in Ambrosden parish. In 1309 the lord of Piddington manor referred to 'ornaments' in his chapel at Piddington. (fn. 124) This building was probably the same as the present church (formerly chapel) of St. Nicholas, which contains late-13th-century work.
In 1428 disputes which had arisen between the vicar of Ambrosden and the villagers of Piddington over serving the chapel were terminated by a decree in the consistory court, to which the college of Ashridge, the appropriator of Ambrosden, was also a party. By this, Piddington was to have a resident minister, who was called a curate after the Reformation. He was to be elected by the inhabitants and to have authority to perform all the parochial duties. The villagers were to be responsible for the care of the church and chancel and of the minister's house; the minister was to receive the small tithes and oblations, in fact everything that the vicar of Ambrosden had hitherto been receiving from Piddington; but he had to render 'due obedience' to the vicar and pay him 20s. and a quartern of wheat each year in token of Piddington's former dependence on the mother church of Ambrosden. (fn. 125) By this decree Piddington acquired its own graveyard and full parochial status.
The new minister had no right to the great tithes as these had been taken by Ashridge when it appropriated Ambrosden church (fn. 126) and they passed into lay hands after the priory's dissolution. (fn. 127) The small tithes, however, continued to be paid to the curates of Piddington after the Reformation in accordance with the arrangement of 1428. They had been temporarily commuted for money in about 1591. (fn. 128) The parishioners also continued to elect their curate. There is a tradition that Bishop Fell (1676–86) tried to stop the practice, but, if true, he evidently failed. (fn. 129) In 1759 there was an unsuccessful attempt to restrict the vote to landholders. (fn. 130) An election seems to have involved the parish in considerable expense; the churchwardens' accounts contain many entries relating to the expense of advertising, of letters and visits to the bishop, and of entertainment of the voters. In 1821 57 quarts of ale for the latter cost £1 13s. (fn. 131) The most expensive and famous election took place in 1802. It was alleged that the poorer inhabitants had been bribed, and that a contract had been drawn up whereby the elected minister was promised an emolument of £70 a year. Previously the stipend had been £41 7s. 8d. based on a composition at the rate of 18s. per yardland. (fn. 132) The resulting dispute was very involved, the bishop licensing a curate after a lapse of six months—a step not legally upheld—and prosecuting the churchwardens for simony in a suit at common law. Legal quibbles and a search in the Lincoln Diocesan Registry for the original of the 1428 agreement, since the copy in the Oxford Registers was deemed insufficient, prolonged the case until 1805, when it was ruled that the election had been simoniacal, and Mr. Matthews, nominated by the Crown in 1803 by forfeiture, was confirmed in the living. He was later offered £150 a year in lieu of tithes. (fn. 133)
There was another memorable election in 1853, when an excessively large number of candidates was reduced to six by vote of the vestry. The first poll was equally divided between two candidates, who received 40 votes each; a second poll over two different candidates produced a vote of 42 against 28, and the winner in this contest, the Revd. Charles Hill, became vicar. (fn. 134)
In 1923 the right of election passed to the Parochial Church Council. (fn. 135) The living, now known as a vicarage, is held with Ambrosden. In 1953 the benefice of Piddington was valued at £214 net. (fn. 136)
It may well be that their right to elect their own minister gave the parishioners a sturdy independence in church matters. The minister reported in 1738 that there were two or three absentees from church 'of the poorer sort', owing to alleged deafness, but in 1808, after the troubled election of 1802, the minister's return states that 'some few' were absentees because 'they had not a clergyman of their own choice'. The number of communicants at one time was never above 30 in the 18th century, when there were four communion services a year, and seems to have declined towards the end of that period. In 1808 there were about 65 communicants. (fn. 137)
Some of the people of Piddington, however, continued to attend Ambrosden church, where in the 18th century there were still 'Piddington seats'. (fn. 138) A sum of 6s. 8d. was paid to the mother church yearly until 1708, and less regularly until 1738, when it ceased. According to tradition this was for the repair of the bells, but in fact it was used for general purposes. (fn. 139)
Isolated pieces of information help to reconstruct the religious life of the village: in 1544 a parishioner gave 8d. for the High Altar; another gave 12d. in lieu of 'tithes forgot', and 12d. to the sepulchre light, probably a reference to the Easter Sepulchre; (fn. 140) in 1545 there was a bequest for the rood light. (fn. 141) Later in the century the curacy of Richard Tetloe brought scandal to the parish. He was accused of fornication; and it was stated in the Archdeacon's Court in 1591 that his parishioners' consciences were grieved by his conduct and that they were unwilling to receive the sacrament at his hands. (fn. 142)
It is possible that the 17th-century incumbents were resident, (fn. 143) as they certainly were in the 18th century. (fn. 144) In 1823, the Vicarage being dilapidated and unfit for residence, a faculty was obtained to exchange its site for two cottages which were then adapted to make the present Vicarage. (fn. 145) It was 'improved' in 1840, mainly at the incumbent's expense. (fn. 146)
The church of ST. NICHOLAS comprises a chancel, nave, south aisle, and low embattled west tower. The well-proportioned chancel dates from about 1300, and has four windows of the same period with cusped rear arches. There is a three-light east window of graceful and slender proportions. Two sedilia of about the same date are richly foliated, the third section having been converted into a priest's door. The workmanship, in elaborate contrast to the simplicity of the chancel itself, resembles that of the piscina and the recess on the north side of the chancel. The latter has Purbeck marble pillars and is ornamented with figures of angels. (fn. 147)
The south doorway dates from the 14th century, and the nave from the late 13th with 15th-century windows. The wall-painting of St. Christopher on the north wall opposite the door was discovered in 1896 beneath a 17th-century Creed; it was completely uncovered and restored in 1935 by E. T. Long of Oxford. (fn. 148) Its faint outlines reveal the saint with his staff, and a hermit's chapel (perhaps that at Muswell) in the background. (fn. 149)
The tower dates from the 16th century, but its doorway was blocked up in 1826. (fn. 150) Two texts inscribed on the walls near the belfry entrance are dated 1665. The painting of other texts is recorded in 1784, when the Commandments, the Apostles' Creed, and the Lord's Prayer were executed. (fn. 151) In 1730 a communion table and rails were fetched from Bicester. (fn. 152)
In 1826 extensive repairs were undertaken, including a new roof, costing £237; (fn. 153) and in 1855 the interior of the church was completely restored for £554. (fn. 154) There had been a musicians' gallery on the north side (fn. 155) and a southern gallery, set up in 1813, (fn. 156) which were removed, whereby 'the beautiful solid western arch' was thrown open and the belfry used for additional seats. At the same time 'the irregular horsebox pews' were replaced by 'low and open seats conducing to vigilance, propriety and decorum'. (fn. 157) The pulpit, installed in 1828 and made by the carpenter William Parrott, was also moved at this date. (fn. 158)
Restoration undertaken by J. O. Scott was completed in 1898; a new chancel arch was built and the chancel ceiling reconstructed in panelled oak; the nave was restored externally, the foundations underpinned, and a new ceiling inserted. An entirely new roof to the south aisle was built and the exterior repaired. The stonework of the tower up to the plinth was also restored. Extensive internal repairs to the whole church were carried out, including the installation of heating apparatus. A memorial window of stained glass to the Revd. Charles Hill was designed by Jones & Willis (London). (fn. 159)
The monuments inside the church include a black marble tablet in the north wall of the chancel to Elizabeth (d. 1709), wife of John Walker; a tablet to John Walker (d. 1722), 'a pious son of the Church of England'; a monument to John Walker (d. 1731) and his relations; a brass (1613) to Catherine Hussey. In the churchyard, which was newly railed in in 1843, (fn. 160) is the grave of John Drinkwater, the poet (d. 1937).
The Edwardian inventories mention altar cloths (one of diaper, six of 'Ollande clothe'), vestments and surplices, a box of ivory inside the pyx, having 'small glasyes of sylver upon hit', and two chalices of silver gilt. (fn. 161) The pre-Reformation chalices have gone (one by 1553), and the church plate now includes an Elizabethan chalice (1580) inscribed with a 'P', and silver plate given by William Ward of Piddington in 1640. The silver chalice with paten and cover, given by Jane White of Piddington in 1683 and inscribed accordingly, which were part of the church property in 1928 have since vanished. (fn. 162)
In 1553 there were three small bells, a sanctus, and a hand-bell. (fn. 163) The second bell was recast in 1705, and the tenor cast by Hemins of Bicester in 1729, the fourth bell being run by the same firm in 1738. In 1887 the third was recast, and a treble and second provided by Mrs. Brown of Manor Farm. (fn. 164)
The registers begin in 1653.
A chest with three locks and keys was kept in the church in 1634; a new iron chest was bought in 1813. (fn. 165)
Chapel of the Holy Cross.
Before about 1152 a chapel, dedicated to the Holy Cross, was built by Ralph the hermit on Muswell Hill. (fn. 166) He gave it, with all the land pertaining to it, the tithes of the demesne of Piddington, and two acres of meadow to Missenden Abbey (Bucks.). (fn. 167)
It is possible that the chapel was served from Missenden in the years immediately following this grant. If so, the arrangement probably ended when the abbey granted the Muswell estate to John de Plescy between 1236 and 1240, reserving the tithes. (fn. 168) It was certainly served by the vicar of Ambrosden in 1396, when he was prosecuted for trespassing in the fields of Muswell manor in walking from Ambrosden to the chapel, and was then granted right of way for five years at a rent of 6s. 8d. (fn. 169) It is worth noting that the inhabitants of Piddington used to process to the chapel on the feast days of the Holy Cross, and in 1488 Edmund Rede, lord of Muswell, granted them reasonable footway to the chapel for that purpose, again for a rent of 6s. 8d. (fn. 170) The memory of Ralph the hermit was long preserved in Piddington; the last ruins of his chapel disappeared in 1800. (fn. 171)
There were several recusants in the parish in the 17th century: Katherine Dynham, the widow of John Dynham, (fn. 172) and three others were recorded between 1607 and 1615. In 1624 no fewer than 11 were listed, headed by Eleanor Vynes and including four yeomen and a weaver. (fn. 173) No dissenters of any kind are recorded in Bishop Compton's census (1676) or in the 18th-century visitation returns.
A Congregational chapel with seating for 80 was established in 1825, (fn. 174) and was enlarged later. (fn. 175) The attendance in 1850 was 60. (fn. 176) In 1951 the chapel was a member of the North Bucks. and North Oxon. Congregational Union. It had no resident minister and its membership, along with that of five other churches, had dropped to 71. (fn. 177) At the turn of the century, John Sulston, wheelwright and postmaster, was a prominent member of the chapel and was well known for his hospitality to visiting preachers. (fn. 178)
In 1850 15 Wesleyans used a private house for meetings. (fn. 179)
A school is recorded in 1808, when the parents of the pupils provided the master's salary. (fn. 180) The only other schooling, with the exception of the Sunday school, was that given by a charity of unknown origin, providing for 12 girls to be taught to read. (fn. 181) By 1833 there were two daily schools with 6 girls and 17 boys; (fn. 182) apparently these schools did not long survive, for in 1854 the vicar stated that there was no day school, and that one was urgently needed to remove the 'great ignorance' of the villagers. (fn. 183)
In 1858 the Sunday school, begun for 18 boys in 1818 and supported by the minister since 1822, was extended as a day school and received a grant from the National Society; accommodation was provided for 84 children. (fn. 184) A new building was said in 1887 to have been erected in 1863 with accommodation for 100 children. The average attendance was 44 in 1887, when there was a master, (fn. 185) though in 1864 there had been a master and mistress. (fn. 186) By 1906 the attendance had dropped to 32. (fn. 187) In 1925 the older children were transferred to Bicester County school, Piddington school surviving as a church school for juniors and infants. (fn. 188) In 1944 it became a controlled primary school, with one resident mistress. It has an attendance of 30 children (1952). (fn. 189)
Piddington's first charity dates from 1664, when John Hart of Cottisford left an annuity of £3 to bind 'one honest, poor, godly boy to some good trade'. It was called 'Easington Money', as the legacy was invested in land there. In 1823 the money was being allowed to accumulate until there was sufficient for the purpose. (fn. 190) The charity was still being used in 1953 to help set up a boy in work. (fn. 191)
There were some other small charities which have since lapsed: in 1772 Lady Turner left the poor of Piddington £50, which was all distributed in that year. A donation of £20 made in 1764 by an unknown person produced thereafter 20s. a year. There was also a rent-charge of 6s. a year for poor widows, but in 1808 only part was paid out. (fn. 192)