A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 5, Bullingdon Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1957.
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Stowood lies on either side of the old LondonWorcester road, (fn. 1) now a country road connecting Stanton St. John and Islip. The wood crowns a hill at the junction of this road with the Roman road from Dorchester to Alchester. Although it never had a church and, until the Crown sold Shotover, was closely linked with Shotover and Headington, Stowood came to be treated as a separate parish and so remained until 1932. In 1660 its area was estimated at 641 acres (fn. 2) and at 593 from 1891 (fn. 3) until 252 acres of Headington parish were added to it under the Oxford Extension Act of 1928. (fn. 4) In 1932 the whole parish was absorbed in Beckley. (fn. 5) The surviving belt of woodland has light sandy soil, although the lower cultivated ground round Lodge Farm in the south has some peat and clay. (fn. 6)
There were two farms in 1851. There are now three. The site of Royal Oak Farm may have some connexion with the 'kyngeshoke' mentioned in the description of the bounds of the forest in c. 1298. (fn. 7) The house is a two-storied building of rubble with squared quoins and thatched roof; it probably dates from the 17th century, but has an 18th-century facade. In the 19th century it was a public house, much patronized by undergraduates. (fn. 8) Lodge Farm, formerly the lodge of the royal forest, is partly of 17th-century date. It is known that it needed repair in 1640; in 1660 it was a building 36 ft. by 13 ft., with three small rooms and three garrets, and was given rent-free to the keeper of the forest by the Tyrrells. (fn. 9) The third farm, Folly Farm, formerly Whistler's Folly, (fn. 10) has two old cottages of rather similar appearance. West Cottage is an 18th-century building of rubble, with two stories, thatched roof and irregular casement windows; East Cottage may be of 17th-century date. The rest of the cottages in the hamlet lie either at the corner of the road to Beckley, where they preserve the name of the Red Lion Tavern, extant in 1852, (fn. 11) or at the entrance to Lodge Farm. The latter were built by Kingerlee of Oxford in 1881. There were only three cottages in addition to the lodge in 1660, (fn. 12) but as a result of the conversion of the land to farming there was a slight increase. In 1861 27 people lived in six houses: in 1901 there were 43 residents. (fn. 13)
Domesday book mentions Stowood, the 'stony Wood', (fn. 14) as part of the 4½ hides of forest in the county held by Rainaldus. (fn. 15) It is not known when it was settled. The parish was bounded on the east by the Roman road from Dorchester to Alchester, but there is nothing to suggest Roman occupation of the area. (fn. 16) Indeed, it is likely that the wood remained forest land, unsettled and uncultivated, well into the medieval period. (fn. 17)
Until disafforestation by Charles II (fn. 18) Stowood was the northernmost portion of Shotover and Stowood forest; (fn. 19) with its centre in the manor of the Derehyde in Shotover, (fn. 20) it was administered by the bailiff of Shotover aided by other forest officials; its history during this period therefore cannot be disentangled from that of Shotover and the rest of the royal forest. Reports of grants and privileges, encroachments, trespasses, and so on mostly refer to the forest as a whole, but occasionally Stowood is specifically mentioned. In the Middle Ages it was recorded that it was flanked by the woods of the abbots of Eynsham and Westminster, Beckley park and Stanton fields. (fn. 21) In 1660 the boundaries were defined as running from Beckley field along Stanton field, Stafford Grove, Wick grounds, and then along by Elsfield ground and field, thence again by Wood Eaton common and so along by Noke pastures to Beckley again. (fn. 22)
The neighbouring parishes had right of common there: Headington, Marston, and St. Clement's in Stowood and in Shotover; Beckley, Noke, Islip, Wood Eaton, and Elsfield in Stowood only. (fn. 23)
Each household in Headington had the right to send someone to gather nuts one day a year in the wood; (fn. 24) the lord of the manor of Headington had half of the pannage, and the right to two cartloads of brushwood weekly, (fn. 25) and Stanton manor had a grove in the wood. (fn. 26)
Grants to individuals of timber from both Shotover and Stowood were frequent, sometimes timber from Stowood alone being specified. (fn. 27) Grants of rights to hunt also usually concerned the whole forest. But to cite a few examples, grants for Stowood alone were made to Richard, Earl of Cornwall in 1258, (fn. 28) to his son in 1263, (fn. 29) to the Earl of Warwick in 1259, (fn. 30) and during the same period to royal huntsmen. (fn. 31) Trespasses and encroachments were many. As would be expected, the main offenders were those with land in or near the forest; the Prior of St. Frideswide's was pardoned for forest offences in 1387; (fn. 32) and the Abbot of Westminster in 1363. (fn. 33) In 1255 the Earl of Cornwall, who was the owner of Beckley manor, and the parson of Beckley were accused of taking wood for fencing for their own use, and Philippa Countess of Warwick was stated to have taken too much underwood; (fn. 34) in 1364 the Prioress of Studley was amerced for setting up hedges round her enclosure and thus trapping the royal deer. (fn. 35)
There is no reliable information on the state of the woodland until the 16th century. At the time of disafforestation there were nine coppices in Stowood totalling 631 acres. Of these, five were inclosed. (fn. 36) Some inclosure had probably taken place earlier. One coppice, Lodgemoor, probably the Lodge coppice of the 1660 survey, had been inclosed with rails by 1580, when it was reported that although this coppice was common, inclosure had not much hurt the inhabitants or foresters. (fn. 37) Another coppice, Lynehill, had recently been inclosed and Lord Norreys, then keeper of the forest, had been allowed 40s. for hedging and fencing. (fn. 38) The same report refers to 'great spoyles of younge springes' made by horses, oxen, and carts in two coppices lately felled, the regarders having turned the beasts into them. It was also alleged that the keepers had mowed two coppices, though this was later stated not to be harmful, and that there had been unlawful cutting of timber. (fn. 39) By 1628 there was more evidence of waste and decay, though Stowood was not so badly off as Shotover, being valued at £20 an acre as opposed to the latter's 20 marks. (fn. 40) In particular, there was considerable damage to the forest from nearby residents, who cut down hedges and young trees. (fn. 41) In 1631 for instance, the Earl of Lindsey, who had a lease of the timber, was told 'your wood in Stowood is cut down and carried away', and one Burt of Elsfield was accused of stealing wood in league with Mr. Heaster (see below). By 1660 the nine coppices of Stowood were in a worse state. It was reported that four were so destroyed that the mounding of them would cost as much as the underwood was worth; that Beckley coppice (89 a.), though much destroyed by cattle entering through broken fences, was the only likely source of profit in either Shotover or Stowood; that the country people had destroyed Stowood and the soil was unfit for arable and 'very ill for pasture'. (fn. 42) Much of the destruction was due to the heavy demands for timber in the first 60 years of the century, particularly by the navy, as the lack of sap, hardness, and twisted growth of the trees in this area made them very suitable for the tree-nails, &c., required in shipbuilding.
Mr. Heaster, a keeper of the forest in 1628 and 1660, was the only ranger who can be connected definitely with Stowood, as distinct from the whole bailiwick. It is clear that he was administering this section of the forest from the lodge, which then had 28 acres of land, half arable and half pasture, railed and hedged in. (fn. 43)
Parts of Stowood were allotted to those villages with ancient rights of common: Marston, Wick, Wood Eaton, Islip, Beckley, Elsfield, and Noke. (fn. 44) The remainder, some 421 acres, was leased out by the Crown. (fn. 45) Earlier, in 1637, Richard Powell of Forest Hill had obtained a lease of Shotover and Stowood from the Bishop of Oxford, with the duty of repairing the mounds. (fn. 46) Powell was put to much expense, and his widow Anne was thereby involved in legal proceedings at the Restoration. (fn. 47) She was granted a lease of Stowood after disafforestation, on payment of £44 to the Bishop of Oxford and £50 to the Crown. (fn. 48) It is not known when the Powell connexion ceased, but the bishops of Oxford continued as Crown lessees for many years. In 1779, when Stowood Lodge with the lands and coppices were leased to the bishop for 26 years from 1784 at a rent of £100, the land was valued at £200 a year. (fn. 49) In 1806 the annual value was given as £363, but the bishop was allowed to pay the same rent; the concession was made to augment his slender revenues. (fn. 50) His lease expired in 1837. (fn. 51) The property continued to be leased throughout the century, though slightly diminished in extent by the sale of a cottage and land in 1838, (fn. 52) and in value by the considerable felling which took place between 1860 and 1870, (fn. 53) and by later neglect resulting from the agricultural depression. In consequence, in 1903 John and Herbert Parsons obtained a lease of over 553 acres for only £175 a year. (fn. 54) Guy Thomson followed, and had a keeper in the lodge and stockman in Folly farm and Royal Oak farm. In 1926 Brasenose College purchased the property from the Crown. (fn. 55)
The ancient forest land is now mainly arable. Even by 1797 inclosed arable land lay south of the Islip road. (fn. 56) In 1838 the Crown lands were described as arable, meadow, and woodland; (fn. 57) but in the later 19th century they tended to revert to scrub. The parish became noted as a sportsmen's paradise; in 1876 it was described as 'broken up into many straggling coppices' and as being 'well known to every Oxford man who loves the horse and fusil'. (fn. 58) In the Thomsons' time the emphasis was on shooting and hunting, but after 1926 it changed to husbandry. The struggle against scrub and the reinforcement of the weak hazel hedges has defined more clearly the copses from the fields. The woodland is now chiefly noted for its nuts and primroses, the best trees being on the Beckley side.